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Myanmar: UN deplores conviction and sentencing of Aung San Suu Kyi

INTERNATIONAL, 6 December 2021, Human Rights - The UN’s top human rights official on Monday condemned the imprisonment of Myanmar’s State Counsellor Aung San Suu Kyi by a military-controlled court, and called for her release. She also faces additional charges of corruption and electoral fraud.

The development follows media reports that a military vehicle slammed into demonstrators in the city of Yangon over the weekend, leaving an unknown number injured and at least five dead.

Political motives

In a statement on Monday, UN High Commissioner for Human Rights Michelle Bachelet maintained that Ms. Suu Kyi’s guilty verdict was the result of a “sham trial”.

“The conviction of the State Counsellor following a sham trial in secretive proceedings before a military-controlled court is nothing but politically-motivated,” she said.  “It is not only about arbitrary denial of her freedom – it closes yet another door to political dialogue,” the UN rights chief said in a statement.

Ms. Suu Kyi, Myanmar’s former leader, had been held at an unknown location since February; she was tried in a closed court with no access for observers.

The verdict had been “politically-motivated”, said Ms. Bachelet, who warned that the State Counsellor’s detention had closed “yet another door to political dialogue”.

Myanmar’s military took power in a coup on 1 February, after declaring the results of the November 2020 elections invalid.

More than 10,000 political prisoners are believed to have been detained by the junta, and at least 175 have reportedly died in custody, according to the UN human rights office.

Immediate release plea

In her statement, the High Commissioner called for the immediate release of all those who have been held arbitrarily.

Ms. Bachelet also strongly condemned the “vicious, utterly reprehensible” attack reported yesterday in Yangon, the country’s commercial capital, where unconfirmed video footage showed a security forces’ truck running into unarmed protesters and then firing upon the group using live ammunition.

In addition to those feared killed and injured, 15 others have been detained, according to reports.

The UN’s top aid representative in Myanmar, Ramanathan Balakrishnan joined Ms. Bachelet in speaking out against the violence and said that those responsible for excessive and disproportionate use of force against unarmed civilians must be held accountable.

“Initial reports indicate that a number of people were killed in the incident, while a number of others were injured,” he said, insisting that freedom of expression “is a fundamental human right and today’s action by security forces is completely unacceptable...I condemn this attack in the strongest possible terms and pass on my deepest condolences to the families of all those who were killed or injured.”

Armed clashes, violence and insecurity in the country has risen significantly since the coup, displacing tens of thousands of civilians, according to United Nations estimates.

End the violence: Guterres

Briefing reporters in New York, UN Spokesperson, Stephane Dujarric, said that the Secretary-General António Guterres "reiterates his condemnation of the military takeover on 1 February and repeats the call for an immediate end to the violence and repression, for the respect for human rights, and for the immediate release of all political prisoners in Myanmar.

"As you know, the Universal Declaration of Human Rights enshrines the principles of equality before the law, the presumption of innocence, the right to a fair and public hearing by an independent and impartial tribunal., and all of the guarantees necessary for a person’s defence", he added.

‘Hostages, not criminals’

UN Special Rapporteur on the situation of human rights in Myanmar, Tom Andrews, described the sentencing as the “theatre of the absurd”, saying the military-directed process underscored the complete lack of rule of law in the country.

“Aung San Suu Kyi and President Win Myint are hostages, not criminals,” the independent expert said. “This proceeding should not be confused with an actual trial - it is theatre of the absurd and a gross violation of human rights.

“Aung San Suu Kyi, and thousands of others, are being arbitrarily detained in a system of injustice, guilty of only exercising their fundamental rights.”

Mr. Andrews said that the sentencing “demonstrates why the international community must take stronger action to support the people of Myanmar by denying the junta the revenue and weapons that they need to continue their illegitimate grip on the people of Myanmar.

“I call upon Member States to significantly increase pressure on the junta as a result of this outrageous action.”

