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‘Put people first’ in drive to realize Sustainable Development Goals

INTERNATIONAL, 6 February 2023, SDGs - Addressing the opening of the Commission for Social Development’s latest session, the president of the UN Economic and Social Council on Monday said it was imperative to put people first, if the 17 Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) are to be realized by the 2030 deadline.
“Putting people first means we must create opportunities for young people to accumulate knowledge and skills relevant for the labour market through education, training, and early work experience,” Lachezara Stoeva said. The current dim projections for global economic growth simply require it.

Amid multiple global interconnected crises, advancing efforts to achieve the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development hinges on giving people the tools needed to build resilient societies and economies. Opening the Commission’s sixty-first session, she outlined how best to do so.

Half-way point to 2030

Approaching the half-way point in the 2030 deadline to achieve all 17 of the SDGs, she said Member States have clear responsibilities as the world pursues a transition to low-carbon and environmentally friendly economies and societies.

“To ensure a fair and inclusive transition, Governments have the responsibility to put people first,” she said.

They must support regions, industries, and workers facing the greatest challenges in the transition to a green economy, she said.

This requires policies that facilitate the reallocation of displaced workers alongside a range of other actions, including tailored job-search assistance, flexible learning courses, employment programmes, and hiring and transition incentives.

Universal social protection

Part of taking a people-centred approach means offering a universal social safety net that gives everyone access to comprehensive, adequate, and sustainable protection, she said.

The critical role of social protection systems – laid bare by the COVID-19 pandemic – remains integral in States’ efforts to build resilient economies and societies to reach the 2030 Agenda objectives.

Investing in human capacities is also essential for emerging and future demands of the job market, already affected by such factors as digital transformation, demographic trends and climate change, she said.

Lachezara Stoeva, President of the Economic and Social Council (ECOSOC) 2023 Session.
UN Photo/Loey Felipe
Lachezara Stoeva, President of the Economic and Social Council (ECOSOC) 2023 Session.

Instilling 2030 Agenda values

“These structural transformations require complementary efforts in education, training and lifelong learning,” she stated. Such efforts must instill the values of inclusion, sustainability, and partnership enshrined in the 2030 Agenda.

During its sixty-first session, the Commission will focus on the social dimension of sustainable development. Discussions will broach on the creation of decent work and how it relates to inequality and poverty.

Translate talk into action

Ahead of the SDG Summit in September, the ECOSOC President said “we must work together to translate our discussions and conclusions into concrete actions towards achieving the SDGs by 2030.”

The Commission’s conclusions will feed into the Summit, where world leaders will follow-up and review the implementation of the 2030 Agenda. The gathering will mark the exact mid-point towards the 2030 deadline of achieving the Goals.


UN human rights chief calls on Mali to reverse ‘regrettable’ expulsion order

INTERNATIONAL, 6 February 2023, Human Rights - The UN High Commissioner for Human Rights on Monday called on Malian authorities to rescind their expulsion order for his top representative in the country.
“I deeply regret the decision by the Malian authorities to declare my representative, Guillaume Ngefa, as persona non grata and to order him to leave the country in 48 hours,” Volker Türk said.

Mr. Ngefa, Director of the Human Rights Division of the UN Stabilization Mission in Mali (MINUSMA) and Representative of the High Commissioner in Mali, had been declared persona non grata in an announcement Malian authorities made on Sunday. Mr. Ngefa was already outside Mali when the decision was announced.

Guillaume Ngefa, Director of the Human Rights Division at the UN Multidimensional Integrated Stabilization Mission (MINUSMA) in Mali.
MINUSMA/Harandane Dicko
Guillaume Ngefa, Director of the Human Rights Division at the UN Multidimensional Integrated Stabilization Mission (MINUSMA) in Mali.

Intimidation online

Troubled by intimidation and harassment his representative has recently faced on social media platforms, Mr. Türk, head of OHCHR, said UN staff “must never be threatened or sanctioned for doing their work”, which is based on the founding Charter and principles of the United Nations.

The UN has long maintained that the doctrine of persona non grata is not applicable to its personnel. It is contrary to the obligations of Member States under the UN Charter, including those concerning the privileges and immunities of the UN and its staff.

‘Integral to peacekeeping’

“Human rights are integral to peacekeeping,” Mr. Türk stressed. “I urge the authorities to create a respectful, safe and enabling environment for human rights work in Mali, which is more crucial than ever in the current context.”

He also urged Malian authorities to ensure better respect for and protection of human rights defenders.

“No one should face reprisals for speaking out on human rights issues,” he said.

Mali is entering the eleventh year of a security crisis. MINUSMA was established in 2013 following insecurity in the north and a failed military coup by Islamist rebels, who still hold sway across much of the north and centre of the country.

Briefing the Security Council at the end of last month, UN Special Representative and Head of MINUSMA El-Ghassim Wane had cautioned that stabilizing Mali is crucial for the country and the region.

