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Syria: Senior UN official calls for immediate end to use of sexual violence by all sides as weapon of war

INTERNATIONAL – Welcoming the Security Council's unanimous adoption of a blueprint for peace in Syria, a senior United Nations official has called on all sides to immediately stop using sexual violence as a tactic in the fighting tearing the country apart.

“A political solution is the only way to bring an end to the horrific human rights violations taking place in Syria, including the systematic use of sexual violence,” Secretary-GeneralBan Ki-moon's Special Representative on Sexual Violence in Conflict, Zainab Hawa Bangura, said in a statement.

“Even as hope springs for peace, I reiterate my calls to all parties to the conflict in Syria to immediately refrain from the use of sexual violence which has been used as a tactic of war, a tactic of terrorism, and an instrument of torture.”

Ms. Bangura issued the statement last night shortly after the Council gave the UN an enhanced role in shepherding the opposing sides to talks for a political transition early next month, with a timetable for a ceasefire, a new constitution and elections, all under UN auspices.

Declaring it crucial for the UN and other actors such as the International Committee for the Red Cross to have regular access to detention centres run by the Syrian military and intelligence services where many women suffered sexual violence and torture, she called on President Bashar al-Assad and those services to grant such access as a signal of commitment to the peace process.

She also voiced deep concern at the targeting of minorities for sexual violence, particularly by the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL) and other extremist groups.

“This includes religious and ethnic minorities, as well as the lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and intersex (LGBTI) individuals who have also been systematically persecuted, sexually tortured and killed,” she added.

“These violations are an affront to our collective humanity and must cease immediately. The perpetrators must be held to account.”

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Global forced displacement for 2015 on track to break all records, topping 60 million – UN

INTERNATIONAL – Forced displacement this year is likely exceed all previous records, for the first time topping 60 million, meaning that one out of every 122 persons on Earth has been forced to flee their home, the United Nations refugee agency warned today.

“Never has there been a greater need for tolerance, compassion and solidarity with people who have lost everything,” UN High Commissioner for Refugees António Guterres saidof the agency’s new report, based on projections from the first half of 2015.

“Forced displacement is now profoundly affecting our times. It touches the lives of millions of our fellow human beings – both those forced to flee and those who provide them with shelter and protection.”

The Mid-Year Trends 2015 report form the High Commissioner’s Office (OHCHR), looking at worldwide displacement from conflict and persecution from January to June, shows markers firmly in the red in each of the three major categories – refugees, asylum-seekers, and internally displaced persons (IDPs).

The global refugee total, which a year ago was 19.5 million, had as of mid-2015 passed the 20 million threshold (20.2 million) for the first time since 1992, while asylum applications were up 78 per cent (993,600) over the same period in 2014, and the number IDPs jumped by around two million to an estimated 34 million.

The report shows worsening indicators in several key areas. Voluntary return rates – a measure of how many refugees can safely go back home and a barometer of the global state of conflict – are at their lowest in over three decades – an estimated 84,000 compared to 107,000 in the same period a year ago.

In effect, if you become a refugee today your chances of going home are lower than at any time in more than 30 years.

New refugee numbers are also up sharply: some 839,000 people in just six months, equivalent to an average rate of almost 4,600 forced to flee their countries every day. Syria’s war remains the single biggest generator of both new refugees and continuing mass internal displacement. But even excluding Syria, the underlying trend remains one of rising displacement globally.

The report stressed that with more refugees being stuck in exile, pressures on hots countries are growing too – something which unmanaged can increase resentment and abet politicization of refugees. But despite this, the first half of 2015 was also marked by extraordinary generosity.

On an absolute basis, and counting refugees who fall under UNHCR's mandate, Turkey is the world’s biggest host country with 1.84 million refugees as of 30 June, while Lebanon hosts more refugees compared to population size than any other – 209 refugees per 1,000. Ethiopia pays most in relation to its economy with 469 refugees for every dollar of gross domestic product.

Overall, the lion’s share of hosting refugees continues to be carried by countries immediately bordering zones of conflict, many of them in the developing world.

Europe’s influx of people arriving by boat via the Mediterranean is only partly reflected in the report, mainly since arrivals escalated in the second half of 2015. Still, in the first six months, Germany was the world's biggest recipient of new asylum claims – 159,000, close to the entire total for all of 2014.

