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Protests, violence in Haiti prompts international call for ‘realistic and lasting solutions’ to crisis

INTERNATIONAL, 11 February 2019, Peace and Security - Opposition-led protests in Haiti calling for the president to step down, which sparked violence last week, have prompted a group of senior diplomats, included the top UN official there, to issue a statement deploring the loss of life and calling for dialogue to end the crisis.

The so-called Core Group is made up of the head of UN Mission MINUJUSTH, Helen Meagher La Lime; and the UN ambassadors of Brazil, Canada, France, Germany, Spain, the European Union, the United States, and the Special Representative of the Organization of American States.

They took note of the demands expressed by demonstrators on Thursday, aimed at a worsening economic crisis that has led to a drop in living standards, inflation at around 15 per cent, a growing national deficit, and allegations of corruption levelled at President Jovenel Moise, before he took office. 

The group “deplores the loss of life and property damage caused by the unacceptable acts of violence that took place on the margins of the rallies, while acknowledging the professionalism demonstrated by the Haitian National Police,” said the statement issued on Monday.

According to news reports, at least four were killed and dozens injured during four days of protests in the capital Port-au-Prince, and other cities across the Caribbean island nation. Annual carnival festivities were cancelled in parts of the country at the weekend.

Opposition groups called for demonstrations after a court report alleged that officials and former Government ministers had reportedly misappropriated millions of dollars in loans made to Haiti by Venezuela after 2008.

“The Group members call on political and civil society leaders to “engage in a constructive and inclusive dialogue in order to identify and implement realistic and lasting solutions to the political and economic crisis currently occurring in Haiti.”

The Government needs to “accelerate its structural reforms aimed at promoting a better management of the State's resources” said the communique, “improve the living conditions of the most vulnerable, fight inequalities, and foster a conducive investment climate to stimulate the development of productive sectors – essential to catalyzing the country’s growth.”

“Change must come through the ballot box, and not through violence,” said the statement, which concludes by urging the Government and legislators “to collaborate for the electoral law and the 2018-2019 budget law to be adopted and promulgated as soon as possible. It is only through these actions that the elections scheduled by the Constitution for October 2019, can be held in a free, fair and transparent manner, and that an institutional vacuum will be avoided.”

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Judicial independence under threat in Nigeria, warns UN rights expert

INTERNATIONAL, 11 February 2019, Human Rights - The dismissal of Nigeria’s Chief Justice may constitute a grave attack on judicial independence from the State, a UN-appointed independent rights expert said on Monday, warning of “threats, pressures and interferences” made against the lawyers defending him.

Chief Justice Walter Onnoghen, was suspended on 25 January, the independent UN Special Rapporteur on the independence of judges and lawyers, Diego Garcia-Sayán noted in his statement. His comments come ahead of general elections in Nigeria, due to be held on Saturday.

“International human rights standards provide that judges may be dismissed only on serious grounds of misconduct or incompetence,” he said. “Any decision to suspend or remove a judge from office should be fair and should be taken by an independent authority, such as a judicial council or a court.”

According to Mr. Garcia-Sayán, who reports to the UN Human Rights Council, the decision to replace Chief Justice Onnoghen with Ibrahim Tanko Mohammad was taken by Nigeria’s President, Muhammadu Buhari, who insisted he had “acted in compliance” with an order issued by a tribunal to decide on alleged breaches of the code of conduct for public officials.

This was despite the fact that four other courts with higher jurisdiction, had already ordered that proceedings be halted, the UN expert outlined, listing the Court of Appeal, the National Industrial Court and the two Federal High Courts.

On the issue of intimidation of defence lawyers and judges involved in the decision to remove Chief Justice Onnoghen, Mr. Garcia-Sayán said that one of the senior advocates defending him was arrested on Wednesday.

Others had been “subject to serious threats, pressures and interferences”, he warned, adding that such allegations “may constitute, if proven, grave attacks to the independence of the judiciary and the free exercise of the legal profession”.

