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Misuse of terrorism laws during conflict creates ‘unmitigated calamity’

INTERNATIONAL, 16 October 2020, Human Rights - The misuse of terrorism laws during conflict situations often leads to an “unmitigated calamity” on the ground, an independent UN expert has warned. 

Fionnuala Ní Aoláin, UN Special Rapporteur on the promotion and protection of human rights while countering terrorism, told the General Assembly on Thursday that what are being billed by some governments as counter-terrorism measures, are being applied frequently to address domestic strife and in complex humanitarian settings.

In these cases, they can have a catastrophic impact on civilian populations, she said, which are being “squeezed by broadly framed terrorism laws and practices with little or no recourse, when misuse occurs”.

Protecting rights, enforcing norms

The independent expert identified a “profoundly” worrying pattern whereby some States are ignoring or undermining humanitarian rules because counter-terrorism “offers a more open-ended, under-regulated and opaque set of tools”, to manage complex problems.

Her report tracks the essential relationship between protecting the human rights of the most vulnerable – including the elderly and children – in complex and fragile settings and enforcing basic humanitarian norms, including providing humanitarian assistance.

“I am profoundly troubled by the failure to apply humanitarian exemptions for activities that are humanitarian and impartial in nature”, said Ms. Ní Aoláin. 

“Such short-sighted tactics of withholding or criminalizing humanitarian assistance only prolongs conflicts, alienates those who are needed to ultimately resolve such conflicts, and hurts the most marginal in society”.

Affirm compliance

In her report, the Special Rapporteur acknowledged the Security Council’s “persistent and unequivocal affirmation” that counter-terrorism measures must “always and fully” comply with the overarching norms of international human rights law, international humanitarian law and refugee law.

She called on States to review existing sanctions systems to make sure that they are rule of law-compliant and provide “meaningful opportunity to challenge, review and end sanctions practices for affected individuals and their families”.

The UN envoy also applauded the work of impartial humanitarian actors, who carry out their duties in extreme conditions and under significant stress to protect the vulnerable. 

“The challenge now for States is to acknowledge and protect these actors effectively”, she spelled out. 

Read more...

Bolivia elections, an opportunity to defuse extreme polarization: UN rights chief

INTERNATIONAL, 16 October 2020, Peace and Security - The UN’s top human rights official has called on everyone active in Bolivian politics, to ensure calm on the streets, and refrain from any action that could undermine the peaceful conduct of the general elections, taking place on Sunday. 

Michelle Bachelet, UN High Commissioner for Human Rights, urged all Bolivians to use the polls as an opportunity to “defuse extreme polarization” plaguing the Latin American country over the past few years. 

“Everyone should be able to exercise the right to vote in peace, without intimidation or violence”, she said in a statement, on Friday. 

“These elections represent an opportunity to really move forward on social and economic fronts, and to defuse the extreme polarization that has been plaguing Bolivia over the past few years.” 

In light of the political and human rights crises unleashed during the previous national elections process a year ago, Ms. Bachelet expressed hope that Sunday’s poll would take place in a calm, participatory and inclusive manner, that ensures respect for the human rights of all. 

Bolivia fell into crisis last October after President Evo Morales declared victory in disputed elections that would have granted him a fourth term, prompting mass protests. Dozens were killed and hundreds injured, amid reports of widespread human rights violations and abuses. 

Mr. Morales later stepped down and left the country.

‘Serious concern’ over inflammatory language 

The High Commissioner also voiced serious concern at the inflammatory language and threats made by some political actors in recent weeks, as well as the increasing number of physical attacks that have been taking place. 

“It is essential that all sides avoid further acts of violence that could spark a confrontation,” she said.  

“No one wants to see a repeat of last year’s events, which led to extensive human rights violations and abuses, including at least 30 people killed and more than 800 injured – and ultimately to everyone losing out.” 

The UN human rights office (OHCHR) deployed a mission to Bolivia in November 2019. The mission remains in the country, to monitor and report on any human rights violations and abuses, including in the context of the elections. 

Read more...

LIVE: World Food Day

INTERNATIONAL16 October 2020, SDGs - Hunger is rising, due to factors including conflict, climate change and the COVID-19 pandemic, which is putting a strain on food systems that are already failing in many countries. In today’s LIVE blog, marking World Food Day, we will look at some of the many issues and possible solutions.

Highlights
•    UN chief video message
•    What is sustainable agriculture?
•    Food and the COVID-19 pandemic
•    The business of food

•    UN commits to transforming food systems

14:45

Next steps towards fairer food systems

And with that, we will wrap up our coverage of World Food Day, but don’t forget to check out the Food Systems Summit global relay conversation, with celebrity chefs, indigenous peoples, youth climate activists, and more, discussing ways to transform food systems over the next 10 years.

The work of the Summit team has already begun, with a scientific group, made up of experts drawn from a range of disciplines, having met over the summer to ensure that the event is based on sound scientific principles, but it will step up a gear in November, when regional dialogues, involving governments and other stakeholders, are due to take place.

These discussions will culminate in a meeting in Rome next Summer, at which actions for inclusive and sustainable food systems will be identified, and taken forward as recommendations for the Secretary-General to submit to world leaders at the September Summit.

Thanks for reading/ listening and watching! Make sure to follow the latest from UN News, on Twitter and Facebook, and subscribe to our flagship podcast, the Lid Is On, wherever you get your podcasts.

14:20

Meanwhile, back in Rome, the Colosseum is being transformed for World Food Day, with a video mapping show beginning at 19:30 Rome time. It promises to be spectacular, and you can watch it LIVE here


14:00

"What does food mean to you?", asks the World Food Programme, putting forward some suggestions in a video tweeted out earlier today, whilst the UN refugee agency (UNHCR), recommends five ways that you help refugees during the pandemic.  

