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UN expresses hope ‘new opportunities’ will arise from Sudan’s recognition of Israel

INTERNATIONAL, 24 October 2020, Peace and Security - The UN chief on Saturday said he was taking note of the announcement that Sudan has agreed to normalize relations with Israel, expressing hope that further cooperation will advance international peace and prosperity.

The statement from UN Secretary-General António Guterres, comes in the wake of the deal, brokered by the United States and formally announced by President Donald Trump on Friday in a three-way call with the prime ministers of Sudan and Israel at the White House.

Delegations from Sudan and Israel are due to meet to finalize details in the coming weeks, according to the announcement.

As part of the agreement, the US will reportedly remove Sudan from its list of State sponsors of terrorism, allowing aid and economic investment to flow into the country, which is in a period of democratic transition following the overthrow of long-time ruler, Omar al-Bashir last year.

Sudan now joins the United Arab Emirates and Bahrain, who have similarly moved to normalize relations with Israel in recent weeks, through US mediation – the first Middle Eastern States to fully recognize Israel in more than two decades.

Historically, Sudan has fought in wars against Israel in both 1948, and 1967, and according to news reports it has agreed to pay millions of dollars to compensate the victims of Al Qaeda terror attacks on US embassies in Kenya and Tanzania, in 1998, when the terrorist network was headquartered in Sudan.

UN committed to supporting Sudan

The Secretary-General’s statement expressed hope the deal would “further cooperation, enhance economic and trade relations, and bring about new opportunities to advance peace and economic prosperity in the wider Horn of Africa and Middle East regions.”

Mr. Guterres said the UN “remains fully committed to supporting the Republic of the Sudan's efforts to achieve socio-economic recovery, stability and prosperity for all people in the Sudan and the wider region.”

The UN’s Special Coordinator for the Middle East Peace Process, Nickolay Mladenov, joined the UN chief in expressing his hope on Twitter that the normalisation agreement will boost cooperation, and bring about new opportunities for the Horn of Africa and whole Middle East.

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‘Very tough’ months ahead in COVID battle, WHO helping scale up dwindling oxygen supplies

INTERNATIONAL, 23 October 2020, Health - Facing another critical juncture in the COVID-19 pandemic, the World Health Organization (WHO) chief told reporters on Friday that a “very tough” few months lie ahead with too many nations seeing an exponential increase in cases. 

Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus said some countries were now on a “dangerous track” and the worrying rise was leading to hospitals and ICUs “running close or above capacity – and we’re still only in October.” 

“We urge leaders to take immediate action, to prevent further unnecessary deaths, and essential health services collapsing, and schools shutting again.” 

Action needed 

The WHO Director-General said countries needed to “conduct honest analysis and consider the good, the bad and the ugly.” 

For those who have brought transmission under control, he said now was the time to “double down, to keep transmission at a low level, be vigilant, ready to identify cases and clusters, and take quick action.” 

He said there were “incredible stories of hope and resilience, of people and businesses responding creatively to the outbreak, and we need to share these widely.” 

Contact tracing is essential he added, and clear instructions on how to go about it, so more mandatory stay at home orders can be avoided. 

Oxygen running low 

Turning to the need to share all resources in the COVID fight equitably, Tedros noted that a heavy toll was being taken on the world’s supplies of clinical oxygen, so crucial for those patients who need to be intubated, and many countries simply do not have enough. 

The “global oxygen gap” is particularly acute in some of the poorest nations, where some have only five to 20 per cent of what they need for patient care.  

In June, around 88,000 large cylinders were needed each day worldwide, to cope with the caseload, but with daily infections rising to around 400,000, that need has now risen to 1.2 million cylinders, just in low and middle income countries alone. 

Somalia, Chad and South Sudan, were totally reliant on cylinders from private vendors, that were expensive, and with a long distance to travel often, said Tedros. 

But now, WHO is working with ministries of health in those countries to design oxygen plants which fit their local needs, “which will result in sustainable and self-sufficient oxygen supply”, he added. 