“Lawyers play an essential role in securing access to justice, and should never suffer, or be threatened with, prosecution or other sanctions for action taken in accordance with recognized professional duties, standards and ethics,” Mr. García-Sayán said.

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Food for millions in Yemen at risk of rotting in key Red Sea port, warns UN

INTERNATIONAL, 11 February 2019, Humanitarian Aid - Desperately needed food aid for millions of Yemenis “is at risk of rotting” in a key Red Sea storage facility because conditions are too unsafe to reach it, UN Special Envoy Martin Griffiths and UN Emergency relief chief Mark Lowcock said on Monday

In a joint statement, the top UN officials warned that the urgency of getting to the Red Sea Mills in the key port city of Hudaydah was “growing day by day”, more than five months after aid workers were last able to access it.

With safe, unfettered and sustained access, the United Nations can make this urgently needed food available to people in need - OCHA chief Lowcock, Yemen Special Envoy Griffiths 

“We emphasize that ensuring access to the mills is a shared responsibility among the parties to the conflict in Yemen. With safe, unfettered and sustained access, the United Nations can make this urgently needed food available to people in need,” said the OCHA head and Mr. Griffiths, in an appeal to the Government of President Abd Rabbu Mansour Hadi and Houthi militia, who have been fighting for overall control of the country since early 2015.

With enough food to feed 3.7 million people for a month, the grain stored in the mills could help the World Food Programme (WFP) scale up food assistance to nearly 12 million people across the war-torn country; a 50 per cent increase on 2018.

In December, the WFP reached a record 10 million people. Until now, however, forces affiliated with the Houthi movement, or Ansar Allah, which controls the vital port of Hudaydah, have not allowed the UN to cross front lines to access the mills on the outskirts of the city.

Welcoming the “recent engagement of all sides” in creating the necessary conditions for a UN team to reach the grain stores “without further delay”, the UN senior officials also noted their appreciation for the Houthis’ earlier efforts to re-open the road leading to the mills, despite the “difficult and dangerous circumstances”.

“We acknowledge the confirmation from Ansar Allah of their commitment to implement the Hudaydah Agreement,” they said, referring to the ceasefire deal struck in Sweden last December, between the warring sides.

Chaired by General Michael Lollesgaard, a team of Security Council-mandated UN observers and monitors is trying to negotiate the withdrawal of fighters from the Houthi-held port city, stabilize the fragile ceasefire, and open new humanitarian corridors.

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Despite falling attacks, ISIL terrorists remain ‘global threat’: UN report

INTERNATIONAL, 11 February 2019, Peace and Security - Though attacks were down last year, a new United Nations report to the Security Council on Monday shows that ISIL is still a global threat, despite evolving into a “covert” terrorism network, with countries continuing to face challenges from the growing scourge of violent extremism.

“Despite the more concealed or locally embedded activities of ISIL cells, its central leadership retains an influence and maintains an intent to generate internationally-directed attacks and thereby still plays an important role in advancing the group’s objectives,” explained Vladimir Voronkov, who heads the UN Office of Counter-Terrorism (UNOCT).

“This is exacerbated by the challenge of foreign terrorist fighters who either are leaving conflict zones, or those who are returning or who are about to be released from prison. In this context, radicalization in prison settings, is seen as a particular challenge in Europe and Iraq,” Under-Secretary-General Voronkov added.

He said that so-called “frustrated travelers” were adding to the complexity of the threat, namely fighters who’d failed to reach main battlegrounds, but been diverted instead elsewhere, either by ISIL commanders or of their own volition.

The report notes that the “centre of gravity” of the organization, known in the Arab world as Da’esh, remains in Iraq and Syria, with up to 18,000 remaining in the ranks, including some 3,000 foreign fighters.

“In terms of ISIL’s financial strength, the report notes that despite some loss of revenue due to territorial setbacks, ISIL could sustain its operations through accessible reserves, in cash or investment in businesses, ranging between $50 and $300 million. ISIL cells are also reported to generate revenue through criminal activities”, explained Mr. Voronkov.

