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UN chief advocates for a strengthening of peacekeeping in Africa

INTERNATIONAL, 20 November 2018, Peace and Security - Citing the “encouraging progress” achieved by United Nations peacekeeping operations in Africa – which hosts half of all ongoing missions – UN chief António Guterres on Tuesday called the international community to strengthen cooperation and commitment to peacekeeping, during an open debate held at the Security Council.

Currently, half of all peacekeeping missions – seven out of 14 – and four in five UN ‘blue helmets’ are based in Africa. In addition, African nations provide nearly half of peacekeepers deployed worldwide, including almost two thirds of all women peacekeepers, and the majority of UN police officers. 

“Peacekeeping in Africa continues to present some of our greatest challenges,” said Mr. Guterres. “United Nations missions are carrying out complex operations with multidimensional mandates in extremely dangerous environments,” he explained, citing transnational crime, non-State armed groups and terrorist groups, who sometimes target peacekeepers directly.

The Secretary-General paid tribute to all peacekeepers that have fallen in the line of duty, and to the eight African blue helmets stationed in the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC) who were killed last week while trying to “prevent an attack on the town of Beni” and “create a safe environment for those working to end the Ebola outbreak there”.

Inviting the people in Security Council room to observe a moment of silence, he reiterated his condolences for the families of the fallen.

“Peacekeeping is a remarkable exercise in global solidarity. United Nations peacekeepers are ready to pay the ultimate price for peace, and we are all in their debt,” he said.

Citing Liberia and Côte d’Ivoire as two examples of missions that were able to close because they had been successful, the Secretary-General highlighted how instrumental the operations in DRC, Mali, South Sudan, the Central African Republic and Sudan’s Darfur region, were to the respective ongoing political stabilization processes and peacebuilding efforts. 

He praised the “excellent cooperation” at the “highest levels” between the UN and the African Union (AU) for all those missions to carry out their mandates successfully, including through the two Joint UN-AU Frameworks, on Enhanced Partnership in Peace and Security, and on the Implementation of Agenda 2063 and the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development. 

“Our partnership with the African Union and African Member States is vital to our collective efforts for peace, and we must continue working to strengthen it,” he stated. “We are working closely with the AU on joint planning for the mandating of their peace support operations, and on legal and human rights compliance frameworks”.

The UN chief noted that he was encouraged by African support for his Action for Peacekeeping (A4P) initiative, launched earlier this year, and signed by 42 African governments to date. “This aims to mobilize all partners and stakeholders to first, to refocus peacekeeping around more realistic mandates; second, to make our missions stronger and safer; and third, to mobilize greater collective support for political solutions, and for well-equipped and well-trained troops,” he explained.

Given the many challenges that lie ahead, Mr. Guterres told the participants of the open debate that the UN has taken many measures to improve the effectiveness of the operations, including: a closer integration of conflict prevention, peacekeeping and peacebuilding activities; increasing the numbers of women in peacekeeping at all levels; and tackling sexual exploitation and abuse with more support to victims and more accountability.

“But as I have told this Council before, we need to understand that UN peacekeeping has limits,” the UN chief said. “We face more and more situations where we need peace-enforcement and counter-terrorism operations that can only be carried out by our partners – namely, the African Union and various subregional configurations”.

He added that “it is essential that African-led peace operations acting under the Security Council’s authority are provided with strong mandates and predictable, sustainable and flexible finance, including through UN assessed contributions where appropriate”.

Mr. Guterres expressed gratitude for the European Union and other donors who pledged to support the regional G5 Sahel Joint Force to combat terrorism and organized crime, but regretted that “so far, almost half the pledges have not been earmarked, let alone disbursed”.

“There has been progress over the past year,” he explained, noting that the Joint Force has “reached initial operational capacity” but that we are far from what is needed to fill “equipment shortfalls and capability gaps,” and meet the security needs of the Sahel.

“In our interconnected age, security challenges on one continent present a risk to the whole world,” the Secretary-General stated. “The factors that drive conflict in Africa – including poverty, youth unemployment, climate change, competition for resources, and transnational crime – threaten global security,” he added.

