‘Proving our worth through action’: 5 things Guterres wants the UN to focus on in 2019

‘Proving our worth through action’: 5 things Guterres wants the UN to focus on in 2019

Despite countless “headwinds” and “ills”, the United Nations has “made a real difference” in 2018 and will need to achieve even more in 2019, as the planet faces “a world of trouble”.

That was the New Year message from UN Secretary-General António Guterres on Wednesday, at UN headquarters in New York, as he presented his top priorities for the year ahead: diplomacy for peace; ambitious climate action; acceleration towards the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs); better governance over new technologies; and stronger UN values worldwide.

“The truth is that the experience of last year proves that when we work together and when we assume our responsibilities, we get things done,” said Mr. Guterres, as he proceeded to highlight some of the UN’s most outstanding achievements of 2018.

Among the successes, he cited progress towards forging a peace in Yemen, the Korean peninsula, and South Sudan; and between former enemies Ethiopia and Eritrea.

He also highlighted the “successful outcome” of the UN climate conference in Poland last December, which resulted in overall consensus on how to implement the 2015 Paris Agreement on climate change. Other major international achievements of 2018 include the global compacts on migration and refugees, renewed engagement for peacekeeping operations, and major steps taken to reform the UN.

“As we look ahead to 2019, I won’t mince words,” he said. “While recognizing the progress we are making, we cannot be complacent. To meet the needs and expectations of the people we serve, we must accelerate our work,” he stated, before laying out his top five priorities for the year.

1. A surge in diplomacy

“Partnerships are fundamental”, said the Secretary-General, especially in Africa, as the UN strives to “consolidate gains towards peace on the continent,” in particular in the Sahel, Mali, South Sudan, Somalia, the Central African Republic and the Democratic Republic of the Congo.

Other conflicts where effective diplomacy will be critical and require the “unity and support of the Security Council” to overcome deadlocks are Yemen, Libya, Syria and Afghanistan.

“As we strive to end conflicts around the world, we understand that lasting peace must be based on a broad consensus of society, with women as full participants in all peace processes,” the UN chief added.

2. Greater ambition on climate action

Noting that “there is no greater challenge to the world of today and tomorrow” than climate change, Mr. Guterres reminded Member States that by 2020, under the Paris Agreement, they “are meant to assess progress and submit new pledges to meet the goals to which they agreed”.

“And by 2050, we need to reach net zero global emissions,” he stressed, explaining that this will require enhanced efforts now, both to reduce emissions and to seize the opportunities of a clean, green energy future.

“That is why, I will convene a Climate Summit on September 23rd to mobilize action by political leaders, the business community and civil society,” he explained, adding that “we need greater ambition – ambition on mitigation, ambition on adaptation, ambition on finance and ambition on innovation.”

3. Powering ahead with Sustainable Development

“Despite considerable efforts from Governments and many others, the transformative changes demanded by the 2030 Agenda are not yet being made,” regretted the UN Secretary-General.

He called on Member States to have a “sharper focus on what works in reducing poverty and inequality, and in delivering strong and inclusive economies while safeguarding the environment — and we need increased financing for those solutions.”

In September, right after the Climate Change Summit, the UN chief has invited heads of State and Government to gather for another summit, focused on how to accelerate action towards the SDGs, and three other prominent meetings on financing for development, universal health coverage and the risks faced by Small Island Developing States.

“I urge you all to do your utmost to make September 2019 a defining moment for stopping runaway climate change, achieving the Sustainable Development Goals and building a fair globalization,” he said.

4. Addressing the challenges presented by new technologies

Acknowledging new technologies that “can turbocharge” the world’s efforts for peace and sustainable development, the UN chief warned that they “are also outpacing our capacity to reckon with their profound impacts”.

The UN’s efforts on this front will focus in 2019 on “reducing digital inequality, building digital capacity and ensuring that new technologies are on our side as a force for good,” he said.

5. Reaffirming the UN’s values worldwide

“What guides us is a set of values – the universal values of the United Nations Charter that bind us together,” said the Secretary-General, citing peace, justice, human dignity, tolerance and solidarity.

“Today, those values are under attack around the world,” he warned, explaining that “an ideological battle is taking place,” and that “we hear the troubling, hateful echoes of eras long past, and noxious views moving into the mainstream”.

