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‘Done right,’ expanded partnerships can deliver more sustainable results – deputy UN chief

INTERNATIONAL, 21 May 2018 - Cooperation over development is critical in delivering the ambitious 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development, the UN deputy chief said on Monday, calling for strengthened “multi-stakeholder” partnerships, and better policy coordination.

Speaking at the Development Cooperation Forum – a high-level meeting seeking greater policy coherence – Deputy Secretary-General Amina J. Mohammed said that “done right,” such partnerships can deliver better and more sustainable results.

“They can take inclusiveness to a new level,” she said.

In her remarks, the Deputy Secretary-General also underlined the importance of leveraging the investment, innovation, and technological know-how of the private sector.

“Three years into the [2030 Agenda], diverse efforts offer much for us to learn, particularly on how to do this best in different contexts,” said Ms. Mohammed, highlighting also the potential of so-called blended financing.

In doing so, she called for public-private partnerships and investment agreements to be accompanied by solid legal and regulatory frameworks, as well as transparent accounting, and adequate risk-management measures.

Speaking alongside Ms. Mohammed, Marie Chatardova, the President of the Economic and Social Council, called on all actors engaged in the field of development to encourage candid discussion over strengthening partnerships.

“Let us not be shy to challenge each other’s ideas. I am convinced that an open discussion will lead to a richer set of ideas and policy recommendations,” she said.

She also called on the participants to explore how different actors can learn from each other to achieve lasting results in the “ever-changing” development landscape.

Also at the opening, Liu Zhenmin, Under-Secretary-General for Economic and Social Affairs, outlined the findings of a new report on trends and progress made in the field of international development cooperation.

Some of the key highlights, he said, included the need for development cooperation to become more “risk informed” as well as strengthening the link between development cooperation and climate action.

He also said that official development assistance (ODA), while limited within the means of implementation overall, remained a distinct and vital source of development finance.

“The [Development Cooperation Forum] should discuss specific steps to ensure that ODA commitments are met, to bring more assistance to least-developed countries and countries in special situations, and to strengthen effective allocation and use of ODA,” he said.

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Realistic solutions must form basis of Global Compact for migration – UN conference

INTERNATIONAL, 21 May 2018 - Reflecting the reality of life on the ground for millions of migrants fleeing their homes must form the basis of the upcoming United Nations-backed Global Compact for migration, a hearing on the key issue was told on Monday.

The preparatory conference at UN Headquarters in New York, was the fifth and final hearing on the compact; with a focus on existing practices for safe, orderly and regular migration. The General Assembly is due to hold an intergovernmental conference with a view to adopting it later this year.

At Monday’s session, entitled Migration – What’s Really Going On: Lessons from the field, Miroslav Lajčák, President of the General Assembly, recalled the impact of past discussions which had focused around topics such as such as people smuggling and trafficking; national and regional perspectives, and misinformation over migration.

“They have allowed us to take a break from the politics – and focus, instead, on the realities,” he said.  “Migration affects all of society – so all of society is needed, to respond,” he stressed.

While indicating that the needs and rights of migrants must be balanced with those of States and communities, he pointed out that migration is nothing new.

“We have centuries of policies and practices...trials and errors...successes and failures to learn from,” he said.

He spoke of the need for policies that enabled development, safeguarded human rights and ensured security, inviting all present to share ideas, solutions, experiences and opinions.

“You are the reality checks; the sounding boards; the sources of information, as we head into the final stages of negotiation,” he concluded.

Speaking next, Louise Arbour, Secretary-General of the Intergovernmental Conference on International Migration, painted a picture of migration as “highly time-bound and context specific,” saying that the Global Compact should allow for “sufficient flexibility to calibrate policies to continuously evolving context and reality.”  

She flagged that many migrant workers face discrimination and exploitative working conditions, despite most empirical evidence suggesting that immigrants do not depress wages and living standards of native workers.

“Tailor made in-context specific solutions are required,” she stressed. Adding, “The Compact should provide a compendium of desirable initiatives, anchored in human rights in response to the interest and the circumstances of all concerned.”

In his remarks, William Lacy Swing, Director General of the International Organization for Migration (IOM), highlighted the importance of successful stakeholder partnerships.

He said the Global Forum on Migration and Development, offered a clear structure for policy-makers, practitioners, migrant organizations and the private sector, among others.

He credited city mayors with developing tailor-made solutions to respond to migrants’ needs, saying “Local authorities are often the place where migrants can have their demands heard.”

