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UN statistical body agrees to global indicators to measure sustainable development goals

INTERNATIONAL – The United Nations Statistical Commission today agreed on a set of global indicators that will measure success towards the new sustainable development agenda, which will lead anti-poverty efforts through 2030.

On the last day of its 47th session, the Commission approved a draft global indicator framework intended for a global follow-up and review of the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs). 

“Completing the indicator framework is of course not the end of the story – on the contrary, it is the beginning,” said Under-Secretary-General for Economic and Social Affairs Wu Hongbo, in remarks delivered by Assistant Secretary-General for Economic Development Lenni Montiel. 

According to a news release, the set of 230 global indicators proposed by the Inter-Agency and Expert Group on SDG indicators (IAEG-SDGs) is “a robust framework intended for follow-up and review of progress at the global level towards achieving the 17 SDGs.”

The framework is not meant to track success at regional and national levels, which will depend on the realities on the ground for each country. National and thematic reviews of the 2030 Agenda’s implementation will be reviewed by the UN High-Level Political Forum on Sustainable Development starting in July.

“The SDG indicators will require an unprecedented amount of data to be produced and analysed – and it is evident that this will pose a significant challenge for national statistical systems, in developing as well as developed countries,” underscored Mr. Wu. 

The initial global indicator framework will next be submitted to the Economic and Social Council (ECOSOC) and the General Assembly for adoption.


UN refugee agency concerned about restrictions on Iraqis in displacement camps

INTERNATIONAL – Concerned about hampering the rights of displaced Iraqis seeking shelter in camps, the United Nations refugee agency today urged the Government to set up clear procedures and special facilities for screening people that are separate from camps established to provide shelter and humanitarian aid.

“There is a rising trend of newly-displaced Iraqis being forcibly transferred to camps where restrictions on their freedom of movement were being imposed in a manner disproportionate to any legitimate concern, including those related to security,” Ariane Rummery, spokesperson for the UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR), told journalists in Geneva.

The concern is that as freedom of movement is curbed, so might other rights, such as access to work, food, healthcare and legal assistance, she said.

In Kirkuk Governorate, since 22 February, the approximate 2,000 residents of Nazrawa have been confined to the camp, irrespective of whether or not they completed security screening procedures.

UNHCR has also been told by protection partners about instances of forcible relocation of Iraqis into camps, as well as disproportionate restrictions on their freedom of movement, elsewhere in Iraq.

In northern Iraq, displaced persons face restrictions on their freedom of movement in Tilkaif District, as well as Salah Al Din and Anbar Governorates.

There are more than 3.3 million people in Iraq displaced since January 2014, in addition to nearly one million Iraqis who had been displaced since 2006-2007, according to UNHCR figures.

“With the prospect of further displacement as military operations against extremist groups escalate, it is becoming increasingly urgent for the authorities to ensure both that IDPs are granted access to safety in a timely manner, and that camps maintain their humanitarian character,” Ms. Rummery said.


'World has much to learn from Japan,' UN chief says on anniversary of earthquake, tsunami

INTERNATIONAL – The world has much to learn from Japan if it is to make progress on saving lives and livelihoods, and reducing disaster losses, United Nations Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon underlined on the fifth anniversary of the Great East Japan Earthquake and Tsunami.

“This was an unprecedented disaster which taught us all a great deal about the changing nature of exposure to risk and disaster,” the UN chief said in a message.

On 11 March 2011, more than 20,000 people were killed in eastern Japan when an earthquake and tsunami hit the country's coastline. The tsunami also slammed into the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear power station, located in Fukushima Prefecture, disabling cooling systems and leading to fuel meltdowns in three of the six units. The accident shook the nuclear industry, regulators and governments.

“After Fukushima, it became clear that we are in a new era in which technology and natural disasters can combine to create danger on a previously unimaginable scale. Our dependence on technology is a double-edged sword, if we do not reduce our exposure to natural hazards,” Mr. Ban stressed.

“The Great East Japan Earthquake and Tsunami helped shape the Sendia Framework for Disaster Risk Reduction, which was adopted at the Third UN World Conference on Disaster Risk Reduction a year ago,” Mr. Ban highlighted. “The Framework extends the remit of disaster risk management to include both man-made and natural hazards, as well as related environmental, technological and biological hazards and risks.”

He further noted that “Japan has shown the world how important it is to pause for reflection, to examine the lessons learned from past calamities and to raise public awareness of the importance of prevention and mitigation.”

