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Myanmar: UN expert says current international efforts failing, urges ‘change of course’

INTERNATIONAL, 22 September 2021, Human Rights - The UN independent rights expert on the situation of human rights in Myanmar, told the UN Human Rights Council on Wednesday that conditions inside the country following the 1 February military coup have worsened, urging a “change of course” to prevent further human rights abuses and deaths.

According to Special Rapporteur Tom Andrews, since its power grab and overthrow of the democratically-elected Government, the junta and its forces have murdered more than 1,100 people, arbitrarily detained more than 8,000, and forcibly displaced more than 230,000 civilians, bringing the total number of internally placed persons in Myanmar to well over half a million.

Mr. Andrews described how junta-controlled military forces have killed protesters in the streets, murdered civilians in their homes, beaten individuals to death and tortured people to death while in detention.

This has been carried out through bombings, rocket-propelled grenades and automatic weapons, he said.  Entire villages have also been attacked using airstrikes, sieges and mass arson and civilians have been forced to serve as porters and human shields.

Children not spared 

As of July, the junta had killed at least 75 children ranging in age from 14 months to 17 years, the rights expert said.

These children were hit by junta driven vehicles, shot by junta forces or killed by junta artillery shells. Mr. Andrews also told the Council he had received credible reports of children being tortured, including two boys who were starved and then had their legs burnt with iron rods.

Civil and political rights in Myanmar have also been systematically destroyed by the junta, Mr. Andrews said.  Freedoms of expression, of association, the right to privacy, access to justice, and a free press have also been dismantled.

New tactics

According to Mr. Andrews, the junta is increasingly relying on the use of collective punishment, including the abduction of family members of those who have been issued arrest warrants, but who police and military forces are unable to locate.

The rights expert said he had received credible reports that at least 177 individuals were arbitrarily detained when the initial target of a raid had successfully eluded arrest. These victims include very young children as young as 20-weeks old, he said.  

Rohingya in danger

The junta also continues to deny the existence of the Rohingya ethnic minority, Mr. Andrews said, denying them citizenship, freedom of movement and other fundamental rights.

The same commanders who oversaw the mass atrocity crimes committed against the Rohingya in 2017 are now overseeing the military junta, putting more than 600,000 Rohingya living in Myanmar in danger.  

Healthcare undermined

The right to health is being undermined by the junta’s assault on the health care system, Mr. Andrews warned.

Junta forces are harassing, arbitrarily detaining, torturing and killing healthcare providers in retribution for the leadership that many provided to the civil disobedience, he said.

Medical doctors have informed him of military raids on charity and make-shift health facilities, destroying, damaging or confiscating medical equipment, while abducting, beating, and arbitrarily detaining their colleagues.

Junta forces attacked healthcare workers or facilities in at least 260 separate incidences from 1 February to 25 August 2021. The junta has outstanding arrest warrants for 600 healthcare workers, forcing them into hiding.

Many continue to treat patients clandestinely despite the enormous personal risk, he added.


The expert urged governments to support the people of Myanmar’s own boycotts against the junta, by imposing stronger coordinated economic pressure and an arms embargo.

“People throughout Myanmar from all walks of life are engaging in what can accurately be described as ‘citizen sanctions’ - boycotts of products produced by military-owned companies as well as the payment of energy bills and taxes,” he said.

“By some accounts, the public’s widespread refusal to pay utility bills and some taxes have cost the junta an estimated $1 billion in revenue.”

Mr. Andrews highlighted the civilian-led “People’s Defense Forces” (PDFs), which have formed in parts of the country, noting that the opposition National Unity Government has declared a “defensive war” against the junta and its forces.

Relying primarily on homemade, improvised weapons, Andrews said the armed groups were engaging in protection and ambush operations, while up against one of the largest militaries in the world that has responded with “indiscriminate attacks on entire villages and towns”.

The independent expert, who was appointed by the Human Rights Council, called for greater humanitarian aid for the more than three million Myanmar people who have been left in desperate need by the takeover.