13:45

Food systems responsible for over a third of greenhouse gas emissions

A food market in Kelantan, Malaysia., by Unsplash/Alex Hudson

The UN estimates that food systems have an enormous impact on the climate. If you take into account all of the elements and activities that relate to the production, processing, distribution, preparation and consumption of food, these systems account for up to 37 per cent of all greenhouse gas emissions.

But, as a joint UN report released at the beginning of September shows, this figure can be dramatically reduced. The report identifies several policy actions that would integrate food systems into national climate strategies, and also help to improve food security. These include conserving natural habitats, reducing food loss and waste, and shifting to healthier and diets, which are predominantly plant-based. This measure alone, could cut up to eight gigatonnes of CO2 emissions every year.

13:35

'Providing sustenance through difficult times'

Volkan Bozkir, the President of the General Assembly, began his address to this afternoon’s (New York time) World Food Day celebrations, by recognizing FAO’s role as the oldest of the UN’s permanent specialized agencies, and the critical role it has played, in addressing hunger and improving nutrition. 

He also noted the contribution of “food heroes”: “from farmers and food chain workers, to drivers, shop assistants and food bank representatives, including here in New York, millions of people helped to provide sustenance and nourishment through difficult times.”

The GA president looked ahead to the Food Systems Summit as a chance to accelerate reforms, and remove barriers to ending hunger, and called for young people to be empowered to become the next generation of leaders and reformers in agriculture and food supply chains.

UN News/Daniel Dickinson
The President of the UN General Assembly, Volkan Bozkir, addresses a virtual meeting to celebrate World Food Day 2020.

Fair trade needed

The head of the Economic and Social Committee (ECOSOC), Munir Akram, noted that the loss of income that many have suffered since the COVID-19 pandemic, has mostly impacted the poor, who spend most of their income on food.

The world, warned Mr. Akram, was not on track to achieve zero hunger, the second of the UN’s Sustainable Development Goals, even before the pandemic spread.
COVID-19, he said, will mean that there will be millions more under-nourished people around the world, and some 144 million children will suffer stunted growth.

Some core issues must be addressed, declared Mr. Akram. These include keeping supply chains from being disrupted, investing in infrastructure for sustainable agriculture, and ensuring fair trade:

Technology that makes sustainable agriculture possible must be made available to poorer farmers, and the kinds of subsidies that have led to chronic over-production, and make it impossible for small farmers to compete in the market, must be ended.

13:15

Food heroes: Naima Penniman

© FAO
Naima is the Programme Director at Soul Fire Farm, a training farm that aims to help black, indigenous and people of colour have a greater say in, and control over, their food systems.

As Program Director at Soul Fire Farm in New York State, USA, Naima Penniman is helping black, indigenous, and people of colour have a greater say in, and control over, their food systems. 

These communities, she says, are less likely to have access to healthy food. “In this time of crisis and food scarcity, 100 per cent of our harvest is going to people in our community who need it most, folks who are living under food apartheid, or impacted by mass incarceration, or who are from our refugee community”.

The farm’s programmes include farmer training, reparations and land-return initiatives for northeastern farmers, food justice workshops for urban youth, and education for public decision-makers on social and political issues that affect access to food, all with an emphasis on environmental sustainability. 

During the COVID-19 pandemic, the farm has been making food deliveries to vulnerable families, building raised garden beds for urban households, and providing affordable bulk products to community groups working on the front lines of pandemic response.

Read more about Nadia’s work here.

13:00

Welcome back to our coverage of World Food Day. Following the earlier events from Rome, a celebration has begun in New York, which you can follow live on UN Web TV.

Look out for a performance from the United Nations Orchestra, as well as speeches from the President of the General Assembly, Volkan Bozkir, and the President of the UN Economic and Social Council, Munir Akram.

Over the next hour, we will also look at the great work being done by some of the #foodheroes who have been helping to feed the vulnerable during the pandemic, and the devastating impact that food systems are having on the environment.

10:35

More to come...

We're going to pause our live coverage of World Food Day, as the main focus shifts across the Atlantic from Rome to New York.

At 13:00 Eastern Time, a ceremony will being at the General Assembly Hall, at UN Headquarters. Come back and join us then!

10:30

Hunger and the pandemic

WFP/Mehedi Rahman
Families are being provided with food aid by the World Food Programme (WFP) after heavy monsoon rains flooded parts of Bangladesh in June 2020.

Conflict and climate change remain the biggest drivers of hunger worldwide but COVID-19 is exacerbating the crisis, with tens of millions at risk of falling into extreme poverty.

“Before COVID-19, we were already seeing a rise in hunger, after decades of having hunger on the run”, World Food Programme (WFP) deputy chief, Valeria Guarnieri, told UN News in September. “What we're seeing is that that hunger is being taken to new levels. On the one hand, food prices are going go up and, at the same time, people are feeling the hit of the socio-economic crisis.”

On Tuesday, several UN agencies (FAO, the International Labour Organization (ILO), International Fund for Agricultural Development (IFAD), and World Health Organization), warned that the pandemic has not only led to a dramatic loss of human life, but also constitutes an unprecedented challenge to public health, food systems and employment.

Solidarity for the most vulnerable

© FAO/Miguel Schincariol
Customers shop for mangoes and other fruits on display at a stall in a street market in Sao Paulo, Brazil.

The statement called for more solidarity and support, especially for the most vulnerable, and particularly in the developing world and, since lockdowns and other measures have come into effect, a host of initiatives have sprung up to help communities to adapt.