The UN Secretary-General called for deeper efforts to “show that we understand people’s anxieties, fears and concerns” and to “address the root causes that lead people to feel marooned in our rapidly changing world”.

“Let’s keep showing all people that we care,” he concluded. “Let’s keep proving our worth through action.”

 

 

Yemen: Security Council backs new mission in support of key port city truce

Yemen: Security Council backs new mission in support of key port city truce

The Security Council unanimously voted on Wednesday in favour of deploying up to 75 observers to monitor a fragile ceasefire in Yemen’s port city of Hudaydah which went into effect late last month; a lifeline for millions of Yemenis on the verge of starvation.

Among other things, the newly adopted resolution establishes what will be officially known as the UN Mission to support the Hodeidah Agreement (UNMHA).

Last month, after UN-brokered consultations in Sweden aimed at getting the warring sides together to end nearly four years of brutal civil war, the Houthi movement leadership and Yemeni Government representatives, signed the Hodeidah Agreement.

The resolution sets out, for an initial six months, an increase from around 20 observers already in place to monitor the ceasefire, up to 75, positioned in and around the Red Sea port, where Yemen’s receives most of its commercial goods and lifesaving aid.

The new special political mission will support the implementation of the December Stockholm Agreement, consisting of three separate pledges between the two sides: halting hostilities in Hudaydah and mutually redeploying forces from the city and the ports, Salif and Ras Issa; a prisoner exchange mechanism; and a statement of understanding on the city of Taiz, where fighters have wrestled for control for years now.

According to news reports, both Houthi rebels and the UN-backed Government have accused each other of multiple ceasefire breaches, calling the terms flawed because they lacked precision. Adding more monitors, will allow for more accurate assessment.

Retired General Patrick Cammaert, chairs the Redeployment Coordination Committee (RCC), and in accordance with the Security Council resolution, will now head up UNMHA, reporting to the Secretary-General through Special Envoy for Yemen, Martin Griffiths.

The RCC includes Yemen government representatives and Houthis, to supervise implementation of the Stockholm Agreement. The UN advance team has already been working with the RCC on monitoring and supporting implementation.

The UK-sponsored resolution requests the Secretary-General to report to the Council on a monthly basis on the resolution’s implementation and to present it with a review of UNMHA in five months’ time.

© UNICEF
A child waits as UNICEF-supported emergency humanitarian supplies are distributed in Hudaydah, Yemen in June 2018.

The UN Mission to support the Hodeidah Agreement (UNMHA) will:

    • Lead and support the Redeployment Coordination Committee to oversee the governorate-wide ceasefire, redeployment of force and mine action operations;
    • Monitor compliance to the ceasefire in Hodeidah governorate and the mutual redeployment of forces from the city of Hodeidah and the ports of Hodeidah, Salif and Ras Issa.
    • Work with the parties to secure the city of Hodeidah and the ports of Hodeidah, Salif, and Ras Issa in accordance with Yemeni law.
    • Facilitate and coordinate UN support to assist the parties to fully implement the Hodediah Agreement

More urgency needed to help increasing numbers ‘locked out’, before 2030, says UN’s Bachelet

More urgency needed to help increasing numbers ‘locked out’, before 2030, says UN’s Bachelet

“It is a promise extended to people previously locked out of development: the marginalized, disempowered and excluded communities – UN rights chief Michelle Bachelet on the 2030 Agenda

Many countries are failing to protect and promote the interests of all their people – despite pledging to do so in 2016 – the UN’s High Commissioner for Human Rights said on Wednesday.

In a special meeting of the Human Rights Council in Geneva to review progress on achieving the 17 Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) of the 2030 Agenda, Michelle Bachelet insisted that “overall, we are not on track” to meet its ambitious aims:

“The 2030 Agenda is a commitment to achieve greater international cooperation for a more equitable international order,” she said. “But above all, it is a promise extended to people previously locked out of development: the marginalized, disempowered and excluded communities; the millions of women, racial, religious and caste minorities, indigenous peoples, migrants, persons with disabilities, Roma and the poor.”

Acknowledging “tremendous progress in some countries” on tackling extreme poverty; mortality rates for the under-fives; and promoting education, particularly in Asia; Ms. Bachelet listed numerous obstacles that continue to prevent fair development for all.

Women’s inequality is a major impediment, she insisted, along with hunger, war and climate change.