‘End-to-end solutions’ 

“The oxygen project, reflects WHO’s commitment to end-to-end-solutions and innovation, to do what we do better, cheaper, and reach more people”, he said, giving the example of a scheme underway to harness solar power, to run oxygen concentrators in remote places that lack a reliable electricity supply. 

“Oxygen saves lives of patients with COVID-19, but it will also save some of the 800,000 children under five, that die every year of pneumonia and improve the overall safety of surgery”. 

A better world, means ensuring that oxygen is available to all, Tedros added. 

World Polio Day week 

The WHO chief also flagged the start on Saturday, of World Polio Day week, with partners around the world organising events and raising awareness of the need to eradicate polio, once and for all. 

Over the summer, the wild polio virus was banished from Africa, thanks to the efforts of hundreds of thousands of health workers reaching millions of children with vaccines, marking “one of the greatest public health achievements of all time.” 

But the risk of resurgence always remains, which cases continue, and following an initial suspension of polio and other routine immunizations due to the pandemic, vaccinations drives have now resumed, said Tedros. 

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Step up action to achieve COVID-19 ceasefire, Guterres says in UN Day message

INTERNATIONAL, 23 October 2020, UN Affairs - The UN’s 75th anniversary this Saturday, which falls as countries continue to battle the COVID-19 pandemic, is an opportunity to accelerate action to achieve a global ceasefire during the crisis, Secretary-General António Guterres has said. 

The UN chief initially issued the appeal for combatants to lay down their arms shortly after the pandemic was declared in March. 

“In our world today, we have one common enemy: COVID-19”, said Mr. Guterres in his message for UN Day on 24 October. 

“Now is the time for a stepped-up push for peace to achieve a global ceasefire.  The clock is ticking.” 

UN mission ‘more critical than ever’ 

UN Day marks the anniversary of the entry into force in 1945 of the UN Charter, the Organization’s founding document. 

The treaty outlines the UN’s goals of promoting human dignity, protecting human rights and saving humanity from conflict. 

That founding mission “is more critical than ever”, said the Secretary-General. 

Also crucial is the need to “make peace with our planet”, he added, stating “We must mobilize the whole world to reach carbon neutrality - net zero emissions of greenhouse gasses by 2050.” 

Europe turns UN blue 

Despite the constraints imposed by the global pandemic, countries are celebrating the UN’s historic birthday. 

More than 180 iconic buildings across Europe will be lit up in blue, the Organization’s official colour: from monuments to museums, to bridges and beyond. 

The initiative is a symbolic attempt to unite people worldwide, and to promote peace, sustainable development and human rights. 

As the Secretary-General stated, more must be done to end poverty, inequality, hunger and hatred, and to combat discrimination based on race, religion, gender or any other distinction. 

He drew attention to the situation of women and girls, as the pandemic has led to “a horrific rise” in gender-based violence. 

A blueprint for better recovery 

The UN chief also underlined the need to “build on progress”, pointing to the global collaboration currently underway to develop a safe, affordable and accessible COVID-19 vaccine. 

This banner year has also seen the start of a Decade of Action to achieve the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) and their promise of a better future for all people and the planet. 

For Mr. Guterres, the 17 SDGs provide an inspiring blueprint for recovering better after the pandemic. 

Solidarity and a shared vision 

Although the world faces colossal challenges, the UN chief was adamant that they can be overcome through global solidarity and cooperation, saying: “That’s what the United Nations is all about.”  

Mr. Guterres asked people everywhere to unite on this UN anniversary. 

“Together, let us uphold the enduring values of the United Nations Charter”, he declared.  “Let us build on our advances across the decades. Let us realize our shared vision of a better world for all.”

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UN salutes new Libya ceasefire agreement that points to ‘a better, safer, and more peaceful future’

INTERNATIONAL, 23 October 2020, Peace and Security - Warring parties in Libya on Friday agreed an historic ceasefire, which was hailed by the head of the UN Support Mission in the country (UNSMIL), who led the mediation, as a courageous act that can help secure a “a better, safer, and more peaceful future for all the Libyan people”.

