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More than four in 10 women, live in fear of refusing partner’s sexual demands, new UN global study finds

INTERNATIONAL, 10 April 2019, Women - More than four in 10 women in 51 countries surveyed, feel they have no choice but to agree to their partner’s sexual demands, the UN sexual and reproductive health agency, UNFPA, said on Wednesday, noting that they are also unable to make basic decisions about getting pregnant and accessing health care for themselves. 

Monica Ferro, Director of UNFPA Geneva, said the figures were “worrisome” and it was essential to raise the level of consent and access to vital health services, for millions of women around the world. “Don’t forget: each one of these numbers is a person”, she added. 

The findings, relating to women aged 15-49, are being published for the first time, as part of UNFPA’s State of World Population 2019 report

800 a day die from preventable causes related to childbirth 

The report shows that an estimated 214 million women cannot easily access contraceptives because of cultural and economic obstacles - despite their increasing availability - while more than 800 women die every day from preventable causes during pregnancy and childbirth. 

According to the analysis, the absence of reproductive and sexual rights has a major and negative repercussions on women’s education, income and safety, leaving them “unable to shape their own futures”. 

Those women and girls left behind “are typically poor, rural and less educated”, Ms. Ferro said, adding that “two-thirds of all maternal deaths today occur in sub-Saharan Africa”. 

In addition to the rural and urban poor, unmet needs for sexual and reproductive health services are also highest in marginalized groups – including minority ethnic groups – young people, unmarried people, LGBTI (Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender and Intersex) individuals and those with disabilities. 

The blight of early marriage 

Early marriage continues to present a major cultural obstacle to female empowerment and better reproductive rights, the UNFPA report suggests. 

“A girl who marries when she is 10 will probably leave school,” Ms. Ferro said. “And because she leaves school, she won’t get the negotiating skills, and she won’t get the specific skills which will allow her to then get a better-paid job.” 

In addition to economic concerns, girls who marry early face serious health risks too, added the senior official: “If she is married at 10, the probability is, that she will start child-bearing before her body is even ready for that, not to talk about her mind...This will also increase the possibilities of her going through complications in pregnancy, and complications in childbirth.” 

‘Staggering’ rise in sexually-transmitted infections 

Additional health risks caused by barriers that block women’s access to contraception also include a “staggering” 376 million new infections of chlamydia, gonorrhoea or syphilis every day, among people between the ages of 15 and 44, the UNFPA Geneva Director added. 

Despite these concerns, the UNFPA report highlights that “untold millions” have enjoyed healthier and more productive lives in the 50 years since the agency was founded, thanks to pressure from civil society and governments to dramatically reduce unintended pregnancies and maternal deaths. 

Highlighting positive changes in the last half-century, the report shows that in 1969, the average number of births per woman was 4.8, compared with 2.9 in 1994, and 2.5 today. 

Fertility rates in least-developed countries have dropped significantly in that time too; from 6.8 in 1969, to 5.6 in 1994 and 3.9 in 2019, while the number of women who died from pregnancy-related causes has decreased from 369 per 100,000 births in 1994, to 216 in 2015. 

In addition, while 24 per cent of women used modern contraceptives in 1969, that percentage increased to 52 per cent in 1994 and 58 per cent in 2019, UNFPA says. 

Conflict and climate disasters leave reproductive rights forgotten 

Looking ahead to future challenges, the UN agency highlights the threat to women’s and girls’ reproductive rights posed by emergencies caused by conflict or climate disasters. 

Without access, (women) lack the power to make decisions about their own bodies, including whether or when to become pregnant - UNFPA chief, Natalia Kanem

Some 35 million women, girls and young people will need life-saving sexual and reproductive health services this year, as well as services to address gender-based violence, in humanitarian settings, it warns. 

“Every day, more than 500 women and girls including in countries with emergency settings, die during pregnancy and childbirth, due to the absence of skilled birth attendants or emergency obstetric procedures,” Ms. Ferro said. 