‘Stronger commitment’

“The international community must make a stronger commitment to ensuring lifesaving aid reaches those in need,” he said. “Myanmar civil society organizations who are saving lives need and deserve our support. The 2021 UN Myanmar Humanitarian Response Plan has received only 46 percent of requested funds to date.  We can and should do better.”

As “the voice of human rights, the conscience of the UN”, Mr. Andrews called on Council members to “give voice” to the plight of the besieged people of Myanmar and become “a catalyst for action”. “Now, more than ever, the people of Myanmar need strong, targeted and coordinated action by the international community.”



Afghanistan’s healthcare system on brink of collapse, as hunger hits 95 per cent of families

INTERNATIONAL, 22 September 2021, Humanitarian Aid - Afghanistan’s health system is on the brink of collapse, the head of the World Health Organisation, WHO, warned on Wednesday, while on the streets of Kabul, the hunger families are suffering is as acute in urban areas as the drought-stricken rural parts of the country. 

The development came as the United Nations’ top humanitarian official, Martin Griffiths, announced the release of $45 million from an emergency fund to support Afghanistan’s crumbling health-care system

“Allowing Afghanistan’s healthcare delivery system to fall apart would be disastrous,” said Mr. Griffiths. “People across the country would be denied access to primary healthcare such as emergency caesarean sections and trauma care.” 

Kabul crisis 

Echoing that message from the Afghan capital, Kabul, WHO Director-General Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus said that international funding cuts had forced health providers to decide “who to save and who to let die”. 

After meeting senior Taliban figures, medical professionals and patients, Tedros explained that a lack of financial support for the country’s largest health project, Sehetmandi, had left thousands of facilities unable to buy medical supplies and pay salaries. 

Fewer than one in five of the country’s Sehetmandi facilities remained open, the WHO chief explained, although he said that access to all communities was “no longer impeded”. 

Medicine shortages 

This breakdown in health services is having a rippling effect on the availability of basic and essential health care, as well as on emergency response, polio eradication, and COVID-19 vaccination efforts,” Tedros said, amid reports that cold chain medical storage has been compromised. 

COVID-19 risk 

The WHO chief also noted that nine of 37 COVID-19 hospitals have already closed, and that “all aspects” of the country’s COVID-19 response have dropped off, from surveillance to testing and vaccination.  

Amid concerns over women’s rights in the country following the appointment of an exclusively male Taliban interim cabinet earlier this month, Tedros insisted that women needed access to education, health care, and to the health workforce.  

“With fewer health facilities operational and less female health workers reporting to work, female patients are hesitant to seek care,” he said. “We are committed to working with partners to invest in the health education of girls and women, as well as continue training female health workers.” 

Among its operations in Afghanistan, WHO supports an extensive trauma programme that includes training, the provision of supplies and equipment for 130 hospitals and 67 blood banks. 

COVID-19 vaccine challenge 

Data from WHO indicated that before the Taliban takeover on 15 August, 2.2 million people had been vaccinated against the new coronavirus in Afghanistan.   

“In recent weeks, vaccination rates have decreased rapidly while 1.8 million COVID-19 vaccine doses in country remain unused,” Tedros said. “Swift action is needed to use these doses in the coming weeks and work towards reaching the goal of vaccinating at least 20 per cent of the population by the end of the year.” 

The WHO top official also urged renewed action to eradicate polio in Afghanistan - one of two countries where the disease remains endemic.

Measles is also spreading, the WHO Director-General warned, but he said that access to all communities was now possible. “With only one case of wild poliovirus reported so far this year, compared to 56 in 2020, there has never been a better time to eradicate polio,” Tedros said. “However, the polio programme will struggle to respond if the basic immunization infrastructure begins to collapse around it.” 

This meant that WHO and partners can begin a country-wide house-to-house polio vaccination campaign, combining measles and COVID vaccination too, he explained. 

95 per cent of Afghan families going hungry

Rising job losses, lack of cash and soaring prices are creating a new class of hungry in Afghanistan, the United Nations World Food Programme (WFPwarned on Wednesday, with urban residents suffering from food insecurity at similar rates to rural communities, for the first time.

