Secretary-General Appoints Mary Kirtley Waters Director, United Nations Information Centre, Washington, D.C.

SG/A/1854-BIO/5176-PI/2249

4 FEBRUARY 2019

Secretary-General Appoints Mary Kirtley Waters of United States Director, United Nations Information Centre, Washington, D.C.

United Nations Secretary-General António Guterres has appointed Mary Kirtley Waters of the United States as Director of the United Nations Information Centre in Washington, D.C.  Ms. Waters assumed her duties on 1 February.

Prior to this appointment, Ms. Waters served as Assistant Secretary of State for the Bureau of Legislative Affairs at the United States Department of State in Washington, D.C.  She also oversaw the confirmation process for United States ambassadors and State Department leadership.  From 2001 to 2005, Ms. Waters was Assistant Secretary for Congressional Relations in the Department of Agriculture.

In addition to her Government roles, Ms. Waters also held several leadership positions in the private sector.  She was Director of Business Development in a communications start-up company in 2014, President of the North American Millers Association from 2010 to 2013, Vice-President at the Federal Agricultural Mortgage Corporation from 2005 to 2010, as well as Senior Director and Legislative Counsel at ConAgra Foods from 1986 to 2001.

Ms. Waters holds a doctorate in law from George Mason University and a Bachelor of Arts from the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign in the United States.

Ms. Waters is married with two adult children.

 

 

World must do more to tackle ‘shadowy’ mercenary activities undermining stability in Africa, says UN chief

With mercenaries undermining global peace and security and weakening States’ capacities to protect their people, the UN Security Council on Monday shone its spotlight on their activities as a source of destabilization in Africa.

“From antiquity to the medieval era to the present-day, those who fight for financial reward or other material compensation have been a near constant on the battlefield”, Secretary-General Antonio Guterres told the Council, noting that the shadowy nature of mercenary activities has evolved over the years.

“Today they are exploiting and feeding off other ills such as transnational organized crime, terrorism and violent extremism”, he told the meeting, which was convened by Equatorial Guinea, which holds the Council’s presidency for the month.

Their activities in Africa require “work across the spectrum”, Mr. Guterres stated, “from prevention to prosecution, and from mitigating the impacts of mercenary activities to addressing the root causes that give rise to them”.

He zeroed-in on mercenary activities in the Sahel, Cote d’Ivoire, Central African Republic, Cameroon and Equatorial Guinea and emphasized specific actions needed to resist their scourge, including strengthening legal regimes and frameworks.

Mr. Guterres vowed that the UN Regional Office for Central Africa and the UN Regional Centre for Peace and Disarmament in Africa would continue to help advance the African Union’s ‘Silencing the guns by 2020’ agenda.

He pointed to the importance of cooperation, such as mixed border commissions, joint border security monitoring mechanisms and intelligence-sharing between national defense forces, highlighting as “vital”, strategic partnership between the UN, African Union (AU), Economic Community of Central Africa States and region countries.

He also said it was critical to create opportunities for youth to reduce “the lure of mercenaries and the threat of radicalization” – underscoring that the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) can help with this and more.

He concluded with the UN’s promise of continued support in “tackling mercenary activities”.

African Union Commission Chair calls for bolstered international support to tackle scourge

Speaking via teleconference from Addis Ababa, Moussa Faki Mahamat, Chairperson of the AU Commission, recalled since the 1960s, the continent’s history has been “punctuated by the of involvement of mercenaries in activities of destabilization, including coups, interventions in armed conflicts and attempts to seize control of natural resources in the countries concerned” – endangering the harmonious development of African States.

While efforts have been made over the years to combat the scourge, mercenaries persist.

“It is clear that we have to strengthen international instruments as they relate to this phenomenon”, he maintained.

Moreover, Mr. Faki Mahamat said he “could not stress enough” the need for disarmament, demobilization and reintegration in countries emerging from conflict.

He concluded by calling for “increased international support”.