44,000 each day forced to flee

“Conflicts are destroying people’s lives, hopes and ability to earn a decent livelihood in the places they were born,” she said. “44,400 people are forced to flee their homes every day because of conflict or persecution. Climate change is generating overwhelming environmental disasters, which devastate basic infrastructure and exacerbate tensions and conflicts.”

Questioning whether the world’s nations were meeting the “great goal” of leaving no-one behind by 2030, the UN rights chief cited International Labour Organization (ILO) data, which indicated a growing gap between the rich and poor, despite workers’ higher productivity.

“With just 12 years left to 2030, we need a greater sense of urgency about achieving the Agenda’s promise to the world’s people,” she said, before explaining that the outcomes of the Human Rights Council meeting would contribute to the work of the High-Level Political Forum (HLPF) at the UN in New York in July – the organization’s central platform for follow-up and review of the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development.

Equalities widening everywhere

At Ms Bachelet’s side, former High Commissioner for Human Rights Mary Robinson echoed the need to address widening inequalities “both between and within countries”, insisting that wealth and opportunities were “increasingly concentrating in the hands of the few”.

Such inequalities, create winners and losers, Ms Robinson maintained, serving to “catalyse social unrest, deepen divides and increase xenophobia; all major concerns for the realisation of rights”.

Ms Robinson, who heads a “climate justice” foundation which seeks to protect the rights of people who are affected by climate change, noted its impact on vulnerable communities.

“When dams flood the land of indigenous people, mining pollutes local water supplies and infrastructure projects displace impoverished communities, development efforts are being realised at the expense of the realisation of human rights for all,” she said.

Governments in many parts of the world were “failing to provide essential services”, Ms Robinson continued, “including access to healthcare, education, quality housing, sanitation or drinking water with little accountability. Populations are routinely denied access to information and justice; this must change. Human rights norms constitute a bulwark against incoherent and unequal progress towards the SDGs and should be used as such.”

After calling for Governments to link their efforts to limit global warming with implementation of the 2030 Agenda for rights-based sustainable development, Ms Robinson highlighted how the Human Rights Council had showed what was possible, by tasking its subsidiary bodies and investigators to incorporate the sustainable development goals into their reports.

“I urge all states and other actors to make use of the synergies between human rights and the 2030 Agenda,” she said, “by integrating development reporting with human rights reporting, and by working closely with rights holders, national human rights institution and equality bodies to ensure transparent and effective approaches.”

© UNICEF/UNI154440/Pirozzi
Children walking in a Roma community in the town of Shumen, Northern Bulgaria (2013)

Mali: ‘Dire’ humanitarian situation, ‘grave’ security concerns challenge fragile peace

Mali: ‘Dire’ humanitarian situation, ‘grave’ security concerns challenge fragile peace

With over 800 schools forced to close due to insecurity, and 2.3 million vulnerable people in need of assistance this year, a top UN official told the Security Council on Wednesday that the humanitarian situation in Mali “remains dire”.

Bintou Keita, Assistant Secretary-General for Peacekeeping Operations in Africa, also apprised the Council of the alarming security situation in the central and northern areas of the African State, saying it was “of grave concern,” and provided “a major challenge” to implementing the UN-backed 2015 peace agreement.

The Agreement for Peace and Reconciliation in Mali was signed in June 2015 by the Coordination des Mouvements de l’Azawad armed group, following its signature in that May by the Government and a third party, the Plateforme coalition of armed groups.

The Malian Government has been seeking to restore stability and rebuild following a series of setbacks since early 2012, including a military coup d’état, renewed fighting between Government forces and Tuareg rebels, and the seizure of its northern territory by radical extremists.

She flagged the “very difficult conditions” under which the UN Stabilization Mission in Mali’s (MINUSMA) peacekeepers and the Malian defense and security forces continue to serve, saying that “far too often, they pay the ultimate price” in support of peace and stability across the country. Mali continues to be the most dangerous place in the world to wear the UN’s blue helmet.

“Asymmetric attacks continue to target peacekeepers, national and international forces, and increasingly civilians”, she asserted.

The UN official recalled the 21 December attack against MINUSMA, which she said, “indicated the determination of extremist groups and spoilers to prevent the Mission from implementing its mandate.”

Ms. Keita also reminded the Council of last year’s “significant increase” in the use of improvised explosive devices (IEDs), saying that mission’s UNMAS continent (UN Mine Action Service) was supporting the authorities, including with advice, training and specialized equipment to mitigate their risks.

