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Civilian deaths in Afghanistan hit record high – UN

INTERNATIONAL, 15 July 2018, Peace and Security - The number of civilians killed in Afghanistan hit a record high in the first half of the year, despite last month’s unprecedented ceasefire between the Afghan Government and the Taliban, the United Nations reported on Sunday.

According to the latest figures released on Sunday by the UN Assistance Mission in Afghanistan, known as UNAMA, there were 5,122 civilian casualties (1,692 deaths and 3,430 injured) in teh first six months of 2018 – a three per cent overall decrease in casualties from last year.

But civilian deaths were up by one per cent, the most recorded in the same time period since UNAMA began documentation of civilian casualties in 2009.

The continuing record high casualty rates  are being inflicted on civilians despite the unilateral ceasefires by Government and Taliban that occurred over the Eid al-Fitr holiday period between 15-17 June 2018.

Aside from casualties resulting from two Da’esh/Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant-Khorasan Province (ISKP)-claimed suicide attacks in Nangarhar during the ceasefires, UNAMA said that it had documented almost no other civilian casualties during the break in fighting.

“The brief ceasefire demonstrated that the fighting can be stopped and that Afghan civilians no longer need to bear the brunt of the war,” said Tadamichi Yamamoto, the top UN official in Afghanistan.

“We urge parties to seize all opportunities to find a peaceful settlement – this is the best way that they can protect all civilians,” said Yamamoto, who is also head of UNAMA.

The report, which comes amid fears of an uptick in violence,  also noted that the use of improvised explosive devices (IEDs) in attacks by Anti-Government Elements remained the leading cause of civilian casualties.

The combined use of suicide and non-suicide IEDs caused nearly half of all civilian casualties. Continuing trends first documented last year by UNAMA, the majority of IED casualties were caused by suicide and complex attacks, which again were responsible for record high civilian casualties, resulting in 1,413 civilian casualties (427 deaths and 986 injured), a 22 per cent increase.

Ground engagements were the second leading cause of civilian casualties, followed by targeted and deliberate killings, aerial operations, and explosive remnants of war.  Civilians living in the provinces of Kabul, Nangarhar, Faryab, Helmand and Kandahar were most impacted by the conflict.

“UNAMA continued to document the toxic consequences of this conflict, with Afghan boys and girls killed, maimed, sexually assaulted, abused, recruited and used by parties to the conflict,” said Danielle Bell, UNAMA’s human rights chief.

She said that conflict-related violence continued to erode the rights of children to education, healthcare, freedom of movement and other fundamental rights, as well as family life, playing outdoors and simply enjoying a childhood free of the “brutal effects of war.”

Actions by the Government of Afghanistan to prevent civilian casualties continued, resulting in a reduction of civilian deaths and injuries from their operations, particularly from ground fighting, an area that UNAMA has consistently focused its advocacy with parties to the conflict in recent years.

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In Gaza, UN envoy urges Israel, Palestinian factions to step back from brink of a war that ‘everybody will lose’

INTERNATIONAL, 15 July 2018, Peace and Security - With a ceasefire largely holding after a day-long flare-up in fighting between Israel and Gaza militants, the United Nation envoy on the Middle East peace process was in the enclave on Sunday urging Israelis and Palestinians to pull back from the brink of a confrontation “that nobody wants…and everybody will lose.”

“Yesterday we were on the brink of war. And it has taken the concerted efforts of everyone to make sure that we step back from confrontation,” UN Special Coordinator Nickolay Mladenov told a press conference in the Gaza Strip earlier on Sunday.

Telling Palestinians in Gaza that he knew the difficult conditions they lived in and how hard it was to believe anyone who tells them that their lives would be improved, Mr. Mladenov appealed “to all Palestinians, to all parents of all children in Gaza today to step back and keep the protests peaceful.”

He appealed to the Palestinian factions to not provoke incidents at the fence, to stop the firing of rockets and mortars, to stop the incendiary kites and to “give peace a chance.”

“I appeal to Israel, to be very restrained in its responses to the situation in Gaza. I appeal to snipers not to shoot children,” said the envoy, adding: “I appeal to everybody to step back from the brink!”

Mr. Mladenov laid out in detail the grim series of events that had led to this most recent face-off between Israel and Palestinian factions in the Gaza Strip, citing the rapid deterioration in the humanitarian situation with the collapse of the economy and ongoing water and electricity shortages; the stalled Palestinian reconciliation process; and the dire security situation in the wake of Israel’s deadly response to the recent series of Palestinian protests that began at the Gaza border fence in March.

