Yemen: UN Envoy ‘guilty’ of optimistic hope that war is ‘nearing the end’

18 July 2019

With Yemen once again at a “crucial moment” the UN Special Envoy trying to facilitate peace there told Security Council members on Thursday that despite the dangers of being over optimistic, he could not help thinking the country could finally be “nearing the end of its war.”

“It was not me, but a very senior and wise official in the region who recently said that this war can end this year”, said Martin Griffiths. “I take that as an instruction”, he added, pointing to recent positive meetings with the leadership of both the pro-Government coalition, and the Houthi rebel movement who had expressed “unanimous desire” to move towards a political solution “and to see it quickly”.

He said progress over implementing December’s Stockholm Agreement which provided a framework in and around the crucial port city of Hudaydah was crucial, and praised the work of General Michael Lollesgaard who leads the UN monitoring mission there, UNMHA, for the “important breakthrough” recently over operational details agreed with the warring parties.

“My hope is that Hudaydah may finally allow us to focus on the political process before the end of this summer. Yemen has no time to waste”, said the Special Envoy. Although the ceasefire continues to broadly hold, he said he was concerned about other frontlines, especially continued Houthi attacks on civilian infrastructure across the Saudi border.

Without making specific references, Mr. Griffiths noted the dangers of Yemen being “dragged into a regional war”, following weeks of tension in the key shipping lanes of the Gulf. “Yemeni parties should desist from any actions that take Yemen in that direction. We need to prevent this to reduce regional tensions and save lives. We have to see de-escalation of the violence now.”

‘Agreement within reach’ on full resumption of food aid: Beasley

Agreement over the full resumption of food aid to some Houthi-controlled areas of Yemen is “within reach”, the head of the World Food Programme (WFP) told Council members, following his reluctant and agonizing decision to suspend some aid last month.

David Beasley said the suspension – which was due to the persistent diversion by some Houthi leaders of emergency food supplies away from its intended civilian beneficiaries – had begun around the capital, but despite that, the overall number of people being reached had gone up from 10.6 to 11.3 million, “and we are continuing to scale up.”

“I am hopeful that we can use this positive momentum to resolve these outstanding issues in the coming days, if not hours”, he said. “That is what the people of Yemen deserve and demand of us.” Calling for WFP’s lifesaving work to be depoliticized by Yemen’s leaders, he said humanitarian law protected the “neutral, impartial and independent” delivery of essential items.

Despite the limited food suspension (supplies have continued for those most in need), Mr. Beasley said that the “real story has been – and should continue to be – the humanitarian catastrophe that continues to unfold in Yemen.”

He noted that to keep reaching the most vulnerable, WFP needs $1.2 billion over the next months, but current funding stands at less than half that.

“Continue to be generous with your contributions. And for those who have made pledges – make good on them. But I must say, we are reaching the point where no amount of money in the world will truly alleviate the suffering of the Yemeni people”, he said, adding that “we are fast approaching those limits.”

Security Council calls ‘have not been heeded’ laments Lowcock

Council demands for Yemen’s warring parties to respect international humanitarian law, provide unhindered access to civilians and more funding to provide lifesaving services, “have not been heeded” said UN relief chief, Mark Lowcock.

With 30 active frontlines across the country, both sides have continued fighting and the Humanitarian Coordinator and head of OCHA, said his months-long call for a nationwide ceasefire was more needed now than ever.

Access to civilians and interference in the aid effort went far beyond the food diversions cited by WFP, he said, noting delays, denials of passage, and the withholding of vital permits by both sides, all of which was putting lives at risk. “Although access challenges are pervasive, they are not stopping the world’s largest aid operation”, he added.

Addressing the Humanitarian Response Plan for Yemen where donors pledged $2.6 billion in February, Mr. Lowcock said that although the majority of donors had paid more than 75 per cent of their pledges, there was still a long way to go, with only 34 per cent of the promised amount reach so far.

“Those who have made the largest pledges – Yemen’s neighbours in the Coalition – have so far paid only a modest proportion of what they promised.” The consequences of that, were that cuts would have to be made to the UN’s humanitarian effort, he told Council members.

