Social, cultural diversity ‘an enormous richness, not a threat’ Guterres declares calling on investment for a harmonious future

Like a well-tuned orchestra, successful modern societies have a balance of diversity and culture, that is a source of “enormous richness, not a threat” said the UN chief on Monday, speaking alongside UN Messenger of Peace, acclaimed cellist Yo-Yo Ma in the Austrian capital, Vienna. 

27 May 2019

He was speaking against the backdrop of European Parliamentary elections in recent days, which showed a surge in support away from political parties in the centre ground, towards those espousing more nationalist and anti-immigrant policy platforms.

Secretary-General António Guterres told those gathered for the Day of Action that it was particularly important “in the present debate in Europe” to adopt “a universal perspective for peace, for human dignity, for human rights” and the values enshrined in the UN Charter.

“Societies today are multi-ethnic, multi-religious, multi-cultural. And that is a richness, not a threat”. Like an orchestra featuring musicians from around the world, they need to practice to play harmoniously: “It is the same with society” he added.

“Diversity requires investment. Social, cultural, political, religious; sometimes investment in social cohesion – to make sure that in a diverse society, every community feels that their identity is being respected – like the identity of the violinist needs to be respected, together with each instrumentalist.

Hailing music as a fundamental tool to promote UN values, he said the Day of Action was fundamental to the future of the Organization “especially when we are also discussing the dramatic situation of human mobility”.

Migration too, needs investment, instead of letting people smugglers and traffickers profit from it, and letting fear of migrants fester, “we need to invest in international cooperation, we need to invest in adequate forms of migration”, he said.

Guterres lauds 40 years of UN in Vienna, Austrian World Summit

Speaking after meeting Austrian President Alexander Van Der Bellen, Mr. Guterres praised the nation for its support for the UN Office at Vienna over the past 40 years, home to many key agencies and bodies.

As one of the main headquarters, he said he was convinced the work done in Vienna would help preserve peace and security for the world, during trying times.

He looked ahead to Tuesday’s Austrian World Summit on climate, saying that taking part was essential to him, having convened the Climate Action Summit this coming September.

Fresh from a major fact-finding visit to the South Pacific, Mr. Guterres said that to rescue an island State such as Tuvalu – parts of which are already sinking below the waves due to rising sea levels – was “to rescue the planet”.

“The climate crisis is something that will have an impact on the lives of everybody everywhere”, said the UN chief. “And to reverse the present trend in which climate change is running faster than we are is an absolute must. And for that, we need in 2020, countries to assume engagements much stronger than the ones that were assumed in Paris.

He said nations had to commit “to a much more ambitious set of measures in mitigation in adaptation, mitigation and in finance. And I must tell you that I consider absurd that we are taxing salaries, we are taxing income, and not taxing carbon”.

Around 600,000 Afghan children face death through malnutrition without emergency funds: UNICEF

In Afghanistan, children suffering from the most serious form of malnutrition may die, unless $7 million in funding is found within weeks, UNICEF said on Friday.

24 May 2019

Speaking in Geneva, UN Children’s Fund spokesperson Christophe Boulierac, likened the humanitarian situation in the war-torn country to “one of the worst disasters on earth”.

And he warned that increased violence and last year’s severe drought have left hundreds of thousands of under-fives, critically vulnerable across the country.

“There are two million children in the country which suffer from acute malnutrition, among them 600,000 children that suffer from severe acute malnutrition,” he said. “A child that suffers from acute severe malnutrition is a child that needs urgent treatment, otherwise he might die.”

While Afghanistan’s nutrition crisis is mirrored in many other trouble-spots around the world – from South Sudan to Yemen and the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC) – the UNICEF Spokesperson underlined the dangers, if funding is not found soon.

“We are the sole provider of treatment for severe acute malnutrition,” Mr. Boulierac said, noting that the number of youngsters suffering from the condition had remained “stagnant” for years. “If we don’t have money to buy this treatment, the severely acute malnourished will not get it.”

The development comes amid ongoing insecurity linked to four decades of conflict in Afghanistan, where UNICEF distributes supplies to health facilities across all 34 provinces.

According to the agency, 3.8 million children need protection and assistance this year, while nearly 289,000 people were displaced by violence in 2018. In addition, one in three children has experienced psychological distress, linked to the “constant risk” of death or injury, UNICEF believes.

Existing funding shortages have meant that fewer than one in two of the most vulnerable children received life-saving help in UN-supported health clinics across Afghanistan in 2018.

“This year in 2019, we would like to reach 60 per cent (of children) – not even 100 per cent – but we cannot,” Mr. Boulierac explained, “and it is extremely worrying. If we do not get $7 million dollars in three weeks, 1,300 facilities all over the country will not get this treatment.”