“I would like to salute you, because what you have accomplished here takes a great deal of courage”, said UNSMIL chief, and Acting Special Representative, Stephanie Williams, at a press conference in Geneva. “You have gathered for the sake of Libya, for the sake of your people, to take concrete steps to end their suffering.”

The country has been roiled by division and conflict, since the overthrow of former dictator, Muammar Gaddafi, in 2011. Supporters of the UN-recognized Government in Tripoli have been under siege for months, following an offensive by forces of the rival administration of the self-styled Libyan National Army (LNA), led by Commander Khalifa Haftar.

UN-led mediation by the 5+5 Joint Military Commission, representing the two sides, yielded Friday’s agreement, that Ms. Williams said could help secure “a better, safer, and more peaceful future for all the Libyan people.

“I salute your sense of responsibility and your commitment to preserving Libya's unity and reasserting its sovereignty”, she said of the accord.

UN Photo / Violaine Martin
Acting Special Representative of the Secretary-General Stephanie Williams hosts the fourth round of the 5+5 Libyan Joint Military Commission, Palais des Nations. 19 October 2020.

Hopes of ‘lasting ceasefire’

She said the two sides had come together first and foremost, as Libyans, together: “The road was long and difficult at times, but your patriotism has been your guide all the time, and you have succeeded in concluding an agreement for a successful and lasting ceasefire.”

I hope that this agreement will contribute to ending the suffering of the Libyan people and enabling the displaced, both outside and inside the country, to return to their homes and live in peace and security.”

The UNSMIL head said the agreement “represents an important distinguishing mark for Libya and the Libyan people. I very much hope that future generations of Libyans will celebrate today's agreement, as it represents that decisive and courageous first step towards a comprehensive settlement of the Libyan crisis that followed.”

Work lies ahead

Ms. Williams said there was “much work ahead in the coming days and weeks to implement the commitments contained in this agreement” adding that it was important to continue focused negotiations, “as quickly as possible in order to alleviate the many hardships that this conflict has caused to the Libyan people.”

She said she knew that the Libyan people “can count on you” and added that “the United Nations is with you and the people of Libya. We will do our utmost to ensure that the international community lends its full and unwavering support to you.”

Secretary-General hails ‘fundamental step toward peace and stability’

The UN Secretary-General António Guterres welcomed the ceasefire, telling journalists in New York on Friday that represented “a fundamental step toward peace and stability in Libya.”

“I congratulate the parties for putting the interest of their nation ahead of their differences…Too many people have suffered for too long. Too many men, women and children have died as a result of the conflict”, said the UN chief.

The agreement was negotiated within the framework of the 5+5 Joint Military Commission with talks facilitated by the UN on the basis of Security Council resolution 2510 and 2542.

It is the result of four rounds of negotiations held since February of this year, Mr. Guterres reminded.

There is no military solution for the conflict in Libya. This ceasefire agreement is a critical step. There is much hard work ahead - UN Secretary-General

“I call on the international community to support Libyans in implementing the ceasefire and in bringing an end to the conflict. This includes ensuring the full and unconditional respect for the Security Council arms embargo.

“And I urge the Libyan parties to maintain the current momentum and show the same determination in reaching a political solution to the conflict, resolving economic issues and addressing the humanitarian situation.”

The UN chief said UNSMIL was making preparations to resume the Libyan Political Dialogue Forum - which stalled when fighting escalated last year – adding that it will be preceded by a series of meetings and consultations that would facilitate “the resumption of inclusive, intra-Libyan political talks – Libyan-led and Libyan owned.”

“There is no military solution for the conflict in Libya. This ceasefire agreement is a critical step. There is much hard work ahead”, he warned.

Momentum for global ceasefire builds

The UN chief also stressed that Friday’s breakthrough comes in the context of his repeated calls for a global ceasefire, so that all energies an be focused on the COVID-19 pandemic.

“With the inspiration of the Libyan agreement, now is the time to mobilize all efforts to support the mediations taking place to end the conflicts in Yemen, Afghanistan and in Armenia and Azerbaijan – where active hostilities are causing immense suffering for civilians”, he said.

“There is no military solution for any of these conflicts.  The solution must be political.” 