For his part, Teodoro Obiang Nguema Mbasogo, the President of Equatorial Guinea, said that after more than 50 years of independence, most African countries have yet to know peace or socioeconomic development, “despite the great economic potential they have in natural resources”.

“Africa remains the least developed continent” he attested, calling mercenaries one of “the potential causes of this delay”.

Mr. Mbasogo spoke of five different attempts in his own country over the last quarter century, with the last attempt thwarted by Angola, Zimbabwe and Cameroon.

Speaking on behalf of Rwandan President Paul Kigami, Foreign Minister Richard Sezibera also underscored Africa’s history of mercenaries, saying they have “presented a grave threat to the independence, sovereignty, territorial integrity of Member States”.

He recounted the 1977 definition of mercenaries, which he said “may no longer be adequate to describe” today’s activities “of the worrying increase of transboundary criminal networks…many connected to global terrorist networks”.

Rwanda is no stranger to the scourge.

“Today, mercenaries are not only involved in active combat, we now see an increase in cyber attacks and industrial espionage carried out by mercenary groups within the comfort of their own homes”, he said.

As they continue to evolve and innovate, he argued: “We should not be static in our response” but update existing legal instruments to meet the unfolding challenges.

UN chief recommends actions to combat mercenaries:

  • Bolster legal regimes, globally and nationally, including the 1989  International Convention against the Recruitment, Use, Financing and Training of Mercenaries.
  • Increase bilateral, regional and international cooperation, with a focus on border management to stem the flow of weapons and foreign armed actors throughout Central Africa.
  • Examine the political, economic, social and psychological factors that promote mercenary activities, such as exclusion, poor governance, inequitable public services and no protection for minorities and other vulnerable groups.

World Cancer Day: Early cervical cancer diagnosis could save lives of over 300,000 women

Cervical cancer kills more than 300,000 women every year, with one woman diagnosed every minute, despite the fact that it is one of the most preventable and curable forms of the disease.

In a statement released on Monday to coincide with World Cancer Day, the United Nations World Health Organization (WHO) said that nine out of ten women who die from cervical cancer are from poor countries, and that if no action is taken, deaths from the disease will rise by almost 50 per cent by 2040.

The WHO points out that new diagnoses can be reduced by ensuring that all 9-14 year old girls globally are vaccinated against Human papillomavirus (HPV), a group of viruses that are extremely common worldwide, two types of which cause 70 per cent of cervical cancers.

Women in developing countries have only limited access to preventative measures, and cervical cancer is often not identified until it has reached an advanced stage. Access to treatment of late-stage cervical cancer – such as surgery, radiotherapy and chemotherapy – is also very limited, resulting in higher death rates in these countries.

To achieve this aim, WHO says that innovative technologies and strategies, access to diagnosis and early-stage treatment of invasive cancers are needed. In addition, palliative care for women who need it must be ensured.

All of these services must be part of strong health systems aimed at providing universal health coverage, and will require political commitment, greater international cooperation and support for equitable access.

Several countries and UN agencies have already joined forces under the UN Joint Global Programme on Cervical Cancer Prevention and Control, a five-year programme to provide global leadership and technical assistance to governments and their partners as they build national cervical cancer control programmes, with the aim of eliminating cervical cancers as a public health concern across the world.

In order to succeed, WHO says that governments, UN agencies, researchers, healthcare professionals and individuals all have a role to play, as do the manufacturers of life-saving vaccines, diagnostics and treatments.

Pan American Health Organization
A teacher explains the importance of vaccination in the fight against cervical cancer.

UN calls for support to implement Central Africa’s newly minted peace agreement

After 10 days of negotiations, the Central African government and 14 armed groups reached a peace agreement on Saturday, according to a tweet from the United Nations Mission in the Central African Republic (MINUSCA).

“Let us mobilize to support the implementation of the peace agreement,” Jean-Pierre Lacroix, UN Under-Secretary-General for Peace Operations, said on Twitter after the peace agreement was concluded in the Sudanese capital of Khartoum.

