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Ahead of Sunday's consultation in Venezuela, UN voices concern for demonstrators

SOUTH AMERICA, 14 July 2017 – The United Nations today expressed concern about the situation in Venezuela, where nearly 100 people have died since April and more than 1,500 were injured in connection with ongoing protests.

Secretary-General António Guterres today said he and the international community “wish for peace and democracy in Venezuela,” and stressed in a statement that a solution must be found by Venezuelans alone.

“The way out is through an agreement, elections and respect for fundamental rights and constitutional powers,” the Secretary-General said calling for national dialogue between the Government and the opposition to eradicate violence and other abuses, and to preserve an agreed constitutional path.

Briefing journalists in Geneva, a spokesperson for the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR), noted that it has received accounts from several sources that some members of the Venezuelan security forces have “used repressive tactics, intimidating and instilling fear, to try to deter people from demonstrating.”

In addition, thousands of demonstrators have reportedly been arbitrarily detained.

“We are very concerned that more than 450 civilians have reportedly been brought before military tribunals,” OHCHR spokesperson Liz Throssel said.

“We urge the Government to immediately end this practice, which is against international human rights law, particularly due process guarantees. Civilians accused of a crime or an illegal act should appear before a civilian court,” Ms. Throssel said, urging all those who have been arbitrarily detained to be released.

This Sunday, Venezuela is scheduled to hold a public consultation organized by the opposition-led National Assembly and other groups. Questions will include President Nicolas Maduro's plans to rewrite the constitution.

The OHCHR spokesperson urged authorities “to respect the wishes of those who want to participate in this consultation and to guarantee people's rights to freedom of expression, association and peaceful assembly.”

An independent human rights expert today echoed the concerns, urging Venezuelan authorities to comply with international rights standards.

The UN Special Rapporteur on the rights to freedom of peaceful assembly and association, Annalisa Ciampi, said she was also worried about alleged intimidation of protesters and opposition members by police.

“Coercion is never an answer to the legitimate demands for democracy and to people's expression of frustrations against the background of economic and social unrest triggered by increasing poverty and deteriorating living conditions,” Ms. Ciampi said.

Number of Venezuelan asylum seekers soars

As the situation in Venezuela continues, the number of asylum applications by citizens of that country has soared and is projected to continue growing, according to UNHCR.

Last year, there were some 27,000 Venezuelan asylum seekers worldwide; this year, over 52,000 have applied for asylum.

UNHCR spokesperson William Spindler said even this figure represents “only a fraction” of the total number of Venezuelans who may be in need of international protection, as many do not register as asylum seekers, despite fleeing because of violence and insecurity.

“Due to bureaucratic obstacles, long waiting periods and high application fees, many Venezuelans opt to remain in an irregular situation instead of using asylum or migratory procedures to regularize their stay,” Mr. Spindler told journalists in Geneva.

He added that the large influx of Venezuelans has posed challenges, including international protection and physical security considerations, lack of documentation and exploitation, among others.

“UNHCR is also concerned that indigenous groups living along Venezuela's borders with Brazil and Colombia are being increasingly affected by the situation and have fled their home territories,” Mr. Spindler said.

“Particular attention to the rights of these communities as well as a differentiated and targeted protection and humanitarian response is required,” he added.


DR Congo: UN refugee agency sounds alarm as displacement sees no end in Kasai region

INTERNATIONAL, 14 July 2017 – The United Nations refugee agency has alerted the humanitarian community about the violence and continued displacement of civilians in the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC) from the Kasai region where the estimated number of displaced people now exceeds 1.3 million.

“Delivering assistance and protection to internally displaced people is a huge challenge, given the size of the area impacted – the Kasai region is about the size of Germany – but has difficult road conditions and lacks security,” said William Spindler, spokesperson for the Office of the UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR), at the press briefing in Geneva.

