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‘Discrimination against one is discrimination against all,’ says UNESCO on Day for Tolerance

INTERNATIONAL, 16 November 2017 – Marking the International Day for Tolerance, the head of the United Nations cultural agency underscored how tolerance must be nurtured to celebrate the diversity that makes us strong and the values that bring us together.

Tolerance is respect, acceptance and appreciation of the rich diversity of our world’s cultures, our forms of expression and ways of being human,” said Audrey Azoulay, the newly-appointed Director-General of the UN Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO), in her message on the International Day.

“Discrimination against one is discrimination against all,” she continued.

Ms. Azoulay pointed out that as globalization is accelerating across the world, societies are undergoing deep transformations, which open vast opportunities for dialogue and exchange as well as raise new challenges – sharpened by inequality and poverty, enduring conflicts and movements of people.

“We see today the rise of exclusive politics and discourses of division. We see diversity being rejected as a source of weakness,” she said.

Ms. Azoulay maintained that fuelled by ignorance and sometimes hatred, myths of “pure” lore cultures are being gloried while scapegoating and repressing people.

Also citing “barbaric terrorist attacks designed to weaken the fabric of ‘living together,’” she spotlighted the need that tolerance be more than the indifferent, passive acceptance of others.

“Tolerance must be seen as an act of liberation, whereby the differences of others are accepted as the same as our own,” stressed Ms. Azoulay.

The UN official said that that meant respecting the diversity of humanity on the basis of human rights; reaching out to others with dialogue; and standing up to all forms of racism, hatred and discrimination.

Noting that all cultures are different, she emphasized that “humanity is a single community, sharing values, a past and future.”

“There are seven billion ways of ‘being human,’ but we stand together as members of the same family, all different, all equally seeking respect for rights and dignity,” she underscored.

Ms. Azoulay termed tolerance “a struggle for peace” that calls for new policies that respect diversity and pluralism on the basis of human rights.

“Most of all,” she added, “this calls on each of us, women and men across the world, to act for tolerance in our own lives, in seeking to understand others, in rejecting all racism and hatred, including anti-Semitism.”

The UNESCO chief said its role is “to deepen the binds of a single humanity, through understanding, dialogue and knowledge,” which is why the UN agency defend humanity’s cultural diversity and heritage from pillaging and attacks.

“This is why we seek to prevent violent extremism through education, freedom of expression and media literacy, to empower young women and men. This is why we work to strengthen dialogue between cultures and religions, spearheading the International Decade for the Rapprochement of Cultures,” she said, adding that it was also why “UNESCO’s International Coalition of Inclusive and Sustainable Cities works to fight racism, discrimination, xenophobia and exclusion.”


'Unity, solidarity and collaboration' can turn tide on terrorism, bolster human rights, says UN chief

INTERNATIONAL, 16 November 2017 – Noting that at least 11,000 terrorist attacks occurred in more than 100 countries last year, United Nations Secretary-General António Guterres stressed on Thursday that “terrorism is fundamentally the denial and destruction of human rights.”

“Terrorism has been unfortunately with us in various forms across ages and continents,” Mr. Guterres said in a lecture on counter-terrorism and human rights at the School of Oriental and African Studies of the University of London.

“But modern terrorism is being waged on an entirely different scale, and notably its geographic span. No country can claim to be immune,” he added.

Last year, more than 25,000 people died and 33,000 injured in at least 11,000 terrorist attacks in more than 100 countries.

In 2016, nearly three-quarters of all deaths caused by terrorism were in just five states: Iraq, Afghanistan, Syria, Nigeria and Somalia. The global economic impact of terrorism is estimated to have reached $90 billion in 2015. That year, terrorism costs amounted to 17.3 per cent of gross domestic product (GDP) in Iraq and 16.8 per cent in Afghanistan.

Recalling how the Magna Carta 800 years ago established the principle of the rule of law, the Secretary-General said that at its core, human rights are a true recognition of common humanity.

“When we protect human rights, we are tackling the root causes of terrorism. For the power of human rights to bond is stronger than the power of terrorism to devastate,” he said.

