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Why business needs to address the social impacts of COVID-19: an interview with Lise Kingo, UN Global Compact chief

INTERNATIONAL, 1 June 2020, Economic Development - As businesses struggle to cope with the economic fallout from the COVID-19 pandemic, they need to remain aware of their responsibilities as partners in efforts to build a sustainable future, says the outgoing head of the UN Global Compact, the world’s largest corporate sustainability initiative.

Lise Kingo has run the Global Compact for the last five years. In an interview with UN News, Ms. Kingo described the changes that she has seen during her time in charge, and how the COVID-19 crisis is affecting the private sector’s commitment to making the UN’s vision of a future that protects people and the planet, a reality.

“When the pandemic hit, the Global Compact was among the first initiatives to issue a call to action to all businesses. We said that it would have huge economic and social impacts, and that they needed to double down on their responsibilities, regarding our 10 Business Principles – based around human rights, labour, anti-corruption and the environment – and the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development, the UN’s blueprint for change.

We asked them to do two things: make a contribution to the World Health Organisation (WHO) Foundation, to help it get the funding it needs to do its work, and protect its employees, in terms of human rights, in terms of safety, and in terms of keeping their jobs: one of the biggest challenges from the pandemic is going to be that many more people will suddenly find themselves without a job, particularly the more vulnerable workers in the informal sector. 

The UN Global Compact left companies in no doubt that the way forward is not to just zoom in on their financial bottom line, but to become even more responsible, and anchor the Principles and the Sustainability Goals in their business.”

Are you confident that this crisis will lead to a stronger partnership between government, business, civil society, and employees?

Lise Kingo, CEO and Executive Director, UN Global Compact (file) by UN Global Compact/Chae Khin for Joel Sheakoski Photography

“I think that I can say with relative confidence that the large companies that are part of the Global Compact, and are really setting the agenda for business, understand and appreciate that multilateralism, and partnerships between the UN, governments and business, are the way forward.

Of course, there are also companies struggling to just stay afloat, and they are having a really hard time. But I think that, once they understand the Principles and the Goals, and what this new normal means for their business, they will come back to this eventually. 

It's devastating that we have basically moved 20 years backwards, when it comes to poverty reduction. And much of this is happening because people in the global supply chain are losing their jobs. It's dawning on many companies that we need to focus on not only an environmental agenda, with the whole climate issue, but that there's also a big social agenda that they need to address: we don't want to just to go back to the way things were before.”

What have you learned during your five years as head of the Global Compact?

“I’ve been involved in this area for some 30 years, and it has always been difficult to make sustainable business a core part of the agenda: it always tended to be a bit side-lined. However, that has changed: today close to 70 per cent of CEOs are now driving sustainability. 

When I joined the UN Global Compact in 2015, it was an exciting time, because this was the year that the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development was adopted at the UN. Suddenly we had this amazing agenda for the world with, 17 Sustainable Development Goals, and one of my challenges was to figure out, along with the UN Global Compact community, how to turn this into a business agenda.

Also, during the time I’ve been working for the UN, companies have become strong advocates for multilateralism: multinationals don’t appreciate nationalism for business reasons, but also for human and social reasons: they need the whole world to be interconnected as one big market.

ILO/Asrian Mirza
Workers assembling and manufacturing electronic goods at a products factory in Indonesia.

These goals have really ignited, not only the business sector, but also the financial sector. And they have been a way for business to define a “new normal”, that they have to adapt to, if they want to be successful going forward.

Black Rock, for example, the biggest financial institution in the world has joined the Global Compact, which sends a powerful signal, and we are now seeing many financial institutions screening companies they want to include in their responsibility portfolios, based on the 10 Global Compact Business Principles.

That is why the Global Compact has to become the authority for the business and financial sector, for defining how companies are becoming more sustainable, and to show that, whilst they all face dilemmas and challenges, they are striving continually to improve”.

