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Risky occupations drive vulnerability in Latin America and Caribbean region, UNDP warns

CARIBBEAN/LATIN AMERICA - Half of the 220 million “vulnerable” men and women in the in Latin America and Caribbean region – who live slightly above the poverty line but below middle-class levels – are working under precarious conditions, according to initial findings of the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP).

In anticipation of next year’s launch of theRegional Human Development Report 2015-2016: Multidimensional progress: well-being beyond income, UNDP says that the economic boom and poverty reduction that took place over the past few decades significantly affected the labour composition in the region.

Indeed, the employed population grew nearly 40 per cent, from 205 million people in 1992 to 284 million in 2012. This growth was mostly concentrated in the middle class, those living on $10- 50 per day, and vulnerable populations, those earning between $4-10 a day. Over 80 per cent of workers are in the service sector, especially in small companies or self-employed as unskilled labourers. UNDP points out that many work as apprentices without a salary, a practice common among the region’s unskilled youth.

“More economic growth that only generates precarious employment will not be enough to prevent this vulnerable group, which represents one in every three Latin Americans, from falling into poverty,” UNDP Director for Latin America and the Caribbean Jessica Faieta said late last week during the second Regional Human Development Report Advisory Board meeting at the Ibero-American Secretariat headquarters in Madrid.

In spite of the expansion of jobs in the region and an overall salary increase in the last two decades, there were no significant improvements in social security for workers. UNDP even noted a slight deterioration in the case of access to pensions. Compared to vulnerable and middle class workers, a huge inequality in access to pension and health care existed among the poor

To avoid setbacks and boost social gains “we must invest in people,” Ms. Faieta said, adding that boosting their resilience requires strengthening capabilities, increasing their assets and access to social safety nets.

According to UNDP, the disparity reflects a tradition of linking job quality and social security rights to the formal labour market, which is out of reach for most workers in the region.

Despite the region’s slowdown in economic growth, UNDP calls for greater political will to continue boosting social investments. Quality education and health services ensure a minimum level of protection against shocks, such as unemployment, sickness, economic recession, insecurity or natural disasters – all of which can push workers back into poverty.

Mr. Gonzalo Robles, the Spanish Government’s Secretary General for International Development Cooperation – a strategic and financial partner for UNDP’s Regional Human Development Report – said: “The need to expand social protection systems is in line with the new vision towards the sustainable development goals and the new post-2015 agenda. This is reflected in the idea of multidimensional progress and well-being beyond income alone, which entail access to decent work, health and education throughout people’s life cycle.”


Internal displacement doubles in Libya since September, refugee agency warns

INTERNATIONAL – According to the United Nations refugee agency, the number of people displaced within Libya has almost doubled from an estimated 230,000 last September to more than 434,000 amid escalating fighting this year in different parts of the crisis-gripped North-African country.

“The internally displaced persons (IDPs) comprise 83,697 families, according to countrywide data collected by the Office of the UN High Commissioner for refugees (UNHCR) and its partners, the agency’s spokesperson said from Geneva today, where she was briefing the press.

The numbers could be higher,warnedUNHCR, but with limited access, the agency relies heavily on local partners, who are themselves unable to reach all affected areas because of a volatile situation. “This also reduces communication and monitoring and for these reasons their figures are an estimate”, stressed Ms. Fleming.

The largest bloc, about a quarter of the IDP population (105,000), is located in the eastern city of Benghazi, where UNHCR has been working with the municipality, as well as local and international NGOs to distribute items to some 6,000 of the most vulnerable IDPs between March and June.

“The main areas of concern in Benghazi relate to the collapse of the health sector, the closure of more than 60 schools as well as universities, criminality stemming from the absence of rule of law, and frequent reports of civilian casualties as a result of fighting in the coastal city,” the UNHCR spokesperson explained.

“Landmines and unexploded ordinance are also a danger to the internally displaced.”

The conflict has also undermined the security of civilians and prevented the safe return of IDPs in Misrata, Tripoli, Warshafana and the Nafusa Mountains in the west, and Awbari in the south. IDPs and host communities in these areas have also been equally affected by diminishing access to education, affordable health care, electricity and other key services, Ms. Fleming added.

“Despite the mounting challenges, we have, through partners on the ground, distributed non-food items to more than 10,000 IDPs in Misrata since May. The distribution initially targeted newly displaced populations and vulnerable groups. This represents 17,000, more than half of the IDP population in Misrata.”

