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Transforming the world requires input from all society: UN deputy chief

INTERNATIONAL, 23 May 2018 - International efforts to create a world where no one is left behind will only become a reality if all sectors in society participate, the United Nations Deputy Secretary-General told ambassadors in New York on Wednesday.

Amina Mohammed was addressing a special meeting of the Economic and Social Council (ECOSOC), the UN forum that supports implementation of the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development.

The global action plan, agreed by world leaders three years ago, seeks to end poverty and hunger, protect the planet and ensure all people enjoy prosperous and fulfilling lives.

“The success of our collective journey to 2030 will greatly depend on how we involve Government, parliaments, local authorities, indigenous peoples, civil society, the scientific and academic community and the private sector,” Ms. Mohammed said.

“In short, the transformation promised will only be achieved by engaging all actors right across society.”

The UN deputy chief called for an end to barriers that exclude people, particularly the most vulnerable, from taking part in processes that affect their daily lives.

She said inclusive sustainable development that is rooted in respect for human rights is the foundation for universal prosperity and well-being, and a healthy planet.

It also is “our best defence against violent conflict which so rapidly and dramatically erodes development gains,” she added.

With interconnected challenges such as climate change, forced migration and urbanization affecting all people, ECOSOC president Marie Chatardová called for a “paradigm shift” in how the world responds to these issues.

“The spread of information and communications technology and global interconnectedness, in particular, have also great potential to accelerate human progress and bridge the digital and other divides, thus helping to develop inclusive and people-centred societies,” she said.

Ms. Mohammed, the UN deputy chief, outlined five areas for action; including the need for responsible leadership and greater investment in transparent and accountable institutions.

Women and girls, as well as young people, must also be encouraged to contribute, while investing in the so-called “green economy” can create jobs and improve health outcomes.

She said: “The 2030 Agenda needs the participation of all actors to ensure no one is left behind and that all can enjoy prosperity, dignity and opportunity in a world of peace.”

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Tackling corruption ‘from the top down’ essential, declares UN chief, marking key global treaty

INTERNATIONAL, 23 May 2018 - Corruption and complicity know no geographical boundaries, and it is society’s most vulnerable who get hurt the most, senior United Nations officials said on Wednesday, calling on Government leaders to fight the scourge, “from the top down”.

“It all begins with setting an example. By tackling corruption, Governments can show they mean business,” said Secretary-General António Guterres, speaking at a high-level event marking the 15th anniversary of the UN Convention Against Corruption.

“Society cannot function equitably and efficiently when public officials – from doctors to police, judges and politicians – enrich themselves rather than perform their duties with integrity,” he added.

Adopted in 2003, the Convention Against Corruption is the only legally-binding universal instrument, drawn up to fight corruption in all its forms.

Society cannot function equitably and efficiently when public officials – from doctors to police, judges and politicians – enrich themselves rather than perform their duties with integrity— Secretary-General António Guterres

In his remarks, Mr. Guterres also underlined that in addition to robbing vital resources from public services such as schools and hospitals, corruption also fuels human trafficking and the black market in natural resources, weapons, drugs and cultural artifacts.

“It fuels conflict, and when a hard-won peace is achieved, corruption undermines recovery. Corruption and impunity are corrosive, breeding frustration and fostering further corruption when people see no other way of achieving their goals,” said the UN chief, calling for greater political and popular support for the fight against corruption.

He described the Convention Against Corruption as one of the most effective tools the world has to achieve the common goals of good governance, stability and prosperity.

“The UN will continue to support Member States every step of the way, from helping to engage and empower citizens in this fight, to helping build and enhance institutions that can deliver on their promise,” said Mr. Guterres.

Corruption ‘destroys everything in its path’

Speaking alongside the Secretary-General, Miroslav Lajčák, the President of the UN General Assembly also reiterated that corruption hurts all sections of the society and that it “destroys everything in its path.”

Ultimately, corruption causes suffering to ordinary people going about their daily lives, he stressed, citing common examples: “When they are stopped at checkpoints, for bribes. When a bus does not come – or a clinic does not open – because budgets were mismanaged. Or when they lose all of their savings, from extortion,” said Mr. Lajčák.

He also highlighted the link between the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development and good governance.

“If we want to achieve the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), we need to take concrete steps. This will mean allocating budgets. It will mean raising more funds. It will mean new policies and new legislation”, he said, adding that more innovative ways needed to be found of “working together”.

Yury Fedotov, the Executive-Director of the UN Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC) also underscored the importance of the Convention for sustainable development.