Independent UN expert visit

The decision to expel Mr. Ngefa comes as an independent UN expert on the situation of human rights in Mali is scheduled to conduct an official visit from 6 to 17 February ahead of presenting an annual report to the Human Rights Council in March.


China: Tibetan children forced to assimilate, independent rights experts fear

INTERNATIONAL, 6 February 2023, Human Rights - Roughly one million Tibetan minority children in China have been separated from their families and placed into Government-run boarding schools, forcing their assimilation into the dominant culture, three independent UN human rights experts said on Monday. 
“We are very disturbed that in recent years the residential school system for Tibetan children appears to act as a mandatory large-scale programme intended to assimilate Tibetans into majority Han culture, contrary to international human rights standards,” they said in a statement

Erosion of identity 

Residential schools provide educational content and an environment centred around Han culture, according to the independent experts: Fernand de Varennes, Special Rapporteur on minority issues; Farida Shaheed, Special Rapporteur on the right to education, and Alexandra Xanthaki, Special Rapporteur in the field of cultural rights

They said children from the Tibetan minority are forced to complete a “compulsory education” curriculum in the Mandarin Chinese language, or Putonghua, with no access to traditional or culturally-relevant learning. 

Government schools also do not provide for substantive study of Tibetan language, history and culture. 

“As a result, Tibetan children are losing their facility with their native language and the ability to communicate easily with their parents and grandparents in the Tibetan language, which contributes to their assimilation and erosion of their identity,” they added. 

School numbers increasing 

The experts also were concerned about a reported substantial increase in the number of residential schools operating in and outside of the Tibet Autonomous Region, and the number of Tibetan children living in them. 

While residential schools exist in other parts of China, their share in areas with Tibetan minority populations is much higher, and this percentage has been increasing in recent years.  

Nationally, the percentage of students boarding is more than 20 per cent, but the experts said information they received, points to the vast majority of Tibetan children being in these institutions, nearly one million. 

Far from home 

The increase has been achieved through closing rural schools in areas that tend to be populated by Tibetans, replacing them with township or county-level schools where teaching and communications are almost exclusively in Putonghua (standard Mandarin), and students are usually required to board. 

“Many residential schools are situated far from the family homes of students boarding in them,” the experts continued. 

“We are alarmed by what appears to be a policy of forced assimilation of the Tibetan identity into the dominant Han-Chinese majority, through a series of oppressive actions against Tibetan educational, religious and linguistic institutions,” they added. 

Suppression and persecution 

These policies run contrary to the prohibition of discrimination and the rights of the Tibetan people to education, linguistic and cultural rights, freedom of religion or belief, and they represent a reversal of measures that were more inclusive or accommodating. 

The experts recalled that in August 2021, China’s Central Conference on Ethnic Affairs called on all ethnic groups to be guided to always place the interests of the nation, above all else. 

“This call re-affirmed the idea of building a modern and strong socialist State based on a single Chinese national identity,” they said. 

“In this context, initiatives to promote Tibetan language and culture are reportedly being suppressed, and individuals advocating for Tibetan language and education are persecuted.” 

The experts wrote to the Chinese Government in November and remain in contact with the authorities regarding the issue. 

Role of UN Rapporteurs 

Special Rapporteurs are appointed by the UN Human Rights Council in Geneva to monitor and report on thematic issues or specific country situations.  

 They operate in their individual capacities and are independent from any government or organization. 

They are not UN staff and do not receive payment for their work. 


‘Act decisively before it is too late’, Guterres warns countries, laying out his priorities for 2023

INTERNATIONAL, 6 February 2023, UN Affairs - Time is running out as the world inches closer to meltdown and countries must change course before it is too late, UN Secretary-General António Guterres warned on Monday, presenting his priorities for the year. 
Addressing the General Assembly in New York, he appealed for urgent action now to achieve peace, economic rights and development, climate action, respect for diversity, and inclusive societies – both today and for generations to come.

Before unfolding his 2023 roadmap, the Secretary-General extended condolences to the families of the victims of the devastating earthquakes in Türkiye and Syria, adding that the UN is mobilizing to support the response. 

Rights-based approach 

Mr. Guterres stressed the need for transformation this year, grounded in the UN Charter and the Universal Declaration of Human Rights.

“As we look to priorities for this year, a rights-rooted approach is central to achieving our ultimate priority: a safer, more peaceful, more sustainable world,” he said, urging countries to "act decisively before it is too late."

Doomsday Clock ticking 

The UN chief by referring to the news that the symbolic Doomsday Clock - developed more than 75 years ago by atomic scientists to measure humanity’s proximity to midnight, or self-destruction - was just 90 seconds away from that hour. 

The Russian full-scale invasion of Ukraine, the climate emergency, rising nuclear threats, and the undermining of global norms and institutions have pushed the world closer to annihilation. 

“This is the closest the clock has ever stood to humanity’s darkest hour – closer than even during the height of the Cold War.  In truth, the Doomsday Clock is a global alarm clock.   We need to wake up – and get to work,” he said.  