Priority actions in counter-terrorism

He went on to underscore five key counter-terrorism priorities.

First, he stressed the need for much stronger international cooperation, announcing that he intends to convene the first-ever UN summit of heads of counter-terrorism agencies next year to forge new partnerships and build relationships of trust.

Second is a sustained focus on prevention, which includes addressing the factors that radicalize young people and make terrorism a fateful option for them.

Terrorists are losing physical ground in Syria and Iraq, but gaining virtual ground in cyberspace. Facebook, Microsoft, Twitter and YouTube have launched an anti-terror partnership, the 'Global Internet Forum to Counter Terrorism,' aimed at thwarting the spread of extremist content online.

When terrorists portray violence as the best way of addressing inequality or grievances, we must answer with non-violence and inclusive decision-making UN chief Guterres

“This is a start. We need to keep the momentum,” he said.

Third is to uphold human rights and the rule of law.

Facing threats of an unprecedented nature, States are scrambling to enhance efficiency of their counter-terrorist legislation. Without a firm basis in human rights, counter-terrorism policies can be misused and abused, for instance, to suppress peaceful protests and legitimate opposition movements.

Fourth, the battle of ideas must be won. “We should never shrink from pointing out the cynicism and errors of terrorism. At the heart of darkness, we should build a new age of enlightenment,” Mr. Guterres said.

“When terrorists portray violence as the best way of addressing inequality or grievances, we must answer with non-violence and inclusive decision-making,” he added.

The Secretary-General's fifth priority is to lift up the voices of the victims of terrorism. Some of the best guides are the victims and survivors of terrorist attacks, who consistently call for accountability and results – not blanket measures or collective punishments.

He urged young people to become clear-thinking and enlightened citizens.


UN chief calls for calm in Zimbabwe, underlines need to resolve political differences peacefully

INTERNATIONAL, 16 November 2017 – United Nations Secretary-General António Guterres is closely following developments in Zimbabwe, and has called for continued calm in the southern African country, the UN Spokesman said Thursday.

“He underlines the importance of resolving political differences through peaceful means, including through dialogue and in conformity with the country's Constitution,” said Stéphane Dujarric.

According to media reports, Zimbabwe's military has placed President Robert Mugabe, who has led the country since 1980, under house arrest.

The UN Spokesman said that Mr. Guterres welcomed the efforts initiated by the Southern African Development Community (SADC) “to facilitate a peaceful solution to the situation,” and “remains in contact with the Chairperson of the African Union Commission and regional leaders in support of such efforts.”

“The Secretary-General reiterates the United Nations' commitment to continuing to support Zimbabwe's national efforts to consolidate democratic governance,” the Spokesman concluded.


Conflicts, climatic change drive food insecurity and undernourishment in sub-Saharan Africa – UN

INTERNATIONAL, 16 November 2017 – Adverse climatic conditions, a sluggish global economy and conflicts are key factors driving food insecurity in sub-Saharan Africa, the United Nations agriculture agency said on Thursday.

According to the Food and Agriculture Organization’s (FAO) 2017 Africa Regional Overview of Food Security and Nutrition report, chronic undernourishment appears to have risen from 20.8 to 22.7 per cent between 2015 and 2016 – pointing to the need to build affected communities' resilience and find peaceful solutions that strengthen food security.

“The number of undernourished people rose from 200 to 224 million, accounting for 25 per cent of the 815 million people undernourished in the world in 2016,” said Bukar Tijani, FAO Assistant Director-General of and Regional Representative for Africa.

Under the theme ‘The Food Security and Nutrition – Conflict Nexus: Building Resilience for Food Security, Nutrition and Peace,’ this year’s report was launched at the joint FAO/WHO [World Health Organization] Africa Regional Symposium on Sustainable Food Systems for Healthy Diets and Improved Nutrition, which is underway in Abidjan from 16 to 17 November 2017.

“Major factors have caused this surge in hunger: the proportion of the population that has experienced severe food insecurity because of their inability to access food has risen in the region; as well, adverse climatic conditions and conflict, often occurring concurrently, are key factors driving the recent increase in food insecurity in the region,” Mr. Tijani explained.