“We remain concerned about the further deterioration of the security situation in the centre where intercommunal violence, instrumentalized by extremist armed groups, has intensified over the past months,” she continued, spotlighting a deadly New Year’s Day attack. She said MINUSMA was working with the Government to respond to the rapidly evolving situation and protect civilians.

MINUSMA/Photo Marco Dormino
Bintou Keita, Assistant Secretary-General for Peacekeeping Operations, and Oscar Fernandez-Taranco, Assistant Secretary-General for Peacebuilding support, meet with the beneficiaries of UNWOMEN and UNFPA project supporting victims of sexual and gender-based violence at the Maison des femmes in Gao.
UN 2013 map of Mali., by UN Department of Field Support/Cartographic Section
Click here to enlarge.

Ms. Keita stressed the importance of the parties to the peace agreement keeping positive momentum going, and making “meaningful progress, without further delay”.

“Addressing the challenges facing Mali must take into account the complex cross-border dynamics and drivers of conflict occurring within the broader regional context,” she stressed, reiterating the Secretary-General’s call on national, regional and international actors “to redouble their efforts to tackle the multiple threats facing Mali and the Sahel region.”

She assured the Council of MINUSMA’s continued commitment to supporting the parties in implementing the peace agreement.

For her part, Kamissa Camara, Mali’s Minister of Foreign Affairs and International Cooperation, highlighted that security measures are not enough when terrorist groups are working “relentlessly” to destroy social cohesion, weaken the State and extend their territorial control.

She said that the Government was currently working to build a national consensus to find “solutions shared by the whole Malian nation.”

Meanwhile, as the Council was meeting, it was reported that gunmen had attacked two villages in the country’s central Menaka region near the border with Niger, killing at least 20 people – further underscoring the country’s volatile security situation.

UN 2013 map of Mali., by UN Department of Field Support/Cartographic Section
Click here to enlarge.

Nearly 900 reportedly killed following ‘shocking’ intercommunal attacks in DR Congo

Nearly 900 reportedly killed following ‘shocking’ intercommunal attacks in DR Congo

The UN Human Rights Office (OHCHR) said on Wednesday that at least 890 villagers were reportedly killed in the western Democratic Republic of the Congo last month, following brutal inter-communal clashes.

Human rights reports suggest that the apparent massacre took place between 16 and 18 December in four villages in the Yumbi territory, Mai-Ndombe province, in what appear to have been clashes between the Banunu and Batende communities.

Most of the area’s population has reportedly been displaced, and voting in the December 30 presidential poll for the Yumbi area, was postponed due to violence and insecurity.

In a statement, the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights condemned the “shocking violence” and highlighted the importance of “investigating and bringing the perpetrators to justice”.

Michelle Bachelet added that it was essential to “ensure justice for the victims of these horrific attacks, but also to prevent new episodes of intercommunal strife, and to address the anger and feelings of gross injustice that may otherwise lead to repeated cycles of violence between communities.”

At least 82 people were also injured in the attacks, according to the “credible” reports received by OHCHR and some 465 houses and buildings were burned down or pillaged, including two primary schools, a health centre, a health facility, a market, and the local office of the independent electoral commission, known by its French acronym, CENI.

Both the OHCHR and national judicial authorities, have launched investigations into the reported attacks.

At the beginning of January the UN Refugee Agency, UNHCR reported that 16,000 people from DRC had arrived in neighbouring Republic of the Congo – also known as Congo-Brazzaville – after fleeing deadly intercommunal clashes.

According to UNHCR, this represents the largest influx of refugees in over a decade, since 130,000 people were forced to seek shelter amid ethnic clashes in DRC’s former Equator Province, in 2009.

© UNHCR/Ley Uwera
A site for Internally-displaced persons in the Democratic Republic of the Congo.

Top UN officials condemn ‘horrible terrorist act’ in Nairobi

Top UN officials condemn ‘horrible terrorist act’ in Nairobi

UN Photo/Mark Garten
United Nations Secretary-General António Guterres (file).
15 January 2019

Following a deadly terrorist attack in Nairobi, the capital of Kenya, on Tuesday, the Secretary-General of the United Nations, António Guterres, and the President of the UN General Assembly, María Fernanda Espinosa, condemned the act and said they stand in solidarity with the Kenyan people.