“Improving the impact and effectiveness of peacekeeping in Africa is a collective responsibility.”


World Children’s Day: Millie Bobby Brown to #GoBlue as new UNICEF Goodwill Ambassador

INTERNATIONAL, 20 November 2018, Women - On this World Children’s Day, when kids across the globe unite for their rights, Emmy-Nominated actress Millie Bobby Brown has been named the newest United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF) Goodwill Ambassador.

At 14 years old, this makes Ms. Brown UNICEF’s youngest person to ever take on the role.

The British star of the Netflix series, Stranger Things, will use her global platform to help spotlight children’s rights and issues affecting youth, including lack of education, safe learning spaces, and the impacts of violence, bullying and poverty.

“It’s a dream come true to become a UNICEF Goodwill Ambassador,” said Ms. Brown in a statement marking the Day. “It’s a huge honor to join such an impressive list of people who have supported UNICEF over the years. I am looking forward to meeting as many children and young people as I can, hearing their stories, and speaking out on their behalf.”

World Children’s Day is commemorated annually as a day of action for children, by children, to raise awareness and funds for millions of children lacking basic resources and services.

To show solidarity for the world’s disadvantaged and vulnerable youth, UNICEF is asking supporters to ‘turn the world blue,’ by doing or wearing something blue at school, on the streets, or on social media. 

Ms. Brown kick-started the action in a short video last week, encouraging supporters to #GoBlue to defend and promote children’s rights.

Around the world, notable leaders in entertainment, government, sports, and business are having children ‘take over’ their professional roles to highlight issues that interest them.

Children are assuming seats at parliaments in Montenegro, Peru, Tonga, Suriname, Zambia and others. In Brussels, youth will take over European Parliament, and five more UNICEF Youth Ambassadors are being appointed across the globe.

UN child rights experts reminded the international community of the challenges youth face around the globe and called UN Member States to scale up efforts in their defense.

“Millions of vulnerable children continue to be left behind, including child victims of violence, conflict and sexual exploitation, migrant refugee and asylum-seeking children, children living in poverty, children with disabilities, and children belonging to indigenous and minority groups,” the experts said on Tuesday.

“The best way to leave no child behind is to put children first to ensure that no child grows up in a world of fear, violence and hopelessness.”

UNICEF is calling on activists and supporters to sign its global petition, urging world leaders to demonstrate commitment to fulfilling the rights of every child, and acknowledge these rights as non-negotiable.

*Eleven-year-old Benjamin Gorisek-Gazze worked with UN News on this story.*

UN migration agency builds temporary safe havens to shelter Rohingya refugees in Bangladesh

INTERNATIONAL, 20 November 2018, Migrants and Refugees - The United Nations migration agency said on Tuesday that it has upgraded structures in Bangladesh’s Rohingya refugee camps as temporary accommodations for emergency situations.

Under the first phase of the UN International Organization for Migration (IOM) project, which is supported by the European Union, 70 community buildings are available to temporarily shelter over 4,500 people.

“IOM and partners have provided over 100,000 households with materials to help them upgrade their own shelters,” said Manuel Pereira, IOM’s Emergency Coordinator in Cox’s Bazar.

“But,” he continued, “weather and environmental conditions in the camps mean tens of thousands of families live with the knowledge that their shelters could be damaged or destroyed at any time.” 

The improved structures will allow IOM shelter and site management teams to better protect refugees affected by landslides, floods, bad weather or other unexpected events that would force them to leave their own shelters.

If the worst happens, we are still able to offer them a safe haven – IOM’s Manuel Pereira

“If weather conditions turn bad and storms destroy our shelters, people from our area will be able to stay here safely for a few days,” said community representative Mohammed Nur. “It is a relief for all of us,” he added.

The United Kingdom will fund a second phase to bolster another 100 buildings to accommodate another 10,000 people.

As the region is prone to some of the world’s worst monsoon conditions – undergoing two cyclone seasons each year – IOM explained that the dry season offers a window of opportunity to overhaul monsoon-damaged shelters, and the facilities will also be used as temporary lodgings for affected families.

“Ensuring we have secure and stable buildings in which people can safely take shelter if disaster strikes is hugely important under such circumstances,” maintained Mr. Pereira.