The report indicates that during the first decade of the millennium, sub-Saharan Africa made progress in fighting hunger with undernourishment falling from 29.1 to 20.6 per cent.

However, the following period showed no progress – with conditions worsening in many countries from 2015 to 2016. This was mainly due to the impact of conflict and adverse climatic conditions, such as repeated droughts, often linked to the El Niño phenomenon, which resulted in poor harvests and the loss of livestock.

In sub-Saharan Africa, undernourishment is about double that of conflict-affected countries, with generally worse nutrition outcomes as well. In 2016, the majority, or 489 million of the 815 million undernourished people in the world, lived in countries struggling with conflict, violence and fragility.

Resisting hunger

The FAO report identifies a range of pathways supporting food security and livelihoods; helping to build resilience against conflict; and contributing to sustainable peace that require a multi-sectoral set of interventions before, during and after conflicts.

It also points out how many countries have developed or are developing policy frameworks and investment plans aligned with the second Sustainable Development Goal (SDGs) and the 2014 Malabo Declaration, through which African leaders recommitted their countries to end hunger and halve poverty by 2025, boost intra-African trade and enhance climate change resilience.


UN agency chiefs call for immediate lifting of humanitarian blockade in Yemen

INTERNATIONAL, 16 November 2017 – With much of Yemen's air, sea and land entry points closed, heads of three United Nations agencies on Thursday called for immediate lifting of such blockade in the conflict-ravaged southern Arabian country so that lifesaving humanitarian supplies can pass.

“While the Saudi-led military coalition has partially lifted the recent blockade of Yemen, closure of much of the country's air, sea and land ports is making an already catastrophic situation far worse,” said a joint statement issued by World Food Programme (WFP) Executive Director David Beasley, UN Children's Fund (UNICEF) Executive Director Anthony Lake, and World Health Organization (WHO) Director-General Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus.

“The space and access we need to deliver humanitarian assistance is being choked off, threatening the lives of millions of vulnerable children and families,” the statement added.

Since 2015, Yemen has been in a conflict between forces loyal to President Abdrabbuh Mansour Hadi and those allied to the Houthi rebel movement.

The UN agency chiefs jointly appealed for the coalition to permit entry of lifesaving supplies to Yemen, describing the situation “the worst humanitarian crisis in the world” in which more than 20 million people, including over 11 million children, are in need of urgent humanitarian assistance, at least 14.8 million are without basic healthcare and an outbreak of cholera has resulted in more than 900,000 suspected cases.

“Some 17 million people do not know where their next meal is coming from and 7 million are totally dependent on food assistance. Severe acute malnutrition is threatening the lives of almost 400,000 children. As supplies run low, food prices rise dramatically, putting thousands more at risk,” the statement said.

The statement said that all of the country's ports – including those in areas held by the opposition – should be reopened without delay, as that is the only way that UN-chartered ships can deliver the vital humanitarian cargo that the population needs to survive.

Flights from the UN Humanitarian Air Service – into and out of Yemen – should be given immediate clearance to resume.

“The clock is ticking and stocks of medical, food and other humanitarian supplies are already running low,” the statement said, warning that the cost of this blockade is being measured in the number of lives that are lost.

“On behalf of all those whose lives are at imminent risk, we reiterate our appeal to allow humanitarian access in Yemen without further delay,” it said.


Viet Nam: Children at risk of malnutrition in aftermath of Typhoon Damrey, reports UNICEF

INTERNATIONAL, 15 November 2017 – More than a week after Typhoon Damrey battered south-central Viet Nam, assessments by United Nations aid agencies have revealed that vulnerable populations – including children, and pregnant and nursing mothers – in poor and remote areas are still underserved by relief efforts.

Typhoon Damrey, or 'Storm No.12,' made landfall early Saturday morning, 4 November, hitting communities with pre-existing malnutrition concerns and lack of information on preparedness and protection from the disaster and its aftermath.

“During a rapid assessment mission, [our] staff met with several vulnerable children […] who suffered much more from the ongoing consequences of the typhoon,” the UN Children's Fund (UNICEF) said Monday.