Think of tomorrow 

Stressing that “we need a course correction”, the UN chief said action is possible, however politicians and decision makers lack the strategic vision to see beyond the short term. 

This “preference for the present” only focuses on the next poll, power move, or business cycle, making the future “someone else’s problem” – a mindset he described as deeply irresponsible, immoral, and self-defeating. 

“My message today comes down to this: Don’t focus solely on what may happen to you today – and dither. Look at what will happen to all of us tomorrow – and act,” the UN chief said. 

‘A time for transformation’ 

The international community has an obligation to act, he continued, as “this is not a time for tinkering” but, rather, “a time for transformation.”  

Action should be grounded in the UN Charter, the Organization’s founding document, and the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, which turns 75 this year. 

“When I look at human rights in the broadest sense – with a 21st century lens – I see a roadmap out of the dead end,” he said, noting that it begins with the right to peace. 

A Ukrainian teenager stands in the rubble of her destroyed school in Zhytomyr.
© UNICEF/Diego Ibarra Sánchez
A Ukrainian teenager stands in the rubble of her destroyed school in Zhytomyr.

Work for peace 

With the Russian invasion of Ukraine last February 24 inflicting untold suffering on the country’s population, and far beyond, prospects for peace keep diminishing while the risk of further escalation and bloodshed keeps growing. 

“I fear the world is not sleepwalking into a wider war.  It is doing so with its eyes wide open. The world needs peace.  Peace in line with the United Nations Charter and international law,” he said. “We must work harder for peace everywhere.”  

Mr. Guterres referred to the situations in the Middle East, where the two-State solution between Palestine and Israel is becoming more distant; in Afghanistan, where women’s rights are being trampled; in the Sahel, where insecurity is rising; in Myanmar, which is facing new cycles of violence and repression, and in Haiti, where gang violence is holding the entire country hostage.  

Recommit to the UN Charter 

“If every country fulfilled its obligations under the Charter, the right to peace would be guaranteed,” he said.  “It is time to transform our approach to peace by recommitting to the Charter - putting human rights and dignity first, with prevention at the heart.” 

The Secretary-General called for “a holistic view of the peace continuum” that identifies root causes of conflict and focuses on prevention, mediation, reconciliation, peacebuilding and greater participation of women and young people. 

These are among the UN’s proposed New Agenda for Peace, aimed at addressing both old and new threats, and maximizing coalitions for diplomacy, as evidenced by the Black Sea Grain Initiative which is operating even amid the war in Ukraine.   

Nuclear war risk  

This year also marks the 75th anniversary of UN Peacekeeping, which will see increased commitment to reform, he added. 

Mr. Guterres also called for bringing disarmament and arms control “back to the centre” to both reduce strategic threats from nuclear arms and work for towards their total elimination. 

“We are at the highest risk in decades of a nuclear war that could start by accident or design,” he warned, urging countries with nuclear arms to renounce these “unconscionable weapons”.   

Transform global finance  

With poverty and hunger rising, developing countries drowning in debt, and social safety nets frayed, among other signs, the Secretary-General called for “radical transformation” of the global financial architecture. 

This will require new commitment and resolve, including to address the appalling inequalities and injustices exposed by the COVID-19 pandemic and the response to the global crisis. 

New determination will also be needed to ensure developing countries have a greater voice in global financial institutions, and that vulnerable nations, including middle-income countries, can have access to debt relief and restructuring. 

Multilateral Development Banks in particular, must change their business model and leverage their funds to attract more private capital that can be invested to help developing countries achieve the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) before the 2030 deadline.  

“Without fundamental reforms, the richest countries and individuals will continue to pile up wealth, leaving crumbs for the communities and countries of the Global South,” he cautioned. 

Sustainable development in danger 

This year will also provide opportunities to “rescue” the SDGs, such as the Summit of Least Developed Countries (LDCs) next month and another in September devoted to the goals

With the SDGs “disappearing in the rearview mirror”, countries should come to the summit with clear benchmarks on tackling poverty and exclusion, and on advancing gender equality.  

However, the world must unite now to mobilize resources, said Mr. Guterres, so that developing economies have the liquidity to invest in education, universal healthcare, pandemic preparedness, decent work and social protection. 

Tidal waves on Namkhana Island,  West Bengal, India, flood coastal communities.
Climate Visuals/Supratim Bhattacharjee
Tidal waves on Namkhana Island, West Bengal, India, flood coastal communities.

Climate action ‘reckoning’ 

As the right to development goes together with the right to a clean, healthy, sustainable environment, “we must end the merciless, relentless, senseless war on nature,” said Mr. Guterres, repeating a message that has become a mantra for his tenure. 

“2023 is a year of reckoning. It must be a year of game-changing climate action. We need disruption to end the destruction.” 

Countries are hurtling past the 1.5-degree limit on global temperature rise, therefore focus must be on the urgent priorities of cutting greenhouse gas emissions and achieving climate justice. 

Shift to green energy 

He said global emissions must be halved this decade, including through “far more ambitious action” in shifting from fossil fuels to renewable energy, especially in the G20 group of industrialized nations. 