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Behind the global ceasefire call: 75 years of UN mediation, preventing conflict, promoting peace

INTERNATIONAL, 23 October 2020, Peace and Security - When Member States signed the United Nations Charter 75 years ago, it was to prevent more existential conflicts and save succeeding generations from a third world war. Conflict prevention is part of the Organization’s DNA and remains a central priority today, a guiding principle behind the UN Secretary-General’s current call for a global ceasefire during the coronavirus pandemic. 

On Friday, UN-mediated efforts yielded a potentially historic ceasefire accord between the warring parties in Libya, led the UN Support Mission, UNSMIL, hailed by Acting Special Representative and UNSMIL head, Stephanie Williams, as a "decisive and courageous first stop towards a comprehensive settlement".

Saturday is UN Day, when the Charter officially came into force, so we are taking this opportunity to look back at three-quarters of a century of hard and dedicated effort, to prevent conflict and war. 

Conflict prevention in five not-always-easy steps

Step one, is to have a finger on the pulse wherever tensions are running high. This requires being on the ground to best understand what is really going on, and how to diffuse it. 

The UN Department of Political and Peacebuilding Affairs (DPPA) has more than 35 special political missions around the world, to keep an eye out for developing situations. 

Second, is to work the political track early, by maintaining connections with Government officials and other key players. For this reason, DPPA officers maintain close contact with key actors in all 193 UN Member States.

The third element is to include many voices, such as those of women and youth, to build consensus and momentum for peace.

Partnerships is the fourth component – including with regional organizations and international financial institutions – to link short-term political work with longer-term peacebuilding and development efforts. 
Finally, and most importantly, is to focus political will from all actors, to thwart conflicts. 

What are so-called good offices?

With those five building blocks present, prevention works. 

However, when they are not, the UN uses its good offices, derived from the UN Charter and developed through extensive practice, toward the peaceful settlement of disputes.

Mediation can be set in motion by the UN chief himself or in response to a request from the Security Council, the General Assembly or a party to a dispute.

As part of its good offices, UN envoys or special advisers are currently working to resolve conflicts in Myanmar, Yemen and Syria. 

And special political missions?

Among other things, DPPA manages Special Political Missions (SPMs) in the field to prevent conflict, mediate peace and help countries rebuild post-conflict, throughout the world. 

Each mission provides country-specific diplomacy and other activities to avoid and mediate armed conflict. They also coordinate with national and other UN actors on the ground to support complex political transitions.

Recent successes in Colombia and the Southern Philippines, as well as the resolution of the name issue between Greece and North Macedonia, are evidence that the settlement of conflicts is possible “even in an increasingly complex world”, according to Teresa Whitfield, Director of DPPA’s Policy and Mediation Division. 

MINUSMA/Gema Cortes
Peacekeepers from the UN mission in Mali, MINUSMA, conduct a justice and reconciliation meeting to help mediate the violence in Mali’s central Mopti region.

Mediation hurdles

However, divisive geopolitics, the resurgence of populism and increased outside involvement in civil wars, are hampering peacemaking efforts in many places. 

“Enthusiasm for mediation as a tool to prevent and resolve armed conflict has never been more vocal, nor mediators busier”, said Ms. Whitfield.

Mediation has long relied on a capacity for human interaction and with the complexity of today’s armed conflicts, mediators have had to develop new tools, practices and strategies. 

The UN, along with international and regional non-governmental organizations, States and a broad array of local actors, may all be involved in working to revolve a single conflict.

Mediators today are impeded by a range of challenges, such as conflict fragmentation; the involvement of non-State armed groups; political, economic and ideological agendas; porous borders that facilitate the movement of armed groups; and systemic factors, such as climate change. 

Citing renewed divisions between Russia and the United States, new tensions between the US and China as well as Sunni-Shi’a divisions with impacts across and beyond the Arab world, Ms. Whitfield pointed out that negotiations are also “thwarted by a heady, and often toxic, combination of divisive geopolitics”.

The long haul

The demands for mediation to meet the complex challenges of today’s armed conflict are urgent and long-term endeavours, Ms. Whitfield explained.

