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Measles cases nearly doubled in a year, UN health agency projects

INTERNATIONAL, 4 February 2019, Health - A projected near-doubling of measles infections has been identified amid rising severe and protracted outbreaks all over the planet, in poor and rich countries alike, the World Health Organization (WHO) said on Thursday.

The appeal to Member States to close gaps in vaccine coverage follows the previously announced news that an estimated 110,000 people died from the highly infectious but easily preventable disease in 2017.

“Measles is not going anywhere…It’s everyone’s responsibility,” said Dr. Katherine O’Brien, Director of Immunization, Vaccines and Biologicals at WHO. “For one person infected, up to nine or 10 people could catch the virus.”

In addition to being potentially fatal, measles symptoms include rashes, blindness and inflammation of the brain. The virus can be transmitted extremely easily, by coughing and sneezing, and it can also survive for hours in a droplet of water.

It knows no “geographical or political borders”, Dr. O’Brien said, noting nonetheless that since the year 2000, deaths from measles have fallen by over 80 per cent “probably saving around 21 million lives” in that period.

Disease burden in 2018 almost double previous 12-month tally

The WHO alert follows its announcement that as of mid-January this year, it had seen 229,068 reported cases of measles during 2018, in 183 Member States, which have until April to file data on the previous year’s disease burden.

This is almost double the 115,117 cases reported at the same point last year, and WHO’s concern is based on the fact that the final number of infections rose to 173,330.

“Due to reporting delays and outbreaks late in 2018, we expect that these numbers will increase, as they have done in previous years,” the agency said in a statement. 

Measles infections ‘increased in all regions’

By region in 2018, Africa saw 33,879 measles infections; of these, 4,391 were from Madagascar alone, where 922 deaths have been reported in an ongoing outbreak that began last October.

The Americas recorded nearly 17,000 cases of measles in 2018, the Eastern Mediterranean, just under 22,000. In Europe, there were 82,596 infections in 47 of 53 countries, ahead of South-East Asia (73,133) and the Western Pacific (23,607). 

To prevent outbreaks and eliminate measles, WHO urges countries to sustain high immunization coverage with two doses of measles vaccine, a regimen which has been administered to “billions” of children, Dr. O’Brien told journalists in Geneva.

“We’re backsliding on the progress that has been made, not because we don’t have the tools, but because we’re not vaccinating,” she insisted. 

Measles jab myth debunked

There is no association between autism and the measles jab; that myth has been debunked, Dr. O’Brien said, noting that the study that started the falsehood, was based on erroneous data.

Nonetheless, in recent years vaccine coverage has stalled, at 85 per cent. This is far short of the 95 per cent needed to prevent outbreaks and leaves many people susceptible to the disease. Second-dose coverage stands at 67 per cent.

Countries should also identify and address all communities that are under-immunized, advised Dr. Katrina Kretsinger, Medical Officer in the Expanded Programme on Immunization at WHO. 

“Some populations are more at risk than others” she said. “Children, migrants, refugees and poor populations.”

Although WHO is working in affected regions with ministries of health it won’t commit to a compulsory vaccination recommendation.

“It’s up to the countries to implement vaccination programmes,” Dr. Kretsinger suggested. “Some have made it mandatory for children to be vaccinated in order to attend school.”

Before the introduction of the measles vaccine in 1963, outbreaks and epidemics occurred every two to three years, causing an estimated 2.6 million deaths every year.

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Security Council condemns ‘heinous and cowardly’ attack in Ira

INTERNATIONAL, 14 February 2019, Peace and Security - The United Nations Security Council has condemned “in the strongest terms” Wednesday’s “heinous and cowardly” terrorist attack in south-east Iran’s Sistan-Baluchestan Province.

Council Members expressed their deepest sympathy and condolences to the Government and families of the 27 victims on Thursday and wished a “speedy and full recovery” to the 13 injured.

According to news reports, a suicide bomber targeted a bus carrying members of Iran’s Revolutionary Guard travelling on a road between two cities in the province, which straddles the border with Pakistan, where armed groups and drugs smugglers regularly operate. A car filled with explosives reportedly detonated alongside the bus.