Back in May, we reported on actions that several Latin American cities have taken to ensure that food systems continue to function. In Quito, Ecuador, for example, authorities are using municipal buses as mobile food hubs, and have also partnered with food banks, and mapped vulnerable areas, to make sure the food is distributed effectively. In Lima, Peru, food are being monitored to counter speculation and price gouging on the black market, and a mobile wholesale market is distributing food to various districts of the metropolitan area. And, in Montevideo, Uruguay, citizens and organizations returning to “ollas populares”; a traditional model of home deliveries of fruit, vegetable and other foodstuffs, some directly from producers, with special attention paid to the needs of vulnerable people.

UNCDF
A SafeBoda rider and market vendor use the SafeBoda app to deliver food and supplies during the COVID-19 lockdown in Kampala, Uganda.

And in August, we looked at one of the ways that digital technology is helping market traders in Uganda survive, despite travel restrictions. 

After the Ugandan government enacted its lockdown measures, the UN Capital Development Fund (UNCDF), responded by supporting a new e-commerce platform that connects market vendors to customers. 

Orders for produce are placed via the Safeboda app, and paid for, using its mobile wallet feature. The company’s accredited riders then deliver the produce. The result has been a boost in trade for hundreds of market vendors, regular income for the “bodaboda” motorcycle drivers, and a safe way for customers to receive the goods. Read the full story here.

10:05

The business of food

© FAO/Xavier Bouan
Villagers grow rain-fed rice in Beung Kiat Ngong wetlands, Lao People's Democratic Republic. (File)

The private sector also has a key role to play in making sure the world gets enough to eat; that’s according to the UN Global Compact which supports companies around the world to operate in a socially and environmentally responsible way as well as taking action to advance goals to reduce poverty including eradicating hunger.

With an expected global population of nine billion by 2050, the Global Compact says that “business has become a critical partner in designing and delivering effective, scalable and practical solutions for food security and sustainable agriculture”.

Driving such positive change are companies like Singapore-headquartered Olam International, a signatory to the Global Compact. The company’s Sustainable Rice Platform promotes farming practices which Olam says have reduced water usage by 20 per cent and greenhouse gas emissions by half, while boosting farmers’ incomes by 10 per cent. Half a million rice farmers have adopted the practices in Asia, Africa, Europe and the Americas. The goal is to reach a million by 2023. 

Singapore has set an ambitious goal to have one-third of its nutritional needs locally produced by 2030. Esther Chang is the Executive Director of Global Compact Network Singapore and she has told UN News that the “transformation required to achieve this future of food production will be through new technologies, innovation and partnerships. Through initiatives such as the Sustainable Rice Platform, Olam is helping the make the global rice sector more efficient and sustainable”.

09:45

What is sustainable agriculture?

BSWM-UNDP Philippines-GEF5 SLM Project
Maize farmers in the Philippines’ Bukidnon Province are learning how to cultivate the crop more sustainably. (September 2018)

The term “sustainable agriculture” is being bandied around a lot today, but what does it mean? The UN environment agency, UNEP, has published a handy guide, explaining why sustainable agriculture is better for people, and the planet.

UNEP defines it as “farming that meets the needs of existing and future generations, while also ensuring profitability, environmental health and social and economic equity. It favours techniques that emulate nature – to preserve soil fertility, prevent water pollution and protect biodiversity.”

It uses up to 56 per cent less energy per unit of crops produced, creates 64 per cent fewer greenhouse gas emissions per hectare and supports greater levels of biodiversity than conventional farming.

Find out more here about why some processed food, full of chemicals, may be cheaper to buy, but has a much greater cost in the long run, in terms of the costs of environmental damage or the price of healthcare that is required to treat diet-related diseases.

09:30

Food heroes: Raquel Diego Díaz

© FAO/Nadir Quiroz
Raquel Diego Díaz (centre) is an anthropologist and farmer who promotes native varieties of corn and indigenous farming knowledge.

Time to celebrate the work of another FAO food hero, this time Mexican anthropologist and farmer Raquel Diego Díaz, a member of the Mixe or Ayuujk ethnic group, who is helping to honour and transfer vital knowledge from one generation to another.

Over many generations, Mixe farmers have experimented repeatedly, developing nutritious foods which have adapted to environmental, social, economic and political transformations over the years. 

Raquel has made it her mission to help promote native varieties of corn and indigenous farming knowledge while helping local women to thrive, and, in 2017, decided to join other Mixe women in the production of a line of tostadas.

The small company produces around 600 tostadas a week with native corn of different varieties, all rooted in the efforts of rural women and their families who work in the region’s fields.

Find out more here.

09:15

‘I’m passionate about ending hunger in our lifetime’

UN Food Systems Summit
Female farmers in discussion with former Rwandan Minister for Agriculture, Agnes Kalibata (far left).

The world is going backwards when it comes to achieving the UN goal of achieving zero hunger by 2030, but Agnes Kalibata, the UN official charged with organizing a successful Food Systems Summit next year, is convinced that this doesn’t have to be the case. Here are some extracts from an interview she gave UN News in September.

“I’m extremely passionate about ending hunger in our lifetime: I believe it’s a solvable problem. I don’t understand why 690 million people are still going to bed hungry, amidst so much plenty in our world, and with all the knowledge, technology and resources.”

Today’s food systems do not respond to what we need as people. The cause of death for one in three people around the world is related to what they eat. Two billion people are obese, one trillion dollars’ worth of food is wasted every year, yet many millions still go hungry.

We have built up a lot of knowledge around the things that we’re doing wrong, and we have the technology to allow us to do things differently, and better. This isn’t rocket science: it’s mostly a question of mobilizing energy, and securing political commitment for change.”

You can read the full interview here.

08:55

Avoiding a full-blown crisis

In her video statement, Queen Letizia of Spain, an FAO Goodwill Ambassador, made a point of thanking the work of all of those who are doing their best to ensure that the pandemic doesn’t turn into a full-blown food crisis.

