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Rohingya conference pledges to ‘remain steadfast’ in finding solutions to crisis

INTERNATIONAL, 22 October 2020, Migrants and Refugees - A joint UN-hosted donor conference to rally international support behind Myanmar’s displaced Rohingya minority, ended on Thursday with a promise to continue engaging with concerned countries towards finding a long-term solution to their plight.

“We will continue to work together to maintain international attention on the Rohingya crisis and to shift from short-term critical interventions, to a more sustained and stable support”, said the closing statement from co-hosts the UN refugee agency (UNHCR), the European Union (EU), United Kingdom and United States.

“We are grateful to all who have participated…including those who have announced or pledged funding for the international humanitarian response, those who are supporting members of the Rohingya communities in other ways - not least by hosting them - and most importantly, representatives of Rohingya communities themselves”, the statement continued.

The appeal comes more than three years after the orchestrated violence that erupted in Myanmar, across Rakhine state, which saw hundreds of thousands of mainly-Muslim Rohingya flee their homes, in search of safety across the border in Cox’s Bazar, Bangladesh.

There are currently 860,000 Rohingya refugees in and around Cox’s Bazar, and an estimated 600,000 still in Rakhine state, who face ongoing violence and discrimination; and Malaysia, India, Indonesia, and other countries in the region, are together hosting nearly 150,000 Rohingya refugees.

Voluntary, safe, dignified return

“The voluntary, safe, dignified, and sustainable return of Rohingya refugees and others internally displaced to their places of origin or of their own choosing in Myanmar, is the comprehensive solution that we seek along with Rohingya people themselves”, the joint communique stated.

“To that end, we underscore the Secretary General’s call for a global ceasefire and the cessation of fighting to enable safe and unimpeded humanitarian access to all communities in need of assistance.”

The co-chairs urged Myanmar’s Government to resolve the crisis, and “take steps to address the root causes of the violence and displacement”, creating the conditions that would allow for sustainable returns.

“This includes providing a pathway to citizenship and freedom of movement for Rohingya, guided by the Advisory Commission on Rakhine State’s recommendations and encouraged and supported by countries in the region. Myanmar must provide justice for the victims of human rights abuses and ensure that those responsible are held accountable”, the statement continued.

Expressing thanks and support to the Government and people of Bangladesh, the co-chairs stressed that increased support for Rohingya, must go hand-in-hand with increased support for host communities.

“While we continue efforts to secure long-term solutions, a focus on more sustainable response planning and financing in Bangladesh, could more effectively support the government’s management of the response and maximize limited resources to benefit both Bangladeshi and refugee communities.”

$600 million pledged

The co-chairs announced new pledges of around $600 million in humanitarian funding, which significantly expands the nearly $636 million in assistance already committed so far in 2020 under the Bangladesh Joint Response Plan and the Myanmar Humanitarian Response Plan.

The crisis is having a “devastating effect on vulnerable members of Rohingya communities, particularly women and children who require gender and age-sensitive interventions” said the co-chairs, leading to vulnerable refugees “desperately attempting to reach other countries in the region.

UN Children’s Fund (UNICEF) Executive-Director, Henrietta Fore, said that thanks to Bangladesh and generous donors worldwide, UNICEF and other UN agencies such as UNHCR, migration agency IOM, World Food Programme WFP, and many NGOs, continue to serve and support vulnerable Rohingya children.

In addition to providing vital services such as health, nutrition, and sanitation, education is “critical for young Rohingyas to build better futures. And to one day voluntarily return and reintegrate into Myanmar with the safety and dignity they deserve.”

Support for 170,000 Rohingya children

“We’re giving parents and caregivers the training and tools they need to support their children’s education. More than 170,000 Rohingya children are being supported this way”, she said.

“Join our call to ensure a place for Rohingya children in both countries’ education systems and programmes. They need education where they live”, she told the conference.

Ms. Fore called on donors not to forget the daily struggles of Rohingya children who remain inside Myanmar. “They’re still facing discrimination, horrifying violence and intensifying conflict every day. The fighting needs to stop so children can return to school and play, and so refugees can return home safely if they choose.”

