Violence on the rise in Darfur following Sudan military takeover, but UN-AU peacekeeping mission maintains ‘robust posture’

Security across the volatile Darfur region of Sudan has deteriorated since last week’s military takeover in Khartoum, the UN Security Council heard on Wednesday, but the peacekeeping mission in Darfur has “remained vigilant” in the face of rising violence. 

UNAMIDUNAMID and Humanitarian Country Team providing assistance to mudslide victims in East Jebel Marra, South Darfur.

Jeremiah Mamabolo,  Joint Special Representative for the UN-African Union Hybrid mission, UNAMID, updated members on events since the ousting of former president of 30 years, Omar al-Bashir, with news reports suggesting on Wednesday that he had now been transferred to prison. 

Mr. Mamabolo said that with one General already forced out of office in the face of continuing protests, the daily curfew has now been lifted, and political detainees are due to be released, with a nationwide ceasefire now in place.  

“Yesterday, the Chief Justice and the Attorney General were replaced”, he said, adding that the new military leader, General Abdel Fattah Al-Burnhan, had announced a “military transitional phase” which would last two year at most, before a handover to civilian control. 

But protests are continuing he said, noting that some internally-displaced people, or IDPs in Darfur – where military action by the former president against civilians led to war crimes charges against him by the International Criminal Court a decade ago – had “engaged in violent acts” targeting Government locations, and those seen as collaborators with the former regime. 

“Let me assure the Council that in the midst of all these developments, UNAMID has remained vigilant, maintaining a robust posture, particularly in the Jebel Marra area of responsibility, which is where we have peacekeeping troops”, he added. 

The mission is currently drawing down, but the political landscape “has drastically changed, and has the potential to affect our mandate implementation going forward”, said the top official in Darfur, citing a postponement of a sector headquarters handover that was due to take place on Monday.  

“The incidents of violence in Darfur IDP camps in reaction to the events in Khartoum, attest to the fragility of the security situation in Darfur, which had hitherto been increasingly calm and stable”, excepting Jebel Marra, said Mr. Mamabolo.  

He urged Council members that the international community now “has an opportunity to initiate and sustain dialogue with the new authorities in Sudan. This would help create a conducive environment for UNAMID’s departure, and the international community’s follow-on engagement in Darfur. 

OCHA/Sari OmerA WFP food distribution to Sudanese IDPs near the Murta settlement, Kadugli, in South Kordofan state. (May 2018)

‘Regular operations’ continue for humanitarians in Sudan: UN deputy relief chief 

Although regular operations have not been affected by the political crisis, the UN deputy Emergency Relief Coordinator told Council members that humanitarians across Sudan were “very concerned about the protection of civilians” – particularly in Darfur, where localized fighting is continuing.   

The start of the school year has been delayed she noted, and the country’s burgeoning economic crisis “has had a significant impact” on need-levels nationwide, as one of the main drivers of the initial mass-protests that began in December, against the rule of the former president.  

She noted that rampant inflation, currency devaluation and soaring prices had contributed to rising numbers of those in need, with 5.8 million now food insecure, up from 3.8 million, this time a year ago. This includes 1.9 million in Darfur; a number likely to rise with the onset of the lean season in May. 

In all, around 1.9 million remain displaced by fighting she noted, the vast majority in Darfur. “More support is needed” from the international community, she stressed, and humanitarians are appealing for $1.1 billion to help the most vulnerable. 

Ms. Muller reminded members that Sudan had been a vital conduit for aid into South Sudan, and as host country to around 150,000 refugees from its war-ravaged neighbour. “We continue to call on all parties in Sudan to allow the humanitarian community to assist people in need”, she said. 

“We also call on the Government to take further measures to improve the operating environment for humanitarian organizations, especially the lifting of bureaucratic impediments to movement”.  

Progress against torture in Afghan detention centres, but Government needs to do more, says UN report

Torture is likely still widespread in Afghanistan’s State-run prisons for detainees linked to ongoing conflict there, the UN said on Wednesday, while also noting an “encouraging reduction” in the level of abuse since 2016. 

UNAMA/Eric KanalsteinAn elderly woman being held at a female detention centre in northern Afghanistan (2010).

Based on interviews with more than 600 detainees and published jointly by the UN Assistance Mission in Afghanistan (UNAMA) and the UN Human Rights Office (OHCHR), their latest report on the treatment of prisoners indicates that an average of nearly one in three, provided “credible and reliable” accounts of suffering. 

In the previous reporting period, covering 2015 and 2016, the ratio was closer to four in 10. 

Beatings represented the most common form of torture and ill-treatment, according to the data, which also noted that “the vast majority” of detainees held for alleged links to extremist group ISIL (also known as Daesh) or other opposition forces, said they had been tortured or ill-treated to force them to confess – and that the treatment stopped once they did so. 

Significant differences in the treatment of detainees were found depending on where they were held, with one Afghan National Police (ANP) facility in Kandahar, linked to a 77 per cent torture rate – well above the 31 per cent ANP average. 

The Kandahar findings included allegations of “brutal” forms of torture such as “suffocation, electric shocks, pulling of genitals and suspension from ceilings”, UNAMA and OHCHR said, while underlining that abuse allegations in ANP detention centres had fallen – from a 45 per cent average – since 2016. 