Warning that women and girls left without decent reproductive rights are unable to have the future they want, UNFPA Executive Director Dr. Natalia Kanem called on world leaders to “re-commit” to ensuring sexual and reproductive health and rights for all – a pledge made at the 1994 International Conference on Population and Development (ICPD) in Cairo. 

“Without access, they lack the power to make decisions about their own bodies, including whether or when to become pregnant,” Dr. Kanem insisted. 

At that meeting in Egypt, 179 governments called for all people to have access to comprehensive reproductive health care, including voluntary family planning, and safe pregnancy and childbirth services. 

“I call on world leaders to re-commit to the promises made in Cairo 25 years ago”, said Dr. Kanem. “The world will have a historic opportunity to complete the unfinished business of the ICPD at the Nairobi Summit on ICPD25 to be held in Kenya in November, where Governments, activists and stakeholders will rally to protect the gains made so far, and fulfill the promise of the ICPD agenda, so that no one is left behind.” 

50 million 10-year-old girls ‘forced to trade sexuality and fertility’ 

Echoing that appeal, Judith Bruce, one of 15 “champions of change” featured in the report for their positive influence in sexual and reproductive health and rights, called for the UN’s 2030 Agenda of Sustainable Development Goals to be used to drive investment to places where child marriage, sexual coercion and poverty overlap. 

Some 50 million 10-year-old girls in the world’s poorest countries face growing pressures “to trade sexuality and fertility” in the face of “increasing climate emergencies, conflict, displacement, scarcity and stress”, Ms. Bruce insisted. 

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Mexico cannot move forward ‘without addressing the shadows of the past’, says UN rights chief

INTERNATIONAL, 10 April 2019, Human Rights - Concluding “five intense, interesting and rewarding working days” in Mexico, the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights said on Wednesday that the country was going through a “crucial” period where it needed to reckon with “the shadows of the past”, before it can move forward.

Recalling enforced disappearances, clandestine graves, tortured detainees and other human rights violations, Michelle Bachelet said in a statement she delivered in the capital, Mexico City, that she was heartened the new Government of President Andrés Manuel López Obrador, had committed as a “State responsibility” to “search for the disappeared and establish truth and justice for the families and victims”.

“My Office will be an ally that will not hesitate to assist in the investigations”, she affirmed. “We will acknowledge when authorities fulfil their commitments to the families of the victims, and we will also point out any lack of progress in the case”.

Recognizing that disappearances continue, Ms. Bachelet said that “adequate mechanisms” must be put into place, such as a truth commission “to guarantee the establishment of the truth for the victims and for society in general”.

‘The wounds that are not clean, will not heal’

Throughout her visit, she met with families of disappeared children, government officials and many others, noting that more than 40,000 Mexicans have officially disappeared – a quarter of them women and girls – and 26,000 unidentified bodies registered, along with 850 unmarked graves. “These figures are deeply disturbing” Ms. Bachelet noted.

Michelle Bachelet, United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights, at UN Headquarters in New York on 27 September 2018., by UN Photo/Manuel Elias

“The search for truth is closely related to the search for justice. The wounds that are not clean, will not heal,” she declared. “The open wounds of the past, and those that persist in the present, demand truth, justice, reparation and guarantees of non-repetition. Healing will not come automatically; it will be the result of concrete actions and policies. Change and results are needed and possible.

Ms. Bachelet lauded President Obrador’s willingness “to put human rights at the centre of his Government”.

“I recognize his determination and express my readiness and that of my Office in Mexico to support this important policy change”, she stated.

She pointed out that even before assuming office, the Government had invited her to visit, and that she had done so at the very beginning of the President’s mandate, calling the move “an openness to strengthen cooperation with international organizations” to foster a society that respects human rights.

“The first steps in this direction are fundamental”, she stressed, saying that “the Government has acknowledged the State’s responsibility for serious and widespread human rights violations, and has apologized” for decades of infractions.

“More importantly”, she continued, “it has taken some steps to unveil the truth, provide justice, give reparations to victims and guarantee the non-repetition of these violations”.

