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Conference on Cyprus off to constructive start but hard work remains, says UN facilitator

INTERNATIONAL, 28 June 2017 – On the opening day of the Conference on Cyprus, a senior United Nations official expressed hope that the Greek Cypriot and Turkish Cypriot leaders as well as the guarantors – Greece, Turkey and the United Kingdom – have the determination to overcome the challenges and resolve the issues before them.

“This is an historic opportunity to solve a problem that has been there for decades,” Jeffrey Feltman, the Under-Secretary-General for Political Affairs, told reporters after the opening of the Conference, which is being held in the Swiss town of Crans-Montana.

Mr. Feltman is representing Secretary-General António Guterres at the Conference, which the UN chief is expected to attend later in the week.

Speaking alongside Mr. Feltman, the Special Adviser to the Secretary-General on Cyprus, Espen Barth Eide, told the media that the Conference had gotten off to a constructive and good start.

“I am encouraged with what I heard so far,” he said, adding that the “hard work will remain” and that everyone was prepared to hold discussions in larger as well as smaller groups and to “do what is possible” to facilitate an outcome.

“But at the end of the day, of course, it is the responsibility of the Conference participants to go that final mile, to think outside the box, to try out some new ideas so that we finally [leave with] a plan.”

Earlier this month, the Secretary-General held a meeting with the Greek Cypriot leader, Nicos Anastasiades, and the Turkish Cypriot leader, Mustafa Akinci, at UN Headquarters in New York, after which he announced the reconvening of the Conference on Cyprus.

In addition to the Greek Cypriot and Turkish Cypriot leaders and the guarantor powers, the European Union also participated, as an observer, in the Conference.

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‘Inclusive, equitable and quality education’ at the heart of high-level UN event

INTERNATIONAL, 28 June 2017 – Education leaders from around the world convened today at the United Nations to discuss ways to advance action on Sustainable Development Goal 4, which aims to “ensure inclusive and quality education for all and promote lifelong learning.”

“Inclusive, equitable and quality education goes to the heart of the 2030 Agenda as a key enabler of sustainable development,” said Peter Thomson, President of the General Assembly, in his opening remarks at the High-level SDG Action Event on Education.

Mr. Thomson pointed out that education taps the Earth’s greatest asset, namely the inherent potential of the world’s people.

“Access to quality education is not only a goal in itself, but a fundamental building block to creating a better world of sustainable peace, prosperity and development,” he underscored.

He went on to explain that education holds the key to fuelling sustainable growth, building social cohesion and stability, and promoting human rights and equality – calling it “the golden thread that runs through all 17 SDGs.”

UN Deputy Secretary-General Amina Mohammed dubbed education as “the cornerstone of sustainable development.”

Ms. Mohammed maintained that the world can only be shaped by quality and relevant education, stressing the importance of investments to ensure a strong framework.

“We know when we deliver education to a young person, we’re not only delivering the knowledge and skills they will need to chart their own future — we’re preparing them to lend their hands, their mind, and their heart to shaping a more peaceful, prosperous future for their society, and indeed, for the world,” she said.

The UN deputy chief focussed specifically on the five interrelated areas of finance, innovation, girls’ education, lifelong learning, and education in humanitarian contexts.

Noting that the wealthiest children enjoy up to 18 times more public education financing than the poorest, she exhorted, “This injustice must be reversed.”

“There is no better investment in the future peace and resilience of a society than in the education of its citizens,” she stated.

For her part, Irina Bokova, Director-General of the UN Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO), emphasized education as a basic human right and the foundation for inclusive sustainable development.

“Education is a transformational force that cuts across all of the Sustainable Development Goals, making progress sustainable across the board,” said Ms. Bokova.

Citing UNESCO’s regular global monitoring reports, she noted that 264 million children, adolescents and youth were out of school – most of them girls.

“Girls and women face the steepest challenges. Two-thirds of the more than 750 million illiterate adults in the world are women,” stressed Ms. Bokova, adding that they are often discriminated against, prevented from enrolling or continuing their education, dropping out of secondary education and facing strong barriers.

“If we do not move these barriers away… we will not achieve Sustainable Development Goal 4,” she underscored.

“If all adults completed secondary education, 420 million people could be lifted from poverty, reducing the number of poor people by more than half globally, by almost two-thirds in Sub-Saharan Africa, in South Asia… and yet, aid to education has fallen for the sixth consecutive year,” Ms. Bokova indicated. “This can simply not go on.”

