At 50, UN development program revamps itself to tackle new sustainability goals

February 24, 2016 – The United Nations Development Programme (UNDP), with its presence in more than 170 poor and vulnerable countries, must rise to the challenge of advancing a “big, new, more complex, and transformational” sustainable development agenda, the head of the agency said today at a ministerial meeting to commemorate the 50th anniversary of its founding.

“For fifty years, UNDP has been working on the frontlines of development, advocating for change and connecting countries to the knowledge, experience, and resources they need to help people build better lives,” UNDP Administrator Helen Clark told the special meeting at UN Headquarters.

“The world has changed immeasurably in that time, and UNDP has changed with it,” she added.

But UNDP’s core mission remains more relevant than ever, she stressed, citing its mandate to support countries to eradicate poverty in a way which simultaneously reduces inequality and exclusion, while protecting the planet.

The 2030 Agenda and the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), adopted by 193 Member States last September, provide the framework for the next phase of UNDP’s work.

“We have already taken steps to ensure that UNDP is fit for purpose in the SDG era,” she said, noting that a more focused Strategic Plan includes the restructuring of headquarters to eliminate duplication and improve efficiency and effectiveness, as well as a shift of policy, programme, and other support closer to the field. UNDP also implemented measures which led to the agency being ranked among the most transparent development organizations in the world.

Given the ambition and breadth of the 2030 Agenda, UNDP must be ever more proactive, responsive, and innovative, she said, urging ministers and other participants to share their visions on how UNDP can better support Member States.

More specifically, she asked them to discuss the measures which lead to inclusive growth and the eradication of poverty in all its dimensions; the importance of balancing economic growth and improved livelihoods with the need to protect the environment; ways to ensure that governance, peace and security are durable and benefit all parts of society; and how to identify risks and take appropriate action to prepare for disasters and adapt to climate change.

UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon, in a video message to the meeting, said that UNDP’s strengths included its global presence and programmatic reach, its pioneering analysis and forceful advocacy, and a strong commitment to the most vulnerable members of society.

“UNDP also plays the key coordinating role in the UN development system,” he said, stressing that this role will become even more important as the Organization supports national efforts to achieve the SDGs.

Mogens Lykketoft, the President of the UN General Assembly, said that it is through UNDP that Member States have most explicitly sought to fulfil the Organization’s core objective of “advancement of social progress and better standards of life in larger freedom.”

UNDP has a geographical footprint corresponding to the multi-polar world, and a mandate that reflects the complexity of the global challenges of today, he noted. Citing its function as resident coordinator at country level, its presence in over 170 of the world poorest and most vulnerable countries, and its role as chair of the UN Development Group, he said “a dynamic UNDP will be and must be at the very heart of a dynamic response from the UN development system.”

“Together, you must deliver as one, advocate loudly for SDG action, work hand in hand with Member States and other partners, and promote accountability for last year’s commitment,” he concluded.

Afghan casualties hit record high 11,000 in 2015 – UN report

February 14, 2016 – The United Nations reported today that Afghan hostilities in 2015 left more than 3,500 civilians dead, including an unprecedented number of children – one in four casualties over the past year was a child – and nearly 7,500 others wounded, making this the highest number of civilian casualties recorded.

“This report records yet another rise in the number of civilians hurt or killed. The harm done to civilians is totally unacceptable,” said Nicholas Haysom, the Secretary-General’s Special Representative for Afghanistan and head of the UN Assistance Mission in the country (UNAMA), in a press release.

The annual report, produced by the UNAMA in coordination with the Office of the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights Office (OHCHR), shows that increased ground fighting in and around populated areas, along with suicide and other attacks in major cities, were the main causes of conflict-related civilian deaths and injuries in 2015.

“We call on those inflicting this pain on the people of Afghanistan to take concrete action to protect civilians and put a stop to the killing and maiming of civilians in 2016,” stressed Mr. Haysom.

UNAMA documented 11,002 civilian casualties (3,545 deaths and 7,457 injured) in 2015, exceeding the previous record levels of civilian casualties that occurred in 2014. The latest figures show an overall increase of four per cent during 2015 in total civilian casualties from the previous year. UNAMA began its systematic documentation of civilian casualties in 2009.

At a press conference today in Kabul, Mr. Haysom told reporters that while the figures in themselves are “awful,” the statistics and percentages contained in the report do not really reflect the real horror of the phenomenon.

 “The real cost we are talking about in these figures is measured in the maimed bodies of children, the communities who have to live with loss, the grief of colleagues and relatives, the families who have to make do without a breadwinner, the parents who grieve for lost children, the children who grieve for lost parents […] these are the real consequences of the acts described in this report,” he emphasized.