Highlighting the emblematic Ayotzinapa case, where 43 students of a teaching school disappeared, their alleged murder subsequently covered up amidst corruption and mismanagement allegations, the UN rights chief said the Government and her team would collaborate and finally unearth the full truth.

“My Office will be an ally that will not hesitate to assist in the investigations,” she said. “We will acknowledge when authorities fulfil their commitments to the families of the victims, and we will also point out any lack of progress in the case.”

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‘A trusted voice’ for social justice: Guterres celebrates 100 years of the International Labour Organization

INTERNATIONAL, 10 April 2019, Human Rights - The International Labour Organization (ILO) has been “a trusted voice” to “ensure social justice in every corner of our world”, Secretary-General António Guterres said on Wednesday, at a high-level meeting to commemorate the centenary of what was the first ever United Nations agency.

The ILO was born out of the rubble of the First World War, as the victors met to draw up the Treaty of Versailles, where they affirmed the need for social justice in the service of a “universal and lasting peace”.

The UN chief painted a picture of a time of upheaval, when newly-emboldened labour unions in many parts of the world, demanded fair treatment, dignity at work, adequate wages and an eight-hour working day.

“The nations of the world knew they must cooperate to make it happen”, Mr. Guterres said, adding that despite being the oldest UN family member, “ILO remains to this day one of the most unique gathering spaces in the international system”, as well as “a source of strength and legitimacy”, where workers, employers and governments can seek solutions through dialogue.

“Through conflict and peace, democracy and dictatorship, decolonization and the Cold War, globalization and turbulence”, Mr. Guterres said that ILO has had its “finger on the pulse on people’s concerns”, and “played a central role in the struggle for social progress”.

Noting that now is “a time of profound uncertainty, disruption and technological transformation”, Mr. Guterres warned that “tremendous” labour market disruption lies ahead. 

“Even the concept of work will change – and the relationship between work, leisure and other occupations” he continued. “We are not yet prepared for that”. 

Since the digital economy operates in a world without borders, he stressed that “more than ever”, international institutions “must play a vital role in shaping the future of work we want”.

“Let us make the most of this pivotal anniversary to renew our collective commitment to international cooperation, peace and social justice”, concluded the Secretary-General.

ILO’s ‘transformative impact’ on society

General Assembly President María Fernanda Espinosa commended ILO for its many “firsts”, including “the need to give workers a stake in decision-making that matches their essential contribution to lasting peace and prosperity”.

“So, it is fitting that the General Assembly – the most representative body of the United Nations – celebrates the transformative impact of the ILO on the fabric of our societies, and on our daily lives” she said.

Citing decent work as one of her own priorities, she affirmed that it makes the UN “more relevant to people”, by demonstrating the “everyday impact of international agreements like the 2030 Agenda, and multilateral bodies like the ILO”.

Acknowledging ILO’s more than 180 conventions and implementation programmes “on everything from gender equality to forced labour”, she lamented that “injustice is still a reality for millions of people”, higlighting the predicament of child workers, forced labourers and those trafficked into prostitution.

“Over 40 million people today are victims of modern forms of slavery – more than twice the number involved in the transatlantic slave trade”, she said, commenting that 190 million people are unemployed; 300 million are working poor; and some two billion are engaged in informal work, “often without social protections”.

‘A time to reflect’ on ILO

Dubbing ILO “the most positive and enduring product of the Treaty of Versailles”, the Organization’s Director-General Guy Ryder called it “the first step in the construction of the multilateral system, and a forebearer of today's United Nations”.

ILO Director-General, Guy Ryder, addresses guests at a luncheon for ILO's 100 year anniversary., by UN Photo/Evan Schneider

“It was empowered to negotiate and supervise the global rules of labour and to do so by the joint action of governments, workers and employers” he explained.

“ILO's journey has not always been a straight path” he admitted. “From the outset the Organization has been tested by the turbulence of history and the economic and social realities of its times”.