“This project means that even though people are living in very uncertain conditions, if the worst happens, we are still able to offer them a safe haven,” he added.

Almost a million Rohingya are currently living in Cox’s Bazar after escaping violence in Myanmar. In August 2017, some 500,000 people fled across the border in just a few weeks. Most Rohingya live in and around Cox’s Bazar, which has become the largest refugee settlement in the world – a desperately overcrowded environment prone to landslides and flooding.


Refugee and migrant children losing over 1.8 million school days, every day – UN report

INTERNATIONAL, 20 November 2018, Migrants and Refugees - Migrant and refugee children to face incredible hardships attending schools and accessing education, a new United Nations report released on Tuesday has revealed, highlighting also structural weaknesses in national systems that can sometimes exclude children on the move.

According to the UN Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO), factors such as non-certified schools, language different and limited resources are keeping refugee and migrant children away from learning and prospects for a better future.

“The right of these children to quality education, even if increasingly recognized on paper, is challenged daily in classrooms and schoolyards and denied outright by a few governments,” said the UN agency in a news release, announcing its new Global Education Monitoring Report.

“In the two years since the landmark New York Declaration for Refugees and Migrants, refugees have missed 1.5 billion days of school.”

Alongside this stark finding, the report did note some progress, especially in some of the largest refugee-hosting nations, in inclusion of refugee children in national education systems.

Champions include low income countries such as Chad, Ethiopia and Uganda, noted the report, adding that Canada and Ireland are leading in implementing inclusive education policies for immigrants.

Education ‘key to inclusion and cohesion’ – UNESCO Director-General

Audrey Azoulay, the Director-General or UNESCO, highlighted the importance of education to make communities stronger and more resilient.

Increased classroom diversity, while challenging for teachers, can also enhance respect for diversity and an opportunity to learn from others – UNESCO head Audrey Azoulay

“Everyone loses when the education of migrants and refugees is ignored. Education is the key to inclusion and cohesion. Increased classroom diversity, while challenging for teachers, can also enhance respect for diversity and an opportunity to learn from others.”

The 2019 edition of the report – which focuses on migration, displacement and education – also highlighted the need for additional resources for low- and middle-income countries, which host almost 90 per cent of refugees globally but lack funds to cope.

“Donors need to multiply their expenditure on refugee education by three and ensure long term support,” added UNESCO.

In addition, the report also called for better understanding and planning to meet the education needs of migrants and displaced people, as well as greater and accurate representation of migration and displacement histories in the curriculum to challenge prejudices.

Alongside, it also recommended that teachers of migrants and refugees be provided with better preparation to help address diversity and hardship.


DR Congo violence puts Ebola humanitarian response at risk, UN food relief agency warns

INTERNATIONAL, 20 November 2018, Humanitarian Aid - A spokesperson for the United Nations World Food Programme (WFP) has condemned any violence in the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) that could slow down the humanitarian response to the Ebola outbreak in the vast country’s north-east, following an attack on a UN base and nearby hotels housing UN staff, in the city of Beni on Friday.

Speaking at a press briefing in Geneva, Herve Verhoosel urged all parties in DRC to respect international humanitarian law, adding that WFP cannot afford any disruption to its life-saving operations: “any setbacks due to insecurity threaten to slow down efforts to limit the spread of the virus. Therefore, we urge all parties to facilitate the life-saving work of our teams and aid workers.”

No UN employees were injured in the attack and, although a number of WFP staff were temporarily relocated to the city of Goma, the majority remained in Beni, and the agency was able to continue the food assistance and logistical support it provides as part of the broader humanitarian response to the Ebola outbreak in eastern Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC).

The attack came just two days after seven UN peacekeepers were killed, and 10 wounded, during a joint operation with Government forces in Beni territory, against the Allied Democratic Forces (ADF) armed group in Beni territory, carried out as part of the UN mandate to protect the local population.

The World Food Programme is supporting the medical response to Ebola by transporting, delivering and storing medical supplies, constructing safe rooms for response teams, and getting food to those receiving medical care for Ebola in health facilities.