The second largest recipient was Russia with 100,000 claims, mainly people fleeing the conflict in Ukraine.

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In first political resolution on war-torn Syria, Security Council gives UN major role in seeking peace

INTERNATIONAL – In its first resolution to focus on the politics of ending Syria’s five-year-long war, the Security Council today gave the United Nations an enhanced role in shepherding the opposing sides to talks for a political transition, with a timetable for a ceasefire, a new constitution and elections, all under UN auspices.

Meeting at Foreign Minister level, the Council asked Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon to convene Government and opposition representatives in formal negotiations early next month on a political transition as a step to lasting peace, in line with the 2012 Geneva Communiqué and consistent with the 14 November 2015 International Syria Support Group(ISSG) on the issue.

The resolution was adopted unanimously after Mr. Ban briefed the 15-member body on his meeting earlier in the day with the International Syria Support Group, comprised of the Arab League, the European Union, the United Nations, and 17 countries, including the United States and Russia, which has been seeking a path forward for several months.

“As the first resolution to focus on the political path to resolving the crisis, this marks a very important step on which we must build,” the Secretary-General told the Council, calling on ISSG States to pressure the sides to immediately implement confidence-building measures, including an end to the use of indiscriminate weapons against civilians, unimpeded access for aid convoys and the release of all detainees.

“We see a country in ruins, millions of its people scattered across the world, and a whirlwind of radicalism and sectarianism that challenges regional and global security,” he said.

The Council called for a Syrian-led political process facilitated by the UN to establish within six months “credible, inclusive and non-sectarian governance,” setting a schedule for drafting a new constitution, with free and fair elections to be held within 18 months under UN supervision with all Syrians, including members of the diaspora, eligible to vote.

It acknowledged the close linkage between a ceasefire and a parallel political process, with the former to come into effect as soon as the sides have begun initial steps towards a political transition under UN auspices.

The resolution asked Mr. Ban through the offices of his Special Envoy Staffan de Mistura to determine the modalities of a ceasefire and plan to support its implementation, while urging Member States, in particular members of the ISSG, to accelerate all efforts to achieve a ceasefire, including through pressing all relevant parties to adhere to one.

Emphasizing the need for a ceasefire monitoring and verification mechanism, the Council asked Mr. Ban to report back to it on options with a month, and called on Member States to provide “expertise and in-kind contributions” to support such a mechanism.

It reiterated previous calls for Member States to suppress terrorist acts by Islamic State in Iraq and the Levant (ISIL), Al-Nusra Front and all others with Al Qaeda, ISIL and other terrorist groups.

The resolution also called on the parties to immediately allow rapid and safe access throughout Syria for immediate humanitarian aid to reach all people in need, and to release arbitrarily detained persons, particularly women and children.

Finally, it demanded that all parties immediately cease attacks against civilians, including medical facilities and personnel and the indiscriminate use of weapons, including shelling and aerial bombardment, and stressed the “critical need to build conditions for the safe and voluntary return of refugees and internally displaced persons to their home areas.”

Addressing the Council before the resolution’s adoption Mr. Ban specifically recognized “the statesmanship” of U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry and Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov, both present at today’s meeting.

“The United Nations stands ready to undertake these important tasks,” he said. “As the Government and opposition delegations are getting ready, the United Nations stands ready to relaunch intra-Syrian talks.” he added calling for full participation of women in the talks.

“The people of Syria have suffered enough. I call for you to show vision and leadership in overcoming your differences. A fleeting opportunity for peace has emerged; your duty is to seize it,” said the UN chief.

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UN Member States outline information technology roadmap to achieve sustainable development

INTERNATIONAL – With the curtain closed on the two-day review by the United Nations General Assembly of the outcomes of the World Summit on the Information Society (WSIS), Member States have adopted an outcome document which aims at bridging the digital divide, ensure freedom of speech, and address Internet governance to achieve the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development.

“ICT [information and communications technology] has played an increasingly important role in promoting economic and social development, such as enhancing productivity, facilitating trade, creating quality jobs, providing ICT-based services such as e-health and e-learning, and improving governance,” said Mogens Lykketoft, UN General Assembly President, who convened the conference, known as the WSIS+10 High-Level Meeting, which began Tuesday and wrapped up last evening.

Sounding a similar note, UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon said ICTs could be an engine for achieving the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), particularly as this High-Level review came just three months after the adoption of the 2030 Agenda. “They can power this global undertaking,” he said.