“More than a cause of celebration, the Centenary that we commemorate today is a time to reflect on our purpose, and on the course we chart for the future”, he stated.

Noting “great uncertainty” surrounding multilateralism and “widespread disillusion” regarding social and economic progress, he said that “many citizens doubt the capacity of the leaders and institutions” to respond to their needs.

Mr. Ryder saw the first 100 years as “a prelude to the future we construct together now”, urging everyone to “set about that task with the same courage and urgency, and moved by the same sentiments of social justice and humanity which first gave life to the ILO”.

“History tells us what we can achieve”, he said. “But it also tells us what the cost of our failures would be”.

As part of the commemoration, a 24-hour marathon of events from Fiji to Philadelphia, is planned across the globe.

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Libyan national conference postponed, nearly 500,000 children at ‘direct risk’ from fighting around Tripoli

INTERNATIONAL, 9 April 2019, Peace and Security - An imminent UN-led Libyan conference seeking to set up elections for the war-ravaged, oil-rich country has been postponed because of ongoing clashes near the capital, the top United Nations official in the country said on Tuesday.

Ghassan Salamé, Special Representative of the UN Secretary-General and Head of the UN Support Mission in Libya (UNSMIL), made the announcement after condemning Monday’s attack by the self-styled Libyan National Army’s (LNA) aircraft against Meitiga airport, Tripoli’s only functioning terminal that is available for civilian use.

The conference was hoping to reach agreement among the various political factions after months of UN-led discussions at a local level nationwide, towards democratic elections which would unify the country and lead to way to economic recovery.

The development follows concerns voiced by the UN human rights chief, Michelle Bachelet, that attacks against civilians and civilian infrastructure in recent days, may amount to war crimes, including those by LNA commander Khalifa Haftar.

Airport attack may have been indiscriminate

“Khalifa Haftar’s people are saying that they bombed it because there was a military target,” said Ravina Shamdasani, spokesperson for the High Commissioner’s office, OHCHR. “Now even if this is a military target, all feasible precautions need to be taken to minimize the incidental loss of civilian lives, to refrain from indiscriminate attacks. We have reports that the weapons that were used are not…the latest technology; that they may, in effect, have been indiscriminate.”

The spiralling violence comes after years of instability that have followed the overthrow of President Muammar Gaddafi in 2011, with the internationally-recognized and Tripoli-based Government of National Accord now, in effect, under assault from eastern Libyan military commander Khalifa Haftar’s forces.

More than 3,400 people have fled fighting near Tripoli in recent days, the UN has warned, in addition to “47 dead and 181 wounded” in the last three days, spokesperson for the World Health Organization (WHO), spokesperson Tarik Jasarevic said.

“The current clashes are burdening the already overloaded health system with frequent supply chain breaks,” Mr. Jasarevic explained, noting that as Libya’s year-old conflict “has dragged on, hundreds of primary healthcare centres and more than 20 of its hospitals have been damaged or closed”.

In addition to overstretched health services, the WHO spokesperson noted that one of two doctors killed at the weekend “was reportedly killed while working as part of a field ambulance service”.

Detained migrants and refugees ‘could be used as human shields’

Meanwhile, amid reports of clashes involving heavy artillery in residential areas of Tripoli, the UN human rights office, OHCHR, reiterated its fears for the safety of migrants and refugees held in detention centres.

“What we are concerned about is that these vulnerable migrants may be caught in the crossfire, especially when armed groups involved in the conflict, exercise influence or control over the detention facilities, these ad hoc detention facilities for migrants,” said Ms. Shamdasani. “Based on previous experience with Libya, we are also concerned that migrants may be used as human shields, or forcefully recruited to fight as well.”

Those concerns were echoed by the UN Refugee Agency, UNHCR, whose spokesperson Babar Baloch, said that staff had been in contact with anxious detainees, who number 5,700 in official detention centres.

“We have spoken to refugees in detention centres who tell us they can hear the clashes, and many are really scared,” he said. “We are asking, advocating for the release of all migrants and refugees from detention and … seeking a guarantee for the safety of refugees and migrants as well.”