Noting that while Sustainable Development Goal 16 (SDG16) explicitly urges action against corruption, tackling the problem is a prerequisite for overall economic growth.

“Anti-corruption responses are also crucial to ensuring access to healthcare, water, education and other vital services; protecting forests, oceans and wildlife; and reducing inequalities,” he added.

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Ebola outbreak puts DR Congo on an ‘epidemiological knife-edge’

INTERNATIONAL, 23 May 2018 - The Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC) remains on an “epidemiological knife-edge” regarding the spread of deadly Ebola disease, despite the quick response by authorities and international partners to the threat, the World Health Organization (WHO) said on Wednesday.

The Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC) remains on an “epidemiological knife-edge” regarding the spread of deadly Ebola disease, despite the quick response by authorities and international partners to the threat, the World Health Organization (WHO) said on Wednesday.

Speaking in Geneva at the World Health Assembly, Dr Peter Salama, WHO Deputy Director-General, who heads up emergency preparedness and response, said that there were several reasons why the current outbreak — which has claimed 27 lives since it was declared on 8 May — has yet to be contained.

“It’s hard to recall a situation of an outbreak where a Government has responded more quickly and more decisively than in this outbreak,” he said, adding that it was “a multi-partner effort and it’s not over yet. We’re really just at the beginning.

“I used the phrase yesterday that we’re on the epidemiological knife-edge of this response, the next few weeks will really tell if this outbreak will spread to urban areas of if we’re going to be able to keep it under control.”

Unlike previous Ebola events in DRC — this is the country’s ninth since 1976 — the 2018 outbreak has been complicated by the fact that it involves rural and urban areas.

This has raised the chances that it might spread both nationally and internationally, Dr. Salama said, particularly since the city of Mbandaka — where the disease was identified after first surfacing in the relatively remote Bikoro — is close to the Congo river, which acts as the main transport link to DRC’s capital, Kinshasa.

With 58 confirmed, probable or suspected cases of the disease in the country as of Wednesday, effective tracing of anyone who has come into contact with the disease will “make or break” the response to Ebola, Dr. Salama said.

He described the task ahead as “the detective work of epidemiology”, adding that medical personnel at a hospital in Wangata, Mbandaka, were tracing some 600 contacts from three separate chains of transmission.

One of these chains was associated with a funeral in a neighbouring town of Bikoro; another was linked to a health-care facility in the small village of Iboko; and the third related to a church ceremony. “Each one has the potential to expand if not controlled,” Dr. Salama said.

The WHO official confirmed that a selective, or “ring vaccination” programme had just begun and that efforts are ongoing to ensure that the Ebola drug can be stored in “ultracold” conditions at between -60 and -80°C.

WHO has repeatedly stressed that vaccination is only one measure among many in any outbreak response.

That message was repeated in Geneva by Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, WHO Director-General, who praised the commitment and sacrifice of the communities and health workers on the front line, as “the most important element in fighting this outbreak”.

The WHO chief also underlined that the coordination among international health partners was essential, too, before highlighting that even he had problems in accessing rural Bikoro to see the problem first-hand, during his visit to the area shortly after the beginning of the outbreak.

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Peace and security challenges in Africa’s Sahel region require ‘holistic approach’, says UN official

INTERNATIONAL, 23 May 2018 - A “holistic approach” is needed to the address peace and security challenges in Africa’s vast Sahel region, a senior United Nations peacekeeping official told the Security Council on Wednesday, calling for more investment in better government, social services and youth opportunities.

Briefing Council members on when the new multinational security force established by five Sahel countries - known as the G5-Sahel Joint Force - might become operational, Bintou Keita, the Assistant Secretary-General for Peacekeeping Operations, said that combatting terrorism and transnational organized crime, remained the major challenge.

“Let us not forget those who suffer the most, the local population - civilians - who continue to be intimidated and harassed and live in fear for their lives on a daily basis; who cannot send their children to school or have their most basic needs met, including access to food and nutrition,” he said.

Ms. Keita added that since the authorization of the Joint Force by the African Union last April, and the renewal of its mandate last month, “notable progress” has been made, including the deployment of troops on the ground, and setting up of command posts and sector headquarters.

“Nonetheless, a lot of work remains ahead of us. The operationalization of the Joint Force has incurred delays and has yet to attain full operational capability,” she said, calling on G5 Sahel member States to deploy remaining troops as soon as possible.

She also underlined the importance of addressing recent reports of human rights violations by security forces in the region and called on the countries to establish a human rights and international humanitarian law compliance framework that could be rapidly put into operation.