Only five percent of households in Afghanistan have enough to eat every day, according to recent surveys conducted by WFP, while half reported they had run out of food altogether at least once, in the past two weeks.

“The economic freefall in Afghanistan has been abrupt and unrelenting, adding to an already difficult situation, as the country grapples with a second severe drought in three years. We are doing everything we can to support Afghan communities at this critical time,” said Mary-Ellen McGroarty, WFP’s Country Director and Representative.

The middle classes are also struggling, WFP reports, with only 10 percent of households headed by someone with a secondary or university education, able to buy sufficient food for their families every day.

Though the situation is worse for those less well-educated, the unprecedented prevalence of hunger among families that had previously been spared, signals the depth of the crisis facing Afghans. 

On average, breadwinners are finding work just one day a week, barely enough to afford food that is rapidly increasing in price. Cooking oil, for example, has almost doubled in price since 2020, and wheat is up by 28 percent.

“WFP is stepping up to the urgent challenge which is now two-fold. First, we continue to assist the people who need it most to avoid acute hunger and malnutrition from devastating the country, and second, we are strengthening local capacity to produce food and get it to market, while also providing short-term work opportunities that help stabilise the economy and give families access to cash,” Ms. McGroarty added.


Decades of development efforts undermined by pandemic – FAO report

INTERNATIONAL, 22 September 2021, Economic Development - COVID-19 has set back progress towards the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), undermining decades of development efforts, according to a new report by the UN Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO).  

"It's an alarming picture, in which progress on many SDG targets has been reversed, with a significant impact on all aspects of sustainable development and making the achievement of the 2030 Agenda even more challenging," said FAO Chief Statistician, Pietro Gennari. 

The analysis, Tracking progress on food and agriculture SDG-related indicators, focuses on eight of the SDGs, which were adopted at a UN Summit in New York in 2015.  

Main findings 

According to the report, the COVID-19 pandemic might have pushed an additional 83 to 132 million people into chronic hunger in 2020, making the target of ending hunger even more distant. 

Around 14 percent of all food is lost along the supply chain, before it even reaches the consumer, which FAO considers “an unacceptably high proportion”. Progress has also faltered towards maintaining plant and animal genetic diversity for food and agriculture. 

Agricultural systems bear the brunt of economic losses due to disasters, small-scale food producers remain disadvantaged, and food price volatility has also increased, due to the constraints placed by the pandemic and lockdowns.  

The report also focuses on gender, finding that women producers in developing countries earn less than men even when more productive; gender inequalities in land rights are pervasive; and discriminatory laws and customs remain obstacles to women's tenure rights.  

Lastly, water stress remains alarmingly high in many regions, threatening progress towards sustainable development. 

Progress and solutions 

FAO also points to several areas in which progress is being made.  

The UN agency highlights measures against illegal, unreported and unregulated fishing, sustainable forest management, elimination of agricultural export subsidies, investment in agricultural productivity in developing countries, and duty-free access for developing and Least Developed Countries (LDCs).  

The new report coincides with this week's UN Food Systems Summit, which aims to raise global awareness and spur actions to transform food systems, eradicate hunger, reduce diet-related diseases and heal the planet.  

FAO is asking to scale up investment in agriculture, more access to new technologies, credit services and information resources for farmers and support small-scale food producers. 

The agency also supports the conservation of plant and animal genetic resources, measures to counter food price volatility, and prevent potentially hazardous events from becoming full-blown disasters. 

It also calls for more action to use water efficiently, better interventions to reduce food losses, more protection of ecosystems, progress on the legal and practical aspects of women's land rights and the sustainability of global fisheries. 

Lastly, the report makes an urgent call for more and better data. 

"As the COVID-19 pandemic continues to unfold, and the world moves further off track in meeting the 2030 SDG deadline, timely and high-quality data are more essential than ever," Mr. Gennari said. 