In addition, starting in 2016, World Tsunami Awareness Day will be commemorated on 5 November. It marks the day in 1854 when a tsunami struck the Japanese village of Hiromura; a farmer, who recognized the warning signs, set his rice sheaves alight to alert his neighbours to the coming danger.

“Acting for the common good is a frequent theme in Japanese culture and it infuses the country's approach to disaster preparedness and risk reduction. The rest of the world has much to learn from Japan, if we are to make progress on saving lives and livelihoods, and reducing disaster losses,” the Secretary-General said.

“On this solemn day of remembrance, I would like once again to extend my condolences, and those of the whole United Nations system, to the people of Japan and especially to those who lost loved ones in the Great East Japan Earthquake and Tsunami,” he added.

Also today, Robert Glasser, Head of the UN Office for Disaster Risk Reduction (UNISDR), attended the 5th anniversary memorial service in Tokyo and extended sympathies to the bereaved and those who are still displaced from their homes.

“The earthquake, the tsunami and the nuclear emergency which unfolded on that day resulted in a multi-systems collapse as a result of an unprecedented combination of man-made and natural hazards,” he said in a press release. “This disaster has profoundly shaped our understanding of disaster risk in a world which is hugely dependent on technology for its smooth functioning.”

He recalled last year’s adoption by Member States of the Sendai Framework for Disaster Risk Reduction, which extends the remit of disaster risk management to include environmental, technological and biological hazards. “In many ways this shift in attitudes to go beyond a focus on natural hazards is due to events here in Japan five years ago,” he noted.


UN report highlights 'searing' account of killings, rapes by South Sudanese forces

INTERNATIONAL – A new United Nations report on the human rights situation in South Sudan published today describes a multitude of horrendous violations in “searing detail,” in particular by Government forces, including cases of civilians burned alive or cut to pieces and a teenage girl being raped by ten soldiers.

Although all parties to the conflict have committed patterns of serious and systematic violence against civilians since fighting broke out in December 2013, the report says State actors bore the greatest responsibility during 2015, given the weakening of opposition forces.

The scale of sexual violence is particularly shocking, the Office of the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR) notes in a news release. In five months last year, from April to September, the UN recorded more than 1,300 reports of rape in just one of South Sudan's ten states, namely oil-rich Unity.

“The scale and types of sexual violence – primarily by Government SPLA forces and affiliated militia – are described in searing, devastating detail, as is the almost casual, yet calculated, attitude of those slaughtering civilians and destroying property and livelihoods,” said UN High Commissioner for Human Rights Zeid Ra'ad Al Hussein.

Women and girls are 'commodity'

He said the quantity of rapes and gang-rapes described in the report must only be “a snapshot” of the real total, with women and girls being considered “a commodity” as soldiers moved through the villages. Although this is one of the most horrendous human rights situations in the world, it has been more or less “off the international radar,” he added.

The new report is the work of an assessment team sent by the High Commissioner to the world's youngest country from October 2015 to January 2016.

Since 2013, all parties to the conflict have conducted, “attacks against civilians, rape and other crimes of sexual violence, arbitrary arrest and detention, abduction and deprivation of liberty, disappearance, including enforced disappearance, and attacks on UN personnel and peacekeeping facilities,” the report says.

Given the breadth and depth of the allegations, their gravity, consistency and recurrence and the similarities in their modus operandi, the report concludes there are reasonable grounds to believe the violations may amount to war crimes and/or crimes against humanity. Each time an area changed hands those in charge would try and kill or displace as many civilians as they could, based on their ethnic identity.

The report contains harrowing accounts of pro-opposition civilians killed by being burned alive, suffocated in containers, shot, hanged from trees or cut to pieces. One woman had been stripped naked and raped by five soldiers in front of her children on the roadside and then raped by more men in the bushes, only to return and find her children missing; another was tied to a tree after her husband was killed and had to watch her 15-year-old daughter being raped by ten soldiers.

Children have borne the brunt of the violence, being maimed, raped, recruited for hostilities and killed throughout this conflict, but there was a sharp increase in reported violations in 2015.

Also in 2015, at least seven journalists were killed and many activists arrested. “Civil society activists, human rights defenders, humanitarian actors, journalists and print media and even UN staff members have been the subject of threats, intimidation, harassment, detention and in some instances death by the Government,” the report says.

The report also highlights the considerable challenges to administering justice in South Sudan, citing “a chronic failure to ensure a modicum of accountability…with grants of amnesty or immunity being the norm.”