While more than 4/5 of the households in the developed world have Internet access, a critical digital divide remains, noted the Member States, as the majority of households in developing countries are without this access, according to the Outcome Document.

“Women are half the global population – yet 200 million fewer women than men have access to the Internet,” stressed Mr. Ban, adding that “we must bridge these divides.”

The outcome therefore urged strengthening policy and international partnership to improve infrastructure capacities and increase financing in this regard.

Through the review’s outcome, UN Member States also reaffirmed their “common desire and commitment to the WSIS vision to build a people-centred, inclusive and development-oriented Information Society,” and pledged to pursue ICT for sustainable development, bridge the digital and knowledge divides, and reaffirmed that “as an essential foundation of the Information Society…that the same rights that people have offline must also be protected online.”

Meanwhile, new challenges such as cybercrimes, cyberattacks, and the use of ICTs for terrorist purposes have emerged. These threats have alerted governments of the need to step up efforts in tackling national security, together with the important role of international law in building confidence in ICT.

Further underscoring the need for active engagement by governments, the private sector, civil society, international organizations and other stakeholders, the outcome also decided to extend the mandate of the Internet Governance Forum (IGF) for another decade, calling it an effective platform for relevant discussions.

The General Assembly also agreed that it will hold a High Level Meeting on the overall review of the implementation of WSIS outcomes in 2025.

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In special meeting, UN weighs measures to prevent terrorists from exploiting the Internet, social media

INTERNATIONAL – Stressing the need for States to work with the private sector to devise ways to prevent terrorists from exploiting the Internet while respecting human rights, the top United Nations political official today said curtailing the influence of terrorists and violent extremist groups must not come at the expense of curbing legitimate political discourse on the Internet or social media.

“Today's topic…brings us to the fine line between benevolent and malevolent: freedoms and human rights apply to anyone anywhere, but only as long as they do not call into question the enjoyment of these freedoms and human rights by others,” Jeffrey Feltman, the Under-Secretary-General for Political Affairs, told a special meeting of the UN Counter-Terrorism Committee.

“It is precisely [the] exploitation by terrorists and violent extremists that can easily result in us restricting human rights and fundamental freedoms,” he continued, acknowledging that while it is now “a given that ICT is part of the equation in our effort to achieve a more sustainable, equitable and connected world,” it is this free flow of information that has led the Islamic Stat of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL) and other extremist groups to successfully use the Internet to broadcast their ideology and to recruit foreign terrorist fighters.

Indeed, ISIL, Mr. Feltman continued, has raised the exploitation of the Internet and social media to a new level, luring over 30,000 foreign terrorist fighters from over 100 countries to join the conflicts in Syria and Iraq or inciting individuals to commit terrorist acts in their home countries. Thus, local and regional conflicts have unprecedented global repercussions.

“We cannot allow the internet to be abused to undermine the foundations of our societies,” he told the day-long event, which also featured opening remarks from Raimonda Murmokaite Chair of the Counter-Terrorism Committee and Jean-Paul Laborde, Executive Director of the UN Counter-Terrorism Committee Executive Directorate (CTED).

“How do we make our preventive and counter-measures more effective without calling into question the respect for human rights and fundamental freedoms?” Mr. Feltman asked, and noted that the respect for human rights and fundamental freedoms is central to the answer: where rights and freedoms are jeopardized or granted selectively, the potential for grievances grows and can in turn provide fertile ground for recruitment by terrorist and violent extremist groups, ever more cost-effectively and far-reaching thanks to ICT.

The UN and Member States – working closely with the private sector and civil society – must act together to prevent and counter the exploitation of ICT resources and also develop their own effective strategic communications tools to expose the hypocrisy of terrorist and violent extremist groups as well as inspire and instil in potential recruits tangible alternatives, he underscored.

“The United Nations sees its role in support of Member States both as convener and provider of capacity-building,” stated Mr. Feltman, going to spotlight three core areas of activities: UN coherence; innovative dialogue with new partners; and a global framework.

Specifically on that issue, he announced that Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon will release, in the coming days, a Plan of Action to Prevent Violent Extremism, which will make strategic recommendations to address the drivers of violent extremism and to broaden our approach beyond ongoing, essential security-based counter-terrorism measures.