As population movements are a factor in the spread of disease, WFP is also providing food in the affected region, in order to limit these movements, and rations are provided to health workers and other front-line personnel.


CLIMATE CHANGE FOCUS: Chocolate, a sweet success in Guatemala

INTERNATIONAL, 19 November 2018, Climate Change - The reintroduction of smallholder cocoa production in Guatemala is addressing both economic and environmental problems brought on by climate change, thanks to support provided by the UN Development Programme (UNDP). 
UNDP Guatemala/Caroline Trutmann

The cultivation of the plant, which is indigenous to Central America, has been replaced in recent years by cash crops such as sugarcane and rubber, as well as widespread cattle rangeland.

The move to a more industrial agriculture has had serious consequences for natural ecosystems in Guatemala, but now smallholder farmers are being encouraged by the UN to replant cocoa, the key ingredient in chocolate, as a way to stabilize the land and provide a good income.

Read more about the cocoa farmers of Guatemala.


If any side fails, every side fails – UN envoy for Middle East Peace Process

INTERNATIONAL, 19 November 2018, Peace and Security - A senior United Nations official has called on the global community to remain committed to the two-state solution in the Middle East peace process, urging efforts to establish an environment conducive to the return of negotiations to resolve the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.

“It is essential that we prevent further collapse of the foundations that must underpin any future agreement,” Nikolay Mladenov, the UN Special Coordinator for the Middle East Peace Process, told the Security Council on Monday.

As to the situation in Gaza, Mr. Mladenov underlined the necessity for Palestinian factions to urgently “engage in earnest” with regional efforts to bring the enclave under the full control of the Palestinian Government.

He also called upon Israel to “recognize that Gaza is about to explode” and prevent that from happening, by relaxing and ultimately lifting closures to help normalize the lives of people living there.

The Special Coordinator’s briefing comes against the backdrop of some of the fiercest fighting since the 2014 Gaza conflict.

The fighting, between 11-13 November, was sparked off by an Israel Defense Forces (IDF) operation inside the Gaza Strip – in which a local Hamas al-Qassam Brigades commander, one IDF official, and six other Palestinians were killed. In the hostilities, some 450 rockets and mortars were fired at Israel by militants in Gaza, and in response, Israel carried out airstrikes on 160 militant targets, including a Hamas-affiliated TV station and a hotel.

Overall, since his last report to the Security Council, 31 Palestinians – including four children – were killed in Gaza, and a further four Palestinians in the occupied West Bank. One IDF official was killed during the 11 November operation, said Mr. Mladenov.

The Israeli settlement activity also continued to advance, “eating away at the viability of a contiguous future Palestinian state,” he added, reiterating that “all settlement activities are illegal under international law, and an obstacle to peace and must immediately cease.”

The Special Coordinator also told the 15-member Security Council that in late October, the Palestine Liberation Organization (PLO) Central Council held its 30th session in Ramallah, where it issued a statement, reaffirming its recent decisions to suspend recognition of the State of Israel until the latter recognizes the State of Palestine, end security coordination in all its forms, and disengage economically from Israel.

A follow-up committee chaired by President Mahmoud Abbas was established to discuss implementing these decisions, he said.

Humanitarian front

On the humanitarian side, improved flow of donor-supplied fuel has resulted in the greatest supply of electricity since March last year, with immediate impacts: increased water supply, better hospital services, and power for children to study, Mr. Mladenov informed the Security Council.

However, alongside the improvements, structural problems affecting Gaza, driven by years of “crippling closures” and Hamas control, remain, he added.


Credible, legitimate constitutional committee for post-war Syria ‘may not’ be possible – UN envoy

INTERNATIONAL, 19 November 2018, Peace and Security - It “may not” be possible to form an inclusive and legitimate constitutional committee in Syria – a way out of the years long crisis plaguing the country – the United Nations negotiator for the conflict-ridden nation has warned.

Briefing the Security Council on Monday, Staffan de Mistura, the UN Special Envoy for Syria, said that credibility, balance, inclusion and international legitimacy remain the “litmus test” for the committee.

If that test were to fail, “we may have to conclude that we may not be possible to form a constitutional committee, credible and inclusive at this stage,” he said.