As experts discussed how to advance SDG 4, the event also highlighted innovations in education through a panel discussion and a “marketplace” that showcased solutions to delivering low-cost or free learning resources to students and educators.

Today’s event, which also featured musical performances, was the last in a series of SDG action events convened by the Office of the President of the General Assembly. Others focussed on sustainable peace, climate action, financing and innovation.

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Harness ‘immense’ potential offered by migration, UN officials urge at global forum

INTERNATIONAL, 28 June 2017 – Speaking at a major international meeting on migration and development, senior United Nations officials have underlined the need for safe, orderly and regular migration options to ensure that people around the world are not forced to undertake arduous and dangerous pathways in their search for a better future.

Such efforts would also address a number of security, development and human rights concerns regarding migration, said Louise Arbour, the Special Representative of the Secretary-General for International Migration, in her keynote address to the plenary of the Global Forum on Migration and Development, currently underway in the German capital, Berlin.

“Failure, on the other hand, would leave us unequipped to harvest the immense potential of migration,” she said.

“Worse still, the negative impact of irregular migration – both human and societal – would develop roots which would become ever harder to eradicate.”

In her address, Ms. Arbour also emphasized that effective international cooperation and political leadership were vital for the success of a global compact for safe, orderly and regular migration and called on all participants for strong leadership as well as the “willingness to compromise.”

She also highlighted that the UN Charter, the international human rights framework and the 2030 Agendafor Sustainable Development already offered a framework for the global compact and urged everyone to “resist the temptation to reinvent the wheel.”

Also speaking today, William Lacy Swing, the Director-General of the UN International Organization for Migration (IOM), noted that it is a fact that migration will continue and called for safe and legal pathways to prevent migrants from being abused or risking their lives in perilous journeys.

In that context, he underlined that efforts to assist them should be centred on their rights, needs and capacities.

“We need to address the relationship of migration to critical adjoining policy domains, including development, humanitarian, climate change, and peace and security, in a truly comprehensive way,” he said, urging the international community to move away from “reactive, unidimensional approaches” to migration governance.

“I believe we all agree that we dare not miss this ‘rendezvous with history,’ as this opportunity may not present itself again,” he added.

In the same vein, Guy Ryder, the Director-General of the UN International Labour Organization (ILO), stressed the importance of taking action that made “a real difference” in the lives of migrants arriving on foreign soil, with hopes for a better future.

“If we are to foster the benefits of these movements for all concerned, our policy choices matter greatly,” he said, while citing the need to remove what he called “the toxicity” from the public debate.

He also emphasized the contributions made by migrants and called for better recognition of their skills and experience to allow them to attain their full potential.

Also speaking at the Global Forum, Filippo Grandi, the UN High Commissioner for Refugees, called for action to ensure better protection of migrants and refugees as well as their rights.

In particular, he urged all stakeholders for expanding legal pathways that benefit both these vulnerable groups.

The Global Forum on Migration and Development was set up by the UN in 2007 as an informal, non-binding, voluntary and government-led venue for high-level discussions on policies, challenges and opportunities presented by the “migration-development nexus.”

Outcomes of the tenth session will feed into the ongoing process of forging a global compact for safe, orderly and regular migration, a framework for effective migration governance. The current session also marks the culmination of more than a decade of international dialogue and cooperation on migration and development.

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Civilians must not be sacrificed for military victories – UN rights chief, as thousands trapped in Raqqa

INTERNATIONAL, 28 June 2017 – Voicing grave concern over the fate of as many as 100,000 civilians “effectively trapped” in Syria's Raqqa governorate amid the ongoing offensive against Islamic State in Iraq and the Levant (ISIL/Da'esh) fighters, the top United Nations rights official urged all parties to the conflict to enact measures to allow civilians who wish to flee the fighting to do so in safety.

“The intense bombardment of Al-Raqqa over the past three weeks has reportedly left civilians terrified and confused about where they can seek refuge as they are caught between ISIL's monstrosities and the fierce battle to defeat it,” the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights, Zeid Ra'ad Al Hussein, said today in a news release issued by his Office (OHCHR).

Civilians must not be sacrificed for the sake of rapid military victories,” he underscored, calling on all forces battling ISIL in the city, including international forces, to review their operations to ensure full compliance with international law and taking all feasible precautions to save civilian lives.

High Commissioner Zeid also underscored the need to promptly and effectively investigate reports of civilian casualties.

According to OHCHR data, conservative estimates indicate that at least 173 civilians have been killed in air and ground strikes since 1 June. Furthermore, reports of civilian deaths continue to mount and escape routes are increasingly sealed off.