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UN’s Grandi slams ‘toxic language of politics’ aimed at refugees migrants

INTERNATIONAL, 9 April 2019, Migrants and Refugees - In a heartfelt briefing to the Security Council on Tuesday, Filippo Grandi, United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees, has said that, during his three and a half decades as an international civil servant, he has “never seen such toxicity, such poisonous language in politics, media and social media,” directed towards refugees, migrants and foreigners.

At times - pointing his finger at Security Council members for emphasis - an animated Mr. Grandi said that the stigmatization of refugees and migrants is “unprecedented,” and that traditional responses to refugee crises appear increasingly inadequate.

A refugee crisis…but for whom?

Dissecting the term “refugee crisis” itself, Mr. Grandi asked the Security Council to consider to whom, exactly, that applied: “It is a crisis for a mother with her children fleeing gang violence; it is a crisis for a teenager who wants to flee from war, human rights violations, forced conscription; it is crisis for governments in countries with few resources that, every day, open their borders to thousands. For them, it is a crisis.”

UN Photo/Evan Schneider
The United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees, Filippo Grandi, briefs the Security Council. (9 April 2019)

But it is wrong, he continued, to portray the situation as an unmanageable global crisis: with political will and improved responses, as enshrined by the Global Compact for Refugees, adopted last December, it can be addressed, and the Security Council has a critical role to play, particularly in terms of solving peace and security crises, supporting countries that are hosting refugees, and working to remove obstacles to solutions.

Without conflict, most refugee flows would disappear

Conflicts, Mr. Grandi pointed out, are the main drivers of refugee flows: of the nearly 70 million people that are displaced, most are escaping deadly fighting. However, from the point of view of the UN High Commission for Refugees (UNHCR), approaches to peace-building are fragmented; addressing the symptoms, rather than the causes.

The UN refugee chief cited the example of Libya – where UNHCR, along with the International Organization for Migration (IOM), has been working with displaced Libyans, as well as those who have fled conflicts in other countries.

The security conditions, said Mr. Grandi, are “at breaking point”: on Tuesday, the Agency relocated more than 150 refugees from an area heavily impacted by military clashes, the first such relocation since the recent escalation of violence. UNHCR’s view is that conditions in the fractured nation are not safe for rescued or intercepted refugees and migrants, and that these people should not be returned there.

With several staff removed from the country for safety reasons, the Agency’s work is “very, very difficult and dangerous.” The Security Council must, he said, take unified action to end the current military escalation, issue a strong call to spare civilians, including refugees and migrants trapped in the country, and take steps to address the causes of conflict, a necessity if further violence and subsequent displacement, is to be avoided.

The use of the Libyan coastguard was dismissed by Mr. Grandi as an ineffective rescue service, and he condemned the “horrific, unacceptable” conditions for refugees and migrants held in detention camps.

The UN refugee chief went on to exhort the Security council to step up support for the developing countries that host 85 per cent of the world’s refugees, to avoid leaving governments politically exposed, and refugees destitute.

With regards to the return of refugees and migrants to their countries of origin, Mr. Grandi countered the misconception that UNHCR blocks returns: refugees have both a right to return, and also a right to not return, he said, in the absence of security and basic support. The informed choice of refugees must be respected, and returns must be dignified.

Mr. Grandi concluded by returning to the consequences of the toxic language surrounding refugees and migration, citing the example of the recent mosque shootings in Christchurch, New Zealand in March, which left 49 dead.

The response of the New Zealand Government should, he said, be seen as an good example of effective leadership and how to respond to such toxicity, in a firm and organized manner, restating solidarity with refugees, and reaffirming the principle that our societies cannot be truly prosperous, stable and peaceful, if they do not include everyone.