Expressing “total solidarity with the people, the Government, and the President of Kenya”, Mr. Guterres condemned “the horrible terrorist act,” during a meeting at UN Headquarters in New York on Tuesday.

As for María Fernanda Espinosa Garcés, she expressed her “most sincere condolences to the government and people of Kenya”.

“I stand in solidarity especially with the victims of these acts of violence and with their families,” she added, strongly condemning “these unexplainable acts of extreme violence.”

According to news reports, the attack took place in a Nairobi luxury hotel complex, the DusitD2, in the Westlands neighborhood, where several armed assailants are reported to have opened fire and blasted their way into the compound. The reports state that the attack was claimed by the group Al-Shabab, an Islamist extremist group with ties to Al Qaeda, which has carried out many attacks across Africa in the past decade.

Thousands of Syrians in ‘life and death’ struggle amid harsh conditions in remote desert camp, UN warns

Thousands of Syrians in ‘life and death’ struggle amid harsh conditions in remote desert camp, UN warns

WFP
Pictured here, children at Rukban settlement in Syria. (file photo)
15 January 2019

Conditions in a makeshift Syrian camp near the border with Jordan are “increasingly desperate” and “have become a matter of life and death”, United Nations officials warned on Tuesday, after at least eight children died there from extreme cold and a lack of medical care.

The development comes as the newly appointed UN Special Envoy for Syria, Geir Pederson, arrived in Damascus, for his first meeting with the Government, since taking over from veteran UN negotiator Staffan de Mistura.

In a message on Twitter, the Norwegian diplomat said he was “looking forward to productive meetings” in the Syrian capital, which has been hit by seven years of fighting that has left hundreds of thousands dead.

Speaking to journalists in Geneva, World Food Programme (WFP) spokesperson Hervé Verhoosel echoed a warning from UN Children’s Fund (UNICEF) that children only months old are succumbing to the harsh winter conditions in the Rukban settlement at the south-western border of Syria with Jordan, which last received aid in November.

“The United Nations remains seriously concerned about the increasingly desperate conditions for more than 40,000 people staying at the Rukban site” he said. “The majority are women and children, who have been staying at the site for more than two years in harsh conditions with limited humanitarian assistance, access to medical care and other essential services.”

Amid security concerns, Jordan closed its border with Syria at Rukban as tens of thousands of Syrians arrived at the camp, fleeing expanded Russian and United States-led coalition air strikes against areas held by Islamic State of Iraq and the levant (ISIL) terrorists in central and eastern Syria.

Following the delivery of joint UN-Syrian Arab Red Crescent aid to Rukban in November, UN Emergency Relief Coordinator Mark Lowcock told the Security Council that “colleagues returned shocked from what they saw on the ground, reporting grave protection issues, increasing food insecurity and no certified medical doctors among the stranded population”.

Mr. Lowcock warned then that “without sustained access, the situation of tens of thousands of Syrians – stranded in the harshest desert conditions – will only further deteriorate as the winter cold sets in”.

Echoing that message today, Mr. Verhoosel reiterated the call by WFP and the UN “for a second inter-agency convoy with critical assistance to take place as soon as possible”, urging “all parties to ensure safe, sustained and unimpeded humanitarian access to people in need, in line with their obligations under international humanitarian law”.

The plight of those stranded in Rukban dates is not new, but the harsh winter and lack of regular supplies have made the situation much worse, according to UNICEF’s Geert Cappelaere, Regional Director for the Middle East and North Africa.

“Needs for assistance in Rukban are beyond urgent,” he said in a statement. “They are extremely acute and have become a matter of life and death.”

Mr. Cappelaere stressed: “Once again, UNICEF calls on all sides to urgently facilitate a humanitarian convoy to Rukban, including mobile health clinics, so that lifesaving supplies and services can be delivered.”

In eastern Syria, meanwhile, heavy violence in the Hajin area of Deir-Ez-Zor Governorate has displaced 10,000 people since December, the UNICEF official warned.

“Families seeking safety face difficulties leaving the conflict zone and wait in the cold for days without shelter or basic supplies,” he said. “The dangerous and difficult journey has reportedly killed seven children, most of them under a year old.”