An estimated 150,000 children under the age of five are at risk of malnutrition and over 80,000 pregnant and nursing women in need special care.

One such case is that of 11-month-old Ngan, who lives in a small fishing community in Phu Yen (about 1,200 kilometres from the capital, Hanoi), whose father is a casual worker on a fishing boat and the family is struggling to make ends meet, even during normal times.

In the chaos during the first two days after the storm, Ngan's parents were unable to find meat or fish on the local market and though there is food available now, the family cannot afford to buy sufficient quantities, resulting in reduced portions.

Ngan's mother is also not getting enough nutrition and has difficulty producing enough milk to breastfeed her child.

According to UNICEF, in addition to malnutrition, children are also exposed to an increased risk of waterborne diseases as drinking water supply was interrupted for several days after the storm and people had to resort to unclean water for their consumption.

Sanitation systems and latrines were also damaged, leaving people at increased risk of disease.

“[We are] stepping up efforts to support national relief efforts to help the most affected families and children,” said the UN agency in the release.

“Specific interventions look at addressing the increased risk of malnutrition through micronutrients and calories supplements for children and breastfeeding mothers and by training health workers on how to detect and treat malnutrition,” it added, noting also the importance of raising public awareness in the affected regions.

As of this weekend, 123 people have died or are missing as a result of the storm. Overall, 4.33 million people are estimated to have been affected and among them 395,000 are in need of assistance.

The typhoon damaged 137,836 houses and destroyed 3,483.

Other UN agencies, including the International Organization for Migration (IOM), the World Health Organization (WHO) and the UN Development Programme (UNDP) have also been assisting in the response.


In Vancouver, UN peacekeeping chief outlines ‘very serious challenge’ facing Mali operation

INTERNATIONAL, 15 November 2017 – The “very serious challenge” facing peacekeepers with the United Nations Stabilization Mission in Mali (MINUSMA) makes it vital that additional efforts are made for the four-year-old operation to fulfil its mandate, the UN peacekeeping chief has said.

Jean-Pierre Lacroix, the Under-Secretary-General for Peacekeeping Operations made this assessment Tuesday as he addressed a packed Working Meeting for Member States, on the sidelines of the UN Peacekeeping Defence Ministerial Conference, which is taking place from 14-15 November, in the Canadian coastal city of Vancouver.

Top military personnel and leading defence ministers – together with organizations and groups from more than 80 countries involved in peacekeeping – have joined UN officials to discuss the increasing challenges faced in the field, and how to address crucial funding gaps in equipment and expertise.

Of the 170 peacekeepers killed while serving in UN missions since the beginning of 2013 up to the end of September this year, 86 were with MINUSMA.

A June 2015 Peace Agreement was signed between the Government and various armed groups which it was hoped would bring a lasting ceasefire to the country, whose northern region was over-run by militant extremists in 2012.

Mr. Lacroix told the meeting of mostly uniformed men and women, looking out onto Vancouver’s picturesque waterfront, that there were key gaps in equipment such as helicopters and robust armed personnel carriers.

He appealed for other troop contributing countries (TCCs) to come forward to help staff one the UN’s most dangerous peacekeeping missions.

“We need to do more in terms of training, how the force is organized, and modalities of how we protect ourselves and better-protect the population as well, against the threats they are facing,” said the Under-Secretary-General.

UN Field Support chief Atul Khare told the meeting that while challenges remained, MINUSMA has made “significant achievements in terms of protection and training,” and was fulfilling its mandate.

MINUSMA Force Commander, Major General Jean-Paul Deconinck of Belgium, gave the meeting a frank assessment of the operational difficulties and deficiencies that he faced with deploying blue helmets and equipment, but in an interview with UN News after the 90-minute session, he said he was “confident but realistic” and if given the tools he needs, the mission “will succeed.”

Overcoming the threats of continuing extremist violence against civilians was not only about MINUSMA he stressed, but about durable partnerships with the Malian army and international missions deployed in and around Mali, such as the regional counter-terrorism force knows as the ‘G5 Sahel,’ which comprises Niger, Burkina Faso, Chad, and Mauritania, along with Mali.