She upheld that “a mediator will be in for a marathon effort, perhaps a relay, rarely a sprint” and must consider engagements and strategies at multiple levels with numerus actors. 

And while working in the shadow of geopolitics, the UN must also be conscious of grounding the legitimacy of a peace process within, as well as beyond, combatants themselves.

For all of this, the UN DPPA official stressed the need to maximize new technologies, paying particular attention to the next generation, while thinking about structural issues for incremental progress towards a sustainable peace. 

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Rohingya conference pledges to ‘remain steadfast’ in finding solutions to crisis

INTERNATIONAL, 22 October 2020, Migrants and Refugees - A joint UN-hosted donor conference to rally international support behind Myanmar’s displaced Rohingya minority, ended on Thursday with a promise to continue engaging with concerned countries towards finding a long-term solution to their plight.

“We will continue to work together to maintain international attention on the Rohingya crisis and to shift from short-term critical interventions, to a more sustained and stable support”, said the closing statement from co-hosts the UN refugee agency (UNHCR), the European Union (EU), United Kingdom and United States.

“We are grateful to all who have participated…including those who have announced or pledged funding for the international humanitarian response, those who are supporting members of the Rohingya communities in other ways - not least by hosting them - and most importantly, representatives of Rohingya communities themselves”, the statement continued.

The appeal comes more than three years after the orchestrated violence that erupted in Myanmar, across Rakhine state, which saw hundreds of thousands of mainly-Muslim Rohingya flee their homes, in search of safety across the border in Cox’s Bazar, Bangladesh.

There are currently 860,000 Rohingya refugees in and around Cox’s Bazar, and an estimated 600,000 still in Rakhine state, who face ongoing violence and discrimination; and Malaysia, India, Indonesia, and other countries in the region, are together hosting nearly 150,000 Rohingya refugees.

Voluntary, safe, dignified return

“The voluntary, safe, dignified, and sustainable return of Rohingya refugees and others internally displaced to their places of origin or of their own choosing in Myanmar, is the comprehensive solution that we seek along with Rohingya people themselves”, the joint communique stated.

“To that end, we underscore the Secretary General’s call for a global ceasefire and the cessation of fighting to enable safe and unimpeded humanitarian access to all communities in need of assistance.”

The co-chairs urged Myanmar’s Government to resolve the crisis, and “take steps to address the root causes of the violence and displacement”, creating the conditions that would allow for sustainable returns.

“This includes providing a pathway to citizenship and freedom of movement for Rohingya, guided by the Advisory Commission on Rakhine State’s recommendations and encouraged and supported by countries in the region. Myanmar must provide justice for the victims of human rights abuses and ensure that those responsible are held accountable”, the statement continued.

Expressing thanks and support to the Government and people of Bangladesh, the co-chairs stressed that increased support for Rohingya, must go hand-in-hand with increased support for host communities.

“While we continue efforts to secure long-term solutions, a focus on more sustainable response planning and financing in Bangladesh, could more effectively support the government’s management of the response and maximize limited resources to benefit both Bangladeshi and refugee communities.”

$600 million pledged

The co-chairs announced new pledges of around $600 million in humanitarian funding, which significantly expands the nearly $636 million in assistance already committed so far in 2020 under the Bangladesh Joint Response Plan and the Myanmar Humanitarian Response Plan.

The crisis is having a “devastating effect on vulnerable members of Rohingya communities, particularly women and children who require gender and age-sensitive interventions” said the co-chairs, leading to vulnerable refugees “desperately attempting to reach other countries in the region.

UN Children’s Fund (UNICEF) Executive-Director, Henrietta Fore, said that thanks to Bangladesh and generous donors worldwide, UNICEF and other UN agencies such as UNHCR, migration agency IOM, World Food Programme WFP, and many NGOs, continue to serve and support vulnerable Rohingya children.

In addition to providing vital services such as health, nutrition, and sanitation, education is “critical for young Rohingyas to build better futures. And to one day voluntarily return and reintegrate into Myanmar with the safety and dignity they deserve.”