Finally, he explained how private sector partnerships have solidified many migrants’ place in local labour markets.

“The sovereignty of States and multi-stakeholder engagement are not inconsistent and should not be seen as mutually exclusive,” he said. “In fact, multi-stakeholder partnerships can strengthen State sovereignty,” he added.

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National conversation reveals Libyans’ desire for ‘united and sovereign nation’: UN representative

INTERNATIONAL, 21 May 2018 - Conversations taking place across Libya indicate that citizens are “yearning for a united and sovereign nation,” the top United Nations official in the country told the Security Council in New York on Monday.

UN Special Representative Ghassan Salamé updated ambassadors on the National Conference which was launched in April, as a way of giving all Libyans a say in responding to the country’s on-going crisis. So far it has been convened in 27 different locations.

It is part of a UN Action Plan that provides for amending the Libyan Political Agreement; the stalled 2015 deal aimed at establishing a single national unity government, among other points.

Mr. Salamé reported that the process has drawn thousands of participants.

 “Libyans from all political stripes and segments of society gathered to enter the political conversation, many for the first time with an enthusiasm that could not have been predicted,” he said, speaking via teleconference.

“They have made it their own.”

While elections must be held as soon as possible, the proper conditions must be in place - Ghassan Salamé (UNSMIL) 

The National Conference will run through June and is expected to take place in more than 40 locations overall, including Libyan communities based overseas.

Special events focusing on the concerns of women, youth and internally displaced persons will also be held.

Mr. Salamé said some points of consensus have emerged which show why advancement of the political process is “so vital.”

They include “a yearning for a united and sovereign nation and a common belief that, to achieve that, the state must be more decentralized.”

The UN Action Plan also calls for the preparation of elections and the National Conference has revealed that Libyans want a vote which can unite the country, as well as the means to emerge successfully from transition.

 “While elections must be held as soon as possible, the proper conditions must be in place,” Mr. Salamé said, underscoring the need for a new round of voter registration; prior commitment to accepting the results; as well as sufficient funding and security arrangements.

Regarding the amending of the Libyan Political Agreement, the UN envoy said despite attempts to “reconcile various opinions,” parties are unwilling to make concessions.

“By focusing on elections this year, amending the LPA rapidly shrinks in importance,” he stated. “However, we must demand far more from the current Presidential Council in their final remaining months, both in terms of concretely preparing for the elections, and providing services to the people.”

Mr. Salamé also briefed Council members on a new UN strategy to help Libya deal with armed groups who continue to have what he has described as a “perilous” influence on politics and the economy.

It involves direct engagement with these groups, in close consultation with the government.

While the strategy “will not unravel armed groups tomorrow”, he said it “will help the long process begin in earnest.”

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At global health forum, UN officials call for strong, people-focused health systems

INTERNATIONAL, 21 May 2018 - Everyone, everywhere must have equal access to quality health care, said top United Nations officials on Monday, urging greater focus on comprehensive health and well-being.

In a video message to the opening of the seventy-first session of the World Health Assembly in Geneva, Secretary-General António Guterres reiterated that the enjoyment of the highest attainable standard of health is a fundamental human right.

The World Health Assembly is the highest decision-making body of the World Health Organization, WHO. It determines the agency’s polices, supervises financial policies, and reviews and approves the proposed programme budget.

“We need strong resilient systems that place people at the centre,” said Mr. Guterres.

“Universal health coverage provides the foundation to help us overcome the inequities that continue to leave so many behind.”

Ensuring that everyone, everywhere has access to quality health care and services, is also vital for the achievement of the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), stressed the UN chief.

Universal health coverage provides the foundation to help us overcome the inequities that continue to leave so many behind – Secretary-General António Guterres

In particular, Sustainable Development Goal 3 (SDG 3), which has specific targets to ensure healthy lives and promote well-being at all stages in life. In addition, health improvements feature prominently in many of the other ambitious Goals.

Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, WHO’s Director-General, also addressed the Assembly, emphasizing the importance of universal health coverage, as illustrated by the ongoing Ebola outbreak in the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC).

The WHO chief outlined a number of initiatives at the UN health agency to advance universal coverage and urged greater political commitment: “It’s clear that the twin messages of health security and universal health coverage resonate loudly with world leaders,” he said.