The junta’s arrest and sentencing of Aung San Suu Kyi and thousands of others highlights the relentless assault on the people of Myanmar’s right to exercise their civil and political rights, the independent expert added. 

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COVID-19: Students face $17 trillion loss in lifetime earnings

INTERNATIONAL, 6 December 2021, Culture and Education - School closures during the COVID-19 pandemic could result in a staggering $17 trillion in lost lifetime earnings for today’s students, according to a UN-backed report issued on Monday. 

The projection is among the findings of The State of the Global Education Crisis: A Path to Recovery, published by the World Bank, the UN Educational, Cultural and Scientific Organization (UNESCO) and the UN Children’s Fund (UNICEF). 

The figure is calculated in present value, representing roughly 14 per cent of current Gross Domestic Product (GDP). 

It far exceeds the $10 trillion estimates from a year ago, revealing that the impact is more severe than previously thought. 

Loss ‘morally unacceptable’ 

The pandemic brought education systems across the world to a halt, said Jaime Saavedra, World Bank Global Director for Education.  More than 20 months later, millions of children remain shut out of school, while others may never return. 

Furthermore, the report shows that in low and middle-income countries, the share of children living in “learning poverty” could jump from 53 per cent to 70 per cent. 

“The loss of learning that many children are experiencing is morally unacceptable,” said Mr. Saavedra.

“And the potential increase of ‘learning poverty’ might have a devastating impact on future productivity, earnings, and well-being for this generation of children and youth, their families, and the world’s economies.” 

The report reveals that real data is now corroborating simulations estimating that school closures resulted in significant learning losses. 

Education inequities worsen 

Regional evidence from countries such as Brazil, Pakistan, India, South Africa and Mexico detail substantial losses in maths and reading skills, sometimes roughly proportional to the length of school closures. 

There was also diversity across countries, and by subject, students’ socioeconomic status, gender, and grade level.   

However, evidence from across the world suggests the pandemic has exacerbated inequities in education, with children from low-income households, those with disabilities, as well as girls, less likely to access remote learning. 

Additionally, younger students had less access to remote learning and were more affected by learning loss than older counterparts, especially pre-school age children. 

Furthermore, the most marginalized or vulnerable students were disproportionately impacted, among other findings. 

Reopening, a priority 

Robert Jenkins, UNICEF Director of Education, called for reopening schools, and keeping them open, to “stem the scars on this generation”, while warning of the risks of inaction. 

“The COVID-19 pandemic shut down schools across the world, disrupting education for 1.6 billion students at its peak, and exacerbated the gender divide,” he said. 

“In some countries, we’re seeing greater learning losses among girls and an increase in their risk of facing child labor, gender-based violence, early marriage, and pregnancy.” 

With less than three per cent of government stimulus packages allocated to education, the report underlines the need for greater funding. 

Reopening schools must remain a top and urgent priority globally, while countries should implement Learning Recovery Programmes to ensure students in this generation will attain at least the same competencies as their predecessors.  

At the same time, techniques like targeted instruction can support learning recovery, meaning teachers can align instruction to the learning levels of students. 

Resilient education systems 

Stefania Giannini, UNESCO Assistant Director-General for Education, underscored the need for government action. 

“With government leadership and support from the international community, there is a great deal that can be done to make systems more equitable, efficient, and resilient, capitalizing on lessons learned throughout the pandemic and on increasing investments,” she said, while stressing the need to prioritize children and youth.  

To build more resilient education systems for the long-term, the report calls for countries to consider taking steps such as investing in the enabling environment to unlock the potential of digital learning opportunities for all students. 

The role of parents, families, and communities in children’s learning must also be reinforced. 

At the same time, teachers should have support and access to high-quality professional development opportunities, while the share of education should be increased in the national budget allocation of stimulus packages.