The report, which finds that youngsters are at higher risk of suffering mistreatment, discusses how detainees’ rights are violated in other areas. 

These include a lack of legal safeguards to prevent torture, difficulties in gaining access to lawyers and the continued absence of accountability for perpetrators, with very limited referrals to prosecution. 

UN High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR), Michelle Bachelet, said the report’s findings demonstrated that the embattled Government’s policies put in place to combat torture and ill-treatment were having an effect, but they were far from sufficient. 

“A year ago, on this day, the Government of Afghanistan committed itself to the prevention of torture by acceding to the Optional Protocol to the Convention against Torture,” Ms. Bachelet said. 

“I urge the Government to work swiftly to create a National Preventive Mechanism to ensure independent, impartial scrutiny of the treatment of detainees. A well-resourced watchdog of this sort, which is able to make unannounced visits to places of detention and raise awareness of what constitutes torture and ill-treatment according to international human rights law, can go a long way towards the ultimate goal of fully eradicating torture.” 

Also highlighted in the report are concerns over an Afghan National Army-run detention facility in Parwan, in the north-east of the country. 

These include overcrowding and the use of solitary confinement as the sole disciplinary measure, despite progress and “tangible results” made by the Government in implementing a national plan to eliminate torture. 

“We welcome the steps taken by the Government to prevent and investigate cases of torture and ill-treatment over the past two years,” said Tadamichi Yamamoto, the UN Special Representative for Afghanistan. 

“However…there is still a long way to go to eradicate this horrendous practice among conflict-related detainees,” he added. “Respect for the rule of law and human rights is the best way to create the conditions for sustainable peace.” 

‘Critical moment’ for sustainable development, UN chief tells major financing forum

“Uneven growth, rising debt levels, possible upticks in financial volatility, and heightened global trade tensions” are hampering progress on reaching the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), UN chief António Guterres told the Forum on Financing for Development on Monday, during what he called “a critical moment” to “accelerate action for sustainable development”. 

World Bank/Steve HarrisStudent riding to school on rainy day in southwest China.

Ministers, senior UN officials, high-level finance officials, civil society, business representatives and local authorities, are meeting at UN Headquarters for the four-day FfD Forum, as it is known for short.

Mr. Guterres said climate change, greenhouse gas emissions and technologies disrupting labour markets, were a major challenge, saying “We are here today as part of an effort to coordinate an urgent global response to reverse these trends”.

“Simply put,” he spelled out “we need more money to implement the Sustainable Development Goals”.

Noting that development aid remains essential, “especially for the poorest countries”, the UN chief shone a light on the importance of countries themselves generating more funding, including by increasing tax revenue and the impact of investment.

“National policy frameworks are key to reducing risks, creating an enabling business environment, incentivizing investment in public goals, and aligning financial systems with long-term sustainable development”, he stated.

‘Broad transformation’ needed

Inga Rhonda King, President of the Economic and Social Council (ECOSOC) opened the meeting by highlighting that while progress has been made, “we have not seen the broad transformation that we need, to achieve the SDGs by 2030”.

Pointing to economic and other risks, she homed in on “climate change, from the Caribbean to the Sahel”, which has actively reversed development gains; rising debt levels, which stifle investment in sustainable development; and increasing trade tensions dampening economic growth and inequalities within countries.

To address these risks, Ms. King stressed the need to: renew commitments to global multilateral cooperation; align financing frameworks to integrate the 2030 Agenda into national development strategies; and accelerate the financing of sustainable development.

“This Forum represents a critical milestone that sets the tone for the year ahead” she said.

Inga Rhonda King (centre), seventy-fourth President of the Economic and Social Council (ECOSOC), chairs the Financing for Development Forum of ECOSOC Session 2019. Also pictured (left to right): María Fernanda Espinosa, President of the General Assembly, , by UN Photo/Eskinder Debebe

Wanted: 600 million ‘decent jobs’

María Fernanda Espinosa, President of the General Assembly, noted that while global economic growth has remained steady, it was not enough just to support the 2030 Agenda.

She underscored the need to generate “600 million new decent jobs” up to 2030, which requires policies to take advantage of public and private SDG funding; mobilizing national resources by targeting tax policies, and more international tax cooperation to deal with tax evasion. 

“A sustainable development future requires investing now, in the present”, she maintained. “Now it is time to act, to take decisive steps to make the promise to ‘free the human race from the tyranny of poverty’ a reality and contribute to make our Organization more relevant for all”.

‘A delicate moment’ for the economy

“The world economy right now is at a delicate moment”, said the Deputy Managing Director of the International Monetary Fund (IMF), Tao Zhang, echoing the outcome of the World Bank and IMF’s spring meetings in Washington last week.

While global expansion continues, he stated that it was at a slower pace than anticipated.

“We need to do better”, he spelled out, noting that stronger medium-term growth will be “essential for developing countries” to achieve the SDGs.

He detailed three “complimentary and reinforcing areas of policy action” to address this, namely, domestic policies to build resilience and promote inclusion; upgraded international cooperation; and the commitment to work together on broader global challenges.

Actions required today

From the World Bank, Mahmoud Mohieldin, Senior Vice President for the 2030 Development Agenda, UN Relations, and Partnerships, said that “business as usual, simply put, will not get us into ending extreme poverty by 2030”.

