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Restoring dignity to victims of sexual abuse and exploitation by UN personnel

INTERNATIONAL, 6 July 2020, Women - Projects supported by a UN trust fund for victims of sexual exploitation and abuse by UN personnel, are helping victims to regain their dignity, learn new skills, and improve their livelihoods.

Details of the projects, and the ways which they are having a positive effect on the lives of victims and children born as a result of sexual exploitation and abuse, are contained within the trust fund’s latest annual report, which was released on Monday. 

Over the past year, six projects were launched in the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC), and, in Liberia, an education and vocational training project supported training of project leaders, and community meetings. 

A video released to coincide with the publication of the report, shows the effect a community project has had on the life of one of the victims, a young woman in eastern DRC, who has now learned to read and write, and to become self-sufficient by weaving, and selling, baskets.

Building bridges

The fund also supports community-based complaint networks in DRC, made up of representatives of women's and youth associations, religious leaders, local chiefs and the police. 

These networks educate the community on the risks associated with sexual exploitation and abuse and how to report it, develop projects which support victims, and act as a bridge between communities of vulnerable people and the United Nations peacekeeping mission in the country (MONUSCO).

Introducing the annual report, Catherine Pollard, the UN Under Secretary-General for Management Strategy, Policy and Compliance, noted that, as well as contributions from 21 countries, the fund is financed by payments withheld from personnel, as a result of substantiated cases of sexual exploitation and abuse. The funding, she said, is “essential for the Trust Fund to continue to help restore the dignity of victims, break stigma, and facilitate their reintegration within their communities”.

COVID-19 pandemic hampers communication

The onset of the COVID-19 pandemic has had an effect on many of the projects: restrictions on movements have made communication with victims more difficult, and some community gatherings have been suspended. 

UN Conduct and Discipline Teams, and Field Victims’ Rights Advocates, are providing support through interim measures, until restrictions are lifted, and projects can restart.

Ms. Pollard emphasized that the projects supported by the fund must take into account the feedback from victims, and their ideas for the future: “they are at the heart of our response, and will always underpin the implementation of the Trust Fund. I hope that we will be able to continue this important work.”

Her words were echoed by Jane Connors, the UN Victims’ Rights Advocate, who works globally to ensure victim assistance, and advocates for their rights. 

“When you hear from these people, you understand what they want”, she said. “You have to listen to them, you need to project their wishes and desires so that they can have, as much as possible, a trajectory which is positive.”

Speaking to journalists in March, Ms. Connors accepted that, whilst UN-led projects to support victims are proving effective, there is still much more that needs to be done. 

“We need to appreciate what these wrongs do to victims and their communities; what these wrongs do to the very purpose of the United Nations’ work, because these wrongs do indeed fracture trust”, she said.

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Terrorist groups must not be allowed to exploit ‘fragilities’ caused by global health pandemic

INTERNATIONAL, 6 July 2020, Peace and Security - As COVID-19 continues to disrupt the world’s health systems, economies and local communities, the UN Secretary-General on Monday highlighted how the pandemic has laid bare vulnerabilities to “new and emerging forms of terrorism”, such as cyberattacks, bioterrorism and the misuse of digital technology.

While the coronavirus has put the international community in the crosshairs of a crisis like no other since the founding of the United Nations 75 years ago, António Guterres noted that “like the virus, terrorism does not respect national borders”.  

“It affects all nations and can only be defeated collectively”, he said, opening the second annual gathering of UN and international experts known as Counter-Terrorism Week, held virtually this year, with a call to “harness the power of multilateralism to find practical solutions”.

Acknowledging that it is “too early to fully assess the implications of COVID-19 on the terrorism landscape” the UN chief told the first of  series of virtual interactive discussions on strategic and practical challenges of countering terrorism during a global pandemic that ISIL, Al-Qaida, neo-Nazis and other hate groups “seek to exploit divisions, local conflicts, governance failures and grievances to advance their objectives”.