I appeal to everybody to step back from the brink! – UN Special Coordinator on the Middle East Peace Process, Nickolay Mladenov

“I want to begin by expressing deepest condolences to the parents of all the children whose lives have been lost in the past few weeks; to all journalists and to all medical professionals, who have lost their lives in the line of duty,” said Mr. Mladenov.

For any progress to be made in tackling these challenges and easing the current flaring tensions, he called for concerted efforts by all to pull back from “a confrontation that nobody wants, nobody needs and in which everyone will lose.”

Further, the international community has the responsibility to act immediately and meet the expectations not only of providing aid to the people of Gaza, but of designing a political path to move forward,” he said, and key allies in this effort would be the Palestinian people in Gaza themselves.

Getting the reconciliation process back on track was vitally important and he appealed to the leadership of both Hamas and Fatah and all Palestinian factions, to take Egypt’s initiatives very seriously.

“The only realistic perspective today is this: avoid war, fix the humanitarian problems of Gaza, and get back to the reconciliation process.”

“If we are able to do this, we can achieve a lot. But we need and I hope we will have the full cooperation of all Palestinians and all Israelis who are sick and tired of war and conflict, who want to live in peace, and who want to see their lives not constantly threatened by rockets or air strikes,” Mr. Mladenov underscored.

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Pakistan: UN strongly condemns terrorist attack that leaves scores dead and wounded at election rally

INTERNATIONAL, 14 July 2018, Peace and Security - The United Nations Security Council has strongly condemned the terrorist attack in south-west Pakistan that killed more than 120 people and left scores wounded at an election rally Friday.

In a press statement, the Security Council denounced the attack as “heinous and cowardly” and urged all States, in accordance with their obligations under international law and relevant Council resolutions, to cooperate actively with the Pakistan Government and other relevant authorities to bring to justice the perpetrators and financiers of this and other such terrorist acts.

The Council said the attack, a suicide bombing, according to media in the region, took place in Mastung, a town in Pakistan’s south-western Balochistan province, and resulted in more than 128 people killed and 200 people injured.

The members of the Council expressed their deepest sympathy and condolences to the families of the victims and to the Government of Pakistan and they wished a speedy and full recovery to those who were injured.

In a separate statement condemning recent terrorist attacks in Pakistan targeting political rallies and candidates, Secretary-General António Guterres also extended his heartfelt condolences to the families of the victims and to the country’s Government and people.

“The United Nations stands in solidarity with and supports the efforts of the Government of Pakistan in the fight against terrorism,” said the statement, issued by a UN spokesperson.

Friday’s attack was the latest in a series of bombings targeting campaign events in Pakistan over the last week. The country is set to hold nationwide polls on 25 July.

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UN Forum examines three pillars of 2030 Global Goals

INTERNATIONAL, 13 July 2018, SDGs - The first week of the High-level Political Forum on Sustainable Development (HLPF) concluded on Friday at United Nations Headquarters in New York, with a review of the progress made so far by countries on nature preservation, partnerships for development, and the need to ensure no one is excluded, during the drive towards the 2030 deadline.

When endorsing the 17 ambitious Sustainable Goals which aim to end hunger and extreme poverty, Member States agreed to one essential, cross-cutting aspect: as progress would be made towards a more sustainable world, the most vulnerable would not be excluded.

This means that the specific needs of vulnerable countries – including lowest-income States, landlocked and small island nations, or wartorn nations - must to be addressed, and that the Goals and targets agreed upon need to be met for all segments of society.

People living in poverty, children, persons with disabilities, people living with HIV/AIDS, older persons, indigenous peoples, refugees and migrants, are often excluded from positive change. HLPF panelists on Friday emphasized the need for their voices to be heard, and their active participation as agents of change to be promoted.

The panel discussed the need for integrated social policy frameworks that aim to progressively achieve universal coverage, while addressing the specific needs of vulnerable people through targeted policies and programmes.

The fifth day of the HLPF on Sustainable Development also focused on Goal 15, for the protection of nature and its ecosystems. Member States committed to safeguarding biodiversity, combating desertification, sustainably managing forests and halting land degradation, all of which define the quality of our food and water supplies, are job-generating activities, and are therefore essential components for human health and well-being.

“We should build on and invest in our natural systems that have been providing us with life and opportunity since our first people - intact, resilient land ecosystems,” said Chiagozie Chima Udeh, from the-Plant-for-the-Planet Foundation. “Let’s do the right thing - show that you value trees, forests and other land based ecosystems. SDG15, our biodiversity and our forests give us a chance to achieve all of the SDGs. Let’s not postpone what we can achieve today, it is only 12 years to 2030,” he pleaded.