These “food heroes” are being celebrated throughout this year’s World Food Day: we will take a closer look at some of those who have been undeterred by the virus over the last few months.

But Letizia noted that, despite their best efforts, hundreds of millions of people are still going hungry, and many more millions are obese, all the more reason to promote local, seasonal, sustainable and small-scale food production.

08:50

A clarion call for collaboration

King Letsie of Lesotho, an FAO Goodwill Ambassador, described the 2020 World Food Day theme (“Grow, nourish, sustain, together. Our actions are our future”), as a clarion call for greater collaboration to build more resilient food systems, and “defeat the scourge of hunger, food insecurity and malnutrition”.

King Letsie warned that progress towards reaching the UN’s goal of achieving zero hunger by 2030 is way off track, and that almost 10 per cent of the world’s population could be affected by hunger by the end of the decade. The pandemic, he said, is making matters worse.

The king called for a concerted effort to bring down the cost of nutritious food, which is unaffordable for many people in all regions of the world, but particularly in Africa and Asia. Doing so, would lead to a major reduction in health costs, he said, and create significant savings that could be used to make health food cheaper.

08:45

Hunger a ‘grave affront in a world of plenty’

The UN chief, António Guterres, didn’t mince his words in his World Food Day video address. “In a world of plenty, it is a grave affront that hundreds of millions go to bed hungry each night”, he declared.

The Secretary-General called for more intense efforts to achieve the UN’s vision of a sustainable future “where everyone, everywhere, has access to the nutrition they need.”

Mr. Guterres underscored the importance of making food systems more resistant to volatility and climate shocks, minimizing food waste, and ensuring that everyone has access to a sustainable and healthy diet.

08:40

Food is a noble cause

Sergio Mattarella, President of Italy, the country which hosts the FAO, said that, with some 100 million people living below the poverty line, the world needs a serious global commitment to recognize the value of agriculture, the responsible use of natural resources, and the safeguarding of biodiversity and ecosystems.

Mr. Mattarella went on to underline the importance of international cooperation in building sustainable food systems, as well as the involvement of both the public and private sector, as well as individuals and communities.

“Food”, he said, “with its ancient and inextricable link with cultures, traditions and the land, should be seen as a noble cause. We must safeguard it by preventing food waste, which is a negative trend that unfortunately continues to characterise the wealthiest regions of the planet”. 

08:35

An age of contradictions

Pope Francis called for the adoption of innovative solutions, that can transform the way food is produced and consumed, for the well-being of our communities and the planet, and for increased support for the UN bodies involved in food (FAO, the World Food Program (WFP) and the International Fund for Agricultural Development (IFAD). 

Today, said the Pontiff, is an age of contradictions, with unprecedented progress in the various fields of science, but also multiple humanitarian crises and growing inequality.

The Pope suggested that money used for arms and other military expenses could be used to create a fund to finally end hunger, and help develop the poorest countries.

08:30

Food heroes: Centro Agroalimentare Roma

© FAO
Members of the Centro Agroalimentare Roma food consortium continued to work during the COVID-19 lockdown in Italy.

Around the world, there are those who continue to do whatever they can to ensure their communities are fed, no matter the circumstances. On World Food Day, the FAO is celebrating these food heroes.

We’re going to share some of their stories during this blog.

Even at the peak of Italy’s pandemic crisis, the workers of the Centro Agroalimentare Roma food consortium, in the country’s capital, never stopped delivering seasonal and regional products to markets in and around Rome.

They also partnered with local groups and services to help those lacked the resources to buy enough nutritious food, delivering an estimated 2 million portions of food in March and April alone.
You can read the full story here.

08:25

FAO/Giuseppe Carotenuto
World Food Day gets underway at FAO headquarters in Rome, Italy.

Qu Dongyu, the head of Food and Agriculture Organization, has kicked things of from the agency’s HQ in Rome. Mr. Qu, with an overview of the FAO’s history, and the central role that sustainability has always played.

The pandemic, he said, has reminded the world of the fragility of food systems worldwide. He promised that the FAO (which, like the UN itself, celebrates its 75 years in 2020), will continue to keep pace with the times, rethinking its approach.

There’s still a lot of work to do: millions are still going hungry, even though more than enough food is produced to feed the entire population. But zero hunger is possible, he declared, if donors double the amount of money they devote to the goal.

08:00

The official World Food Day opening ceremony has begun in Rome and online, with opening speeches from the UN Secretary-General, António Guterres and other senior UN officials; Pope Francis; Italy’s President Sergio Mattarella; and two FAO Special Goodwill Ambassadors for Nutrition, King Letsie III of Lesotho and Queen Letizia of Spain.

You can watch the whole thing live here.

07:45

Voices of Food Systems Live

To coincide with World Food Day, the Food System Summit team have organized a 24-hour “global relay conversation”, with celebrity chefs, indigenous peoples, youth climate activists, small farmer businesswomen, heads of state, and everyone in between, on how we can transform food systems over the next 10 years.

You can follow the event here.

There has been a lot of social media activity surround #worldfooday already. The UN office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA) has this great video about bread-making in war-torn Syria, and  the FAO celebrates some of the #foodheroes who continue to work hard to keep people fed, even in the most difficult circumstances.

07:30

World's most expensive meal

For some living in South Sudan, basic ingredients for a simple meal cost almost double the average person’s daily income. 

That’s one of the startling statistics from a World Food Programme (WFP) report released today, showing the enormous disparities between the cost of a plate of food in different countries, as a proportion of daily income.

The Cost of a Plate of Food 2020 reports shows that a basic meal is far beyond the reach of millions of people in 2020 as the COVID-19 pandemic joins conflict, climate change and economic troubles in pushing up levels of hunger around the world.