In her remarks, while Ms. Keita applauded the international community for their support to the Joint Force, she said that keeping it running would require “perpetual resource generation efforts” and that in the medium to long term, it will be challenging to sustain the funding momentum.

“What is more, the United Nations will continue to depend on others, to be able to implement the support measures it has been mandated to provide to the G5-Sahel Joint Force by Security Council Resolution 2391 (2017),” she said.

In that resolution, the Council requested the Secretary‑General to conclude a technical agreement among the UN, the European Union and G5 Sahel States – Burkina Faso, Chad, Mali, Mauritania and Niger – with a view to providing operational and logistical support through the UN Multidimensional Integrated Stabilization Mission in Mali (MINUSMA) to the joint force conducting cross‑border counter‑terrorist operations across the region.

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Urgent action needed to avoid war, alleviate suffering in Gaza – UN envoy tells Security Council

INTERNATIONAL, 23 May 2018 - Gaza is on the verge of collapse and its people becoming increasingly desperate, a United Nations envoy told the Security Council Wednesday, urging international action to avoid another war, alleviate suffering and empower more responsible government within the enclave.

“In this Chamber, Council members have often spoken of the need to prevent war; and the Secretary-General has put preventive diplomacy at the heart of his agenda. It is time for our words to be tested in Gaza,” Nickolay Mladenov, Special Coordinator for the Middle East Peace Process told the Council by video teleconference from Jerusalem. 

He reiterated his call for the Council to condemn “in the strongest possible terms” the actions that have cost so many lives in Gaza, especially the deaths and injuries caused by live-fire from Israeli forces along the border fence.

With at least 60 protesters of all ages confirmed dead from the violence of 14 May, “the number continues to climb” he said, and he cited UN figures reporting 76 Palestinians killed by Israel Defence Forces during the past month, and more than 3,000 injured. 

He said Israel had a responsibility to not use lethal force “except as a last resort” and “investigate every incident that has led to a loss of human life”. 

Mr. Mladenov also told the Council that the militant group Hamas, which controls the Gaza Strip, “must not use the protests as cover to place bombs and the fence and create provocations.” 

The Special Coordinator welcomed Egypt’s move to open the border crossing at Rafah throughout the month of Ramadan and hoped that the security situation would allow regular movement. 

He also acknowledged Israel’s recent efforts to ensure the delivery of goods to Gaza, despite the serious damage done at the Kerem Shalom crossing by protesters in recent weeks.

It is time for our words to be tested in Gaza  Nickolay Mladenov, Special Coordinator

Turning to the humanitarian situation, the UN envoy pointed out that Gaza’s electricity, water networks and health system “teeters on the verge of total collapse”. 

He detailed four proposals to address the situation, namely prioritizing agreed-upon infrastructure projects via an established liaison committee; the adoption of fast-track approach to speed up implementation; coordinate with the Palestinian Authority, Israel and Egypt to overcome blockages; and the upholding of the 2014 ceasefire.

The UN envoy explained that these would strengthen “the unification of Gaza and the West Bank under a single, democratic and legitimate Palestinian authority in line with the Quartet Principles; and an end to the occupation and resolution of the wider Israeli-Palestinian conflict.”

Recent developments

Concerning the decision by some countries – including the United States – to relocate their embassies from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem, Mr. Mladenov said: “Given its importance to Jews, Christians and Muslims, Jerusalem is a highly sensitive and charged issue for millions,” and “upholding the status quo at the Holy Sites remains critical for peace and stability.” 

He reiterated the UN’s position that “Jerusalem is a final status issue that must be resolved through negotiations between the parties.” 

In closing, the Special Coordinator said that the office of the Middle East Quartet – established by the UN, the European Union, the United States, and Russia - remained a key forum for resolving the conflict, including within the broader regional context.

“We must continue to work together,” he stated, adding that there was no alternative other than on the basis of two States, “for achieving a peaceful future for all the people of this troubled land.” 

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South Korea leads developed nations in household debt, UN expert warns

INTERNATIONAL, 23 May 2018 - Despite being the world’s 11th largest economy, a significant number of South Koreans are living in “substandard” housing, faced with rising rents they can no longer afford, a United Nations rights expert said on Wednesday, noting that the country now leads developed nations in levels of household debt.

“I met with residents who are living in completely substandard housing and yet paying exorbitant rents,” said Leilani Farha, the UN Special Rapporteur on the right to adequate housing, at the end of a 10-day visit to the Republic of Korea.