The conflict in the Kasai region, which started in late 2016 between a local traditional leader – the Kamuina Nsapu – and state authorities, continues to expand, with other armed groups springing up and committing severe human rights abuses against civilians.

Mr. Spindler noted that during recent missions to two provinces bordering the main conflict region, Kwilu and Lualaba, UNHCR’s team met some extremely vulnerable new arrivals.

“Many said that they spent weeks fleeing through the dense forest without food, drinking water, medicine or clothes and saw people dying on the way, including women and children,” he said.

He warned that the risk of sexual abuse and exploitation makes the situation particularly worrying, as many children and women fled on their own and some unaccompanied minors are without proper foster care arrangements.

The majority of those displaced are being accommodated by host communities, despite limited resources.

UNHCR is strengthening its response on the ground, closely working with national partner organizations to distribute more than 267,000 hot meals daily in five provinces affected by the displacement, namely Kasai, Kasai Central, Kwango, Kwilu and Lualaba.

A first distribution of essential household items to some 20,000 vulnerable people in Lualaba province will also start in the coming days, Mr. Spindler said.


Guterres condemns deadly attack on Israeli police officers in Old City of Jerusalem

INTERNATIONAL, 14 July 2017 – United Nations Secretary-General António Guterres has condemned this morning’s deadly attack by three assailants that left two Israeli police officers dead and leaving a third one injured in the Old City of Jerusalem.

In a statement attributable to his spokesperson, the Secretary-General warned that this incident has the potential to ignite further violence. He called upon all to act responsibly to avoid escalation.

To that end, Mr. Guterres welcomed the swift condemnation of the attack by Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas and the assurances by Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu that the status quo at the holy sites in Jerusalem will be respected.

The sanctity of religious sites should be respected as places for reflection, not violence, added the statement.

According to media reports the deadly attack took place near the holy site known as the Temple Mount and as Haram al-Sharif.

The thoughts and prayers of the Secretary-General are with the families of the victims, and he wishes a speedy recovery to the injured, it adds.


'Smart' money moving to 'green' financing, reveals new UN report

INTERNATIONAL, 14 July 2017 – Even though investments towards sustainable development in developing countries have fallen short by nearly $2.5 trillion each year, emerging financial products and encouraging policies illustrate that both public and private sectors are serious about correcting that trend, the United Nations environment arm has said.

In its new report on green finance, the UN Environment Programme (UNEP) has noted that the G20 and other countries have taken huge strides over the last year towards mobilizing public resources and private capital needed to make sustainable development and climate action a reality.

“The world has committed to creating a better future for people and planet. But we will not be able to achieve [this] vision without the global financial system using its capital to fuel the transformation,” said the Executive Director of UNEP, Erik Solheim, in a news release announcing the findings.

“This new research […] shows encouraging progress in this regard. From a record number of new green finance measures to ambitious plans for green finance hubs, we are seeing the smart money move to green financing,” he added.

The Green Finance Progress Report further notes that the establishment of the Green Finance Study Group by the G20 last year, under its Chinese Presidency, showed the group understood that green financing at scale is critical to achieve the G20's goal of securing balanced and sustained growth.

This message was reinforced by Germany's decision to continue the work during its G20 Presidency this year, the report highlights.

The report also draws out examples from G20 countries of actions they took in relation to green finance, such as the disclosure requirements announced by the Securities and Exchange Board of India for the issuing and listing of green debt securities, and pilot areas for green finance announced by the State Council of China.

It also finds that the progress made nationally, internationally, and in financial and capital markets shows that financial system is reshaping themselves to align with the sustainable development imperatives of the 21st century.

“The challenge now is to rapidly increase capital flows to investments that will support our sustainable development objectives and create commercially viable green businesses for decades to come,” said Mr. Solheim.

“The G20 and others have set the wheels in motion. Now is the time to press hard on the accelerator,” he added.