Today, biodiversity is in decline in all regions of the world, a trend that continues to accelerate largely due to human activities such as food production, pollution, and wildlife poaching and trafficking.

A reckoning of the issue is slowly taking place and Governments, private sector and civil society are working on more holistic approaches and towards more accurate and meaningful measurements of the true value of nature.

Finally, the Forum examined progress made on Goal 17, which focuses on national, regional and global trends to establish global partnerships for sustainable development, as well as challenges and opportunities ahead.

The HLPF, which meets annually under the auspices of the Economic and Social Council (ECOSOC) and which will run this year through 18 July, brings together more than 1,000 Government, business and civil society leaders to share lessons learnt and best practices and discuss progress made towards the SDGs adopted by 193 Member States in 2015 , based on the UN Secretary-General’s annual progress report.

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Iceland to take vacated US seat on Human Rights Council

INTERNATIONAL, 13 July 2018, Human Rights - Iceland has for the first time been elected to the Human Rights Council, filling the seat vacated by the United States, which withdrew from the body last month, citing bias.

The United Nations General Assembly on Friday elected Iceland to serve on the Geneva-based global rights body effective immediately, through to the end of next year.

Iceland inherits no particular responsibilities from the US, raising questions about future action on key human rights issues promoted specifically by Washington, such as Sudan, South Sudan and the right to freedom of expression.

On 19 June, the US announced its decision to leave the Council. Senior US officials accused the Council of displaying entrenched bias against Israel, and criticized what they said was the body’s willingness to admit nations which were themselves human rights abusers.

US Ambassador to the UN Nikki Haley, according to reports, noted that the move did not signify in any way, that the US was retreating from its own human rights commitments.

In a statement issued by UN Spokesman Stéphane Dujarric, Secretary-General António Guterres said that he would have “much preferred” the US remain and that the 47-member intergovernmental body was a part of the UN’s overall “Human Rights architecture”, which “plays a very important role in the promotion and protection of human rights worldwide.”

The Human Rights Council’s next scheduled meeting is in September.

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Security Council downsizes AU-UN mission in Darfur, eyeing eventual exit

INTERNATIONAL, 13 July 2018, Peace and Security - The Security Council on Friday extended the mandate of the joint United Nations-African Union peacekeeping operation in Sudan’s Darfur until the end of June next year, but reduced the number of troops deployed in the field with an eye towards the mission’s eventual exit.

The decision was unanimous as 15 Council members determined that although the security situation has improved in Darfur, the long-running conflict there remains a threat to international peace and stability.

By the terms of the resolution, the Council will cut the troop strength of the UN-AU Hybrid Operation in Darfur (UNAMID) from the current 8,735 to 4,050 personnel, while maintain its police strength at the current level of 2,500 personnel.

In the resolution, the Council took note of the recommendations in the Special UN-AU report issued earlier this year, with a view towards the mission’s exit on 30 June 2020, drawing down fully by December 2020, provided there is no significant change in the security situation in Darfur.

A civil war which broke out in 2003 led to the deaths of tens of thousands of Darfuris and the displacement of nearly two million. In the fighting between Sudanese Government troops and militias and other armed rebel groups, widespread atrocities such as murder and rape of civilians were committed.

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‘Historic moment’ for people on the move, as UN agrees first-ever Global Compact on migration

INTERNATIONAL, 13 July 2018, Migrants and Refugees - For the first time ever, United Nations Member States have agreed an all-encompassing Global Compact to better manage international migration, address its challenges, strengthen migrant rights and contribute to sustainable development. 

After more than a year of discussions and consultations among Member States, local officials, civil society and migrants themselves, the text of the Global Compact for Safe, Orderly and Regular Migration was finalized on Friday.

In a statement, Secretary-General António Guterres welcomed the agreement, calling it “a significant achievement.” He said it reflected “the shared understanding by Governments that cross-border migration is, by its very nature, an international phenomenon and that effective management of this global reality requires international cooperation to enhance its positive impact for all. It also recognizes that every individual has the right to safety, dignity and protection.”

“This comprehensive framework comprises a range of objectives, actions and avenues for implementation, follow-up and review,” added the UN chief, “all aimed at facilitating safe, orderly and regular migration, while reducing the incidence and impact of irregular migration.”