Rohingyas themselves ‘backbone of the response’

UN Emergency Relief Coordinator, Mark Lowcock, said it was vital to recognize that the Rohingya refugees themselves have been “the backbone of the response.”

“They volunteer as health workers, they distribute masks and they help protect their communities from the pandemic. And I think we are all need to be very grateful to them and encourage them to take up this kind of responsibility.”

Highlighting again the Rohingya communities that remain in Myanmar, he said 130,000 of them remain displaced in central Rakhine State where they have been since 2012, and another 10,000 have been displaced since 2017 in northern Rakhine.

“Those people continue to have their basic rights denied, they suffer extreme hardships in Rakhine State and elsewhere”, added relief chief Lowcock.

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Classroom crisis: Avert a ‘generational catastrophe’, urges UN chief

INTERNATIONAL, 22 October 2020, Culture and Education - The world is at risk of suffering “a generational catastrophe” as COVID-19 wreaks havoc on the education of students globally, the UN chief said on Thursday. 

In a video message to the UN Education, Scientific and Cultural Organization’s (UNESCO) Global Education Meeting (GEM), Secretary-General António Guterres reminded delegates that the pandemic had had a “disproportionate impact on the most vulnerable and marginalized children and youth”.

“The progress we have made, especially for girls and young women, is under threat”, he said. “We now need to support the learning recovery in low and middle income countries – and to factor education into every stimulus package”.

Tackling the situation

To successfully avert the crisis, Mr. Guterres upheld the importance of recognizing education as “a common global good”, with teachers, safe schools, digital technologies and those at greatest risk, in need of far greater investment. 

“Financing and political will are critical”, he stressed. 

‘Vital linkages’ of education

Deputy UN chief Amina Mohammed observed that the COVID-19 pandemic had clearly highlighted “the vital linkages between education, nutrition, gender equality, health and social protection”.

She noted education systems had managed to undergo “rapid transformation” and pointed to the work of Governments in minimizing the educational impact on students, the flexibility and creativity of teachers and how caregivers have taken on “frontline roles” to support children’s education.

“Learners persevered and adapted to new realities”, continued Ms. Mohammed, as UN agencies have worked together with external partners, including through the Global Education Coalition, to deploy support and guidance to Governments.

However, these efforts have not been enough.

Since the pandemic hit, at least one-third of the world’s students have been deprived of any form of learning; close to half a billion pupils are still affected by school closures; and the most marginalized, including at least 11 million girls, are at high risk of never returning to school, according to the deputy UN chief.

© UNICEF/Raphael Pouget
Mauritanian students return to school after several months of school closures due to COVID-19.

Putting words into actions

Leading up to the meeting, UNESCO undertook a series of consultations for a draft GEM Declaration, which was informed, among other things, by the UN Secretary-General’s Policy Brief and the fourth Sustainable Development Goal (SDG) of education.

Central to transforming words into action, Ms. Mohammed highlighted the priority areas of financing, inclusion, teachers, safe school reopening, connectivity and coordination. 

“Over the coming year, political leaders in national and local governments, donor agencies and financial institutions must ensure that the resolve to support education is backed up with resources”, she asserted. 

Even before COVID-19, some 250 million children were out of school -- Deputy UN chief

She also called for innovation, attesting that going back to “normality” was neither possible nor desirable as it would mean ignoring the “profound changes” in technology and labour markets across the world.

“And it would mean accepting the unacceptable fact that even before COVID-19, some 250 million children were out of school and more than half of primary school age children worldwide lacked basic reading skills”, she stated.

Finally, the UN official underscored that “effective multilateral collaboration” and “greater solidarity with the most vulnerable countries” were needed to coordinate education among actors. 

“Implementation of this Declaration, therefore, requires a reimagining of education; a dramatic push to train millions of teachers…scaling up of partnerships to connect every school, teacher and learner to the internet; and…equipping young people with the skills they need to thrive in a complex and rapidly changing world”, spelled out the Deputy Secretary-General.

Fourth Global Goal

Turning to the 2030 Sustainable Development Agenda, Ms. Mohammed called education the “docking station” for the SDGs, from achieving gender equality to learning about human rights and acquiring new skills for a digital green economy, to developing tools for boosting tolerance and peace efforts.