SDG 17: Partnerships for the Goals

  • Sustainable Development Goal 17 was created to revitalize the global partnership for sustainable development,
  • Support for implementing the SDGs is gaining momentum, but major challenges remain,
  • Governments are encouraged to partner with businesses, for the implementation of all the SDGs.
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Life and death for Yemen’s women and girls, as funding evaporates

INTERNATIONAL, 30 May 2020, Health - In mid-May, just as the COVID-19 pandemic arrived in Yemen, funding for UNFPA’s life-saving reproductive health services dried up. The agency has been forced to suspend the provision of reproductive healthcare in 140 out of the 180 health facilities, it supports, meaning only 40 now remain.

There have already been tragic consequences.

 Mariam, a war widow with four daughters, had been receiving antenatal care at the UNFPA-supported BaniShamakh health centre – the only health centre in the district. But when she arrived with heavy bleeding last week, she found that maternal services had ceased, and the doctor had left. Mariam subsequently haemorrhaged to death.

 In another incident, a woman named Zainab died of post-partum bleeding after delivering a daughter, Safiya. The hospital she was planning to use, had lost its gynaecologist due to the funding shortage, leaving Zainab to give birth at home, without help when complications arose.

‘Now we are powerless’

(Left) women queue for services at Al Shahel Rural Hospital, where reproductive health services have been cut due to insufficient funding; and (right) an expectant mother is attended to at the hospital., by © UNFPA Yemen

Current and former health facility staff say they are heartbroken.

“The most painful part is that now we are powerless and we cannot do anything about it”, said Adel Shuja’a, a nurse at the BaniShamakh centre. He says all the maternal care – from iron and folic acid supplements to management of obstetric emergencies – has stopped. “We are in this poor community that is exhausted from war. The suffering of poor families has increased, and we may lose many of our mothers and children.”

“What stuck with me most was a man whose eyes filled with tears when he learned that free services were not available”, said a nurse from the key Red Sea port of Hudaydah, who broke the news to several pregnant women that no midwives were available. “He returned to his home with his pregnant wife… I felt so helpless that day.”

Millions at risk

UNFPA is the sole provider of life-saving reproductive health medicines and supplies in Yemen, which has seen its health system all but collapse under five grinding years of conflict for control, between a pro-Government Saudi led coalition, and Houthi rebel forces, who hold the capital.

Last year, UNFPA reached more than 3.5 million women and girls with reproductive health and protection services, providing support to 260 health facilities and 3,800 reproductive health workers. But as funding has run out, these programmes have been scaled back or shut down.

At the beginning of 2020, UNFPA appealed for $100.5 million for its humanitarian response in Yemen; to date, only 41 percent of that has been mobilized. An additional $24 million is needed for the COVID-19 response.

90 per cent will close

If no funding materializes by July, UNFPA will be forced to close up to 90 per cent of its life-saving reproductive services across the country.

The funding had been a game-changer, said one midwife from Al Shahel Rural Hospital. “We were able to have reproductive health medicines, a midwife and a female doctor. The health facility never had a midwife or a female doctor before. It was a big turning point for our village”, she described. “We were serving more than 23,000 people, but unfortunately the support has now stopped.”

The hospital had received up to 120 cases per day, she said. “But now, after suspending the services, we are unable to provide the most basic treatment.”

The long-term costs could be staggering: It is estimated that two million women and girls of childbearing age could be at risk due to the loss of reproductive services. Some 48,000 women could die from complications of pregnancy and childbirth.

Millions of women and girls are at risk as reproductive health services wind down., by © UNFPA Yemen

Healthcare shrinks, as pandemic grows

Reproductive health services are winding down just as Yemen begins to grapple with the COVID-19 pandemic. The country has so far recorded 282 cases of the disease.

“We still continue providing services, even with a lack of face masks and gloves,” said Dr. Eshraq Al-Amrani, a former general physician at Al Shahel Rural Hospital. “I cannot lie that I am very worried.”

“We do not have the minimum means of personal protection,” said Nurse Shuja’a.

UNFPA has been working to provide personal protective equipment and essential medical supplies to Yemen’s health system, so far reaching 114 health facilities. Some 40 ventilators have been provided.