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Mozambique’s Beira city ‘returning to life’, elsewhere UN teams assess damage, deliver assistance

INTERNATIONAL, 9 April 2019, Humanitarian Aid - Nearly one month after Cyclone Idai slammed into the southeast African coast, the streets of Mozambique’s busy port city of Beira are “returning to life” as the search for survivors continues throughout neighbouring Zimbabwe, the International Organization for Migration (IOM) said on Tuesday. 
According to IOM, freighters and other heavy vessels are once again plying the shipping lanes along Beira’s waterfront, while beachfront bistros attracted enough business last weekend, to cause traffic jams.   

“The challenge now is shifting to the outlying countryside”, IOM said, pointing to Beira’s Buzi River district in the southwest, which was only accessible by helicopter until last week.    

As of Monday, the 14 March disaster has left 602 dead in Mozambique. 

Stating that it would begin sending damage-assessment teams there this week, IOM painted a picture of searchers driving for hours “on mostly dirt roads”, staying “several days at a time in rural villages”. 

Meanwhile, IOM’s Displacement Tracking Matrix teams have been working through the forested areas of Manica and Macate provinces, assessing the needs of internally displaced people living in temporary shelters.  

Back in Beira, schools are beginning to relocate the internally-displaced families who sheltered in classrooms?? during the first hours of the cyclone.     

Last weekend, 50 families were relocated from the Matadouro school to the Sao Pedro emergency camp on the outskirts of the city, which IOM recently prepared with the assistance of military firefighters sent by the Brazilian Armed Forces.     

On Monday, IOM helped set up a much larger settlement closer to the centre of Beira, on the grounds of the Samora Machel secondary school, by assisting in installing a flexible reservoir that holds 30,000 liters of potable water.    

“My colleagues and I are working early morning until evening, seven days a week to help bring water to affected communities”, Antonio, a government installer, told IOM. 

“I was displaced to Malawi, so I know very well how difficult it is to be displaced,” he explained, referring to his forced fleeing home during recent conflict. “While I was in Malawi I volunteered and worked with the Red Cross. It feels really good to be able to help.”    

‘Stop cholera in its tracks’ 

Some 2,772 cases of cholera have been reported, with six people succumbing to the disease. Thousands of people have received oral cholera vaccine during a six-day emergency campaign, which ended on Monday. 

Run by Mozambique’s Ministry of Health, with support from the World Health Organization (WHO), UN Children’s Fund (UNICEF) and other partners, nearly 900,000 cyclone survivors were inoculated. 

“This campaign would not have been possible without the strong engagement of the local authorities and the communities themselves” said Djamila Cabral, the Head of WHO in Mozambique. “The number of volunteers is impressive and, wherever they go, there has been very strong uptake of the vaccine. Everyone is very keen to make this a success to stop cholera in its tracks.” 

Zimbabwe needs assessed 

In Zimbabwe, which along with Malawi also suffered damage from the cyclone, IOM teams visited Manicaland to assess the needs of those living in the Chimanimani and Chipinge districts. 

Around 270,000 people were affected by the flooding, with the agency reporting that an estimated 21,000 were displaced, many from in Kopa and Ngangu, two Chimanimani communities where more than 77 households were reduced to rubble and 305 people remained missing.   

In response to the crisis, IOM has launched a $7.2 million appeal to the international community to provide multi-sectorial humanitarian assistance to 90,000 people, including for shelter and food items, displacement tracking, psychosocial support and early recovery.  

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Niger population’s suffering ‘increasing with each passing month’: UN Refugee Agency

INTERNATIONAL, 9 April 2019, Peace and Security - An upsurge of violence in the south-east of Niger means that the population’s suffering is increasing “with each passing month,” a UN Refugee Agency (UNHCR) spokesperson warned on Tuesday, at a press briefing in Geneva. In March alone, some 88 civilians were reported to have died during attacks.

The spokesperson, Babar Baloch, reported a resurgence of violent attacks by terror group Boko Haram, which has been targeting security and defence forces, as well as the civilian population in the region of Diffa, near the Nigerian border.

Recent assaults have displaced more than 18,000 people, many of who are seeking safety in Diffa town. Since 2015, the region has seen almost a quarter of a million people forcibly displaced, almost half of whom are refugees from Nigeria who had fled similar attacks and sought refuge across the border.