Additionally, businesses, cities, regions and financial institutions that have pledged net-zero carbon emissions, must present their transition plans, with credible and ambitious targets, by this September.  

“I have a special message for fossil fuel producers and their enablers scrambling to expand production and raking in monster profits.  If you cannot set a credible course for net-zero, with 2025 and 2030 targets covering all your operations, you should not be in business,” said Mr. Guterres. 

Deliver on COP27 pledges 

Climate action is impossible without adequate finance, and the Secretary-General urged richer countries to, at minimum, deliver on promises made at the UN COP27 climate change conference in Egypt last year. 

These commitments include establishing a fund to address loss and damage, doubling adaptation funding, and advancing plans on early warning systems globally within the next five years. 

The Secretary-General will convene a Climate Ambition Summit in September, ahead of the COP28 conference in the United Arab Emirates in December.   

It will be open to all government, business and society leaders, he said, though under one condition: “Show us accelerated action in this decade and renewed ambitious net zero plans – or please don’t show up.” 

Diversity under attack 

Turning to his fourth priority, Mr. Guterres spoke of how respect for diversity and the universality of cultural rights are under attack, as evidenced in part by the rise in antisemitism, anti-Muslim bigotry, the persecution of Christians, racism and white supremacist ideology. 

At the same time, ethnic and religious minorities, refugees, migrants, indigenous people and the LGBTQI-plus community, are increasingly targeted for hate, both online and off. 

Meanwhile, many people in positions of power are profiting from caricaturing diversity as a threat, sowing division and hatred, while social media platforms use algorithms that amplify toxic ideas and funnel extremist views into the mainstream. 

Fighting hate online 

The Secretary-General underlined the UN’s commitment to protecting cultural rights and diversity, including through programmes on the Holocaust and the Genocide against the Tutsi in Rwanda, as well as its Strategy and Plan of Action on Hate Speech.  

“We will call for action from everyone with influence on the spread of mis- and disinformation on the internet – Governments, regulators, policymakers, technology companies, the media, civil society,” he said.  

“Stop the hate. Set up strong guardrails. Be accountable for language that causes harm.” 

Girls attend an Accelerated Learning Centre (ALC) class in Wardak Province in the central region of Afghanistan. (file)
© UNICEF/Christine Nesbitt
Girls attend an Accelerated Learning Centre (ALC) class in Wardak Province in the central region of Afghanistan. (file)

Patriarchy pushing back 

With half of humanity “held back by the most widespread human rights abuse of our time,” the UN chief underscored the right to full gender equality. 

He especially emphasized the plight of women and girls in Afghanistan, now “exiles in their own country” due to laws banning them from public life, and their counterparts in Iran, who have taken to the streets to demand fundamental human rights at great personal cost.

Gender discrimination is global, he said, and things are getting worse. 

“We face an intense pushback against the rights of women and girls. Women’s sexual and reproductive rights and legal protections are under threat.  At the international level, some governments now oppose even the inclusion of a gender perspective in multilateral negotiations,” he said. 

Gender equality is fundamentally a question of power, and the patriarchy is reasserting itself, he said, but the UN is fighting back and standing up for the rights of women and girls everywhere, including in its own ranks. 

Mr. Guterres also pledged to “double down” on support for measures towards greater gender equality, including quotas to close gaps in women’s representation, in elections, corporate board rooms and peace negotiations. 

‘Pandemic’ of rights violations 

Meanwhile, the civil and political rights that are the basis of inclusive societies are also under threat, as democracy is in retreat. 

“The pandemic was used as cover for a pandemic of civil and political rights violations,” said Mr. Guterres, warning that civic space “is vanishing before our eyes”.

He reported on threats such as repressive laws that restrict freedom of expression, new technologies that serve as a guise for controlling freedom of assembly or even movement, and the increase in attacks against the media. 

Through the Secretary-General's Call to Action for Human Rights, the UN is working to advance fundamental freedoms, promote civil society participation, and protect civic space around the world.  

“And we are strengthening our support for laws and policies that protect the right to participation and the right to freedom of expression, including a free and independent media,” he added. 

Secretary-General António Guterres with young climate activists at the ​​​​​​​Climate Implementation Summit at COP27 in Sharm el-Sheikh, Egypt.
UNFCCC/Kiara Worth
Secretary-General António Guterres with young climate activists at the ​​​​​​​Climate Implementation Summit at COP27 in Sharm el-Sheikh, Egypt.

Championing young people 

The Secretary-General emphasized that the threats undermining rights today will also have an impact on future generations, who are often perceived as barely an afterthought. 

He expressed hope that the Summit of the Future, scheduled for next year, will bring these rights to the forefront of the global discussion. 

“There is no greater constituency to champion that future than young people – and the new UN Youth Office that will be up and running this year is designed to strengthen our work,” he said. 

These efforts are also an opportunity to boost global action and build a UN that is fit for a new era, he added. 