Support for 170,000 Rohingya children

“We’re giving parents and caregivers the training and tools they need to support their children’s education. More than 170,000 Rohingya children are being supported this way”, she said.

“Join our call to ensure a place for Rohingya children in both countries’ education systems and programmes. They need education where they live”, she told the conference.

Ms. Fore called on donors not to forget the daily struggles of Rohingya children who remain inside Myanmar. “They’re still facing discrimination, horrifying violence and intensifying conflict every day. The fighting needs to stop so children can return to school and play, and so refugees can return home safely if they choose.”

Rohingyas themselves ‘backbone of the response’

UN Emergency Relief Coordinator, Mark Lowcock, said it was vital to recognize that the Rohingya refugees themselves have been “the backbone of the response.”

“They volunteer as health workers, they distribute masks and they help protect their communities from the pandemic. And I think we are all need to be very grateful to them and encourage them to take up this kind of responsibility.”

Highlighting again the Rohingya communities that remain in Myanmar, he said 130,000 of them remain displaced in central Rakhine State where they have been since 2012, and another 10,000 have been displaced since 2017 in northern Rakhine.

“Those people continue to have their basic rights denied, they suffer extreme hardships in Rakhine State and elsewhere”, added relief chief Lowcock.

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Classroom crisis: Avert a ‘generational catastrophe’, urges UN chief

INTERNATIONAL, 22 October 2020, Culture and Education - The world is at risk of suffering “a generational catastrophe” as COVID-19 wreaks havoc on the education of students globally, the UN chief said on Thursday. 

In a video message to the UN Education, Scientific and Cultural Organization’s (UNESCO) Global Education Meeting (GEM), Secretary-General António Guterres reminded delegates that the pandemic had had a “disproportionate impact on the most vulnerable and marginalized children and youth”.

“The progress we have made, especially for girls and young women, is under threat”, he said. “We now need to support the learning recovery in low and middle income countries – and to factor education into every stimulus package”.

Tackling the situation

To successfully avert the crisis, Mr. Guterres upheld the importance of recognizing education as “a common global good”, with teachers, safe schools, digital technologies and those at greatest risk, in need of far greater investment. 

“Financing and political will are critical”, he stressed. 

‘Vital linkages’ of education

Deputy UN chief Amina Mohammed observed that the COVID-19 pandemic had clearly highlighted “the vital linkages between education, nutrition, gender equality, health and social protection”.

She noted education systems had managed to undergo “rapid transformation” and pointed to the work of Governments in minimizing the educational impact on students, the flexibility and creativity of teachers and how caregivers have taken on “frontline roles” to support children’s education.

“Learners persevered and adapted to new realities”, continued Ms. Mohammed, as UN agencies have worked together with external partners, including through the Global Education Coalition, to deploy support and guidance to Governments.

However, these efforts have not been enough.

Since the pandemic hit, at least one-third of the world’s students have been deprived of any form of learning; close to half a billion pupils are still affected by school closures; and the most marginalized, including at least 11 million girls, are at high risk of never returning to school, according to the deputy UN chief.

© UNICEF/Raphael Pouget
Mauritanian students return to school after several months of school closures due to COVID-19.

Putting words into actions

Leading up to the meeting, UNESCO undertook a series of consultations for a draft GEM Declaration, which was informed, among other things, by the UN Secretary-General’s Policy Brief and the fourth Sustainable Development Goal (SDG) of education.

Central to transforming words into action, Ms. Mohammed highlighted the priority areas of financing, inclusion, teachers, safe school reopening, connectivity and coordination. 

“Over the coming year, political leaders in national and local governments, donor agencies and financial institutions must ensure that the resolve to support education is backed up with resources”, she asserted. 

Even before COVID-19, some 250 million children were out of school -- Deputy UN chief

She also called for innovation, attesting that going back to “normality” was neither possible nor desirable as it would mean ignoring the “profound changes” in technology and labour markets across the world.

“And it would mean accepting the unacceptable fact that even before COVID-19, some 250 million children were out of school and more than half of primary school age children worldwide lacked basic reading skills”, she stated.