The document, the eighth report on ISIL – which proclaimed its so-called caliphate across northern Syria and Iraq in 2014 - was prepared on behalf of the UN Secretary-General by the Counter-Terrorism Committee Executive Directorate (CTED) and the Analytical Support and Sanctions Monitoring Team of the 1267/1989/2253 ISIL (Da’esh) and Al-Qaida Sanctions Committee, in close collaboration with the UNOCT and other UN entities and international organisations.

After being driven from its city strongholds of Mosul and Raqqa, intense fighting in recent months has left Da’esh defending a small enclave against US-backed fighters in eastern Syria, close to the Iraqi border. According to news reports, around 600 terrorist fighters continue to battle with coalition forces, which have labelled this the “final battle” to crush ISIL.

Challenges faced by Member States

The UN analysis shows that Member States continue to face tremendous challenges across the world in tackling the threats posed by ISIL, with the threat level continuing to expand. This is especially true in North, West and East Africa as well as in Central Asia. Training camps have been identified in Afghanistan, and in South-East Asia, where women and youth are increasingly mobilized for terrorist operations across the region.

The head of CTED, Michele Coninsx, highlighted three of those major challenges faced by Member States:

  • The “destructive legacy” left in Syria and Iraq, most noticeable in the high number of families who remain internally-displaced due to the destruction of homes and infrastructure overall: She noted that “reconstruction will take many years and will require significant resources, as will restoring and reconciling communities after so many years of conflict.”
  • The growth in the number of terrorist suspects and offenders in custody: The risk posed by such prisoners is difficult to assess and manage.
  • ISIL’s ability to exploit new technologies and find innovative ways to finance itself and find new recruits: Ms. Coninsx noted for example the risks linked to anonymous technologies like blockchain and cryptocurrencies, and other internet-based ways of avoiding detection.

The UN’s support to Member States

For several years, various parts of the UN have supported Member States in the fields of prosecution, rehabilitation and reintegration (PRR) of former fighters; international judicial cooperation; countering terrorist financing; border management and law enforcement; countering terrorist narratives and engaging communities to prevent violent extremism.

Specifically, explained CTED’s Executive Director Coninsx, the UN Office on Drugs and Crime(UNODC) and UNOCT are leading a joint project to provide tailored capacity-building assistance to prison staff.

In the Lake Chad Basin, she said CTED and UNODC are working to provide Member States with technical expertise to develop comprehensive strategies to prosecute, rehabilitate and reintegrate persons associated with the Boko Haram extremist group.

Other initiatives include the development of a practical guide for requesting electronic evidence across borders, and the deployment of a specialized consultant to support Iraq in its efforts to develop a holistic and comprehensive counter-terrorism strategy.

“The Secretary-General has stressed that despite recent successes against ISIL / Da’esh and its affiliates, the threat posed by returning and relocating fighters, as well as from individuals inspired by them, remains high and has a global reach,” stressed Mr. Voronkov. “I would therefore emphasize, the recent ISIL losses should not lead to complacency at any level,” he concluded.

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Service and sacrifice of African peacekeepers ‘at the forefront of our minds’: UN chief

INTERNATIONAL, 10 February 2019, Peace and Security - UN Secretary-General António Guterres has thanked African Member States and the African Union Commission for supporting peace operations in Africa, saying that the service and sacrifice of African peacekeepers is “at the forefront of our minds.” The UN chief’s praise for the work of Blue Helmets and other peacekeeping personnel was part of his address to Heads of State gathered at the African Union Summit in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia, on Sunday.

Mr. Guterres was speaking the day after three Ethiopian peacekeepers serving in the United Mission in Abyei (UNISFA) were killed, when a military helicopter carrying troops crashed in the Mission compound whilst on a routine operation. Ten passengers were injured, and three are reportedly in critical condition.