UN warns of worsening hunger in East Africa amid third consecutive failed rainy season

INTERNATIONAL, 14 July 2017 – The third consecutive failed rainy season in East Africa has seriously eroded families' resilience, and urgent and effective livelihood support is required, the United Nations agricultural agency has warned.

According to an alert released today by the Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO), poor rains have worsened hunger and left crops scorched, pastures dry and thousands of livestock dead.

“This is the third season in a row that families have had to endure failed rains – they are simply running out of ways to cope,” said FAO's Director of Emergencies Dominique Burgeon in a news release. “Support is needed now before the situation rapidly deteriorates further.”

Families are simply running out of ways to cope

The most affected areas, which received less than half of their normal seasonal rainfall, are central and southern Somalia, southeastern Ethiopia, northern and eastern Kenya, northern Tanzania and northeastern and southwestern Uganda.

Increasing humanitarian need

The number of people in need of humanitarian assistance in these five countries, currently estimated at about 16 million, has increased by about 30 per cent since late 2016.

In Somalia, almost half of the total population is lacking reliable access to a sufficient quantity of affordable, nutritious food.

The food security situation for pastoralists is of particular concern, in Ethiopia, Kenya and Somalia, where animal mortality rates are high and milk production from the surviving animals has declined sharply with negative consequences on food security and nutrition.

“When we know how critical milk is for the healthy development of children aged under five, and the irreversible damage its lack can create, it is evident that supporting pastoralists going through this drought is essential,” said Mr. Burgeon.

Poor crop prospects

In several cropping areas across the region, poor rains have caused sharp reductions in planting, and wilting of crops currently being harvested. Despite some late rainfall in May, damage to crops is irreversible.

In addition, fall armyworm, which has caused extensive damage to maize crops in southern Africa, has spread to the east and has worsened the situation.

Cereal prices are surging, driven by reduced supplies and concerns over the performance of current-season crops. Prices in May were at record to near-record levels in most markets and up to double their year-earlier levels.


Liberation of Mosul a 'milestone' in global fight against ISIL – UN Security Council

INTERNATIONAL, 13 July 2017 – The liberation of Mosul has marked an “important milestone” in the global fight against Islamic State in Iraq and the Levant (ISIL/Da'esh), the United Nations Security Council today, welcoming the announcement by Iraqi authorities that the city has been freed of the terrorist group.

“As the Iraqi Security Forces liberate the remaining pockets of ISIL-controlled territory […] all parties must comply with their obligations under international law, including, as applicable, human rights and international humanitarian law, particularly with respect to the protection of the civilian population,” the Security Council members said in a press statement today.

They also recognized the Iraqi Government's ongoing partnership with the UN to stabilize liberated areas across the country and called on all Iraqis to continue to work towards that end, including through a redoubled focus on national reconciliation and the safe and voluntary return or reintegration of the millions displaced.

The members of the Council also called for ensuring accountability for all violations and abuses of human rights and humanitarian laws.

Further to the statement, the Council members expressed their sympathies and condolences to all those who have suffered, and to the families of those who have perished in the fight against ISIL.

They also underscored the need to ensure justice for ISIL's victims and survivors of its crimes, in Iraq and across the region.


As Haiti struggles to stamp out cholera, UN urges further international support to combat disease

INTERNATIONAL, 13 July 2017 – Noting the challenges that continue to hamper sustained progress in combating cholera in Haiti, the United Nations General Assembly underscored the need to strengthen national health, sanitation and water systems on the island to promote the well-being of the population as well as contributing to Haiti’s sustainable development efforts.

In a resolution adopted today, the General Assembly recognized the efforts made by the Organization in alleviating the cholera epidemic in Haiti, in particular through the new UN approach to cholera in Haiti and the decrease in the number of suspected cases as a result of intensified response efforts under the approach.

In addition, the Assembly underscored that maintaining the intensified cholera response and control remained “critical” and invited UN Member States, donors, financial institutions and the private sector to provide voluntary funding and support for the new UN approach.