“In such an unfortunate case […] I will certainly be ready to explain to the [Security] Council, why,” added Mr. de Mistura.

The constitutional committee was part of a road map, endorsed by the Security Council in its resolution 2254 (2015), for a peace process in war-torn Syria.

Mr. de Mistura, who is stepping down at the end of the year, went on to note that in his last briefing to the Council next month, it will be his “duty” to explain the status of the committee, and leave a clean and clear ground to his successor regarding it.

“In other words […] we are in the last days of the attempts to implement the constitutional committee in line with resolution 2254 and Sochi final statement,” he said, noting that the weeks to come be crucial in that regard.

Despite the challenges, the UN Special Envoy stressed that he is not giving up.

“The UN remains ready for the establishment of the constitution committee. It is prepared to do its part and I personally will spare no effort until my final day on my tenure to work towards this aim.”

The sticking point

A key sticking point in the formation of the committee is the so called “middle third list” – a list of 50 individuals, proposed by the UN, to serve on the committee – representing Syrian experts, civil society, independents, tribal leaders and women.

► RELATED: Syrian Government's ‘different understanding’ of UN role, a ‘very serious challenge’ – Special Envoy

In his briefing to the Security Council, in October, Mr. de Mistura said that the UN would be willing to withdraw its list, only if there is an agreement on a new credible, balanced and inclusive list, consistent with resolution 2254 and final peace talks led by Russia, Iran and Turkey.

The other two lists have been drawn up by the Syrian Government and the opposition.


UN Alliance of Civilizations is fundamental to ‘world we need to build’ – Guterres

INTERNATIONAL, 19 November 2018, Human Rights - The role of the United Nations Alliance of Civilizations has never been more relevant to the 2030 Agenda objective of “building more peaceful, just and resilient societies,” Secretary-General António Guterres said on Monday, the opening day of the eighth annual Global Forum.

He recalled last month’s horrendous attack against Jewish worshippers in Pittsburgh who were gunned down while praying, stating: “It was an unspeakable act – yet I was struck by the voices that emerged. The local Muslim community, for example, raised tens of thousands of dollars to help the victims.”

According to Mr. Guterres, “the Alliance is not a feel-good initiative.”

He explained its mission as “fundamental to peace, to security, to sustainable development, to the world we need to build,” while underscoring the need to promote conditions where people of different identities, faiths and cultures “can live in harmony, free of discrimination and persecution.”

The UN chief stressed that this is not the case today, citing the ethnic cleansing of Myanmar’s Rohingyas and Iraq’s Yazidi, whose men are slaughtered, and women and girls sold into slavery.

“These peoples, and many more around the world, are guilty of nothing except being different from their persecutors,” he stated, calling it “unacceptable” and “a source of deep shame.”

He also pointed to the resurgence of Neo-Nazis organizations and anti-Semitism; vitriol directed at refugees and migrants; homophobia; and violence against women as reasons why “we must all work together to build societies that are truly respectful and inclusive, where diversity is seen as a richness, not a threat.”

We must all work together to build societies that are truly respectful and inclusive, where diversity is seen as a richness, not a threat – UN chief

To do this he set out a list of activities that began with engaging in inclusive dialogue.

“I am particularly pleased that the Alliance of Civilizations is providing a global space for religious leaders to exchange views and explore how to amplify their role,” he said.

Second is the creativity of young people, for which his youth strategy creates an environment for young people to engage with the UN – and with each other to promote understanding.

Finally, he argued that all efforts be “anchored” universal human rights, where societies are based on “true respect for the diversity of humankind.”

“And that is why we need the Alliance of Civilizations – so people of all faiths and cultures and identities, can live together peacefully, safely and free of fear,” concluded the Secretary-General.

For her part, General Assembly President María Fernanda Espinosa flagged that the world is facing “a complex global juncture marked by multiple crisis,” including poverty, inequality, climate change, forced migration, conflicts, terrorism and intolerance, for call for “a strong collective action and global agreements.”

“To build those agreements, dialogue is the most powerful mean,” she maintained.