First Person: The ‘bravery’ of Afghanistan's girls and women

INTERNATIONAL, 22 September 2021, Women - Afghanistan’s girls and women are showing “bravery” in the face of real “fears and pressures” following the formation of the new, de-facto authorities in Afghanistan,  according to a UNICEF member of staff, one of the few westerners to remain in Kabul.

Following an announcement by the Taliban that boys could return to secondary school -- while making no reference to a return date for girls in secondary school -- anxiety and uncertainty stalk the one million girls affected by this omission. 

UNICEF’s Chief of Communications in Afghanistan, Sam Mort, spoke to the Under-Secretary-General for Global Communications at the UN, Melissa Fleming, as part of the podcast series, Awake at Night.  

“UNICEF stayed in Afghanistan because that is what we do. We're here before, during and after an emergency and, at the moment, around half the country is in desperate need of humanitarian aid, including 10 million children.

If UNICEF isn't here to protect them, to give them medicine, vaccinate them, to give them the nourishment that they so desperately need, to help them recover from the atrocities that they've seen, then who is going to do that? It was an easy decision to stay for the organization, and for me personally.

The speed and the scale of the Taliban takeover has had a huge impact on us and our operations. Most of our national staff are working from home until the Taliban can give us assurances about their security, particularly that our female national staff can travel safely and do their work without threat.

As a result, we are not operating at capacity; we’re not reaching all the children we need to be helping. But, in recent weeks, roads and airports have opened up so, slowly, slowly, we are beginning to resume our work and we are hopeful that we will have all staff back in the offices soon. With a complex humanitarian crisis looming and winter around the corner, time is of the essence. 

One of the worst places on earth to be a child

UNICEF's Sam Mort meets a child patient at a hospital in Kabul, the capital of Afghanistan.
© UNICEF/Omid Fazel
UNICEF's Sam Mort meets a child patient at a hospital in Kabul, the capital of Afghanistan.

Afghanistan has long been one of the worst places on earth to be a child and in recent months, it's become a much darker place so it's important that the eyes and ears of the world remain focused on the most vulnerable and how best to help them.

UNICEF works with a lot of young people and, since I arrived in Afghanistan a year ago, I have been struck by their energy, optimism and determination to forge forward, particularly in their desire for education. It’s not easy, especially for young women who in their desire to learn and seek new opportunities confront daily threats, hardships and challenges.

Their confidence, the pluckiness, is remarkable. I don't think I was expecting that. I see a bravery in Afghanistan's girls and women that I haven't seen anywhere else, because the fears and pressures are real and they acknowledge them, and they move forward anyway.

When I asked one young woman who we've been working with in the last few weeks, how she was doing she said, “I'm still breathing but I'm trapped. This is a nightmare”.

She told me: ‘Sam, I was, I was just finishing high school and I was about to start university. Everything I wanted to do, all my dreams have just stopped.”

Unfulfilled potential

A UN-supported polio worker in Afghanistan administers a polio vaccine to a young child (file).
UNICEF/Celeste Hibbe
A UN-supported polio worker in Afghanistan administers a polio vaccine to a young child (file).

As a foreigner, you have to be very careful about saying, “Oh, they haven't just stopped, you know, they'll start again,” because this is Afghanistan and the Taliban has taken over and everybody is in ‘wait-and-see’ mode. Nobody can predict what's going to happen. 

With all the young people that I've been speaking to, including young men and boys, the greatest service I can do for them is to listen, to understand and to talk to them a little bit about their mental health as well as what they can do on a daily basis to keep themselves busy, but stay pragmatic and focused on their future. 

UNICEF is such a hopeful, forward looking organization. We try to work with young people to give them a platform to express themselves, realise their dreams, inspire one another and connect. Right now, though, that feels very difficult in Afghanistan.

So, what keeps me awake at night?  It is the unfulfilled potential of young people, particularly young women, that is difficult.”

Listen to the audio interview here.


No improvement in young children’s diets over past decade: UNICEF

INTERNATIONAL, 22 September 2021, SDGs - There has been little sign of improvement in the diets of the world’s youngest children over the last ten years, the United Nations Children's Fund (UNICEF) said on Wednesday. 