Addressing the fact that African countries provide almost half of all UN peacekeeping troops – including some two-thirds of all women peacekeepers and the majority of UN police – the UN chief went on to acknowledge the sacrifice of African soldiers in AMISOM (the African Union Mission in Somalia); the G5 joint force, which counters violent extremism and terrorism in the Sahel region of North Africa; and the Multinational Joint Task Force in the Lake Chad Basin, set up to restore security in areas of the Lake Chad Basin affected by the Boko Haram terror group. “To be fully effective,” he said, “these African peace operations require robust mandates from the Security Council and predictable, sustainable financing, including assessed contributions.”

United Nations peacekeeping operations, the UN chief added, are “increasingly being called into areas where there is no peace to keep,” explaining that this is why he has repeatedly expressed support for peace enforcement and counter-terrorism operations, and launched the Action for Peacekeeping (A4P) initiative in 2018, which aims to provide UN missions with the means to be more effective, better equipped, safer and more robust.

Mr. Guterres went on to impress upon his audience the “critical” role that women’s “equality, meaningful participation and leadership” have to play in ensuring lasting peace, citing the invaluable contributions made by FewWise – the African Women’s Network on Mediation – and the African Women Leaders Network, describing both groups as important initiatives for joint UN-AU collaboration.

The Secretary-General said that he had been determined from his first day in office to been determined to forge ever closer ties between the United Nations and Africa, noting a significant improvement in strategic cooperation between the UN and the African Union. The two sides have recently signed frameworks on peace, security and sustainable development, a Joint Declaration on cooperation for peace support operations and the first Human Rights Dialogue, which he called an “encouraging step on a critical issue.”

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Female African coders ‘on the front-line of the battle’ to change gender power relations: UN chief

INTERNATIONAL, 9 February 2019, Women - Young female African coders are “on the front-line” of the battle to change traditionally male power relations and bring about a more equitable balance between men and women, UN Secretary-General António Guterres said during his visit to Ethiopia to attend the African Union Summit in Addis Ababa.

The UN chief was speaking after meeting girls from across the continent taking part in the African Girls Can Code Initiative, a joint initiative from the International Telecommunications Union (ITU) and UN Women. This new programme saw more than 80 girls from 34 African countries join the first Coding Camp in Addis Ababa for 10 days in August 2018.

The girls attending the courses learn about digital literacy, coding and personal development skills, including enterprise know-how to ensure their financial security. They are trained as programmers, creators and designers, so that they are well equipped to compete for careers in areas such as Information and Communication Technology (ICT) and coding. The initiative will runs until 2022 and is expected to reach more than 2,000 girls through 18 Coding Camps.

Mr. Guterres said that one of the fundamental problems in the world is that power is in the hands of men, leading to a male-dominated culture. In Africa, this is one of the reason why it is so difficult for girls to go to school. In technology professions, the problem is particularly acute, with an overwhelming majority of men.

ITU data from 2017 shows that, as well having the lowest rates of Internet penetration, the African region has the widest digital gender gap in the world: only 18.6 per cent of women use the Internet, compared with 24.9 per cent of men.

The UN chief recalled his time studying electrical engineering, when there was just one women female in a class of 300: “This is what we need to change, and we are not yet there. We need more girls to take technology courses. This is absolutely crucial. If girls and women are not more involved in technology professions, power relations will remain very male dominated.”

Monday is the 2019 International Day of Women and Girls in Science, which raises awareness of the fact that women and girls continue to be excluded from participating fully and science, importance of changing this trend: According to UN data, only around 30 per cent of all female students select fields related to STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics) in higher education, and less than 30 per cent of researchers worldwide are women.

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African continent ‘an example of solidarity’ towards migrants and refugees: UN chief

INTERNATIONAL, 9 February 2019, Migrants and Refugees - African nations are setting an example for richer countries when it comes to the treatment of refugees, UN Secretary-General António Guterres said in a press conference on Saturday, following a meeting with the Chairperson of the African Union Commission in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia.