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COVID contributed to 69,000 malaria deaths WHO finds, though ‘doomsday scenario’ averted

INTERNATIONAL, 6 December 2021, Health - Disruptions due to the COVID-19 pandemic resulted in considerable increases in malaria cases and deaths between 2019 and 2020, the World Health Organization (WHO) said on Monday.

However, “the doomsday scenario” projected by the WHO has not materialised,” Dr Pedro Alonso, Director, WHO Global Malaria Programme said at the launch of the UN agency’s annual World Malaria Report in Geneva.

According to the analysis, moderate disruptions in the delivery of malaria services contributed to 14 million malaria cases and 69,000 deaths.

Two thirds (or 47,000) of the additional malaria deaths, were due to disruptions in the provision of malaria prevention, diagnosis and treatment during the pandemic.

Early in the pandemic, WHO had projected a doubling of malaria deaths in sub-Saharan Africa, as a worst-case scenario. Yet, the analysis found there was an estimated 12 per cent increase in deaths in the region between 2019 and 2020.

“The first message is a good news message. Thanks to urgent and strenuous efforts we can claim that the world has succeeded in averting the worst-case scenario of malaria deaths,” Dr Alonso said.

Disruptions to malaria services

The report found that just 58 per cent of countries completed their planned campaigns to distribute insecticide-treated mosquito nets (ITNs) in 2020, with most experiencing important delays.

Globally, 72 per cent of all ITNs planned for distribution had been distributed by the end of 2020.

In 2020 of the 65 countries who responded, 37 countries reported partial disruptions (5 per cent to 50 per cent) to malaria diagnosis and treatment services.

By 2021 15 countries reported partial disruptions (5 per cent- 50per cent) and 6 countries reported severe disruptions.

Global burden of malaria

This year’s World malaria report used new methodology to estimate malaria deaths worldwide. This resulted in a larger share (7.8 per cent) of deaths among under-five children than previously recognized (4.8 per cent). 

“We have a better estimate of the real malaria burden and this is now at 627 thousand deaths in 2020” Dr Alonso said.

More women in sub-Saharan Africa are using bed nets to protect themselves against malaria.
©UNICEF/Josh Estey
More women in sub-Saharan Africa are using bed nets to protect themselves against malaria.

The report found that there was a 27 per cent reduction in case incidence (cases per 1000 population) of malaria from 2000 to 2020 with an overall downward trend in the malaria death rate from 2000 to the present day.

This amounted to a 49 per cent reduction in the malaria mortality rate from 2000 to 2020. The report noted that the WHO African Region carried about 95 per cent of global malaria cases in 2020, and 96 per cent of global malaria deaths in 2020.

Plateau in progress

The report revealed that globally, 1.7 billion cases and 10.6 million deaths were averted between 2000 and 2020. Most of the malaria cases (82 per cent) and deaths (95 per cent) averted over the last 20 years were in the WHO African Region.

However, even before the emergence of COVID-19, global gains against malaria were levelling off.” “We are not on a trajectory to success, we are increasingly moving away from reaching the 2020 milestones of WHO’s global malaria strategy,” Dr Alonso said.

A new, country-driven approach to malaria control in high-burden countries was beginning to gain momentum when COVID-19 struck.

According to the analysis in 2020, global malaria case incidence was off track by 40 per cent and the global mortality rate for 2020 was off track by 42 per cent.

Uneven progress 

On a global scale, progress against malaria remains uneven. The report found that many countries with a low burden of the disease are moving steadily towards the goal of malaria elimination.

Two countries – El Salvador and China – were certified malaria-free by WHO in 2021. However, most countries with a high burden of the disease have suffered setbacks and are losing ground. 

Significant and growing gaps

Global progress against malaria over the past two decades was achieved, in large part, through the massive scale-up and use of WHO-recommended malaria tools that prevent, detect and treat the disease.

However, the most recent data also demonstrate that significant and sometimes widening gaps in access to life-saving tools for people at risk of malaria.