In South Sudan, violence in the east has already displaced more than 60,000 people and is crippling harvests and livelihoods. This has combined with COVID-19 and climate shock to create the threat of famine.  

You can read the report here.

07:15

Waste not, want not

The amount of food wasted every year is a scandal that has not gone unnoticed by the UN, which inaugurated the first International Day of Awareness of Food Loss and Waste Reduction at the end of September. The Secretary-General called global food waste “an ethical scandal”, and a squandering of natural resources.

The World Food Programme (WFP), worthy recipients of this year’s Nobel Peace Prize, launched its #StopTheWaste campaign in September, which revealed that, whilst there is enough food in the world to feed every child, woman and man on the planet, one-third of that food ends up rotting in trash bins, or spoiling during transportation and storage, while 690 million people go to bed hungry every night. 

You can read our story on the international day here, and listen again to our podcast on how a deprived neighbourhood in Brooklyn, New York, is trying to encourage healthier, more sustainable eating habits and reduce wasteful food practices.

07:00

‘Grow, nourish, sustain. Together’

Good morning from UN News in New York! World Food Day is celebrated globally, but it is being led by the Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO), which is based in Rome, where events will be kicking off at around 14:00 Central European Time.

Over the next few hours, we’ll be taking you through some of the main themes and issues surrounding food and food systems, and how they’re being tackled throughout the UN system.

And there are some serious problems to discuss: food systems – which encompass everything that goes from transforming raw ingredients on the farm, to food on the plate – are clearly not functioning as they should. They’re exacerbating climate change, thanks to the greenhouse gases they produce, trillions of dollars worth of food goes to waste, and yet millions are still going hungry.

The UN wants to ensure that future food systems provide affordable and healthy diets for all, and decent livelihoods for food system workers, while preserving natural resources and biodiversity and tackling challenges such as climate change.

As is so often the case with global problems, the solutions are out there, but greater political will and awareness is needed to put them into practice.

Read more...

Corruption represents ‘ultimate betrayal’ of public trust: Guterres

INTERNATIONAL, 15 October 2020, Law and Crime Prevention - Corruption is not only a crime but immoral and the “ultimate betrayal” of public trust, the UN Secretary-General has said, calling on everyone to work together and stamp out the global scourge, in all its forms. 

In a statement issued on Thursday, Secretary-General António Guterres underlined that in the midst of the COVID-19 pandemic, corruption was proving to be even more damaging in its impact on the most vulnerable. 

‘New opportunities’ for exploitation

“The response to the virus is creating new opportunities to exploit weak oversight and inadequate transparency, diverting funds away from people in their hour of greatest need,” the Secretary-General said. 

Corruption during the pandemic can seriously undermine good governance globally, and send the world even further off-track in in its efforts to achieve the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), he added. 

There are also very direct risks to health: “Unscrupulous merchants peddle faulty products such as – defective ventilators, poorly manufactured tests or counterfeit medicines”, said Mr. Guterres, noting that collusion among those who control supply chains has led to outrageous price hikes, skewing the market and denying many people life-saving treatment. 

The UN will continue to prioritize transparency and accountability, in and beyond the COVID-19 response, the UN chief pledged. 

Verify suppliers, determine fair prices 

The Secretary-General called on Governments to be careful and not act in haste, making sure to vet suppliers, and ensure fair pricing of essential goods as supply chains continue to be under strain.

He also urged everyone to join hands against corrupt and exploitative acts.  

“We must work together to stop such thievery and exploitation by clamping down on illicit financial flows and tax havens; tackling the vested interests that benefit from secrecy and corruption; and exercising utmost vigilance over how resources are spent nationally”, urged Mr. Guterres. 

We must create more robust systems for accountability, transparency and integrity without delay, he added. 

Everyone has a part to play 

Mr. Guterres also called for governments and leaders to be transparent and accountable, and for businesses to act responsibly, highlighting the importance of a vibrant civic space and open access to information. 

A sign outside a hospital in the Liberian capital, Monrovia, urges patients not to bribe doctors or other staff for any services. The UNICEF-supported hospital offers its services for free., by UNICEF/Pirozzi

Whistle-blowers who expose wrongdoing, must get the legal protection they deserve, in calling out corruption. 

“Technological advances can help increase transparency and better monitor procurement of medical supplies,” explained the Secretary-General, adding that anti-corruption bodies should be supported and empowered. 

UN Convention against Corruption 

The Secretary-General also urged nations to use a vital tool, provided by the UN: adopted by the General Assembly in 2003, the United Nations Convention against Corruption, entered into force in December 2005. It currently has 187 States Parties. 

It is the only legally binding universal anti-corruption instrument, and its far-reaching approach and the mandatory character of many of its provisions make it a unique tool for developing a comprehensive response to corruption.  

Through five key areas – preventive measures; criminalization and law enforcement; international cooperation; asset recovery; and technical assistance and information exchange – the Convention covers many different forms of corruption, such as bribery, trading in influence, abuse of functions, and various acts of corruption in the private sector. 

Read more...

An ‘airlift of hope’ in Yemen, UN envoy tells Security Council

INTERNATIONAL, 15 October 2020, Peace and Security - Immense relief and comfort are forthcoming for families awaiting their loved ones as Yemen’s warring parties have begun releasing prisoners and detainees on Thursday, in what the UN envoy there called, “an airlift of hope”. 

With thousands poised for freedom, UN Special Envoy Martin Griffiths told an in-person meeting of the Security Council that “some say, it may well be the largest such operation of this kind in the history of prisoners release”. 

This comes following a week-long meeting that concluded on 27 September in Switzerland, where the conflict parties reached an agreement to release the first group of detainees. 

