Families deserve answers when loved ones go missing in conflict. Security Council adopts historic resolution.

The 15 members of the United Nations Security Council adopted on Tuesday the very first ever resolution focused on the issue of missing persons in armed conflict. The aim is to encourage countries to fulfil their obligations, take action to step up prevention, and tackle the issue earlier, so that ultimately families separated by conflict can be reunited, or at least given answers as to the fate of their loved ones.

11 June 2019

“Alarming numbers of persons go missing in armed conflict,” said Reena Ghelani, who heads operations and advocacy at the UN’s humanitarian coordination office, OCHA, and was briefing on behalf of UN relief chief Mark Lowcock.

There are no comprehensive figures on the number of persons that go missing every year but the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) – the non-profit organization that traditionally coordinates efforts regarding the protection of civilians in conflicts worldwide – has recorded over 10,000 cases in Syria, and over 13,000 requests for assistance on this matter in Nigeria alone.

‘Absolute despair’

Persons can go missing in conflict due to a complex variety of reasons. They could be captured by warring parties and held in secret locations; they can be victims of extrajudicial executions and buried in unmarked location;  they can be families separated during the chaos of attempting to flee violence, and more.

“Whatever the circumstances, the families of the missing are left in a state of absolute despair, not knowing the fate and whereabouts of their loved ones,” Ms. Ghelani stressed.

She explained that when the missing person is the breadwinner of the family, the economic impact can be devastating, and that relatives left behind often face legal, administrative or cultural challenges that make it hard to remarry, claim their inheritance, or receive benefits.

The first-ever resolution on missing persons in conflict

The historic text adopted unanimously on Tuesday puts emphasis on moving from a post-conflict approach to one that addresses the issue of at the beginning of hostilities.

It lists several prevention measures, including: detainee registration, ensuring means of identification, and the establishment of national information bureaux, “to exchange information on detainees and civilians belonging to an adverse party, to transmit information to that party…and to open enquiries regarding these persons”.

The resolution places a special emphasis on missing children and reaffirms the Council’s support for ICRC’s efforts in this matter and calls on parties to conflict to cooperate with the NGO and its Tracing Agency, in line with international humanitarian law.

Political will in the search for answers

“The ICRC is a daily witness to this suffering,” said the organisation’s head, Peter Maurer, who was briefing from Geneva. “Sometimes there are answers,” he noted, stressing the importance of States fulfilling their obligations to search for missing persons so that those answers can be given to family members.

Mr. Maurer explained how ICRC is “modernizing” its approaches both on the prevention and response, thanks to a “growing body of expertise” and the upgrading of search methods, including face recognition technologies.

Stressing that “missing persons and their families are not a bargaining chip”, he cited several recommendations, calling for stronger political, additional preventive measures to be put in place, and the imperative to adhere to humanitarian principles when handling all issues of missing persons.

 

Learn more about the ways in which the UN is helping protect civilians in conflict, with the head of Peacekeeping, Jean-Pierre Lacroix: 

 

St. Vincent and the Grenadines wins record-breaking seat on Security Council

7 June 2019

Following a secret ballot held on Friday, the UN General Assembly elected five countries to the Security Council, including St. Vincent and the Grenadines, the smallest so far. Also elected were Niger, Tunisia, Viet Nam and Estonia.

The five States will take up their seats as non-permanent members of the Security Council in January 2020, replacing Cote d’Ivoire, Equatorial Guinea, Kuwait, Peru and Poland.

Every year, five countries are elected to the 15-member Council (10 of whom are non-permanent) for a two-year term, according to a geographical rotation set by the Assembly in 1963, to ensure fair regional representation: five from African and Asian and Pacific States; one from Eastern Europe; two from Latin American States; and two from Western European and Other States (WEOG).

 

UN Photo/Eskinder Debebe
The United Nations General Assembly elects five new non-permanent members of the UN Security Council on 7 June 2019.

Whilst Niger, Tunisia and Viet Nam were elected unopposed, two of the five seats were contested: El Salvador competed with Saint Vincent and the Grenadines to represent the Latin American and Caribbean group; and Romania lost out to Estonia in the East European group.

Speaking to the press outside the General Assembly Hall, Ralph Gonsalves, Prime Minister of St. Vincent and the Grenadines, described the election of his multi-island nation of around 110,000, as a “historic occasion”.

Mr. Gonsalves added that the country is committed to the principle of sustainable development and, as a Small Island Developing State in danger of inundation by rising seas, is very concerned about the consequences of adverse climate change and intends to work very closely with the other members of the Security Council. The UN, he added, has limitations, but it also has “profound strengths.”

Following a 2014 General Assembly resolution, elections to the non-permanent Security Council seats were moved from October to June, to give incoming countries more time to prepare for their terms, before assuming their responsibilities.