The news release also noted that while some did manage to leave after paying large sums of money to smugglers, including traffickers affiliated with ISIL, allegations continue to emerge of ISIL preventing civilians from fleeing.

There are also worrying reports of violations and abuses by the armed group, the Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF), in areas under its control, such as Tabqa city – located west of Raqqa city – including of looting, abductions, arbitrary detentions during screening processes as well as the recruitment of children, the release added.

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Investing in poor children saves more lives per dollar spent, UNICEF study finds

INTERNATIONAL, 28 June 2017 – Investing in the health and survival of the most deprived children and communities provides more value for money than investing in less deprived groups, saving almost twice as many lives for every $1 million spent, according to a new study by the United Nations Children's Fund (UNICEF).

“The evidence is compelling: Investing in the poorest children is not only right in principle, it is also right in practice – saving more lives for every dollar spent,” said UNICEF Executive Director Anthony Lake in a press release on the study, titled Narrowing the Gaps.

The study backs up an unconventional prediction UNICEF made in 2010: the higher cost of reaching the poorest children would be outweighed by greater results.

“This is critical news for governments working to end all preventable child deaths at a time when every dollar counts,” Mr. Lake said, noting that investing equitably in children's health also helps break intergenerational cycles of poverty and gives them a better chance of learning more in school and earning more as an adult.

The evidence is compelling: Investing in the poorest children is not only right in principle, it is also right in practice – saving more lives for every dollar spent

The study analysed new data from the 51 countries where around 80 per cent of all newborn and under-five deaths occur. It assessed access to six high-impact maternal, newborn and child health interventions: the use of insecticide-treated bed nets, early initiation of breastfeeding, antenatal care, full vaccination, the presence of a skilled birth attendant during delivery, and seeking care for children with diarrhea, fever or pneumonia.

Findings show that improvements in coverage of life-saving interventions among poor groups helped decrease child mortality in these countries nearly three times faster than among non-poor groups. Also, interventions in poor groups proved 1.8 times more cost-effective in terms of lives saved.

The study also found that since birth rates were higher among the poor than the non-poor, the reduction in the under-five mortality rate in poor communities translated into 4.2 times more lives saved for every million people.

Further, it found that of the 1.1 million lives saved across the 51 countries during the final year studied for each country, nearly 85 per cent were among the poor.

Focus on poor children made a difference in Afghanistan, Bangladesh, Malawi

The study lists Afghanistan, Bangladesh and Malawi as some of the countries with high rates of under-five mortality where focus on the most deprived has made a difference for children. Between 1990 and 2015, under-five mortality decreased by half in Afghanistan and by 74 per cent in Bangladesh and Malawi.

The findings come at a critical time, as governments continue their work towards achieving the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), which set a target of ending all preventable deaths among newborns and children under the age of five by 2030. Unless progress on reducing child mortality accelerates, by 2030 almost 70 million children will die before reaching their fifth birthday.

The study calls on countries to take practical steps to reduce inequities, including: disaggregating data to identify the children being left behind; investing more in proven interventions to prevent and treat the biggest killers of children; strengthening health systems to make quality care more widely available; innovating to find new ways of reaching the unreached; and monitoring equity gaps using household surveys and national information systems.

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UN welcomes major partnership initiative with tech giants to counter terrorism online

INTERNATIONAL, 27 June 2017 – A senior United Nations official has called for sustained joint efforts to combat terrorism and welcomed a partnership initiative with tech giants Facebook, Microsoft, Twitter and YouTube to counter terrorism and violent extremism online.

“I welcome this major initiative, which elevates our existing private-public partnership with these and other companies,” said Jean-Paul Laborde, UN Assistant Secretary-General and the Executive Director of the Security Council Counter-Terrorism Committee Executive Directorate.

“The UN remains committed to addressing the scourge of terrorism, and we look forward to remaining a key partner to the private sector,” he added.

The four tech giants have already developed and have put in place policies and removal practices to take a hard line against terrorist or violent extremist content on their hosted consumer services.

The Global Internet Forum to Counter Terrorism partnership will help further strengthen these “counter-speech” protections through research- and evidence-based efforts and technical and policy decisions around the removal of terrorist content, noted a news release issued by the Executive Directorate.

By working together, and through the sharing of the best technological and operational elements of their individual efforts, they believe they can have a greater impact on the threat of terrorist content online, it added.