Calling today a “historic moment,” General Assembly President Miroslav Lajčák, spelled out the Compact’s enormous potential.

“It does not encourage migration, nor does it aim to stop it. It is not legally binding. It does not dictate. It will not impose. And it fully respects the sovereignty of States,” he stressed.

Instead, he continued: “It can guide us from a reactive to a proactive mode. It can help us to draw out the benefits of migration, and mitigate the risks. It can provide a new platform for cooperation. And it can be a resource, in finding the right balance between the rights of people and the sovereignty of States.”

“And, in December,” Mr. Lajčák added “it will formally become the first comprehensive framework on migration the world has ever seen.”

UN Photo/Mark Garten
Louise Arbour (l), Special Representative of the UN Secretary-General for International Migration, UN Deputy Secretary-General Amina Mohammed (c) and Miroslav Lajčák, President of the 72nd Session of the UN General Assembly (r), attend a special event for the approval of text for a global compact for safe, orderly and regular migration, at UN Headquarters in New York, 13 July 2018.

Also taking the floor, Deputy Secretary-General Amina J. Mohammed, drew attention to the profound issues that migration raises, such as sovereignty and human rights; around what constitutes voluntary movement; the relationship between development and mobility; and how to support social cohesion.

“This compact demonstrates the potential of multilateralism: our ability to come together on issues that demand global collaboration – however complicated and contentious they may be,” she pointed out.

Louise Arbour, Special Representative for International Migration, asserted that as human mobility will always be with us, “its chaotic, dangerous exploitative aspects cannot be allowed to become a new normal.”

“The implementation of the Compact will bring safety, order and economic progress to everyone’s benefit,” she underscored.

The agreement will be formally adopted by Member States at an Intergovernmental Conference, which will be held in Marrakesh, Morocco, on 10 and 11 December. Ms. Arbour will serve as the Conference’s Secretary-General.

“This is not the end of the undertaking but the beginning of a new historic effort to shape the global agenda on migration for decades to come,” Director General of the UN migration agency, IOM, William Lacy Swing said on Friday.

“Throughout the process, UN Member States have clearly recognized that migration is always about people. The migrant-centred approach adopted with the commendable guidance of co-facilitators from Mexico and Switzerland, and of the Special Representative to the Secretary General on International Migration, is unprecedented,” added the IOM chief. 

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Security Council imposes arms embargo on South Sudan

INTERNATIONAL, 13 July 2018, Peace and Security - The Security Council on Friday narrowly passed a measure aimed at stopping the flow of weapons to armed groups in South Sudan, with those Members in favour saying it would protect civilians, while abstainers voiced concerns that it would undermine the ongoing peace process in the world’s youngest country.     

Adopting a resolution by a vote of 9 in favour and none against, with 6 abstentions, the 15-member body obliged all UN Member States to immediately to take necessary measures regarding the arms embargo, that will remain in effect until 31 May next year.

Côte d’Ivoire, France, Kuwait, Netherlands, Peru, Poland, Sweden, the United Kingdom, and United States were in favour, while Bolivia, China, Ethiopia, Equatorial Guinea, Kazakhstan and Russia abstained.

Under the terms of the resolution, all Member States must prevent arms and related equipment of all types - including weapons and ammunition, military vehicles and equipment, paramilitary equipment, and any spare parts - from entering South Sudan.

The Council also renewed the South Sudan Sanctions regime until 31 May 2019 and the Sanctions Committee’s Panel of Experts until 1 July 2019.

The Council also imposed a travel ban and asset freeze against two more individuals accused of fomenting violence, during the long-running civil conflict, which has driven around four million from their homes and left millions in need of humanitarian assistance.

Speaking for the resolution, US Ambassador to the United Nations Nikki Haley said: “If we’re going to help the people of South Sudan, we need the violence to stop. And to stop the violence, we need to stop the flow of weapons to armed groups, that they are using to fight each other and to terrorize the people.”

In 2016, the United States, a Permanent Member of the Council, proposed an arms embargo, but failed to get enough support for it to pass. “Since then, we can only imagine how many weapons made their way to parties in South Sudan, and how many more people had to die,” she argued.

The representatives of Ethiopia and Equatorial Guinea expressed concerns that further punitive measures could undermine the fragile, ongoing peace process in South Sudan.

On 27 June, an agreement was signed by South Sudan’s President, Salva Kiir, and his political rival, former Vice President Riek Machar, which included a ceasefire between government and opposition forces.

Previous efforts to end fighting between the rival forces since 2013, have all failed to hold, leaving tens of thousands of combatants and civilians dead.

