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Change attitudes for future generations of women in tech, UN urges

INTERNATIONAL, 25 April 2019, Women - When women and girls are empowered with technology, the whole world benefits. That’s one key message from the International Day for girls in the field of information and communications technology, or ICT, marked on Thursday. 

Celebrated every year on the fourth Thursday of April, the Day is an initiative of the International Telecommunications Union (ITU) and aims to encourage and empower girls and young women to consider entering the growing field of ICT,​ enabling both girls and technology companies to reap the benefits of greater female participation in the sector. 

Recalling the energy and dedication he saw for himself from those taking part in the African Girls Can Code Initiative, earlier this year in Addis Ababa, UN chief António Guterres, tweeted that “such inspiring programmes not only develop skills, they also challenge stereotypes that limit girls’ ambitions and dreams”.  

This year, falling on 25 April, and with main celebrations happening in the Ethiopian capital, the day was marked across the world. The UN telecomms agency estimates that within the next 10 years, there could be as many as two million technology jobs that go unfilled due to a lack of digital specialists.  

In a video message for the day, the director of ITU’s Telecommunication Development Bureau, Doreen Bogdan-Martin, called on girls to “put technology at the core of their career passions”, underlining that advanced digital skills are a strong advantage for students.   

Underlining the increasingly important tech component in many career paths - not only in science related jobs - Ms. Bogdan-Martin highlighted technology as a “critical tool in fields as diverse as art history, law, primary teaching and graphic design”.  

According to ITU figures, over 357,000 girls and young women have already taken part in more than 11,100 events to celebrate International Girls in ICT Day in 171 countries worldwide, contributing towards bridging the gender digital divide. 

Last week, in Geneva, experts also shared avenues for action in an event entitled “Closing the Gender Gap in the Digital World”.  

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‘Zero malaria starts with me’ UN health agency urges grassroots responsibility on World Day

INTERNATIONAL, 25 April 2019, Health - After more than a decade of steady advances in fighting malaria, progress has leveled off, which is why this World Malaria Day, the World Health Organization (WHO) is supporting a grassroots campaign to emphasize country ownership and community empowerment to improve malaria prevention and care.

“Every two minutes a child dies from this preventable and treatable disease”, said WHO Director-General Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus.

Every two minutes a child dies from this preventable and treatable disease – WHO chief

Malaria is a life-threatening disease caused by parasites that are transmitted to people through the bites of infected female mosquitoes. According to the UN health agency’s latest World Malaria Report, the estimated number of malaria cases remained virtually unchanged from 2015 to 2017.

Moreover, there are approximately 219 million cases globally and an estimated 435,000 deaths.

In his video message, the WHO chief said the campaign “Zero malaria starts with me”, calls on political leaders, the private sector and affected communities to take action to improve prevention, diagnosis and treatment, stressing: “We all have a role to play”.

Commemorated every 25 April, World Malaria Day highlights the need for sustained investment and political commitment for malaria prevention, control and elimination.

An ominous numbers game

Tracking data and trends, the goal of WHO’s Global Technical Strategy to reduce malaria cases and deaths by at least 40 per cent by 2020 is off track.

Funding for the 2017 global malaria response remained largely unchanged from the previous year, which at $3.1 billion for malaria control and elimination programmes, is well below the $6.6 billion funding target for 2020.

According to the latest World malaria report, major coverage gaps have limited access to core WHO-recommended tools for preventing, detecting and treating the disease.

In 2017, 50 per cent of the at-risk population in Africa slept under an insecticide-treated net, a similar figure to the previous year and a marginal improvement since 2015.

Moreover, that same year, just over 22 per cent of eligible pregnant women in Africa received the recommended three or more doses of preventive vaccine, compared with 17 per cent in 2015. And from 2015 to 2017, only 48 per cent of children on the continent with a fever were taken to a trained medical provider.

Responding to the situation

In response, WHO and the RBM Partnership – the largest global platform for coordinated action towards a malaria-free world – recently catalyzed a new approach to intensify support for countries carrying a high burden of malaria, particularly in Africa.

High burden to high impact” is founded on four pillars: greater political will to reduce malaria deaths; more strategic information to drive impact; better guidance, policies and strategies; and coordinated national malaria responses.

On World Malaria Day, WHO and other partners are promoting the “Zero malaria starts with me” campaign to keep malaria high on the political agenda, mobilize additional resources and empower communities to take ownership of malaria prevention and care.

“The time for decisive action is now”, stressed WHO. 

Breaking it down

Last year in the Western Pacific region, there were more than 6000,000 cases of malaria.

From 2015 to 2017, WHO reported a 47 per cent jump in the preventable and treatable disease and a 43 per cent increase of deaths, largely due to outbreaks reported from Papua New Guinea, Cambodia and Solomon Islands which jointly account for 92 per cent of the malaria burden in the region.

“Mosquitos know no borders and will bit regardless of nationality or reason for migrating – IOM

“Urgent action is needed to address outbreaks in the highest burden countries”, underscored the UN health agency. “Ownership of the challenge lies in the hands of countries most affected by malaria and community empowerment is critical to support grassroots engagement across the region”.

 ‘Mosquitos know no borders’

The response to malaria should include all populations, according to the International Organization for Migration – including migrants, whether they are disabled persons, refugees or other vulnerable or displaced groups.

“Mosquitos know no borders and will bit regardless of nationality or reason for migrating” IOM said.

Managing health, mobility and frontiers means “much more” than monitoring a boundary check point between two countries, IOM pointed out. It is a joint commitment that recognizes “a series of spaces, actors and conditions that are part of the every-change and complex continuum of human mobility”.

Disease is easily transmitted in the overcrowded and unhygienic conditions that people on the move deal with.

While migration itself does not pose any health risks, IOM said that the adverse conditions on the migration route “do threaten the health of migrants and communities living in areas of transit, destination and return”.

The UN migration agency spelled out that any person linked to the migration cycle must be “informed, sensitized and prepared to prevent, detect and respond” to health threats.

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Aid preparations gear up as Mozambique braces for second massive storm

INTERNATIONAL, 25 April 2019, Humanitarian Aid - Emergency measures are being stepped up by the UN and partners in northern Mozambique, amid fears that another devastating tropical storm could batter coastal areas on Thursday evening, weeks after Cyclone Idai claimed hundreds of lives and flooded vast swathes of the south of the country.

“We are expecting that heavy rain will provoke flash floods and landslides impacting the north-eastern provinces of Cabo Delgado and Nampula,” Word Food Programme (WFP)  spokesperson Herve Verhoosel said.

“Another storm would be an additional blow for the people of Mozambique and further complicate the response in all areas.”

Confirming that the agency is “closely” watching the approaching weather system in the north and helping provincial authorities to prepare for the worst, Mr. Verhoosel explained that a joint WFP/ International Organization for Migration (IOM) assessment team, is already in place.

WFP has an office in the coastal town of Pemba - where the cyclone is expected to make landfall – and it also has some 300 metric tons of food aid in the northern coastal towns of Palma and Mocimboa da Praia, where humanitarian partners have been advised “to prepare the warehouses to protect the food and to weather the storm”, Mr. Verhoosel explained.

‘More than a million’ people still struggling after Idai devastation

Hundreds of kilometres away to the south, where Cyclone Idai made landfall six weeks ago causing massive devastation, a major aid operation is still ongoing.

“More than a million people (are) struggling to get back on their feet,” although floodwaters have receded in most areas, Mr. Verhoosel said.

In another development of serious concern, sex-for-aid allegations relating to food distribution for Idai victims in Nhamatanda district, Sofala province, have been strongly condemned by WFP.

Reacting to “shocking” allegations that emerged over the weekend of sexual exploitation and abuse relating to food distribution, the WFP spokesperson insisted that “no staff from WFP, or any UN agency or implementing partner” was involved.

“Upon learning of the allegations, which concerned demands for sex in exchange for food, WFP launched an immediate inquiry, interviewing women who said they had suffered abuse,” he said.

“Staff members heard of several cases of women and girls being asked for sex in exchange for food by community volunteers running food distributions.”

Stronger protection measures for vulnerable

In a bid to stamp out any sexual exploitation and abuse in the recovery effort, WFP intends to meet Government representatives to put in place “strengthened” protection measures for the most vulnerable, Mr. Verhoosel said.

Those affected by the alleged abuse will also receive additional support from UN agencies, the Government and NGOs, while partners in Mozambique are also receiving training to inform communities - before aid is distributed - that any person subjected to sexual exploitation and abuse should seek support from Government partners.

“WFP does not tolerate sexual harassment, exploitation or abuse (SEA) in any form. It is especially shocking if committed against those we serve and in the communities we serve,” Mr. Verhoosel said. “Zero tolerance means that a culture of impunity and complacency toward sexual exploitation and abuse is not accepted.”

THUR2504 MOZAMBIQUE STORM MASSIVE

© UNHCR/Luiz Fernando Godinho
Families affected by the Cyclone Idai leave temporary shelter of IFAPA, in Beira, to a transit center closer to their places of origin in the district of Buzi, Mozambique (20 April 2019).
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Vaccinations create ‘umbrella of immunity’ against global measles outbreaks, says UNICEF

INTERNATIONAL, 24 April 2019, Health - Between 2010 and 2017, an average of 21.1 million children missed their first dose of the measles vaccine, the United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF) revealed on Wednesday, stressing its importance to creating “an umbrella of immunity for everyone.” 

According to UNICEF, widening pockets of unvaccinated children have created a pathway to the measles outbreaks currently spreading around the world.  

“The ground for the global measles outbreaks we are witnessing today was laid years ago,” said Henrietta Fore, UNICEF Executive Director. 

During the first three months of 2019, more than 110,000 measles cases were reported worldwide, representing a near 300 per cent jump from the same period last year. And in 2017, measles cost some 110,000 people, mostly children, their lives, representing a 22 per cent increase from the previous year.  

UNICEF explained that although two doses of the measles vaccine are “essential” to protect children from the disease, a lack of access, poor health systems, complacency, and in some cases a fear of vaccines, led to a drop in global coverage to only 85 per cent in 2017, which has remained relatively constant over the last decade.  

However, at 67 per cent, global coverage for the second dose is much lower. The World Health Organization (WHO) recommends a threshold of 95 per cent immunization coverage to achieve so-called “herd immunity”; or vaccinating a significant enough portion of the population to provide protection for those who have yet to develop immunity. 

“The measles virus will always find unvaccinated children”, Ms. Fore stated, but “if we are serious about averting the spread of this dangerous but preventable disease, we need to vaccinate every child, in rich and poor countries alike.” 

View by income 

While 94 per cent of people in high-income countries receive the first dose, coverage for the second dips to 91 per cent, according to the latest data. 

The United States tops the list of high-income countries not receiving the first dose of the vaccine (2.5 million children), followed by France (600,000) and the United Kingdom (500,000) during the period between 2010 and 2017.  

In low- and middle-income countries, the situation is critical.  

In 2017, for example, nearly four million Nigerian children under 12 months, missed out on the first dose, putting it in the number one spot, followed by India at 2.9 million, Pakistan and Indonesia each at 1.2 million each and Ethiopia at 1.1 million.  

Worldwide coverage levels of the second dose are even worse. Of the 20 countries with the largest number of unvaccinated children in 2017, nine have not introduced the second dose.  

In sub-Saharan Africa, 20 countries have not introduced the necessary second dose in the national vaccination schedule, putting over 17 million infants a year at higher risk of measles during their childhood.  

“Measles is far too contagious,” Ms. Fore underscored. “It is critical not only to increase coverage but also to sustain vaccination rates at the right doses to create an umbrella of immunity for everyone,” she concluded. 

Tackling the crisis

UNICEF, with partners such as the Measles and Rubella Initiative and Gavi, the Vaccine Alliance, is helping address this measles crisis by: 

  • Negotiating vaccine prices. 
  • Helping countries identify underserved areas and unreached children. 
  • Procuring vaccines and other immunization supplies. 
  • Supporting vaccination campaigns to address immunization coverage gaps. 
  • Working to introduce the second measles dose vaccine in national immunization schedules. 
  • Introducing solar power, mobile technologies and other innovations to maintain vaccine temperatures. 
WHO/UN News
Top ten high-income countries where children not vaccinated with the first measles vaccine dose 2010-2017
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‘You can and should do more’ to include people with disabilities, wheelchair-bound Syrian advocate tells Security Council in searing speech

INTERNATIONAL, 24 April 2019, Peace and Security - The UN Security Council was told on Wednesday that people with disabilities “can’t wait any longer” for more of a say in how the world’s top diplomatic forum for peace and security, factors their needs into its work. 

The polite but passionate plea came from 20-year-old wheelchair-bound Syrian refugee, Nujeen Mustafa, who briefed members in a soft but commanding voice, on the acute vulnerabilities of people with disabilities in conflict, describing how once war began in her home city of Aleppo, she lived with the intense fear that she would be responsible for her own family dying in an airstrike. 

“Every day, buildings in our neighbourhood were bombed, leaving people trapped beneath the ruins. Every day, I feared that I could be the reason my family was one or two seconds late. My brother called us the walking dead”, she said to the hushed chamber. 

You can and should do more, to ensure that people with disabilities, are included in all aspects of your work -Nujeen Mustafa to Security Council

Even fleeing the country, she had to be carried out of the country by her siblings, as she had no wheelchair at the time. “The structure of supports that people with disabilities rely on, is broken down during conflict, leaving us at higher risk of violence and with more difficulties in getting assistance – especially for women”, said the cerebral palsy sufferer.  

Praising Council members for giving her time to tell her story, she said she had three key insights to deliver. Firstly, the crisis in Syria has a “disproportionately high impact” on people like her. Secondly, she said that people with disabilities “like women and girls, seem to be an afterthought”. Finally, she noted that people with disabilities should always be treated as “a resource, not a burden”. 

“Count us, because we count too”, said Ms. Mustafa, urging better data collection on how they cope in conflict. “This should not be just another meeting where we make grand statements and then move on...You can and should do more, to ensure that people with disabilities, are included in all aspects of your work – we can’t wait any longer”, she Council members, with a clear, calm, but firm delivery. 

‘Litany of horrors’ continues for Syrians, says UN deputy relief chief 

Briefing members on the latest humanitarian situation across Syria, deputy UN Emergency Relief Coordinator, Ursula Mueller, said that over eight years, civilians had endured a “litany of horrors” with those in the northeast and northwest, living in fear “of yet another humanitarian catastrophe unfolding”.  More than eight in 10 live below the poverty lin and nearly 12 million Syrians depend on assistance. 

She said an escalation of fighting around Idleb, the last rebel redoubt, had left well over 200 civilians dead since February, including three children in a school just last Monday. 

She described the overcrowded Al Hol camp for more than 73,000 - mostly displaced by ISIL terrorists’ last stand in the north east – as being nearly two-thirds children under the age of 12. She said all children, including those of suspected terrorists, were ‘entitled to special care and protection under international humanitarian law...They must be treated first and foremost, as victims.” 

Solutions for the 15 per cent of camp inhabitants who are foreign nationals “need to be urgently found” she said, calling on Governments to “take all measures necessary to ensure that their nationals are repatriated”. 

Ms. Mueller also described rising UN concerns for displaced civilians trying to escape the isolated Rukban camp on Syria’s southern border with Jordan, many returning to Government held areas with concern over their fate. 

“Colleagues in Damascus have reiterated the UN’s willingness to be directly involved to ensure that core protection standards are met and movements conducted in a voluntary, safe, well-informed and dignified manner”, she said. 

Introducing Ms. Mustafa to the Council, the deputy relief chief said that persons with disabilities were “often excluded and highly vulnerable”.  

“We must do our utmost to support and protect persons with disabilities and to ensure that their specific and diverse needs are addressed”. She said her own agency OCHA, had an important role, but every entity within the UN needed to make sure that persons with disabilities can “take an active part at every step of planning and decision-making processes.” 

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Multilateralism’s ‘proven record of service’ is focus of first-ever International Day

INTERNATIONAL, 24 April 2019, UN Affairs - The International Day of Multilateralism and Diplomacy for Peace “underscores the value of international cooperation for the common good”, according to United Nations Secretary-General António Guterres marking its first-ever observance on Wednesday. 

The UN chief pointed out that for nearly 75 years, multilateral arrangements established after the Second World War have “saved lives, expanded economic and social progress, upheld human rights and, not least, helped to prevent a third descent into global conflagration”.  

Citing international law, the advancement of gender equality, environmental protection and limiting the proliferation of lethal weapons and deadly disease, he said that “multilateralism and diplomacy have a proven record of service to people everywhere”. 

As multilateralism and international cooperation are underpinned in the UN Charter and the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development it is fundamental to preserve their values to promote and support the three pillars of the UN, namely peace and security, development and human rights. 

We are living with a paradox: Global challenges are more connected, but our responses are growing more fragmented – UN chief

Today however, multilateralism is under pressure from “unresolved conflicts, runaway climate change, widening inequalities and other threats,” lamented the UN chief, adding that while new technologies are creating opportunities, they can potentially disrupt “job markets, social cohesion and the enjoyment of our rights”.

“We are living with a paradox: Global challenges are more connected, but our responses are growing more fragmented”, he summarized.  
Mr. Guterres said that an increasing “deficit of trust” in governments, political establishments and international organizations, along with nationalist and populist voices that “demonize and divide” were “very dangerous”, adding that “collective action is essential” in facing today’s challenges. 

Recalling the urgency of the UN founders, he maintained the need to “reinvigorate the Organization’s tools”.  
“The principles of working together endure, but the specifics must take account of our rapidly changing world”, Mr. Guterres said.  
He maintained the need to strengthen commitment to a rules-based order, with an effective UN.

“We need a networked multilateralism, with close cooperation among international and regional organizations” detailed the UN chief, one “rooted in partnerships with the business community, civil society, parliaments, the academic and philanthropic communities and other stakeholders, in particular young people”. 

He underscored that proclaiming the virtue of multilateralism is not enough, “we must prove its added value”, nor can doubters be dismissed, but instead “we must show that multilateralism can respond to global anxieties and deliver a fair globalization that lifts all”. 

“Strengthening multilateralism means strengthening our commitment to achieving the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) and building a safer, more just world for future generations", according to the UN chief.  

“That commitment is needed now more than ever – from the United Nations and from leaders and citizens everywhere”, concluded the Secretary-General. 

‘Tip the balance’ right  

The Day was commemorated with a high-level meeting in the General Assembly Hall in which President Maria Fernanda Espinosa, in her opening statement, echoed the Secretary-General by outlining the on-going challenges to multilateralism. 
She stressed that to rebuild confidence in multilateralism we cannot “exclude those for whom we work, those who, together with us, can provide solutions and undertake commitments”.  

"Bringing the UN closer to people, and people to the UN" can only be achieved if we better communicate with those “outside this building”. 

She went on to highlight the legacy of multilateralism and peace diplomacy, noting the UN’s contributions in making the world “a safer, healthier, fairer place with greater opportunities for all”. 

Ms. Espinosa emphasized the need to end the “false idea” that multilateralism undermines States’ sovereignty, “when in reality, it reinforces it”. 

“To achieve and sustain peace and sustainable development, multilateralism is not only the most efficient way, but the only possible way”, she spelled out. 

She said that last year’s General Debate confirmed that “most of the world's leaders share this vision”, adding that “we have achieved a lot, but we still have a long way to go”. 

Ms. Espinosa made a call to action for a revitalized stronger Organization to bolster confidence in multilateralism. 
“From now on, each year 24 April will provide an opportunity to evaluate the Organization’s contribution to humanity”, she said. 

To better do this, the General Assembly Pres affirmed that it is “essential” to have a more effective, transparent and agile UN as well as a more equitable international order. 

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Under-fives' daily screen time should be kept to 60 minutes only, warns WHO

INTERNATIONAL, 24 April 2019, Health - Toddlers should spend no more than 60 minutes passively watching a screen every day, while babies under 12 months should have none, to ensure that they grow up fit and well, the World Health Organization (WHO) said on Wednesday, as part of a campaign to tackle the global obesity crisis. 

In recommendations specifically aimed at under-fives for the first time, the UN health agency said that some than 40 million children around the globe - around six per cent of the total - are overweight. Of that number, half are in Africa and Asia, it noted. 

The guidelines – which refer to passive activities such as watching cartoons, for example, as opposed to going online to talk to a grandparent - build on data gathered in countries including Canada and Australia, which show that as many as 75 per cent of children do not have healthy lifestyles. 

“That takes a moment to think about,” said Dr. Fiona Bull, a Programme Manager at WHO’s Department of Prevention of Noncommunicable Diseases. “Children under-five who seem to be running around and busy all day and certainly tiring their parents, may not be as active as we think.” 

'More is better' for sleep and exercise

In addition to screen time recommendations for very young children the UN health agency says that they should be physically active several times a day and get lots of sleep. 

“More is better,” the WHO report maintains, suggesting that carers should engage in interactive floor-based play and ensure that babies who are not yet walking spend at least 30 minutes on their stomach, rather than sitting in a chair. 

“The advice is where possible, to move from sedentary, passive screen time to more physical activity while at the same time protecting that very important quality sleep,” said Dr. Juana Willumsen, WHO focal point for childhood obesity and physical activity. “And what’s particularly important is that quality interactive play with a caregiver that’s so important for early childhood development…that sedentary time should also be protected.” 

Children aged one to four years old should be active for at least 180 minutes throughout the day, WHO says, citing walking, crawling, running, jumping, balancing, climbing, dancing, riding wheeled toys, cycling and jumping rope as suitable pastimes. 

Playtime, not screen time

For three to four-year-olds, moreover, 60 minutes of this activity should be of “moderate-to-vigorous intensity”, according to the UN agency’s guidelines, which also note that around the world, five million people die every year because they are not active enough. 

“Sedentary behaviours, whether riding motorized transport rather than walking or cycling, sitting at a desk in school, watching TV or playing inactive screen-based games are increasingly prevalent and associated with poor health outcomes,” says WHO’s Guidelines on physical activity, sedentary behaviour and sleep for children under five years old. 

Noting the emergence of on-screen applications that help users understand how long they are spending on their devices, Dr. Bull noted that there was still much uncertainty about their health impacts. 

“This is a recent development and I think it is a signal that the digital industry is also wary about the addictive nature the time that’s being spent using these in different ways,” she said. “Of course, all of us are using them for work, we’re using them in schools for education, we’re using them at home for education. It’s about managing the use of these valuable tools and about watching both the benefits and the risks.”      

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UN rights chief ‘strongly’ condemns ‘shocking’ mass executions in Saudi Arabia

INTERNATIONAL, 24 April 2019, Human Rights - Despite repeated appeals by the United Nations human rights system, Saudi Arabia’s decision to go ahead with the beheading of 37 men, drew strong condemnation on Wednesday from UN High Commissioner for Human Rights, Michelle Bachelet.

“I strongly condemn these shocking mass executions across six cities in Saudi Arabia yesterday in spite of grave concerns raised about these cases by numerous UN Special Rapporteurs, the UN Committee on the Rights of the Child and others,” she said in a statement.

Amid allegations that confessions were obtained through torture, she voiced concern over a lack of due process and fair trial guarantees, and said it was “particularly abhorrent” that at the time of their sentencing, at least three of those executed were minors found guilty of taking part in protests against the Saudi authorities.

“I urge the Government of Saudi Arabia to immediately launch a review of its counter-terrorism legislation and amend the law to expressly prohibit the imposition of the death penalty against minors”, underscored Ms. Bachelet.

According to news reports quoting the Saudi State-run news agency, the 37 had been charged with adopting “extremist, terrorist ideology” and forming terrorist cells “to corrupt and disturb security, spread chaos and cause sectarian discord.” They were reportedly accused of “cooperating with hostile parties in a way that damaged the high interests of the homeland.”

Most of the men belonged to the Shi’a Muslim minority and one of their bodies was subsequently put on public display. In several of the cases, various UN human rights experts had raised serious concerns over their treatment, with the authorities.

Beginning in 2013, 11 of the executed had reportedly been arrested for spying for Iran, some of whose lawyers boycotted the proceedings because they had been denied access to their clients and case files. Others were detained for anti-Government protests.

Ms. Bachelet also expressed deep concern for the fate of those who remain on death row, including Ali al-Nimr, Dawood al-Marhoon and Abdulla al-Zaher, whose cases have also been taken up by the UN human rights system.

“I appeal to the authorities to halt the pending executions and to engage constructively with the UN Human Rights Office and independent experts on the many concerns related to the imposition of the death penalty in the country,” she stated.

The High Commissioner reminded Saudi Arabia of its obligations to respect international human rights law, particularly as a State party to the Convention on the Rights of the Child and the Convention Against Torture.

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UN celebrates books as ‘bridges across cultures’

INTERNATIONAL, 23 April 2019, Culture and Education - The UN Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization UNESCO has long celebrated the power of International Book and Copyright Day, marked on 23 April, but this year, special attention is being paid to the protection of indigenous languages, many of which are threatened with extinction.

Beyond just pure enjoyment, books have always been considered a bridge between generations and across cultures. "Books are a form of cultural expression that lives through and as part of a chosen language”, said UNESCO Director-General Audrey Azoulay, in a message for the day.

“Each publication is created in a distinct language and is intended for a language-specific reading audience. A book is thus written, produced, exchanged, used and appreciated in a given linguistic and cultural setting”.

Highlighting the importance of this dimension, as 2019 also marks the International Year of Indigenous Languages, Ms. Azoulay emphasized the “commitment of the international community in supporting indigenous peoples to preserve their cultures, knowledge and rights."

On this occasion, UNESCO and the international organizations representing the three major sectors of the book industry - publishers, booksellers and libraries - also select the World Book Capital from year to year, to maintain, through its own initiatives, the impetus of the Day’s celebrations. 

“Don’t give up on your dreams.”

Children’s book author and former Somali refugee Habso Mohamud poses with students after a book reading at a middle school in the Washington, DC area. © UNHCR/Arielle Moncure

Speaking of her own experience as a 24-year-old former refugee from Somalia, Habso Mohamud, wrote It Only Takes One Yes, an illustrated children’s book to inspire children around the world.

The project supported by the UN refugee agency, UNHCR, tells the story of little Nasra, who dreams about being a queen who can feed the hungry and make books grow from trees, so that everyone could read.

Growing up in Dadaab refugee camp, in Kenya, Habso had to walk 45 minutes to get to school every day. Even so, she would never miss a class.

“The love of education really came from when I was in the refugee camp,” Habso explains. “I wouldn’t miss out on those opportunities even though they were far from my home.”

Now Habso is sharing that message with schoolchildren at readings across the United States, where she resettled with her family in 2005. By telling her story, she also aims to challenge stereotypes about refugees and mental health.

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Protect women’s rights ‘before, during and after conflict’ UN chief tells high-level Security Council debate

INTERNATIONAL, 23 April 2019, Human Rights - Over the course of the past decade, there has been “a paradigm shift” in understanding the devastating impact of sexual violence in conflict on international peace and security, UN Secretary-General António Guterres told the Security Council during a high-level debate on Tuesday.

At the meeting marking the 10th anniversary of the adoption of resolution 1888, which created the mandate of the Special Representative on Sexual Violence in Conflict, the Council passed a German-drafted resolution to reduce sexual violence in conflict and end rape as a weapon of war, with 13 in favour, and two countries, Russia and China, abstaining.

“Local civil society organizations, many of them women’s organizations, are on the frontlines of our efforts to prevent and provide redress for this crime, and they deserve our strong and consistent support”, said the UN chief.

The scourge “largely affects women and girls because it is closely linked to broader issues of gender inequality and discrimination”, Mr. Guterres said, adding that “prevention” must be based on “promoting women’s rights and gender equality in all areas, before, during and after conflict”.

“This must include women’s full and effective participation in political, economic and social life and ensuring accessible and responsive justice and security institutions”, he said.

Mr. Guterres also recognized the links between sexual violence in conflict, gender inequality and discrimination, and violent extremism and terrorism.

“Extremists and terrorists often build their ideologies around the subjugation of women and girls and use sexual violence in various ways, from forced marriage to virtual enslavement”, he explained. “Sexual violence continues to fuel conflict and severely impacts the prospects for lasting peace”. 

 “I encourage this Council to include the prevention of conflict-related sexual violence in all your country-specific resolutions, and in the mandates of peace operations”, he said.

Mr. Guterres stressed the need to strengthen justice and accountability, saying that despite a handful of high-profile convictions, “there is widespread impunity for sexual violence in conflict” and that most “are never reported, investigated and much less prosecuted”.

He encouraged the Council to continue working together “to reconcile differences”, as the “global “response to these crimes must ensure punishment of the perpetrators and comprehensive support to survivors with full respect for their human rights”.

“Together, we can and must replace impunity with justice, and indifference with action”, stressed the Secretary-General.

‘Utterly shell-shocked’ communities

Although stigma and other social barriers contribute to the chronic underreporting of sexual violence, the UN Special Representative on Sexual Violence in Conflict, Pramila Patten, told the Council that “we now understand much more about its many forms, drivers, and impacts, and about the devastating physical, psychological, and social burdens survivors bear”.

And yet, after a decade of concerted attention and action to deal with this crime, she spelled out: “Wars are still being fought on, and over, the bodies of women and girls”.

“Sexual violence fuels conflict and severely impacts the prospects for lasting peace” Ms. Patten stated, adding that it is used “precisely because it is such an effective means to target individuals and devastate entire communities”.

Sexual violence fuels conflict and severely impacts the prospects for lasting peace – Pramila Patten

The UN envoy painted a picture of victims targeted because of their ethnic, religious, political or clan affiliation.

Ms. Patten recounted a visit to South Sudan where she was “horrified” by the “sheer brutality of the sexual violence, perpetrated along ethnic lines against women and girls, even children as young as 4 years”.

She described “utterly shell-shocked” communities in the UN Protection of Civilian site in the capital, Juba, who were ganged raped and abducted for sexual slavery.

“Imagine a desperation so raw that parents would marry their daughter off to one stranger to spare her rape by many”, she asserted.

“If we are ever to prevent these crimes from occurring in the first place, we must confront the unacceptable reality that it is still largely cost-free to rape a woman, child or man in armed conflicts around the world”, she said. “To turn the tide, we must increase the cost and consequences for those who commit, command or condone sexual violence in conflict”.

“We must convert a centuries-old culture of impunity into a culture of accountability,” concluded the Special Representative.

‘Stand on the right side of history’

World-renowned human rights lawyer, Amal Clooney, recounted to the Council some of the “important milestones” she had reached advocating on behalf of Yazadi women and girls from northern Iraq, thousands of whom were sold into sexual slavery by extremist group ISIL.

She said that two weeks ago in Germany, she had represented the mother of a five-year old Yazidi child, at the first trial against an ISIS terrorist fighter, facing war crimes charges.

Ms. Clooney said the mother had been “enslaved, chained outdoors to a window, and left to slowly die of thirst in the scorching heat” but now justice was being served and he “faces charges of murder as a war crime”.

“Crimes committed by ISIS against women and girls are unlike anything we have witnessed in modem time” she said, adding that “the question of bringing them to justice has barely raised a whisper…if we don’t act now, it will be too late”.

Secretary-General António Guterres (left) poses for a photo with (from left to right): Amal Clooney, Barrister; Nadia Murad, Nobel Peace Prize Laureate and Goodwill Ambassador for the Dignity of Survivors of Human Trafficking of the United Nations Office , by UN Photo/Loey Felipe

“This is your Nuremberg moment”, she told the Council, referring to the trials carried out in Germany after World War II that prosecuted Nazis and others indicted on charges of crimes against humanity. 

‘A dangerous phenomenon’

Sexual violence crimes committed against women across the world has become “a dangerous phenomenon” that requires action by all, UN Office on Drugs and Crime Goodwill Ambassador Nadia Murad told the Council.

The Yazidi rape victim-turned-advocate spoke of how the thousands of Yazidi women and girls had been enslaved of in front of the local and international community, remarking that “no one intervened to stop them”.

Moreover, the genocide of the Yazidis continues.

“The social fabric of an entire society has been torn, the hopes and aspirations of generations were wasted”, she bemoaned.

“We were prevented from practicing our traditions… [and] there were dozens of mass graves across our region.

She said that the international community must “shoulder the responsibility” to rescue those still missing and in captivity since 2014.

Ms. Murad said that some Yazidi women who had been subjected to sexual violence at the hand of ISIS had “broken the barrier of silence” and “told their stories to the world”, hoping for justice.

“However, so far, not a single person was tried for sexual enslavement crimes against the Yazidis”, she informed the Council, adding that more than 350,000 Yazidis are still displaced in camps.

“After five years since the genocide against my people, as the world stood and watched, no clear steps have been taken to save the surviving Yazidis”, she said.

Asking that those perpetrators who “used Yazidi women as weapons of war” be brought to justice, Ms. Murad urged that they be tried before an international tribunal “for crimes of genocide and sexual violence against women and children” to send a message to others that would “prevent such crimes in the future."

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