Terrorism in all its forms and manifestations constitutes one of the most serious threats to international peace and security – UN Security Council

“Terrorism in all its forms and manifestations constitutes one of the most serious threats to international peace and security”, reaffirmed the Council, underlining the need to hold “perpetrators, organizers, financiers and sponsors of these reprehensible acts of terrorism accountable and bring them to justice.”

In this regard, they urged all States, in accordance with their obligations under international law and relevant Security Council resolutions, “to cooperate actively” with the Iranian Government in the aftermath of the attack, and all relevant authorities.

Terror attacks are not new to Sistan-Baluchistan. On 29 January three members of a bomb squad sent to investigate an explosion in the province capital of Zahedan were wounded when a second device detonated as they were trying to defuse it, according to news reports. In early December, two people were killed, and some 40 others wounded in the port city of Chabahar during an attack by foreign-backed terrorists.

“Any acts of terrorism are criminal and unjustifiable, regardless of their motivation, wherever, whenever and by whomsoever committed”, reiterated the Security Council members, reminding all States to combat “by all means”, in accordance with the UN Charter and other international law obligations – including international human rights law, international refugee law and international humanitarian law – threats to international peace and security caused by terrorist acts.

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UN chief hails victory of ‘political will’ in historic Republic of North Macedonia accord

INTERNATIONAL, 14 February 2019, UN Affairs - The UN-brokered agreement between Athens and Skopje to formally recognize the “Republic of North Macedonia”, is a welcome, “historical” step that should be supported by regional and international Member States, António Guterres has announced.

In a statement following on from the entry into force of the Prespa Agreement between the two countries on Tuesday, the UN Secretary-General confirmed that he had received official notification of the development, which settles a near 30-year dispute between the two neighbours.

Mr. Guterres congratulated the two sides and Prime Ministers Alexis Tsipras, of Greece, and Zoran Zaev, of North Macedonia,  “on their determination in creating a forward-looking vision for relations between the two countries and reconciliation in the Balkan region and beyond”.

He added that he was “deeply grateful” to the UN’s longest serving envoy Matthew Nimetz of the United States, for his “unwavering commitment and dedication” in pursuing the deal.

On Thursday afternoon,  the UN Protocol and Liaison Service announced the official switch over within the UN, from the former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia, to the new name of North Macedonia. The official long version of the name will be Republic of North Macedonia.

Name-change deal solves ‘seemingly intractable’ split 

The Prespa Agreement was signed by both countries on 17 June last year and ratified by their parliaments last month. It demonstrates that “even seemingly intractable issues can be resolved through dialogue and political will”, Mr. Guterres insisted.

Negotiations on the name dispute began in 1993 and have been led by the UN Secretary-General’s Personal Envoy Mr. Nimetz since 1999.

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UN agencies call for action to bolster rights of Europe’s stateless children

INTERNATIONAL, 14 February 2019, Human Rights - United Nations agencies are calling on States and regional organizations across Europe to take urgent action to ensure that thousands of currently stateless children are given the support and protection they deserve.  

With more than 500,000 people in Europe estimated to be unrecognized as a citizen of any country, the UN Refugee Agency (UNHCR) and the UN Children’s Fund (UNICEF) underscored that children without a nationality have limited access to basic rights and services, like education or healthcare, and can face life-long discrimination. 

“Life is stacked against a stateless child right from the start”, said UNHCR’s Europe Bureau Director Pascale Moreau, adding that legal obstacles often mean their dreams are “dashed before they are adults, and their potential squandered”.

As the overall number of asylum-seeking children in Europe has grown since 2010, so too has the number of children identified as stateless. In 2017 some 2,100 children were registered as such, representing a four-fold increase compared to seven years earlier. 

Basic rights and services, including education and healthcare, are denied to children without a nationality. Lacking official documents, they are also at greater risk of violence, trafficking and life-long discrimination. Moreover, along with their families, they are often exposed to arrest and detention.