“There will be hundreds of millions of people will be suffering from extreme poverty by 2030 if business remains as we do it today”, with nine-out-of-ten of those affected, in Africa. “Actions are required today”, he exclaimed.

As an outcome of the spring meetings he said “we need bold and urgent reforms in development policies and financing” to achieve job growth opportunities and sustainability in the next decade. 

Youthful demographics

Delivering a keynote address, Tharman Shanmugaratnam, Deputy Prime Minister of Singapore and Chair of the G20 Eminent Persons Group on Global Financial Governance highlighted the importance of mobilizing young people.

Noting that the size of the “youthful bulge” in our populations “vastly exceeds what we’ve seen before”, he said “the largest challenge” was that “we are not prepared to create the jobs required” for them.

We are ill-prepared by “every measure” of education, skills development and ability to provide young people with decent jobs”, he lamented.

Mr. Shanmugaratnam painted a picture of a failure to create jobs intersecting with other global challenges, such as climate change, loss of the world’s biodiversity and the spread of infectious disease, as having consequences that would surpass just economic costs.

Monday’s Daily Brief: ‘Horror’ at Notre Dame fire disaster, Yemen still bleeding, measles now ‘global crisis’

Top news on Monday includes: UN chief expresses his horror over the huge blaze in Notre Dame; a deal over Hudaydah troop withdrawal beckons, but war intensifies; “global measles crisis” underway.

Katie DallingerNotre Dame cathedral in Paris was under renovation when it caught fire on 15 April 2019.

UN chief ‘horrified’ as Notre Dame burns

As Notre Dame Cathedral burned on Monday, UN Secretary-General António Guterres expressed his “horror” at the images of the fire, shown live around the world.

The UN chief said that his thoughts are with the people and Government of France.

Audrey Azoulay, head of UNESCO – the Paris-based UN agency for education, science and culture – also expressed her “deep emotion” on social media.

Ms. Azoulay wrote that UNESCO is closely monitoring the situation and is standing by the French people’s side to “safeguard and restore this invaluable heritage.”

The Organization elevated Notre-Dame, widely considered to be one of the finest examples of French gothic architecture, to world heritage status in 1991.

Construction began in 1163, on the central Parisian island in the middle of the Seine, known as Île de la Cité, during the reign of King Louis VII, and it was finally completed in 1345.

Plan for troop pullback ‘now accepted’ by rival forces around key Yemen port, but fighting intensifying elsewhere, Security Council warned

A plan to withdraw forces from front lines in and around the key Yemeni port of Hudaydah has been accepted by pro-Government forces and Houthi rebels, the UN Special Envoy to the country told the Security Council on Monday, warning however that war shows “no sign of abating” elsewhere.

OCHA/Giles ClarkeChildren walk through a damaged part of downtown Craiter in Aden, Yemen. The area was badly damaged by airstrikes in 2015 as the Houthi’s were driven out of the city by coalition forces.

Martin Griffiths said that after a “long and difficult process” agreeing the details of a UN-backed plan, which the warring parties signed up to in Sweden last December to de-escalate fighting around Hudaydah, as the start of a process to hopefully end the fighting nationwide, “both parties have now accepted the detailed redeployment plan for phase one”, and the UN was now “moving with all speed towards resolving the final outstanding issues”.

He said the breakthrough would mark the “first voluntary withdrawals of forces in this long conflict”, noting that violence had “significantly reduced” around the Red Sea port city, which is the entry point for the vast majority of aid and goods for the whole country, since the fragile ceasefire began.

Mr. Griffiths told Council members he was committed to helping facilitate a political solution to end the war: “My primary responsibility in the next few weeks will be to winnow down differences between the parties so that when they meet they can, in all efficiency, be asked to answer precise questions about the nature of the arrangements to end the war”, he said.

“I seek the support of this Council for this approach. I ask you to put your faith in the desperate need for peace which is the daily prayer of the millions of Yemenis who still believe in its prospect.

Without more support ‘the end is nigh’ for Yemenis: Lowcock

UN Affairs Chief, Mark Lowcock, was next to brief the chamber, also via video-link, picking up Martin Griffith’s passionate plea for the international community to act now, to save countless Yemeni lives.

He reiterated his earlier call for a nationwide ceasefire, adding that “all the men with guns and bombs need to stop the violence. We again remind the parties that international humanitarian law binds them in all locations and at all times.”

But bullets are not the only risk to life and limb he warned, citing that so far this year, 200,000 suspected cases of deadly cholera had been reported, almost three times the same period last year.

“We see the consequences of the destruction of the health system elsewhere too. More than 3,300 cases of diphtheria have been reported since 2018 – the first outbreak in Yemen since 1982. Earlier this year, new measles cases surged to nearly twice the levels reported at the same time in 2018”.

Looming over everything, the risk of famine continues, he warned, saying that the World Food Programme (WFP) was upping the reach of support for the world’s largest aid operation, from nine million a month, to 12 million “in the coming months”.

Access to the vulnerable remains a key challenge he said, making clear that grain that could feed 3.7 million hungry Yemenis in Hudaydah’s Red Sea Mills, remained trapped due to conflict. Secondly, money was running out to save lives, he said, with only $267 million received so far, out of $2.6 billion pledged.

WHO, he said, “projects that 60 per cent of diarrhoea treatment centres could close in the coming weeks, and services at 50 per cent of secondary care facilities, could be disrupted.”