The UN chief is in the Ethiopian capital to attend the annual African Union summit, which brings together Heads of State from across the continent. This year’s event, which begins on Sunday, will focus on the issue of refugees and internally displaced persons.

Mr. Guterres, who spent 10 years as the UN’s High Commissioner for Refugees, before taking up his position at the head of the organization, said that, in Africa, borders are open for refugees, and that the continent is in the leadership when it comes to addressing migration flows.

The UN chief pointed out that, contrary to popular perception, there are more African migrants in other African countries than in Europe, and migration has been dealt with in a much more humane way. Mr. Guterres appealed for the UN’s global compacts on Migration and Refugees to be fully implemented.

The UN Refugee Agency UNHCR says that Sub-Saharan Africa hosts more than 26 per cent of the world’s refugee population. 18 million people in the region are of concern to UNHCR, with conflicts and ongoing crises in the Central African Republic (CAR), Nigeria and South Sudan, as well as Burundi and Yemen, driving large increases in the numbers of refugees and displaced people.

On the eve of the summit, the UN Childrens’ Fund, UNICEF, published a press release warning that 13.5 million children have been uprooted in Africa – including those displaced by conflict, poverty and climate change – and called on African leaders to implement policies and programmes to protect, empower and invest in refugee, migrant and displaced children.  

Mr. Guterres struck a generally positive note in the press conference, pointing to recent peace deals and conflict de-escalation across Africa. He cited the reconciliation between Ethiopia and Eritrea; the establishment of peace agreements in South Sudan; and elections in Madagascar, the Democratic Republic of Congo, and Mali, that took place in a peaceful context. The combined efforts of the African Union and the UN, he said, are producing results in conflict resolution and the prevention of conflicts, and Africa is seeing a “wind of hope” that can be extended to other parts of the world.

However, he went to say that there cannot be peace without development, and that the international community must show more political will in this area, particularly in climate action, and show ambition for mitigation, adaptation, and finance: “We are losing the race with climate change and this can be a disaster for Africa and for world. Africa will pay an even higher price because of the dramatic impacts in the continent.”

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Scale of displacement across Myanmar ‘very difficult to gauge’, says UN refugee agency

INTERNATIONAL, 8 February 2019, Human Rights - Concern over escalating violence in Myanmar’s Chin and Rakhine states continues to grow, with civilians reportedly forced to flee both internally, and across the border into Bangladesh, where hundreds of thousands of Rohingya have already sought shelter.

Andrej Mahecic, spokesperson for the Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) expressed deep concern over the humanitarian impact of the continuing violence and the “potential for both further internal displacement and the outflow of refugees”.

“As part of inter-agency efforts, UNHCR stands ready to support the humanitarian response in the affected areas in Myanmar”, he stated, noting that more than 720,000 mostly-Muslim Rohingya had fled a 2017 military operation in Rakhine state, which was condemned at the time as being tantamount to genocide, by the then UN High Commissioner for Human Rights.

UNHCR Special Envoy Angelina Jolie visits Rohingya refugee camps in Chakmarkul camp, Cox's Bazar, south-east Bangladesh, while on mission with the UN Refugee Agency., by © UNHCR/Santiago Escobar-Jaramillo

“The scale of it is very difficult to gauge”, said Mr. Mahecic. “We understand from some of the reports that say 200 people have sought shelter”, but “without effective access in Rakhine, and without effective access in other parts, we can’t assess the scope of the current internal displacement as a result of the violence which flared up some time in December last year.”

The refugee agency has called on the Government of Bangladesh to continue its policy of offering shelter and support and offered to assess and respond to the needs of civilians who have arrived in the past few weeks, seeking safety from violence in Myanmar.

Since August 2017, nearly 700,000 minority Muslim Rohingyas have fled violence in Myanmar across the border into Bangaldesh’s Cox’s Bazar, joining several hundred thousand more that were already settled there in overcrowded camps.