Guiding the fight

Mr. Guterres highlighted five areas to guide counter terrorism, beginning with keeping up the momentum.
“This includes continuing to invest in national, regional and global counter-terrorism capabilities, especially for countries most in need of assistance”, he said.

Evolving terrorist threats and trends must also be closely monitored and met with innovative responses that have not only the right technology, tools and concepts to stay ahead of terrorists but that are gender sensitive and recognize that violent misogyny lies at the heart of many groups.

“Full compliance with international humanitarian, human rights and refugee law is essential, the Secretary-General stated, adding, “the fight against terrorism must uphold these values or it will never succeed”.

His fourth point flagged the need to tackle the spread of terrorist narratives through pandemic-sensitive, holistic approaches, and he said that non-State actors must not be allowed to exploit the “fissures and fragilities” of rising psycho-social, economic and political stresses, related to the coronavirus. 

Throughout the upcoming discussions, victims’ voices will be heard to help prevent violent extremism and build inclusive, resilient societies, said Mr. Guterres.  

And finally, he stressed the importance of strengthening information sharing to learn from the experiences and good practices of others in the COVID-19 security landscape, saying that “quality capacity-building assistance to Member States will remain an important pillar” of UN counter-terrorism work. 

“We must commit to do more and better”, stated the UN chief.  “As in every other area of our mission, our work should be assessed by the difference we make in people’s lives.

In conclusion, Mr. Guterres said that as the discussions over the coming week will feed into next year’s High-Level Counter-Terrorism Week – including the seventh biennial review of the Global Counter-Terrorism Strategy, the second Conference of Heads of Counter-Terrorism agencies of Member States, and the inaugural Congress of Victims of Terrorism – the UN will remain “fully committed to advancing our common struggle against terrorism and upholding our common values”.

Terrorism issues abound

Meanwhile, Vladimir Voronkov, the UN Counter-Terrorism chief, stressed in his opening remarks that although the number of terrorist attacks and fatalities has been declining since its peak during the rise of ISIL, terrorism remains “a major threat to international peace and security” as some groups are extending their reach into new areas. 

With this is mind and amid the expanding work of the UN Office of Counter-Terrorism (OCT) and its partners, as well as that of the Security Council, he said the UN is implementing more than 300 counter-terrorism capacity-building projects around the world, including 50 overseen by his Office, benefitting 72 countries. 

“I think it is therefore safe to say that the United Nations is contributing to the efforts of many Member States and international actors to effectively address the threat of terrorism,” Mr. Vonkov stated. 

And while he said COVID-19 has not changed this positive trend, he cautioned that “we must stay vigilant as terrorists are using innovative tactics and tools to exploit vulnerabilities and conditions conducive to terrorism, many of which have been exacerbated by the pandemic.”

Picking up that thread, Ghada Fathi Waly, Executive Director of the UN Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC) underlined that detention sites must be addressed, noting that radicalization to violence in prison settings represented a “potential breeding ground” for terrorists as well as the spread of COVID-19.T

The deputy chief of UN Women, Ăsa Regnér, saw the Covid19 response as “an opportunity to reset counter terrorism and prevention of violent extremism interventions by recognizing and valuing the role women play at the local level during crisis and emergencies and improving inclusivity of women in emergency plans decision making processes”.

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Move away from outdated ‘mad or bad’ approach to mental illness, urges independent UN expert

INTERNATIONAL, 6 July 2020, Health - States, civil society, psychiatric organizations and the World Health Organization (WHO) itself must change the way they address mental health challenges, a UN independent rights expert said, calling for a shift towards understanding the context behind mental distress. 

While welcoming international recognition of mental health, Dainius Pūras, UN Special Rapporteur on the right to physical and mental health, told the Human Rights Council on Monday that “much more is still needed”.

“The global mental health status quo should move away from the outdated ‘mad or bad’ approach which seeks to prevent behaviours deemed as ‘dangerous’ or provide treatment considered ‘medically necessary’ without consent,” he said.

Mr. Pūras also warned against the exaggerated benefits of psychotropic medications, stressing that it has led to an overuse of medicalization and institutionalization.