To meet Afghanistan’s essential nutrition requirements in 2019, UNICEF needs $26 million, but it has so far only received half of this amount.

“We cannot tell you how many children will die; but we can tell you that a child with severe acute malnutrition is 11 times more likely to die than their healthy peers,” he explained, noting that malnutrition reduces people’s resistance to disease.

This is a particular concern in Afghanistan, where only one in two children has been vaccinated, the UNICEF spokesperson added.

UN honours peacekeepers who ‘paid the ultimate price’, for the sake of others

Ever since the UN deployed the first of its 72 peacekeeping missions back in 1948, more than 3,800 peacekeepers have lost their lives, Secretary-General António Guterres said on Friday, at a wreath laying ceremony in honour of those “brave men and women” who serve.

24 May 2019

Speaking of “the true cost of peacekeeping”, the UN chief called for a moment of silence for those who “paid the ultimate price” to protect others and “to give war-torn countries a chance for peace and hope”.

“Today, in 14 missions around the world, our peacekeepers serve heroically to preserve peace and stability”, he said, adding that they also “face grave threats”.

He noted that UN missions in Mali, South Sudan, the Central African Republic, Lebanon and the Democratic Republic of the Congo “are among the most dangerous that we have ever undertaken”, saying that “last year we lost 98 military, police and civilian peacekeepers from 36 countries”.

“We ask much of our peacekeepers”, Mr. Guterres said. “In return, we must continue to do all we can to ensure they are as safe as possible”.

“Today, we honour the memory” of the peacekeepers who did not return home, and “recommit ourselves to carrying forward their mission for a better future”.

Honouring 119 fallen heroes

Following the wreath laying, the UN chief honoured 119 brave men and women with the Dag Hammarskjold medal.

“Fifty-eight years ago, Secretary-General Dag Hammarskjöld died in a plane crash in the Congo while trying to broker a peace agreement to end the conflict in the country”, said Mr. Guterres, calling the former UN chief “a tireless and fearless champion of peace” who took “robust action when needed”.

Today’s honourees were military and police personnel, international civil servants, national staff and UN Volunteers from 38 countries who served in 12 different UN peace operations around the world.

“Hailing from different backgrounds, our fallen heroes were united in their efforts to help the UN attain its most important objective – to save further generations from the scourge of war”, said Mr. Guterres. “The medal we posthumously honour them with, bears the name of Secretary-General Hammarskjöld”.

It is also inscribed with the fallen hero’s name, “forever linking them in our hearts and in our memories”, said the UN chief.

Mr. Guterres quoted Secretary-General Hammarskjöld in saying: “The pursuit of peace and progress, with its trials and its errors, its successes and its setbacks, can never be relaxed and never abandoned.”

“Today, as we honour our fallen colleagues with the Dag Hammarskjöld medal, let us also honour them by living up to his call to never abandon the pursuit of peace”, he stressed.

“I offer my highest tribute to those we remember here today, and my sincerest condolences to their loved ones left behind”, he concluded, asking for a moment of silence.

The UN Secretary-General António Guterres (r) comforts Lachel Chitete Mwenechanya, the widow of Private Chancy Chitete, a former UN peacekeeper from Malawi who posthumously received a medal for exceptional courage in the service of peace. (24 May 2019), by UN Photo/Eskinder Debebe

In a special event as part of the commemorations, the UN chief paid tribute to the late Private Chancy Chitete of Malawi, who was hit by enemy fire while protecting and administering lifesaving first aid to his wounded Tanzanian comrade, Corporal Omary.

Private Chitete became only the second winner of the UN’s highest peacekeeping award, the “Captain Mbaye Diagne Medal for Exceptional Courage” which was established in 2014 for uniformed and civilian personnel who meet the criteria, and named after the late UN peacekeeper Captain Diagne, who saved hundreds of lives in Rwanda in 1994, before being killed.

“The world does not have many true heroes”, said the UN chief, but Private Chitete, who was serving with the UN Stabilization Mission in the Democratic Republic of the Congo (MONUSCO), was “indeed one of them”.

In November last year, while conducting an operation to stop armed attacks which were disrupting the Ebola response in local towns, peacekeepers came under heavy fire. As bullets were flying, Private Chitete dragged Corporal Omary back to an area “of greater safety”, Mr. Guterres recounted. “Both were evacuated for medical treatment. Corporal Omary survived.  Private Chitete did not”.

“Private Chitete’s selfless heroism and sacrifice helped the peacekeepers achieve their objective and dislodge the militia from its stronghold and that was vital for the Ebola response to go on”, he commended. “He personally made a difference. A profound one”.