Around 4.2 million girls at risk for Female Genital Mutilation says Guterres, stressing men must also speak out

INTERNATIONAL, 6 February 2023, Women - Female Genital Mutilation, or FGM, is an “abhorrent violation of fundamental human rights” said the UN Secretary-General on Monday, marking the International Day of Zero Tolerance against the scourge, which remains a threat for a staggering 4.2 million girls this year.
 António Guterres said that the practice of genital cutting, prevalent in some cultures for more than a thousand years, causes lifelong damage to both the physical and mental health of women and girls.

'Vicious manifestation of the patriarchy'

“It is one of the most vicious manifestations of the patriarchy that permeates our world”, he added.

With more than four million girls at risk this year alone from the pernicious act of gender-based violence, urgent investment together with action is needed, so the world can reach the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) target of eliminating female genital mutilation by 2030, the UN chief said.

He added that the practice was “rooted in the same gender inequalities and complex social norms that limit women’s participation and leadership and restrict their access to education and employment.

“This discrimination damages the whole of society, and we need urgent action by the whole of society to end it.”

As part of that, the UN sexual and reproductive health agency UNFPA, is partnering this year with UN Children’s Fund UNICEF on eliminating FGM in a campaign themed, Partnership with Men and Boys to transform Social and gender Norms to End FGM.

The agencies are calling for the international community to foster male engagement on just how harmful FGM is and uplift the voices of women and girls.

'Surge' of allies against FGM

Initiatives already underway by the UN and NGO partners have already resulted “in a surge of male allies such as religious and traditional leaders, health workers, law enforcement officials, members of civil society and grassroots organisations”, the UN said, “and have led to notable achievements in the protection of women and girls.”

The Secretary-General called on men and boys “everywhere to join me in speaking out and stepping forward to end female genital mutilation, for the benefit of all.”

What is most needed is a commitment to social change, and strong partnerships, to end FGM, once and for all, he concluded.

The UNFPA and UNICEF joint programme to accelerate the elimination of FGM has been running since 2008, and focuses on 17 countries in Africa and the Middle East, and also supports regional and global initiatives.

A ten-year-old girl ran away from home after discovering her family planned to train her as a FGM/C practitioner. She now lives in a UNICEF safe house in Port Loko, Sierra Leone, and is attending school.
© UNICEF/Olivier Asselin
A ten-year-old girl ran away from home after discovering her family planned to train her as a FGM/C practitioner. She now lives in a UNICEF safe house in Port Loko, Sierra Leone, and is attending school.

Support for millions

Through the support of the programme, more than six million girls and women have received prevention, protection and care services, while around 45 million people have made public declarations to abandon FGM practices.

According to UNFPA’s annual report on FGM for 2021, more than 532,000 girls have been prevented from undergoing FGM.

However, UNFPA also estimates that there may be as many as two million cases of FGM by 2030, that would otherwise have been averted, attributable to the regressive nature of the COVID-19 pandemic.

It’s still the case that around one in four girls and women worldwide – or 52 million people – have experienced FGM performed by health personnel, pointing to “an alarming trend in the medicalization of female genital mutilation”, according to a UNICEF analysis in 2020.


UN relief chief tells Security Council ‘we can do better’ in Ukraine

INTERNATIONAL, 6 February 2023, Humanitarian Aid - The UN’s Humanitarian Affairs chief warned the Security Council on Monday that efforts must improve to reach nearly 18 million in need in war-torn Ukraine, since Russia’s full-scale invasion last year.
“On the eve of the horrific one-year milestone, we have a lot to do and we can do better,” said Martin Griffiths, who also serves as the Emergency Relief Coordinator.

14,000 civilian casualties

A recent World Health Organization (WHO) report documented 14,000 civilian casualties, 17.7 million people in need of humanitarian assistance and 7.5 million Ukrainian refugees displaced across Europe. The report covered the first nine months of the ongoing war.

Nearly 40 per cent of Ukraine’s population needs assistance, against a backdrop of more than 7,000 civilian deaths and widespread devastation, he said, briefing the Council on the current humanitarian situation on the ground. Homes, schools and hospitals have been destroyed and entire cities heavily damaged.

“This violence shows no signs of abating,” he said, recalling recent airstrikes and sharing poignant scenes from his December visit to Ukraine.

‘Remarkable drive for survival’

Having witnessed communities completely cut off from electricity and essential supplies, he said “in this warscape, I also saw people’s remarkable drive for survival” amid the ongoing conflict.

He cited a bakery run by women, with help from the World Food Programme (WFP), which now produces thousands of loaves daily.

“The people of Ukraine have left the whole world in awe of their resilience,” he said, detailing some of the colossal challenges they face, from rampant sexual violence and trafficking, to crippling damage to infrastructure.

UN assists 15.8 million people

For its part, the UN provides 15.8 million people with assistance, including 1.3 million outside the Ukrainian Government’s control, he said. Inter-agency convoys provide comprehensive packages of support with a wealth of partners to send supplies - from winter coats to building materials - to those most in need.