Sub-Saharan Africa

The report warns that the situation remains precarious, especially in sub-Saharan Africa. A convergence of threats in the region poses an added challenge to disease control efforts.

These include Ebola outbreaks in DRC and Guinea, armed conflicts and flooding. At the same time, the document reiterates that the pandemic is not over, and the pace of economic recovery is uncertain. Without immediate and accelerated action, key 2030 targets of the WHO Global technical strategy for malaria will be missed, and additional ground may be lost.

Meeting global malaria targets

The strategy’s goals include a 90 per cent reduction in global malaria incidence and mortality rates by 2030. The report reiterated that this will require new approaches and intensified efforts aided by new tools and better implementation of existing ones.

This includes a stronger emphasis on equitable and resilient health systems and data-driven strategies.

The report also recommended the expanded use of the RTS,S malaria vaccine recommended by WHO in October. “the vaccine is feasible to deliver, is safe, has a public health impact and is cost-effective,” Dr Alonso said.

“As we speak GAVI is discussing opening up a window for investment in this malaria vaccine,” he added. 

Funding ‘flatlined’

The analysis also emphasized that stepped-up investment is also essential. “Funding has flatlined” Dr. Alonso warned “We are about 50 per cent off what we believed the target should be for 2020”.

The report found that a total of $3.3 billion was invested globally in malaria control and elimination in 2020. This was against a target of $6.8 billion to reach global malaria targets.

Annual investments will need to more than triple by 2030 – to $10.3 billion per year, the report noted.

 

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DR Congo: Limitations to ‘strictly military approach’ to stem violence, mission chief warns

INTERNATIONAL, 6 December 2021, Peace and Security - The Special Representative of the Secretary-General in the Democratic Republic of the Congo told the Security Council on Monday that “a lasting solution” to the violence “requires a broader political commitment to address the root causes of conflict.” 

Bintou Keita argued that, for stability to return to eastern Congo, “the State must succeed in restoring and maintaining the confidence of the people in their ability to protect, administer, deliver justice and meet their basic needs.” 

Ms. Keita, who also acts as the head of the UN Stabilization Mission in the country (MONUSCO), said that she has stressed this regularly in her exchanges with the Head of State and with the Prime Minister. 

Armed violence 

Starting on November 30, the Congolese Armed Forces initiated joint military operations with the Ugandan army against the rebel Allied Democratic Forces (ADF) in the east. 

According to Ms. Keita, UN peacekeepers and the Mission continue to support the Armed Forces in the protection of civilians and the neutralization of armed groups.  

In May, the Congolese authorities declared a state of siege in the provinces of Ituri and North Kivu, whose duration has just been extended for the 13th time. 

Given the difficulties of implementing it, the Defence and Security Committee of the National Assembly, carried out an assessment of the decision and made recommendations to the Government. 

Ms. Keita saluted this “constructive and democratic approach” and called the consultations that followed it “a step in the right direction.” 

For her, the challenges facing the Government in implementing the state of siege highlight “the limits of a strictly military approach to the protection of civilians and the neutralization of armed groups.” 

In fact, the period of the state of siege saw a 10 per cent increase in the number of violations and abuses of human rights in the country.  

Humanitarian needs 

According to the Special Representative, the humanitarian situation continues to deteriorate in the restive east, due to insecurity, epidemics, and limited access to basic services. 

The number of internally displaced people stands at nearly 6 million, of which 51 per cent are women. This is the highest number of internally displaced people in Africa.  

Ms. Keita reiterated the appeal to international partners and donors to redouble their support for the Humanitarian Response Plan. So far, the plan is only funded at 34 per cent.  

Ms. Keita also informed that the transition plan for drawdown of MONUSCO is making progress. The next step is the drawdown from the province of Tanganyika in mid-2022. 