“Every child has the right to a name and a nationality,” said UNICEF Regional Director and Special Coordinator for the Refugee and Migrant Response in Europe, Afshan Khan.

He underscored that Governments have a responsibility to adopt safeguards that prevent a child from being born stateless and “to provide legal aid and support to ensure every stateless child realizes their right to citizenship.”

The UN agencies said children born stateless are at a particular disadvantage, explaining that they cannot inherit their parents’ nationality due to gender discrimination and gaps in nationality laws. Children born in Europe whose births are not registered are another vulnerable group that includes minority populations, like the Roma.

And children from countries with known stateless populations who enter Europe as refugees and asylum-seekers are particularly defenseless.

While birth registration rates are high in Europe, UNHCR and UNICEF are pushing for information campaigns that target families most at risk, to help identify and register them.

Achieving legal identity for all through birth registration, is one of the goals of the 2030 Sustainable Development Agenda.

While UNICEF is working to ensure all children are registered at birth, UNHCR’s #IBelong Campaign aims to end Statelessness by 2024.

What solutions are there to help tackle statelessness?

  • Properly identify and protect every stateless refugee or migrant child upon arrival in Europe.
  • Simplify procedures for stateless children to acquire a nationality as soon as possible.
  • Adopt or amend legislation to include safeguards that grant nationality to all children born in a country who would otherwise be stateless.
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Rights of ‘gilets jaunes’ protesters in France, ‘disproportionately curtailed’, say UN independent experts

INTERNATIONAL, 14 February 2019, Human Rights - French protesters’ rights have been “disproportionately curtailed” during the wave of recent “gilet jaunes”, or yellow jacket demonstrations across the country over Government economic policies, said a group of independent UN human rights experts on Thursday.

The demonstrations were sparked nearly three months ago by President Emmanuel Macron’s introduction of fuel taxes, but quickly morphed into a more general revolt against austerity measures, and the political establishment in general, despite a Government climb-down over the tax.

“Since the start of the yellow vest protest movement in November 2018, we have received serious allegations of excessive use of force. More than 1,700 people have been injured as a result of the protests across the country”, the experts said.

It is very disturbing to note that despite weeks of demonstrations, the restrictions and tactics of managing rallies and the use of force have not improved - UN rights experts

“The restrictions on rights have also resulted in a high number of arrests and detentions, searches and confiscations of demonstrators' possessions, and serious injuries have been caused by a disproportionate use of so-called ‘non-lethal’ weapons like grenades and defensive bullets or ‘flashballs’,” they added.

The experts said that they were aware that some of the demonstrators themselves had resorted to violence, “but we fear that the disproportionate response to these excesses may deter the population from continuing to exercise its fundamental freedoms.”

It is very disturbing to note that despite weeks of demonstrations, the restrictions and tactics of managing rallies and the use of force have not improved,” the experts said.

They also expressed “deep concern” over a proposed law aimed at preventing  violence during demonstrations and to punish the perpetrators, pointing out that some of the provisions of this law are “not in line with the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, to which France is a Party.”

“The proposed administrative ban on demonstrations, the establishment of additional control measures and the imposition of heavy sanctions constitute severe restrictions on the right to freedom of peaceful assembly. These provisions can be applied arbitrarily and lead to extremely serious abuses,” the experts emphasized.

"We encourage France to rethink its law enforcement policies and encourage the French authorities to establish avenues for dialogue to reduce tension and to recognize the important and legitimate role that social movements play in governance,” the experts said.

The experts adding their names to the statement are Seong-Phil Hong Chair-Rapporteur of the Working Group on Arbitrary Detention; Michel ForstSpecial Rapporteur on the situation of human rights defenders;  and Clément Nyaletsossi Voule, Special Rapporteur on the rights to freedom of peaceful assembly and of association.

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Iraq: Security Council told ‘despair’ has ‘given way to hope’ but road to stability ‘long and far from easy’

INTERNATIONAL, 13 February 2019, Peace and Security - Despite some positive developments following years of brutal conflict, Iraq is gripped by political stalemate and a continued humanitarian crisis that is hampering the stabilization of the country, the head of the UN Assistance Mission in the country, (UNAMI), Jeanine Hennis-Plasschaert, told the Security Council on Wednesday.