The new forum builds on initiatives, such as the European Union (EU) Internet Forum and the Shared Industry Hash Database as well as discussions with governments and the outcomes of recent G7 and European Council meetings.

It will also help strengthen existing and build future areas of collaboration between these companies, including with smaller tech enterprises, civil society groups and academics, as well as with governments, and intergovernmental bodies like the EU and the UN.

The companies will also be hosting a series of learning workshops in partnership with the Counter-Terrorism Committee Executive Directorate and the ICT4Peace Foundation in Silicon Valley (which is home to many of the world's largest high-tech corporations) and around the world to drive these areas of collaboration.

Within the UN system, the Security Council continues to closely follow efforts to combat terrorism as well as other issues that represent serious threats to international peace and security.

Last month, it unanimously adopted a resolution which, among others, provides a comprehensive international framework to counter terrorist narratives and amplifies positive and credible alternatives to audiences vulnerable to extremist messages, especially those on social media.

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Upcoming Cyprus Conference 'a unique opportunity,' says UN negotiator

INTERNATIONAL, 27 June 2017 – A fresh round of talks on Cyprus will last “as long as it takes,” but there are no guarantees of success, the United Nations negotiator facilitating the process said today.

Speaking to journalists in Geneva, Espen Barth Eide, the UN Special Adviser on Cyprus, said that the reconvening of the Conference is “not the last chance” but the “the best chance” of reaching an agreement between Greek-Cypriots and Turkish-Cypriots.

“It is a unique opportunity, and it would be extremely sad if it was wasted […] and I think frankly that's recognized by all participants.”

He highlighted however that sticking points remain between the delegations as they prepared to meet tomorrow in Mont Pèlerin, Switzerland.

“Make no mistake; it's not going to be easy,” he said, explaining that the he and Secretary-General and will “do our utmost” to help. So would the Security Council which has remained “very united” throughout the process, so would the [European Union], which is lending extremely important and productive support, and so would the international financial institutions which are directly involved.

“But none of us can do it for the participants, they have to take the responsibility and try to make the best out of what I see is a unique opportunity,” Mr. Eide underscored.

After decades of division in Cyprus dating back to 1974, the UN envoy said that this was the “best chance” for successful talks and not the last chance, despite the “risks” and the “tense situation” on the Mediterranean island.

There are six main topics up for discussion; they include new territorial boundaries, power-sharing and the economy. Agreement has been found on most of these so-called 'chapters,' broadly, and concrete progress achieved, Mr Eide said.

The Turkish-Cypriot delegation had assented to what he called a “significant return of territory” to the Greek-Cypriots, and both sides had also exchanged maps in Geneva in January – an historic first, the UN negotiator told journalists.

Nonetheless, Mr. Eide said that the Greek-Cypriot and Turkish-Cypriot positions still diverge on the issue of security and guarantees.

“What I'm saying is that on these five chapters, we have made substantive process, on the issue which is most complicated right now and very much in focus now and by the guarantors – Greece, Turkey and the United Kingdom – and others who will be present, is the security and guarantees chapter; that's where the sides are so far opposed,” he said.

“But they have also told each other and the world many times that are trying to seek a common vision also on that chapter, and that is what we are trying to do,” said Mr. Eide, insisting that this shared viewpoint is something only the Greek-Cypriots and the Turkish-Cypriots could do by talking together.

The UN would be there to help both sides find common ground, he said, so that an agreement owned by the people of Cyprus could prevail.

In a statement issued in New York, the Secretary-General picked up that thread saying that welcomed the reconvening of the Cyprus Conference and that the “the opportunity for the reunification of Cyprus is now finally before us.”

Calling on all concerned players to seize this opportunity, “for Cyprus first and foremost, but also for the wider Eastern Mediterranean region,” Mr. Guterres reiterated his steadfast commitment to supporting this effort.

“I urge all participants to demonstrate the will and leadership required to conclude a comprehensive settlement,” he concluded.

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UN collects nearly all remaining weapons from Colombian rebels, mission confirms

INTERNATIONAL, 27 June 2017 – The peace effort in Colombia today reached a milestone, with nearly all of the remaining number of weapons held by the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC-EP) turned over to the United Nations for registering and storing.

The UN political mission in the country today confirmed that “on 20 June the third phase of the laying down of individual weapons of the FARC-EP combatants was initiated.”

The Mission has now stored 7,132 arms, which constitutes all the weapons that were registered from FARC-EP. The only exclusions from the list are the weapons used to provide security in the 26 FARC-EP camps until 1 August 2017.