Operations have expanded exponentially in the past year, he continued. Convoys have delivered life-saving aid to villages near the front line in rural parts of Donetsk, Zaporizhzhya, Kherson and Kharkiv oblasts.

Prior to February 2022, he said, humanitarian partners were already delivering assistance, mainly in the east on both sides of the front line in the Donetsk and Luhansk oblasts, or regions, following the initial 2014 Russian invasion. More than 650 humanitarian organizations now operate across all Ukrainian oblasts, he added.

“But, we need to reach more people, more frequently,” he stressed. “We must continue to staunchly advocate from all angles, to stop the humanitarian catastrophe and suffering of the Ukrainian people and to address this war’s profound global implications on global food and energy prices, trade and supply chains and on questions of nuclear safety.”

‘Making progress where we can’

“We are making progress where we can,” he said noting that the Black Sea Grain Initiative continues to make strides and anticipating the critical need for its renewal in March.

In addition, the UN will try to press for facilitating more food and fertilizer exports from Russia in a broader effort to address global food insecurity.

However, despite repeated attempts, crossline convoys from north to south have not materialized, he said, emphasizing that humanitarian access to areas under Russia’s temporary military control have become increasingly unpredictable and impeded. He reminded all parties in Ukraine to take constant care to spare civilians and relate objects and ensure passage of aid deliveries.

The 2023 humanitarian response plan, to be launched in Geneva next week, requires $3.9 billion to bring assistance to more than 11 million people, he said. Faced with these current conditions, coming after the previous eight years of conflict between Russia and Ukraine, he stressed that more must be done.

“I call on us all to push forward with renewed vigour to give the people of Ukraine the peace and support they need and deserve,” he said.

UN chief warns of ‘wider war’

Cautioning the General Assembly on Monday, while delivering a major speech on his priorities for the year, UN Secretary-General António Guterres said the chances of further escalation and bloodshed keep growing.

“I fear the world is not sleepwalking into a wider war,” he said. “It is doing so with its eyes wide open.”


UN agencies launch emergency response following Türkiye and Syria quake

INTERNATIONAL, 6 February 2023, Humanitarian Aid - After a massive earthquake hit southern Türkiye in the early hours of Monday, prompting fears of a humanitarian crisis, UN aid agencies have scrambled to help many thousands of reported victims, including those still believed to be buried under the rubble.
"My heart goes out to the people of Türkiye and Syria in this hour of tragedy" said the UN Secretary-General António Guterres in a statement. "The United Nations is fully committed to supporting the response. Our teams are on the ground assessing the needs and providing assistance."

More than 1.500 have been reported to have died and many more are injured with the toll continuing to rise as the rescue work continues.

Mr. Guterres said that the UN was counting on the international community to help the many thousands caught up in the disaster, "many of whom were already in dire need of humanitarian aid in areas where access is a challenge."

Emergency medical teams from the World Health Organization, WHO, have been given the green light to provide essential care for the injured and most vulnerable, WHO chief Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus said in a tweet.

Specialist UN surge teams from the Office of UN Disaster Assessment and Coordination (UNDAC) also tweeted that they were “ready to deploy”, amid multiple horrifying social media posts showing huge buildings collapsing in heavily built-up areas.

In a statement issued via Twitter, the UN in Türkiye expressed deep sadness at the loss of life and the destruction of property. The team expressed its condolences to the families of victims "as well as to the people and Government", wishing the injured a speedy recovery.

"United Nations Türkiye expresses its solidarity with Türkiye and is ready to assist."

Syria aid lifeline hit

UN humanitarian coordinating office OCHA underscored that the 7.4 magnitude quake hit at the height of winter. The epicentre was in southern Türkiye, where nearby Gaziantep – an important UN aid hub for northern Syria - was among the cities affected.

“Deeply saddened by the loss of life caused by this morning’s #earthquake,” the UN refugee agency in Syria (UNHCRtweeted, adding that it was “actively coordinating a response with #UN Agencies and other humanitarian actors to deliver assistance and support to those in need in #Syria”.

Idlib, Aleppo shock

Although the earthquake was felt as far away as Lebanon, closer to home, northern Syria’s Aleppo and Idlib also reportedly saw thousands of building collapse, including two hospitals.

Humanitarian needs in northern Syria are already huge, as the region is home to millions of people displaced by the country’s long-running war.

Snow and rain have hampered the work of rescue teams, whose families are also among those believed to buried under collapsed buildings.

UN-wide support

After an official request for international assistance from Ankara, the UN Children’s Fund, UNICEF, confirmed that it was ready to support the emergency response.

“Our hearts and thoughts are with the children and families in Türkiye and Syria affected by the devastating earthquakes. Our deepest condolences to those who lost loved ones,” said UNICEF Executive Director Catherine Russell.

Echoing that message of support, UN migration agency, IOM, said that is warehouse in Gaziantep had prepared non-food items and essential relief ready to be deployed. “IOM teams are also doing on-the-ground assessments to inform the response”, said spokesperson Safa Msehli.