The report recommends that the Human Rights Council continue to monitor developments in the country and consider the establishment of a dedicated mechanism to report on progress towards accountability and on the human rights situation there.

The report also calls on the Transitional Government of National Unity – once established – to stop current violations and abuses of the rights of children, prevent their recurrence, eliminate sexual- and gender-based violence, promote and respect the role of civil society, and guarantee the freedoms of opinion and expression, and of peaceful assembly.


UN rights chief calls on EU to adopt more ‘humane’ measures on migration

INTERNATIONAL - UN rights chief calls on EU to adopt more ‘humane’ measures on migration The United Nations human rights chief today reiterated his profound concern about the situation faced by refugees and migrants “in extreme vulnerability,” and urged the European Union to adopt a more humane set of measures on migration at a summit next week.

“In the first two months of this year, more than 400 people have died trying to reach Europe – due partly to the lack of viable avenues of entry,” Zeid Ra’ad Al Husseintoldthe Human Rights Council in Geneva.

“I acknowledge the generosity with which Germany welcomed around a million people last year, and the efforts of Greece, throughout 2015, to take a humane approach, avoiding detention and pushbacks at sea. But today, in violation of the fundamental principles of solidarity, human dignity, and human rights, the race to repel these people is picking up momentum,” he warned, as he presented his annual report.

The High Commissioner said the EU’s draft arrangement with Turkey – discussed earlier this week – raises a number of very serious issues, which he intends to address during a visit to Brussels before a two-day EU Summit beginning on 17 March.

“Among my concerns is the potential for collective and arbitrary expulsions, which are illegal. Border restrictions which do not permit determination of the circumstances of each individual violate international and European law,” he stressed. “I urge the EU to adopt a much more rights-compliant and humane set of measures on migration at next week's summit. International guarantees protecting human rights may not be side-stepped or diluted.”

The High Commissioner’s speech, which outlined concerns about almost 60 countries and human rights topics, highlighted the risk of cosmetic "human rights window-dressing” with no real implementation on the ground.

“The ratification of treaties and agreements, and acceptance of recommendations stemming from UN human rights mechanisms, are not in themselves human rights achievements. There needs to be follow-up and real change to bring greater freedoms and dignity to the people,” he insisted.

He also made a plea for better financing, noting that to respond to all requests for assistance from the Office of the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR), $217 million more would be required on top of the regular budget, while the expected extra-budgetary cost plan is $130 million.

“The gap between those two numbers represents people that we cannot help; field offices that we cannot open; facts that we cannot establish; and victims that we cannot assist or represent. Programmes which will not show law-enforcement personnel how they can interrogate people without using torture; and other programmes which could have helped judges, prison wardens, development officials, legislators, policy makers and many others integrate international human rights law into their work,” he explained, adding that the cost of not doing that work is “bitterly high.”

Turning to the allegations of sexual exploitation and abuse committed by UN peacekeepers, particularly in the Central African Republic, the High Commissioner said only Member States can act to end impunity for criminal offences that have been committed by their nationals who work for the UN, as the Organization cannot exercise criminal jurisdiction.

“Member States also have responsibility for investigating and prosecuting UN civilian personnel in peacekeeping environments where the judicial system is unable to do so,” he underlined. “For States whose laws do not allow them to prosecute their nationals for offences committed in other countries, the UN, ten years ago, proposed a draft convention. That draft convention is still there. You, the Member States, should now adopt it.”

He added that every time the UN announces allegations before the press – together with the nationality of the military or civilian staff concerned – he would like also to see the ambassadors of their countries assume their responsibilities and join the press conference.


Cultural goods remain economic driver in digital age – UNESCO report

INTERNATIONAL – A United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) report launched today finds that the trade in cultural goods doubled from 2004 to 2013 despite a global recession and a massive shift among consumers of movies and music towards web-based services.

The study from the UNESCO Institute for Statistics (UIS), The Globalisation of Cultural Trade: A Shift in Cultural Consumption–International flows of cultural goods and services 2004-2013, takes an in-depth look at the export and import of cultural goods and services around the world.

“Trade in cultural goods totalled $212.8 billion in 2013, nearly double the amount in 2004,” said Silvia Montoya, Director of the UIS, in press release. “This is further evidence of the critical role cultural industries play in today’s global economy.”

UNESCO found that China is now the lead exporter of cultural goods, followed by the United States. In 2013, the total value of China’s cultural exports was $60.1 billion – more than double that of the US at $27.9 billion.