The agreement was made possible under the African Initiative for Peace and Reconciliation in the Central African Republic (CAR) led by the African Union (AU) and with UN support.

MINUSCA quoted Smail Chergui, the AU Commissioner for Peace and Security, as stressing the parties’ exemplary cooperation at the Khartoum talks, and saying on Twitter:  “This is a great day for the CAR and for all the people of the Central African Republic” .

The Head of the Central African government’s delegation to the talks, Firmin Ngrebad, said he was determined to work with the Head of State and his government to respond to the concerns “of the brothers who took up arms.”

He also underscored that Central Africans’ support of the agreement will enable “the people of the Central African Republic to embark on the path of reconciliation, concord and development”.

According to the UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA), in 2019, 2.9 million people, more than half of whom are children, will need humanitarian and protection assistance; more than 63 per cent of a population of 4.6 million.

Concerned with the security, humanitarian, human rights and political crisis within the country and its implications for the region, MINUSCA began operating in 2014 under Chapter VII of the UN Charter.

With the protection of civilians as its utmost priority, Chapter VII provides for the use of force – meaning, with Security Council authority, peacekeepers may respond to acts of aggression in kind.

UN/MINUSCA
The head of the United Nations Department of Peacekeeping Operations, Jean-Pierre Lacroix, and the African Union Commissioner for Peace and Security, Smail Chergui, are visiting the Central African Republic from 8 to 10 January 2019, in order to to relaunch international efforts for lasting peace in the country

Call to revitalize ‘language of the ancestors’ for survival of future generations: Indigenous chief

Hundreds of ancestral languages have gone silent in recent generations, taking with them the culture, knowledge and traditions of the people who spoke them. To preserve and revitalize those that remain, the United Nations on Friday officially launched the International Year of Indigenous Languages, at UN Headquarters in New York.

UN Photo/Manuel Elias
Cultural performance by the Kwakwaka Dancers during a High-level Event to launch the International Year of Indigenous Languages.

Delivering inaugural remarks, Kanen’tó:kon Hemlock, a Mohawk community Bear Clan Chief from Kahnawà:ke, paid tribute to Mother Earth.

Kanen’tó:kon Hemlock, representative of the Mohawk Nation, at the high-level event to launch the International Year of Indigenous Languages, at UN Headquarters in New York., by UN Photo/Manuel Elias

“As indigenous people, our languages are those of the earth and it is those languages that we use to speak with our mother”, he said, saying “the health of our languages is connected to the health of the earth”, which is being abused.

“We lose our connection and our ancient ways of knowing of the earth when our languages fall silent”, he explained, stressing that “for the sake of future generations we must ensure they too can speak the language of our ancestors”.

UN General Assembly President María Fernanda Espinosa Garcés underscored the close connection between indigenous languages and ancestral culture and knowledge, saying that “they are much more than tools for communication, they are channels for human legacies to be handed down”.

“Each indigenous language has an incalculable value for humankind”, she said, calling each “a treasure laden with history, values, literature, spirituality, perspectives and knowledge, developed and garnered over millennium”.

“When a language dies,” she spelled out “it takes with it all of the memory bound up inside it”.

Indigenous languages are symbols of their people’s identity, “vectors for values, ways of life and expressions of their connections with earth”, according to the Assembly president, who called them “crucial” for survival.

Indigenous languages also open the door to ancestral practices and knowledge, such as in agriculture, biology, astronomy, medicine and meteorology. Although there are still 4,000 in existence across the globe, many are on the brink of extinction.

“This International Year must serve as a platform from which we can reverse the alarming trend of the extinction of indigenous languages”, to recover and preserve them, including by implementing education systems that favor the use of a Mother tongue, Ms. Espinosa stated.

For his part, Evo Morales, President of Bolivia, addressed the survival of indigenous people and languages under the force of colonialization.

“Today we come here having survived the colonial era which has tried to bring our elders to their knees and squash them beneath the weight of injustice”, he said.

Mr. Morales called on those present to work together through dialogue to promote policies which help to preserve Indigenous lives, identities, values and cultures.