Director-General Antonio Vitorino tweeted his solidarity “with people in Türkiye, Syria, Lebanon, the Palestinian Territories, Jordan and all those affected following the deadly earthquake. We will be working closely with governments in the region to support those affected and help alleviate their suffering.”


South African peacekeeper killed after helicopter comes under fire mid-flight in DR Congo

INTERNATIONAL, 5 February 2023, Peace and Security - A UN peacekeeper was killed on Sunday in the restive eastern region of the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC) after the helicopter he was travelling in came under fire after taking off from the city of Beni.
In a statement issued by his Spokesperson, UN Secretary-General António Guterres strongly condemned the attack, which left the South African ‘blue helmet’ dead, and another wounded.

Emergency landing

According to news reports, the severely injured peacekeeper was able to continue flying, and along with the rest of the crew, managed to land at the airport of the provincial capital, Goma.

There is no indication so far who was responsible for the attack, or what weapon was used in the assault.

Eastern DRC is home to multiple armed groups, including the rebel M23 force, which has been fighting a major campaign against Government troops in recent months, supported by the UN mission there, known by its French acronym MONUSCO, as part of its protection-of-civilians mandate.

Hundreds of civilians have been killed during the violence at the hands of armed groups, including women and children.

Last March, eight peacekeepers were killed when their helicopter crashed in an area of North Kivu province where the Congolese army was engaged in heavy fighting with M23.

Call for immediate ceasefire

At a summit of the East African Community on Saturday in Burundi, regional leaders renewed their call for an immediate ceasefire by combatants involved in eastern DRC. Kinshasa has accused the Rwandan Government of supporting the M23 rebels, a charge categorically denied by authorities in Kigali.

M23 has seized many areas of North Kivu province in eastern DRC since last October, threatening to advance on the provincial capital.

More than 500,000 have reportedly been displaced by intense fighting in the province since last March, and earlier in the week, Pope Francis made his first visit to DRC calling for an end to violence. An agreement signed in November when rebels agreed to withdraw, failed to come to fruition.

The head of MONUSCO, and Special Representative to DRC, Bintou Keita, briefed the Security Council in December, telling ambassadors that the security situation had “deteriorated dramatically” in previous weeks.

Nyiranzaba and her nine children take refuge in a tent after fleeing her village in Rutshuru territory, North Kivu province, DR Congo.
© UNICEF/Arlette Bashizi
Nyiranzaba and her nine children take refuge in a tent after fleeing her village in Rutshuru territory, North Kivu province, DR Congo.

Guterres pledges continuing support

In his statement, Mr. Guterres expressed his deepest condolences to the family of the fallen peacekeeper, and to the Government and people of South Africa, wishing a speedy recovery to the injured following the dramatic helicopter landing.

He recalled that such attacks against peacekeepers "may constitute a war crime under international law." He asked Congolese authorities to investigate the heinous attack, and bring those responsible to justice as soon as possible.

“The Secretary-General reaffirms that the United Nations, through his Special Representative in the Democratic Republic of the Congo, will continue to support the Congolese Government and people”, the statement continued, “in their efforts to bring about peace and stability in the east of the country.”


From the Field: Earning a crust from bread

INTERNATIONAL, 4 February 2023, Humanitarian Aid - A UN-supported refugee from the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC) who was left for dead after being attacked by armed men, has baked his way back to a new life off the breadline, in Burundi.
Kavugwa Shebulike Cadet (right) prepares dough with his employees and trainees at his bakery in Nyankanda refugee camp.
© UNHCR/Samuel Otieno | Kavugwa Shebulike Cadet (right) prepares dough with his employees and trainees at his bakery in Nyankanda refugee camp.

Kavugwa Shebulike Cadet, fled with his wife and seven children to the Nyankanda refugee camp, in eastern Burundi, where he set up a bakery providing what he calls the best bread “for miles around.”

Some 12,000 Congolese refugees live in the camp having fled the insecurity and uncertainty of life in the eastern DR Congo.

Read more here about how his baking business - which he started with just $60 in hand - initially produced just a few loaves of bread, but is now feeding large numbers of hungry and satisfied customers.


Moldova: The long and winding road to safety

INTERNATIONAL, 4 February 2023, Migrants and Refugees - Since Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, some 700,000 fleeing people have passed through neighbouring Moldova, putting a huge strain on the country’s resources. The UN’s migration agency (IOM) is helping the most vulnerable, and the authorities, to navigate this unprecedented situation.
Tucked away in the southeastern corner of Europe, Moldova’s winters may be drab and harsh, but the road from Ukraine’s border spools out through bare, brown hills like a ribbon of hope.

To Larysa, who came from the Donetsk region of Ukraine, the silent heath means safety. It means a pause in the constant barrage of artillery, the whine of sirens and drones, the rush for the bunker, the dark, the cold, the smell, and the grime of war. The terror can be set aside, and life can start again.

When Larysa got off a bus from the border to the International Organization for Migration (IOM) station outside the small town of Palanca, she left behind the Donetsk region, having made a 2,000-kilometre, three-day journey with her sick daughter.