“Delivering SDG 4 is a great responsibility on us all — led by the education community”, she concluded.

Other voices

UNESCO chief Audrey Azoulay paid tribute to Samuel Paty, the teacher who was decapitated close to his school near Paris, last week, after showing cartoons of the prophet Muhammad to his pupils, “and to all the teachers in the world who take risks to educate our children". 

Meanwhile, Erna Solberg, Prime Minister of Norway, a co-sponsor of the event, said that “as countries start to reopen in the era of COVID-19, education must come first”. 

And Baroness Sugg, the United Kingdom’s Minister for Foreign Affairs and Development, another co-sponsor, said “we know just how critically important it is to place education at the heart of our global COVID response". 

From Ghana, the third co-sponsor, Education Minister Matthew Opoku Prempeh flagged on behalf of President Nana Akufo-Addo that the digital divide in developing have left many children “deprived” of online teaching and learning tools. 

In her remarks, UNHCR Special Envoy Angelina Jolie emphasized that the biggest problem in this education crisis is not a lack of awareness or ideas, but instead a lack of will, saying “we know what should be done and we know the consequences if we do not act”.

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Independent UN rights experts urge Thai government to allow peaceful protests

INTERNATIONAL, 22 October 2020, Human Rights - Calling the latest imposition of a state of emergency in Thailand, a “draconian measure”,  UN-appointed human rights experts on Thursday urged the Government there to guarantee the fundamental rights of peaceful assembly and free speech.  

In a statement, the independent rights experts called for an end to a crackdown on peaceful protests. “The imposition of a state of emergency is the latest in a series of draconian measures aimed at stifling peaceful demonstrations and criminalizing dissenting voices”, they said.  

Urging authorities to allow students, human rights defenders and others to protest in a peaceful manner, the UN experts called for demonstrators to “be allowed to freely speak their mind and share their political views, both online and offline, without prosecution.”   

‘Unnecessary force’ 

On 15 October “severe emergency measures” were imposed around the capital Bangkok, prohibiting gatherings of more than four people. Since then, police have subsequently applied force, including the use of water cannon, to disperse protesters who were demonstrating peacefully. 

On Thursday, authorities revoked the emergency decree from a week earlier, according to news reports, declaring that violence on the streets had eased. The student-led protests are calling for the Prime Minister to step down.   

“The security authorities are using unnecessary force against the peaceful protesters,” the experts contined. “Such violence only risks escalating the situation. Instead of trying to silence peaceful demonstrators, we urge the Thai government to promptly seek an open and genuine dialogue with them.” 

Fundamental freedoms at risk 

Thousands of people have joined pro-democracy protests in Bangkok, calling for government and monarchy reforms. Since 13 October 2020, at least 80 individuals have been arrested, of whom 27 remain in detention.  

Some have been charged under Thailand’s Criminal Code on counts of sedition and holding an “illegal assembly”, some have also been charged under the Computer Crimes Act for using their social media accounts to call on the public to participate in the rallies, and two of those indicted face lifetime sentences for allegedly using violence against the monarchy.  

Raising serious concerns over the charges, the experts Clément Nyaletsossi VouleIrene Khan and Mary Lawlor, called on Thai authorities to “immediately and unconditionally release any individual detained for the sole exercise of her fundamental freedoms”.  

Special Rapporteurs are part of what is known as the Special Procedures of the UN Human Rights Council. They work on a voluntary basis; they are not UN staff and do not receive a salary for their work.

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Little progress on disputed Abyei region between Sudan and South Sudan

INTERNATIONAL, 22 October 2020, Peace and Security - Despite the strengthening of the relationship between Sudan and South Sudan, little progress has been made regarding the disputed Abyei region, the head of UN Peacekeeping told the Security Council on Thursday. 

Jean-Pierre Lacroix briefed ambassadors on recent developments concerning the oil-rich border area, where the UN interim security force, UNISFA, has been deployed since 2011 to protect civilians and humanitarians. 

He recalled the signing earlier this month of an historic peace agreement between the Sudanese authorities and several armed groups from Darfur following a year of negotiations facilitated by South Sudan. 