There are 770 million Indigenous people across 90 countries, constituting six per cent of the global population, living in many biodiverse regions, the President noted. And yet “capitalist greed” has left them among the poorest 15 per cent of the population, he stated.

UN Photo/Manuel Elias
Cultural performance by the Kwakwaka Dancers at the High-level Event to launch the International Year of Indigenous Languages.

 

Warning that greed was driving the move to annex yet more indigenous resources, he said that there was a “criminal silence” on the part of world leaders “when it comes to speaking out against these phenomena”, pointing out the hypocrisy of lecturing indigenous people about democracy and human rights, while quashing their community identities and suppressing languages at risk of dying out.

“Language is culture, language is an expression of a cosmovision and that is a way of seeing the world”, he said. “If languages disappear… the memories that they bear will disappear as well as the people that speak them”.

Encouraging everyone to “preserve the knowledge and wisdom of our ancestors”, Mr. Morales urged that a new paradigm be ushered in, one which is the fruit of indigenous peoples and “champions the Mother Earth”.

‘Leaders who sanction hate speech’ encourage citizens to do likewise, UN communications chief tells Holocaust remembrance event

The Holocaust illustrates how easily “people can move from condoning brutality, to committing genocide” and shows that “leaders who sanction hate speech or make anti-Semitic or xenophobic slurs” are encouraging their own citizens “to do the same”, the UN’s head of Global Communications told leading members of the Jewish community at UN Headquarters in New York on Thursday.

Alison Smale led the briefing, which focused on the little-known record of Albanians during the Holocaust, who took in thousands of Jews who would otherwise have ended up in the Nazi death camps.

UN News/Maher Nasser
United Nations Civil Society Briefing.

Under the theme: “Holocaust Remembrance: Demand and Defend your Human Rights”, it was one of the main events marking International Holocaust Remembrance Day throughout this week of reflection on the industrial-scale genocide of approximately six million European Jews during World War Two.

“While this occurred, there were individuals and countries that demonstrated tremendous courage to save Jews”, Ms. Smale told those attending, the multimedia event.

We all have a role to play in demanding and defending human rights  – UN Global Communication chief Alison Smale

“Rescuers made the brave choice to help in full knowledge of the grave consequences they, their families and community would face should they have been found helping Jewish people” she spelled out.

Recognizing Albania’s response as an example of moral courage, Ms. Smale said that it “embodies the principles of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, that everyone has the right to life, liberty and security of person.”

She said that the Albanian response also showed that everyone has a responsibility to defend human rights, identify strategies to protect those rights, and learn the consequences of inaction.

“Today, we witness populism, xenophobia, Neo-Nazism and hate groups on the rise, fueling anti-Semitism and other forms of hatred around the world”, she explained, stressing the role of civil society in documenting hate speech and hate crimes as “critical” to learn how to effectively address hatred, challenge its root causes and build resilient and just communities.

“Understanding the significance of historic actions taken to defend human rights – such as in Albania – is the first step towards encouraging such positive behavior among people today”, Ms. Smale underscored.

Close up of photos in the U.S. Holocaust Memorial Museum.

The event featured video clips from the film “The Albanian Code”, which shines a light on the role that the rugged and historically-rich Balkan country played to rescue Jews, interspersed with remarks and observations from Albania’s UN Ambassador Besiana Kadare; Ronald Lauder, President of the World Jewish Congress; and Robert Singer, Chief Executive of the World Jewish Congress. Ms. Smale thanked all three for supporting the event and for “their commitment to Holocaust remembrance.”

Also taking part were Majlinda Myrto, Executive Director of the “Eye Contact Foundation”, whose family is honoured as “Righteous Among the Nations” for rescuing a Jewish family during the Holocaust, along with Anna Kohen, a child of Holocaust survivors who found a safe haven in Albania; and David Estrin, Founder of the youth organization “Together We Remember”.

“Learning about the history of Albania’s response during the Holocaust is important because it demonstrates compassionate behavior” explained Ms. Smale.