The UN official thanked everyone involved with the move, especially “the parties and their respective leadership for their commitment to constructively negotiate and successfully reach this agreement”.  

Some detainees remain 

As the current prisoners’ agreement did not include many thousands of other detainees, Mr. Griffiths informed the Council that the parties would again convene to discuss more emancipations, in line with the 2018 commitment they made in Stockholm “to release all conflict-related prisoners and detainees”. 

“We hope that the implementation of the prisoners’ agreement will build confidence and momentum by demonstrating that peaceful dialogue can deliver”, upheld the UN envoy. 

‘Asking a lot’ 

Painting a picture of negotiations conducted through ‘shuttle diplomacy’ during a global pandemic and amid a raging war, the Special Envoy informed the 15-body organ that he was “neither surprised nor discouraged” that the internationally recognized Government and Ansar Allah have yet to agree on a Joint Declaration ending the war and opening the gateway to peace. 

He reminded the Council that the negotiations had been conducted as a result of the UN Secretary-General’s call for a global ceasefire, and then his subsequent call for ceasefire in Yemen. 

Explaining that the Joint Declaration is an “ambitious set of agreements” covering a nation-wide ceasefire, economic and humanitarian measures and the resumption of the political process, Mr. Griffiths understood why the parties are taking their time, saying, “we are asking a lot from the parties”. 

However, against the backdrop of a thriving war economy, eroding State institutions, increased interference and conflict actors fragmenting and multiplying, he stressed the need for the parties to “act with urgency to conclude the Joint Declaration”. 

“The longer this conflict goes on, the harder any of this will be to reverse”, the Special Representative attested. 

‘Honourable’ peace required  

Turning to the aging Safer oil tanker – that has had virtually no maintenance since 2015 and threatens catastrophic consequences for Yemen and the region should there be a major oil spill, explosion or fire – Mr. Griffiths reiterated that the UN be granted permission to assess and undertake urgent initial repairs.  

And as Yemenis continue to suffer from rising prices, interrupted services, education disruptions and violent attacks on female human rights, the Special Envoy implored the UN and international community to help the country find “a just, honorable and sustainable peace”. 

A closing window to stop famine 

In his briefing, Emergency Relief Coordinator Mark Lowcock warned that “the window to prevent famine in Yemen is closing”. 

Citing food security data, he revealed that the worst hunger is concentrated in areas affected by the conflict. 

Moreover, with only 42 per cent of the country’s Humanitarian Response Plan funded, aid agencies have had to slash assistance to four million people since the year began. 

As harassment by armed groups and other insecurity have left front-line humanitarian staff in crosshair, Mr. Lowcock spelled out: “the crisis urgently needs a political solution” to “help move the country back from the edge of famine”.  

At the same time, the faltering economy – a key famine risk-factor determinant –has rendered food and other basic goods out of reach for millions.  

He also updated that currently, there are 47 active front lines across Yemen – “the most ever recorded”.  

“Yemen needs a nationwide ceasefire”, concluded the UN Emergency Relief Coordinator. 

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COVID-19 rise in Europe a great concern, says WHO regional chief

INTERNATIONAL, 15 October 2020, Health - COVID-19 is now the fifth leading cause of death in Europe, where nearly 700,000 cases were reported this week: the highest weekly incidence since the pandemic began in March, the regional head of the UN World Health Organization (WHO) told journalists on Thursday. 

Dr. Hans Henri P. Kluge said the tightening up of restrictions by governments is “absolutely necessary” as the disease continues to surge, with “exponential increases” in cases and deaths. 

“The evolving epidemiological situation in Europe raises great concern: daily numbers of cases are up, hospital admissions are up, COVID-19 is now the fifth leading cause of death and the bar of 1,000 deaths per day has now been reached,” he reported. 

Cases reach record highs 

Dr. Kluge said overall, Europe has recorded more than seven million cases of COVID-19, with the jump from six million taking just 10 days. 

This past weekend, daily case totals surpassed 120,000 for the first time, and on both Saturday and Sunday, reaching new records. 

However, he stressed that the region has not returned to the early days of the pandemic. 

“Although we record two to three times more cases per day compared to the April peak, we still observe five times fewer deaths. The doubling time in hospital admissions is still two to three times longer,” he said, adding “in the meantime, the virus has not changed; it has not become more nor less dangerous.” 

Potential worsening a reality 

Dr. Kluge explained that one reason for the higher case rates is increased COVID-19 testing, including among younger people. This population also partly accounts for the decreased mortality rates.  

“These figures say that the epidemiological curve rebound is so far higher, but the slope is lower and less fatal for now. But it has the realistic potential to worsen drastically if the disease spreads back into older age cohorts after more indoor social contacts across generations,” he warned. 

Looking ahead, Dr. Kluge admitted that projections are “not optimistic”.  

Reliable epidemiological models indicate that prolonged relaxing of policies could result in mortality levels four to five times higher than in April, with results visible by January 2021. 

He stressed the importance of maintaining simple measures already in place, as the modelling shows how wearing masks, coupled with strict control of social gathering, may save up to 281,000 lives across the region by February. 

This assumes a 95 per cent rate for mask use, up from the current rate, which is less than 60 per cent. 

Restrictions ‘absolutely necessary’ 

“Under proportionately more stringent scenarios, the model is reliably much more optimistic, still with slightly higher levels of morbidity and mortality than in the first wave, but with a lower slope – as if we should rather expect a higher and longer swell instead of a sharp peak, giving us more reaction time,” said Dr. Kluge. 

“These projections do nothing but confirm what we always said: the pandemic won’t reverse its course on its own, but we will.” 

The WHO bureau chief underlined the importance of targeted national responses to contain COVID-19 spread. 