With sporadic fighting in the south and a resumption of tribal tensions between the Tebu and Tuareg communities, the displacement situation threatens to become protracted with many IDPs unable to return or returning to unsustainable conditions such as in the border province of Awbari. “Access to southern Libya and delivery of relief items remains a challenge for us because of conflict and disrupted supply chains,” the spokesperson acknowledged.

In Libya, she said, UNHCR is also providing medical assistance to refugees and asylum-seekers in urban areas and financial support to the most vulnerable in Tripoli and Benghazi, as well as critical non-food items to people held in detention after being rescued or intercepted at sea by the Libyan Coastguard, or arrested on land for lack of legal residence permit.


South Sudan: International Community report cites widespread human rights abuses as violence reaches new levels of ‘brutality’

INTERNATIONAL – The South Sudanese armed forces may have committed widespread human rights abuses, including the alleged raping and immolation of women and girls, during the recent upsurge in fighting across the African State, according to a new report released by the United Nations mission in the country (UNMISS).

The report – released today by UNMISS – suggests that the Sudan People's Liberation Army (SPLA) and associated armed groups carried out a campaign of violence against the population of South Sudan's Unity state, reportedly killing civilians, looting and destroying villages and displacing over 100,000 people.

According to the testimony of 115 victims and eyewitnesses from the Unity state counties of Rubkona, Guit, Koch, Leer and Mayom, SPLA fighters also abducted and sexually abused numerous women and girls, some of whom were reportedly burnt alive in their dwellings.

“This recent upsurge [in fighting] has not only been marked by allegations of killing, rape, abduction, looting, arson and displacement, but by a new brutality and intensity,” says the UNMISS report. “The scope and level of cruelty that has characterized the reports suggests a depth of antipathy that exceeds political differences.”

“Revealing the truth of what happened offers the best hope for ensuring accountability for such terrible violence and ending the cycle of impunity that allows these abuses to continue,” the Secretary-General's Special Representative, Ellen Margrethe Løj, who also heads the UN Mission, said in a press release as she urged South Sudanese authorities to allow UN human rights investigators to access the sites of the alleged atrocities.

“We call on the SPLA to fulfil this commitment and allow our human rights officers unfettered access to the sites of these reported violations.”

UNMISS has confirmed that the Mission's human rights officers have been routinely denied access to locations of interest by the SPLA and have also encountered logistical obstacles. The South Sudanese authorities, on the other hand, have dismissed any allegations of wrongdoing and have reportedly welcomed the investigations.

South Sudan's ongoing conflict began in December 2013 and has been marked by brutal violence against civilians and deepening suffering across the country. Some 120,000 people are sheltered in UN compounds there while United Nations estimates that the number of people in need for 2015 will include an anticipated 1.95 million internally displaced persons and a projected 293,000 refugees.


Agency for Palestine refugees announces staff reductions amid funding shortfall

INTERNATIONAL – The United Nations agency assisting Palestinian refugees (UNRWA) has announced it will begin reducing staff numbers in an effort to cut costs amid a wider budget shortfall facing the Organization's presence in the region.

In a statement issued earlier today, Chris Gunness, spokesperson for the UN Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees (UNRWA), confirmed that 85 per cent of all 137 international personnel on short term contracts will be separated in a phased process lasting until the end of September.

“UNRWA is taking this measure to reduce costs as much as possible without reducing services to refugees,” explained Mr. Gunness, noting that the UN agency retained a $101 million deficit but would continue nonetheless with “robust efforts in resource mobilisation.”

“As things currently stand, with stringent austerity measures already in place beyond today's announcement, the Agency should be able to continue with life-saving services to the end of the year,” he continued.

Among the ongoing efforts, Mr. Gunness said UNRWA would maintain its health programmes, relief and social services, and sanitation and emergency projects for which it had remaining funds.

At the same time, the agency's school system – which currently services half a million children across Jordan, Lebanon, the Occupied Palestinian Territory and Syria – remains in a more precarious situation.

“Some difficult decisions may be needed in coming weeks if the deficit is not filled,” he warned.

The situation afflicting the Palestinians across the Middle East region is, in fact, quite dramatic, according to the latest UN data. Gaza today is home to the highest unemployment levels in the world, with more than 60 per cent of young people not working.

Meanwhile, some 60,000 Palestine refugees from Syria have fled to Lebanon and Jordan, putting pressure on host communities. From Syria's Yarmouk and Jordan's camps to the West Bank, the lives of Palestine refugees are constrained, with poverty and deprivation overflowing in overcrowded camps and the needs of the communities continuing to grow resources.