“We remain keenly aware that a sustainable peace – as Martin has said many times – would be the most effective remedy for the humanitarian crisis in Yemen”, Mr. Lowcock concluded. “Without peace, we will simply go on treating the symptoms of this crisis, instead addressing the cause.”

“Let me summarize. Violence has again increased. The relief operation is running out of money. Barring changes, the end is nigh.”

UN Photo/Loey FelipeVirginia Gamba, Special Representative of the Secretary-General for Children and Armed Conflict, briefs the Security Council meeting on the situation in the Middle East (Yemen).

Level of violence, abuse against children ‘simply unacceptable’: Gamba

The UN’s Special Representative for Children and Armed Conflict, Virginia Gamba, focussed on how Yemen’s most vulnerable had borne the brunt of war with a “staggering” figure of more than 3,000 children “verified as recruited and used”, while more than 7,500 were killed and maimed, with over 800 cases of humanitarian access denied, during nearly five years of fighting.

Almost half of those killed and maimed, she said, were victims of airstrikes, for which the Saudi-led coalition supporting the Government, “bears the main responsibility”.

On the ground however, “the Houthis were responsible for the majority” of casualties, predominantly through shelling, mortar and small arms fire.

Ms. Gamba said she had secured agreements with both warring parties during her time in office, to strengthen the protection of child lives, and to cut down on the recruitment of children as part of the war effort.

“The violence Yemeni children have been subjected to – and still are – is simply unacceptable. I urge all parties to the conflict to take immediate measures to ensure that their military operations are conducted in full compliance with international law, including through respecting the principles of distinction, proportionality and precaution.”

She too, called on the international community to prioritize funding for Yemen, “in order to provide children with a chance to survive, learn, and construct the Yemen of the future”.

The Stockholm Agreement had provided hope, “yet as fighting continues and intensifies in parts of the country”, said the Special Representative, “I urge the parties to swiftly implement the commitments made. The tragedy of Yemeni children and their role in the Yemen of tomorrow emphasizes the need to put them at the heart of the peace process.

From ‘dead on the inside’ to ‘truly alive’: Survivor of genocide against the Tutsi in Rwanda recounts her story as UN marks 25th anniversary

“Miraculously I had no machete marks” a survivor of the Genocide against the Tutsi in Rwanda told a solemn United Nations event in New York on Friday, 25 years on, to remember the systematic killing of more than one million people, over less than three months.

UNICEF/Giacomo PirozziIn 1996 in Rwanda, wooden crosses mark the graves in a cemetery in the village of Nyanza in a rural area of Kigali, the capital. During the 1994 genocide, over 10,000 people were burned to death in Nyanza as they tried to escape towards Burundi. 12

“Most of the survivors we have today were broken in their bodies and their souls”, Esther Mujawayo-Keiner told those gathered in the General Assembly Hall, to reflect on what UN chief António Guterres referred to as “one of the darkest chapters in recent human history”, which overwhelmingly targeted Tutsi, but also moderate Hutu and others who opposed the genocide.

Esther Mujawayo-Keiner, survivor of the 1994 Genocide against the Tutsi in Rwanda, shares her story during the International Day of Reflection, 2019, by UN Photo/Eskinder Debebe

She recounted how the genocide took almost all of her immediate family, including her parents, most of her siblings and her husband. She thought she might be the last woman left standing, “because it was almost impossible to survive”.

But slowly, she discovered there were other widows – a new kind of family – adding that the “widows clan” helped her to be “truly alive” and no longer “dead on the inside”, and together with other female survivors, she founded the widows’ association AVEGA.

Beware of ‘dangerous trends’

“Today we stand in solidarity with the people of Rwanda”, Secretary-General Guterres told the gathering, calling on everyone present to acknowledge “dangerous trends of rising xenophobia, racism and intolerance” at work throughout the world today.

Calling the current widespread proliferation of hate speech and incitement to violence “an affront to our values, which threatens “human rights, social stability and peace”, he saw them as the “dangerous trends” that were “clearly present in Rwanda immediately before the genocide”.

UN Secretary-General António Guterres addresses the Commemoration of the International Day of Reflection on the 1994 Genocide against the Tutsi in Rwanda in the General Assembly Hall, April 2019., by UN News/Elizabeth Scaffidi

“Today’s commemoration gives us an opportunity to once again raise our voices against racism, xenophobia and related intolerance, including social and ethnic discrimination, anti-Muslim hatred and anti-Semitism”, the UN chief asserted. “Wherever they occur, these evils should be identified, confronted and stopped to prevent them leading, as they have in the past, to hate crimes and genocide”.

Mr. Guterres called on all political, religious and civil society leaders to
“reject hate speech and discrimination”, and to root out the causes that “undermine social cohesion and create conditions for hatred and intolerance”.

“Let us all pledge to work together to build a harmonious future for all people, everywhere” he said, calling it “the best way to honour those who lost their lives so tragically in Rwanda 25 years ago”.

‘Enshrine’ past lessons for future generation

“Tutsi were decimated”, General Assembly President María Fernanda Espinosa stated. Beginning on 7 April 1994, “those [who] opposed the genocide, including Hutus, were also targeted and killed”.