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Villages ‘reduced to ash’ amid ‘barbaric violence’ in DR Congo, reports UN refugee agency

INTERNATIONAL, 13 July 2018, Peace and Security - Humanitarian needs are enormous in Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC), where the UN Refugee Agency, UNHCR, has reported accounts of “barbaric violence”.

In all, 350,000 people are estimated to have fled months of ethnic clashes between the Hema and Lendu groups, in the eastern part of the country.

Spokesperson Charlie Yaxley told journalists in Geneva on Friday that UNHCR staff had obtained access to Ituri province, in the northeast of DRC, where people are now returning, only to find their villages and homes “reduced to ash”.

The development comes amid reports of armed groups attacking civilians with “guns, arrows and machetes”, according to the agency.

The prospects are incredibly slim, the humanitarian funding is really lacking. These people are being forgotten and left to fend for themselves. - Charlie Yaxley (UNHCR)

Citing one harrowing account after another, the UNHCR spokesperson repeated the testimony of one 59-year-old woman who described how “people are getting chopped in pieces”, and how she and her family had fled after assailants killed their neighbours in the night

In addition to the bloodshed, hospitals, schools, and other key infrastructure have been completely destroyed in former communities, raising concerns about the number of children suffering from severe acute malnutrition and in urgent need of medical care.

UNHCR/Anita Cadonau
Aminatha (left) fled violence in Gobo on Lake Albert. She is expecting and is sheltering with eleven other displaced people in Rethy town in Ituri Province, Democratic Republic of the Congo. 21 March 2018.

Conditions at displacement sites are just as desperate, the UN agency said in a statement, warning that there is a lack of clean water and no access to healthcare.

At a displacement site near Bunia hospital, the capital of Ituri province, there is also a “significant and rising” risk of diseases spreading, while the number of people suffering from respiratory diseases and anemia is growing fast.

To address needs, UNHCR has provided emergency and transition shelter kits to replace houses that have been damaged or destroyed.

Cash grants are also being made available to the most desperate cases, with 1,500 families set to receive an average of $210.

UNHCR is also scaling up community engagement to improve social cohesion among different ethnic groups, but its efforts have been hampered by a lack of funding.

“This is a very resource-poor part of the world,” UNHCR’s Yaxley said. “The prospects are incredibly slim, the humanitarian funding is really lacking. These people are being forgotten and left to fend for themselves.”

To date, the agency has received only 17 per cent of the $201 million requested to provide protection, life-saving aid and assistance inside DRC.

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UN emergency fund releases $15 million to help Ethiopians affected by inter-communal violence

INTERNATIONAL, 12 July 2018, Humanitarian Aid - A United Nations emergency fund on Thursday released $15 million to urgently scale up humanitarian assistance to people affected by escalating inter-communal violence in Ethiopia.

Historical tensions between communities in southern Ethiopia escalated during April, leading to loss of life, widespread property damage and large-scale displacements. 

“Nearly one million people are displaced and require urgent help, especially during this rainy season,” said Secretary-General António Guterres, noting that releasing money from the UN’s Central Emergency Response Fund (CERF) is one of the fastest ways to ensure aid reaches those who need it the most.

Those one million people, including children, often find shelter with relatives who are struggling themselves to secure enough food, or living in overcrowded public buildings, without adequate food and water, and with substandard sanitation and hygiene facilities.

Under the leadership of Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed, new measures to bring unity and reconciliation have spurred great enthusiasm within the country and the enthusiastic support of the international community, Mr. Guterres said.

“However, the impact of inter-communal tensions presents a challenge for the new leadership. It is critical to act immediately,” he said.

CERF’s allocation will enable humanitarian partners to scale up life-saving assistance in support of the Government-led response. More than 36,600 people will receive urgent nutrition assistance; some 600,000 people will be supported with water, sanitation and hygiene service; around 71,200 households will receive non-food item kits and 175,000 people will benefit from extra healthcare services.

This year’s Ethiopia Humanitarian and Disaster Relief Plan requires $1.6 billion to reach millions of people with food and non-food support.

In late June, the Government of Ethiopia and humanitarian partners launched a joint Response Plan requesting an additional $117.7 million for the coming six months to deliver immediate life-saving help for those affected by the inter-communal violence in the border of Gedeo and West Guji zones in the country’s south.

Established by the General Assembly in 2005 as a global fund ‘by all, for all,’ CERF has assisted hundreds of millions of people with more than $5 billion across 100 countries and territories.

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