The Special Representative pointed out the illegal exploitation of natural resources as “a major driver of conflict”, saying it must be addressed, and commended President Tshisekedi’s intervention at the COP26 Summit, where he committed to combat deforestation in the Congo Basin rainforest and reduce greenhouse gas emissions by 21 per cent, by 2030.  

Elections pending 

Looking ahead, Ms. Keita highlighted the importance of the elections scheduled for 2023, urging all political stakeholders to focus on key reforms needed to consolidate the hard-won stabilization gains and overcome continuing challenges. 

In this regard, she saluted the efforts to find an agreement on the leadership of the National Electoral Commission, known as CENI. 

She also argued that a national consensus on the reform of the electoral law will be “absolutely critical” to hold a peaceful and credible electoral process. 

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Severe cash crunch threatens WFP operations in Ethiopia

INTERNATIONAL, 6 December 2021, Humanitarian Aid - Millions of people in Ethiopia could be pushed deeper into hunger as the World Food Programme (WFP) faces a major funding shortfall that threatens its operations there over the coming six months, the UN agency warned on Monday. 

WFP urgently needs $579 million to deliver food aid and livelihood support to some 12 million Ethiopians and refugees.  This includes $316 million for food and nutrition assistance to nearly four million people in the war-ravaged north.  

The Ethiopian authorities, together with WFP and other partners, are struggling to address the hunger crisis in the country. 

Food aid ‘critical’ 

An estimated 13.6 million people are now food insecure due to the combined effects of conflict, drought, flooding, desert locust invasions, market disruptions, high food prices and the COVID-19 pandemic. 

“Timely and complete food and nutrition support is critical to alleviating the suffering of millions across Ethiopia,” said Dr. Steven Were Omamo, WFP Representative and Country Director. 

“In addition to the severe challenges facing conflict-impacted populations in many regions, we are deeply concerned about climate-related vulnerability and food insecurity in dry lowland areas,” he added. 

Although food is available, Dr. Omamo stressed that unless the agency receives new funding commitments soon, “we will be unable to purchase and mobilise this food to prevent millions from falling into severe hunger and hardship by early next year.” 

Situation set to worsen 

WFP cited latest analysis which shows record-high levels of acute food insecurity are expected in Ethiopia through at least the middle of 2022, with the northern, southern, and southeastern parts of the country of highest concern. 

Last month, WFP reported that the number of people who need food assistance across the north had risen as a direct result of the ongoing war there. 

The food security situation in all three regions of Afar, Amhara and Tigray is already critical, the agency said on Monday, and it will worsen if disruptions to humanitarian aid continue as a result of the fighting.

Drought driving losses 

Meanwhile, the southern and southeastern areas of Ethiopia are facing a third consecutive below-average rainfall season.   

The intensifying drought has caused significant livestock losses, while wiping out fragile livelihoods and also worsening food insecurity through the middle of next year. 

WFP said although donors have stepped up and contributed to its operations in Ethiopia, the level of funding has not kept up with the rising needs. 

Funding shortages have already led to ration cuts affecting some 710,000 refugees across the country, and 2.4 million food insecure people in Somali region.  

WFP is working throughout northern Ethiopia with the Federal government and regional authorities, to reach populations affected by the conflict. 

The agency urged the warring sides to respect its staff and assets, as well as access to areas of need.  

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General Assembly defers decision on Afghanistan and Myanmar seats

INTERNATIONAL, 6 December 2021, UN Affairs - The UN General Assembly on Monday adopted a resolution to delay a decision on who will represent Afghanistan and Myanmar at the world body. 

The Assembly agreed to defer action, which means the current ambassadors for the two countries will remain in place for the time being.  

The de facto Taliban authorities in Afghanistan, as well as the military rulers in Myanmar, had sought to replace the envoys, who were appointed by democratically-elected governments that were deposed this year. 

Adopted by consensus 

The resolution was adopted without a vote and follows a meeting held last week by the UN Credentials Committee, which approves diplomatic representation of all 193 Member States. 