“To date, the Mission has verified 77 arms caches from which weapons have been extracted and munitions, explosives and unstable armaments destroyed,” the UN political mission said.

The lay down is in compliance with the timeline agreed to between the Government and FARC-EP on 29 May, part of the historic deal that ended the half-century long conflict.

The arms laydown process – a major component in the peace agreement – includes five distinct steps including: registration and identification of weapons, monitoring and verification of the holding of weapons, reception and storage of arms, neutralization of arms (to ensure that they will never again be used as firearms), and extraction of arms from camps.

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UN recognizes young entrepreneurs on Day for micro-, small, medium-sized enterprises

INTERNATIONAL, 27 June 2017 – United Nations agencies today launched a new campaign to make it easier for the 70 million unemployed youth to get financing and learn new skills to start a business.

The global campaign – launched by the the International Labour Organization (ILO), the International Trade Centre (ITC) , the UN Capital Development Fund (UNCDF), the UN Conference on Trade and Development (UNCTAD) and the UN Industrial Development Organization (UNIDO) – will run through August of this year.

It will aim to “effectively enable young entrepreneurs to success and improve the sustainability and quality of self-employment opportunities for youth,” according to ILO.

The UN agency added that the main challenges to be addressed include “the lack of enabling policy and ecosystems, the limited access to capital, the insufficient tools to enhance skills development and knowledge transfer.”

The campaign will focus on strategies to promote “an enabling regulatory environment” for young people, make use of technology and networks, aim to allow greater access to finance, and provide greater support for young people.

The UN estimates that while 70 million youth are unemployed, an additional 150 million work yet live in moderate to extreme poverty.

Today's launch comes on the first observance of the International Day for Micro-, Small and Medium-sized Enterprises, which seeks to raise public awareness of these business which generally employ fewer than 250 people. This year's theme is “youth entrepreneurship and self-employment.”

The Daywas created in April to observe the Day and raise public awareness of their contribution to the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development, which aims to alleviate poverty and preserve the people and the planet.

According to the data provided by the International Council for Small Business (ICSB), formal and informal Micro-, Small and Medium-sized Enterprises (MSMEs) make up over 90 per cent of all firms and account on average for up to 70 per cent of total employment and 50 per cent of GDP.

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UN agency saves 600 stranded migrants in Sahara Desert, but 52 dead in Niger

INTERNATIONAL, 27 June 2017 – The United Nations migration agency in Niger has saved more than 600 lives since April 2017 through a new search and rescue operation that targets migrants stranded in Sahara Desert, but 52 did not survive.

“We are enhancing our capacity to assist vulnerable migrants stranded in Northern Agadez, towards the Niger-Libya border,” said Giuseppe Loprete, Niger Chief of Mission for the International Organization for Migration (IOM), in press release issued today.

“Saving lives in the desert is becoming more urgent than ever. Since the beginning of the year we have been receiving frequent calls to rescue victims who embark on this route‎,” Loprete added.

A 22-year-old woman was the only female among the survivors of a rescue mission on 28 May. She left Nigeria in early April hoping for a better future in Europe. There were 50 migrants on the pick-up truck when it left Agadez for Libya, but only six are still alive today.

“We were in the desert for ten days. After five days, the driver abandoned us. He left with all of our belongings, saying he was going to pick us up in a couple of hours, but he never did,” she recalled.

During the next two days, 44 of the migrants died which persuaded the six left to start walking to look for help. “We had to drink our own pee to survive,” she said.

We had to drink our own pee to survive.Survivor

On 9 June, another 92 migrants were also rescued through an IOM search and rescue operation; among them were 30 women and children.

More recently, 24 migrants were taken to Seguedine, where one died on arrival. Among the 23 survivors are migrants from Gambia, Nigeria, Senegal and Cote d'Ivoire. It was not clear for how long they had been walking in the deserts of central Niger. They had been in a group of 75 migrants in three different cars, eventually abandoned by smugglers during the journey north.

IOM has recorded 52 deaths since it launched a new project “Migrants Rescue and Assistance in Agadez Region” (MIRAA) in April. The project will last for 12 months, and aims to ensure the protection of migrants in hard-to-reach areas while also strengthening the management of migration by the Government of Niger.

MIRAA is complementary to the larger initiative “Migrant Resource and Response Mechanism” (MRRM), which aims to bring together in one mechanism a wide range of services and assistance for migrants, including assisted voluntary return to their countries of origin and reintegration once they return.

 
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