Putting the bloodshed into perspective, she said that “an average of over 8,000 people a day, more than 30 in the time allocated to this ceremony” were slaughtered.

“The international community watched in horror, but we did not prevent the atrocities”, lamented Ms. Espinosa, asking those gathered to “rekindle our efforts to realize our promise of ‘never again’” by investing in education “to enshrine the lessons” of the past, fight hate speech and “call out those who dehumanize others”.

Rising from the ashes

Keynote speaker Rwandan President Paul Kagame attested to his country’s fighting spirit, of how it went from darkness to hope, and called honour and prevention acts of remembrance.

“We honour the victims. We honour the courage of the survivors, and we honour the manner in which the Rwandans have come together to rebuild our nation” he asserted.

Citing “denial and trivialization” as the foundation of genocide, Mr. Kagame stressed that “countering denial is essential for breaking the cycle and preventing any recurrence”.

Lighting candles during the commemoration of the International Day of Reflection on the 1994 Genocide against the Tutsi in Rwanda., by UN Photo/Eskinder Debebe

He pointed out that Rwanda has been among the top five UN peacekeeping contributors, explaining that his nation contributes soldiers and police, “with values instilled by our tragic history”.

“As a nation once betrayed by the international community, we are determined to do our part to working with others to make things better going forward”, President Kagame concluded.

For her part, Valentine Rugwabiza, Rwanda’s UN Ambassador, reflected on the time, 25 years ago, when “the world and the United Nations abandoned Rwanda”.

She viewed the event underway in “this very house that let Rwanda down”, as a historic one and expressed gratitude that although her country had experienced “interrupted” peace and security, it is now on the solid foundation “of social cohesion”.

No crime ‘like any other’

“I was asked to provide a photo of my family”, said survivor Marcel Uwineza, a Jesuit priest. “I actually don’t have any”.

He painted a picture of Hutus and Tutsis being pitted against each other, where “uncles turned against their nephews and nieces” and where his family “lost everything”.

Reverend Uwineza underscored that the genocide “was born of racist policy rather than war”, as many claim.

“We have to challenge the many deniers who use war as a means to minimize the gravity of the genocide, knowing that all lives matter, but a genocide is no crime like any other” he underlined.

Speaking about the “joy of reconciliation”, the priest described meeting the man who killed his two brothers and sister, saying that he had initially thought he was going to be murdered as well. But instead, the man knelt before him and asked for forgiveness.

“When finally I said ‘I forgive you’, I felt free”, Reverend Uwineza said.

Women must be at ‘centre of peacekeeping decision-making’, UN chief tells Security Council

Women’s rights, voices and participation must be at “the centre of peacekeeping decision-making”, United Nations Secretary-General António Guterres told the Security Council on Thursday, describing them as “central to sustainable solutions” to challenges facing the Organization worldwide.

MINUSCA/Hervé Serefio Zambian female peacekeepers provide medical support to the local population in Birao, Central African Republic.

Through its landmark resolution 1325 on women and peace and security, the Council reaffirmed the participation and involvement of women, which the UN chief hailed as “a key element in the maintenance of international peace and security”. He also noted the UN’s “essential system-wide effort” to enhance women’s representation at all levels and in all arenas, through his Strategy on Gender Parity.

United Nations Secretary-General briefs the Security Council on women in peacekeeping operations, 11 April 2019., by UN Photo/Manuel Elias

“This is not just a question of numbers, but also of our effectiveness in fulfilling our mandates”, he stated, citing evidence that more women peacekeepers lead to more credible protection responses that meet the needs of all.

In patrol units women can better access intelligence to provide a holistic view of security challenges, and at checkpoints they promote a less confrontational atmosphere, he said.

Within troop contingents they lower incidences of sexual exploitation and abuse; yield greater reporting of sexual and gender-based violence; and can access local women’s networks, leading to more inclusive peace processes.

‘Step towards parity’

The Secretary-General thanked the more than 150 Member States who have signed on to his Action for Peacekeeping (A4P) initiative, which calls for women’s participation in every stage of peace operations, and integrates a gender perspective into all analysis, planning, implementation and reporting.

And he was grateful to the States who, at last week’s Ministerial on Peacekeeping, launched the Elsie Initiative to break down barriers to increasing women’s participation in peace operations.

In support of the UN’s commitments in these areas, Mr. Guterres noted a range of actions, including the Gender-Responsive Peacekeeping Operations Policy, which “commits us to promoting leadership and accountability both for gender equality and for the women, peace and security agenda”.

Flagging that since December 2015, the number of women in uniform has increased by only around one per cent, he spelled out that “this is clearly not enough”.

“This year”, he informed the Chamber, “we rolled out the Uniformed Gender Parity Strategy”, which, among other things, targets by 2028 a range of 15 to 35 per cent of women’s representation, including military, police and justice and corrections personnel.

While acknowledging that it “has been more challenging”, Mr. Guterres vowed “to press ahead”, adding that “keep on track, we need assistance from you, the Member States”.

He asked for a greater focus on women in battalions and formed police units and for the sustained recruitment and deployment of women within national services.

Noting that for the first time in UN history the senior leadership is close to achieving gender parity, Mr. Guterres reiterated his commitment to sustaining that progress: “We need to bring the same spirit to our peace operations”, he stressed. “This is crucial for our effectiveness, credibility and reputation”. 