In a statement on Wednesday, she said that some were “forced to live in tiny spaces no more than 5 square metres, on short term leases and at the mercy of landlords’ arbitrary decisions to raise the rent”.

While acknowledging the Government’s “massive effort” to improve housing conditions for the bulk of its population, she said she is “deeply concerned” by the continuation of “massive reconstruction projects” resulting in the destruction of neighbourhoods and displacement of individuals and families.

She also expressed alarm at how urban areas have become unaffordable for young people and low-income households; although that is an observation which has been made frequently about expanding cities in other developed countries such as London, Tokyo and New York.

Ms. Farha pointed out that the country’s current legal framework for urban redevelopment and reconstruction does not comply with internationally recognised human rights standards and continues to result in forced evictions.

She said that South Korea, formally known as the Republic of Korea, now leads the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) list, in terms of household debt and “security of tenure is a real issue,” she added.

“The shift from housing being treated as a commodity to housing being understood as a human right, is not yet complete”, she said, adding that “The Government should adopt a comprehensive human rights-based national action plan on housing”.

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UN pays tribute to the Organization’s founding mothers

INTERNATIONAL, 22 May 2018 - Women have played a pivotal role in the United Nations since its inception in 1945, including in the first international agreement proclaiming gender equality as a fundamental human right: the UN Charter.

According to recent studies from scholarly research, women delegates from developing countries, or the Global South, played a significant role in ensuring that the Charter mad specific mention of gender rights. And yet, out of the 850 delegates who signed the historic document, only four were women.

Speaking on Tuesday at an event headlined, Women and the Origins of the United Nations – a Southern Legacy, Maria Luiza Viotti, UN Chef de Cabinet, said that even as the world body works for equality today, “we must also remember our history.”

“That means paying tribute to the pioneers from the early years of the struggle,” she added.

The event honouring the women of developing countries who defended their rights more than seven decades ago, provided not only long-overdue recognition today, but also served to correct an incomplete historical narrative, which failed to reflect the role of women from countries like Brazil, the Dominican Republic, India, Mexico, Pakistan, Uruguay and Venezuela.

Ms. Viotti recalled their push to defend women’s rights, and inspire a global shift in recognition, when many of the countries at the 1945 San Francisco Conference, did not even allow women to vote. 

“Since then, the UN has elaborated an extensive body of laws, standards and norms articulating women’s rights – from the opportunities to which they are entitled to the protections they must be assured,” she continued, noting that today, it presses for gender parity not just across the world but across the world body itself.

“The struggle continues.  Laws and goals on paper are essential.  But what is needed even more is tangible steps to bring these rules and rights to life,” concluded Ms. Viotti.

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Poverty compounding health challenges for Palestine refugees – UN agency

INTERNATIONAL, 22 May 2018 - Non-communicable diseases such as diabetes, hypertension, cancer and smoking-related ailments, account for the majority of the chronic health problems confronting Palestine refugees across the Middle East, a new report by the United Nations agency which supports them, has found.

According to the Director of Health at the UN Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees (UNRWA), Akihiro Seita, these diseases account for as much as 80 per cent of fatalities.

The reason for the high number, he said, is “simply because they do not have access to healthy lives or in other words; poverty.”

UNRWA’s 2017 Annual Report on health looks at the overall picture across the agency’s five areas of operation – Jordan; Lebanon; the West Bank, including East Jerusalem; Gaza; and Syria.

Last year, around three million registered refugees received health services, amounting to 9.2 million consultations – all free of charge – at 143 UNRWA primary health care centres.

“Protecting and promoting the health of registered Palestine refugees, is at the heart of our mandate, enabling them to achieve the highest attainable level of health until a just and lasting resolution of the Palestine refugee issue is achieved,” said Dr. Seita.

The report also coincides with the 70th anniversary of the 1948 War that resulted in the mass displacement and dispossession of hundreds of thousands of Palestinians from their homes.

This year, the report also comes amid escalating tensions in the region and violent clashes in Gaza over the past two months, between Palestinian demonstrators and Israeli Security Forces along the border fence.

Quoting figures from the UN World Health Organization (WHO), Dr. Seita said that over 12,000 people have been injured in the weekly protests since late March.

“Out of 12,000, according to WHO, about 7,000 went to hospitals,” he said, of whom around 3,500 had gunshot wounds, he said.

The impact of the “extraordinary” number of injuries overwhelmed the limited health and medical services in the enclave, added the UNRWA official, noting that many people with gunshot wounds ended up at primary-care health centres, which are not equipped for major surgery or trauma services.