The two neighbours have also signalled their intention to relaunch the political process to discuss the final stages of Abyei and its border areas, which Mr. Lacroix described as a positive development. 

“However, despite this continued rapprochement between the Sudan and South Sudan, the peace process has made little progress in Abyei.  The main developments at the local level were the appointments by Juba and Khartoum of their respective chief administrators”, he said. 

“This constitutes an unprecedented political development as it is the first time Abyei has two appointed chief administrators.” 

Volatile security situation 

Meanwhile, the security situation in Abyei remained volatile.   

Mr. Lacroix reported that since April, there have been four attacks against UNISFA personnel and four incidents of intercommunal violence, including armed attacks on villages.  

While the force continued to engage leaders from the Nginka and Misseriya communities, the violence has had a negative impact on peace efforts. 

Reduced force strength 

The UN peacekeeping chief also reported on issues facing UNISFA, which has a mandated deployment of 640 police personnel. This figure includes three Formed Police Units consisting of 160 officers each. However, staffing currently stands at 35, with 16 officers set to end their assignments in the coming weeks. 

“Since no visas have been issued for any new officers who could be deployed as replacement, the strength of the police component will reduce to 19 officers. Consequently, this situation will inevitably lead to the closure of some team sites in UNISFA, and will have a negative impact on the mandate implementation”, said Mr. Lacroix. 

The non-issuance of visas, coupled with COVID-19 travel restrictions, has also affected China and Tanzania who must conduct reconnaissance visits to the area ahead of sending personnel for the force. 

Cooperation on oil production 

The Security Council heard in addition from the UN Special Envoy for the Horn of Africa, Parfait Onanga-Anyanga, who also commended the growing engagement between Sudan and South Sudan. 

 “As the countries now strengthen their relationship, they are no longer likely to pursue activities that undermine each other’s stability”, he said. 

The Special Envoy reported on continued cooperation in oil production.  Last month, the two countries signed a protocol on the resumption of  production in the Unity and Toma South oil fields in South Sudan, with 15,000 barrels per day expected soon. 

“The deal includes details on the transfer of crude oil to Sudan for its domestic use. In return, Sudan will provide technical support”, he said.  

“Before the agreement, South Sudan was providing 30,000 barrels per day of crude oil to Sudan. The deal is in line with South Sudan’s plan to return to its pre-conflict production level of 350,000 barrels per day from its current 150,000 barrels per day ."

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FROM THE FIELD: Women guardians of the environment

INTERNATIONAL, 22 October 2020, Climate Change - Women from around the world are being given a more prominent role in the fight against climate change, thanks to the efforts of the UN Development Programme (UNDP).

Globally, countries are being encouraged to update their plans to curb climate change and restrict the increase in temperatures to at least two degrees Celsius above pre-industrial levels, a process which is being supported by UNDP.

The impacts of a warming planet are being felt globally, as weather patterns become more unpredictable, and the frequency and intensity of disasters increase.

UNDP/Zaimis Olmos | A woman fisher prepares her nets on the Caribbean Island, Dominica. 

The knowledge and leadership skills of women are being factored into the plans to reverse adverse climatic conditions; farmers in particular are considered to have a key role in introducing agricultural practices which are more favourable to the environment, and can help reduce the emission of harmful gasses, which are accelerating climate change.

Read more here about how women are increasingly taking on the role of guardians of the environment.

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A few ‘green shoots’, but future of global trade remains deeply uncertain

INTERNATIONAL, 21 October 2020, Economic Development - Although global trade is making a frail recovery, the outlook remains uncertain, UN trade and development body UNCTAD said on Wednesday, in announcing its latest COVID-era update

Estimates show that world trade will drop by five per cent this quarter, compared with the 2019 level. While this is an improvement over the nearly 20 per cent decline in the second quarter of the year, it is still not enough to pull trade out of the red. 

Furthermore, UNCTAD expects the value of all good traded to contract by seven to nine percent compared to last year, depending on how the COVID-19 pandemic evolves in the winter months. 

Uncertainty aggravating trade 

“The uncertain course of the pandemic will continue aggravating trade prospects in the coming months”, said UNCTAD Secretary-General Mukhisa Kituyi. 