Finally, the UN official underscored that “effective multilateral collaboration” and “greater solidarity with the most vulnerable countries” were needed to coordinate education among actors. 

“Implementation of this Declaration, therefore, requires a reimagining of education; a dramatic push to train millions of teachers…scaling up of partnerships to connect every school, teacher and learner to the internet; and…equipping young people with the skills they need to thrive in a complex and rapidly changing world”, spelled out the Deputy Secretary-General.

Fourth Global Goal

Turning to the 2030 Sustainable Development Agenda, Ms. Mohammed called education the “docking station” for the SDGs, from achieving gender equality to learning about human rights and acquiring new skills for a digital green economy, to developing tools for boosting tolerance and peace efforts.

“Delivering SDG 4 is a great responsibility on us all — led by the education community”, she concluded.

Other voices

UNESCO chief Audrey Azoulay paid tribute to Samuel Paty, the teacher who was decapitated close to his school near Paris, last week, after showing cartoons of the prophet Muhammad to his pupils, “and to all the teachers in the world who take risks to educate our children". 

Meanwhile, Erna Solberg, Prime Minister of Norway, a co-sponsor of the event, said that “as countries start to reopen in the era of COVID-19, education must come first”. 

And Baroness Sugg, the United Kingdom’s Minister for Foreign Affairs and Development, another co-sponsor, said “we know just how critically important it is to place education at the heart of our global COVID response". 

From Ghana, the third co-sponsor, Education Minister Matthew Opoku Prempeh flagged on behalf of President Nana Akufo-Addo that the digital divide in developing have left many children “deprived” of online teaching and learning tools. 

In her remarks, UNHCR Special Envoy Angelina Jolie emphasized that the biggest problem in this education crisis is not a lack of awareness or ideas, but instead a lack of will, saying “we know what should be done and we know the consequences if we do not act”.

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Independent UN rights experts urge Thai government to allow peaceful protests

INTERNATIONAL, 22 October 2020, Human Rights - Calling the latest imposition of a state of emergency in Thailand, a “draconian measure”,  UN-appointed human rights experts on Thursday urged the Government there to guarantee the fundamental rights of peaceful assembly and free speech.  

In a statement, the independent rights experts called for an end to a crackdown on peaceful protests. “The imposition of a state of emergency is the latest in a series of draconian measures aimed at stifling peaceful demonstrations and criminalizing dissenting voices”, they said.  

Urging authorities to allow students, human rights defenders and others to protest in a peaceful manner, the UN experts called for demonstrators to “be allowed to freely speak their mind and share their political views, both online and offline, without prosecution.”   

‘Unnecessary force’ 

On 15 October “severe emergency measures” were imposed around the capital Bangkok, prohibiting gatherings of more than four people. Since then, police have subsequently applied force, including the use of water cannon, to disperse protesters who were demonstrating peacefully. 

On Thursday, authorities revoked the emergency decree from a week earlier, according to news reports, declaring that violence on the streets had eased. The student-led protests are calling for the Prime Minister to step down.   

“The security authorities are using unnecessary force against the peaceful protesters,” the experts contined. “Such violence only risks escalating the situation. Instead of trying to silence peaceful demonstrators, we urge the Thai government to promptly seek an open and genuine dialogue with them.” 

Fundamental freedoms at risk 

Thousands of people have joined pro-democracy protests in Bangkok, calling for government and monarchy reforms. Since 13 October 2020, at least 80 individuals have been arrested, of whom 27 remain in detention.  

Some have been charged under Thailand’s Criminal Code on counts of sedition and holding an “illegal assembly”, some have also been charged under the Computer Crimes Act for using their social media accounts to call on the public to participate in the rallies, and two of those indicted face lifetime sentences for allegedly using violence against the monarchy.  

Raising serious concerns over the charges, the experts Clément Nyaletsossi VouleIrene Khan and Mary Lawlor, called on Thai authorities to “immediately and unconditionally release any individual detained for the sole exercise of her fundamental freedoms”.  

Special Rapporteurs are part of what is known as the Special Procedures of the UN Human Rights Council. They work on a voluntary basis; they are not UN staff and do not receive a salary for their work.