The 193-member General Assembly also called for greater international and regional cooperation and technical assistance, including through bilateral, North-South, South-South and triangular cooperation.

Further in the resolution, the Assembly welcomed the intention of the Secretary-General to invite UN Member States to voluntarily direct their share of the unencumbered balance and other income for the UN Stabilization Mission in Haiti, known by its French acronym, MINUSTAH, to support the new approach.

MINUSTAH is drawing down its operations in Haiti and transitioning into a new, smaller follow-on presence to assist the Government in strengthening rule-of-law institutions, security sector and human rights monitoring.

The Assembly also called on the UN chief to “rigorously pursue and complete” the liquidation of the assets of MINUSTAH and when disposing of the assets, to consider their potential use by the UN country team and the Government in supporting the cholera response, as well as sustainable development of Haiti.


UN’s economic advice ‘proven accurate’ and applicable for sustainable development, review finds

INTERNATIONAL, 13 July 2017 – Economic analysis by the United Nations over the past 70 years has proven to be accurate and can help countries navigate through a difficult current world economic situation and implement the new global development goals, an in-depth review of the analysis has found.

First published in January 1948, in the direct aftermath of World War II, the World Economic and Social Survey is the oldest annual economic and social report of its kind and has promoted a broader understanding of development.

“This year’s Survey reviews 70 years of this flagship publication and draws lessons for the pursuit of sustainable development as we look ahead,” noted UN Secretary-General António Guterres in the report’s preface.

Individual countries have pursued widely different development paths during a period that has witnessed the fastest growth in global output and trade than any other period in the history of humanity. The nations have achieved varying results from the bleak to the miracle.

The review, released by the UN Department of Economic and Social Affairs, finds that the free trade, development-friendly, country-specific advice of the Survey over the past 70 years has proven to be accurate and prescient and should continue to aid nations as they peruse implementation of the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs).

Survey’s prescient analysis ‘a valuable tool’ for the SDGs

“Despite significant changes in global development over the years, many parallels can be drawn between the current challenges facing the international community and those that confronted the world in the past,” Mr. Guterres said, underscoring that the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development “is a moral and economic imperative – and an extraordinary opportunity.”

The review argues that in the early 1950s, the Survey was ahead of the curve in development thinking. It was an early proponent of development not just as the expansion of output, but also as a process of large-scale structural and institutional change for the promotion of high standards of living, full employment and social progress.

The Survey advocated the importance of international coordination, by saying that the action of the government of one country may constitute an element disrupting the equilibrium of other countries in the absence of effective coordination.

In other instances, the Survey in the 1960s contributed to the analytical basis for the establishment of the UN Conference on Trade and Development (UNCTAD) and UN Industrial Development Organization (UNIDO), providing a forum for developing countries to advance their insertion into global trade and support for industrialization. The Survey also proved to be forward-looking in the 1980s. Before the debt crisis in developing countries erupted, it had raised concerns about large fiscal and trade deficits of developing countries and their implications for the long-term growth and social progress. Leading international financial institutions at the time concentrated on getting economies into balance with little consideration of the social consequences.

The Survey offered a critique of the “one-size-fits-all” approach adopted by adjustment programmes during the debt crisis, which significantly constrained national policy space and contributed to a “lost decade of development” in Latin America and Africa.

This critique supported countries in the design of country specific development strategies in the 1990s. The Survey prudently cautioned against factors leading to the financial crisis in the late 2000s.

This year’s Survey also argues that development progress requires robust global economic growth, solid expansion of trade, and steady access to financial resources for development.

The Survey contends that the achievement of the Sustainable Development Goals requires greater and deeper international coordination in key policy areas including fiscal, monetary and trade, but such challenges are not insurmountable.