According to their new report, ‘Fed to Fail? The crisis of children’s diets in early life’ released ahead of the UN Food Systems Summit this week, rising poverty, inequality, conflict, climate-related disasters, and health emergencies are all contributing to the nutrition crisis. 

“In fact, the ongoing COVID-19 disruptions could make the situation much worse,” UNICEF Executive Director Henrietta Fore said.  

Poor feeding patterns ‘persist’ 

In an analysis of 91 countries, the report found that only half of children aged 6-23 months, are being fed the minimum recommended number of meals a day, while just a third consume the minimum number of food groups they need to thrive. 

Children living in rural areas or from poorer households are also significantly more likely to be fed poor diets, compared to their urban or wealthier peers. Further analysis of 50 countries revealed these poor feeding patterns have persisted throughout the last decade.  

Nutritious meals reduced 

The report also found that the COVID-19 pandemic is affecting how families feed their children. 

For example, half of families in Jakarta, Indonesia, have been forced to reduce nutritious food purchases, according to a survey conducted among urban households in the city. 

As a result, the percentage of children consuming the minimum recommended number of food groups fell by a third in 2020, compared to 2018. 

Children scarred 

According to UNICEF, poor diets can scar children for life. An insufficient intake of nutrients found in vegetables, fruits, eggs, fish and meat at an early age, puts children at risk of poor brain development, weak learning, low immunity, increased infections and, potentially, death. 

Children under the age of two are most vulnerable to all forms of malnutrition, including stunting, wasting, micronutrient deficiencies, and overweight and obesity the UN agency warned. 

“The report’s findings are clear: When the stakes are highest, millions of young children are being fed to fail,” Ms. Fore said. “While we have known this for years, there has been little progress on providing the right kind of nutritious and safe foods for the young. 

Diets fall behind 

UNICEF has estimated that globally, more than half of children under the age of 5 with wasting are younger than 2 years of age. 

This amounts to around 23 million children. The prevalence of stunting increases rapidly between 6 months and two years, as children’s diets fail to keep pace with their growing nutritional needs. 

According to the report, children aged six to 23 months living in rural areas or from poorer households, are significantly more likely to be fed poor diets compared to their urban or wealthier peers. In 2020, for example, the proportion of children fed the minimum number of recommended food groups was twice as high in urban areas (39 per cent) than in rural areas (23 per cent), the findings revealed. 

Investment needed 

The report emphasized that progress in all regions is possible with investment. It found that in Latin America and the Caribbean almost two thirds (62 per cent) of children below 24 months, are fed a minimally diverse diet, while in Eastern and Southern Africa (24 per cent), West and Central Africa (21 per cent) and South Asia (19 per cent), fewer than one in four young children are being fed a minimally diverse diet.   

To deliver nutritious, safe, and affordable diets to every child the report recommends several key actions. 

These include increasing the availability and affordability of nutritious foods, implementing national standards and legislation to protect young children from unhealthy processed food and drink while ending harmful marketing practices targeting children and families. 

Instead, nutritious and safe foods should be made more desirable through multiple communication channels and with easy to understand, coherent information.  

“Children cannot survive or thrive on calories alone,” said Ms. Fore. “Only by joining forces with governments, the private sector, civil society, development and humanitarian partners, and families can we transform food systems.” 

The upcoming UN Food Systems Summit is “an important opportunity to set the stage for global food systems that meet the needs of all children,” she added.  


Afghanistan: ‘Palpable’ fear of ‘brutal and systemic repression’ of women grows

INTERNATIONAL, 21 September 2021, Women - Since the Taliban seized power in Afghanistan last month, they have made some commitments to uphold human rights. However, their subsequent actions have “sadly contradicted” those promises, the UN rights chief told a side event of the General Assembly on Tuesday.

Michelle Bachelet informed a high-level event on safeguarding 20 years of international engagement in Afghanistan, that women have been “progressively excluded from the public sphere”, prohibited from appearing without a male guardian and face increasing restrictions on their right to work.