Special Representative Hennis-Plasschaert started her first briefing to the UN body since taking up her post, by explaining that although a new Prime Minister-designate has been nominated, the Iraqi Government remains incomplete due to “fierce disagreements among political parties”, with four top positions still vacant, including the key portfolios of the Interior, Defense, and Justice ministries.

Moreover, multiple parliamentary sessions have been “adjourned, interrupted or boycotted” which has delayed substantive work from taking place.

Civilians continue to bear the brunt of the challenges

“The people of Iraq are bearing the brunt of the political stalemate… at a time when it is critical to address their needs and demands for better services,” she stressed, adding that further delays would have “significant repercussions” for “the stability of the country”.

She called on politicians in Baghdad “to overcome political infighting and to demonstrate that political compromise can prevail in the greater interest of the Iraqi people,” noting also that there are “excellent and experienced Iraqi women well-qualified to perform the job”.

The people of Iraq are bearing the brunt of the political stalemate - UNAMI chief Jeanine Hennis

Insecurity remains a major concern, as regular attacks by ISIL extremists – known in the Arab world as Da’esh – continue and as other armed groups are “expanding their economic and social control in Iraqi daily life”.

Ms. Hennis-Plasschaert called on the Iraqi Government to “take quick measures to reform its security sector and act resolutely against these groups and their activities.”

As a result of years of conflict, the international humanitarian effort to support Iraq remains critical. The 2019 Humanitarian Response Plan seeks $700 million to provide basic assistance to 1.75 million vulnerable Iraqis, including protection services, medical care, food support, explosive clearance, and longer-term recovery activities.

“While significant efforts are underway to reconstruct infrastructure and restore basic services it will take many years and billions of dollars to rebuild the country. And Iraq will undoubtedly need the continued attention of the international community to make this transition successful and sustainable,” the Special Representative said.

Positive developments

In her briefing Ms. Hennis-Plasschaert noted some recent positive developments such as the adoption of the federal budget for 2019 which includes important allocations for the delivery of basic services, and efforts made by the Government to combat corruption.

“The fight against corruption will not be an easy one, but it is a much needed one as corruption is vast and pervasive at all levels in Iraq. It is a much-needed fight in order to revive public-trust and to facilitate the provision of basic services,” she said.

Other highlights included a recent agreement between the Federal Government in Baghdad, and the Kurdistan Regional Government, based in Erbil, to unify custom duties. “This decision is an important step in reinforcing Iraq’s unity,” she explained adding that “a speedy implementation of this agreement should now be a priority for both sides”.

Priorities moving forward

The Independent High Electoral Commission (IHEC) has formally recommended that Provincial Council elections take place on 16 November, she said, noting that UNAMI “will continue to provide the technical assistance and support” IHEC needs. “However, in preparation for these elections a number of steps will need to be taken urgently by the Government of Iraq and the relevant institutions.”

She also highlighted as a priority the need for “a more consistent adherence to international standards of due process and fair trial.”

“An impartial and transparent process of judicial accountability – for the gross violations of human rights by ISIL – will prove crucial in rebuilding peaceful coexistence and social cohesion,” she insisted.

Closing her briefing, Ms. Hennis-Plasschaert said that “the atmosphere of despair during the period of ISIL occupation has given some way to hope and optimism for the future in Iraq. However, one cannot shy away from the fact that the road to well-deserved long-term stability will be long and far from easy”.

Noting that great determination, political will and national ownership will critical for success, she stated that support from the international community will continue to be “of paramount importance”.

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Top UN court rules it has jurisdiction to hear Iranian claim against US over frozen assets

INTERNATIONAL, 13 February 2019, Law and Crime Prevention - The International Court of Justice (ICJ) ruled on Wednesday that is has the jurisdiction to hear part of a case brought by Iran against the United States, aimed at unfreezing close to $2 billion in Iranian assets being held there.