“I appreciate the progress made to understand the role of psychotropic medications, but also recognize that there are no biological markers for mental health conditions,” he said. “Hence, the specific mechanisms by which psychotropic drugs might be effective, are simply unknown.” 

Failures of the status quo 

The UN envoy said the status quo in mental health care ignores the social, political or existential context that contributes to a high prevalence of sadness, anxiety, fear and other manifestations of mental distress. 

And COVID-19 has only exacerbated the failures of the status quo. 
“There is no simplified mechanistic solution to mental distress,” the Special Rapporteur said. “For the majority of mental health conditions, psychosocial and other social interventions are the essential option for treatment.”
Systemic obstacles - such as power irregularities in mental health care, the dominance of the biomedical standards and the biased use of knowledge – must be addressed by changes in laws, policies and practices.

Invest in rights-based support

Mr. Pūras reiterated his call for mental health care action and investment to be redirected to rights-based supports; non-coercive alternatives that address the psychosocial determinants of health; and the development of practices that are non-violent, trauma-informed, community-led, healing and culturally sensitive.

“I’m calling once again for the ultimate elimination of segregated psychiatric institutions that reflect the historic legacy of social exclusion, disempowerment, stigma and discrimination”, concluded the Special Rapporteur.

Legalese

The Convention of the Rights of Persons with Disabilities should guide mental health policies and services, and discriminatory laws and practices should be abandoned.

Special Rapporteurs 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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UNAIDS report: COVID-19 pandemic derails 2020 HIV targets

INTERNATIONAL, 6 July 2020, Health - HIV targets set for 2020 will not be reached, owing in part to deeply unequal access to antiretroviral therapy and service disruptions caused by the COVID-19 pandemic, according to a new UNAIDS report released on Monday.

The report – Seizing the Moment – warns that the remarkable achievements made in the fight to end AIDS have not been shared equally within and between countries.  

Moreover, decades of hard-won gains could be lost if the world fails to act.

Missed targets have resulted in more than 3.5 million HIV infections and 820,000 AIDS-related deaths since 2015 than if the world was on track to meet the 2020 targets.  And the global AIDS response could be set back by 10 years or more if COVID-19 disrupts HIV services.

“Every day in the next decade, decisive action is needed to get the world back on track to end the AIDS epidemic by 2030,” said Winnie Byanyima, Executive Director of UNAIDS.  “The progress made by many needs to be shared by all communities in all countries.” 

Prevention efforts lagging

The world is far behind in preventing new HIV infections, the report finds.  Some 1.7 million people were newly infected, reflecting more than three times the global target. 

While progress has been made in eastern and southern Africa, where new infections have fallen by 38 per cent since 2010, eastern Europe and central Asia have seen a staggering 72 per cent rise in new HIV infections since 2010.  New infections also rose by 22 per cent in the Middle East and North Africa, and by 21 per cent in Latin America.

“The HIV epidemic remains enormous, unfinished business,” Secretary-General António Guterres says in the report’s preface.  “Gender inequalities, gender-based violence and the criminalization and marginalization of vulnerable groups continue to drive HIV forward.”

Indeed, the report finds that marginalized populations who fear judgement, violence or arrest struggle to access sexual and reproductive health services - especially those related to contraception and HIV prevention.  And stigma against people living with HIV is still commonplace, with 82 countries criminalizing some form of HIV transmission, exposure or non-disclosure.

Women, girls most affected

Women and girls in sub-Saharan Africa continue to be the most affected, accounting for 59 per cent of all new HIV infections in the region in 2019, with 4,500 adolescent girls and young women between 15 and 24 years old becoming infected every week.  
Despite making up only 10 per cent of the population there, young women accounted for 24 per cent of new HIV infections.
However, transmission levels are reduced significantly in areas where HIV services are comprehensively provided, and high combination prevention options coverage have also narrowed inequality gaps and driven down incidences.

 

A clarion call

The COVID-19 pandemic has already seriously impacted the AIDS response and threatens further interruption.  