“UNHCR is grateful to the Government of Bangladesh for its generosity and the leadership it has shown”, Mr. Mahecic said.

During a visit early in the week to the world’s largest refugee camp, Kutupalong camp in Bangladesh, UNHCR Special Envoy Angelina Jolie said that it was “deeply upsetting” to meet the families who “have only known persecution and statelessness their whole lives, who speak of being ‘treated like cattle’”.

She also met Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina and Foreign Minister AK Abdul Momen in the capital of Dhaka, where she expressed UNHCR’s gratitude to the Government and the people of Bangladesh, for their kindness.

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FROM THE FIELD: For refugees and migrants in Europe, healthcare’s essential but a challenge to find

INTERNATIONAL, 8 February 2019, Migrants and Refugees - There are some 68.5 million people currently displaced around the world, with 25.4 million crossing national borders in search of safety.
For reasons including their legal status, language barriers and discrimination, refugees and migrants can face challenges in accessing health care., by WHO/Francesco Bellina

Even a healthy migrant or refugee can fall sick, while traveling to – or sheltering in –  a receiving country. Poor living conditions and lifestyle adjustments to a totally new environment, are just two possible reasons why, according to the World Health Organization’s (WHO) first Report on the health of refugees and migrants in the WHO European Region.

It may come as no surprise that children without parents or a guardian are especially vulnerable, and at risk of suffering both health and social problems.

The WHO report, which was developed in partnership with the Italian National Institute for Health, Migration and Poverty, summarizes the latest evidence on the health of refugees and migrants in various parts of Europe, along with the progress made by countries to promote their health.

Here’s the full story.

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In Tanzania, UN refugee chief praises ‘regional peacemaker’ role, and efforts to welcome neighbours on the run

INTERNATIONAL, 8 February 2019, Migrants and Refugees - The head of the UN Refugee Agency (UNHCR) has praised Tanzania for the long-standing welcome it offers hundreds of thousands of refugees, describing it as a “regional peacemaker” in an unstable part of Africa, that deserves more international support.

Speaking at the end of a four-day visit to the east African nation, Filippo Grandi called for greater investment in the north-west region of Tanzania, where some 300,000 refugees are being hosted, and pledged to mobilize more support for humanitarian efforts, local community development, improved camp security, and environmental projects.

In a meeting with Tanzanian President John Joseph Magafuli, Mr. Grandi commended the country’s tradition of welcoming refugees fleeing conflict and persecution in neighbouring countries, and said Tanzania deserved greater international recognition for its role as “one of the most important refugee asylum countries in Africa.”

© UNHCR/Georgina Goodwin
The common market where Burundi and DRC refugees can interact with Tanzanian host community at Nyarugusu Refugee Camp in Kasulu District, western Tanzania, February 7, 2019.

However, Mr. Grandi also impressed upon government officials the importance of not forcing refugees to go back to their countries of origin. Over 57,000 refugees from Burundi have been assisted to voluntarily leave Tanzania and return home in the last two years, but some refugees report their decision was partly based on perceived pressure from the authorities, restrictions on freedom of movement and a lack of access to jobs, so they can support themselves.

“It is important that nobody is forced back, that repatriation remains a voluntary exercise,” Mr. Grandi told reporters, after visiting the Nyarugusu Refugee Camp in Kasulu, home to around 15,000 Burundian and Congolese refugees. He noted that some refugees are volunteering to go back to their countries of origin, despite uncertain conditions in both the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) and Burundi, and said that sustainable refugee return happens when refugees feel confident that it is safe to go back, and receive the necessary support to do so. Nearly three-quarters of Tanzania’s refugees are from Burundi, and the other 26 per cent are from the Democratic Republic of the Congo, or DRC.

Mr. Grandi praised Tanzania for supporting the UN’s Global Compact on Refugees, which calls for greater international support to host countries and more refugee self-reliance which, he said, stimulates local economies and provides opportunities for host communities.

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