The ruling opens the way for the court to now hear Iran’s case on its merits, which news reports suggest, given the complexity of the case, could take several years. Iran filed the case in 2016, based on the 1955 Treaty of Amity between the two nations, from which the US later unilaterally withdrew, in 2018.

The case revolved around assets seized from the Iranian national bank, Bank Markazi, which were taken by the US to compensate victims of a 1983 suicide bombing of a Marine Corps base in Beirut, Lebanon, which the US blames on Tehran. Iran denies involvement in the attack which killed more than 300, injuring many more, most of whom were US military personnel.

The US has argued that Iran’s claims to retrieving its assets based on the Treaty of Amity, were now void, following the US decision to withdraw.

In an 11-4 majority ruling on Wednesday, the ICJ upheld one of five US objections, in this instance to the Court’s jurisdiction, based on Iran’s assertion of State immunity, but the judges unanimously rejected the US argument that measures freezing Iranian assets fell outside the scope of the treaty.

The judges also unanimously rejected the US claim that the case was an abuse of process, and that it should be thrown out due to Tehran’s “unclean hands”, the US having cited Iran’s alleged sponsorship of terrorism and alleged ambitions to develop nuclear weapons.

ICJ President Abdulqawi Yusuf, reading the ruling, said that the panel “unanimously finds that it has jurisdiction…to rule on the application filed by the Islamic Republic of Iran on 14 June 2016.”

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‘New tech’ business model threatens decent work conditions, warns UN

INTERNATIONAL, 13 February 2019, Economic Development - Unemployment is down globally but workers’ conditions have not improved, the UN said on Wednesday, warning that some businesses driven by new technology “threaten to undermine” hard-won social gains of recent decades.

According to the International Labour Organization (ILO), most of the 3.3 billion people employed worldwide in 2018 did not enjoy adequate levels of economic security, and lacked sufficient material well-being as well as too few opportunities for advancement.

In total, 172 million people were jobless last year – one in 20 individuals of working age - ILO’s Trends in Global Employment 2019 report shows.

This unemployment rate, which has only just returned to levels last seen before the 2008-9 financial crisis, is not expected to change this year or next, assuming stable global economic conditions; although current uncertainty is “already having a negative effect on the labour market” in upper middle-income countries, it says.

Nonetheless, “being in employment does not always guarantee a decent living,” said Damian Grimshaw, ILO Director of Research. “A full 700 million people are living in extreme or moderate poverty despite having employment.”

Fewer working-poor…in middle-income countries

On a positive note, the ILO report highlights that working poverty has decreased in middle-income countries over the past three decades, although poorer nations are likely to see a rise in the number of working poor.

This is because the pace of poverty reduction is not expected to keep up with employment growth in these emerging economies, despite China’s major contribution in reducing the working poor levels as a result of strong economic growth since 1993.

The ILO data also shows that 360 million people in 2018 worked in a family business and 1.1 billion worked for themselves - often in subsistence activities because of an absence of job opportunities in the formal sector and/or the lack of a social protection system.

Workers ‘unable to find more work or too discouraged to look’

Linked to the challenge of bringing down unemployment, the UN report identifies a lack of opportunity for those who want to work.

This includes those who would like to make the jump from part-time to full-time work and the long-term jobless, who become so discouraged that they stop looking.

Taken together, poor workplace conditions, unemployment and gender inequality have contributed to slower-than-anticipated progress in achieving the key development goal of sustainable work for all, as set out in the 2030 Agenda.

Under 48 per cent of women work, versus 75 per cent of men

Among the most striking labour issues in the report is the continued lack of progress made in closing the gender gap at work, with less than 50 per cent of women in the labour force in 2018, compared with three quarters of men.

This problem is universal, ILO maintains, although the gender gap is widest in the Arab States, Northern Africa and Southern Asia.

Another challenge is the size of the informal sector - a “staggering” two billion workers, or 61 per cent of the world’s workforce. “Informal employment is the reality for the majority of workers worldwide,” ILO notes.

Also of concern is the fact that more than one in five people under 25 years old are not in employment, education or training; part of 15 per cent decline between 1993 and 2018 that is set to continue.