“It reminds us that we are all responsible for each other.  We all have a role to play in demanding and defending human rights,” concluded the head of UN Global Communications.

Top envoy to Yemen praises ‘flexibility’ of chief negotiators as new UN mission chief is named

The UN Special Envoy for Yemen said on Thursday that the main negotiators for the warring sides were continuing to show the “necessary flexibility and good faith” to move forward, despite delays in implementing the agreement marking the first steps towards a lasting peace deal, brokered in Sweden last December.

Martin Griffiths, has been talking with the Houthi rebel leadership in the capital Sana’a “to discuss the rapid and effective implementation of the Stockholm Agreement” the UN said in a briefing note to correspondents based in New York.

He also discussed the deployment of UN staff in support of cementing the fragile ceasefire, and withdrawal of Houthi and pro-Government coalition forces in and around the crucial port city of Hudaydah.

“The Special Envoy is encouraged by the responsiveness demonstrated by the leadership of Ansar Aallah (the official name of the Houthi movement) in that regard. The Special Envoy also discussed the resumption of political consultations, stressing the importance of achieving substantial progress in implementing the Stockholm Agreement, as we move towards convening the next round of consultations.”

During his visit to the Saudi capital Riyadh this week, Mr. Griffiths said he had gained assurances from Yemeni President Adrabbuh Mansur Hadi and the Saudi-led coalition of their continued commitment to respect and fully implement the agreement.

The envoy said leaders of both parties had “demonstrated the necessary flexibility and good faith regarding the timelines for implementation and the technical challenges that need to be resolved on the ground.

The parties also recognize the political and humanitarian importance of the full implementation of the Stockholm agreement. The Special Envoy reiterated the commitment of the United Nations to continue working with the parties to overcome any challenges in this regard.”

Danish General appointed new head of UN Mission in Hudaydah

Also on Thursday, Secretary-General António Guterres announced the appointment of Danish Lieutenant General Michael Anker Lollesgaard, to succeed retired Major General Patrick Cammaert, of the Netherlands, as the new head of the UN Mission in support of the ceasefire and troop withdrawal agreement for Hudaydah, known as UNMHA.

The mission was mandated by the UN Security Council in the wake of the Stockholm Agreement, for an initial period of six months, to lead and support the Redeployment Coordination Committee – which includes representatives from both sides to the conflict – monitor ceasefire compliance across the Governorate, and demilitarization of the key city, which is a vital conduit for nearly all aid and commercial goods into Yemen.

It will also oversee the withdrawal of fighting forces in the ports of Saleef and Ras Isa.

Responding to journalists’ questions on Thursday in New York, over whether or not General Cammaert had resigned from his post in response to pressure, UN Spokesperson Stéphane Dujarric denied the charge, reiterating that he was always on “a temporary assignment” heading up the advance mission, and team of UN observers.

“He will now stay, obviously, to do a handover, so he will leave very soon, in the early days of February, as soon as we can get his Danish replacement online,” said the UN Spokeperson. “The most important thing for us is that there is continuity in the work of the RCC and the person who heads it.”

Mr. Dujarric said that Lt. Gen. Lollesgaard “brings to this position 30 years of national and international military experience”, having previously been appointed by the Organization as Force Commander of the UN Mission in Mali, MINUSMA, from 2015-16.

UN Photo
Joint meeting of the Redeployment Coordination Committee in Hudaydah City, Yemen. 28 December 2018.

Syria: ‘Violence, displacement’ and cold kill 11 infants ‘in the past two days’

“Violence, displacement and extremely harsh conditions” in northern and eastern Syria have killed at least 32 children since December – including 11 infants in the past two days, the United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF) revealed on Thursday.

In eastern Syria, persistent fighting around Hajin has forced thousands on a long, arduous journey almost 300 km to the north, to Al-Hol camp for internally displaced people.