‘Pushing gender equality’

The first female Force Commander and current Head of the UN Truce Supervision Organization (UNTSO) mission, Major General Kristin Lund told the Council that the “momentum of pushing gender equality must be kept”.

As Force Commander of the UN mission in Cyprus, she teamed up with Lisa Buttenheim, the Special Representative at the time. “For once I did not need to convince my boss that gender was important” she said. “Both of us had gender equality in our spine”.

The Major General enumerated some examples of her work in increasing the number of women, helping them in missions and reaching out to local communities.

Noting many reasons why the armed forces have a difficulty keeping women in the ranks, she outlined frequent obstacles thrown up by male culture in military settings, giving the example of how “posters with half naked women” hang in mission gyms.

“How many women do gym in bikinis?” Ms. Lund asked rhetorically, saying that under her command in Cyprus “womanized posters vanished”.

Troops at the Peace Mission Training Center in the Zambian capital, Lusaka, undergoing training provided courtesy of the United States ahead of their deployment to CAR., by UNIC Lusaka

She also mandated that the all-male teams in military skills competitions had to have females.

“Gender is on the top of my agenda”, she said, adding that she initiated a female military network, engaged women to become more visible and increased the number of female observers.

Troop and police contributing countries “must do more” she said.

“We, out in the field, need to be able to reach out to the whole society. Only you can make that happen”, the Force Commander concluded.

Diversity is a strength

Chairing the meeting, German Federal Minister of Defense, Ursula von der Leyen said: “Women are no better peacekeepers than men, but they are different. And this diversity is a strength”.

Pointing out that Resolution 1325 has been in effect for almost 20 years, she maintained that it is “still far from full, effective and meaningful participation of women in peace operations”.

To change that, Ms. von der Leyen suggested, among other things, to have successful female mentors to share their stories to younger women; have more women in national forces for deployment to international peacekeeping missions; and assess national barriers that keeps more women from joining peace operations.

“The peacekeeper’s blue helmet symbolizes protection and security”, she said. “Let us make this helmet be worn by more women. For the sake of peace”.

‘Democratic aspirations of the Sudanese people’ must be met urges Guterres, following military removal of al-Bashir from power

UN chief António Guterres said on Thursday that the “democratic aspirations of the Sudanese people” need to be realized through “an appropriate and inclusive transition process”, following the overthrow and arrest of President Omar al-Bashir by order of the country’s new military governing council.

UN Sudan/Ayman SulimanProtesters demonstrate outside the Sudanese Armed Forces headquarters in the Sudanese capital, Khartoum.

In a statement issued in New York by his Spokesperson, the Secretary-General said he would continue to follow development “very closely” and reiterated his call for calm and “utmost restraint by all”.

In announcing the end of Mr. Bashir’s rule via State television, Sudan’s defence minister said that he was being held “in a secure place”, and the army would now oversee a two-year period of transition back to full civilian rule.

But on Thursday night, according to news reports, thousands of Sudanese in the capital Khartoum defied a military curfew which was supposed to keep citizens off the streets from 10pm until 4am, raising fears of fresh violence between security forces and protesters, as well as possible clashes between militia and army units.

An official message carried on State-run media stated that “the armed forces and security council will carry out its duty to uphold peace”, protect citizens’ security, and “citizens’ livelihoods”.

Mr. Guterres said in his statement that the UN “stands ready to support the Sudanese people as they chart a new way forward.” Earlier in the day, a group of UN human rights experts condemned reports of “excessive use of force against peaceful protesters in Sudan” during the past six days of heightened protest leading up to the overthrow of President Bashir, when tens-of-thousands took to the streets, holding a sit-in outside army headquarters in central Khartoum.

“While taking note of the latest reports that a military council is being formed”, the experts called on the authorities to respond to “the legitimate grievances of the people.” 

More than 20 killed, 100 injured in protests

More than 20 people have been killed and over 100 injured since 6 April, the experts said, adding they had also received reports of widespread arrests and attacks on journalists by the security forces.      

At the sit-in prior to the military takeover, the National Intelligence and Security Services used live ammunition and tear gas to disperse protesters, prompting the army to move in to protect them.

“In this moment of crisis, the exercise of the rights to freedom of expression and freedom of peaceful assembly needs to be protected and guaranteed,” said the UN Special Rapporteur on the rights to freedom of peaceful assembly and of association, Clément Nyaletsossi Voule, and the Special Rapporteur on the right to freedom of opinion and expression, David Kaye

Protests erupted nearly four months ago when the Government attempted to raise the prices of bread and basic commodities.   

“I urge the authorities to lift the national state of emergency and respond to the legitimate grievances of the Sudanese people through inclusive peaceful political process,” Mr. Voule said. “The Sudanese people, including human rights defenders, have the right to express their views and concerns through peaceful means, in particular on issues concerning fundamental rights,” added Michel Forst, UN Special Rapporteur on the situation of human rights defenders.

The UN Independent Expert on the situation of human rights in Sudan, Aristide Nononsi, said the State’s institutions are obliged to protect civilians and respect the people’s legitimate demands and constitutional rights.

“I call on State authorities to uphold their primary responsibility to protect the civilian population in Sudan, and I strongly urge the Sudanese military and security forces to exercise the utmost restraint to avoid further escalation of violence and to take immediate measures to protect the constitutional rights of the Sudanese”, Mr. Nononsi said.