Innovative technology threatens to undermine rights at work

Noting how a country’s level of development is linked to the availability of reasonably paid work or adequate welfare protection for those who need it, the report cautions that these and other labour market achievements “are still elusive” for many.

“Securing these gains is therefore a major challenge that policy-makers must face up to,” the ILO WESO report insists, noting also that innovative technologies “threaten to undermine” these labour market achievements and others, such as job security, collective bargaining and compliance with labour standards and rights at work.

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Radio still a powerful worldwide tool for ‘dialogue, tolerance and peace’: Guterres

INTERNATIONAL, 13 February 2019, UN Affairs - Radio is a powerful tool that continues to promote “dialogue, tolerance and peace,” United Nations Secretary-General António Guterres said in message on Thursday, marking World Radio Day.

“Even in today’s world of digital communications, radio reaches more people than any other media platform” explained the UN chief, adding that it “conveys vital information and raises awareness on important issues”.

“And it is a personal, interactive platform where people can air their views, concerns, and grievances” he added, noting that radio “can create a community”.

UN Radio was established on 13 February 1946, and since 2013, the day has been commemorated to recognize radio as a powerful communication tool and a low-cost medium.

“For the United Nations, especially our peacekeeping operations, radio is a vital way of informing, reuniting and empowering people affected by war”, said Mr. Guterres.

UNESCO
Radio brings together people and communities from all backgrounds to foster positive dialogue for change. 

Despite the rise of the internet, many parts of the world, especially remote and vulnerable communities, have no access, making radio broadcasting via transmitters, a vital lifeline. Joining a community of local listeners, also provides a platform for public discussion, irrespective of education levels.

Moreover, it has a strong and specific role in emergency communication and disaster relief.

“On this World Radio Day, let us recognize the power of radio to promote dialogue, tolerance and peace”, concluded the Secretary-General.

Radio still sparking ‘new conversations’

The UN Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) underscored “the unique, far-reaching power of radio to broaden our horizons and build more harmonious societies”.

“Radio stations from major international networks to community broadcasters today remember the importance of radio in stimulating public debate, increasing civic engagement and inspiring mutual understanding”, UNESCO Director-General Audrey Azoulay said in her message.

Since its invention as the first wireless communication medium well over a hundred years ago, “radio has sparked new conversations and broadcast new ideas into people’s homes, villages, universities, hospitals and workplaces,” she continued. “To this day, dialogue across the airwaves can offer an antidote to the negativity that sometimes seem to predominate online, which is why UNESCO works across the world to improve the plurality and diversity of radio stations”.

The UNESCO chief pointed out that radio has adapted to 21st century changes and offers new ways to participate in conversations that matter, retaining its role as “one of the most reactive, engaging media there is”, especially for the most disadvantaged.

For example, she flagged that rural women constitute one of the most under-represented groups in the media and are twice as likely as men to be illiterate, “so radio can be a critical lifeline to express themselves and access information”.

Ms. Azoulay made clear that “UNESCO provides support to radio stations in sub-Saharan Africa that enable women to participate in public debate, including on often-neglected issues such as forced marriage, girls’ education or childcare”.

Linguistic diversity, and people’s right to express themselves on-air in their own languages, is also crucial – especially true in 2019 which has been designated by the International Year of Indigenous Languages by the UN.“In former conflict zones, radio can dispel fear and present the human face of former foes”, she elaborated, citing North-West Colombia where community radios are healing old wounds “by highlighting the good deeds of demobilized combatants, such as clearing polluted waterways”.

Around the world, the “inclusion of diverse populations makes societies more resilient, more open and more peaceful”, Ms. Azoulay spelled out.

“The challenges we face – whether they be climate change, conflict or the rise in divisive views – increasingly depend on our ability to speak to each other and find common solutions”, she concluded.

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Civilians ‘continue to pay highest price’ in Ukraine conflict, with peace prospects losing ‘momentum’

INTERNATIONAL, 12 February 2019, Peace and Security - “Civilians continue to pay the highest price” arising from Ukraine’s on-going conflict with separatist rebels in the east, the UN Deputy Emergency Relief Coordinator told the Security Council on Tuesday, a conflict which is still claiming lives.