The full plenary meeting of the UN Peacekeeping Defence Ministerial takes place Wednesday afternoon, with sessions on “smart pledges” and pledge announcements; innovation in training and capacity building; protection; early warning and rapid deployment; and the Women, Peace and Security Chiefs of Defence Network.


Afghanistan opium production jumps 87 per cent to record level – UN survey

INTERNATIONAL, 15 November 2017 – A profoundly alarming trend in the cultivation and production of opium in Afghanistan reveals an 87 per cent production increase compared to 2016, the United Nations Office on Drug and Crime (UNODC) said Wednesday in its Afghanistan Opium Survey 2017.

“It is high time for the international community and Afghanistan to reprioritize drug control, and to acknowledge that every nation has a shared responsibility for this global problem,” said UNODC Executive Director Yury Fedotov.

According to the latest figures released by the Afghan Ministry of Counter Narcotics and UNODC, in addition to an 87 per cent jump to a record level of 9,000 metric tonnes in 2017, the area under opium poppy cultivation also increased to a record 328,000 hectares in 2017, up 63 per cent compared with 201,000 hectares in 2016.

"For both Afghanistan, and the world, we are heading towards uncharted territoryAdditionally, the number of poppy-free provinces in the country decreased from 13 to 10 – and after more than a decade, Ghazni, Samangan and Nuristan lost their poppy-free status. The number of provinces affected by cultivation increased accordingly from 21 to 24.

“These frightening figures should give considerable pause for reflection on whether the calculus on the illicit drugs flowing from Afghanistan adds up to a workable and achievable solution,” he continued, again urging the international community to revisit its engagement with Afghanistan, and to acknowledge that fresh assessments and policy revisions may be necessary.

Pointing to the multiple challenges the increase would pose for the country, Mr. Fedotov stressed, that Afghanistan, “already suffering from the opium produced within its borders, the increases will drive drug abuse, an increased dependency on the illicit economy, and rising levels of corruption.”

Source: Afghanistan Opium Survey 2017 report

Gains on governance and transparency in Afghanistan and surrounding countries will also be challenged by more instability, insecurity, and increased funding to terrorist groups.

“New actors and markets are likely to emerge; some of these new actors may be terrorist groups attempting to use the drug trade to finance their global operations,” Mr. Fedotov explained.

Far greater amounts of opium in the world’s consumer markets would increase health and social problems – also placing added burdens on already stretched Afghan public health services.

The Executive Director called opium cultivation and production “a complex development issue and bound to the 2030 Agenda on Sustainable Development,” for which partnership and coordination is also needed.

“UNODC has created initiatives-including the Triangular Initiative, the Paris Pact and the networking the networks activity-to assist, but engagement must be stepped up to increase effectiveness,” he stated.


All countries should benefit from fast-moving ICT revolution, urges UN agency

INTERNATIONAL, 15 November 2017 – Revolutionary advances in technology have the potential to “fundamentally transform” billions of lives, but the threat that many people – especially in the world’s poorer countries – could be left out continues to loom large, a new United Nations report warns.

“Information and communication technologies (ICTs) have the potential to make the world a better place and contribute immensely to sustainable development,” said Houlin Zhao, Secretary-General of the UN International Telecommunication Union – the Organization’s specialized agency for matters related to ICT.

“However, despite the overall progress achieved, the digital divide remains a challenge which needs to be addressed,” he stressed.

According to the UN agency’s 2017 Measuring the Information Society report, harnessing the benefits of advances in the ‘Internet of Things’, big data, cloud computing and artificial intelligence, countries will need to create conditions and infrastructures that allow these next-generation networks and services.

At the same time, the substantial digital divides between countries and regions will also need to be addressed.

[The ICT] revolution will unfold over the coming decades with opportunities, challenges, and implications that are not yet fully knownITU report

For instance, least developed countries – which have, over the years, made progress in improving ICT infrastructure and connectivity – continue to lag behind on key indicators that can influence their position in the digital economy, such as having the lowest numbers among internet users (15.2 per cent on average).