But more funding is needed.

“We are now in a life-or-death situation. Women and girls will die if we do not provide critical reproductive health services. We can only do so if funding becomes available”, said Nestor Owomuhangi, UNFPA’s acting representative in Yemen. 

A virtual pledging conference, co-hosted by the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia and the United Nations, is taking place on 2 June.

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Yemen: Amid spike in COVID-19 cases, UNICEF airlifts in badly needed health supplies

INTERNATIONAL, 30 May 2020, Humanitarian Aid - A plane chartered by the UN Children’s Fund (UNICEF) landed at Sana’a airport on Saturday with lifesaving supplies to help curb the spread of COVID-19 in conflict-torn Yemen.  

The agency said that the supplies include a range of medical assistance including Personal Protective Equipment (PPE) items such as aprons, boots, face masks and gloves for frontline health workers  

“These supplies will allow our courageous partners the health workers, who are working around the clock, to safely and more effectively address the spread of COVID-19,” said Sara Beysolow Nyanti, UNICEF Representative in Yemen.  

The outbreak of COVID-19 has created an emergency within an emergency in Yemen where only half of health facilities are functional and with almost every child in Yemen (over 12 million in total) already in need of humanitarian assistance, including nearly half a million suffering from severe acute malnutrition, according to UNICEF. 

“Despite the uncertainty that the pandemic brought, UNICEF is staying and delivering to reach children and families in need across the country. A robust and sustainable supply chain will allow us to continue doing our share,” Ms. Nyanti stressed. 

The PPE items will help at least 1,600 health workers in primary health centres, hospitals and isolation units across Yemen to provide safe primary health care and nutrition services for a period of three months. 

More supplies, including COVID-19 testing kits are in the pipeline to arrive into the country in the coming weeks. 

These lifesaving supplies were provided with thanks to generous support from the Government of Australia and the International Development Association-World Bank. 

Ahead of a planned donors conference to boost the Yemen humanitarian response, set for Tuesday, 2 June, UNICEF is appealing for $50 million to fund its COVID-19 response for children and communities across the country. 

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From fighting with guns to fighting the pandemic

INTERNATIONAL, 30 May 2020, Peace and Security - In countries suffering from conflict, readjusting to life in a peaceful society is a challenge, both for former fighters and the wider community. Since the spread of the COVID-19 crisis, the UN is having to refocus many of its programmes, aimed at reducing violence in communities, and rehabilitating combatants.

"Before I did not have a trade but, thanks to this training, I am becoming a valuable asset to my country", says Nassira Zakaria, from Kaga Bandoro, a northern market town in the Central African Republic (CAR).

Ms. Zakaria, a trainee seamstress in a Community Violence Reduction programme, run by the UN peacekeeping mission in CAR, MINUSCA, says that she is glad to be able to turn away from armed conflict, learn new skills and, above all, be of use to her community. "By making face masks, I can contribute to the fight against COVID-19".

COVID-19 protection training. Part of a CVR program in Kaga-Bandoro run by MINUSCA, by MINUSCA

Preventing a return to conflict

Just over a year ago, a peace agreement was signed by the CAR Government, and officially armed groups in the country. Since then, progress has been slow, and the situation in CAR, one of the world’s poorest countries, remains fragile.

Community Violence Reduction programmes are one of the tools used by the UN to prevent a return to conflict, and support communities. The peace process has been marred by a lack of political will from some of the armed groups, but MINUSCA has still managed to disarm and demobilize over 1,300 ex-combatants.

Projects involve vocational training in trades such as plumbing, electrical work and construction: in CAR, some 3,124 people have learned new skills. Today, the focus of these programmes has shifted to COVID-19 prevention: trainees are sewing masks for the local population, making soap, constructing handwashing facilities, converting buildings into COVID-19 isolation wards, and learning more about the virus.