“Despite some 'green shoots' we can't rule out a slowdown in production in certain regions or sudden increases in restrictive policies.” 

While the projection represents a decrease, the figure is a more positive result than previously expected, as UNCTAD had projected a 20 per cent year-on-end drop for 2020, back in June. 

Trade trends have improved since then, the agency added, primarily due to the earlier than expected resumption of economic activity in Europe and east Asia. 

China leads recovery 

The report points to China, which has shown a notable trade recovery. 

Chinese exports had fallen in the early months of the pandemic and stabilized in the second quarter of the year, before rebounding strongly in the next quarter, with year-over year growth of almost 10 per cent. 

“Overall, the level of Chinese exports for the first nine months of 2020 was comparable to that of 2019 over the same period”, the report said. 

Within China, demand for goods and services has also recovered.  Imports stabilized in July and August, and grew by 13 per cent in September.   

Growth and decline in Asia 

India and South Korea also recorded export growth last month, at four per cent and eight per cent, respectively. 

UNCTAD reported that as of July, the fall in trade was significant in most regions except east Asia.  

West and south Asia saw the sharpest declines, with imports dropping by 23 per cent, and exports by 29 per cent. 

The report also includes an assessment of trade in different sectors, with the energy and automotive industries hardest hit by the pandemic. 

Meanwhile, sectors such as communication equipment, office machinery, and textiles and apparel, have seen strong growth due to the implementation of mitigation responses such as teleworking and personal protection measures. 

Wealthy nations benefit from COVID-19 medical supply trade 

The report also gives special attention to COVID-19 medical supplies, which include personal protective equipment, disinfectants, diagnostic kits, oxygen respirators and related hospital equipment. 

Between January and May, sales of medical supplies from China, the European Union, and the United States, rose from $25 billion to $45 billion per month.  Since April, trade has increased by an average of more than 50 per cent. 

However, the authors found wealthier nations have mainly benefited from this trade, with middle and low income countries priced out from access to COVID-19 supplies. 

Residents of high income countries have on average benefited from an additional $10 per month of imports of COVID-19 related products.  This compares to just $1 for their counterparts in middle income countries, and 10 cents for those in low income nations. 

 UNCTAD warned that if a COVID-19 vaccine becomes available, the access divide between wealthy and poor countries could be even more drastic. 

The report urges governments, the private sector and philanthropic organizations to continue mobilizing additional funds to fight the pandemic in developing countries and to support financial mechanisms that will provide safe and effective COVID-19 vaccines to poor countries

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Environmental factors behind 15 per cent of deaths across Mediterranean, new UN report reveals

INTERNATIONAL, 21 October 2020, SDGs - Around 15 per cent of deaths in the Mediterranean are attributable to preventable environmental factors, a new UN Environment Programme (UNEP) report released on Wednesday has revealed.

In 2016, more than 228,000 people died prematurely from exposure to air pollution, according to UNEP’s State of the Environment and Development in the Mediterranean (SoED).

Rising inequality, biodiversity loss, climate change and unrelenting pressure on natural resources, could lead to irreversible environmental damage in the Mediterranean basin, the report warned.

Moreover, unless urgent and resolute action is taken to halt current trends, environmental degradation could have serious and lasting consequences for human health and livelihoods throughout the region. 

A bleak picture

With hundreds of millions of visitors each year, the Mediterranean is one of the world’s most coveted tourism destinations and busiest shipping routes.

Every day it is polluted by an estimated 730 tonnes of plastic waste, which threatens biodiversity along with the more than 1,000 non-indigenous species that live below the water, said ILO.

Furthermore, the overall region is warming 20 per cent faster than the global average.

SoED also indicates that the region, which is home to more than 512 million people, is not on track to achieve the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) by 2030. 

Solutions at sea

To tackle environmental degradation, the report identifies several actions, including phasing out harmful subsidies - such as those for non-renewable fuels, and groundwater extraction - and recommends instead, incentivizing sustainable options.

It calls for all sectors of Mediterranean economies to prioritize development, not just those directly concerning the environment, and implement degradation preventation measures – noting that they cost less, and lead to better environmental and social outcomes than clean-up and curative action.