“The Ministry that once promoted women's rights has been disbanded, and its premises taken over by a Ministry for the propagation of Virtue and the prevention of Vice – an all-male office that will apply guidelines on appropriate dress and behaviour” the human rights chief said.

Moreover, Taliban representatives have dismantled many other former government offices for women’s affairs, gaining access to sensitive files, threatening staff, and accusing women's civil society groups of spreading “anti-Islamic” ideas.

There is real and palpable fear among Afghan women of a return to the Taliban's brutal and systemic repression of women and girls during the 1990s”, said the High Commissioner.

Severe consequences

Meanwhile, a growing humanitarian crisis across the country is putting one million children in danger of extreme hunger, with families headed by women – most of whom can no longer work – among those at greatest risk.

Over the last 20 years, Afghan women have worked towards ensuring greater respect for and protection of their rights to education, work, political participation and freedom – of movement and expression.

“These rights are part of the evolution of Afghan society and are integral to the development and economic growth of Afghanistan”, underscored Ms. Bachelet.

As women and girls comprise half of Afghanistan’s population, she reminded that the country would benefit by utilizing their talents and capabilities.

Uphold human rights

The High Commissioner said that “first and foremost”, women and girls must have full and equal access to essential services, including healthcare and education; be able to work in every sector of the economy; be free to move without restrictions; and live free of all gender-related violence.

“In short, Afghan women and girls’ human rights must be upheld and defended”.

When engaging with the Taliban, Ms. Bachelet stressed that the international community, including the UN and all its Member States, must commit to “strong advocacy that demands compliance with these basic requirements for any fair and just society”.

Respect for the rights of the women and girls of Afghanistan now will be a harbinger of the country's future”, she said. “They face extraordinary challenges – and we will remain at their side”.

School closed for girls

Henrietta Fore, Executive Director of the UN Children’s Fund (UNICEF), outlined some of the country’s advances, from tripling the number of schools since 2002 to increasing youth literacy from 47 to 65 per cent over the past decade.

“Over the past 20 years, school enrolment has increased ten-fold, reaching almost 10 million children today. Four million of those children are girls”, she said, calling them “significant improvements.”

Most recently however, girls over the age of 12 have been prohibited from attending school – with the genders separated at the university level and female students prohibited from being taught by male professors, who make up the majority of instructors.

Amidst her deep concern that many girls may not be allowed back to school, the UNICEF chief called it “critically important” that Afghan children have “an equal chance to learn and develop the skills they need to thrive”.

“Girls cannot, and must not, be left behind. It is critical that…[they] are able to resume their education without any further delays”, she spelled out.

Across Afghanistan, children’s education has been disrupted for two academic school years now due to the COVID-19 pandemic.
UNICEF/Sayed Bidel
Across Afghanistan, children’s education has been disrupted for two academic school years now due to the COVID-19 pandemic.

Pay teachers, support learning

For this to happen, Ms. Fore stressed the need for female educators to resume teaching and be “actively” protected.    

She noted that the international community must also increase investment in education.

At a bare minimum, every child needs foundational literacy and numeracy skills,” she said, adding that “girls and boys need qualified female and male teachers, who regularly receive their salaries and are supported to teach”. 

Never ‘more urgent time’

Despite improvements, the plight of Afghanistan’s children was clear even before the Taliban took control of the country.

Ms. Fore highlighted that of the 4.2 million children not enrolled in school, 2.6 million are girls. And for those who are, COVID-19 has thwarted ten months of education and threatens the most vulnerable from ever returning to the classroom.

According to UNICEF, “access to quality education” is not only a right for every child, it is also an investment to expand opportunities for each child, their families, and their communities.

There has never been a more urgent time to stand with the children of Afghanistan – boys but especially girls – and with the people who inspire and guide them”, concluded Ms. Fore, urging everyone to “protect and support these children”.



World’s two largest economies commit to climate action – Guterres

INTERNATIONAL, 21 September 2021, Climate and Environment - UN Secretary-General António Guterres on Tuesday welcomed important commitments made towards climate action by the world’s two largest economies, as the 76th High Level Debate began in New York.