 “More than 3,300 civilians have been killed, and up to 9,000 injured since the conflict began in 2014,” Ursula Mueller, Assistant Secretary-General for Humanitarian Affairs, told Council Members, adding that 1.5 million have been internally displaced.

In 2019, she said, 3.5 million people will need humanitarian assistance and protection services, “many of whom are elderly, women and children”.

The impact of the conflict has destroyed livelihoods, exhausted limited resources and damaged infrastructure, “compounding people’s struggle”.

“The parties to the conflict must take all feasible precautions to avoid, and in any event minimize, civilian harm” she stressed. “International humanitarian law must be upheld to protect civilians and critical civilian infrastructure, at all times, everywhere and by all parties”.

Ms. Mueller painted a picture along the contact line which divides Government forces from separatist militia, of “shelling, sniper-fire and landmines” constituting “a daily reality for millions.”

“We have not forgotten you. We will continue to do everything we can to alleviate your daily suffering, and to call for lasting peace”, she said, concluding her briefing on the humanitarian situation.

‘Largely unimplemented’ Minsk Agreements

Miroslav Jenca, Assistant Secretary-General for Europe, Central Asia and the Americas for the Departments of Political and Peacebuilding Affairs and Peace Operations, briefs the Security Council on the situation in Ukraine., by UN Photo/Cia Pak

Briefing on the latest moves towards implementing the only “agreed framework” for halting the guns in eastern Ukraine, known as the Minsk Agreements, Miroslav Jenča, Assistant Secretary-General for Political and Peacebuilding Affairs, told the Council that “negotiations appear to have lost momentum, with the main stakeholders either unable and, or unwilling to reach an agreement on the key steps forward or being distracted from focusing on the implementation of agreed steps”.

The February 2015 Minsk Agreements, agreed by the leaders of Russia, Ukraine, France and Germany, set out the necessary steps to restore peace to Eastern Ukraine.

Mr. Jenka recalled the Council’s June 2018 Presidential statement unanimously reaffirming the centrality of the Minsk Agreements, noting that it remains, four years later, “largely unimplemented”.

Emphasizing the stalled progress, he called on all parties to “fully implement the Measures, including a much-needed comprehensive and lasting ceasefire”.

As consistently highlighted over the past years, the conflict in eastern Ukraine is “neither dormant, nor frozen” said Mr. Jenča, but it “continues to claim victims”.

Pointing out that another round of discussions will be taking place in the capital of Belarus this week convened by the Trilateral Contact Group – representatives from Ukraine, the Russian Federation, and the Organization for Security and Co-operation in Europe (OSCE) – he spelled out “the UN’s sincere hope and expectation” for tangible outcomes.

“There is an urgent need to agree on the additional measures that would make the ceasefire sustainable and irreversible”, Mr. Jenča emphasized.

He said that the parties’ withdrawal of heavy weapons from populated areas, disengagement of forces and protection of critical civilian infrastructure needed to be a “priority”.

“Over half a million people are living within five kilometres of the contact line and they are the most exposed to periodic shelling, gunfire, landmines and unexploded ordnance” he said, adding that the area around the contact line remains “among the most mine-contaminated areas in the world”.

Noting that the conflict will soon be entering its sixth year, he called it “an active threat to international peace and security”.

“The conflict in Ukraine is first and foremost tragically affecting the Ukrainian people” he said, but it also “continues to test the credibility of international and regional organizations”.

He urged Member States to work together in the interest of regional stability. “We urge all parties to demonstrate the necessary political will to ensure the earliest possible end to the conflict and help bring about peace and stability in all of Ukraine”, concluded Mr. Jenča.

Speaking via video conference from Minsk, Belarus, Martin Sajdik Special Representative of the Chairperson-in-Office of the OSCE cited some positive developments, including water deliveries and infrastructure repairs; and encouraging efforts in maintaining mobile communications, telecommunications, which are “especially vital for the elderly to receive pensions in government-controlled territory”.

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