“It will call for greater attention to strategic communications at all levels. It will put an emphasis on youth, focusing on the interface between youth and social media, putting young people at the centre of our efforts to address the misuse of the internet,” added Mr. Feltman.

To complement Member States' efforts, he said that the UN Centre for Counter-Terrorism is exploring opportunities for capacity-building programmes to assist them in designing strategic communications that respond to the specific challenges posed by violent extremist communications.

As for what he called the even broader UN-provided framework, Mr. Feltman stressed that the UN Charter and international human rights law form the basis for effective preventive and counter-terrorism measures. “We have to end impunity and make sure that terrorists and their supporters are held accountable for incitement by having in place the appropriate legislative provisions to bring perpetrators to justice,” he said.

Today’s meeting coincides with the closing of the General Assembly’s High-Level meeting on the outcomes of the World Summit on the Information Society, and as the Security Council has convened a meeting of finance ministers from among its member States on ways to disrupt terrorist financing.

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UN welcomes ‘historic’ signing of Libyan Political Agreement

INTERNATIONAL – Representatives from a broad range of Libyan society today signed a United Nations-brokered agreement on forming a national unity government, a move welcomed by Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon and his top envoy for the country as among the “essential building blocks towards a peaceful, secure and prosperous Libya,” but also as “the beginning of a difficult journey” along that path.

“I warmly welcome today’s historic signing of the Libyan Political Agreement by the participants of the Libyan political dialogue,” Mr. Ban said in a statement following the signing that took place in Skhirat, Morocco.

“The agreement will lead to the establishment of a single Government of National Accord and national institutions that will ensure broad representation. It is a critical step in continuing Libya’s post-revolution transition after months of turmoil and uncertainty.”

Mr. Ban said he is hopeful the signing of the agreement will put Libya back on the path of building a democratic State based on the principles of inclusion, human rights and the rule of law. “The door will remain open to those who wish to join on the road to peace. We will continue to work to broaden the basis of support for the new Government,” he added.

Martin Kobler, the Secretary-General’s Special Representative and head of the UN Support Mission in Libya (UNSMIL), also hailed today as “an historic day” for the North African nation.

He said in a statement that “after a period of political divisions and conflict, Libya is restarting its political transition” with the agreement that “puts in place a single set of legitimate institutions – essential building blocks towards a peaceful, secure and prosperous Libya.”

He noted that participating in the signing were representatives of a broad range of Libyan society including members of the House of Representatives and the General National Congress, as well as important public figures from Libyan political parties, civil society, municipalities and women groups.

At the same time, the envoy cautioned that: “We must not forget that this is the beginning of a difficult journey.”

“There is a critical need for national reconciliation and an inclusive national security dialogue,” he added. “Urgent solutions must be found to bolster the Libyan-led fight against terrorism and in particular the threat of Da’esh [also known as the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant or ISIL].”

He also noted that the “dire humanitarian situation in Benghazi and other areas needs to be addressed as a matter of highest priority, including through the establishment of a dedicated reconstruction fund for Benghazi.”

More than 2.4 million people require immediate humanitarian assistance, of which 435,000 are estimated to be internally displaced, according to the UN.

Libya has been plagued by factional fighting since the 2011 revolution, with the situation continuing to deteriorate in recent months amid significant political fragmentation and violence.

Following broad consultations throughout the year facilitated by the Secretary-General’s former Special Representative for Libya, Bernardino León, it was announced in mid-October that a national unity government could be proposed. The names of candidates for the government's top council were put forward but at that time, the deal stalled when some parties failed to sign off.

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Security Council moves to cut off all funding sources for ISIL and other terrorist groups

INTERNATIONAL – At its first ever meeting at Finance Ministers’ level, the United Nations Security Council today stepped up its efforts to cut off all sources of funding for the Islamic State in Syria and Iraq (ISIL) and other terrorist groups, including ransom payments, no matter by whom.

In a unanimously adopted resolution at a session presided over by Treasury Secretary Jack Lew of the United States, which holds its monthly presidency, the 15-member body called for enhanced actions, from closing financial system loopholes to stopping the abuse of charitable causes, as well as updating the existing ISIL and Al-Qaida Sanctions List.

It stressed that already existing resolutions mandating States to ensure that financial assets are not transferred to terrorists by persons within their territory “shall also apply to the payment of ransoms to individuals, groups, undertakings or entities on the ISIL [Da’esh] and Al-Qaida Sanctions List regardless of how or by whom the ransom is paid.”