Rapid-response aid, from UN’s emergency fund

Also on Thursday, Emergency Relief Coordinator Mark Lowcock released a $26.5 million Rapid Response allocation from the UN’s Central Emergency Response Fund to provide life-saving food, livelihood, nutrition, health, water and sanitation assistance to over 800,000 people affected by a worsening economic crisis and food insecurity across seven states in Sudan, over the next six months.

“The economic crisis has had knock-on effects on the wider humanitarian situation that go beyond food insecurity. Higher food prices, mean that families are eating less nutritious food and more young children and pregnant women are getting sick. Families struggle to afford even limited medical treatment,” said Mr. Lowcock.

The CERF allocation will target internally displaced people, refugees, host communities, and vulnerable residents in areas with some of the largest increases in food insecurity, including in East, North, South and West Darfur, Red Sea, West Kordofan and White Nile states.

‘Still time’ to stop a ‘bloody battle’ for Libya’s capital, insists Guterres

Speaking to reporters outside the Security Council in New York on Wednesday night, UN chief António Guterres said there was still time for a “bloody battle for Tripoli” to be avoided, despite the continuing fighting in and around the Libyan capital. 

Mohamed AlalemSecretary-General of the United Nations António Guterres listening to migrants and refugees during his visit to Ain Zara Detention center in Tripoli, Libya. 4 April, 2019.

The offensive directed towards the capital, and troops loyal to the internationally-recognized Government led by Faiez Serraj, began on Monday. UN Spokesperson Stephane Dujarric briefed reporters earlier in the day that clashes were “reportedly intensifying, with increased use of artillery and airstrikes”. 

The self-styled Libyan National Army (LNA) which controls much of eastern and southern Libya under the command of Khalifa Haftar, is attempting to advance into the capital, meeting resistance from pro-Government fighters. 

Mr. Guterres said that following his mission to the Middle East last week, which included a three-day visit to Libya in support of the UN Mission UNSMIL and the efforts led by Prime Minister Serraj to forge a political consensus to end years of instability and division, he had left a meeting with Commander Haftar in Benghazi on Friday, with a “heavy heart”, and his concerns had been “until now…entirely confirmed.” 

“But there was “still time to stop…still time for a ceasefire to take place – for a cessation of hostilities to take place and to avoid the worse which would be a dramatic, bloody battle for Tripoli.” 

There was still time “to recognize there is no military solution”, he continued. “Only political solutions can apply to situations like the one in Libya”.  

He reiterated his hope that the political process which was due to kickstart once more this coming weekend with a national conference on the way forward, could still resume, and earlier in the day, UN Special Representative for Libya and UNSMIL chief, Ghassan Salamé, met Mr. Serraj, trying to de-escalate the situation. 

“I want to express my enormous admiration for the work that is courageously being done on the ground by my Special Representative”, said Mr. Guterres. “On my side, and using our good offices, we will do everything to support his efforts.” 

“At the same time, I am particularly worried with migrants and refugees that were caught in this terrible situation”, he added, saying he was glad that UN Refugee Agency, UNHCR, had managed to evacuate detention camps around the capital. “But there are terrible concerns in relation to, not only the lives of the Libyans, but also the migrants and refugees in the city and other foreigners in the city and one reason more for us to believe that we absolutely need to stop this fighting”, he told correspondents in New York. 

Asked about his view on what the Security Council should do at this point, he said: “It is very clear for me that we need to restart a serious political dialogue and a serious political negotiation, but it is obvious that that cannot take place without fully stopping hostilities.” 

Venezuela’s needs ‘significant and growing’ UN humanitarian chief warns Security Council, as ‘unparalleled’ exodus continues

Over a month after two competing resolutions on Venezuela failed to pass, the UN Security Council met on Wednesday to discuss the “very real humanitarian problem” facing the country, where close to 7 million people are in dire need of aid, and some 5,000 people continue to flee across borders every day.

@UNHCR/Vincent TremeauVenezuelan migrant in Colombia. About 5,000 people have been crossing borders daily to leave Venezuela over the past year, according to UN data. Colombia, April 2019. 

Tensions in the country escalated in January this year, when Juan Guaidó, head of the country’s National Assembly, challenged the legitimacy of the sitting President, Nicolás Maduro, in power since 2013 and sworn in again for a second term this past January, following an election process disputed by many in opposition. 

This was the fourth meeting of the Council on Venezuela, since the first one took place on 26 January. With both Russian and United States draft resolutions failing to pass in February, US Vice-President Mike Pence briefed the Council on Wednesday, calling on the UN to revoke the credentials of President Maduro, and recognize his challenger. But Russian Ambassador Vassily Nebenzia, said the US was looking to install its own “pawn”, describing the US effort as a “lawless, thuggish violation of international law”.  

Humanitarian overview 

“There is a very real humanitarian problem in Venezuela,” said Mark Lowcock, the UN humanitarian chief. “We estimate that 7 million people in Venezuela need humanitarian assistance. That is some 25 per cent of the population,” he added, noting that the situation further deteriorated recently given the “recurrent widespread power outages”, which have hampered the capacity to deliver many services, including water and sewage systems, as well as medical care.  