While the US has lost its position as the top exporter of cultural goods, it reportedly remains the top importer of these goods. In general, developed countries play a smaller role in cultural exports, but still dominate imports. Meanwhile, emerging markets are growing their exports of cultural goods. Turkey and India strengthened their position in recent years, joining the world’s top 10 exporters of cultural goods.

Products gaining ground

Art and crafts have moved up in the ranking of the ten most traded cultural goods, fuelled by gold jewellery – a safe harbour in uncertain times. Gold jewellery exports represented more than $100 billion in 2013.

Statues, statuettes and paintings also gained ground. Their share of the trade in art and crafts was worth $19 billion in 2013.

Products losing ground

From 2004 to 2013, the “dematerialisation,” or the digitisation of products, such as music, movies and newspapers, had an enormous impact on these industries, as their products moved into the realm of cultural services, often sold as web-based subscriptions.

Trade in recorded music products, for example, declined by 27 per cent from 2004 to 2013, and trade in movies fell by 88 per cent during the same period; however, audio-visual services as a whole steadily gained ground.

Despite the downturn in the trade of print products, reflected by the decline in newspapers, books held their ground as an important cultural export in some regions, growing by 20 per cent from 2004 to 2013.

The measurement challenge

As more and more cultural goods move from the tangible to the digital, the report notes that obtaining accurate data on the flow of these goods is becoming more challenging. Finding new sources of data and cooperation between international organizations in the promotion and improvement of cultural trade statistics, especially in the developing world, will help improve the understanding of the real contribution of the trade in cultural goods to the global economy.


As 'most disaster-prone region,' Asia-Pacific needs risk-sensitive development, UN reports

INTERNATIONAL – The Asia-Pacific region continued to be the world's most disaster-prone region in 2015, requiring a paradigm shift from a response-recovery governance to a risk-sensitive development approach, according to a new United Nations report.

The region accounted for over half the world's 344 disasters in 2015, resulting in over 16,000 deaths with 59 million people affected, and the cost of economic damage was more than US$45 billion, excluding indirect losses, the United Nations Economic and Social Commission for Asia and the Pacific (ESCAP) said in anews release.

South Asia was the hardest hit, recording 52 disasters and more than 14,000 deaths, with most deaths attributed to the 7.6 magnitude earthquake that hit Nepal in April.

Titled “Disasters in Asia and the Pacific: 2015 Year in Review,” thereportwarns that the region's burgeoning cities may not be adequately equipped to tackle urban disasters that occur more frequently and with greater intensity. Over 700 million people in the region live in cities at 'extreme' or 'high' disaster risk, and by 2030 this number could reach one billion.

In many big cities in Asia-Pacific much of the infrastructure is outdated and built without adequate attention to disaster resilience, the report notes.

Last year, the urban centres of Bangladesh, India, Indonesia and Japan were affected by severe floods, while Nepal's capital city, Kathmandu, bore the brunt of the economic damage from the April earthquake.

Ecological buffers depleted by unplanned urbanization

Widespread floods in Chennai, India in December 2015 illustrate the common challenges faced by many big cities. With the ecological buffers depleted over time by rapid, unplanned urbanization, the floods inundated critical infrastructure, disrupted power networks and waterlogged major city roads. Economic damage and loss from the floods have been estimated at more than US$10 billion.

According to the report, a prolonged El Niño phenomenon last year drew attention to neglected and often forgotten slow-onset disasters by severely exacerbating effects of heat waves, forest fires, haze, and droughts. Last year was the hottest on record, with Pakistan and India reporting more than 3,400 fatalities from a searing heatwave.

Drought caused serious water and food shortages in much of South and South-East Asia and several fatalities in the Pacific. Rather than dealing with the drought only when it becomes an emergency, it should be addressed from a long-term perspective to protect livelihoods.

Use of drones for disaster management

To build a resilient Asia-Pacific, the report further calls for increased focus on risk-sensitive development, and stronger regional cooperation for managing trans-boundary disasters. It advocates capitalizing on emerging technologies such as unmanned aerial vehicles for disaster management but stresses the need to establish regulatory standards for effective use of these technologies.

The report, commending the “Zero Casualty” policy implemented in Philippines as a regional good practice, concludes that disaster risk reduction cannot be achieved without political will and effective leadership at all levels of government.


Freedoms of religion and expression ‘twin rights’ in fighting intolerance – UN report

INTERNATIONAL – The freedoms of religion and of expression are not contradictory but complementary, as both rights are the twin tools in combating incitement to hatred, an independent United Nations human rights expert said today.