The resolution called for increased international cooperation in sharing information and closer collaboration with the private sector to identify suspect transactions.

The Council also called on Member States to promote enhanced vigilance by persons within their jurisdiction to detect any diversion of explosives and raw materials and components that can be used to manufacture improvised explosive devices or unconventional weapons, including chemical components, detonators, detonating cord, or poisons.

“They (the terrorists) are agile and have been far too successful in attaining resources for their heinous acts,” Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon told the Council at the start of the debate. “As Da’esh (another name for ISIL) and other terrorist groups disseminate their hateful propaganda and ratchet up murderous attacks, we must join forces to prevent them from acquiring and deploying resources to do further harm,” he stressed.

“We know the challenge before us. Terrorists take advantage of weaknesses in financial and regulatory regimes to raise funds. They circumvent formal channels to avoid detection, and exploit new technologies and tools to transfer resources. They have forged destructive and very profitable links with drug and criminal syndicates – among others. And they abuse charitable causes to trick individuals to contribute,” said the UN chief.

He noted that progress has been made over the years in identifying and limiting various methods of terrorist financing, with Member States ratifying the International Convention on the Suppression of the Financing of Terrorism and adopting legislation to criminalize terrorist financing and strengthen regulatory systems.

“Still, more needs to be done,” Mr. Ban stated. “Terrorists continue to adapt their tactics and diversify their funding sources. Today, Da’esh runs a multi-million dollar economy in territories under its control. Da’esh terrorists raise money through the oil trade, extortion, undetected cash couriers, kidnapping for ransom, trafficking of humans and arms and racketeering," he said.

“They loot and sell precious cultural property, shamelessly profiting from the destruction of humanity’s common heritage. Social media outreach is exploited by Da’esh, not just for radicalization and recruiting, but also for fundraising. Other terrorist organizations around the world – from Boko Haram to Al-Shabaab to the Taliban – are following suit.”

With terrorists increasingly employing elusive tricks to raise and transfer funds, covering their tracks and leaving little evidence to identify tainted resources, the international community must stay ahead of the curve to combat their ploys, he said, noting that many States have yet to set up the necessary legal regimes and institutions to identify and freeze terrorist assets.

Mr. Ban called for increased international cooperation in sharing information and expertise, especially in stopping the illegal trade of cultural artefacts, and closer cooperation with the private and charitable sectors to identify suspected transactions.

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Economic development in Brazil should not come at the expense of human rights – UN expert

INTERNATIONAL – Brazil needs to find a better balance between economic interest and the protection of human rights in its pursuit of economic growth, advised a member of a United Nations expert working group on business and human rights at the end of an official visit today.

“The Working Group’s visit took place during a time of political and economic turmoil caused by economic recession, impeachment proceedings against the President, corruption scandals involving some of the country’s major companies and members of the political establishment, and what is being referred to as the worst environmental disaster in the history of the country,” the group said in an end-of-mission statement.

Pavel Sulyandziga, one of the members of the Working Group on the Issue of Human Rights and Transnational Corporations and Other Business Enterprise, said “Brazil needs to find a better balance between economic interest and the protection of human rights in its pursuit of economic growth.”

“The country must move away from a top-down approach, where large-scale development projects are planned and implemented without meaningful consultation with affected communities including indigenous peoples,” he said.

The experts met with state and business representatives from large-scale development and construction projects, and they spoke with affected communities who reported “significant corporate-related abuse” and a lack of consultation.

And six weeks after one of Brazil’s worst ever environmental disasters following the Fundão dam rupture, the Working Group learned that a number of other dams in Brazil are vulnerable to collapse, and that proposed revisions to the country’s Mining Code threaten further ecological and social harm, and that human rights defenders and indigenous peoples face ongoing threats to their lives and land.

“Political commitments on business and human rights have been made at the government and business level which is encouraging but there is a gap in embedding and implementing them at the operational level and throughout supply chains,” said Dante Pesce, the other Working Group member taking part in the visit.

The experts welcomed the Brazilian Government’s pledge to develop a national action plan on business and human rights as an ideal opportunity to achieve improved multi-stakeholder coordination and dialogue on business and human rights issues.

During its 10-day visit, the delegation had meetings in Brasilia, Sao Paulo, Rio de Janeiro, Belo Horizonte and Mariana in the State of Minas Gerais, and Altamira and Belem in Para state.