A six-month HIV treatment disruption could cause more than 500,000 additional deaths in sub-Saharan Africa between 2020 and 2021, bringing the region back to 2008 AIDS mortality levels, according to the report.  And even a 20 per cent disruption could trigger an additional 110,000 deaths.

To fight the two colliding epidemics, UNAIDS and its partners are leading a global call for a “people’s vaccine for COVID-19, demanding that all vaccines, treatments and tests be patent-free, mass produced and distributed fairly and free for all”.

UNAIDS is also urging countries to bump-up investments in both diseases. 

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A sustainable future for all depends on ‘resolve to act together in solidarity’

INTERNATIONAL, 6 July 2020, SDGs - The United Nations vision for a sustainable future for all “will depend on our policy choices today, and our resolve to act together in solidarity”, a senior UN official told delegates on Monday at a meeting to discuss post-pandemic recovery.

Mher Margaryan, the vice-president of the UN Economic and Social Council (ECOSOC), was speaking at the Integration Segment of a day-long meeting on the eve of the High-Level Political Forum (HLPF), the annual stock-take of the world’s progress towards achieving the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) of the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development, the UN’s blueprint for a better future, for people and planet. The segment aims to help prepare the thematic reviews of the Forum, which takes place between 7 and 16 July.

SDGs must ‘guide our recovery efforts’

In his opening address, Mr. Margaryan acknowledged that the conference programme had been altered, in light of the COVID-19 pandemic, “to reflect our realities today”, with a focus on overcoming the human crisis and “recovering better”.

Echoing comments made in the latest Secretary-General’s report on progress towards achieving the SDGs – as the basis of HLPF discussions – the ECOSOC deputy chief underlined the importance of collective action to respond effectively to a crisis whose implications run beyond the health sector to impact each of the 17 Goals. 

The SDGs, he said, are more important than ever, to “guide our recovery efforts and make our countries and communities more inclusive, equal and resilient”.

Mr. Margaryan named six subject areas, identified in the 2019 Global Sustainable Development Report, as a basis for discussion on achieving the 2030 Agenda: human well-being and capabilities; sustainable and just economies; food systems and nutrition patterns; energy decarbonization with universal access; urban and peri-urban development; and global environmental commons.

In a video message released on Monday, Mr. Guterres warned that the COVID-19 pandemic is laying bare inequalities, such as inadequate health care and gaps in social protection; reversing progress on poverty and hunger; and particularly affecting the vulnerable, such as marginalized groups, women, and children.

The UN, said Mr. Guterres, has called for massive global support for vulnerable groups and countries. The Organization is supporting research into a “people’s vaccine”, that is affordable and accessible for all; and is leading efforts towards creating societies that are more resilient, inclusive and sustainable. “Returning to the frameworks and systems that gave rise to this crisis”, said Mr, Guterres, “is unthinkable”. 

What is the HLPF?

  • The High-Level Political Forum (HLPF), is the core UN platform for follow up and review of the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development,
  • The 2020 Forum takes place between 7 and 16 July, and includes a three-day ministerial meeting from 14 to 16 July,
  • Participants will debate where the world stands on the SDGs in light of the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic, and reflect on how the international community can accelerate progress over the coming decade.
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New UN report outlines ways to curb growing spread of animal-to-human diseases

INTERNATIONAL, 6 July 2020, Health - As the battle against COVID-19 rages, the world can expect to see other diseases that pass from animals to humans emerge, according to a new UN report launched on Monday, which maintains that there is still time to head off potential zoonotic pandemics.

Preventing the Next Pandemic: Zoonotic diseases and how to break the chain of transmission identifies seven trends driving the increasing emergence of zoonotic diseases, including a growing demand for animal protein, unsustainable farming practices and the global climate crisis.

It also sets out 10 practical steps that nations can take right now, including expanded research into zoonotic diseases, improved monitoring and regulation of food systems, and incentivizing sustainable land management practices.

In particular, the report recommends that governments adopt a “One Health” approach that brings together public health, veterinary and environmental expertise to prevent and respond to zoonotic disease outbreaks.  