The Committee chair, Ambassador Anna Karin Eneström of Sweden, introduced its report. 

“The Committee deferred its decision on the credentials pertaining to the representatives of Myanmar and on the credentials pertaining to the representatives of Afghanistan to the seventy-sixth session of the General Assembly,” she said. 

The UN remains focused on assisting the people of Afghanistan, where the Taliban seized power in August. Needs have risen sharply, with some 23 million people requiring humanitarian assistance. 

The UN also continues to push for a diplomatic solution to the crisis in Myanmar, in the wake of the military coup on 1 February. 

On Monday, the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights condemned the imprisonment of ousted civilian leader Aung San Suu Kyi, who had been held in detention since the takeover. 

The Nobel Peace Prize winner was found guilty of inciting dissent and breaking COVID-19 rules. 

UN rights chief Michelle Bachelet said the verdict was the result of a “sham trial”. 

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With 280 prisoners dead in Ecuador, UN experts call for urgent action

INTERNATIONAL, 6 December 2021, Human Rights - Following a series of riots which have left more than 280 inmates dead and hundreds injured in Ecuadorian prisons this year, UN independent human rights experts on Monday called for urgent government action to address the issue. 

In a joint statement, the experts said they were “appalled and gravely concerned” by repeated riots that have resulted in the death of so many prisoners, and the “clear risk” of further incidents. 

The statement was signed by Morris Tidball-Binz, Special Rapporteur on extrajudicial, summary or arbitrary executions, and Nils Melzer, Special Rapporteur on torture and other cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment

Ongoing insecurity 

During the most recent outbreak of violence, on 12 November, at least 62 inmates were killed and 44 were injured at the Centre of Deprivation of Liberty Guayas Nr. 1 (El Litoral Penitentiary) near the coastal city of Guayaquil. This was the fourth deadly riot at the prison this year. 

Disproportionate number of people of African descent and of ethnic minorities dye due to excessive use of force by security in British prisons
The experts received information about specific concerns, including severe overcrowding, by UN Photo

A few days earlier, four inmates were shot and killed during clashes inside the prison block. 

In September, El Litoral Penitentiary saw the deadliest riot ever recorded in the country, with 118 inmates killed and more than 80 injured. 

In July, eight people had been killed during an uprising at the same prison and 13 in another facility. Nearly 80 other inmates were killed in incidents earlier in the year.  

Investigations 

For the UN experts, “prompt, independent and impartial investigations must be carried out to establish the circumstances of all of these deaths and, in case of violations, prosecute those responsible.” 

They also asked for “urgent and effective measures” to stop “further carnage.” 

The experts received information about specific concerns, including severe overcrowding, largely as a result of a highly punitive “war on drugs” policy. 

They also got information about budget cuts and lack of staff, including professionals trained in fields necessary for social rehabilitation. 

Availability of weapons, violence between rival criminal gangs and inadequate separation of inmates in prisons, have further exacerbated problems at jails. 

In addition, the medical and legal investigations resulted in “confusing reports” about the number of dead, which were first reported by the authorities as totalling 68, but then later to 62 deceased. For them, this discrepancy is a source of additional suffering for the relatives of the deceased. 

Obligations 

In their statement, the experts remind the authorities that they have an obligation to protect the life and physical integrity of all individuals in detention. 

This includes the duty to investigate unlawful deaths using the highest standards, as it is determined by The Minnesota Protocol on the Investigation of Potentially Unlawful Death. 

The failure to do so amounts to the arbitrary deprivation of life, torture and other ill-treatment for which the authorities are responsible”, they said.  

They note that the Government has put the prison system under a state of emergency, but urge concrete steps to relieve overcrowding, prevent the inmates’ access to weapons, and to promote the use of alternative measures to incarceration. 

The Government should also ensure strict adherence to the 2015 UN Standard Minimum Rules for the Treatment of Prisoners, known as the Mandela Rules. 

According to the statement, the experts have written to the Government to express their concerns. 