The experts will present their final observations and recommendations to the Human Rights Council in June 2016.

The current members of the working group are Michael Addo and Margaret Jungk in addition to the two who travelled to Brazil.

The experts are not UN staff, are independent from any government or organization, serve in their individual capacity and do not receive a salary for their work.

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After ‘year of breakthrough and horror,’ Ban urges greater collaborative action to tackle crises in 2016

INTERNATIONAL – As 2015 draws to a close, United Nations Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon summed up the “pivotal year” in which the Organization marked its 70th anniversary by highlighting landmark steps taken to advance sustainable development, climate action, conflict resolution and provision of humanitarian assistance.

“The Paris Agreement on climate change is a sign of hope in troubled times. It is a triumph for multilateralism that shows the United Nations delivering results the world desperately needs,” said Mr. Ban in his opening remarks to reporters at his year-end press conference summarizing the activities of the UN system.

Despite the ups and downs, from peace processes to climate talks, we cannot afford to let up. Too much is stake. Millions of people depend on us to keep pressing ahead.

He also lauded French President François Hollande and Foreign Minister Laurent Fabius, who served as the President of the UN climate change conference, held in the French capital and widely known as COP21, for showing “inspiring leadership” and for refusing to be deterred by the terrorist attacks in Paris on 13 November.

“The Paris Agreement surpassed expectations. World leaders recognized that we could and must do better than settling for the lowest common denominator. So they reached higher. The Paris Agreement gives us ‘Plan A’ for the planet – A for ambition,” said Mr. Ban, highlighting the coherence seen during the UN climate change conference (COP21) this year.

After nine years of pushing hard for the agreement, the Secretary-General stressed that he will “press world leaders to translate promise into practice” by implementing it.

Turning to other milestones in 2015, the UN chief highlighted spotlighted the recently adopted2030 Agenda for Sustainable Developmentand its “crystallized”17 Goalswhich stand as an “overarching guide” to end poverty and build peaceful societies.

He also highlighted the significance of theAddis Ababa Action Agendaadopted in July which provides a blueprint for financing for development.

The UN chief stressed that investing in development early will avert crises down the road, for which theSendai Framework on Disaster Risk Reduction, agreed in March, points the way toward resilience.

“Taken together, these plans and pacts have set the stage for a future that leaves no one behind,” emphasized the Secretary-General.

At the same time, Mr. Ban reviewed the situation of “epic flows” of refugees and internally displaced persons (IDPs) in 2015 and added that in the New Year “the world needs to aim for a new global compact on human mobility.”

“Demonizing and scapegoating people based on their religion, ethnicity or country of origin has no place in the 21st century,” he stressed.

He also noted that the UN hasappealedfor $20 billion to meet next year’s humanitarian needs, which is five times the level of one decade ago. And while donors have been “exceedingly generous,” 2016 will likely begin with a funding gap of more than $10 billion – the largest ever.

Speaking about theWorld Humanitarian Summitto be held in May 2016 in Istanbul, Turkey, Mr. Ban said that conference will be critical moment to address systemic funding problems, and agree on concrete steps to better prepare for and respond to crises.

“The world must invest more political energy in preventing and ending conflict, and in addressing violations of human rights – our best early warning signs of greater trouble to follow,” said the Secretary-General, adding that the efforts made this week to resolve conflict through diplomacy are “front and centre.”

Regarding theLibyan peace talks, Mr. Ban said that parties are close to a “desperately needed agreement” that would help the country move beyond prolonged crisis.

As for Yemen, he noted the UN-sponsoredpeace talksthat began yesterday in Switzerland to achieve a lasting ceasefire and resumption of political transition to end the bloodshed and ease the plight of civilians, who have borne the brunt of the conflict.

Mr. Ban noted that the international community has actively re-engaged in pushing for a political settlement in Syria, and added that the International Syria Support Group will meet in New York on Friday, followed by a meeting of the Security Council. “Syria is an open sore on the Middle East and the wider world. We are pressing for a nationwide cease-fire and for the start of negotiations in January on a political transition – and we must not relent,” the Secretary-General stressed.

On extremism and terrorism, Mr. Ban said that it is crucial to counter threats posed by Da’esh (also known as Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant, or ISIL), Boko Haram, al-Shabab and other terrorist groups. “Next month, I will present to the Member States of the United Nations a plan of action on preventing violent extremism. Many of today’s conflicts – and often, unfortunately, the response to them – have provided a breeding ground for the spread of terrorism and violent extremism,” he announced.