The ceremony marked the first time the award has been conferred since its initial presentation to the family of Captain Diagne in 2016, said the Secretary-General, adding: “We could not have found a more deserving recipient”.

‘Great cause of concern’ UN chief tells Security Council on ‘bleak’ state of civilian protection

Marking 20 years since the UN Security Council added the protection of civilians to its agenda, Secretary-General António Guterres told the chamber on Thursday that while safeguards were stronger, “compliance has deteriorated”.

23 May 2019

“We are rightly critical when assessing the state of the protection of civilians, for there is great cause of concern”, he said.

The UN chief walked members through 20 years of progress, saying that a “culture of protection” had indeed “taken root” that encompasses a comprehensive framework based on international law, and becoming one of the peace and security body’s “core issues”.

Also, in the plus column, he credited deploying specialist advisors in peace operations and reinforcing humanitarian agencies’ work to strengthen child protection and help shield all civilians from “loathsome acts of sexual violence in conflict”.

Mr. Guterres added that monitoring and reporting grave violations against children in conflicts and engaging with warring parties “has led to the demobilization and reintegration of thousands of children”.

Moreover, he continued, Security Council resolutions on the protection of medical care in armed conflict and on conflict and hunger “have given important focus and urgency to these issues”.

Civilians: ‘Vast majority’ of casualties  

Despite these advances, grave human suffering is still being caused by armed conflicts and lack of compliance with international humanitarian law and “civilians continue to make up the vast majority of casualties”, Mr. Guterres flagged.

In 2018, UN records revealed that more than 22,800 civilians in Afghanistan, Iraq, Mali, Somalia, South Sudan and Yemen were killed or injured.

And a new wave of shelling and airstrikes against hospitals, schools, markets and camps for displaced people in northwest Syria’s Idleb has killed and wounded civilians, causing widespread panic.

Mr. Guterres spelled out that in all conflicts, “when explosive weapons were used in populated areas, 90 per cent of those killed and injured were civilians”.

What’s more, persistent violence against humanitarian and medical workers and facilities along with widespread access constraints continue to jeopardize civilians in need.

“Chief among our challenges is enhancing and ensuring respect and compliance for international humanitarian law in the conduct of hostilities” bemoaned Mr. Guterres.

“In many cases, our information suggests that respect for those bodies of law is at best questionable”, he stated, while in others “we have witnessed blatant violations”.

He stressed the need for better accountability by closing the gap between serious violation allegations, their investigation and prosecution.

To do this, the Secretary-General cited his own report on the issue. First, he urged that clear national policy frameworks be established to protect civilians in armed conflict; secondly, that humanitarian organizations engage with non-State armed groups to negotiate safe and timely humanitarian access; and finally, that accountability be ensured for serious violations.

“We also need action at the global and multilateral levels” Mr. Guterres said, signaling that the Council must be “more consistent” and comprehensive in addressing protection concerns “within and across different conflicts”.

The UN chief also said that Member States, UN actors and civil society must sustain implementation.

“For, as bleak as the current state of protection is, there is considerable scope for improvement if we each do our utmost to promote and implement the rules that bind us to preserve humanity in war”, Mr. Guterres said.

ICRC to Council: Support humanitarian law

For his part, Peter Maurer, President of the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC), acknowledged that while political consensus is difficult, “we ask you [the Council] to be clearer in your support for the respect of international humanitarian law – and in stating and following through on the simple truth that no one is above the law and no civilian can be excluded from protection”.

Chairing the meeting, Indonesia’s Minister of Foreign Affairs, Retno Marsudi, said that the 20th anniversary commemoration should serve as a reminder not only of our political commitments, but also, of “our duties to implement those commitments”.

Recalling the UN Charter’s mission to ensure the primacy of human safety and security she underscored: “We cannot afford to let our people down”.

Security Council-mandated UN peace operation successes:

  • South Sudan – nearly 200,000 internally displaced people currently shelter in protection of civilians’ sites.
  • Central African Republic – the UN mission supports local peace and ceasefire agreements that are monitored by civilian and military components.
  • Afghanistan – recording UN civilian casualty figures has led to the adoption of measures by pro-Government forces to minimize harm.
  • Syria – Millions of civilians receive cross-border humanitarian assistance.
  • From Cambodia to the former Yugoslavia, war criminals have been tried and convicted.

2018 – another year of violence and displacement

  • Some 1.4 million people newly displaced across international borders.
  • Around 5.2 million people internally displaced.
  • 705 attacks against healthcare workers and facilities in eight conflicts, killing 451 and injuring 860, according to the World Health Organization (WHO).
  • Close to 370 aid workers kidnapped, wounded or killed