“Agencies are starting to suspend some regular vaccination campaigns targeting 13 million people, including 200,000 infants. Work on 30 new feeding centres in areas with the worst levels of hunger has also been halted. Up to 60 existing centres could close in the coming weeks, putting at least 7,000 malnourished children at immediate risk of death”, the relief chief said, citing further examples.

“In the next two months, UN agencies expect to close 21 more key programmes. In August”, he added, noting that the fight against cholera was now in retreat. Having cut cases of the deadly disease by more than half last year from around a million in 2017, “those gains have now been lost”.

“So far this year, nearly 500,000 cases of cholera have been reported. We have received reports so far of more than 700 deaths as a result, including more than 200 children. The death toll will surely grow.”

© UNICEF/Saleh Baholis
Children sitting next to their tent at the Al-Meshqafah camp in Yemen. (26 February 2019)

‘Emulate his example’ urges UN chief as world celebrates Nelson Mandela: a ‘global advocate for dignity and equality’ 

18 July 2019

Nelson Mandela was an “extraordinary global advocate for dignity and equality” who anyone in public service should seek to emulate, Secretary-General António Guterres said in his message marking the International Day that honours the iconic anti-apartheid campaigner, and South Africa’s first democratically-elected President.

As “one of the most iconic and inspirational leaders of our time”, the UN chief said: “Nelson Mandela exemplified courage, compassion and commitment to freedom, peace and social justice”.

“He lived by these principles and was prepared to sacrifice his liberty and even his life for them”, Mr. Guterres spelled out.

UN News/Jing Zhang
Global Communications Chief Alison Smale (left), General Assembly President María Fernanda Espinosa (centre) and other UN staff volunteer at Brownsville Community Culinary Center in Brooklyn to commemorate Nelson Mandela International Day New York. (18 July 2019)

In November 2009, the UN declared 18 July, Nelson Mandela International Day as a global call to action under the premise that everyone has the power to make an impact on the planet.

With hate speech casting a growing shadow around the world, “Nelson Mandela’s calls for social cohesion and an end to racism are particularly relevant today”, said the UN chief.

“As we work collectively for peace, stability, sustainable development and human rights for all, we would be well served to recall the example set by Nelson Mandela,” he asserted. “Our best tribute is found in actions”.

Lauding the late South African President’s qualities and service to humanity, the UN in New York hosted the Nelson Mandela Peace Summit during last year’s General Assembly week, where some 100 Heads of State and Government, Ministers and Member States, adopted a political declaration to redouble efforts to build a just, peaceful, prosperous, inclusive and fair world.

The declaration, which recognized the period from 2019 to 2028 as the Nelson Mandela Decade of Peace, saluted Mr. Mandela – or “Madiba” as he’s known affectionately by South Africans – for his humility and compassion, while also acknowledging his contribution to the struggle for democracy and the promotion of a culture of world peace.

Saying that “every one of us can step up and act for enduring change”, Mr. Guterres maintained that Nelson Mandela’s message to the world is clear and “we all have the duty to do so”.

“On this day of reflection on Nelson Mandela’s life and work, let us embrace his legacy and aspire to emulate his example”, concluded the Secretary-General.

Honouring ‘Madiba’ at Headquarters in New York and beyond

In 2015, as General Assembly President María Fernanda Espinosa noted in a special celebration event on Thursday, the UN adopted Standard Minimum Rules for the Treatment of Prisoners, known as the ‘Nelson Mandela Rules’ to promote humane prison conditions, raise awareness that prisoners are part of society and to value the work of prison staff.

“In keeping with a life spent “walking the talk”, Mandela Day is marked not by grand words or gestures, but by action taken by individuals in their communities”, she said, noting that she and some of her team would be among the UN volunteers who would be helping to prepare and serve meals at a Community centre in the low-income neighbourhood of Brownsville, Brooklyn, later in the day. Mr. Mandela himself also paid a visit there in 1990.

She recognized that for so many people in this city, “the UN can feel like something distant”, adding that she was “delighted” to do something tangible “to serve people in Brooklyn, as we strive to serve the whole of humanity”.