The UN chief also expressed alarm at theescalating violence in Burundiand termed the events that took place in the past few days as “chilling.”

Warning that the country is on the brink of a civil war that risks engulfing the entire region, Mr. Ban announced that Special Adviser Jamal Benomar will visit the region immediately to speak to the African Union, the countries in the region and the Government of Burundi. “An inclusive political dialogue is needed urgently. We must do all we can to prevent mass violence and act decisively should it erupt,” he added.

Turning to South Sudan, the Secretary-General said the UN peacekeeping operation there continues to shelter more than 185,000 civilians, a major advance in human protection efforts, however, he added that this is not a permanent solution, as many more remain internally displaced and under threat of violence, and urged parties to establish the transitional institutions before the end of January.

Despite the “daunting” situations, Mr. Ban said that political progress and smooth transfers of power over the past year, including in Sri Lanka and Nigeria is encouraging. He also reported that the transition in the Central African Republic is moving forward, following the constitutional referendum held last week and presidential and legislative elections to be conducted at the end of this month.

Highlighting other progresses made, Mr. Ban said he was encouraged by the progress in the negotiations on Cyprus, and in Colombia where longest-running conflict in Americas in ending closer to the end. Additionally, Mr. Ban reported that Government and Army of Myanmar are cooperating with Daw Aung San Suu Kyi to ensure a stable transition.

Summarizing the year, Mr. Ban said that 2015 has brought “breakthrough and horror”, and added that the UN will continue to strengthen itself, including through wide-ranging assessments of peace operations, peacebuilding and our future role and capacities.

“Despite the ups and downs, from peace processes to climate talks, we cannot afford to let up. Too much is stake. Millions of people depend on us to keep pressing ahead. I did not lose faith during the years of ups and downs of climate negotiations. I continue to believe in the United Nations – and in our staff, many of whom have made the ultimate sacrifice,” said Mr. Ban.

Taking heart in the cooperation witnessed in Paris for COP21, Mr. Ban said that he will “continue to have faith in the ability of the world’s people to come together for the common good. With that spirit, we can make 2016 a year of accomplishment and truly build a life of dignity for we the peoples,” the Secretary-General concluded.

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As wars, floods and droughts displace millions, UN refugee agency urges tackling root causes

INTERNATIONAL – With conflicts in the Middle East and Africa driving unprecedented numbers of people from their homes while floods and droughts wreak havoc with lives and livelihoods in Asia, the United Nations refugee agency today brought together Governments and civil society to address the root causes of displacement.

“Our world today is at a crossroads,” UN High Commissioner for Refugees António Guterrestold the opening session of a two-day forum in Geneva. “From a humanitarian perspective, this juncture is defined by two 'mega-problems' in an environment of global insecurity,” he stated.

“A seemingly uncontrollable multiplication of violent conflicts in an environment of global insecurity, and the pervasive and growing effects of natural hazards and climate change that are already shaping our present and will shape our future even more,” he said, calling for an approach that looked beyond immediate emergency response to “what got us here in the first place.”

Entitled 'Understanding and addressing root causes of displacement,' the forum – the eighth annual High Commissioner's Dialogue on Protection Challenges – brings together Governments, intergovernmental organizations, civil society and humanitarian and academic partners.

“I see this Dialogue as an opportunity to step back and look at the underlying causes as what they are – multiple, interlinked, overlapping and mutually reinforcing factors that accumulate and contribute to eventually driving people from their homes,” Mr. Guterres said. “It is clear that we cannot treat these causes in silos, but have to consider them together.”

The number of people displaced by conflict and violence has reached levels unseen since the end of the Second World War, with close to 60 million forced from their homes by the end of 2014.

Mr. Guterres highlighted a greater need for making a distinction between triggers and underlying drivers of displacement. He also flagged a need for renewed political will and leadership to protect and find solutions for those who have been forced to flee, and a focus on sustainable development, good governance, rule of law and human rights to prevent the need for flight.

“Leadership and political will are essential to end the violent conflicts that have displaced tens of millions of people and to finally tame the progression of global warming,” he said. “But meanwhile, development cooperation also has a key role to play in efforts to address the root causes of displacement.”

 
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