"I now know a lot more about COVID-19, thanks to this training", says Nabayo Rosine, a member of a CVR programme in the south-eastern city of Bangassou. "Now I know how to protect myself and teach those around me about the pandemic. Health comes first: someone who is not healthy cannot be at peace".

For Pierre Ubalijoro, chief of the Disarmament, Demobilization and Reintegration initiatives in MINUSCA, the communities involved in CVR programmes are seeing life improving: "I think our presence really has an added value, because of the toll that the war has taken. I believe that our presence has contributed to the alleviation of the people’s suffering."

"And the projects that we're focusing on are designed to be sustainable, and make a long-term difference. For example, we're building wells in areas where there is less water available. A lack of water is often a source of inter-communal conflict, so these projects will make a positive impact on the community, long after the COVID-19 crisis is over".

MINUSCA
Construction of a COVID-19 isolation centre in Bria, CAR. Part of a MINUSCA CVR project

Mali: rebuilding under fire

Similar efforts to improve life for civilians are underway in the UN peacekeeping mission in Mali (MINUSMA), where the security situation is fraught, both for the local population and peacekeepers. The Agreement for Peace and Reconciliation in Mali has seen some 1,000 newly integrated soldiers deployed to Gao, Timbuktu, Kidal and Ménaka, as part of the first reconstituted Malian Defence and Security Forces in the North. Violence continues and, in May, three UN peacekeepers were killed in northern Mali when their convoy hit a roadside bomb.

Because of the security situation, not all parts of the country are accessible to the UN teams, as Tahir Ali – the head of a Disarmament, Demobilization and Reintegration (DDR) team in Gao, northern Mali – explained.

"In the north, infrastructure is very bad, so it can take one and half hours to travel 15 kilometres, and an armed escort is needed. There is also the risk of improvised explosive devices, so you have to deal with a lot of challenges. We will have to visit the project site two or three times during implementation, and then revisit it after the project has been completed to see what impact it has made. So, accessibility has to be a top priority".

Meeting the needs of the population

Despite the uncertainty, Community Violence Reduction programmes are helping participants to gain vocational training in agriculture and gardening, electrification and security, construction, and other areas designed to meet the basic needs of the population.

Sam Howard, one of the UN officials running the programmes, told UN News that providing temporary job opportunities to young people, is helping them to stay out of trouble: "these jobs keep them busy, and help to prevent them from being recruited by criminal or armed groups. They also help our efforts to enhance dialogue and reconciliation in various communities".

UNAMI personnel distrubute COVID-19 prevention kits in Gao, Mali., by MINUSMA

Some projects are, literally, bearing fruit, and having a positive impact: "In the region, we successfully handed over a project, run by women and youth, to create a vegetable garden", said Mr. Ali, who explained that, to ensure that all parts of the community are involved, each initiative in the programme is managed by a representative of the local women, and a representative of the youth.

"We provided water, training and seeds in December of last year, and they began cultivating the land. When I went back in February, the land was full of vegetables. Thanks to this project, they are now able to meet their own needs, and earn money by selling the surplus".

Mr. Ali and Mr. Howard agreed that the COVID-19 pandemic has caused problems for their projects, with some postponed until the next fiscal year. Others have been repurposed, as in CAR, to involve community members in improving hygiene measures (for example, the production of face masks). UN personnel are also distributing "anti-COVID kits", which include soap, hand sanitizer and masks.

As in many other regions where the UN has a presence, the effect is also being felt by the staff of MINUSMA. Regular UN flights in and out of regional bases have been suspended, said Mr. Ali, and many staff are working remotely. Despite these measures, positive cases of COVID-19 have been reported in the bases.

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Peacekeepers exemplify ‘service, sacrifice and selflessness’, in face of pandemic

INTERNATIONAL, 29 May 2020, Peace and Security - To honour the more than 3,900 women and men who have lost their lives under the UN flag since 1948, Secretary-General António Guterres laid a wreath at the Peacekeepers’ memorial on Friday, International Day of UN Peacekeepers.
Embedded video

At a related event, he upheld that while the COVID-19 pandemic has changed almost everything the Organization does, it has not inhibited the powerful sense of “service, sacrifice and selflessness”, of the more than 95,000 women and men serving in 13 peacekeeping operations worldwide.