Harnessing nature-based solutions is also recommended to build resilience, which requires action and investment.

And finally, SoED advocates for enforcing national legislation provisions on accountability and legal action if necessary, as well as strengthening legal enforcement mechanisms, including those under the region’s Barcelona Convention, on protecting the marine environment, and its Protocols.

‘Green renaissance’ possible

“By shedding light on the mistakes of the past, the report’s findings can guide a green renaissance in the Mediterranean”, said Gaetano Leone, Coordinator of the UNEP/MAP-Barcelona Convention Secretariat.

“Embarking on greener development paths now can halt the environmental degradation trends and salvage hard-won achievements in the implementation of the Sustainable Development Goals”, he added. 

Inner workings

Last published in 2009, SoED provides a comprehensive assessment of the environment and development in the Mediterranean region. 

It was produced by Plan Bleu, a regional centre of the UNEP Mediterranean Action Plan (MAP), involving 21 coastal countries of the Mediterranean and the European Union, so they can cooperate in protecting marine and coastal environments for sustainable development. 

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Kosovo: Show solidarity in face of COVID, UN Mission chief urges

INTERNATIONAL, 21 October 2020, Peace and Security - The top UN official in Kosovo, briefing the Security Council on Wednesday, called for solidarity as its new Government grapples with the COVID-19 pandemic and a host of other challenges.

“For places such as Kosovo, still suffering the consequences of past conflict, cooperation, unity of political voice and vision, dialogue and preventing extreme polarization should be the highest order priorities”, Zahir Tanin, head of the United Nations Interim Administration Mission in Kosovo (UNMIK), told the 15-member organ.

Difficult balance

Such solidarity, especially during the current pandemic, should focus intensively on attaining the difficult balance between public health, economic recovery and human rights – “a conundrum presently defying Governments the world over,” Mr. Tanin said.

Kosovo, which has an ethnic-Albanian majority, broke away from Serbia in a bloody conflict which began in 1998, with the Security Council authorizing temporary administrative powers to the UN, in 1999.

Kosovo unilaterally declared independence a decade later, backed by the United States and United Kingdom, among others. But Serbia, backed diplomatically by Russia, has never accepted the split, and Kosovo has not achieved full member status at the United Nations.

Different stages

Mr. Tanin, discussing the Secretary-General’s latest report on UNMIK,  said that the COVID-19 crisis in Kosovo has gone through different phases, from stringent measures and lockdowns towards a more relaxed approach aimed at economy recovery, as a new government led by Prime Minister Avdullah Hoti took the reins in June.

Despite insufficient capacity to deal with a pandemic, Kosovo’s healthcare system – and frontline health workers in particular – worked heroically to make the best use of limited resources.  The socio-economic consequences have been severe, however, with the psychological fallout also widely felt across society, he said.

For the UN presence in Kosovo, the focus on directly helping people, institutions and communities in the framework of the Mission’s strategic support for dialogue and trust-building, amid reports of a growing number of security incidents against vulnerable and non-majority communities as well as significant increases in domestic violence and violence against children, he said.

News reports in Kosovo, citing local health authorities, on Wednesday put the number of active COVID-19 cases at 1,944, with the highest number of new cases in Pristina municipality.

Negotiations resume

Vaccination programmes have resumed in Kosovo after the COVID-19 outbreak., by © UNICEF/Samir Karahoda

On relations between Pristina and Belgrade, Mr. Tanin commended the two sides for resuming negotiations - after Kosovo lifted 100 per cent import tariffs on goods from Serbia – and called on them to pursue a process of constructive dialogue.

Recent meetings in Brussels and Washington demonstrated the potential for progress when international resources and leadership on the ground come together to move difficult issues forward, he said.

“Of course, the most important conditions to be met in order for negotiations to succeed are political unity, strong commitment and goodwill among leaders, both in Pristina and in Belgrade, and sustained international support,” he said.

Countering misinformation

Mr. Tanin went on to urge Kosovo’s leaders to do more to counter misinformation and to ensure that the work of the Kosovo Specialist Prosecutor’s Office and the Kosovo Specialist Chambers receive “unambiguous institutional and political support” going forward.