Adding to UNRWA's list of concerns is the dire situation facing the agency's emergency funding which, for its Syria appeal, currently stands at only 27 per cent met. UNRWA's Gaza reconstruction appeal is similarly underfunded with only $216 million in pledges received out of a total $720 million needed.


As World Heritage Committee opens session, UNESCO urges protection of sites targeted for destruction

INTERNATIONAL – The head of the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) strongly appealed for the international community to help counter the emerging threat of violent extremism and cultural cleansing, in remarks to the opening of the 39th session of the World Heritage Committee today in Bonn, Germany.

“Heritage is under attack today. In Syria, Iraq, Libya and Yemen, we see the brutal and deliberate destruction of heritage on an unprecedented scale. This is a call for action,”said UNESCO Director-General Irina Bokova, as she addressed participants at the Committee's current session, which runs through 8 July.

“Our response to ignorance and criminal stupidity, must also have a cultural dimension: knowledge, the sharing of Islam's millennial learning and wisdom, sharing the message of Palmyra, the 'Venice of the Sands', that is like a bridge between the legacies of ancient Greece and Rome, the Persian Empire and the Arab culture from ancient times to the present,” declared Mrs. Bokova.

Committee Chair, Maria Böhmer, Minister of State at the German Federal Foreign Office and member of the Bundestag, said the fury of terrorist organizations like ISIS [also known as the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levans, or ISIL] in Iraq surpasses the imagination.

“World Heritage is the foundation of people's existence and cohesion […]. It is the wellspring of social identity,” she added, invoking the role of culture in peacebuilding.

During the opening session, the International Young Experts Forum presented the outcome of their meeting, taking place from 18 to 29 June in Koblenz and Bonn. They read out the Declaration they adopted calling on States Parties to the World Heritage Convention to include teaching about World Heritage in national school curricula.

TheWorld Heritage Committeeis responsible for the implementation of theWorld Heritage Convention, defines the use of theWorld Heritage Fundand allocates financial assistance upon requests from States Parties.

It has the final say on whether a property is inscribed on theWorld Heritage List. It examines reports on the state of conservation of inscribed properties and asks States Parties to take action when properties are not being properly managed. It also decides on the inscription or deletion of properties on theList of World Heritage in Danger.

Thirty-six sites are nominated for inscription on UNESCO's World Heritage List at this year's session. They arelisted here.

Also during its session, the Committee will also examine the state of conservation of 94 sites already on the World Heritage List, and of the 46 sites inscribed on the List of World Heritage in Danger. Debates will be webcast.

A number of parallel events will be held during the current session, notably the launch of the Global Coalition for the Protection of Cultural Heritage:#Unite4Heritageon 29 June.


SG concerned over Burundi's insistence on holding elections despite prevailing political crisis

INTERNATIONAL – Reiterating his appeal to all Burundian political leaders to consider the wider interest of the people of their country, United NationsSecretary-GeneralBan Ki-moon on June 28 expressed concerns about the Government's insistence on going ahead with elections on 29 June despite the prevailing political and security environment in the country.

“The Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon emphasizes the responsibility of the Government of Burundi to ensure that elections take place in a secure environment and also to guarantee the safety and security of UN observers so that they can perform their mandated responsibilities free from intimidation or harassment,” according to astatementissued this afternoon by the UN Spokesperson.

The Security Council, including through its resolution 2137 (2014), has mandated the UN Observer Mission in Burundi (MENUB) to observe the elections, while the International Facilitation Team “has been working hard” in Bujumbura to assist the Burundian parties to reach a consensus on the way forward for holding “free, fair inclusive and peaceful elections.”

“The Secretary-General deplores the intransigence of the parties that caused those important efforts to be inconclusive,” the statement adds.

He reiterated his appeal to all Burundian political leaders to consider the “wider interest” of the people of their country and to resolve political issues through dialogue “in order to preserve peace and strengthen national reconciliation.”

Condemning recent attacks reported in the country, Mr. Ban in the statement also appealed to all Burundians to refrain from violent acts, in line with the Charter of Non-Violence agreed by all parties.

“MENUB will continue to work in a professional and impartial manner, in accordance with national laws applicable to electoral matters and international instruments, principles and rules of election observation,” adds the statement.

Burundi's political turmoil started in early April when President Pierre Nkurunziza said he would stand for a third term, a decision denounced as unconstitutional by the opposition.

Warning that the governing party and its youth militia use violence to limit freedom of speech and hate speech to obtain certain electoral outcome, Pablo de Greiff, the UN Special Rapporteur on the promotion of truth, justice, reparation and guarantees of non-recurrence stressed the utmost importance to disarm those youth militias.