Mr. Tedros also highlighted critical upcoming events focussed on global health, including two high-level meetings; on non-communicable diseases and on tuberculosis at the upcoming session of the UN General Assembly which begins in September.

“The people who suffer from these diseases all over the world are relying on us: the people who cannot get the care they need; the people who cannot afford the care they need; the people who aren’t even aware they are infected with a potentially deadly pathogen,” he said.

“We owe it to them to ensure that we do not waste the opportunities.”

DRC Ebola outbreak: Vaccination of health workers commences

Separately on Monday, WHO announced that the vaccination of health workers in areas of the DRC effected by the Ebola virus, has begun.

Together with the Government and partner organizations, WHO is also preparing to start a so-called ring vaccination programme, whereby the contacts of confirmed cases and the contacts of those contacts will be offered immunization, using the experimental drug.

“We need to act fast to stop the spread of Ebola by protecting people at risk of being infected with the Ebola virus, identifying and ending all transmission chains and ensuring that all patients have rapid access to safe, high-quality care,” said Peter Salama, the WHO Deputy Director-General for Emergency Preparedness and Response.

While the rVSV-ZEBOV Ebola vaccine is yet to be licensed, it was highly protective against Ebola in a major trial in 2015 in Guinea, said WHO.

Earlier results have been promising with the agency reporting that among the 5,837 people who received the vaccine, no positive cases were recorded nine days or more after vaccination.

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‘Alarming levels’ of methamphetamine trafficking in Asia’s Mekong, UN warns

INTERNATIONAL, 21 May 2018 - Organized crime groups in Asia’s Mekong region have intensified the production and trafficking of highly-addictive methamphetamine, extending the illegal trade into countries such as Australia, Japan and New Zealand, senior drug policy leaders warned on Monday at a United Nations-backed regional conference. 

“Significant changes have been underway in the regional drug market for a number of years now,” Jeremy Douglas, Regional Representative of the UN Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC), told the conference, which opened in Myanmar’s capital, Nay Pyi Taw. 

“Responding to the situation requires acknowledging some difficult realities, and agreeing to new approaches at a strategic regional level,” he added.

The conference brings together senior drug policy leaders from Cambodia, China, Lao, Myanmar, Thailand and Viet Nam to consider the latest data, and discuss drug law enforcement, justice, health and alternative development strategies and programmes.

It also reviews the implementation of the last Mekong strategy that the countries agreed under the so-called Mekong Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) on Drug Control and negotiates a new strategic plan.

The Mekong has long been associated with the production and trafficking of illicit drugs, particularly heroin, but has undergone “significant transformation” in recent years, according to UNODC. 

Opium and heroin production have recently declined, while criminal gangs have intensified production and trafficking of both low grade yaba methamphetamine – commonly known as meth - and high purity crystal methamphetamine, to “alarming levels”.

Several Mekong countries have already passed the total number of seizures for all of last year, just a few months into 2018, and methamphetamine from the Golden Triangle – the border areas of Thailand, Laos, and Myanmar – is being seized in high volumes across Australia, Japan, New Zealand, Malaysia, Indonesia, UNODC said. 

For affected countries, the shift to synthetics like methamphetamine is particularly difficult to address; partly because the remote and clandestine makeshift laboratories where it’s manufactured, can easily be moved.

“Methamphetamine and heroin are currently estimated to be worth US $40 billion in the regional drug market,” said UNODC Advisor Tao Zhiqiang. “Effective coordination between countries is essential and the Mekong MOU remains the best vehicle available for this coordination.” 

He stressed that law enforcement operations are part of the solution, but addressing growing regional demand is also important.

The Mekong MOU has provided a platform in recent years for the countries to agree to standard operating procedures for multi-country law enforcement operations, as well as a framework to exchange ideas and experience.

In a significant development, the Mekong MOU was aligned last year with the recommendations that came out of the UN General Assembly Special Session on tackling illegal drugs on a global level, ensuring a strong emphasis on reducing demand and the impact on health.

The recommendations also include creating alternative development programmes, to provide alternative means of income for communities where drugs are being made, and beefing up law enforcement targeting the criminal gangs at the centre of the trade. 

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UN, Somali Government seek $80 million in immediate relief for flood-affected populations

INTERNATIONAL, 20 May 2018 - The United Nations and the Somali Government on Sunday launched a joint appeal for $80 million to provide immediate help for the people affected by recent flooding in the country’s centre and south.