“There is widespread perception that the rights to freedom of religion or belief and to freedom of opinion and expression are in opposition to each other,” said Heiner Bielefeldt, UN Special Rapporteur on freedom of religion or belief, during the presentation of his latestreport to the Geneva-based UN Human Rights Council.

While freedom of expression seems to signal a “green light” to all sorts of provocation, freedom of religion or belief seems to give a “stop sign” instead, he said.

In his report, the expert considers that both rights are closely related in law and practice, and they both protect unconditionally a person’s inner realm of thinking and believing without any restrictions.

Mr. Bielefeldt explained that some problematic restrictions include blasphemy laws, unclear anti-hatred laws and criminalization of ill-defined superiority claims.

He also noted that the synergies between both rights exist in different formats, such as interreligious communication, frank public discourse and policies of the government and other actors, to publicly condemn incitement to acts of hatred.

The expert called on all States to proactively share their experiences and best practices when implementing the Human Rights Council Resolution 16/18 to fight intolerance, negative stereotyping and stigmatization of persons based on religion or belief, as well as discrimination, incitement to violence and violence against them.

Independent experts or special rapporteurs are appointed by the Human Rights Council to examine and report back on a country situation or a specific human rights theme. The positions are honorary and the experts are not UN staff, nor are they paid for their work.


Hunger intensifies in areas suffering from drought, flooding and conflict – UN report

INTERNATIONAL – Thirty-four countries, including 27 in Africa, are currently in need of external assistance for food due to drought, flooding and civil conflicts, according to a new United Nations report released today.

The figure has grown from 33 last December, after the addition of Swaziland, says the Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) in its Crop Prospects and Food Situation report.

The report, produced by FAO’s Global Information and Early Warning System (GIEWS), points out that drought associated with El Niño has “sharply reduced” 2016 crop production prospects in Southern Africa, while expectations for the harvest in Morocco and Algeria have been lowered due to dry conditions.

Also in areas of Central America and the Caribbean, ongoing dry conditions linked to El Niño may affect sowings of the main season crops for the third consecutive year.

Moreover, FAO stresses that persistent conflicts in Iraq, Syria, Yemen, Somalia, and the Central African Republic have taken a heavy toll on the agricultural sector, further worsening the humanitarian crisis in those countries. In most cases, the impact of conflict extends into neighbouring countries such as Cameroon and the Democratic Republic of Congo that are hosting refugee populations.

In several countries already in need of external assistance for food, the report finds that conditions generally worsened in the past three months, mainly in the Southern Africa sub-region, where food prices have reached record highs.

It also warns that last year’s reduced production would negatively impact the food security situation in the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea, where “most households were already estimated to have borderline or poor food consumption.”

Elsewhere, the outlook for the 2016 crops already in the ground, mostly winter grains in the northern hemisphere, is generally favourable. Early forecasts indicate large 2016 wheat crops in most countries of Asia.


UNAIDS piloting new mobile platform to better inform HIV patients, improve health care

INTERNATIONAL – Starting this month, a thousand people living with HIV in Côte d’Ivoire will receive additional health information through their mobile phones, the United Nations agency leading the world’s HIV/AIDS response announced today.

The four-month pilot project in Abidjan is part of a collaboration between the Joint UN Programme on HIV/AIDS (UNAIDS) and the telecommunications operator Orange.

This project “will allow countries to benefit from state-of-the-art technology that is cost-effective and simple to use, to ensure they can provide the highest quality of services for people living with and affected by HIV,” Michel Sidibé, Executive Director of UNAIDS, said in a press release.

By using a web-based platform, Orange Mobile Training EveryWhere (M-Tew), healthcare workers will be able to communicate via text messages, calls and voice messages, with people enrolled in care.

The people involved in the pilot project are those most affected by HIV in Abidjan, according to the press release, including 300 sex workers and men who have sex with men.

All information collected is said to be anonymous and fully confidential.

Some of the goals are to improve HIV services to ensure that patients remain in care and treatment, as well as to break down stigma and discrimination.

The creators also said that the programme will collect and analyse data, in order to identify gaps and take action to improve the quality of care.

The Côte d'Ivoire Government has said it is supportive of the programme, which would help it achieve a reduction in HIV prevalence to below one per cent by 2020.

In addition to the Ministry of Health and Public Hygiene and the Autonomous District of Abidjan, UNAIDS and Orange Côte d’Ivoire are also collaborating with civil society partners.

If successful, the project will be rolled out to other areas of Abidjan, and could be expanded to other priority countries in the region.

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