Four million have now fled Venezuela, UN ramps up aid to children who remain

7 June 2019s

The number of people who have left Venezuela to escape the country’s ongoing political and economic crisis, has reached some four million, the UN announced on Friday.

In a joint statement, the International Organization for Migration (IOM) and UN Refugee Agency (UNHCR), described the scale of the exodus as “staggering”, with the number of displaced people jumping by a million over a seven-month period, from November 2018.

“These alarming figures highlight the urgent need to support host communities in the receiving countries”, said Eduardo Stein, joint UNHCR-IOM Special Representative for Venezuelan refugees and migrants. “Latin American and Caribbean countries are doing their part to respond to this unprecedented crisis, but they cannot be expected to continue doing it without international help.”

Most of the Venezuelans who have fled, are being hosted in Latin America: more than half are in Colombia and Peru, followed by Chile, Ecuador, Argentina and Brazil.

© UNICEF/Velasquez
At a school on the outskirts of Caracas, Venezuela, a UNICEF representative speaks to a mother who brought her young daughter for nutrition screening. (3 June 2019)

Child health ‘grim’ and getting worse: UNICEF

For many of those who have remained in Venezuela, the situation is dire, and around a third of children in the country need help accessing basic nutrition, health and education services, the UN Children’s Fund, UNICEF, said on Friday.

Children’s needs must always remain above politicsPaloma Escudero, UNICEF Director of Communication

The UN agency announced that it has ramped up aid since the beginning of the year, in the form of 55 tons of health supplies distributed to 25 hospitals in the most affected states of Caracas, Miranda, Zulia, Bolivar and Táchira. They include midwifery kits, antibiotics and malaria treatment.

“As the country grapples with the impact of a devastating economic and political crisis, we will continue to provide its most vulnerable children, wherever they are, with the humanitarian support they need”, said Paloma Escudero, UNICEF Director of Communication. “Children’s needs must always remain above politics.”

On her return from a recent visit, Ms. Escudero said that people in Venezuela had told her the health situation was “grim”, adding that, because of a shortage of medicine, and an exodus of many doctors and nurses, medical centres are running at minimum capacity.

Many mobile health units and ambulances are grounded due to a lack of spare parts, she said, and, with worsening fuel shortages, some pregnant women cannot even make it to health centres. “For a country that made remarkable progress for decades on the quality of its health care, this is quite dramatic.”

The UN agencies operating in Venezuela have urged donors to increase funding, so that they can scale up their response to the crisis. IOM said that the humanitarian Regional Refugee and Migrant Response Plan (RMRP) launched last December is only 21 percent funded. UNICEF said that flexible funding is needed to allow the agency to reach children in need with quality support.

Around 23 million boys have married before reaching 15; ‘we can end this violation’ says UNICEF chief

7 June 2019

An estimated 115 million boys and men around the world were married as children, 23 million of them before the age of 15, according to the first-ever analysis on child grooms, launched on Friday by the UN Children’s Fund (UNICEF).

Using data from 82 countries, the in-depth study brings the overall number estimated child marriages to 765 million, UNICEF revealed.

“Marriage steals childhood”, said Executive Director Henrietta Fore. “Child grooms are forced to take on adult responsibilities for which they may not be ready”.

Marriage steals childhood – UNICEF chief

The study discovered that child marriage among boys spans sub-Saharan Africa, Latin America and the Caribbean, South Asia, East Asia and the Pacific.

According to the data, 28 per cent of the males in the Central African Republic were married as children, ranking it first in male child marriages. At 19 per cent, Nicaragua was the second and Madagascar the third, at 13 per cent.

“Early marriage brings early fatherhood, and with it added pressure to provide for a family – cutting short education and job opportunities”, the UNICEF chief elaborated.

UNICEF/Kiran Panday
Adolescents in Gujara Municipality of Rautahat District in Nepal perform a skit on child marriage as part of UNFPA-UNICEF Global Programme on Ending Child Marriage.

Notwithstanding the new information, girls remain disproportionately affected, with 1-in-5 young women between the ages of 20 and 24, married before their 18th birthday, compared to 1-in-30 young men.

While the prevalence, causes and impact of child marriage among girls have been extensively studied, little research exists on child marriage among boys. It is clear though that children most at risk come from the poorest households, live predominantly in rural areas and have little to no education.

“As we mark the 30th anniversary of the adoption of the Convention on the Rights of the Child, we need to remember that marrying boys and girls off while they are still children runs counter to the rights enshrined in the Convention,” reminded Ms. Fore.

“Through further research, investment and empowerment, we can end this violation”, she asserted.

 

UNICEF
UNICEF global databases, 2018, based on DHS, MICS and other national surveys, 2007-2014.