According to the UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA), the flooding – caused by the heaviest rainfall there in more than three decades – has led to fatalities, massive displacement, and damage to infrastructure and cropland, compounding an already fragile humanitarian situation.

OCHA said more than 750,000 people are estimated to have been affected by the flooding, with at least 229,000 displaced. Humanitarian partners are unable to rely on the existing $1.5 billion humanitarian response plan for Somalia for 2018, which is only 24 per cent funded.

The new $80 million appeal, launched at a high-level event in Mogadishu, would provide short-term relief to the affected communities that were already vulnerable due to ongoing conflict and previous droughts. 

Speaking at the event, the UN Humanitarian Coordinator for Somalia, Peter de Clercq, highlighted the longer-term risks facing populations affected by floods, and the need for investment to build resilience to extreme weather events.

“As climate change risks invariably increase, more resources are needed to address the root causes of fragility, chronic poverty and low human development that are affecting the bulk of the population,” he said.

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Afghanistan: UN condemns blasts that leave 8 dead at cricket stadium

INTERNATIONAL, 19 May 2018 - The United Nations has condemned Friday's attack in eastern Afghanistan that killed at least eight people and injured at least 55 at a cricket stadium. 

UN Secretary-General António Guterres “condemns yesterday’s attack,” his Deputy Spokesperson Farhan Haq said in a statement issued on Saturday, which also stated “attacks targeting civilians are grave violations of human rights and international humanitarian law and can never be justified.”

“The United Nations maintains that all parties to the conflict must at all times uphold their obligations to protect civilians from harm,” Mr. Haq added.

The UN Assistance Mission in Afghanistan (UNAMA) said that four explosives were detonated, targeting those gathered, after evening prayers, to watch a local match at the venue in Jalalabad.

“I am outraged by this attack that used four bombs carefully calculated to kill and maim civilians watching a cricket match,” said Tadamichi Yamamoto, the UN Secretary-General’s Special Representative for Afghanistan. “This cold and brutal act can have no justification whatsoever; those responsible must be held accountable.”

UNAMA said two of the explosives were detonated inside the stadium, and the other two outside, apparently timed to target those fleeing the first blasts. The explosions left scores dead, with many of the injured now in critical condition. 

According to media reports, no one has claimed responsibility for the attacks, and the Taliban militant group has denied any involvement. Afghanistan has been in protracted conflict for nearly four decades. 

Armed conflict in Afghanistan killed 763 civilians and injured 1,495 in the first three months of this year. The 2,258 civilian casualties, documented by UNAMA, included 511 deaths and 989 injuries caused by anti-Government groups, including the Taliban and the Islamic State (IS), also known as Da’esh.

UN Photo/Fardin Waezi
United Nations Secretary-General's Special Representative for Afghanistan and head of UNAMA, Tadamichi Yamamoto, addresses reporters at a press conference in Kabul, Afghanistan. (file)

“At a time when Afghans are looking toward much-needed peace, we must not allow such attacks to deter our collective resolve to make progress on ending the conflict,” said Mr. Yamamoto, who is also head of UNAMA. “The United Nations stands with Afghans in solidarity and remains committed to an Afghan-led peace process that will end the war and enable Afghanistan to allocate more resources to protect all citizens from such atrocities.”

Mr. Guterres and Mr. Yamamoto expressed their condolences to the loved ones of those killed in the attack and wished a full and speedy recovery to those injured.

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UN chief welcomes start of Church-mediated national dialogue in Nicaragua

INTERNATIONAL, 19 May 2018 - United Nations Secretary-General António Guterres has welcomed the start of a national dialogue in Nicaragua between civic groups and the government, following deadly clashes between security forces and people protesting the country’s planned social security reforms.

“The Secretary-General welcomes the start of a national dialogue led by the Catholic Church in Nicaragua,” said UN Deputy Spokesperson Farhan Haq, in a statement issued on Friday. 

“At the same time, the Secretary-General remains concerned about recent violence and calls on all Nicaraguans to abide by the rule of law, respect for human rights and the peaceful resolution of differences,” he added.

According to media reports, demonstrations that started in mid-April swelled into a nationwide revolt against President Daniel Ortega’s 11-year rule after they were met with lethal repression by pro-government forces, and the Church-mediated talks were attended by the President.

Human rights groups reported that at least 65 people, many of them student protesters, have been killed so far.

Mr. Haq said the Secretary-General also saluted the arrival in the country of the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights – an organ of the Organization of American States – whose mission is to promote and protect human rights in the American hemisphere.