Ms. Espinosa met President Mandela during the 2002 Climate Summit in Johannesburg, where she “was struck by how his profound respect for human dignity was evident in every interaction with those around him”.

“We can channel his spirit and honour him by carrying forward his legacy”, the Assembly president said, including by increasing “efforts to combat racism and hate speech” and addressing “the lasting impacts of colonialism and slavery, which “demand that we do more to build a culture of peace”.

From the UN’s High-Level Week in September to its 75th anniversary in September 2020 and key events in between, she underscored the need “to demonstrate greater trust, cooperation, and shared responsibilities” to address the world’s multiple crises, including climate, conflict, and poverty as “there can be no better tribute to Mandela than being each other’s keepers and stewards of the planet”.

“As we contend with challenges old and new, let Madiba’s legacy inspire us to act in a way that matches the ambition of our resolutions”, she concluded.

It was ‘the greatest thing’ to have Mandela among us, says Brownsville resident

On site in Brooklyn today, retired educator and community activist Paul Chandler is something of a living legend in Brownsville. Lucky to have met Nelson Mandela in 1990 during his visit, he lit up recalling the occasion, saying that “it was the greatest thing to have him in my community.”

“He gave me inspiration”, affirmed Mr. Chandler. “If he could do it, I could also be out on the street, could be part of changing our community.”

‘Young people care about peace’: UN Youth Envoy delivers key message to Security Council

17 July 2019

After visiting refugee camps in Jordan, UN-backed schools in Gaza, municipalities in Kosovo and Youth Councils in Denmark, the UN’s Youth Envoy visited the Security Council on Wednesday with a simple message from the field that “young people care about peace”.

However, Jayathma Wickramanayake made clear that “young women and men still suffer from stereotypes, myths and policy panics that harm their agency and affect realizing their full potential for peace”.

She blamed the susceptibility to being labelled on a “small minority” of young people attracted to extremism and “fueled” by the victimization of youth, “especially young women.”

The principal consequence of framing young people as “a problem to be solved and a threat to be contained”, according to Ms. Wickramanayake, is that it contributes to their “marginalization and stigmatization”.

Moreover, she flagged that it “detrimentally skews youth, peace and security programmatic responses towards hard security approaches and away from prevention”, while ignoring the fact that “most young people are in fact not involved in violence”.


UN Photo/Loey Felipe
Ms. Jayathma Wickramanayake, the Secretary-General’s Envoy on Youth, addressing Security Council meeting Maintenance of international peace and security : Implementation of the youth, peace and security agenda. (17 July 2019)

Youth, peace and security

The Council first addressed youth, peace and security in 2015 with an open debate on the “role of youth in countering violent extremism and promoting peace”. That led to the adoption of resolution 2250, which, among other things, urged Member States to provide young people with a conducive environment for violence-prevention activities and peacebuilding efforts.
It also mandated an independent study on youth, peace and security that later served as the basis for resolution 2419, which recognizes the key role of young people in conflict prevention.

Ms. Wickramanayake cited these resolutions as important in today’s world of growing terrorism, organized crime and extremist violence, to “make sure that perspectives on youth are not distorted by contagious stereotypes that associate young people with violence”.

The youth envoy also addressed the need to protect young peacebuilders whose activities put them in the spotlight.

“In the past months I have noticed with grave concern, incidents of young peacebuilders and young human rights defenders being subjected to threats, intimidation, violence, arbitrary arrest and retaliation by State and non-State Actors”, she said.

“I would like to recall and remind all of us with great emphasis that ‘protection’ is an integral pillar of the resolution 2250”, she stressed, calling on governments to “uphold and protect the fundamental rights of young people, including their freedom of expression both online and offline”.

She reminded the Council that the Youth, Peace and Security agenda is being recognized and institutionalized within the UN as “core” to the Organization’s priorities for young people, and that the UN Youth Strategy, Youth 2030, identifies peace and resilience building as “one of its five core priorities for the UN System’s work for and with young people”.

“With this first-ever UN Youth Strategy, we have set out on a new path and will support young people in all their diversity in accessing education, decent work, social protection and their health, while we will stand with young people when they oppose injustice and will work with them to prevent conflict and build peace”, maintained Ms. Wickramanayake.