“The difficult journey, cold weather and long waiting periods at screening centres, where families wait sometimes for days, have reportedly contributed to the death of at least 29 children – including 11 infants in the past two days alone”, said UNICEF Executive Director Henrietta Fore.

©UNICEF/ Syria 2019/ Delil Souleiman
Escalating violence since December 2018 has forced thousands of people out of their homes in towns and villages in Hajin district in eastern rural Deir-ezZor, Syria. Families embarked on a long and arduous journey to safety at Al-Hol camp for internally displaced people, almost 300km to the north.

She explained that UNICEF is assisting the fleeing children and mothers at the camp with blankets, winter clothing, food, water, health and nutrition services, child-friendly spaces and child protection and family reunification services.

However, the “lack of security has made humanitarian access to children en route to the camp’s screening area all but impossible”, she continued.

Keep children out of harm’s way, even in areas of active conflict – UNICEF Executive Director Henrietta Fore

Since last December, some 23,000 mostly women and children have arrived at the camp completely exhausted after a three-day journey in harsh desert winter conditions, with little food or shelter along the way. More than 5,000 people have arrived over the past three days alone.

“Since last week, fighting in Ma’arat al-Nu’man in Idlib, in northwestern Syria, has reportedly killed three children and injured scores more”, informed Ms. Fore, adding that a teacher working for a UNICEF-supported partner and his son were killed in the violence.

Moreover, fighting has also badly damaged a school and a community centre for children.

As UNICEF and its partners continue to deliver lifesaving supplies and services to children and their families in Idlib, Ms. Fore appealed to all parties to “facilitate safe, unhindered and sustained humanitarian access to all children in need”.

“Parties to the conflict have shown a callous disregard for the laws of war” she lamented, calling again on those fighting to “keep children out of harm’s way – even in areas of active conflict”.

“There are no excuses: children are not and must never be the target of violence”, concluded the UNICEF chief.

Meanwhile, on Wednesday,  UN Emergency Relief Coordinator Mark Lowcock told the Security Council that millions of Syrians “are living under tents or tarpaulins or in damaged buildings with no power or heating” with “severe shortages of all the basics ­­– from blankets to baby milk to bandages”, adding that the harsh weather is destroying makeshift shelters.

Boom in Artificial Intelligence patents, points to ‘quantum leap’ in tech: UN report

The “upsurge” in patent applications for devices and machines powered by Artificial Intelligence (AI) in the last five years, suggests that it could soon revolutionize all areas of daily life far beyond the tech world, a UN report suggested on Thursday.

NASA/Aubrey Gemignani
An attendee of the USA Science and Engineering Festival (2014) observes NASA’s first dexterous humanoid robot Robonaut 2, at the NASA Stage. At the time R2 had recently received 1.2 meter long legs to allow mobility.

According to the World Intellectual Property Organization (WIPO) Technology Trends report, 50 per cent of all patents for AI – the replication of human intelligence by machines for use in industries such as transport and healthcare, for instance – have been published since 2013, adding up to more than 170,000 different patented ideas.

This followed on from an initial boom in AI scientific publications, which began in 2001.

WIPO Director General Francis Gurry told journalists in Geneva the surge in patenting was “striking”, noting that AI research began in the 1950s. “But there has been a quantum leap since about 2013, so we’re dealing with what is happening right now in a very fast-moving field,” he insisted.

‘Machine learning’ is the dominant AI application

By number, patent applications for machine learning, indicate that this is currently the dominant application of AI; think of apps that include ride-sharing services to minimize detours.

The fastest-growing AI area is “deep learning”, however, which is used in speech recognition.

This saw a 175-per cent annual increase in patent applications from 2013 to 2016, far in excess of the 33 per cent average for all patents in the same period.

US and China dominate so far

The United States and China dominate the field of patent application, although only a fraction of China’s patents is filed abroad. US-based tech giant IBM leads by number of patent applications (8,290), followed by Microsoft (5,930).

Japan’s Toshiba has the next highest patent tally (5,223), ahead of South Korea’s Samsung (5,102) and Japan’s NEC Group (4,406).