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UN and World Bank ink pact to spur cooperation on Global Goals

INTERNATIONAL, 18 May 2018 - The United Nations and the World Bank Group on Friday signed an agreement to work closer together to help countries implement the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development and achieve measurable results to transform their economies and societies.

The agreement, known as the Strategic Partnership Framework (SPF), includes four key areas of cooperation.

The two institutions will cooperate in finding financial and other necessary resources to help countries achieve the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) and harness data to improve development outcomes.

They will also jointly spur global action on climate change and work hand-in-hand in post-crisis and humanitarian situations.

Adopted by UN Member States in 2015, the landmark Agenda and its 17 Goals are a universal call to action to end poverty, protect the planet and ensure that all people enjoy peace and prosperity.

The SPF, signed by UN Secretary-General António Guterres and World Bank Group President Jim Yong Kim in Washington, will build on past collaborations between the two entities and foster a new partnership. 

Specifically, SPF initiatives include:

• Mobilizing increased and better finance from all sources, including through domestic resources, and helping countries attract and manage private capital;

• Improving implementation capacity to achieve the SDGs, particularly at the national and local levels;

• Promoting joint action and investments to improve infrastructure and build human capital, including education and health;

• Convening governments, financial institutions, private investors, and development banks to mobilize, coordinate, and deliver financing to help countries make the transition to a low-carbon, resilient future;

• Strengthening collaboration and joint action in post-crisis and humanitarian settings to build resilience for the most vulnerable people, reduce poverty and inequality, enhance food security, prevent conflict, and sustain peace;

• Improving national statistical systems and enhancing countries’ digital data capacities to improve implementation and maximize positive development impacts, and;

• Expanding and deepening partnerships in policy development and advocacy, joint analysis and assessments, and program design and delivery.

Meanwhile, UN chief Guterres met with US President Donald Trump this afternoon at the White House.

“The Secretary-General and the President discussed the situation in the broader Middle East, the Korean Peninsula and the ongoing United Nations reform. The Secretary-General expressed his appreciation for the continued US engagement in the work of the United Nations,” stated a read-out issued today by the UN. 

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Teenage girl’s death sentence spotlights Sudan’s failure to tackle forced marriage, gender-based violence – UN rights office

INTERNATIONAL, 18 May 2018 - The case of Noura Hussein Hammad Daoud, a Sudanese teenager convicted of fatally stabbing the man she was forced to marry, after he had allegedly raped her, highlights the country’s failure to tackle the tragedy of early and forced marriage, marital rape and other discrimination and violence against women and girls, the United Nations human rights office said on Friday.

“We have received information that Hussein’s forced marriage, rape and other forms of gender-based violence against her were not taken into account by the Court as evidence to mitigate the sentence, and that the most stringent guarantees of a fair trial and due process were not fulfilled in this case,” said Ravina Shamdasani, spokesperson for the High Commissioner for Human Rights told the press in Geneva.  

As the case has drawn international attention, the UN Human rights office said that it has become increasingly concerned for the teen’s safety and that of her lawyer and other supporters.

“We urge the authorities to ensure full protection for Hussein’s physical and psychological integrity during her detention, as well as full respect for her rights to a fair trial and appeal,” Ms. Shamdasani stressed.

In trials of capital punishment, scrupulous respect for fairness is particularly crucial.

The UN expert on summary executions has argued that imposing the death penalty against clear evidence of self-defense constitutes an arbitrary killing, particularly where women have been charged with murder when defending themselves.

“We call on the authorities to fully take into consideration Hussein’s claim of self-defense against the attempt by the man to rape her, after he had reportedly already raped her on a previous occasion with the help of three other people,” Ms. Shamdasani continued.

With only 15 days to appeal the Court’s decision ­– which was announced last week­ – the right for a conviction and sentence to be reviewed by a higher tribunal is particularly important.

“A review that is limited to the formal or legal aspects of the conviction – without any consideration of the facts – is not sufficient under the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, which Sudan has ratified,” the spokesperson reminded the press.

The UN Committee on the Rights of the Child and the UN Human Rights Committee have expressed serious concern about the situation of women’s human rights in Sudan.

“Hussein’s tragic case is an opportunity for Sudanese authorities to send a clear message that gender-based violence will not be tolerated in the country,” concluded Ms. Shamdasani, adding that the office would remain in contact with Sudanese authorities.

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