Most young people are in fact not involved in violence — UN Youth Envoy

Through this, “the UN System will promote an environment that recognizes young people’s important and positive contributions to peace and security, while creating safe spaces and expanding opportunities for young people”, she added.

We Are Here

With a nod to the First International Symposium on Youth Participation in Peace Processes, which was held last March in Finland, the youth envoy officially launched the policy paper WE ARE HERE: An Integrated Approach to Youth-Inclusive Peace Processes.

“I hope this is the beginning of a process…for concrete actions to bring peace”, she said.

Ms. Wickramanayake also announced that Qatar would host the second Symposium in 2020, focusing on young women’s participation in peace processes, which she hopes “will be a good opportunity to further explore the interlinkages between resolutions 2250 and 1325”.

Sustainable peace must be democratized “to include the communities most affected”, she said, arguing that “young people are our best chance in succeeding at that”.

25 years after population conference, women still face challenges to ‘well-being and human rights’, says UN chief

16 July 2019

Many women and girls “still face enormous challenges to their health, well-being and human rights”, Secretary-General António Guterres told a High-level General Assembly meeting on Tuesday conevened to mark the 25th anniversary of the International Conference on Population and Development (ICPD), a milestone in reproductive health and rights.

“Violence against women and girls affects one-in-three women worldwide”, the UN chief stated, adding that that number is “even higher” in parts of the world and during conflict and emergencies.

While the progress that has been achieved in women’s rights over the past 25 years has contributed to reducing poverty and hunger and improving education and health, globally, some 650 million women were married as children, and every day, more than 500 women and girls die during pregnancy and childbirth.

“We are seeing a global pushback on women’s rights, including reproductive rights and vital health services”, he informed the participants.

The conference, held in Cairo, “rightly emphasized” that promoting the rights of women and girls is “key to ensuring the well-being of individuals, families and nations”, he said. “It recognized gender equality as a pre-requisite to inclusive, sustainable development and affirmed sexual and reproductive health as a fundamental human right”.

The Cairo Programme of Action, the Conference’s landmark outcome document, recognizes that women’s rights and access to sexual and reproductive health are an essential response to demographic trends that could undermine sustainable, equitable and inclusive development for all.

Young women and men are central to implementing the Cairo Programme, not only as beneficiaries, “but powerful agents of change, able to make their own choices and demand the action needed to address today’s challenges”, Mr. Guterres argued.

“This year marks the 50th anniversary of the founding of UNFPA, the UN Population Fund, which has had a major role in implementing the Cairo Programme of Action”, the Secretary-General noted. “Through its leadership and operational work, UNFPA has been instrumental in empowering young people and enabling women and couples to access the sexual and reproductive health care they need; in preventing gender-based violence; and in tackling female genital mutilation and early marriage”.

He told the participants that in November, Kenya and Denmark, together with UNFPA, will convene a summit in Nairobi to mark the 25th anniversary of the Cairo Conference, encouraging Member States “to participate and to make firm political and financial commitments to realize the Programme of Action.

Holistic, coherent programme

Mr. Guterres stated that many of the policies set out in the Cairo action plan  – from tackling inequality and environmental degradation, to promoting gender equality and access to sexual and reproductive health – “remain fundamental to the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development, agreed two decades later”, calling it “a testament” to its “enduring legacy”.

He recalled that the Conference shifted thinking around population from specific demographic targets towards a greater emphasis on the rights, equality, dignity and well-being of individuals’ lives.

“One of its most important achievements was in making the link between population, human rights, sustained economic growth and sustainable development, and addressing these issues in a holistic and coherent way”, maintained the UN chief.

He stressed that many of the issues raised at Cairo “have only become more urgent in the past 25 years”.

While the Secretary-General heralded population growth as a sign of “human achievement”, because it meant people were living longer, healthier lives, he acknowledged that it had also contributed to “an increase in global production and consumption” – underpinning the need to adjust production and consumption habits to avert serious consequences for lives and livelihoods, especially for the most vulnerable.

“Completing the unfinished business of the Cairo Conference will put us on course to achieve the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development and to ensure lives of peace, prosperity and dignity for all”, concluded the UN chief.