He hailed United States’ President Jose Biden’s announcement that the US would significantly increase its international climate finance to approximately $11.4 billion a year.

“This increased contribution from the United States will bring developed countries closer to meeting their collective commitment to mobilize $100 billion a year in climate finance”, said the UN chief, in a statement.

Mr. Guterres also welcomes the announcement made by President Xi Jinping that China would end all financing of coal fired power plants abroad and redirect its support to green and low carbon energy.

Accelerating the global phase out of coal is the single most important step to keep the 1.5-degree goal of the Paris Agreement within reach”, he underscored.

Long road to climate victory

While today’s announcements were most welcome, the top UN official flagged that there is still “a long way to go” to make next month’s UN climate conference (COP26) in Glasgow a success that ensures “a turning point in our collective efforts to address the climate crisis”.

He reminded that, based on Member States’ current emission reduction commitments, “the world is on a catastrophic pathway to 2.7 degrees of heating”.

The Secretary-General called for “decisive action by all countries”, especially the G20 leading industrialized nations, to “go the extra mile” and effectively contribute to emission reductions.

All countries must bring their highest level of ambition to Glasgow if we are to keep the 1.5-degree goal of the Paris Agreement within reach”, he said.


COVID ‘Shot for All’, not a luxury, but development priority: UNDP

INTERNATIONAL, 21 September 2021, Health - Top politicians joined award-winning African performers and others on Tuesday, in New York, to take part in a special event organized by the UN Development Programme (UNDP), to discuss how COVID-19 vaccines can be fairly distributed worldwide, as a key priority for development. 

Under the banner of A Shot for All, on the margins of the 76th session of the UN General Assembly, prominent leaders and personalities stressed the importance of vaccine equity and how to achieve universal access, particularly in developing countries and marginalized communities in Africa. 

For the UN agency, the goal is not a luxury, but an urgent global development priority.  

Development priority for all 

"Delaying vaccines in low-income countries and regions like Africa cannot be the way forward. The stakes are simply too high. Ending vaccine inequality must be seen as a global public good and development priority for all," said Achim Steiner, UNDP Administrator. 

The event, moderated by Al Jazeera English anchor, Folly Bah Thibault, represented a call to action to governments and development partners to reconsider the production, supply, distribution, and financing of vaccines and how to redress the impact of the current crisis. 

Speakers joined the global call to expedite and prioritize vaccine equity. For them, it’s not just a way to end the pandemic, but also a way to boost the economic and social opportunities that will help developing countries, particularly in Africa, to achieve the Sustainable Development Goals.  

Multilateralism and solutions 

Among the speakers, were  the President of the Democratic Republic of the Congo,  Felix Antoine Tshisekedi, the Prime Minister of Sweden, Stefan Löfven, the Director-General of the World Trade Organization (WTO), Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala, and the Director of the Africa Centres for Disease Control and Prevention, John Nkengasong.  

They agreed that multilateralism is central to ending the pandemic, and they outlined solutions to ensuring no one is left behind. Among the proposals, were increased manufacturing of vaccines, unblocking bottle necks in the supply chain, and investing in homegrown innovations and capacities.  

Speaking at the event, UNDP Director of the Regional Bureau for Africa, Ahunna Eziakonwa, said “a two-track recovery is no recovery, the world is calling for greater justice.” 

“We cannot beat the pandemic if half of the world is experiencing vaccine famine. Delaying vaccines is denying development. We will continue to do our utmost to give each African a shot at life and allow every African country to build forward smarter, stronger and more sustainably,” she added.  

Award-winning Nigerian singer Patoranking and Kenyan percussionist and activist Kasiva Mutua performed at the event, highlighting the impact of the pandemic on artists and their ability to inspire action.  

Other participants included Edem Adzogenu from Afro Champions, Yvonne Mburu, CEO Nexakili and member of France’s Presidential Council for Africa, Admassu Tadesse, President and CEO of Trade Development Bank, and Kwabena Ayirebi, Director of Banking Operations for the Africa Export-Import Bank.