China’s increasingly important role in the sector is also illustrated by the fact that Chinese organizations make up 17 of the top 20 academic players in AI patenting, as well as 10 of the top 20 in AI-related scientific publications.

‘Major’ military, economic uses for AI

In coming years, AI is set to grow with “major military and economic” uses, Mr Gurry suggested, before highlighting the importance of proposed WIPO-led discussions between Member States, on legal and ethical issues relating to intellectual property rights that have been raised by the technology.

“One would expect that the strategic focus of major geopolitical players will turn to their positioning in relation to AI,” he said.

Internet search giants have also been key to the AI revolution, the WIPO report shows, with Google (US) and Baidu (China) embracing the potential of the technology early on, just as Microsoft and Apple did before them.

“You did say that we see some of the internet giants there,” Mr Gurry said to reporters. “Why? Because of data…because of the access they have to data.”

In addition to the US and China’s large populations, the WIPO head noted the importance of State-led support for innovation in both places, which included investing in technology hubs and even training specialized patent officers.

Biggest AI opportunities lie outside software industry

Faced with this backing, “it’s very difficult for other countries, even those with great education, to compete with the business, engineering and investing talent” of China and the US, AI expert and CEO of Landing AI and deeplearning.ai, Andrew Ng, notes in the WIPO publication, adding that the “biggest untapped opportunities” lie outside the software industry, in areas including agriculture, healthcare and manufacturing.

European diversity ‘an obstacle to machine learning’

Echoing those comments, the WIPO Director General noted that the cultural and linguistic diversity of Europe “is not necessarily favouring the formation of major data pools. And we all know the more data, the better for machine learning for example, the results, you are going to get”.

Asked whether the world was better off because of the technology, which industry experts credit with the potential to create massive economic value, the WIPO Director General underlined the fact that the science behind it is “neutral”.

“Is it (AI) good news or bad news?” he asked. “Well, I would tend to say that all technology is somewhat neutral, and it depends on what you do with it. So, insofar as you may use AI science and techniques for developing autonomous weapons systems that are going to kill us all, is not very good news, but insofar as it’s being used to improve health indicators for diagnostics, for other purposes, it’s great news.”

 

Human trafficking cases hit a 13-year record high, new UN report shows

The latest Global Report On Trafficking In Persons, released on Tuesday by the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC) at UN headquarters in New York, shows a record-high number of cases detected during 2016, but also the largest recorded conviction rate of traffickers.

“The report was undertaken for a simple reason: if we want to succeed in confronting human trafficking in all its manifestations, we must better understand its scope and structure,” said Yury Fedotov, UNODC’s Executive Director as he presented the report in New York. “We need to appreciate where human trafficking is happening, who are its victims and who is perpetrating this crime.”

© UNICEF/UNI91025/Noorani
Two girls apply make-up at Kandapara, a brothel in the city of Tangail, Bangladesh. A man offered them to find them jobs, but instead sold them to Kandapara. (2009)

According to the latest figures compiled by UNODC, the record conviction and detection rates could either be a sign that countries have strengthened their capacity to identify victims – such as through specific legislation, better coordination among law enforcement entities, and improved victim protection services – or, that the number of actual instances of trafficking has increased.

While in 2003 fewer than 20,000 cases had been recorded, the number of cases recorded in 2016 had jumped to over 25,000.

UNODC
Main forms of exploitation and profiles of detected victims, by sub-regions, 2016 (or most recent)

Despite improvements in data collection, impunity prevails

Over the last decade, the capacity of national authorities to track and assess patterns and flows of human trafficking has improved in many parts of the world. UNODC’s report notes that this is also due to a specific focus of the international community in developing standards for data collection. In 2009, only 26 countries had an institution which systematically collected and disseminated data on trafficking cases, while by 2018, the number had risen to 65.

However, many countries in Africa and Asia continue to have low conviction rates, and at the same time detect fewer victims which, UNODC stresses, “does not necessarily mean that traffickers are not active”.