Special Rapporteurs and independent experts are appointed by the Geneva-based UN Human Rights Council to examine and report back on a specific human rights theme or a country situation. The positions are honorary, and the experts are not paid for their work.

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First Person: ‘Trafficking is a crime that can happen in front of our eyes’

INTERNATIONAL, 5 December 2021, Human Rights - Ilias Chatzis heads up a global team of more than 60 experts at the UN Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC), committed to countering Human Trafficking and Migrant Smuggling. He says that more focus needs to be placed on those who profit from the crimes, rather than the victims.

This feature has been edited for clarity and length. Mr. Chatzis was talking to Melissa Fleming, the United Nations Under-Secretary-General for Global Communications. You can hear the full interview on the UN podcast, Awake at Night.

“Human trafficking and migrant smuggling have evolved a lot since I first took over this job. They have become more severe, in the sense of what the criminals involved inflict on people. There is more violence, victims are younger and there are more child victims.

It is a crime that can sometimes happen in front of our eyes, as we go to work, do our shopping, drive our children to school or meet friends for dinner. There are industries that we come into contact with in our everyday lives, like hospitality, agriculture, construction, and others where trafficking victims are exploited.

Traffickers in Europe take groups of children from country to country and force them to beg. Then they take all the money and often let them starve. For criminals, it is all about the money, and people are just a way to make a profit.

We have to accept that the criminals are real people themselves. They have friends, families, and children. They may even work within the organizations that are supposed to be tackling these crimes, like the police or immigration service and abuse their profession.

 A mother whose daughter was trafficked at the age of sixteen covers her face to protect her identity.
© UNICEF/Jim Holmes
A mother whose daughter was trafficked at the age of sixteen covers her face to protect her identity.

‘Every trafficking story can shake you to your core’

Every trafficking story can shake you to your core. It affects children, even babies can be victims. There are girls and women of all ages being sexually exploited, and men that desperately seek employment, and find themselves in the hands of criminal gangs who then use them for forced labour and other purposes.

We now have the online aspect of the crime. Videos and images of sexual exploitation are being distributed around the world through different channels. You can remove them from one platform, but they appear on another one.

I always feel that we could all do more against this crime. In the long term, we need to really look into our model of development and how our economies are structured. The private sector has an important role to play in these efforts and a responsibility to act.  

Ilias Chatzis and Yatta Dakowah, the UNODC Representative in Brussels, during a special session of the EU Parliament on migration - Brussels, Belgium - 2017.
UNODC
Ilias Chatzis and Yatta Dakowah, the UNODC Representative in Brussels, during a special session of the EU Parliament on migration - Brussels, Belgium - 2017.

‘Focus on how to stop the criminals’

With migrant smuggling, we need to focus on how to stop the criminals and not the migrants. Smuggling gangs make a lot of profit from people who are seeking a better life. While trying to stop the criminals, we should not forget the migrants themselves and the need to respect their dignity, human rights and offer protection to those that need it.

Human trafficking is not a crime that is happening only in the developing world. It occurs in every region. According to our latest Global Report on Trafficking in Persons, 148 countries out of the UN 193 Member States reported human trafficking cases in the last two years.

The team I lead is working all over the world to support countries to fight human trafficking and migrant smuggling. Through the services we provide, frontline responders, police authorities, prosecutors and judges are better equipped to protect victims of trafficking and smuggled migrants and secure convictions of the perpetrators.

I have seen a lot of human suffering in my career. I saw it first-hand when I was based in the former Yugoslavia. I experienced the uprooting of people by war, the exploitation of people by others, the links between organized crime and war, the breaking up of families and the desire to go back to where you belong, but the inability to do it, because things have changed so much that you would not recognise the place. 

We still have so much to learn from ourselves and from history. We are not learning fast enough. I took this job to hopefully make a difference. I am really trying to make sure that what I do has some real positive impact.”