At the same time, because of the fear of increasing insecurity in the Diffa region, some people are moving in the opposite direction, heading across the border into Nigeria, including the towns of Damasak and Maiduguri, in search of humanitarian assistance.

UNHCR, said the spokesperson, is working with the government of Niger and humanitarian partners to immediately relocate some 10,000 refugees from locations close to the border, to the Sayam Forage refugee camp, which is already hosting more than 15,000 refugees. The Refugee Agency has mobilized psychosocial support workers to respond to the immediate needs of the newly displaced who are highly traumatized, in particular women and children.

Mr. Baloch said that, despite the tense security situation, UNHCR continues to work with the authorities and partners to provide immediate support to refugees and host communities as well as work on long-term recovery and development initiatives in the Diffa region.

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UN rights chief Bachelet appeals for dialogue in Sudan amid reports ‘70 killed’ in demonstrations

INTERNATIONAL, 9 April 2019, Human Rights - Sudan’s authorities have an “over-arching responsibility” to protect protesters, UN High Commissioner for Human Rights, Michelle Bachelet, said on Tuesday, amid reports that 70 people have died in the latest anti-Government clashes.

The UN rights chief’s comments follow concerns about the reported use of tear gas and live ammunition by security forces against demonstrators in mass-protests that began last December, over rising food and fuel prices and deteriorating living standards. 

According to news reports, heavy gunfire was heard outside the Sudanese army headquarters on Tuesday, where thousands of protesters have been staging a sit-in over the past three days, calling for an end to President Omar al-Bashir’s three-decade rule. 

We are again calling on the Government and security forces to ensure that the right to peaceful assembly is fully respected - Ravina Shamdasani, OHCHR

Spokesperson for the High Commissioner (OHCHR), Ravina Shamdasani, reiterated Ms. Bachelet’s “serious concern at the use of excessive force” by Sudanese security forces, adding that her office had documented “many killings” since the situation deteriorated.

“Clearly a lot of people have died,” Ms. Shamdasani said, noting how difficult it was to verify numbers, or who was responsible, since various parts of the country’s security forces appeared to be “taking different sides”.

“We have been in touch with the authorities and they have actually invited our office to visit and we are in discussions with them about this,” she said. “We are again calling on the Government and security forces to ensure that the right to peaceful assembly is fully respected and the right to freedom of expression is respected, and that a genuine dialogue is undertaken to resolve this very complex situation with very real economic and social grievances of the public.”

The High Commissioner’s appeal follows the announcement by UN Secretary-General António Guterres on Monday, that he was following the demonstrations in Sudan “closely”

In a statement, Mr. Guterres appealed to all actors to exercise “utmost restraint and avoid violence”, while also calling for the release of detained protesters.

While affirming that the United Nations “stands ready to support any efforts agreed by the Sudanese to peacefully resolve the current crisis”, the Secretary-General further called on the Government of the Sudan to create a “conducive environment for a solution to the current situation and to promote an inclusive dialogue”.

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Yemen blast kills 14 children, leaves others fighting for their lives in Sana’a

INTERNATIONAL, 9 April 2019, Peace and Security - Further details have emerged of an attack on a school in the Yemeni capital Sana’a at the weekend which killed 14 youngsters and critically injured 16 others.

Echoing condemnation of the attack, the UN Children’s Fund (UNICEF) on Tuesday reiterated its warning that a child dies every 10 minutes from “preventable causes” in the war-shattered country.

“On Sunday, a blast in Sana’a killed another 14 children - one, four - in school, and injured 16...most under the age of nine,” UNICEF spokesperson Christophe Boulierac told journalists in Geneva. 

“More than 400 children (have been) killed and seriously injured since the beginning of 2019,” he added, noting that many of those injured in the latest attack on the Houthi opposition stronghold “are fighting for their lives” in hospital, while one girl died yesterday after succumbing to her injuries.