It is unfortunate, he said, that some political leaders “did not always help to rectify false narratives” – including by attempting to question the legitimacy of the Specialist Chambers – after the Specialist Prosecutor’s Office said in June that it was filing indictments against President Hashim Thaçi, among others.

Three individuals now re in pre-trial detention, with one facing war crimes charges and the other two held on suspicion of intimidation, retaliation, violating the secrecy of proceedings and unlawful disclosure of protected information, following the publication of allegedly leaked prosecution-related documents.

Mr. Thaçi, a former leader of the Kosovo Liberation Army who went on to become Kosovo’s first prime minister after its 2008 declaration of independence, has indicated that he will step down from office if and when his indictment is publicly confirmed by pre-trial judges, Mr. Tanin said.

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UN chief calls for end to reported police brutality in Nigeria

INTERNATIONAL, 21 October 2020, Peace and Security - The UN Secretary-General on Wednesday said he was closely following recent developments across Nigeria, in the wake of reports that protesters had been shot dead and wounded, and called for “an end to reported police brutality and abuses.” 

António Guterres said in a statement issued by his Spokesperson, that he condemned “the violent escalation on 20 October in Lagos which resulted in multiple deaths and caused many injuries.” 

According to witnesses, Nigerian security forces opened fire on Tuesday night in Africa’s largest city, as protests continued over a now-disbanded and discredited police unit, known as the Special Anti-Robbery Squad, or SARS. 

The Government has pledged to carry out further police reforms, and improve police accountability.  

A curfew has been imposed on Lagos and other parts of Nigeria, with reports that tensions continued into Wednesday, with police across the city firing shots in the air, in an effort to disperse protesters who were defying the order to stay off the streets. 

The UN chief expressed his condolences to the families of the bereaved, and wished a speedy recovery to those injured.  

Act with ‘maximum restraint’, demonstrate peacefully 

He called on Nigerian authorities “to investigate these incidents and hold the perpetrators accountable.” 

Mr. Guterres also urged security forces “to act at all times with maximum restraint while calling on protestors to demonstrate peacefully and to refrain from violence.” 

“The Secretary-General encourages the authorities to swiftly explore avenues to de-escalate the situation”, the statement continued. “He reiterates the readiness of the United Nations to support national efforts towards finding a solution.”

‘Root and branch’ examination of security forces needed: Rights chief

The UN human rights chief, Michelle Bachelet on Wednesday, also strongly condemned the excessive and disproportionate force by Nigerian armed forces in Lagos, in a statement issued by her office, OHCHR.

She called on the Nigerian authorities to take urgent steps to deal decisively with the underlying problem of persistent violations committed by security forces, and make a far stronger effort to bring police and army personnel guilty of crimes against civilians to justice.

“While the number of casualties of yesterday’s shooting at the Lekki toll plaza in Lagos is still not clear, there is little doubt that this was a case of excessive use of force, resulting in unlawful killings with live ammunition, by Nigerian armed forces,” Ms. Bachelet said.

“Reports that CCTV cameras and lighting were deliberately disabled prior to the shooting are even more disturbing as, if confirmed, they suggest this deplorable attack on peaceful protestors was premeditated, planned and coordinated.”

Unsplash/Gideon Oladimeji
Street scene, Papa Ajao, Lagos, Nigeria.

'Already at boiling point'

The High Commissioner noted that the country “was already at boiling point before this shooting because of the revelations about years of unchecked violence, including alleged killings, rape, extortion and other violations, by the Special Anti-Robbery Squad.

“While the authorities have now dissolved SARS and announced a series of inquiries at both Federal and State levels, there have still been few if any charges levelled against its members despite abundant evidence against various members of the squad, as well as members of other security forces and the army.”

She said the continued protests are several weeks of demonstrations, was evidence that there was no public trust in the authorities’ response thus far:

“I appreciate that the Government has taken a number of measures to address the protestors’ demands,” Ms. Bachelet said. “However, the immediate creation of another elite police SWAT team to replace the SARS - without first addressing some of the root causes of police violence and putting in place sufficient safeguards to prevent future violations - has eroded the public’s trust even further. This latest terrible event in Lagos is like wantonly adding fuel to a fire that was already starting to rage out of control.”