“Every day, our peacekeepers continue to protect vulnerable local populations, support dialogue and implement their mandates while fighting COVID-19”, said the UN chief. “They are doing everything they can to be an integral part of the solution to this crisis while keeping themselves – and the communities they serve – safe”.

Peacekeeping chief Jean-Pierre Lacroix noted their “tremendous contributions towards peace”, and paid tribute to “the service of those peacekeepers who paid the ultimate sacrifice”, saying in a tweet that it was “their memory that we continue to carry our work forward”.

Saluting women in blue helmets

Under this year’s theme, “Women in Peacekeeping: A Key to Peace”, Mr. Guterres emphasized how women help improve all aspects of UN peacekeeping, saying it is “more effective for everyone when we have more women peacekeepers at all levels, including in decision-making”.
“We will continue to do everything we can…to reach this goal”, he stated. 

During an awards ceremony, the Secretary-General formally bestowed the ‘2019 Military Gender Advocate of the Year Award’ on Commander Carla Monteiro de Castro Araujo, a Brazilian naval officer serving with the UN Mission in the Central African Republic (MINUSCA), and to Major Suman Gawani from India, who served in the UN Mission in South Sudan (UNMISS). 

Diversity in peacekeeping 

As UN peacekeeping has evolved to better reflect the populations it serves, women have become increasingly more involved, generating positive impacts in areas ranging from servicing in a police or military role, as well as civilian.  

In all areas, women have proved that they can perform the same roles, to the same standards and under the same difficult conditions, as their male counterparts, bolstering women’s rights at the same time.

Women ‘blue helmets’ have greater access to communities, help promote human rights and the protection of civilians, and encourage women to become a meaningful part of peace and political processes.

They help to build trust and confidence with communities and support local women, such as by interacting with those who are prohibited by custom from speaking on equal terms with men.

These peacekeepers also work to mitigate the disproportionately negative effect that conflict has on women by addressing the needs of women in conflict and post-conflict settings – including those of women ex-combatants and child soldiers during the process of demobilizing and reintegration into civilian life –  and serve as mentors and role models, setting examples for affected women and girls to advocate for their own rights and pursue non‐traditional careers.

In short, “more women in peacekeeping means more effective peacekeeping”, the department said.

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COVID-19: Countries support ‘one-stop shop’ to share science and research

INTERNATIONAL, 29 May 2020, Health - Thirty countries and numerous international partners have underlined the need to make tests, treatments and other technologies to fight COVID-19, available to people everywhere.

They have signed up to support the COVID-19 Technology Access Pool (C-TAP), a “one-stop shop” for sharing scientific knowledge, data and intellectual property in efforts to beat back the disease.

With the launch of the @WHO's #COVID19 Technology Access Pool, Costa Rica's vision for open, collaborative science to beat back the pandemic has become a reality, write Costa Rican President @CarlosAlvQ and the @WHO's @DrTedros. https://bit.ly/36EYmvE
View image on Twitter

“Tools to prevent, detect and treat COVID-19 are global public goods that must be accessible by all people”, said Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, head of the World Health Organization (WHO), speaking at the virtual launch held on Friday.

Equal access to technology critical

C-TAP is a sister initiative to the ACT Accelerator, established last month, to speed up development of vaccines and other tools against the pandemic.

It was first proposed in March by President Carlos Alvarado of Costa Rica.

“The promise of sure and safe and effective affordable health care solutions, such as treatments and vaccines, must be the guide for our actions, and it will allow us to overcome a crisis which has left behind so much pain in so many communities throughout the world”, he said, speaking through an interpreter.

“Nevertheless, there is no point in achieving these amazing technological developments if we cannot guarantee affordable access to technology.”

Voluntary ‘one-stop shop’

The UN health agency has described C-TAP as “a one-stop shop” that will be voluntary and based on the principle of solidarity.