Also on Tuesday, UN Special Envoy for YemenMartin Griffiths, said that he was “deeply saddened to hear of the tragic deaths of civilians, the majority of whom were young female students attending school in Saewan area in Sana’a, on 7 April”.

Repeating his appeal to the belligerents to “make every possible effort” to end civilian suffering and “allow young Yemenis to grown up in peace and safety” by securing a politically negotiated end to the conflict, the UN negotiator highlighted that it was civilians “across the country who continue to suffer the devastating impacts of the conflict”. 

'Students were in class' at lunchtime

Asked about the deadly incident in Sana’a, the UNICEF spokesperson said that it happened near two schools at “almost lunchtime” and “students were in class”.

The blast shattered windows, unleashing a burst of shrapnel and broken glass into classrooms, he added.

On whether the schools were located close to potentially legitimate military targets, Mr. Boulierac replied that he was “not informed if there is a military or any kind of potential target or potential military or official building near the two schools”.

Although the UNICEF spokesperson was unable to provide further details about the exact nature of the attack, he said that it came in the context of other strikes on civilians, including one in Hajjah, north of Hudaydah on 9 March, in which 12 children died.

Since fighting escalated in Yemen in March 2015 between supporters of Yemeni President Abd Rabbu Mansour Hadi and Houthi opposition groups, thousands of civilians are believed to have died.

2,642 children killed in just under four years

According to UNICEF, from 26 March 2015, to 15 December 2018, 2,672 children have been killed in Yemen and 4,371 youngsters have been injured.

Highlighting the ongoing violence in Yemen and the grave violation of children’s rights, UNICEF Regional Director for the Middle East and North Africa, Geert Cappelaere, said in a statement that one in five schools can no longer be used as a direct result of the conflict. 

Some have come “under direct attack while others are being used for military purposes”, he said, meaning that for more than two million children in Yemen, “going to school is a faraway dream.”

Over and above the threat from deadly violence, Yemen is the world’s worst humanitarian crisis. The biggest killers are food insecurity and preventable diseases.

Nearly 80 per cent of the total population, 24.1 million people, requires some form of humanitarian assistance and protection, according to UN humanitarians.

Ten million people are a step away from famine and starvation and 7 million people are malnourished.

“Children are also dying from disease, not only from hunger in Yemen,” Mr. Boulierac said. “A child dies every 10 minutes of preventable causes", including cholera, he added.

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Sudan: ‘Exercise utmost restraint’ urges Guterres as thousands march in Khartoum, sparking deadly clashes

INTERNATIONAL, 8 April 2019, Peace and Security - With security forces reportedly firing tear gas at protesters and signs that there may be division between the army and security forces in Sudan’s capital, Khartoum, over how to deal with ongoing demonstrations, the UN chief on Monday called on “all actors to exercise utmost restraint and avoid violence.”

Demonstrations against the 30-year rule of President Omar al-Bashir began in December, and thousands marched and rallied outside the headquarters of the Sudanese army in the capital on Saturday and Sunday, according to news reports.

There were reports of dozens of other protests around the country, and eye witnesses told news outlets that some soldiers, had moved to protect peaceful demonstrators on Sunday night, when other units under the direct command of the president, had begun using tear gas and rubber bullets to disperse the sit-in. Reports suggest that at least six protesters were killed on Saturday in the capital, when crowds began to march.

They are calling for an end to the rule of President Bashir, amidst an economic crisis that has seen prices of fuel and basic goods such as bread, rise sharply, and a fall in the standard of living affecting many middle-class Sudanese. 

In a statement issued by his Spokesperson online, Mr. Guterres said he was following the demonstrations closely, and called on the Government to show “full respect for human rights, including the freedom of assembly, the freedom of expression, and the release of detained protestors.”

He said Sudan’s leadership needed to “create a conducive environment for a solution to the current situation and to promote an inclusive dialogue.”  

He added that the UN stood ready to support “any efforts agreed by the Sudanese to peacefully resolve the current crisis.”

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