“Measures are tightening up in many countries in Europe, and this is good because they are absolutely necessary,” he said. “They are appropriate and necessary responses to what the data is telling us: transmission and sources of contamination occur in homes and indoor public places, and within communities poorly complying with self-protection measures.” 

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Rights experts urge UAE to halt repatriation of Yemeni nationals

INTERNATIONAL, 15 October 2020, Human Rights - The repatriation of 18 Yemeni nationals previously held at the US military prison in Guantanamo Bay, should be halted, as their lives could be in danger, UN-appointed human rights experts said on Thursday. 

In an appeal to the United Arab Emirates (UAE), where the Yemeni men were resettled after their release, the independent experts cautioned that “their forced return (to Yemen would) put their lives at risk”. 

After more than five years of fighting, Yemen’s armed conflict has created one of the world’s worst humanitarian emergencies. 

The fact that non-State armed actors control parts of the country “does not allow the provision nor compliance with diplomatic assurances”, the experts said, adding that such assurances “where provided, do not release States from their international obligations …in particular the principle of non-refoulement”. 

‘Continuous arbitrary detention’ 

The independent experts, or Special Rapporteurs, also noted with concern that that the men faced “continuous arbitrary detention at an undisclosed location” in the UAE. They were allegedly forced to sign documents agreeing to their repatriation, the experts said, or else “remain indefinitely in Emirati detention…without charge or trial”.  

They also insisted that no State has the right to expel, return or otherwise remove any individual from its territory whenever there were “substantial grounds” to believe that the person would be in danger of torture in the State of destination.  

“Resettled detainees seem to be systematically forced to return to their countries of origin where, in most cases, they may face serious risks of torture and ill-treatment,” the experts continued. 

No risk assessement 

“This repatriation process is happening without any form of judicial guarantees, or individual examination and assessment of risks, which blatantly violates the absolute prohibition of non-refoulement under international human rights and humanitarian law.” 

The development follows the experts’ earlier concerns shared with the Emirati Government in July 2020.  

“We further demand that the UAE authorities disclose the terms of the resettlement programme (with the United States), immediately release all former detainees at Guantanamo Bay resettled in the UAE, and allow them to reunite with their families”, they added.   

Special Rapporteurs are part of what is known as the Special Procedures of the 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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Invest in rural women, help them build resilience to future crises, urges UN chief

INTERNATIONAL, 15 October 2020, Women - Rural women play a critical role in agriculture, food security and managing land and natural resources, yet many suffer from “discrimination, systemic racism and structural poverty”, the UN chief said on Thursday. 

“The COVID-19 pandemic has now affected more than half the world’s women farmers with restrictions on movement, the closure of shops and markets, and disruption to their supply chains”, Secretary-General António Guterres said in his message for the International Day of Rural Women.

Health risks

The disadvantages faced by women in the COVID-19 pandemic are aggravated in rural areas where they are less likely to have access to quality health services, essential medicines and vaccines. 

Moreover, “restrictive social norms and gender stereotypes” limit rural women’s ability to access health services, according to the UN chief, who added that “a lot of rural women suffer from isolation, as well as the spread of misinformation, and a lack of access to critical technologies to improve their work and personal life”. 

Although digital channels can offer a lifeline in rural areas, providing information on access to healthcare as well as agricultural updates, “the gender digital divide is particularly wide for rural women, who make up just a quarter of users of digital agricultural solutions”, he continued.   

Women’s rights under threat

Investing in rural women has never been more critical, the Organization has highlighted.

The pandemic has heightened the vulnerability of their rights to land and resources, along with discriminatory gender norms, and in most countries, practices impede women’s exercise of land and property rights. 

Women’s land tenure security is also threatened as unemployed migrants return to rural communities, increasing pressure on land and resources and exacerbating gender gaps in agriculture and food security.

And COVID-19 widows risk disinheritance. 

Solidarity needed

Yet, despite these exposures, rural women have been at the front lines of responding to the pandemic even as their unpaid care and domestic work has increased under lockdowns

Helping rural women through the pandemic and building their resilience for the future will require “solidarity and support from all”, the top UN official explained.  

Did you know?

  • A quarter of the world’s population are rural women farmers, wage earners and entrepreneurs. 
  • Less than 20 per cent of landholders worldwide are women. 
  • In rural areas, the gender pay gap is as high as 40 per cent.
  • Reducing the gender gap in the labour force by 25 per cent by the 2025 could raise global GDP by 3.9  per cent.
  • If rural women had equal access to agricultural assets, education and markets, the number of hungry people could be reduced by 100-150 million.

Measures are needed to redistribute the burden of care between women and men, especially in the most marginalized remote villages.  

‘Invest in rural women’ 

The need to “invest in rural women” is imperative, the UN chief stated, so as to: provide them with access to the healthcare, social protection and agricultural information; close the digital divide; respond to the “shadow pandemic of violence against women”; tackle discriminatory land and inheritance laws that expose rural women to losing their sources of income; and support women’s unpaid care and domestic work.  

“On the International Day of Rural Women, let us renew our commitment to rural women in all their diversity; increase our efforts to support them through the COVID-19 pandemic; and work with them to build their resilience to future crises”, concluded the Secretary-General. 

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Rape is wrong but death penalty, castration, not the answer: UN rights chief

INTERNATIONAL, 15 October 2020, Human Rights - While perpetrators of rape and other forms of sexual violence must be held accountable, capital punishment and torture are not the answer, the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights said on Thursday. 

Michelle Bachelet has issued a statement calling on governments to step up action against these crimes, improve access to justice and reparations for victims, and institute prompt criminal investigations and prosecutions for those responsible. 