‘Immediate concrete steps’

She added that the authorities needed to take immediate concrete steps to show they are genuinely committed to tackling impunity, after years of inaction.

“There need to be immediate, independent, transparent and thorough investigations, not just into last night’s killings, but also into all the previous violations committed by security forces…Those appointed to carry out such investigations must not only be independent and impartial, but must be widely perceived as such. And, where sufficient evidence already exists to warrant charges, immediate suspension of officers – including senior officers - suspected of committing serious crimes, should take place long before the conclusion of such investigations.”

She said now was the time for “a root and branch re-examination of the entire security sector, and of its civilian oversight…This should include a full-scale review of rules of engagement and training systems and methods.”

Ms. Bachelet also called for immediate investigations into reports of violent and provocative attacks on peaceful protestors by unidentified groups armed with cudgels, cutlasses, sticks or guns, in some cases apparently with the overt backing of police or other security forces.

Fundamental rights

“Nigerians, like everyone else, have a fundamental right to peaceful assembly and protest,” the High Commissioner said.  “The Government has a responsibility to take positive measures to ensure the realization of this right, including deterring others who intend to prevent them from protesting peacefully. The world’s attention is now focused sharply on how Nigeria’s Government and security forces react over the coming days and weeks.”

“In a population with such a young median age, it is important to listen to the grievances of the younger generation and make an effort to address the multiple problems they face, which include - but are far from confined to - police brutality and violations.”

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Collapsing consumer demand amid lockdowns cripple Asia-Pacific garment industry

INTERNATIONAL, 21 October 2020, Economic Development - The COVID-19 pandemic has triggered government lockdowns, collapsed consumer demand, and disrupted imports of raw materials, battering the Asia Pacific garment industry especially hard, according to a new report released on Wednesday by the International Labour Organization (ILO).

The UN labour agency highlighted that in the first half of 2020, Asian imports had dropped by up to 70 per cent.

Moreover, as of September, almost half of all garment supply chain jobs, were dependent on consumers living in countries where lockdown conditions were being most tightly imposed, leading to plummeting retail sales.

ILO Regional Director for Asia and the Pacific, Chihoko Asada Miyakawa, pointed out that the research highlights “the massive impact COVID-19 has had on the garment industry at every level”. 

Ripple effect

In 2019, the Asia-Pacific region had employed an estimated 65 million in the sector, accounting for 75 per cent of all garment workers worldwide, the report reveals.

Although governments in the region have responded proactively to the crisis, thousands of factories have been shuttered – either temporarily or indefinitely – prompting a sharp increase in worker layoffs and dismissals.

And the factories that have reopened, are often operating at reduced workforce capacity.

“The typical garment worker in the region lost out on at least two to four weeks of work and saw only three in five of her co-workers called back to the factory when it reopened”, said Christian Viegelahn, Labour Economist at the ILO Regional Office for Asia and the Pacific.

“Declines in earnings and delays in wage payments were also common among garment workers still employed in the second quarter of 2020”.

Women worst impacted

As women comprise the vast majority of the region’s garment workers, they are being disproportionately affected by the crisis, the report tracked.

Additionally, their situation is exacerbated by existing inequalities, including increased workloads and gender over-representation, as well as a rise in unpaid care work and subsequent loss of earnings

Moving forward

To mitigate the situation, the brief calls for inclusive social dialogue at national and workplace levels, in countries across the region.

It also recommends continued support for enterprises, along with extending social protection for workers, especially women. 

The ILO’s recent global Call to Action to support manufacturers and help them survive the pandemic’s economic disruption - and protect garment workers’ income, health and employment - was cited as “a promising example of industry-wide solidarity in addressing the crisis”.

“It is vital that governments, workers, employers and other industry stakeholders work together to navigate these unprecedented conditions and help forge a more human-centred future for the industry”, upheld Ms. Miyakawa.

Nuts and bolts

The study assessed the pandemic’s impact on supply chains, factories and workers in Bangladesh, Cambodia, China, India, Indonesia, Myanmar, Pakistan, Philippines, Sri Lanka and Viet Nam.

It is based on research and analysis of publicly available data together with interviews from across the sector in Asia.

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