On migration, she reminded the Forum that in December, the Global Compact for Safe, Orderly and Regular Migration, which is the first international cooperation framework encompassing a comprehensive and balance vision, will be adopted.

“As representative of 193 States who have different histories, cultures, languages and models of development, but who share the aspiration of coexisting in peace and developing in a sustainable manner,” Ms. Espinosa expressed her confidence that the Forum’s debates “will contribute to create innovative solutions to prevent conflicts, maintain peace and promote reconciliation, acknowledging that diversity is the greatest source of wealth that humanity has.”

The Alliance’s, High Representative, Nassir Abdulaziz Al-Nasser also spoke at the opening ceremony of the two-day event, along with Alliance co-sponsors Deputy Prime Minister of Spain Carmen Calvo and Foreign Minister of Turkey Mevlut Cavusoglu.

The Alliance’s High Representative, Nassir Abdulaziz Al-Nasser, highlighted that despite notable achievements in key areas of work – such as in preventing hate speech, supporting intercultural and interfaith dialogue, empowering youth and strengthening peace education – “inciters of hate take pride in driving a wedge between different ethnic groups and civilizations.”

“For them, culture is a source of division, instead of a basis for dialogue and richness,” he said, adding that these challenges “require our collective resolve.”

The High Representative urged the Forum, over the next two days, to take stock of its achievements, identify challenges, and forge new and innovative partnerships “in pursuit of peace, justice and human dignity.”

The Alliance co-sponsors Deputy Prime Minister of Spain Carmen Calvo and Foreign Minister of Turkey Mevlut Cavusoglu also addressed the group.


Ending inequality means ending ‘global pandemic’ of violence against women – UN chief

INTERNATIONAL, 19 November 2018, Women - Until women and girls can live free of fear, violence and insecurity, the world cannot pride itself on being fair and equal, United Nations Secretary-General António Guterres said on Monday, commemorating theInternational Day for the Elimination of Violence Against Women, marked annually on 25 November.

“At its core, violence against women and girls in all its forms is the manifestation of a profound lack of respect­ ­– a failure by men to recognize the inherent equality and dignity of women,” Mr. Guterres said at a special event at UN Headquarters observing the Day, which highlights that violence against women is as serious cause of death and incapacity as cancer, among women of reproductive age.

The Day kicks off the 16 Days of Activism under the Secretary-Generals’ UNiTe campaign, which calls on people of all sectors to join in addressing the global pandemic of violence against women and girls.

This year’s theme is ‘Orange the World: #HearMeToo,’ and as in previous years, the color orange is used to draw global attention to the issue, while the hashtag is encouraged to amplify the message of survivors and activists and to put them at the centre of the conversation and response.

The theme also aims to broaden the global conversation and highlight the voices and activism of all survivors of violence and advocates around the world – many of whom are often missing from the media headlines and social media discussions.

Phumzile Mlambo-Ngcuka, the Executive Director of UN Women, the Organization’s gender equality entity, highlighted that UN initiatives shifting the livelihoods of women signal hope for progress.

“A culture that changes from questioning the credibility of the victims, to pursuing the accountability of the perpetrators within due process, is possible,” she said.

The UN Trust Fund to End Violence against Women is one of the ways the Organization is fortifying prevention and responses to the global scourge, by awarding grants to initiatives that support the rights of women and girls. Over the past two decades, the UN Trust Fund has supported more than 460 projects in 139 territories and reached over six million individuals last year alone.

In other efforts, UN Women, alongside the European Union and UN partners, are at the forefront of the ‘Spotlight Initiative;’ the largest ever single investment in eliminating violence against women toward the Sage Cities and Safe Public Spaces Global Initiative.

Still, hundreds of millions of women are victims to violence or sexual abuse.

Pointing to alarming statistics, Maria Fernanda Espinosa Garces, President of the UN General Assembly, reported that an estimated 35 per cent of women have experienced some form of physical and or sexual violence, and as many as 38 per cent of murders of women are committed by an intimate partner.

“It is a sad reflection on all communities, States, and the United Nations that the world is still far from reaching the goal of ending violence against women and girls,” she told Monday’s event.

“We are still far away.”

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