According the report, ground engagements between parties to the conflict caused the highest number of total civilian casualties (fatalities and injuries), followed by improvised explosive devices (IEDs) and suicide and complex attacks. Ground engagements caused the most fatalities among civilians, followed by targeted and deliberate killings.

“The people of Afghanistan continue to suffer brutal and unprincipled attacks that are forbidden under international law,” UN High Commissioner for Human Rights, Zeid Ra’ad Al Hussein said in the press release, adding that this is happening with almost complete impunity.

“The perpetrators of the violations, documented by UNAMA and my staff, must be held to account,” Mr. Zeid underscored, adding that the international community should emphasize far more vigorously that the rights of civilians should be protected.

Some of the report’s other key findings highlight that anti-Government elements continued to cause the most harm – 62 per cent of all civilian casualties – despite a 10 per cent reduction from 2014 in the total civilian casualties resulting from their attacks.

Notwithstanding the overall decrease, the report documents anti-Government elements increasing use of some tactics that deliberately or indiscriminately cause civilian harm, including targeted killings of civilians, complex and suicide attacks, as well as indiscriminate and illegal pressure-plate IEDs.

Civilian deaths and injuries caused by pro-Government forces caused 17 per cent of civilian casualties – 14 per cent from Afghan security forces, two per cent from international military forces, and one per cent from pro-Government armed groups. The report documents increased civilian casualties caused by pro-Government forces, including during ground engagements, aerial operations, and the activities of pro-Government armed groups.

In 2015, UNAMA documented a 37 per cent increase in women casualties and a 14 per cent increase in child casualties.

“In 2015, the conflict caused extreme harm to the civilian population, with particularly appalling consequences for children. Unprecedented numbers of children were needlessly killed and injured last year – one in four casualties in 2015 was a child,” said Danielle Bell, UNAMA Director of Human Rights. “Other children suffered the loss of parents, and increasingly their mothers, sisters, and female role models – one in 10 casualties was a woman.”

Former UN Secretary-General Boutros-Boutros Ghali passes away at 93

The United Nations Security Council announced this morning that Boutros Boutros-Ghali, UN Secretary-General from 1992 to 1996, has died at the age of 93.

A veteran Egyptian diplomat and the first UN chief from Africa, Mr. Boutros-Ghali, at the time of his appointment, had been Deputy Prime Minister for Foreign Affairs of Egypt since May 1991 and had served as Minister of State for Foreign Affairs from October 1977 until 1991.

The sixth United Nations Secretary-General, he term was marked by brutal conflicts in Haiti, Somalia, Rwanda and the former Yugoslavia, among others. Soon after his inauguration, the Security Council met in its first-ever summit of Heads of State. At their request, Boutros-Ghali authored the report called ‘An Agenda for Peace,’ an analysis on ways to strengthen UN capacity for preventive diplomacy, peacemaking and peacekeeping.

Also during his tenure, he spearheaded UN structural and management reform. Shown, the Secretary-General visits Sarajevo (Bosnia and Herzegovina) in late 1992, accompanied by peacekeepers from the UN Protection Force (UNPROFOR). The war in the Balkans, accentuated by widespread “ethnic cleansing,” lasted 42 months, ending in 1995.

Mali: UN mission chief ‘outraged’ by attack against base that kills three peacekeepers

The top United Nations official in Mali said he is “outraged” by an attack earlier today against a UN camp in Kidal, in the north-eastern region of the country, which killed at least three peacekeepers and wounded 30 others.

“My duty, on behalf of the Secretary-General, is to express our outrage over this hateful and irresponsible act occurring a week after the local arrangements between the Coordination of Movements of Azawad (CMA) and Platform, and 48 hours after my visit to Kidal,” said Mahamat Saleh Annadif, the Special Representative of the UN Secretary-General for Mali, in a press release.

According to the statement, at 7 a.m. this morning, the UN Multidimensional Integrated Stabilization Mission in Mali (MINUSMA) camp in the northern region of the country was the target of a “complex attack.”

Expressing deep condolences to the families of the victims and wishing a speedy recovery to the injured, Mr. Annadif emphasized that the “serious act” reflects “the disarray of the enemies of peace,” since it comes at a time when the implementation of the peace agreement increasingly becomes a reality in Mali.

This past June, a peace agreement was signed by the CMA, following its signature in May 2015 by the Government and a third party, the Platform coalition of armed groups.

The Government of Mali, with the support of MINUSMA as well as UN agencies and programmes, has been seeking to restore stability and rebuild following a series of setbacks since early 2012, including a military coup d’état, and renewed fighting between Government forces and Tuareg rebels.