Preventing the Next Pandemic is a joint effort by the UN Environment Programme (UNEP) and the International Livestock Research Institute (ILRI), both based in Nairobi.

Zoonoses Day

The report was published on World Zoonoses Day, which commemorates the work of French biologist Louis Pasteur who, on 6 July 1885, successfully administered the first vaccine against the zoonotic disease rabies on a nine-year-old boy who had been badly mauled by a dog.

“The science is clear that if we keep exploiting wildlife and destroying our ecosystems, then we can expect to see a steady stream of these diseases jumping from animals to humans in the years ahead,” said UNEP Executive Director Inger Andersen.

“Pandemics are devastating to our lives and our economies, and as we have seen over the past months, it is the poorest and the most vulnerable who suffer the most,” she added. “To prevent future outbreaks, we must become much more deliberate about protecting our natural environment.” 

COVID-19, latest in line

As the report explains, COVID-19 is only the latest in a growing number of disease, which – including Ebola, MERS and West Nile fever – whose spread from animal hosts into human populations has been intensified by anthropogenic pressures, or human impact on the environment.

Excluding the spiraling cost of the coronavirus pandemic that has so far claimed more than 500,000 lives – every year some two million individuals, mostly in low- and middle-income countries, die from neglected zoonotic diseases.

Tackling outbreaks

While zoonotic diseases are on the rise worldwide, Africa has the potential to leverage its experience to tackle future outbreaks through approaches that incorporate human, animal and environmental health, according to the report .

“The situation on the continent today is ripe for intensifying existing zoonotic diseases and facilitating the emergence and spread of new ones,” said ILRI Director-General Jimmy Smith. “But with their experiences with Ebola and other emerging diseases, African countries are demonstrating proactive ways to manage disease outbreaks”.

UN chief weighs in

Welcoming the report, UN Secretary-General António Guterres called on Monday for a new ambitious framework to protect and sustainably use biodiversity to be adopted.

“To prevent future outbreaks, countries need to conserve wild habitats, promote sustainable agriculture, strengthen food safety standards, monitor and regulate food markets, invest in technology to identify risks, and curb the illegal trade in wildlife,” he said.

ILRI/Barbara Wieland
A researcher from the International Livestock Research Institute (ILRI) collects serum samples from sheep in Horro, Ethiopia.
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‘Stay the course together to emerge stronger’ from COVID-19 crisis: UN chief’s message to major sustainability forum

INTERNATIONAL, 5 July 2020, SDGs - As a major United Nations forum prepares to assess progress towards a fairer future for people and the planet, UN Secretary-General António Guterres has warned that each of the Goals of the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development, is being impacted by the COVID-19 pandemic.

The High-Level Political Forum (HLPF), which formally begins on Tuesday, is an annual stock-take of the world’s progress towards achieving the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs). This year, senior government figures are meeting virtually, via video-conferencing software, to discuss and debate ways to tackle some of the world’s biggest challenges; from poverty, to climate change, peace and security, and gender equality.

National plans in the spotlight

UNDP Ukraine/Maksym Kytsiuk
UNDP in Ukraine worked with community groups to provide protection masks and suits to medics to help fight the coronavirus pandemic.

Countries will have the opportunity to present their updated plans for making the 17 Goals a reality (known as Voluntary National Reviews), and several UN, and other intergovernmental bodies will also provide input to the discussions.

The extent to which the COVID-19 pandemic has affected so many aspects of society, and the economy, is reflected in the 2020 programme: the theme of “building back better” after the pandemic is the background to many of the sessions over the major 10-day conference, covering such areas as poverty reduction, financing for developing countries, protecting the planet, and access to sustainable energy.

A decade of action 

The Secretary-General’s latest report on progress towards the SDGs, which will form the basis of discussions, notes that 2020 marks the beginning of a “decade of action and delivery for sustainable development”, during which the pace and scale at which the goals are achieved will be ramped up.