“The context is a severe and continuing economic contraction, with associated dramatic increases in inflation, on a scale seen in few if any other countries around the world in recent years,” Mr. Lowcock explained, adding that “The scale of need is significant and growing.” 

The UN’s head of humanitarian affairs went on to present some key figures: 

  • 3.7 million are believed to have suffered from undernourishment in 2018. 
  • 2.8 million people are estimated to need health assistance.  
  • 400,000 cases of malaria were recorded in 2017, a 70 per cent increase from 2016.  
  • 17 per cent of people living in poverty have no access to safe water, or receive it only once a fortnight. 
  • 2.7 million vulnerable people in the country need of protection assistance.  

The United Nations has been expanding its humanitarian operations, releasing US$9 million from its emergency response fund, the CERF, and increasing the number of staff in the country from 210 to 400.  

“Our efforts are in line with the humanitarian principles of humanity, neutrality, impartiality and independence,” Mr. Lowcock said.  

Dr. Kathleen Page, a professor at Johns Hopkins University’s School of Medicine, also briefed the Council based on recent findings from the non-profit organisation Human Rights Watch. She stated that the country was facing a deep health-care crisis, with a measles epidemic that could stand at 9,300 cases, and a diphtheria outbreak that could have affected as many as 2,500 people.  

‘Unparalleled’ flow of migrants, refugees  

Regarding the situation of migrants and refugees outside the country, Eduardo Stein, the Joint Special Representative of the UN refugee and migration agencies (UNHCR and IOM) described the current “population outflow” as “unparalleled in the modern history of the region.” There are currently 3.7 million Venezuelans living outside of their country; 4 in 5 of them left after 2015.  

Last year Venezuelans left the country at a net rate of 5,000 per day and they continue to leave the country – Joint UNHCR-IOM Special Representative Eduardo Stein

“Last year Venezuelans left the country at a net rate of 5,000 per day and they continue to leave the country despite recent border closures on the Venezuelan side. If the trends in 2019 continue, we estimate that the total number of Venezuelans outside the country will exceed 5 million by the end of the year,” he warned.  

He listed some of the factors that are pushing people to leave, sometimes under “very dangerous conditions”: insecurity and violence; lack of access to food, medicine and essential services; loss of income and lack of effective national protection systems.  

As more than 20 countries are affected by these population movements, the Special Representative insisted on the importance of a harmonized multilateral approach regarding reception conditions, stay requirements, services offered by receiving countries, efforts for cultural integration, and access to rights and legal documentation.  

Meetings to address these key issues have been taking place in Ecuador, with the participation of a dozen countries, several UN agencies, international cooperation agencies and financial organisations. Argentina and Paraguay have agreed to host the process hereon after.  

“Despite these efforts, national capacities are increasingly strained, in some cases with the risk of denial of entry or access to regular migration schemes,” deplored Mr. Stein.  

Five action points to ease humanitarian crisis 

UN humanitarian chief Mark Lowcock and Special Representative Stein made five keys asks to the 15 members of the Council.  

1. Ensure respect for principled humanitarian action: 
“There is a need to separate political and humanitarian objectives,” said Mr. Lowcock, who stressed that humanitarian aid should be delivered “based on need alone”, and that the support of the Council is needed to “safeguard the neutral and impartial nature of humanitarian action.” 

2. Improve humanitarian access: 
Recognizing recent steps taken by the Government of Venezuela to facilitate the entrance of additional humanitarian staff into the country, the UN relief chief said more organisations are needed on the ground, as well as additional data to ensure that the understanding of the needs “evolves with the situation”.   

3. Additional funding for more relief: 
Thanking Member States for the funds already provided for the humanitarian response, both Mr. Lowcock and Mr. Stein stressed that “a lot more” is needed give the scale of the crisis. 

4. More support for migrant-receiving countries: 
The initiatives adopted in the multilateral meetings in Ecuador require more support, as do the States “employing open doors policies to receive, assist and host Venezuelan outflows”, Mr. Stein explained.  

5. Remember the needs of host communities: 
The UNHCR-IOM Special Representative noted that, by addressing the needs of host communities too, “we can increase the impact of the humanitarian response” as well as “mitigate the possibilities of xenophobic expressions”. 

US, Venezuela trade diplomatic blows 

Venezuelan migrants in Colombia. About 5,000 people have been crossing borders daily to leave Venezuela over the past year, according to UN data. Colombia, April 2019.Photo: UNHCR/Vincent Tremeau

As Member States laid out their views, the US Vice-President said that the United States had simply been “standing with the people of Venezuela” who have been “devastated by the Maduro regime”, by positioning humanitarian cargo at the border and by funding humanitarian operations.  

He said that “all options are on the table” for resolving the crisis, stating that the time “is up” for Mr. Maduro. Mr. Pence announced that the US was preparing a Securtiy Council resolution “recognizing the legitimacy of Juan Guaidó” and he asked all UN Member States for their support, beyond the several dozen countries which have already done so since the beginning of the year. 

Venezuela’s Foreign Minister, Jorge Arreaza, responded by stressing that Venezuela has suffered under the weight of international sanctions and asset freezes.  

“If it was true that the Venezuelan Government is killing its own people, then why is this group of countries doing everything it can to increase the suffering?” he asked, stating that the emphasis placed by the US on humanitarian needs in Venezuela was merely a “pretext of foreign military intervention” and “calculated cruelty.”