Two-thirds of global drug deaths now from opioids: UN drugs report

26 June 2019

Opioids, which include both heroin and legal pain relievers, were responsible for around two-thirds of drug-related deaths in 2017, a new UN report revealed on Wednesday. The number for global opioid users contained within the World Drug Report, some 585,000 people, is more than double the previous estimate.

The study from the UN Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC), also shows that the negative health consequences associated with drugs are more severe and widespread than previously thought, with around 35 million people suffering from drug use disorders and requiring treatment services.

Higher figures attributed to improved research and data

Some 11 million people injected drugs in 2017, 1.4 million of whom are living with HIV, and 5.6 million with hepatitis C. UNODC explains the significantly higher figures are due in part to improved research and more precise data, including more knowledge of the extent of drug use from new surveys conducted in India and Nigeria, two of the most populous countries in the world.

“The findings of this year’s World Drug Report fill in and further complicate the global picture of drug challenges, underscoring the need for broader international cooperation to advance balanced and integrated health and criminal justice responses to supply and demand”, said Yury Fedotov, UNODC Executive Director, in a statement.

Overall rising trend in drug use, cocaine production at an all-time high

Whilst the overall figure for drug use in 2017, an estimated 271 million people, was similar to the previous year, the trend is rising, and the number of people using drugs is now some 30 per cent higher than it was ten years ago.

This is partly attributed to a 10 per cent increase in the global population aged 15-64, but also increased opioid use in Africa, Asia, Europe and North America, as well as higher cannabis consumption in North and South America, and Asia. Opiods are the class of illegal drugs derived from heroin – opium poppies – including synthetics such as fentanyl, and other prescription medications such as Oxycontin and Vicodin.

The manufacture of cocaine – chiefly from South America – reached an all-time high in 2017, with an estimated production of 2,000 tons in 2017, up by a quarter on the previous year. At the same time, seizures of cocaine rose 13 per cent to 1,275 tons, another record figure.

UNAMA/Eric Kanalstein

Peace divident palpable in South Sudan, but ‘grassroots’ are moving faster than elites, says Shearer

25 June 2019

The peace dividend from last year’s ceasefire in South Sudan is palpable, but political elites need to follow the example set by local communities on the ground if lasting progress is to be achieved, said the top UN official in the country on Tuesday.

Special Representative and head of the UN Mission in South Sudan (UNMISS), David Shearer, was briefing the Security Council in New York on efforts to build a durable peace and protect civilians from the ravages of a brutal conflict that erupted between forces loyal to President Salva Kiir, and his former deputy, Riek Machar, in 2013.

Last September, a revitalized peace agreement was signed between the two, and it has largely held: “The drop in political violence…has meant hundreds, if not thousands of people are alive, who otherwise would not be”, said Mr. Shearer.

According to UN figures, more than half a million South Sudanese have chosen to return home, including more than 210,000 refugees from neighbouring countries.

“These positive signs come from a very low base. But it’s a glimmer of what is possible with peace. And it is vital that this trend continues”, he said. “Since the signing of the peace agreement, more than 110 rapprochements have occurred in communities around the country. UNMISS directly facilitated more than a quarter of these.”

Based on direct experience, the UNMISS chief said that the pace of dialogue and peacebuilding “at the grassroots level, is moving much faster than amongst the elites negotiating nationally. The country’s politicians need to listen to the mood of the people and follow the lead set by these local communities.”

Even though 79 per cent of people interviewed in a survey reported that a member of their immediate family had been killed in the civil war, a remarkable 89 per cent still believe “there will be lasting peace by the end of the year,” he said.

“Let’s be frank. The fighting has stopped because the leaders ordered their soldiers to stop. If it resumes – against the will of the people – it will be because those same leaders want it, and ordered it, to happen.”

He said the latest delay until November, in forming a united transitional Government, had to be the last, adding that more face-to-face meetings between the President and his former deputy were essential: “If at a local level, if former bitter enemies can put the past behind them and reconcile, their national leaders must do the same. These leader-to-leader meetings, preferably held in Juba (South Sudan’s capital), are critical because trust and confidence can’t cold start the day a new unified Government is formed.”

Safe, voluntary and dignified return ‘a growing trend’

Mr. Shearer said the safe and voluntary return of internally-displaced and refugees, should be seen in the context of the 2.3 million South Sudanese still living as refugees, and nearly two million IDPs. But prior to the revitalized peace deal, he noted, there were around 18,000 choosing to go home, compared with 76,000 each month today.

He said the most common reason why IDPs were reluctant to leave Protection of Civilian sites now, was so as not to interrupt their children’s education, not a fear of insecurity.

“Our protection role will naturally diminish if there is peace. We can then look to adjust our troop requirements accordingly, while continuing our mediation and peace building actions,” said Mr. Shearer, formerly a top politician in his native New Zealand.

‘No significant action’ taken against perpetrators of alleged war crimes

Briefing Council members next, was Assistant Secretary-General for Human Rights, Andrew Gilmour, who said the rights division of UNMISS had documented a “significant and welcome decrease” in overall violations and abuses by men in uniform – both Government and opposition – across the country.

But a “major exception” was “the continued prevalence of sexual violence” which peaked in Bentiu at the end of last year. In Central Equatoria today, Government and opposition fighters continue to clash, generating reports of harrowing abuse, said Mr. Gilmour, who noted that inter-communal violence had evolved from traditional grievances, to political ones, remaining a serious concern.

“Despite the existence of a body of evidence that war crimes and crimes against humanity have taken place in South Sudan, no significant action has been taken against the perpetrators”, he said. “Today, a general culture of impunity persists…and continues to fuel acts of violence against civilians.”

To break the cycle, the senior rights official said it was vital “to ensure that the transitional justice mechanisms outlined in the peace agreement, are implemented.”