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From the Field: ‘climate-smart’ development in an uncertain world

INTERNATIONAL, 4 December 2021, Climate and Environment - Today, when the UN plans initiatives to help vulnerable communities become more resilient, the climate crisis has to be part of the equation. The UN Development Programme (UNDP) is connecting the dots between people and the impacts that climate change is having on their lives.
Solar water facility in Ethiopia
Solar water facility in Ethiopia, by UNDP

Every solution is different, and is adapted to the needs of each community. From micro-hydropower in Nepal, to decentralizing access to water systems in Colombia, climate-proofing rural settlements in Rwanda, and building more integrated national adaptation plans in Bhutan.

As countries work to reduce their carbon footprint and adapt to climate change, reduce risks, and build more resilient societies, important progress is being made towards a more sustainable future. Find out more here.

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Omicron: Don't panic but prepare for likely spread, says WHO

INTERNATIONAL, 3 December 2021, Health - As scientists continue to investigate the Omicron COVID-19 variant, the UN World Health Organization (WHO) on Friday urged countries not to panic but to prepare for its likely spread.

Heralding South Africa’s and Botswana’s decision to report the appearance of the Omicron coronavirus mutation last month, the UN health agency repeated that it will take another two weeks before more is known about how transmissible and how dangerous it actually is.

Speaking in Geneva, WHO spokesperson Christian Lindmeier stressed that data suggesting that Omicron was highly transmissible was only preliminary.

Unnecessary travel bans

He also repeated WHO advice against blanket travel bans, except for countries whose health systems were unable to withstand a surge in infections.

“It is much more preferred to prepare your country, your health system to possibly incoming cases because we can be pretty sure that this Omicron variant will spread around,” he said.

The Delta mutation – declared a variant of concern this summer – is now “predominant”, Mr. Lindmeier added, “with over 90 per cent all around the world. This is how this virus behaves and we will not most likely be able to keep it out of individual countries.”

The WHO official also cautioned against knee-jerk reactions to reports that Omicron had continued to spread.

“Let’s not get deterred right now, let us first get as much information as possible to make the correct risk assessment based on the information that we will have and then let’s move on,” he said.

“Let’s not get completely worried or confused by individual information which are all individually important, but which need to be brought together in order to assess together.”

Surge team for South Africa spike

The development comes as WHO said that it was sending a technical surge team to South Africa’s Gauteng province to monitor Omicron and help with contract tracing, amid a spike in coronavirus reinfections.

For the seven days leading to 30 November, South Africa reported a 311 per cent increase in new cases, compared with the previous seven days, WHO said on Thursday.

Cases in Gauteng province, where Johannesburg is located, have increased by 375 per cent week on week. Hospital admissions there rose 4.2 per cent in the past seven days from the previous week. And COVID-19-related deaths in the province jumped 28.6 per cent from the previous seven days.

Announcing the surge team deployment, Dr Salam Gueye, WHO Regional Emergency Director for Africa, noted that just 102 million Africans in Africa – 7.5 per cent of the continental population – are now fully vaccinated and that more than 80 per cent of the population has not received even a single dose. “This is a dangerously wide gap,” he said.

In a statement, WHO said that South Africa is reportedly seeing more patients contracting COVID-19 after having already been infected, in a way it did not with previous variants, citing a microbiologist from the country’s National Institute for Communicable Diseases (NICD).

Working with African governments to accelerate studies and bolster the response to the new variant, the World Health Organization (WHO) is urging countries to sequence between 75 and 150 samples weekly.

Detection ‘bought the world time’

The detection and timely reporting of the new variant by Botswana and South Africa has bought the world time,” said Dr Matshidiso Moeti, WHO Regional Director for Africa.

“We have a window of opportunity but must act quickly and ramp up detection and prevention measures. Countries must adjust their COVID-19 response and stop a surge in cases from sweeping across Africa and possibly overwhelming already-stretched health facilities.”

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