The report notes that the global crisis resulting from the spread of COVID-19, has had a major effect on these targets, with health systems overwhelmed, businesses shut down, and 1.6 billion students kept out of school; the poor and vulnerable have borne the brunt of the pandemic, and tens of millions are expected to experience extreme hunger and poverty.

Focus on inequality and climate change

WFP/Simon Pierre Diouf
Niger is faced with a food-deficit and low-income levels.

The discussions held during the forum will also be informed by a second report from the Secretary-General, which focuses on how to deliver the SDGs, in light of the pandemic. In it, the UN chief outlines two overarching themes: reducing inequality, by making economies more sustainable and just; and committing to “rapid and sustained” carbon dioxide reductions.

The first theme is described as a key strategy to reduce global poverty. Progress towards reduction has slowed in recent years, and it is projected that in 2020 alone, the pandemic could lead to up to 49 million people falling into poverty.

Improving income distribution, says the report, can make a major impact, not only in keeping people above the poverty line, but also in contributing to faster economic growth, as the poorest in society gain greater spending power.

Reducing emissions of carbon dioxide, and other greenhouse gases, is essential if the international community’s goal of keeping an overall global temperature rise to 1.5 degrees above pre-industrial levels is to be met. Policies and strategies currently in place, warns the report, do not go far enough, and there is a real risk of significantly overshooting the target.

The Secretary-General declares, in the report, that ambitious and immediate climate action is the only viable pathway that limits climate change, whilst protecting people, livelihoods and natural ecosystems. Such action would also see a tangible net economic benefit, saving the global economy tens of trillions of dollars. 

The UN chief’s progress report highlights the importance of international cooperation and solidarity in recovering from the crisis, a “large-scale, coordinated and comprehensive multilateral response”, amounting to at least 10 per cent of global gross domestic product (GDP). Mr. Guterres raises the prospect of a post-pandemic global economy that “builds back better”, with measures in place that reduce the risk of future crises and bring the world closer to achieving the 2030 Agenda.

What is the HLPF?

  • The High-Level Political Forum (HLPF), is the core UN platform for follow up and review of the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development.
  • The 2020 Forum takes place between 7 July and 16 July, and includes a three-day ministerial meeting 14 July, to 16 July.
  • Participants will debate where the world stands on the SDGs in light of the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic, and reflect on how the international community can accelerate progress over the coming decade.
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Business sector still far from reaching sustainability goals, UN report shows, 20 years on from landmark summit

INTERNATIONAL, 4 July 2020, Economic Development - A new UN report on tbe private sector, released by UN Global Compact, shows that progress on bringing about a sustainable future for people and the planet is patchy, and the majority of companies involved in the Compact, are not doing enough to help bring about the UN’s 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development.

“The scale and pace of change, to date, to deliver SDGs has not been big enough or fast enough”, said Remi Erikson, who led the team that drafted the report, Uniting Business in the Decade of Action, which shows that just 39 per cent of companies surveyed believe they have targets that are sufficiently ambitious to meet the Sustainable Development Goals by 2030.

The scale and pace of change, to date, to deliver SDGs has not been big enough or fast enough Remi Erikson, CEO, DNV GL

“Only 46% of businesses surveyed are embedding the SDGs in their core business”, said Mr. Erikson, the CEO of risk management company, and Global Compact participant, DNV GL. “less than a third of businesses believe their industry is moving fast enough to deliver the SDGs by 2030”.

“Incremental change by individual companies will not deliver the business contribution needed to reach the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs)”, said Mr. Erikson. “Companies and the systems they are part of are moving broadly in the same direction, but not in a concerted effort. Achieving the needed change requires a ramping up of ambition among all companies, whether they operate within the energy, healthcare, food, finance, transport or other systems.
Policy is not enough

Mr. Erikson told UN News that, although 93 per cent of participants have embedded the Global Compact Ten Principles (on human rights, labour, environment and anti-corruption) into their policies, not enough is being done to put them into practice. “Policy is not enough to drive change, and we see a marked gap between having policies in place and implementing measures to act on the Principles”. 

ILO/Marcel Crozet
Factory workers in an assembly line in Cambodia.