WHO said it builds on the success of the Medicines Patent Pool in expanding access to treatments for HIV and the debilitating inflammatory liver disease, hepatitis.

There are five key elements to the initiative, starting with public disclosure of gene sequences and data, as well as clinical trial results.

Governments and research funders are also encouraged to include clauses in contracts with pharmaceutical companies that stress equitable distribution and publication of trial data.

Additionally, treatments and vaccines should be licensed to both large and small producers.

C-TAP also promotes open innovation models and technology transfers that increase local manufacturing and supply.

 

“Through C-TAP, we are inviting companies or governments that develop an effective therapeutic to contribute the patent to the Medicines Patent Pool, which would then sub-license the patent to generic manufacturers”, said Tedros.

WHO, Costa Rica and all the countries that have sponsored the initiative also issued a ‘Solidarity Call to Action’ urging other stakeholders to join C-TAP.

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UN human rights office welcomes moves to curtail spread of hatred and violence online

INTERNATIONAL, 29 May 2020, Human Rights - The UN human rights office (OHCHR) has welcomed steps taken by social media companies to prevent their platforms from being used to promote hatred, violence and misinformation, Spokesperson Rupert Colville said on Friday.

The statement comes in the wake of a decision by Twitter to flag tweets by United States President Donald Trump earlier this week, which warned against potential electoral rigging this year, through states’ extending voting by mail.

In response, President Trump on Thursday signed an Executive Order aimed at preventing online censorship, upholding free speech as “the bedrock of American democracy”, and protected by the country’s Constitution.

On Thursday evening, he posted another tweet which the social media company flagged for violating  its rules against “glorifying violence”.

In commenting on ongoing protests in the city of Minneapolis following the death this week of George Floyd, an African American man, while in police custody, the President tweeted that “…when the looting starts, the shooting starts.”

‘No simple fixes’ 

Asked by a journalist about the developments involving the President and Twitter, Mr. Colville responded that OHCHR has repeatedly called for action to address how social media platforms have contributed to human rights violations, including through hate speech, incitement to violence and misinformation.

“Efforts by social media companies to better ensure their platforms address these concerns are, of course, welcome”, he said, noting, however, that there were no “simple fixes” to remedy the issue.

“We have seen first-hand that overbroad regulation can stifle freedom of expression and be used to target human rights defenders in some countries. The digital environment has never been more essential to our daily lives…but these issues, obviously, deserve thoughtful consideration and effective responses.”

While Twitter normally removes tweets that violate its rules and policies, President Trump’s tweet relating to the unrest in Minneapolis was flagged, but not removed, because it is in the public interest to keep the message accessible.

“At present, we limit exceptions to one critical type of public-interest content—Tweets from elected and government officials—given the significant public interest in knowing and being able to discuss their actions and statements”, according to the company.

Long line of killings

Mr. Floyd, who was unarmed, died on Monday after being apprehended by police officers responding to a report of forgery. The incident in which an officer placed his knee on the handcuffed man’s neck for several minutes, was captured on video by bystanders.

The incident has since sparked protests in several cities across the United States.

The UN Human Rights High Commissioner issued a statement on Thursday condemning his killing.

“This is the latest in a long line of killings of unarmed African Americans by US police officers and members of the public”, UN rights chief Michelle Bachelet said. 

“I am dismayed to have to add George Floyd’s name to that of Breonna Taylor, Eric Garner, Michael Brown and many other unarmed African Americans who have died over the years at the hands of the police -- as well as people such as Ahmaud Arbery and Trayvon Martin who were killed by armed members of the public.”

The UN human rights office plans to arrange an “in-depth press conference” on a range of digital issues related to human rights sometime within the coming weeks.

The measure will add to other specific action the UN is taking to address misinformation and hatred online, including the spike in hate speech related to the COVID-19 pandemic.

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More ‘can and must be done’ to eradicate caste-based discrimination in Nepal

INTERNATIONAL, 29 May 2020, Human Rights - Shocked over the killing last weekend of five men in Nepal, who had planned to escort home one of their girlfriends from a higher caste, the UN human rights chief on Friday stressed that ending caste-based discrimination is “fundamental” to the overall sustainable development vision of leaving no one behind.