Outrage and calls for justice 

Her intervention comes in the wake of recent reports of horrific rapes in numerous parts of the world, including Algeria, Bangladesh, India, Morocco, Nigeria, Pakistan and Tunisia. 

These incidents have prompted outrage and demands for justice. 

“I share the outrage and stand in solidarity with the survivors, and with those demanding justice. But I am concerned that there are also calls – and in some places laws already being adopted – bringing in cruel and inhuman punishments and the death penalty for perpetrators,” said Ms. Bachelet. 

Castration and capital punishment 

The UN human rights chief provided examples of these laws, such as a legal amendment instituted last month in Kaduna state, located in northwestern Nigeria. 

The law allows surgical castration for male rapists, and the removal of the fallopian tubes of women convicted of the crime: a surgery known as bilateral salpingectomy.  These procedures will be followed by the death penalty if the victim is under 14. 

Earlier this week, the government of Bangladesh approved an amendment which introduces the death penalty for rape, while in Pakistan there have been calls for public hanging and castration.  

Similar demands for the death penalty have been made elsewhere. 

Access to justice is key 

While the main argument for capital punishment in this case is the belief that it deters rape, there is no evidence to support this, according to Ms. Bachelet. 

“Evidence shows that the certainty of punishment, rather than its severity, deters crime”, she said.  

“In most countries around the world, the key problem is that victims of sexual violence do not have access to justice in the first place – whether due to stigma, fear of reprisals, entrenched gender stereotypes and power imbalances, lack of police and judicial training, laws that condone or excuse certain types of sexual violence or the lack of protection for victims.”  

 A greater role for women 

The High Commissioner stressed that the death penalty, or penalties like surgical castration or removal of the fallopian tubes, will not resolve any of the myriad barriers to accessing justice, nor will it serve a preventive role. 

“In fact, the death penalty consistently and disproportionately discriminates against the poor and most marginalized individuals, and often results in further human rights violations,” she stated, while pointing out that surgical castration and salpingectomy violate international human rights law. 

 “I urge States to adopt a victim-centred approach to fighting the scourge of rape and other sexual violence. It is crucial that women are active participants in designing measures to prevent and address these crimes, and that law enforcement and judicial officials receive the requisite training in handling such cases,” she said.  

 “Tempting as it may be to impose draconian punishments on those who carry out such monstrous acts, we must not allow ourselves to commit further violations.”

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Social protection coverage in Asia and the Pacific ‘riddled with gaps’

INTERNATIONAL, 15 October 2020, SDGs - More than half the population of the vast Asia and Pacific region lack any social protection coverage, leaving populations vulnerable to ill-health, poverty, inequality and social exclusion, a new UN report has found. 

The need for social protection safety nets has been further highlighted by the coronavirus pandemic, the UN Economic and Social Commission for Asia and the Pacific (ESCAP) and the UN International Labour Organization (ILO) said in a new report, launched on Thursday. 

“Comprehensive social protection creates the foundation for healthy societies and vibrant economies,” Armida Salsiah Alisjahbana, Executive Secretary of ESCAP, said in a news release, on Thursday, announcing the findings. 

“The COVID-19 pandemic has brought this imperative into sharp focus, by demonstrating the stabilizing effect well-functioning social protection systems have and how their absence exacerbates inequality and poverty,” she added. 

According to the report, The Protection We Want: Social Outlook for Asia and the Pacific, the pandemic has created an “opportunity” to strengthen social protection systems for the future.  

The economic and employment shock countries are facing due to pandemic means that social protection will remain a critical policy tool in the recovery, it added, underscoring that social protection programmes should form an integral component of any recovery plans. 

Underinvestment

Excluding health, many countries in the region spend less than 2 per cent of their gross domestic product (GDP) on social protection, a “stark contrast” from the global average of 11 per cent, said the report. 

Across the region, about 46 per cent of the population is protected in at least one area of social protection, with South East and South Asia subregions lagging with 33 per cent and 24 per cent, respectively. 

In many countries, there are no schemes for numerous social protection contingencies, and responsibility for provisions such as maternity, sickness, and employment injury benefits, falling on employers. 

“These arrangements can create perverse incentives for employers. For example, employer-liability arrangements for maternity benefits can lead to discrimination against women of reproductive age,” warned the report. 

Informal employment 

Alongside underinvestment in social protection schemes, another key reason for the coverage gap is high prevalence of informal employment in the region, representing close to 70 per cent of all workers, according to the report. 

Though national and subregional differences exist, informal employment prevails in both agricultural and non-agricultural sectors, such as construction, wholesale and retail trade, accommodation, and restaurants, the report added. Women are particularly impacted as they are most often engaged in the informal economy, working in more vulnerable jobs. 

The COVID-19 pandemic has exposed the precarious situation of both women and men in the informal economy, explained Chihoko Asada-Miyakawa, Regional Director for Asia and the Pacific at ILO. 

“There is a clear need for further investment in public social protection systems if we are to avoid the stagnation of social and economic progress made across the region in recent decades,” she said. 

Recommendations 

The report identified seven key actions governments in the region can take to improve social protection. 

These include: integrating social protection as a core strategy for socio-economic development; political commitment and stepping up investments in social protection for all; closing existing social protection coverage gaps; promoting transition from the informal to the formal economy; and embedding social dialogue at all steps from design and implementation to follow-up and evaluation. 

The report also calls for strengthening gender-responsiveness of social protection systems by ensuring that schemes address the specific vulnerabilities faced by women, men, girls, and boys; and leveraging new technologies to enhance the effectiveness, efficiency, and accessibility of social protection. 

By stepping up their commitments to universal social protection, countries in Asia and the Pacific would “also be taking a critical step towards achieving the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), while being better prepared to deal with current and emerging challenges,” added the report. 

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