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Little progress on disputed Abyei region between Sudan and South Sudan

INTERNATIONAL, 22 October 2020, Peace and Security - Despite the strengthening of the relationship between Sudan and South Sudan, little progress has been made regarding the disputed Abyei region, the head of UN Peacekeeping told the Security Council on Thursday. 

Jean-Pierre Lacroix briefed ambassadors on recent developments concerning the oil-rich border area, where the UN interim security force, UNISFA, has been deployed since 2011 to protect civilians and humanitarians. 

He recalled the signing earlier this month of an historic peace agreement between the Sudanese authorities and several armed groups from Darfur following a year of negotiations facilitated by South Sudan. 

The two neighbours have also signalled their intention to relaunch the political process to discuss the final stages of Abyei and its border areas, which Mr. Lacroix described as a positive development. 

“However, despite this continued rapprochement between the Sudan and South Sudan, the peace process has made little progress in Abyei.  The main developments at the local level were the appointments by Juba and Khartoum of their respective chief administrators”, he said. 

“This constitutes an unprecedented political development as it is the first time Abyei has two appointed chief administrators.” 

Volatile security situation 

Meanwhile, the security situation in Abyei remained volatile.   

Mr. Lacroix reported that since April, there have been four attacks against UNISFA personnel and four incidents of intercommunal violence, including armed attacks on villages.  

While the force continued to engage leaders from the Nginka and Misseriya communities, the violence has had a negative impact on peace efforts. 

Reduced force strength 

The UN peacekeeping chief also reported on issues facing UNISFA, which has a mandated deployment of 640 police personnel. This figure includes three Formed Police Units consisting of 160 officers each. However, staffing currently stands at 35, with 16 officers set to end their assignments in the coming weeks. 

“Since no visas have been issued for any new officers who could be deployed as replacement, the strength of the police component will reduce to 19 officers. Consequently, this situation will inevitably lead to the closure of some team sites in UNISFA, and will have a negative impact on the mandate implementation”, said Mr. Lacroix. 

The non-issuance of visas, coupled with COVID-19 travel restrictions, has also affected China and Tanzania who must conduct reconnaissance visits to the area ahead of sending personnel for the force. 

Cooperation on oil production 

The Security Council heard in addition from the UN Special Envoy for the Horn of Africa, Parfait Onanga-Anyanga, who also commended the growing engagement between Sudan and South Sudan. 

 “As the countries now strengthen their relationship, they are no longer likely to pursue activities that undermine each other’s stability”, he said. 

The Special Envoy reported on continued cooperation in oil production.  Last month, the two countries signed a protocol on the resumption of  production in the Unity and Toma South oil fields in South Sudan, with 15,000 barrels per day expected soon. 

“The deal includes details on the transfer of crude oil to Sudan for its domestic use. In return, Sudan will provide technical support”, he said.  

“Before the agreement, South Sudan was providing 30,000 barrels per day of crude oil to Sudan. The deal is in line with South Sudan’s plan to return to its pre-conflict production level of 350,000 barrels per day from its current 150,000 barrels per day ."

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FROM THE FIELD: Women guardians of the environment

INTERNATIONAL, 22 October 2020, Climate Change - Women from around the world are being given a more prominent role in the fight against climate change, thanks to the efforts of the UN Development Programme (UNDP).

Globally, countries are being encouraged to update their plans to curb climate change and restrict the increase in temperatures to at least two degrees Celsius above pre-industrial levels, a process which is being supported by UNDP.

The impacts of a warming planet are being felt globally, as weather patterns become more unpredictable, and the frequency and intensity of disasters increase.

UNDP/Zaimis Olmos | A woman fisher prepares her nets on the Caribbean Island, Dominica. 

The knowledge and leadership skills of women are being factored into the plans to reverse adverse climatic conditions; farmers in particular are considered to have a key role in introducing agricultural practices which are more favourable to the environment, and can help reduce the emission of harmful gasses, which are accelerating climate change.

Read more here about how women are increasingly taking on the role of guardians of the environment.

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