Larysa Kirilenko from Donetsk and her daughter take a snack on at a waystation en route to Bucharest.
Victor Lacken/
Larysa Kirilenko from Donetsk and her daughter take a snack on at a waystation en route to Bucharest.

‘Mama, will we wake up tomorrow?’

Her conversation, like all those who have just left the hell of war, comes in ebbs and flows. Torrents follow silences, stifled tears and too raw memories. At first, disbelief, then relief. But, she is already planning her next move, to Romania.

“When I get to Bucharest, I want to apply for a job, find work, accommodation,” she says. “The most important thing is that there is no shooting there, that it’s peaceful and your child goes to bed without saying ‘mama, will we wake up tomorrow?’”

Larysa and her daughter are two of a few dozen people sitting around a tent staffed by IOM and other agencies. Before the bus leaves for a 10-hour-long trek to the Romanian capital, there is time for a hot meal, a health check-up, to get information needed for the coming days and weeks and even a shower.

“When we first came here in late February, immediately after the Russian invasion, there was total chaos on the border,” remembers Lars Johan Lonnback, IOM’s Chief of Mission in Moldova. “It was immediately clear to us that, along with food, shelter, medical care and counselling, transport was a massive need. Well-meaning volunteers were arriving, offering to take vulnerable families – who, you have to remember, left their men behind to fight – to Portugal, Norway, Italy. It was totally unorganized and a dream scenario for human traffickers, who always turn up when people are at their most vulnerable.”

Ukrainians travelling to Romania receiving practical information, food and blankets from IOM staff.
Victor Lacken/

Bussed to Bucharest

It was also abundantly clear to Lonnback that the thousands of people coming across the border would place a massive strain on Moldova’s scarce resources, risking a social crisis. IOM, partnering with the Moldovan authorities and the UN Refugee Agency (UNHCR), assessed the needs and worked towards finding solutions. The partners quickly established a dedicated bus service that decongested the border area, protected the vulnerable, and added a raft of services to the massive relief effort.

In the same vein, IOM has been helping people, particularly the most needy – including persons with disabilities, the elderly and those who are bedridden – to get to European Union countries by plane. To date, more than 15,000 people have entered the European Union by bus and plane with IOM support, which Lonnback believes has helped to stave off a difficult situation in Moldova, a country already wracked by poverty and social tensions.

“The critical thing is that the international community continues to help Moldova in any way it can,” he says. “We’ve seen that the Ukrainians are proud and resilient, and they really don’t want to leave their homes. But, as the attacks on infrastructure mount, and as the snow piles up, it gets more and more difficult to live, to simply exist. We have established a system that is flexible and responsive, and we can scale up in the event of large numbers of people once again fleeing Ukraine.”

About 10 per cent of those who have fled from Ukraine via Moldova have decided to stay in the country.  Many of those who stayed are from cities relatively close to the border; have family and friends in Moldova; or, like people in any war, they want to remain close to their homeland.

Svitlana Nikitina (second from left) and her family fled Odesa at the start of the Ukraine war.
Victor Lacken/

Four generations uprooted

Svitlana, a 60-year-old real estate agent from Odesa, 40 kilometres from Moldova, is now a mainstay for four generations of women living in a small house about an hour outside Chisinau. She speaks slowly, sometimes mechanically, describing the horrors she saw and heard. Her mother quietly reads as her daughter prepares borscht and her granddaughter sketches.

But, she doesn’t cry. Svitlana gives the impression that sorrow is something she must not, will not, make time for. Her husband and sons-in-law are on the front line, and her task is to lead the family, alone.

Moldova has welcomed them warmly, she says, with humanitarian aid and simple kindness. She and her daughter are learning Romanian so they can compete on the local job market and use their skills for the benefit of their host country and themselves. Much as they appreciate the aid they have been given, they don’t want to survive on it.

“It’s sustainability through solidarity,” says Margo Baars, IOM’s Emergency Coordinator in Moldova, describing the organization’s approach. “We provide livelihood support, grants for small businesses, training and transitional shelter support, particularly to get people through this difficult winter. One of the main things we do is psychological support, because people have been through a lot and need more than just material aid.”

Leaving Ukraine along with the mothers, young children and grandmothers, are old men. Yurii, 73, vividly remembers his parents talking about the Second World War, and never thought that he would see such death and destruction in his homeland. “It’s horrible,” he says. “Every day we have victims being brought in. Every day. There are so many victims, so much grief, so many people suffering.”

Five-month-old Ivan, conceived in peace and born into war in Ukraine, is now safe in Moldova with his mother Ksenia. While heavily pregnant, Ksenia had run through a minefield as cluster bombs rained down. She fell, but escaped, with a birthmark on Ivan remaining as a memory of the day they had both cheated death.

“I want this war to end so I can enjoy motherhood to the fullest,” says Ksenia. “I think I would have gone crazy with this war without Ivan. He’s the one who brightened up all the horror.” 

In this cold, miserable field, her own smile is a beam of sunlight.

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