“Voters must be free to support or to oppose any political party…without undue influence or coercion of any kind which may distort or inhibit the free expression of the elector's will,” Mr. de Greiff underscored.

Today's statement closely follows a similar expression of concern issued this past Friday, 2 June, when the Secretary-Generalencouragedthe country's authorities to consider the postponing of the elections. The legislative elections are scheduled for tomorrow, the presidential election for July 15.


New UNESCO report finds some $2.3 billion required to send children to school in war-torn countries

INTERNATIONAL – It will cost $2.3 billion to send to school the 34 million children and adolescents of conflict–affected countries who are currently not attending educational institutions, which is 10 times the amount being received from humanitarian aid now, the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) said in a new report released today.

“Present targets are hugely insufficient and diverting attention from the true needs of children and youth on the ground,”saidAaron Benavot, Director of UNESCO's report Education For All Global Monitoring Report (EFA GM).

For primary education, Mr. Benavot said, an extra $38 is needed per child in conflict situations, and $113 is needed per adolescent in lower secondary education.

“Surely we can find these funds,” he said. “Most of us carry the cost for one child in our pocket.”

According to the report, 34 million children and adolescents are out of school in conflict-affected countries.

“The most vulnerable are the hardest hit: the poorest are twice as likely to be out of school as their counterparts in peaceful countries,” UNESCO said in a press release on the launch of the2015 report. “The paper shows that $2.3 billion is required to place them in school – 10 times the amount that education is receiving from humanitarian aid right now.” In 2014, education received only 2 per cent of humanitarian aid.

UNESCO Director-General Irina Bokova said: “Returning to school may be the only flicker of hope and normality for many children and youth in countries engulfed in crises.”

“TheIncheon Declarationadopted [in May at the World Education Forum in Incheon, Republic of Korea] by 160 countries commits to meeting the needs of these populations through more resilient, resistive and inclusive education systems and a response to crisis that spans the phases of emergency, recovery and building,” Ms. Bokova said. “Education must be seen as part of the first response when crisis hits and an integral part of any peacebuilding strategy.”

According to UNESCO, thethe 2014 papershows that only a third of countries had reached global education goals set in 2000, and identified conflict as one of the major barriers to achieving better results. Today's paper shows the extent of the challenges that conflict presents.

“Children in conflict-affected countries are more than twice as likely, and adolescents two-thirds more likely, to be out of school than in non-conflict affected countries,” it said, adding that “young women are almost 90 per cent more likely to be out of secondary school in conflict affected-countries than elsewhere.”

The report also said that media attention unfairly prioritizes some countries over others: more than half of available humanitarian aid to education was allocated to just 15 out of 342 appeals between 2000 and 2014.

It proposes a new, evidence-based finance target, and makes recommendations for tightening the current aid structure for education in crises.

“Any new global emergency education fund should ensure that resources for education in crises are additional, flexible and predictable,” the report said.

Developed by an independent team and published by UNESCO, the agency says thee Education for All Global Monitoring Report is an authoritative reference that aims to inform, influence and sustain genuine commitment towards Education for All.


Perpetrators of ‘reprehensible’ terrorist attacks in France, Kuwait and Tunisia must be brought to justice - UN

INTERNATIONAL – Strongly condemning the terrorist attacks carried out separately today in Tunisia, Kuwait and France, United NationsSecretary-GeneralBan Ki-moon underscored that, far from weakening the world’s resolve, the heinous incidents will only strengthen commitment to defeating all forms of terrorism.

In astatementreleased by his spokesperson in New York, Mr. Ban condemned in the strongest terms the terrorist attacks in Tunisia, Kuwait and France, and stressed, “those responsible for these appalling acts of violence must be swiftly brought to justice.”

In a separate statement, the UN Security Council condemned the incidents equally strongly, laying out the specific circumstances of the attacks: against a chemical products factory in Saint-Quentin-Fallavier, France, triggering an explosion and killing at least one through a gruesome beheading while injuring others; a bomb attack in a Shiite mosque in Kuwait City, Kuwait, killing at least 24 and injuring many more; and gunmen attacking a tourist hotel near Sousse, Tunisia, killing at least 37 and injuring many others.

The Secretary-General in his statement affirmed that, far from weakening the international community’s resolve to fight the scourge of terrorism, such heinous attacks would only strengthen the commitment of the United Nations to help defeat those bent on murder, destruction and the annihilation of human development and culture.