“It is distressing that caste-based prejudices remain deeply entrenched in our world in the 21st century, and I am filled with sadness for these two young people who held high hopes of building a life together despite the obstacles presented by their accident of birth” said High Commissioner for Human Rights Michelle Bachelet, referring to the couple at the centre of the tragedy.

Last Saturday, according to news reports, a 21-year-old man from the ‘untouchable’ Dalit caste, known as Nawaraj BK, and his friends, traveled some 32 km from Jajarkot district, to Western Rukum district, the home of the man’s girlfriend, who belongs to a higher social caste.

They intended to escort the young woman back to their home district, reportedly at her request, but were attacked and chased into a river. Five men, four of whom were also Dalits, were later found dead, while another is still missing.

“Caste-based discrimination remains widespread, not only in Nepal but other countries, and often leads to serious harm and, as in this case, even loss of life”, lamented Ms. Bachelet. 

Dalits under attack

Nawaraj’s case is not an isolated one.

Dalits, formerly known as “untouchables”, have suffered for generations of public shaming at the hands of upper-caste Hindus and continue to face widespread atrocities across the country, with any seeming attempts at upward social mobility, violently shut down.

In a similar case, disturbing reports have also emerging about a 12-year-old Dalit girl who was killed in a separate attack in the village of Devdaha, in the Rupandehi district in southern Nepal.

She is said to have been forcibly married to her alleged rapist from a dominant caste. The girl’s body was reportedly left hanging from a tree on Saturday.

The High Commissioner called for an independent investigation into the attacks, underscoring that the victims and their families have the right to justice, truth and reparations.

Searching for justice

The killings have triggered outrage in Nepal, prompting the federal Ministry of Home Affairs to establish a five-member “high-level investigation committee” to look into the incident. 

On Tuesday, police reportedly filed a complaint against 20 alleged perpetrators. 

“Despite constitutional guarantees, impunity for caste-based discrimination and violence remains high in Nepal”, according to the UN human rights chief. 

And while the country has taken “big strides to address this scourge”, she maintained that “so much more can and must be done, to eradicate this blight on society”.

The Nepali Parliament’s Law, Justice and Human Rights Committee has asked authorities to immediately investigate two cases of gang-rape of Dalit women, as well as other caste-based cases involving murder, enforced disappearances and forced abortion.

Although Nepal is party to the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Racial Discrimination, the Committee tasked with monitoring the treaty observed that despite the abolition of “untouchability” in Nepal, Dalits continue to face deep-rooted discrimination, including issues surrounding inter-caste marriages.

Discrimination at every turn

And the risks for this vulnerable caste has only increased during the COVID-19 pandemic. 

On Monday, the parliamentary committee directed the Government to investigate all incidents of caste-based discrimination and violence during the coronavirus lockdown. 

Dalits in Nepal and other countries experience discrimination at every level of their daily lives, limiting their employment and educational opportunities, the places where they can collect water or worship, and their choice of who to marry, says the UN human rights office (OHCHR).

Structural barriers and discrimination force Dalits to continue low-income and dehumanizing employment, such as manual scavenging, disposing of dead animals, digging graves or making leather products.

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Nine in 10 smokers start before they are 18 years old, warns WHO

INTERNATIONAL, 29 May 2020, Health - Tobacco products continue to kill eight million people a year who get hooked via a $9 billion a year marketing strategy. That’s the warning from the UN World Health Organization (WHO) on Friday, which has said that even during a global pandemic, the tobacco and nicotine industry has continued to promote products that limit people’s ability to fight new coronavirus and recover from the disease.

For this year’s World No Tobacco Day – marked on 31 May – the agency is focusing on protecting teenagers, who are a key target sector. More than 40 million young people today aged 13-15, have already started to use tobacco, it estimates.

Smoking suffocates the lungs and other organs, starving them of the oxygen they need to develop and function properly, the WHO warned in a statement.