UN agencies shocked by deaths near Belarus-Poland border

INTERNATIONAL, 21 September 2021, Migrants and Refugees - The UN refugee agency, UNHCR, and migration agency IOM, called on Tuesday for an immediate investigation into the deaths of four people near the border between Poland and Belarus, due to causes yet to be determined.  

In a joint statement, the agencies expressed their condolences to the families of the deceased, all of whose nationalities have yet to be confirmed, although two of the victims were identified as Iraqi nationals who reportedly died of hypothermia. 

EU-Belarus border crisis 

In recent months, groups of asylum-seekers and migrants have been transiting through Belarus, to seek asylum in neighbouring EU Member States - Lithuania, Latvia and Poland. 

Reports of cross-border pushbacks and lack of adequate asylum access for those seeking international protections, shelter and assistance, have been relayed to UNHCR and IOM, who have been closely following the situation.   

Noting that “groups of people have become stranded for weeks, unable to access any form of assistance, asylum or basic services”, the agencies said that many had been left in dire situations, exposed to the elements, and vulnerable to deadly hypothermia. “Some were rescued from swamps”, the statement added.  

Human rights protection 

Recognizing the significant challenges posed by irregular movements, both UN agencies called for the situation to be managed in accordance with States’ international legal obligations, adding that they should work collaboratively to resolve the situation, prioritising human rights.  

UNHCR and IOM called for immediate access to those affected, in order to provide lifesaving medical help, food, water and shelter, especially considering the approaching winter. 

Noting that border management is a country’s sovereign prerogative, IOM and UNHCR called on all States to uphold the rule of law at the borders and to respect the human rights and freedoms of all migrants. 

The statement added that UNHCR and IOM have been engaging with relevant authorities to explore various options for the people who continue to be stranded at borders; from access to asylum, family reunification procedures, and voluntary return for those found not to be in need of international protection.  

IOM and UNHCR concluded by saying that asylum-seekers and migrants should never be used by States as political pawns. 

Many news outlets in recent days have highlighted the view within the European Union, that Belarusian authorities have been orchestrating the influx of asylum-seekers from the Middle East and Asia, in retaliation for sanctions against the hard-line Government in Belarus, which has led a violent crackdown against the pro-democracy movement there since disputed elections last year. 


John Lennon, stamps inspiring message of peace, on UN's big week

INTERNATIONAL, 21 September 2021, UN Affairs - This year’s International Day of Peace has been marked by the release of new stamps featuring music icon and peace campaigner, John Lennon, by the UN Postal Administration (UNPA), as the UN General Assembly High Level Week gets underway.

It’s a reminder that as K-pop sensation BTS take UNGA76 by storm with their message of hope and youthful idealism for a better world, it’s a cause that many of their musical forebears have championed in the past.

Observed globally each year on 21 September, the Day is devoted to strengthening the ideals of peace, both within and among, all nations and peoples.

‘Imagine’ at 50

The souvenir issue includes the lyrics of John Lennon’s classic anthem to world peace, “Imagine”, together with his signature, and three different photo portraits of the former Beatle from the later stages of his life.

This year also marks the 50th Anniversary of the recording of “Imagine”, which is considered the most successful single of Lennon’s solo career.

The song has been performed at some of the world’s biggest events, including concerts for peace, hunger, New Year celebrations, and the Olympic Games - always a hopeful message during troubling times.

Its lyrics encourage us to put aside all differences and unify to imagine a world of peace, without greed, hunger, or barriers separating people and nations, UNPA noted.

‘Live as one’

The International Day of Peace was created in 1981 to underscore that all people have the right to live in peace.

People are being encouraged to best honour the occasion, said UNPA, by “standing up against acts of hate, and by spreading compassion, kindness, and hope so the world can “live as one”, just as Lennon’s iconic song imagined.

The stamps and souvenir sheets feature photographs by Bob Gruen, Iain Macmillan and David Nutter and the stamps were illustrated by Martin Mörck based on the photographs.

The stamp issue was designed by the UN’s Rorie Katz. A surcharge has been added to the stamps to help fund UN peacekeeping operations worldwide.

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