Countries, irrespective of their development classification, will also have to adopt policies that that harbour innovation, as well as those that mitigate risks to information security, privacy and employment.

“This report will help to support countries to do just that,” expressed Mr. Zhao.

The report employs the ICT Development Index 2017, a unique benchmark of the level of ICT development in countries across the world.

This year, Iceland (score: 8.98) tops the rankings, followed by Republic of Korea (8.80) and Switzerland (8.66). United States, with a score of 8.18, ranks 16. However, the best performing African country, the island nation of Mauritius ranked 75, with a score of 5.88.

Measuring the Information Society, ITU’s flagship publication is recognized as the most authoritative repository of data and analysis on the state of global ICT development. It is extensively relied upon by governments, international organizations, development banks and private sector analysts and investors worldwide.


Bonn: UN chief urges more ambition, leadership and partnerships on climate action

INTERNATIONAL, 15 November 2017 – Addressing the United Nations Climate Conference (COP23) in Bonn, Germany, on Wednesday, Secretary-General António Guterres called for more ambition, more leadership and more partnerships to tackle climate change.

“Our duty – to each other and to future generations – is to raise ambition,” said Mr. Guterres at the opening of the high-level segment of COP23, which was also attended by Heads of State and Government, including President of Germany Frank-Walter Steinmeier, German Chancellor Angela Merkel, French President Emmanuel Macron, and Prime Minister of Fiji, Frank Bainimarana, who is also the President of COP23.

“We need to do more on five ambition action areas: emissions, adaptation, finance, partnerships and leadership,” the Secretary-General added.

The Bonn Conference, which opened on 6 November 2017, is taking place one year after the entry into force of the Paris Climate Agreement.

The Agreement, which was adopted by the 196 Parties to the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) in December 2015, calls on countries to combat climate change by limiting the rise of global temperature below 2 degrees Celsius and strive not to exceed 1.5 degrees Celsius. Today, 170 Parties have ratified the treaty.

Regarding emissions reductions, the UN chief urged countries “to use the 2020 revision of the Nationally Determined Contributions (NDCs) to close the 2030 emissions gap.”

He also stressed how essential climate mitigation is, calling for adaptation measures and strengthening resilience. The Green Climate Fund can play a catalytic role in this regard. He appealed to its members, especially donor nations, to reinvigorate engagement with that vital finance mechanism.

The world should adopt a simple rule: If big infrastructure projects aren’t green, they shouldn’t be given the green light. Otherwise we will be locked into bad choices for decades to comeUN chief Guterres
As greater ambition on emissions, adaptation and resilience “is inextricably linked to funding,” the Secretary-General stressed the need “to mobilize the agreed $100 billion annually for developing countries.”

“We must stop making bets on an unsustainable future that will place savings and societies at risk,” he added, stressing that “if we add the economic benefits of avoiding the devastation of climate change impacts, gross domestic product (GDP) in 2050 would soar by 5 per cent.”

“The world should adopt a simple rule: If big infrastructure projects aren’t green, they shouldn’t be given the green light. Otherwise we will be locked into bad choices for decades to come. Investing in climate-friendly development is where the smart money is needed,” Mr. Guterres said.

The Secretary-General stressed that more ambition required action coalitions across all key sectors and by all actors. “We must engage all actors – national, regional and local governments, philanthropists and investors and consumers – in the transformation to a low-emission economy,” he said.

As for political leadership, Mr. Guterres encouraged countries to be bold in their deliberations and decisions in Bonn and at home. “Show wisdom in investing in the opportunities of the future. Show compassion in caring what kind of world we build for our children,” he stated.

Also addressing the COP23 High-Level segment, the President of the UN General Assembly, Miroslav Lajčák, reminded participants that “the decisions we make today will affect not only us – but also those who come after.”

He added: “If we hand over a planet with an uncertain future, history will not forgive us.”

For his part, Mr. Guterres welcomed a series of summits and conferences on climate change which are scheduled ahead of the UN Climate Summit in September 2019, including the ‘One Planet summit’ to be convened by France next month and focusing on financing, a gathering in California, bringing together non-State actors, and the COP24 in Katowice, Poland, in December 2018.

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