In addition, whilst the vast majority of participating companies recognize the importance of sustainable development, says Mr. Erikson, they are not doing enough to significantly reduce their negative impact on the environment: whilst science-based targets are considered by many sustainable development professionals as an important indicator of a company’s willingness to reduce its carbon footprint and negative environmental impact, the report reveals that, whilst around a third of companies surveyed are developing a science-based carbon reduction target, only 15 per cent have already set one.

Reasons to be hopeful

Despite the slow progress, and the economic fallout from the COVID-19 pandemic, Mr. Eriksen insists that he is hopeful that a post-pandemic “new normal” will be an improvement, in terms of building a better future for all.
“I am slightly more optimistic about the future now than I was two months ago as I have seen how businesses have used their experience, creativity and determination to find ways to serve their customers and create new solutions to operate in an unprecedented environment.”

“The events of the past year, from school children protesting the lack of action on the climate, to the fear and economic meltdown caused by the pandemic and, most recently, the calls for justice and equality, have rocked the world. They underline that the Sustainable Development Goals are not just ideals to aspire to, but fundamentals in creating a just society, with equal opportunity for all on a planet that is habitable.”

Responding to the report, Lise Kingo, the former head of the UN Global Compact, highlighted the importance of a step-change in action: “the change we need to see in the Decade of Action will not happen through incremental improvements and adjustments to ‘business-as-usual.’ Now is the time for CEOs to speak up and ensure all companies fully integrate the Ten Principles and raise their SDG Ambition to meet the needs of society and the planet”.

The 2030 Agenda and the SDGs

  • The 2030 Agenda is the UN’s blueprint for a fairer future, for the planet and people.
  • Adopted in 2015, the Agenda laid out a 15-year plan, and proposed action in the form of 17 Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), drawn up in collaboration with governments, business, civil society and citizens.
  • 2020 marks the twentieth anniversary of the first Leaders Summit of the UN Global Compact, former Secretary-General Kofi Annan’s initiative to enlist the private sector in its vision of a sustainable future of all. 
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UN rights office expresses alarm at Hong Kong arrests under new security law

INTERNATIONAL, 3 July 2020, Human Rights - The UN human rights office, OHCHR, has expressed alarm at the arrest of demonstrators in Hong Kong, following China’s adoption of a national security law for the Special Administrative Region (SAR).

Spokesperson Rupert Colville told journalists in Geneva on Friday that the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights was continuing to analyze the new law after it came into force on Wednesday, regarding its compliance with international human rights obligations:

“I think several hundred people have been arrested since protests began on Wednesday, I think the last I heard, we understood 10 of those people have been charged under the new law, but I don’t have more details at this point on the nature of the charges at this point and so on.”

He added that colleagues are “very much actively counting, trying to get those kinds of details and we’ll see what kind of concerns we have about individual cases.”

Mr. Colville pointed to “vague and overly broad” definitions of some offences in the new law that had been adopted by China's National People's Congress.

“This may lead to discriminatory or arbitrary interpretation and enforcement of the law, which could undermine human rights protection,” he explained.

Reiterating concerns about restrictions on freedom of expression highlighted by High Commissioner Michelle Bachelet, the OHCHR official insisted that such laws “should never be used to criminalize conduct and expression that is protected under international human rights law”.

Principle of legality

Offences created under the new national security legislation should comply with the principle of legality, which is enshrined in article 15.1 of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, Mr. Colville added.

The development follows a joint declaration by dozens of UN-appointed independent rights experts alleging the repression of “fundamental freedoms” of Hong Kong protesters.

Citing the alleged use of chemical agents against demonstrators, the experts also alleged sexual harassment and assault of women protesters in police stations; together with the alleged harassment of health care workers.

The law had been drafted without meaningful consultation with the people of Hong Kong, they continued, adding that it risked undermining the right to a fair trial and could prompt a “sharp rise in arbitrary detention”.

The independent experts are neither UN staff nor paid by the Organization.