First aid in six months reaches families in western Yemen, ‘timelines’ slip over Hudaydah ceasefire talks

First aid in six months reaches families in western Yemen, ‘timelines’ slip over Hudaydah ceasefire talks

WFP/Marco Frattini
Yemenis queue for food at a WFP food distribution voucher program in the city of Hodeidah. 13 November 2018.
15 January 2019

Thousands of families in conflict-affected communities south of the Red Sea port city of Hudaydah in Yemen have received aid for the first time since last July, the World Food Programme (WFP) said on Tuesday.

Spokesperson Hervé Verhoosel confirmed that Tuhayat and Darayhimi had been reached thanks to a partial ceasefire deal agreed at UN-led talks between Government forces and Houthi opposition militia in the west of the country:

“For the first time since the increase in fighting in Hudaydah in June 2018 WFP managed to assist hard-to-reach areas of Tuhayat and Darahimi,” he said. “This can be thanks to an inconsistent de-escalation over recent days following the December peace talks in Stockholm, Sweden.”

Aid was distributed from Hudaydah – a Houthi stronghold – and Aden, which is controlled by the internationally recognized Government of President Abd Rabbu Mansour Hadi.

“So far WFP has dispatched more than 3,334 metric tonnes of food assistance to these areas, and that is simultaneously from both Aden and Hudaydah,” the WFP spokesperson explained, adding that “8,125 households in Al Tuhayat have received enough assistance for two months and 2,662 families in Al Darayhimi, south of Hudaydah, have received food rations. Those are the first humanitarian shipments delivered since July 2018 when a WFP contracted truck was hit in the area.”

Last month, WFP scaled up the delivery of food and food vouchers to around nine million people in Yemen, up from seven to eight million in November.

The aim in coming weeks is to reach 12 million people to help avert famine in the country, which was already one of the poorest countries in the world before conflict escalated in March 2015.

“We will adapt on a daily basis to the security situation on the ground,” Mr Verhoosel said. “We encourage of course all parties to keep negotiating under the Secretary-General’s Special Envoy. The situation is better already, I mean, we are not exactly at the target, but we are not far away from the target.”

UN monitoring team in Hudaydah continues work, but ‘timelines have slipped’

The UN monitoring team which is overseeing the implementation of the Stockholm peace agreement signed by Government and Houthi opposition leaders last month, is continuing it work, but the warring parties have refused to hold face-to-face meetings in recent days.

UN Spokesperson Stéphane Dujarric said on Monday that the retired Dutch General, Patrick Cammaert, who is chairing the Redeployment Coordination Committee, has held two joint meetings involving both sides, but “in the last week, due to the inability of the parties to have a joint meeting” he had meet them separately twice, “seeking to find a mutually acceptable way forward for the redeployment of forces from the three ports and critical parts of the city associated with humanitarian facilities, as provided for in phase one in the Stockholm Agreement.”

“While projected timelines have slipped, recent discussions have been constructive”, added Mr Dujarric, briefing reporters at UN Headquarters.

“The chair continues to encourage the parties to resume the joint meetings in order to finalize a mutually agreed redeployment plan. Currently, plans are being discussed on how to facilitate humanitarian operations.”

Hudaydah carries more than 70 per cent of all humanitarian aid and commercial goods into the war-ravaged nation, and future talks towards a listing peace settlement for Yemen, rely on a ceasefire holding, in line with the agreement made in Sweden.

FROM THE FIELD: Liberia boosts efforts to guard against rising seas

FROM THE FIELD: Liberia boosts efforts to guard against rising seas

UNMIL/Albert Gonzalez Farran
A girl sells dry fish in New Kru town, Liberia.
14 January 2019

With rising sea levels due to climate change already affecting coastal communities in Liberia, there are fears that densely populated parts of the capital Monrovia could be submerged, unless action is taken.

It’s projected that a one-metre sea level rise could permanently inundate 95 square kilometres of land in Liberia’s coastal zone, which is already under threat of heavy seasonal rains and continuing erosion.

What’s more, eroding infrastructure is causing massive repercussions for housing, education and livelihoods, with fishing chief among them.

But the UN Development Programme (UNDP) has taken “28,000 steps in the right direction” during the second phase of its Coastal Defense Project to reduce vulnerabilities and build resilience. Here’s the full story.