Mr. Ban, as well as the Security Council extended condolences to the families of those killed and injured in today’s attacks and expressed his solidarity with the peoples and Governments of Tunisia, Kuwait and France.

Also condemning the attacks, President of the UN General Assembly Sam Kutesa said the unrelenting wave of terrorist attacks across the world today, across three continents, once again attest to the need for continued resolve and engagement by Member States to find combat violent extremism and intolerance."

Later in the day, the UN High Representative of the Alliance of Civilizations, Nassir Abdulaziz Al-Nasser also strongly condemned the series of attacks.

In a statement, he stressed that such heinous acts and all other attacks targeting innocent people are criminal and unjustifiable and their perpetrators must be brought to justice.

“Crimes as such, will only lead to more hatred and violence, posing a serious threat to international peace and security,” joining other UN officials in extending heartfelt sympathy to the victims’ families and loved ones.

He also expressed support to the peoples and Governments of Tunisia, Kuwait and France.


SG welcomes US Supreme Court ruling guaranteeing right to same-sex marriage

INTERNATIONAL – United NationsSecretary-General (SG)Ban Ki-moon welcomed today the United States Supreme Court ruling that the US Constitution guarantees the right to same-sex marriage.

“The Secretary-General welcomes the decision of the Supreme Court that paves the way for gay and lesbian Americans to have their relationships legally recognized, no matter what part of the country they live in,” said a UN spokesperson during his daily briefing.

In an interview this morning, Mr. Ban called the decision a “great step forward for human rights”, reminding that his strong belief in equality and in the equal worth and dignity of lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (LGBT) people.

“Denying couples legal recognition of their relationship opens the door to widespread discrimination. This ruling will help close that door and marks a great step forward for human rights in the United States. The Secretary-General joins the LGBT community and its millions of allies in celebrating this historic decision,” added the Spokesperson.


Haiti: UN envoy urges that deportations do not result in statelessness of people born in Dominican Republic

INTERNATIONAL – Amid ongoing concern about the status of thousands of immigrants living in the Dominican Republic, the Special Representative of the United Nations Secretary General for Haiti, Sandra Honoré, said that deportations carried out by Santo Domingo authorities should not result in statelessness of people of Haitian descent.

Ms. Honoré also considered that such acts should be consistent with the dignity, human rights and international humanitarian law.

This call comes as the Office of the UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) last Friday appealed to the Government of the Dominican Republic to ensure that people who were arbitrarily deprived of their nationality as a result of a 2013 ruling of the Dominican Constitutional Court would not be deported.

According to UNHCR, in May 2014, the Dominican Republic adopted a naturalization law which provided for the re-issuance of nationality documents for some individuals born in the Dominican Republic and gave others the possibility to apply for special registration until February 2015, opening a path to eventual citizenship.

In a welcome development, the agency said, the Dominican authorities have concluded an audit of the first group whereby some 57,000 individuals could be reasonably presumed to have found a solution, but tens of thousands of people who were born in the Dominican Republic and are of Haitian descent remain stateless. The consequences of their eventual expulsion to Haiti could be devastating.

In an interview withUN Radio, Ms. Honoré said that in a recent meeting with the Foreign Minister and the immigration authorities in the Dominican Republic, those officials explained to her that during the process they would “take all necessary measures so that there was full respect for the basic guarantees of the people.”

Ms. Honoré, who is also head of UN Stabilization Mission in Haiti (MINUSTAH), said that to date, there has been an increase in the flow of returnees and that both governments have decided that there would be two official points for carrying out deportations.

“We encourage the dialogue recently begun at the level of foreign ministers of both countries to continue, to agree on the best way to…address these measures,” she said.

She said that at several points along the border where people have gathered, the Haitian Government does not have the capability to receive or process them. “This will, in fact, be a challenge for the Government,” she acknowledged, and added that in response, Haitian authorities have established a committee of national solidarity to deal with the question of returnees from the Dominican Republic.

In addition, Ms. Honoré said the Government of Haiti does have a contingency plan that it has developed to deal with the return of large numbers of Haitian citizens and the Government is working with UN agencies, funds and programmes regarding the support it needs to enact the plan.

“Our mandate for stabilization in Haiti dictates that we support the Government as best we can and within the resources that are available to us,” she said, explaining that two rounds of elections – legislative and presidential – are scheduled to take place in Haiti over the coming months.

The UN would aim to maintain support for the Government to ensure that the climate surrounding these elections would be a serene as possible, and “we would do everything that we possibly can to ensure that the challenges posed by this situation do not translate into any undesirable effects on the overall election process,” concluded Ms. Honoré.

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