In fact, the report shows that victims trafficked from areas of the world with low detection/conviction rates are found in large numbers in other areas of the world, suggesting that a high degree of impunity prevails in these low-reporting regions.

“This impunity could serve as an incentive to carry out more trafficking,” the report warns.

Women and girls remain a major target

“Traffickers the world over continue to target women and girls,” wrote Executive Director Fedotov, in the report’s preface. ‘The vast majority of detected victims of trafficking for sexual exploitation and 35 per cent of those trafficked for forced labour are female.”

The report notes “considerable regional differences in the sex and age profiles of detected trafficking victims.” In West Africa, most of the detected victims are children, both boys and girls, while in South Asia, victims are equally reported to be men, women and children. In Central Asia, a larger share of adult men is detected compared to other regions, while in Central America and the Caribbean, more girls are recorded.

Sexual exploitation, the top form of trafficking

Most of the victims detected globally are trafficked for sexual exploitation, especially in the Americas, Europe, and East Asia and the Pacific. In sub-Saharan Africa and the Middle East, trafficking for forced labour is the most commonly detected form. In Central Asia and South Asia, trafficking for forced labour and sexual exploitation are equally prevalent,

Other forms of human trafficking include: girls forced into marriage, more commonly detected in South-East Asia; children for illegal adoption, more common in Central and South American countries; forced criminality, mainly reported in Western and Southern Europe; and organ removal, primarily detected in North Africa, and Central and Eastern Europe.

“Victims can be in restaurants, fisheries, brothels, farms, homes, and even organ trafficking and illegal adoption,” said Rani Hong, who survived child trafficking herself as she was taken from her family in India at age 7, submitted to intimidation, physical abuse and slavery, until she was sold for illegal adoption in Canada and later the United States.

“I was told by my witnesses that when I came into the United States, I was not able to walk because I had been locked in a small cage. This is what this industry is doing, and this is what happened to me.”

Many other forms, such as trafficking for exploitation in begging, or for the production of pornographic material, are reported in different parts of the world.

Armed conflict and displacement, a key driver of human trafficking

The report shows that armed conflicts can increase vulnerability to trafficking in different ways as areas with weak rule of law and lack of resources to respond to crime, provide traffickers with a fertile terrain to carry out their operations, preying on those who are desparately in need.

Armed groups and other criminals may take the opportunity to traffic victims – including children – for sexual exploitation, sexual slavery, forced marriage, armed combat and various forms of forced labour. This is the case for example in sub-Saharan Africa, North Africa and the Middle East, South-East Asia and elsewhere.

In some refugee camps in the Middle East, also, it has been documented that girls and young women have been ‘married off’ without their consent and subjected to sexual exploitation in neighbouring countries.

In addition, recruitment of children for use as armed combatants is widely documented. UNODC’s report notes that within conflict zones, armed groups can use trafficking as a strategy to assert territorial dominance, spread fear among civilians in the territories where they operate to keep the local population under control. They may also use women and girls as ‘sex slaves’ or force them into marriages to appeal to new potential male recruits.

The study shows that in all the conflicts examined for the report, forcibly displaced populations (refugees and internally displaced families) have been specifically targeted: from settlements of Syrian and Iraqi refugees, to Afghans and Rohingya fleeing conflict and persecution.

Notably, the risk faced by migrants and refugees travelling through conflict areas, such as Libya or parts of sub-Saharan Africa, is also well documented: in Libya, for example, militias control some detention centres for migrants and refugees and are coercing detained migrants and asylum seekers for different exploitative purposes.

“While we are far from ending impunity, we have made headway in the 15 years since the Protocol against Trafficking in Persons entered into force,” said UNODC’s chief Mr. Fedotov, as he noted that “nearly every country now has legislation in place criminalizing human trafficking”.

“The international community needs to accelerate progress to build capacities and cooperation, to stop human trafficking in conflict situations and in all our societies where this terrible crime continues to operate in the shadows,” he stated in the report’s preface.

Watch the full launch event for the 2018 report here: