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Saudi Arabia in spotlight as UN-appointed independent investigator publishes full Khashoggi findings

INTERNATIONAL, 19 June 2019, Human Rights - Responsibility for the killing of dissident Saudi journalist Jamal Khashoggi lies with “high-level officials” of the monarchy, a UN-appointed independent investigator said on Wednesday, in a renewed call for full State accountability for the crime. 

In a 100-page report to be presented to the Human Rights Council next week, Special Rapporteur Agnès Callamard discusses the circumstances leading up to Mr. Khashoggi’s death and considers steps that might have prevented his murder. 

The prominent United States-based writer was last seen alive entering the Saudi consulate in Istanbul, Turkey, on 2 October last year. 

Citing graphic audio recordings obtained by the Turkish intelligence services, Ms. Callamard - United Nations Special Rapporteur on extrajudicial, summary, or arbitrary executions - suggests that the crime was a “premeditated extrajudicial execution”. 

“The evidence suggests that the murder was premeditated and that the direction from superiors was to kill Mr. Khashoggi, at the very least if he would not agree to return,” her report states, suggesting that such an operation “was the result of elaborate planning involving extensive coordination and significant human and financial resources”.  

In the days leading up to his execution, the journalist and other dissidents were “being sought” by Saudi authorities, so that “when the opportunity arose…Saudi high-level officials planned, oversaw and/or endorsed the mission”. 

While there have been “numerous theories and allegations” about the killing, “none alters the responsibility of the Saudi Arabia State,” the Special Rapporteur maintains, adding that 15 Saudi state agents “acted under cover of their official status and used State means to execute Mr. Khashoggi”. 

Given the fact that the killing represents no less than six violations of international human rights law, the Special Rapporteur determines that it constitutes an international crime over which other States “should claim universal jurisdiction”. 

In an appeal to the Human Rights Council, the Security Council or the UN Secretary-General for an “international follow-up criminal investigation” to determine individual liability, Ms. Callamard notes with concern that so few States reacted to Mr. Khashoggi’s death, “whether legal, political or diplomatic, although a number of States had issued targeted sanctions against Saudi officials”. 

Further investigation needed into role of Crown Prince

Her report also determines that there was “credible evidence” that warrants further investigation of high-level Saudi officials’ liability, including that of Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman. 

In the years preceding Mr. Khashoggi’s execution, the report suggests that the Crown Prince “at a bare minimum” condoned the arbitrary detention of a large number of journalists and human rights defenders, but also princes and businessmen. 

Mohammed bin Salman “took no action to prevent or punish those responsible…(and) willingly took the risk that other crimes, such as the killing of Mr. Khashoggi, would be committed, whether or not he directly ordered the specific crime”, the report states. 

Turning to the trial in Saudi Arabia of those suspected of involvement in the killing, the Special Rapporteur questions the lack of transparency surrounding even the names of the accused. 

According to the Saudi Deputy Public Prosecutor last November, of 21 individuals held in relation to the killing, 11 were indicted and five of them faced the death penalty. 

These included the “Deputy President of the General Intelligence Presidency,” who had issued “an order to bring back the victim by means of persuasion, and if persuasion fails, to do so by force”, the prosecutor’s office reportedly said. 

According to the Special Rapporteur, who names those indicted in her report, representatives of the United States, the United Kingdom, France, Russia, China and Turkey attended the trial in Riyadh. 

Their presence was based “on an agreement of non-disclosure”, Ms. Callamard states, adding that according to some reports, “observers were summoned on short notice and barred from bringing interpreters”. 

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Ripple effect of sexual violence in conflict threatens ‘collective security’, stains ‘our common humanity’, says UN chief

INTERNATIONAL, 19 June 2019, Human Rights - Sexual violence in conflict is a “threat to our collective security” and a “stain on our common humanity”, United Nations Secretary-General António Guterres said in his message commemorating the International Day for the Elimination of Sexual Violence in Conflict, on Wednesday. 

Calling the scourge “a tactic of war, to terrorize people and to destabilize societies”, he underscored that its effect can echo across generations through trauma, stigma, poverty, long-term health issues and unwanted pregnancy. He urged that survivors should be heard and their needs recognized. 

“They are mostly women and girls, but also men and boys, calling for our support to access life-saving health services, justice and reparation”, he elaborated.  

The day also honours those “working on the frontlines”, said the UN chief, “directly assisting victims to rebuild their lives”.  

“Our global response must include more concerted action to ensure accountability for the perpetrators – and to address the gender inequality that fuels these atrocities”, stressed Mr. Guterres, adding that “together, we can and must replace impunity with justice; and indifference with action”. 

‘Grave human rights violation’ 

Sexual violence in conflict constitutes “a grave human rights violation with devastating physical, psychological and social consequences” that “impede economic development, social cohesion and sustainable peace and security”, said Federica Mogherini, EU High Representative for Foreign Affairs and Security Policy, and Pramila Patten, UN Special Representative on Sexual Violence in Conflict, in a joint statement marking the day. 

While women and girls are “disproportionately the first targets both in times of war and peace”, they highlighted that men and boys are also affected.   

“Sexual violence is a crime that is preventable, not inevitable”, they maintained, which they say is why the UN and EU are committed to strengthen their work in “prevention, protection and prosecution, as well as in terms of holistic support to survivors to help them rebuild their lives and livelihoods within their families and communities”.  

The women noted that the Security Council’s call for a “survivor-centred approach” aims to guide prevention and response to empower those affected and minimize their risks of social ostracism, stigma and reprisals.  

“Ensuring access to comprehensive quality services, including medical care, sexual and reproductive health care, psychosocial support, legal advice and livelihood assistance for victims is therefore key”, they spelled out.  

Ultimately, however, they said actions can only make a lasting difference “if they are accompanied by a shift in social attitudes”, such as by raising awareness, amplifying victims' voices, and ensuring women’s participation in decision-making and peace processes.  

“States, international and regional organizations, private sector and civil society all have a role to play in challenging harmful gender norms and preventing sexual violence”, they flagged, underscoring the need to continue working together to “end impunity for perpetrators” and “guarantee access to justice, protection and services for survivors”.  

“Their voices, rights and needs must guide our response to foster more equitable and peaceful societies”, concluded Ms. Mogherini and Ms. Patten. 

More to come on this story later. 

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Record displacement shows ‘we're almost unable to make peace’, warns UN refugee agency chief

INTERNATIONAL, 19 June 2019, Migrants and Refugees - A record 70.8 million people fled war, persecution and conflict in 2018, UN refugee agency chief Filippo Grandi said on Wednesday, appealing for greater international solidarity to counter the fact that “we have become almost unable to make peace”. 

Unveiling new data indicating that global displacement numbers are at “the highest level” that the UN refugee agency, UNHCR, has seen in its almost 70-year existence, Mr. Grandi noted that these were “conservative” estimates.

In Venezuela, he added, only half a million of the four million people that had left that country amid an ongoing economic and political crisis have formally applied for asylum and refugee status. 

Peru restrictions risks creating ‘bottleneck’ upstream 

Amid reports that regional neighbour Peru had tightened restrictions on Venezuelans trying to cross its border after struggling to cope with the migrant influx, Mr. Grandi noted that the risk was that other countries closer to Venezuela – such as Ecuador and Colombia – might follow suit, creating a “bottleneck”. 

“These are people who are escaping so it is difficult for them to get documents from their own country,” Mr. Grandi said, adding that such papers were also difficult to obtain in Colombia and Ecuador. 

It was almost counter-intuitive to ask these Venezuelans who are “refugee or refugee-like” to present passports and visas, he insisted.  

“Peru is the second-largest recipient of Venezuelans after Colombia, and they are really overwhelmed by the presence of all these people and they have my full sympathy for that,” Mr. Grandi told journalists.  

“But we have been urging them to be just like Colombia and Ecuador and Brazil to keep their borders open, because these people really are in need of safety, or protection,” he said. 

Venezuela displacement pressures reminiscent of Europe in 2015 

Drawing parallels with Europe’s recent, so-called refugee crisis, when hundreds of thousands of people fleeing wars, including the Syrian conflict, risked their lives crossing treacherous Mediterranean waters to reach Greece and Italy, the UNHCR chief insisted that an open-door policy was essential.  

“It’s a little bit like what happened in Europe in 2015 when you had one border closing after the other, and it’s the first country, Greece, as it was then – and which in this case would be Colombia, and maybe even now, because they cannot bear the burden any more …so there’s a lot of risks in this and I would like to use this opportunity to appeal to those countries; I know we are asking them a lot, but it is my job to appeal to those countries to keep the borders open.” 

According to UNHCR’s Global Trends report, displacement levels today are double what they were 20 years ago, confirming a long-term rising trend in the number of people in need of international protection. 

Some 37,000 people uprooted from homes every day in 2018 

Of 41.3 million internally displaced people in 2018 – at a rate of 37,000 a day –some 13.6 million were newly displaced last year.  

This included nearly 11 million individuals who were uprooted inside their country and 2.8 million new refugees and asylum-seekers, UNHCR’s data shows, as well as the fact that while richer countries hosted 16 per cent of refugees in 2018, least developed nations sheltered one in three. 

The report also illustrates how fallout from conflict zones continues to drive displacement, with more than two-thirds of all refugees coming from just five countries: Syria (6.7 million), Afghanistan (2.7 million), South Sudan (2.3 million) Myanmar (1.1 million) and Somalia (900,000). 

While calling for more funding to help countries deal with the impact of these increased migration flows – particularly in neighbouring crisis-hit States where most displacement victims are hosted – Mr. Grandi underlined the need for better regional and international cooperation in the face of “new conflicts, new situations producing refugees, adding themselves to the old ones”. 

This remains a challenge, he said, given the lack of unity in the UN Security Council – “the international community’s supreme body for peace and security - “even when it discusses humanitarian matters in Yemen, in Libya”. 

Citing the example of the 2016 Gambia conflict as the last one that he could remember being resolved - and where 50,000 Gambians returned to the country once it was safe – Mr. Grandi said that it proved “where there is a regional effort, an international effort, a conflict is addressed, people go back”. 

In addition, Mr. Grandi dismissed numerous preconceptions about migrants and refugees “just taking advantage and seeking opportunities”, given that “half of the refugees…are children. That’s a very high proportion,” he said.  

“When you hear a lot about refugees, people that are taking advantage, seeking opportunities. Children don’t flee to seek better opportunities; children flee because there is a risk and a danger.”  

Officially last year, there were more than 138,000 unaccompanied and separated children globally, according to UNHCR’s report, which notes that this is likely a significant underestimate. 

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Syria: Humanitarian disaster in Idlib ‘unfolding before our eyes’ says top UN relief official

INTERNATIONAL, 18 June 2019, Peace and Security - Unabating violence, destruction and a downward sprial in overall conditions for the desperate people trapped in north-western Syria’s Idlib were in the spotlight as the United Nations Emergency Relief Coordinator told the Security Council on Tuesday that “we are faced with a humanitarian disaster unfolding before our eyes”.

“There is no denying the facts”, he stated.

Mark Lowcock, also the UN Humanitarian Affairs chief, painted a grim picture of continuing violence involving Syrian Government forces and their allies, armed opposition forces, and the Security Council-listed terrorist organization Hayat Tahrir al-Sham (HTS).

“Over the last six weeks, the conduct of hostilities has resulted in more than 230 civilian deaths, including 69 women and 81 children” he detailed in a briefing to the Council. “Hundreds more have been injured” and since 1 May, “an estimated 330,000 people have been forced to flee their homes” – almost double the number since his last briefing.

Moreover, many have moved multiple times since the start of the conflict, particularly in the Idlib area, constantly searching for safety. Displacement camps are overcrowded, with many people forced to stay in the open and those who remain close to the fighting live in constant fear of the next attack.

“Many are crowding into basements, seeking refuge from air strikes, volleys of shells and mortar rounds, which continue to threaten what is left of their homes”, explained the Relief Coordinator. “Hospitals, schools and markets have been hit. Power stations have been affected. Crops have been burned. Children are out of school”.

“Attacks on civilians and civilian infrastructure need to stop immediately”, he asserted.

UN tackling challenges on multiple fronts

Mr. Lowcock detailed the diverse UN response, from emergency food assistance to water, health and sanitation supplies. “If this Council had not renewed resolution 2165” none of it would have been possible, he continued, referring to the 2014 measure that approved relief delivery “across conflict lines” and through additional border crossings. 

Noting that “the UN and the brave humanitarian workers” are “risking their lives to help others”, he lamented that “the response is stretched and a further increase in need brought on by additional fighting would risk seeing it overwhelmed”.

Meanwhile reports of attacks impacting civilian infrastructure continue.

More than 250,000 children are out of school; exams were cancelled for some 400,000 students; 94 schools are being used as shelters; and many hospitals have closed out of fear of being attacked.

“These attacks don’t just claim innocent lives”, he said. “They also deprive thousands of civilians of basic health services, even as fighting intensifies around them”.

Stressing that under international humanitarian law, all parties are obligated to refrain from attacking protected sites, Mr. Lowcock called it “appalling” that these sites were hit, adding that attacking a facility whose coordinates were shared as part of the UN’s de-confliction system was “intolerable”.

He explained that some partners now feel that supplying geographical coordinates “paints a target on their backs”, drawing the conclusion that “hospital bombings are a deliberate tactic aimed to terrorize” and raising “deep questions about the de-confliction system”.

“Countering HTS is plainly a major challenge”, he admitted. “But counter-terrorism efforts cannot in any way absolve States of their obligations to uphold international humanitarian law”.

'Not just a humanitarian issue'

Violence in north-west Syria “continues unabated” as parties on the ground try to advance militarily, the chief of UN Political and Peacebuilding Affairs told the Security Council on Tuesday.

“Our unflagging efforts to mediate a political solution …cannot move forward in an environment of open conflict”, said Rosemary DiCarlo, adding that efforts will suffer if Russia and Turkey cannot uphold their ceasefire agreement and the Astana Group cannot work together supporting the Special Envoy.

She updated that airstrikes, barrel bombs, cluster munitions, mortar exchanges and artillery fire are ongoing, leaving civilian casualties and massive displacement.

Moreover, population centers and civilian infrastructure, including schools and medical facilities have been attacked, mostly inside the de-escalation area.

Call for calm

She called “imperative” that the jihadist HTS organization be addressed “without triggering the humanitarian catastrophe that we see unfolding before our eyes”.

It is imperative to restore calm before HTS can be dealt with in a sustainable way, “where civilians do not pay the price”, she stated.

While the UN continues to press for a solution in Idlib, Ms. DiCarlo worries that without one, the consequences would be “unimaginable – and not just in humanitarian terms”.

She recalled that last weekend one of Turkey’s observation posts had been intentionally shelled by Government forces, after which it “retaliated” with heavy weapons – the second such incident in less than a week.

Looking to the upcoming G20 meeting, she stressed the need for a diplomatic outcome in Idlib “for the political process to advance”, and called on international participants, particularly Russia and Turkey, “to exert the efforts needed to end the violence and restore calm”.“Idlib is not just a humanitarian issue it also poses a grave risk to regional security”, she underscored.

“The Syrian people have paid a high price for the failures of the international community to end this war”, she maintained. “More than half the population is displaced and in need, more than five million refugees are uncertain of when it will be safe to return, hundreds of thousands have paid with their lives, tens of thousands detained, missing, tortured”.

“All that is required is the political will”, Ms. DiCarlo underscored.

‘Stabilize the situation’

Meanwhile, Secretary-General Antonio Guterres appealed to Russia and Turkey on Tuesday “to stabilize the situation without delay”.

Expressing his deep concern “about the escalation of the fighting in Idlib” and the danger “given the involvement of an increased number of actors,” he underscored to the press that “even in the fight against terrorism there needs to be full compliance with international human rights and humanitarian law.”

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UN health agency steps up fight against ‘invisible pandemic’ of antimicrobial resistance

INTERNATIONAL, 18 June 2019, Health - As resistance to antibiotics grows, the World Health Organization (WHO) has launched the latest stage of its campaign to fight this deadly health risk – likened by the agency to an “invisible pandemic”– with the launch of a new online tool for health professionals on Tuesday.

The AWaRe portal divides antibiotics into three groups – Access, Watch and Reserve – and explains which antibiotics should be used to treat the most common and serious infections (Access), which ones should be available at all times in the healthcare system (Watch), and those that must be used sparingly or preserved and used only as a last resort (Reserve).

The campaign is designed to raise the proportion of global consumption of antibiotics in the Access group to at least 60%, and to reduce use of the antibiotics most at risk of resistance from the Watch and Reserve groups. Using Access antibiotics lowers the risk of resistance because they are ‘narrow-spectrum’ drugs that target a specific micro=organism rather than several. They are also less costly because they are available in generic form.

More than half of antibiotics used inappropriately

The importance of using the tool is underscored by WHO’s estimate that over half of antibiotics in many countries are administered inappropriately. Examples include the use of the drugs to treat viruses (antibiotics only treat bacterial infections), or patients being prescribed the wrong antibiotic.

Both practices can contribute to the spread of resistance and, in hospitals, patients run the risk of being infected with antimicrobial resistant bacteria that can cause blood and wound infections, pneumonia and meningitis.

Antimicrobial resistance is one of the most urgent health risks of our time. Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, Director-General, WHO

At the same time, around one million children die every year from pneumonia because of a lack of access to appropriate antibiotics, a tragedy that disproportionately affects low and middle-income countries.

“Antimicrobial resistance is one of the most urgent health risks of our time and threatens to undo a century of medical progress”, said WHO chief Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus in a statement calling on governments to adopt AWaRe.

“All countries must strike a balance between ensuring access to life-saving antibiotics and slowing drug resistance by reserving the use of some antibiotics for the hardest-to-treat infections.”

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Hate speech ‘on notice’ as UN chief launches new plan to ‘identify, prevent and confront’ growing scourge

INTERNATIONAL, 18 June 2019, Human Rights - United Nations Secretary-General António Guterres has declared war on hate speech, telling Member States on Tuesday, that we all need to “do better at looking out for each other”.

“Hate speech may have gained a foothold, but it is now on notice”, Mr. Guterres said, launching the UN Strategy and Plan of Action on Hate Speech. “We will never stop confronting it”.

While the strategy and action plan are new, it is also rooted in the need to respect the human rights of all, barring any discrimination.

In both liberal democracies and authoritarian regimes, some political leaders are bringing the hate-fueled ideas and language of these groups into the mainstream – UN chief

The UN Charter was drafted after the world had witnessed genocide on an industrial scale, when hate speech against Jews, culminated in the Holocaust. Almost 75 years on, Mr. Guterres reminded delegates gathered at UN Headquarters in New York, that “we are in danger of forgetting this lesson”.

“Around the world, we see a groundswell of xenophobia, racism and intolerance, violent misogyny, anti-Semitism and anti-Muslim hatred” he stated, noting that in some places, Christian communities were also being systematically attacked.

Moreover, “hateful and destructive views” are amplified “exponentially” through digital technology and extremists are gathering online, radicalizing new recruits, according to the UN chief.

“In both liberal democracies and authoritarian regimes, some political leaders are bringing the hate-fueled ideas and language of these groups into the mainstream, normalizing them, coarsening the public discourse and weakening the social fabric”, he spelled out. 

Hate speech not only attacks human rights norms and principles, it also undermines social cohesion, erodes shared values and lays the foundation for violence – setting back the cause of peace, stability, sustainable development and the fulfillment of human rights for all.

Mr. Guterres dubbed hate speech a “precursor” to the genocide in RwandaBosniaCambodia and recent mass-violence directed at places of worship, in Sri LankaNew Zealand and the United States.

Keep hate speech from escalating

The UN Strategy and Plan of Action provides a system-wide programme with the overriding objective of identifying, preventing and confronting hate speech, the Secretary-General said.

It targets “the root causes of hate speech, in line with my prevention vision”, he said, pointing out that these include tackling violence, marginalization, discrimination, and poverty, as well as bolstering weak state institutions.

While many of these are being addressed in the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development, the new strategy goes further by recommending a coordinated response, such as identifying users of hate speech.

Secondly, the strategy aims to enable the UN to respond to “the impact of hate speech on societies”, Mr. Guterres explained, including by bringing individuals and groups together who have opposing views; working with traditional and social media platforms; and developing communications guidance.

While digital technology has provided new areas for hate speech to thrive, the UN chief maintained that “it can also help to monitor activity, target our response and build support for counter-narratives”, such as in proposals made last week by his High-Level Panel on Digital Cooperation.

“Addressing hate speech should never be confused with suppressing freedom of expression”, he asserted, but instead keep it from “escalating into something more dangerous, particularly incitement to discrimination, hostility and violence”.

The Secretary-General urged everyone to treat hate speech “like any other malicious act: by condemning it unconditionally; refusing to amplify it; countering it with the truth; and encouraging the perpetrators to change their behavior”.  

Counter-narratives to ‘answer’ hate speech - Dieng

“Hate speech is a challenge from which no country is immune”, said Adama Dieng, Special Adviser on the Prevention of Genocide at the launch.

He elaborated that in line with the UN’s longstanding commitment to the protection, promotion and implementation of all international human rights standards, “the strategy and the plan of action never calls for restrictions of freedom of expression and opinion while addressing hate speech”. 

By contrast, “it adopts a holistic approach that aims at tackling the whole life cycle of hate speech, from its roots causes to its impact on societies”, he continued. 

Furthermore, Mr. Dieng said that the strategy considers “alternative, positive and counter-narratives” to be the “answer to hate speech”.

“We have no doubt” he emphasized that by implementing the strategy, we will “enhance the system-wide capacity to address hate speech”.

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300,000 flee flare-up of ethnic violence in north-eastern DR Congo

INTERNATIONAL, 18 June 2019, Peace and Security - More than 300,000 people have been forced to flee resurgent inter-ethnic violence in north-east Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC) just this month, the UN refugee agency, UNHCR, said on Tuesday.

Citing multiple attacks and counter-attacks between Hema herders and Lendu farmers, UNHCR spokesperson Babar Baloch told journalists in Geneva that the situation had worsened in recent days.

The development comes amid reports of intense fighting between the Congolese armed forces (FARDC) and non-state armed actors in Djugu territory, as the authorities attempt to bring the situation under control in the vast, resource-rich region.

“People are fleeing attacks and counter attacks in Djugu Territory, with reports of both communities forming self-defence groups and being involved in revenge killings”, Mr. Baloch said.

“The details we are receiving from our partners, and also some of the displaced”, he said, included reports of “brutalities against civilians, killings, sexual violence, and other extreme forms of violence against civilians”, noting that UNHCR’s warning is based on information received from sources in 125 locations.

Three of Ituri’s five administrative territories - Djugu, Mahagi and Irumu – have all seen mass displacement after self-defence militia reportedly carried out “revenge killings”, according to UNHCR.

Peacekeepers beef-up presence in trouble-spots

In response to fears that the situation could escalate further, the UN peacekeeping mission in DRC, which goes by the French acronym MONUSCO, has set up three temporary military bases in Djugu and Mahagi.

Teams have also been deployed to assess the situation and engage with communities and the authorities to help prevent more attacks.

Simmering rivalry between the Hema and Lendu goes back decades; in the five-year war which began in 1998, thousands were killed.

Then, as now, there is concern about the humanitarian situation in Bunia, the regional capital of Ituri, amid reports from UNHCR that those trying to reach the relative safety of sites there and surrounding the urban centre “are reportedly blocked by armed youth from both ethnic groups”, while others “are trying to cross Lake Albert into Uganda”.

To date, the majority of those forced to flee violence have found shelter with host communities, while some 30,000 people have arrived in displacement sites where conditions were already dire, with many needing shelter and health care, UNHCR’s Mr. Baloch said.

Mass displacement could complicate Ebola fight - WHO

In response to a journalist’s question as to whether the mass displacement risked complicating efforts to tackle the ongoing Ebola virus disease outbreak north-eastern DRC, World Health Organization (WHO) spokesperson Tarik Jasarevic said that the “mobility” of people in Ituri and neighbouring North Kivu was a “risk factor”.

He added: “Every time you have people moving in high numbers, it’s more complicated to work on follow-ups: contact-tracing, follow-ups on people basically who are supposed to be observed on a daily basis, or for 21 days” – the incubation period for the disease.

So far, DRC’s latest Ebola outbreak has claimed 1,449 lives and infected 2168 people since it was declared on 1 August last year, said Mr. Jasarevic.

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Solar power plant in Gaza, ‘an important step’

INTERNATIONAL (JUNE 17, 2019) - A newly installed solar power plant in the Gaza Strip, Occupied Palestinian Territory (OPT), will reduce Nasser Hospital’s reliance on donated fuel and, by providing life-saving interventions, help build resilience. This is according to the World Health Organization (WHO).

The power plant provides clean energy and is expected to save fuel, reduce CO2 emissions by 185 tons, and improve health services for an estimated 19,000 people per month.

“Interruptions in energy supply have created an enormous challenge for the health sector in Gaza, putting lives of the most vulnerable patients at risk,” said Gerald Rockenschaub, WHO head for the OPT. “The solar electrification of Nasser Hospital is an important step towards ensuring more sustainable power supply to health facilities”.

Chronic electricity shortages in Gaza have severely compromised basic health assistance and left the enclave reliant on backup generators to sustain critical life-saving services. Solar electricity can help decrease hospital’s dependence of on emergency generators.

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Billions globally lack ‘water, sanitation and hygiene’, new UN report spells out

INTERNATIONAL, 17 June 2019, Health - Some 2.2 billion people around the world do not have safely-managed drinking water, while 4.2 billion go without safe sanitation services and three billion lack basic handwashing facilities, according to a new report from the United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF) and the World Health Organization (WHO).

“Mere access is not enough” said UNICEF’s Kelly Ann Naylor, Associate Director of Water, Sanitation and Hygiene (WASH). “If the water isn’t clean, isn’t safe to drink or is far away, and if toilet access is unsafe or limited, then we’re not delivering for the world’s children”.

The Joint Monitoring Programme report, “Progress on drinking water, sanitation and hygiene: 2000-2017: Special focus on inequalities”, finds that while significant progress has been made toward achieving universal access to WASH, there are huge gaps in the quality of services provided.

“Children and their families in poor and rural communities are most at risk of being left behind”, Ms. Naylor said, urging Governments to “invest in their communities if we are going to bridge these economic and geographic divides and deliver this essential human right”.

The report reveals that since the turn of the century, 1.8 billion people have gained access to basic drinking water services, but vast inequalities in accessibility, availability and quality prevail.

Estimates show that 1-in-10 people still lack basic services, including 144 million individuals who drink untreated surface water. And the data illustrates that 8-in-10 people in rural areas lack access to these services.

“Countries must double their efforts on sanitation or we will not reach universal access by 2030,” said Maria Neira, WHODirector, Department of Public Health, Environmental and Social Determinants of Health.

“If countries fail to step up efforts on sanitation, safe water and hygiene, we will continue to live with diseases that should have been long ago consigned to the history books”, she spelled out. “Investing in water, sanitation and hygiene is cost-effective and good for society in so many ways”.

While open defecation has been halved since 2000, from 21 per cent to 9 per cent, 673 million people continue this practice in ‘high burden’ countries. Moreover, in 39 countries, the majority of which are in sub-Saharan Africa, the number of people openly defecating has increased.

The report also highlights new data showing that in 2017, three billion people lacked basic soap and water handwashing facilities at home, including nearly three quarters of those in the Least Developed Countries category.

Every year, 297,000 under-age-five children die from diarrhea linked to inadequate WASH. Poor sanitation and contaminated water also help transmit diseases, such as cholera, dysentery, hepatitis A, and typhoid.

“Closing inequality gaps in the accessibility, quality and availability of water, sanitation and hygiene should be at the heart of government funding and planning strategies”, Ms. Naylor stressed. “To relent on investment plans for universal coverage is to undermine decades worth of progress at the expense of coming generations”.   

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UN chief accepts independent report on Myanmar, highlighting ‘systemic’ failure surrounding Rohingya crisis

INTERNATIONAL, 17 June 2019, UN Affairs - An independent review into how the UN System operated in Myanmar in the years leading up to the mass exodus of the Rohingya following serious human rights abuses, has concluded there were “systemic and structural failures” that prevented a unified strategy from being implemented.

The report by former Guatemalan Foreign Affairs Minister, Gert Rosenthal, a former UN Ambassador and top executive at the UN’s Economic Commission for Latin America and the Caribbean (ECLAC), said that the UN System overall had been “relatively impotent to effectively work with the authorities of Myanmar, to reverse the negative trends in the areas of human rights, and consolidate the positive trends in other areas.”

The review, published on Monday, covers the period 2010-2018, encompassing the UN’s response to the systematic and brutal abuse of hundreds-of-thousands of mainly-Muslim Rohingya in Rakhine state, by the national army and security forces, which began in August 2017, described by the UN human rights chief at the time as a text book example of ethnic cleansing.

In his conclusions and recommendations, Mr. Rosenthal writes that responsibility for the grave abuses wrests mainly with the Government. But although the UN’s systematic failures are not down to any single entity or any individuals, “clearly there is a shared responsibility on the part of all parties involved in not having been able to accompany the Government’s political process with constructive actions, while at the same time conveying more forcefully the United Nations’ principled concerns regarding grave human rights violations”.

He also notes the UN Security Council should bear some responsibility, “by not providing enough support to the Secretariat, when such backing was and continues to be essential”.

Mr. Rosenthal said that the key lesson, was “to foster an environment encouraging different entities of the UN System to work together” to reinforce a “broader, system-wide strategy”.

The UN Spokespersons’ Office, reacting to the report, said that UN chief António Guterres was “grateful to Mr. Rosenthal for producing a candid, forthright and useful report. The entire report, including its conclusions and recommendations, has been transmitted to the Member States”.

Mr. Guterres said he was accepting the recommendations “and is committed to implementing them so as to improve the performance of the United Nations system. This review is valuable for the Resident Coordinator and the UN Country Team in Myanmar, as well as in other countries where the UN operates in similarly challenging conditions.”

The UN chief noted that no individual or agency was being singled out, and said it was useful for analyzing how the UN can work more effectively, “on the ground and possible lessons learned for the future.”

“The Secretary-General notes the report’s assessments are in line with the Secretary-General’s own efforts to put a greater emphasis on prevention, and also to improve the performance and accountability” of the UN at a country level, “by creating a new generation of UN country teams and more adapted structures at the headquarters level”, said the Office of the Spokesperson.  

Mr. Guterres indicated he would be following up to ensure that the recommendations are implemented.

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