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New project safeguards Rohingya refugees; boosts local farming – UN migration agency

INTERNATIONAL, 22 May 2018 - A major canal dredging project underway in Southern Bangladesh to protect Rohingya refugees from monsoon floods, will have the added benefit of boosting local agriculture, the United Nations migration agency said Tuesday.

The International Organization for Migration, or IOM, is overseeing the dredging of more than nine kilometres of abandoned canals, which will then be renovated, in the Cox’s Bazar area, which is home to around 700,000 mainly-Muslim Rohingya who have fled violence in northern Myanmar.

IOM said that the project in Ukhiya sub-district would prevent flooding and allow water runoff during the annual heavy rains that come with the arrival of monsoon season.

Moreover, the UN agency has employed 50 Bangladeshi labourers locally, to carry out the work, as part of a wider IOM-supported disaster-preparedness programme.

The project will not only help safeguard lives and livelihoods when the monsoon hits by reducing the risk of flooding, it will also provide much-needed irrigation channels during the dry season.

“There was no water flow in the canal, as it hadn’t been maintained for years”, said the agency’s Damon Elsworth. “This resulted in flooding in the surrounding communities during the monsoon as the rainwater coming down from the adjacent hills couldn’t flow through.”

Cox’s Bazar was already prone to landslides and flooding, even before hundreds of thousands of Rohingya refugees began arriving at the end of last August.  

IOM, the World Food Programme (WFP) and the UN human rights office (OHCHR) are participating in the $20,000 canal clearing project.

Local residents working on the project said they were happy to be employed protecting community.

“It feels good that we were consulted at every step of this dredging work. It feels like it is our property that we’re working for,” said Syed Kashem, 65, a local community leader overseeing the dredging work.

Cox’s Bazar has already experienced the first rains of the season. IOM and other agencies are working to help local authorities respond to a wide range of potential emergency situations. Roads, pathways, bridges and drains have been built and land has been stabilized and levelled to help keep access routes open.

Other IOM projects include bridge building, access roads, steps, drains, and slope protection work, to enable communities cope with the monsoon. The agency is also stockpiling emergency aid, such as tarpaulins, food, water and medical supplies to ensure that urgent needs of both the refugee and host communities are met.

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UN calls on Algeria to stop expelling thousands of sub-Saharan African migrants

INTERNATIONAL, 22 May 2018 - The United Nations human rights office (OHCHR) has called on the Algerian Government to stop collectively expelling thousands of migrants, particularly from sub-Saharan Africa, saying it violates international human rights law.

Earlier this month, an OHCHR team visited several towns in neighbouring Niger where they interviewed 25 expelled migrants and other witnesses, who described how Algerian authorities had been carry out mass round-ups.

“What is particularly worrying is that most of the people we spoke to said that they were not subjected to individualized assessments” said Spokesperson Ravina Shamdasani, briefing journalists in Geneva on Tuesday, adding that “we were not informed of the reasons for their detention, nor were they allowed to pick up their belongings, passports or money before they were expelled.”

“Many had to leave behind everything they had,” she said, detailing roundups that had taken placed in the towns of Oran and Boufarik, as well as the Duira neighbourhood of Algiers, in March and April this year.

“Raids are reportedly carried out on construction sites in Algiers, as well as in neighbourhoods known to be populated by the migrants. Some also reported having been stopped in the street and detained,” she added.

While some were transferred rapidly to Niger, others were held in military bases and compounds, said OHCHR, where detention conditions were reported to be “inhuman and degrading”.

“From Tamanrasset, Nigeriens are transferred by bus to Agadez in Niger, while the others are crammed into big trucks to be transferred to the Nigerien border where they are abandoned and left to walk hours in the desert heat to cross the border into Niger,” said Ms. Shamdasani.

Migrants who remain, are fearful and concerns have also been raised that what appear to be organized expulsions could increase racism and xenophobia locally, against sub-Saharan Africans.

“The collective expulsion of migrants, without individual assessment or any due process guarantees, is deeply alarming and not in line with Algeria’s obligations under international human rights law, including the International Convention on the Protection of the Rights of All Migrant Workers and Members of Their Families, which Algeria has ratified.”

 “We urge Algeria to implement the recommendations made by the Committee on Migrant Workers in April, including to explicitly prohibit collective expulsions and establish monitoring mechanisms to ensure that expulsions of migrant workers are carried out in strict compliance with international standards,” she continued.

“The Committee also called on Algeria to ensure respect for the right to seek asylum and the principle of non-refoulement,” referring to the practice of forcible return to migrants’ countries of origin, Ms. Shamdasani concluded.

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