In the last 70 years, the world has witnessed episodes of economies experiencing remarkable economic development, including Germany and Japan in the 1950s and 1960s, followed by the rise of economies in Hong Kong, the Republic of Korea, Singapore and Taiwan. In recent decades, some Southeast Asian countries, Botswana, China and India, among others, have also experienced high and sustained economic growth and improved standards of living.


Leveraging ICTs critical to achieve Global Goals, UN highlights in new report

INTERNATIONAL, 13 July 2017 – Underscoring the importance of information and communication technologies (ICT) in today's world, the heads of over 20 United Nations agencies and offices have called for leveraging those technologies to “fast forward” implementation of the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development.

In a new report, launched today, the senior officials also highlighted the critical link between information and communication technologies and the 17 Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs).

“The 2030 Agenda […] recognizes the great potential of global connectivity to spur human progress,” noted UN Secretary-General António Guterres in his foreword to the publication, Fast-forward progress: Leveraging tech to achieve the global goals.

“This report presents evidence of how UN agencies are adopting – and adapting – ICTs to maximize their impact and help communities and people in need,” he added, highlighting efforts underway to extend telecommunication networks and ICTs into remote areas; train and equip workers with new digital skills; and ensure that schools, hospitals, clinics and whole cities are smarter, more energy efficient and safer.

The five key areas highlighted as the “take aways” in the publication include ensuring that no one is “left offline;” recognizing the catalysing factor of ICTs for innovation and change; putting people first; importance of prompt action to leverage ICTs; and creating new .innovative partnerships.

The report, coordinated by the International Telecommunication Union (ITU), was written as a collaborative effort between top officials from UN entities and international organizations, with each leader selecting one Goal and explaining why ICT is important for it, including drawing on their personal insights.

“As UN leaders have identified […], ICTs must be leveraged to advance achievement of all 17 of the SDGs– and we at ITU look forward to partnering with other UN agencies to facilitate this,” said Houlin Zhao, the Secretary-General of ITU, said at the report's launch, in Geneva.

The report's release coincides with the ongoing 2017 High-level Political Forum on Sustainable Development (HLPF), the main UN platform dealing with sustainable and inclusive development.


Tourism key to foster trade for least developed countries – UN-backed report

INTERNATIONAL, 13 July 2017 – A United Nations-backed report released today stressed the need for greater recognition of tourism as a key service export in order to attract technical assistance to the sector in least developed countries (LDCs).

Although tourism represents seven per cent of all international trade and 30 per cent of the world's services trade, it is often difficult to direct trade-related technical assistance towards the sector because tourism and trade tend to fall under different line ministries, the report points out.

Produced by the World Tourism Organization (UNWTO), the International Trade Centre (ITC) and the Enhanced Integrated Framework (EIF), the report, titled Tourism for Sustainable Development in Least Developed Countries, was launched on the occasion of the Aid for Trade Review held in Geneva.

In LDCs, tourism accounts for seven per cent of total exports of goods and services – a figure that stands at 10 per cent for non-oil LDC exporters.

The report says that tourism can make a strong contribution to the economies of LDCs, but successful interventions in tourism require strong collaboration across government agencies as well as across different actors at the regional or local level.

The report also aims to increase the commitment and investment in coordination and raise tourism's prominence in trade-related technical assistance as to ensure the sector delivers on its powerful capacity to create jobs and incomes where they are most needed and for those who are most vulnerable – including youth and women.

UNWTO, ITC and EIF are working to contribute to this process of increased co-ordination and collaboration by joining forces in the design and implementation of tailored tourism technical assistance and tourism export strategies, and leveraging resources.

The report's launch coincides with the International Year of Sustainable Tourism for Development 2017.

The Year aims to support a change in policies, business practices and consumer behavior towards a more sustainable tourism sector that can contribute to Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs).

Goal 17 sets as one of the targets a “significant increase of exports of developing countries, in particular with a view to doubling the least developed countries' share of global exports by 2020”, to which tourism as service export can contribute.

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