One country, two systems

The “one country, two systems” governance framework that was introduced at the end of British rule also risked being undermined, the experts insisted, enabling the Chinese Government to establish “agencies” in Hong Kong “when needed”.

Provisions governing the offence of “collusion with a foreign country or with external elements to endanger national security” contained in article 29 of the new law were also concerning, the OHCHR spokesperson added.

“This may lead to a restriction of civic space and of the possibility for civil society actors to exercise their right to participate in public affairs,” he said.

“These provisions could also lead to criminalizing human rights defenders and activists for the exercise of their right to freedom of expression, association and peaceful assembly.”

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Protecting migrant workers in Kuwait: a Resident Coordinator’s blog

INTERNATIONAL, 3 July 2020, Migrants and Refugees - In Kuwait, the UN has played an important role in countering xenophobic rhetoric, falsely blaming the spread of COVID-19 on migrant workers. In this opinion piece, Tarek El Sheikh, the United Nations Resident Coordinator in the country, highlights the efforts being made to safeguard the rights of foreign residents. 

The increase in xenophobic language directed towards migrants – who make up more than 70 per cent of the population of Kuwait – prompted a group of jurists, the UN Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR), and the Office of the Resident Coordinator, to launch a media campaign designed to help the authorities counter the problem, which they are beginning to see as a potential threat to a peaceful and stable society; we welcomed the Emir of Kuwait’s televised speech on the subject, in which he emphasized the need to heal divisions, and address misinformation.

This is one example of the role that the UN is playing in Kuwait, to address the consequences of the pandemic. Our response can be divided into four main areas. Firstly, we are helping to prepare the economy and society (for example, by strengthening supply chains, countering economic shocks and supporting small and medium-sized enterprises). Secondly, we are working to protect vulnerable groups, including migrant workers. Thirdly, we are creating educational content, via different media, and lastly, we are addressing developmental and health issues.

Unemployment and deportations 

Tarek Azmi Elsheikh, United Nations Resident Coordinator in Kuwait., by Tarek Azmi Elsheikh

One of the big economic issues we are dealing with is unemployment. The vast majority of the migrant workers who travel to Kuwait have very limited means and, since the pandemic, many of them have found themselves without work. 
Large sums of money have been collected to help migrant workers, a sign of the generosity of many Kuwaitis, who have also donated food to help those affected by the downturn. Various UN bodies, such as the International Organisation for Migration (IOM) and International Labour Organisation (ILO) have been cooperating with the Kuwaiti authorities to find ways to cope with this crisis.

We have developed guidelines and recommendations for dealing with migrants, and mitigating the socio-economic impacts of the pandemic, and we are pleased to say that many of these have been adopted by the authorities. The UN Development Programme and the World Bank have provided socio-economic advice to counter market instability.

Another consequence of the rise in unemployment, is that many migrant workers no longer have valid work permits, and face deportation to their countries of origin. The members of the UN Migration Network – comprised of IOM, ILO, and the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC), UN Women, OHCHR and the UN refugee agency (UNHCR) – are coordinating on this issue, to ensure that voluntary deportations take place in a manner that respects international human rights law. 

The IOM and UNHCR have also been working with partners to provide food and personal protection equipment (PPE) to migrants and people of concern, and inspecting centres for voluntary deporting workers, and the victims of domestic violence (including domestic workers).

‘Let us reject hatred’

My message to the citizens of Kuwait, migrant workers living in the country, and everyone who is contributing to dealing with this pandemic, is that this is a time for solidarity, action, humanitarian support, and respect for human rights.

We cannot defeat this new enemy without unity, and agreement on a basic strategy, with the United Nations working hand in hand with government, the private sector, and civil society.

Let us reject hatred, turn to humanity, and respect for human rights, and reiterate what the UN Secretary-General has said: the only way to survive, is to work together.

The UN Resident Coordinator

  • The UN Resident Coordinator, sometimes called the RC, is the highest-ranking representative of the UN development system at the country level.
  • In this occasional series, UN News is inviting RCs to blog on issues important to the United Nations and the country where they serve.
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