He asked the Council to urge Government and opposition to abide by and implement their commitments, and rein in sexual violence. Finally, he called on “the entire international community to stop the cycle of impunity” and realize a court process to provide justice, for the victims of the brutal conflict.

UNMISS/Isaac Billy
A government soldier leaves a school in Kodok, South Sudan, which had been used to accommodate the South Sudan People Defense Forces. (May 2019)

Security Council approved “historic’ political Haiti mission, ending UN peacekeeping role in the country

25 June 2019

The Security Council on Monday approved a resolution to create a UN “Integrated Office” in Haiti, designed to support the country’s government in strengthening political stability and good governance. The Office, named BINUH, will replace the 15-year long peacekeeping mission, MINUJUSTH, on October 16.

BINUH will be run by a Special Representative, who will assist the Government of Haiti with planning elections; training the Haitian National Police on human rights; responding to gang violence; ensuring compliance with international human rights obligations; improving prison oversight; and strengthening the justice sector.

Speaking on behalf of the United States, which drafted the resolution, acting Ambassador Jonathan Cohen, described the adoption of the resolution as “a historic moment”, but said that US was “clear-eyed” about the challenges that lie ahead, and recognized that a successful transition in Haiti will depend on the Government assuming responsibility for a range of issues, including ensuring free and fair elections, a reduction in gang violence, and the protection of human rights.

Mr. Cohen added that close coordination between UN entities, international partners, and others invested in Haiti’s success, will be necessary, and that “constructive and inclusive dialogue”, will “lay the foundation for a sustainable future for all Haitians”.

‘Disappointment’ over removal of climate change references

However, some top diplomats in the Council expressed their disappointment that the resolution did not stress Haiti’s vulnerability in the face of climate change.

Germany’s Ambassador to the United Nations, Christophe Heusgen, pointed out that, since 2011, the Security Council has repeatedly made clear its concern that the effects of climate change may aggravate existing threats to peace and security. Mr Heusgen added that, in Haiti, climate change is a “threat multiplier”, which could further destabilize the country, and “create new conflicts over increasingly diminishing resources and derail efforts in peace-building and stabilization.”

Haitian Chargé d’Affaires Patrick Saint-Hilaire, said that the creation of BINUH was “a step in the right direction”, and pressed the UN to ensure that all Haitians enjoy stability, human rights, democracy and the rule of law, adding that he wanted the new Office to be ready to tackle the many difficulties faced by the country. Mr. Saint-Hilaire also raised the subject of climate change, citing the crisis as one of the many risks facing Haiti, alongside cholera, national disasters and “even hunger riots.”

 

New UN report on families in a changing world puts ‘women’s rights at their core’

25 June 2019
While women’s rights have advanced over the decades, gender inequalities and other fundamental human rights violations within families persist, according to a flagship study released on Tuesday, from the UN’s gender empowerment agency.
UN Women/Mariken Harbitz
Changing families give rise to needed policy changes. Sao Mimol kisses her partner in Cambodia during an LGBT Pride event.

UN Women’s new report, “Progress of the World’s Women 2019-2020: Families in a Changing World”, shows that families, in all their diversity, “can be critical drivers of gender equality, provided decision-makers deliver policies rooted in the reality of how people live today, with women’s rights at their core”, said UN Women Executive Director Phumzile Mlambo-Ngcuka.

But it also adds that families can also be breeding grounds of conflict, inequality and, far too often, violence.

Anchored in global data, innovative analysis and specific case studies, the report paints a picture of the diversity of families globally and provides recommendations to support laws and policies that meet the needs of all family members, especially women and girls, and concrete proposals for implementation.

“Around the world, we are witnessing concerted efforts to deny women’s agency and their right to make their own decisions in the name of protecting ‘family values’”, Ms. Mlambo-Ngcuka stated.

Today, three billion women and girls live in countries where rape within marriage is not explicitly criminalized. But injustice and violations take other forms as well. In one-out-of-five countries, girls do not have the same inheritance rights as boys, while in a total of 19 others, women are legally required to obey their husbands. Moreover, in developing countries, about one-third of married women report having little or no say over their own healthcare decisions.

What’s trending

The report observed that the average marriage age has increased in all regions while birth rates have declined, and women overall have increased economic autonomy. Globally, 38 per cent of households are couples with children; and 27 per cent are extended families, including other relatives.

Single-parent families led by women, comprise eight per cent of households, where women have to juggle paid work, child-rearing and unpaid domestic work. Same-sex families are increasingly visible in all regions.

The study notes that women continue to enter the labour market in large numbers, but marriage and motherhood reduce their participation rates along with the income and benefits that come with it.

Half of married women between the ages of 25 and 54, two-thirds of single women and 96 per cent of married men, participate in the global labour force, according to new data. The fact that women continue to do three times as much unpaid care and domestic work as men, is a major driver of these inequalities.

The report sheds some positive light on parental leave, with an uptick in participation by fathers, particularly in countries where specific incentives, such as ‘daddy quotas’, are in place.

Report recommendations:

  • Amend and reform family laws to ensure that women can choose whether, when and who to marry; and enable women’s access to family resources.
  • Recognize diverse forms of partnership, to protect women in cohabiting and same-sex partnerships.
  • Invest in public services, especially reproductive healthcare, to expand women’s and girls’ life choices.
  • Push for social protection systems, such as paid parental leave and State support for children and older care to sustain families.
  • Ensure women’s safety by implementing laws to eliminate violence against women and girls and provide justice and support for violence survivors.

It also points out that families serve as a home for equality and justice, which is not only a moral imperative, but essential to achieve the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), the world’s most comprehensive agenda to ensure human progress.

The UN Women chief cited research and evidence showing “that there is no ‘standard’ form of family, nor has there ever been”.