World ‘not yet on track’ to ensure children a better future: UN rights chief

 

World ‘not yet on track’ to ensure children a better future: UN rights chief

@ UNICEF/Sebastian Rich
Five-year-old Kiara makes a sale in a commuter train car in Buenos Aires, the capital. She has been working in the Subte, the city’s mass transit system, selling hairpins and other cheap goods, since she was three years old.
14 January 2019

Some Member States have fallen short of offering a better future to children who continue to die prematurely or fall victim to poverty, trafficking and slavery, UN rights chief Michelle Bachelet said on Monday.

In her opening address to the 80th Session of the Committee on the Rights of the Child, in Geneva – which reviews the records of Member States according to the Convention on the Rights of the Child – the High Commissioner noted that 2019 marked the pact’s 30th anniversary, and that it was “by far the most widely ratified human rights treaty”.

Despite this almost universal recognition, and the fact that it had “driven significant progress in many countries” with laws passed to protect youngsters in “virtually every State party”, Ms Bachelet insisted that “not all States Parties ensure, to the maximum extent, the survival and development of all children everywhere”.

And in an appeal to listen to youngsters’ “ideas, innovations and solutions”, she insisted: “In almost every context, children are still viewed as passive recipients of care, their voices dismissed or ignored.”

This week, the UN panel of 18 independent experts is set to review the reports of Bahrain, Belgium, Guinea, Italy, Japan and Syria, in exchanges with representatives from the countries involved.

Turning to another powerful human rights platform – the 2030 Agenda, with its 17 Sustainable Development Goals, which world leaders adopted in September 2015 – “we are not yet on track” to deliver on its promises, the High Commissioner insisted.

“Based on current trends, more than 60 countries will miss the SDG neo-natal mortality target,” Ms. Bachelet said, citing a UN Children’s Fund (UNICEF) estimate that 60 million children under five, will die between 2017 and 2030 from preventable causes.

On trafficking and slavery, the High Commissioner explained that children were “particularly vulnerable” to its worst manifestations: forced labour – involving some 5.5 million youngsters – domestic slavery, sexual slavery and forced marriage.

Testimonies collected by the staff and other UN bodies “clearly indicate that child migrants and internally displaced children, in every region, are at heightened risk”, she said, “and as you know, these populations are growing sharply”.

Quoting from a recent study by a UN Special Rapporteur – or independent rights expert – Ms Bachelet noted that the share of children trafficked for the purpose of forced labour “is increasing, and the share of children involved in forced labour is particularly high”.

The High Commissioner also cited data from the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC), indicating that one in three detected victims of trafficking was a child.

Victims included almost double the number of girls than boys, she continued, while the trafficking of children for sexual exploitation “greatly facilitated by digital technologies, which create new marketplaces and streamline the organisation of trafficking networks”.

And on the “millions of girls” who become mothers while they are still children, Ms Bachelet underlined that the practice damaged their health and entrenched a destructive cycle of poverty.

© UNICEF/Shafiqui Alam Kiron
13 years old Sonamoni feeds her 11 months old daughter in Ashkarpur, Satkhira, Bangladesh. Sonamoni was married at the age of 8 years and 6 months to her husband who is now 29 years old. (file)

Armed conflict had also “traumatized and harmed millions more, she continued, adding that in 2016, UN monitors had verified more than 20,000 boys and girls who had been forcibly recruited by armed groups “as fighters or, in effect, as slaves”.

“These numbers are a calamity,” the UN rights chief said. “Each of them stands for a precious individual, whose hopes and dreams are being dashed. Tragically, there is still much to be done before we realise the four core principles of the Convention: non-discrimination, the child’s best interests; right to life, survival and development and right to be heard.”

The number of ratifications of the Convention on the Rights of the Child remains unchanged at 196, although South Sudan recently ratified the Optional Protocol on the involvement of children in armed conflict, bringing the total number of ratifications to 168.

South Sudan also ratified the Optional Protocol on the sale of children, child prostitution and child pornography, which now has 175 States parties.

Recalling a special event at the UN in Geneva in December to celebrate the 70th anniversary of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, Ms Bachelet noted the appeal by 16-year-old Nayeli Quiroz, from Ecuador, who said more youngsters should be able to participate in decisions that directly affect them.

“We need the power, the clarity, the foresight and the good sense of these children and adolescents to help us overturn many current trends”, the High Commissioner said. “Empowering them, respecting their dignity and upholding their rights benefits everyone.”