“Educating youth is vital because nearly nine out of 10 smokers start before age 18. We want to provide young people with the knowledge to speak out against tobacco industry manipulation”, said Ruediger Krech, Director for Health Promotion at WHO.

In a bid to help prevent addiction among 13-17-year-olds, the agency has highlighted commonly used tactics to watch out for.

E-cigarettes are harmful

It points out that smoking e-cigarettes and hookah pipes – marketed as “safer” alternatives to conventional cigarettes - is harmful, addictive, and increases the risk of developing heart and lung disease.

The WHO also notes that most of the 15,000 flavours on offer – such as bubble-gum and candy - are there to attract youngsters who at least double their chance of smoking cigarettes later in life.

Other marketing strategies during the COVID-19 have included the offer of free branded masks and a home delivery service during quarantine.

The tobacco industry has also lobbied for its products to be listed as “essential”, the health agency noted.

And in its call to all sectors, including film studios, to keep children and young people out of the industry’s reach, the WHO points out that the streamed hit youth series, Stranger Things, has almost twice the number of tobacco product placements (182) than cult tv show, The Walking Dead.

WHO
WHO calls on all young people to join the fight to become a tobacco-free generation.

#TobaccoExposed quiz

To reach more young people and amplify its message, WHO has also launched the #TobaccoExposed challenge on popular youth online platform TikTok, and welcomed social media partnerships with other platforms including Pinterest and YouTube.

WHO has also launched a classroom activities kit that puts the students in the shoes of the tobacco industry to make them aware of how the industry tries to manipulate them into using their products.

For more information on where to find the school kit, go to who.int and search for World No Tobacco Day.

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US must take ‘serious action’ to halt police killings of unarmed African Americans

INTERNATIONAL, 28 May 2020, Human Rights - The UN human rights chief on Thursday condemned the killing of 46-year-old George Floyd while in police custody in the city of Minneapolis, calling it the latest in “a long line of killings of unarmed African Americans by US police officers and members of the public”.
“I am dismayed to have to add George Floyd’s name to that of Breonna Taylor, Eric Garner, Michael Brown and many other unarmed African Americans who have died over the years at the hands of the police – as well as people such as Ahmaud Arbery and Trayvon Martin who were killed by armed members of the public”, said High Commissioner for Human Rights, Michelle Bachelet, in statement.

She spelled out that authorities in the United States must take “serious action” to stop such killings, and to ensure that justice is done when they do occur.

“Procedures must change, prevention systems must be put in place, and above all police officers who resort to excessive use of force, should be charged and convicted for the crimes committed”, the High Commissioner underscored.

A probe prioritized

The UN human rights chief welcomed the announcement by Federal authorities in Washington, that they would be prioritizing an investigation into the incident, but stressed that “in too many cases in the past, such investigations have led to killings being deemed justified on questionable grounds, or only being addressed by administrative measures.” 

“The role that entrenched and pervasive racial discrimination plays in such deaths must also be fully examined, properly recognized and dealt with”, she added.

Erupting protests

The killing has sparked violent protests in Minnesota’s largest city, with hundreds of demonstrators clashing with police clad in riot gear, over two nights of unrest.

Video captured at the scene on Monday, and posted on social media, shows a white police officer, using his knee to pin Mr. Floyd to the ground over the course of several minutes. Four officers involved in the incident have been dismissed, but none have so far been charged. The city’s Mayor, Jacob Frey, has appealed for calm, writing on Twitter that “we cannot let tragedy beget more tragedy”.

Violence won’t end police brutality

While empathizing with the anger unleashed by Mr. Floyd’s killing, the top UN rights official encouraged people in Minneapolis and elsewhere to protest peacefully.

 “Violence and destruction of property won’t solve the problem of police brutality and enshrined discrimination”, she said.

 “I urge protestors to express their demands for justice peacefully, and I urge the police to take utmost care not enflame the current situation even more with any further use of excessive force”, concluded the High Commissioner.

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