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Service and Sacrifice: Malaysian peacekeepers in Lebanon proud to serve their homeland and the United Nations

INTERNATIONAL, 21 March 2019, Peace and Security - Peacekeepers from Malaysia serving under the United Nations flag in Lebanon face a “a totally new experience” according to the commander of the Malaysian contingent in the country.

Currently, 850 military personnel, including 38 women, are deployed to the UN peacekeeping mission in Lebanon, known as UNIFIL.

Malaysian peacekeepers have been stationed in the eastern Mediterranean country since January 2007, and a total of 10,840 men and women have served there.

“We assist in the deployment of the Lebanese Armed Forces and conduct training in support of the Government of Lebanon exercising its authority in the UNIFIL area of operation,” said Colonel Azhan bin Hj Md Othman, the commander of the contingent. “The Malaysian presence in Lebanon is important in implementing UNIFIL’s mandate and in ensuring stability in south Lebanon.”

UNIFIL was created by the United Nations Security Council in March 1978 to confirm the Israeli withdrawal from Lebanon, restore international peace and security and assist the Lebanese Government in restoring its authority in the area. 

The role of UNIFIL has evolved in line with developments in the region and the mission now also

monitors the cessation of hostilities, accompanies and supports the Lebanese Armed Forces and helps to ensure humanitarian access to civilian populations as well as the voluntary and safe return of displaced people. Overall, there are some 10,300 peacekeepers serving in the mission, including the Malaysian troops. These peacekeepers, who work alongside the Lebanese Army and host communities, have helped to ensure that the area, roughly 10 times the size of Paris, has enjoyed nearly 13 years of peace.

Wisdom and tolerance

“There are challenges for our troops,” according to Colonel Azhan. “It’s important we maintain our credibility and legitimacy by remaining impartial throughout our operations as we continue our cooperation with the Lebanese Armed Forces.  Consolidating our relationship with local leaders and civilians is also a key part of our mission here and must be carried out with meticulous thinking, wisdom and tolerance.”

Of the 38 women presently on mission in Lebanon, four are officers and the remainder come from other ranks. “Women in the Malaysian contingent play a significant role especially in conducting certain activities such as market walks and medical support for local communities,” says Colonel Azhan. “They are also involved in operational activities such as foot and vehicle patrols.”

UNIFIL/Pasqual Gorriz
UNIFIL Malaysian peacekeeper, Major Syazwani, gives instructions to her fellow peacekeepers while patrolling in Rumaysh, south Lebanon in December 2017.

“The presence of women during these activities is definitely helpful in gaining the trust and confidence of the local female population towards UN peacekeepers. The women and girls from the host communities are comfortable with the Malaysian female peacekeepers due to our background and their respect for the local culture and religion.”

New experience

Troops sent by Malaysia to UNIFIL generally spend one year in Lebanon. The next rotation is in September 2019.

“Serving under the UN Flag is a totally new experience for me and my troops. A lot of preparation is carried out ahead of our deployment. Promoting peace and conducting peacekeeping operations away from the homeland is very challenging and demanding. We are truly very proud to serve our country and the United Nations,” adds Colonel Azhan.

A total of four Malaysian peacekeepers have lost their lives since 2007 while on mission with UNIFIL.

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Marking international day, UN experts call for urgent action to end racial discrimination, in wake of New Zealand anti-Muslim attack

INTERNATIONAL, 21 March 2019, Human Rights - States must take urgent action, to “stem the tide of hate and discrimination” and ramping up of “ethno-nationalist populism”, which helped fuel the deadly shootings in two New Zealand mosques last Friday by a self-declared white supremacist, several top UN officials and human rights experts have stressed, marking the International Day for the Elimination of Racial Discrimination.

“Racial discrimination still has not been banished to the history books. This vicious form of exclusion and intolerance continues to manifest itself on the sports field, in the media, on the streets, in the workplace and even in the corridors of power,” said Audrey Azoulay, Director-General of the UN Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) on Thursday.

“Unfortunately, once again, we are seeing the ugly face of racial discrimination presented in public discourse,” she added, explaining that that is why this year’s theme for the International Day is ‘Mitigating and countering national populism and extreme supremacist ideology’.

Linking the day with the massacre of worshippers in New Zealand, that left 50 dead and dozens injured, two independent UN human rights experts said in statement that the tragedy “reminds us that racism, xenophobia and religious hatred are deadly and that the result of ethno-nationalist populism and supremacist ideologies is racial violence, exclusion and discrimination.”

Tendayi Achiume and Michal Balcerzak, added that States should “act immediately to stem the tide of hate and discrimination, to protect vulnerable populations and to ensure racial equality,” the experts stressed, explaining their dismay over the “role that public authorities continue to play in stoking racial discrimination and intolerance by acts of commission and omission.”

For over 50 years since the adoption of the International Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Racial Discrimination, which entered into force in 1969, the UN has been tackling the issue, calling upon States to act immediately to end racism and to ensure equality and dignity for everyone.

Yet, the experts noted that “States’ politics and legislation seldom reflect the urgency of this obligation” and that “instead, States and leaders have deployed political rhetoric that demonises racialised groups and emboldens supremacist ideologues.”

“Some States even deny the existence of racial discrimination or minorities within their borders,” insisted Ms. Achiume and Mr. Balcerzak, adding that “the work of fighting intolerance and discrimination is not for States and public authorities alone” and that “every single person, especially those who enjoy racial privilege on a daily basis, must play their part to put an end to the racism, xenophobia and related intolerance that prevail today.”

The sentiment was echoed by UNESCO chief Azoulay who explained that “the fight against discrimination is one we must all lead”. She further noted that “the internet can be fertile ground for the spread of racial discrimination, xenophobia and supremacist ideologies, often targeting migrants and refugee, as well as people of African descent”.

To tackle this, UNESCO – which is mandated to increase awareness worldwide on the issue – has developed tools for media and information literacy, to combat discriminatory attitudes online and ensure a safe online space that enhances mutual understanding, critical thinking and intercultural dialogue.

In addition, Ms. Azoulay noted that “on a daily basis, racial discrimination continues to silently deprive people of their basic rights to employment, housing and a social life embodied through iniquitous laws”.

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UN allocates $20 million in emergency funding, as Cyclone Idai disaster unfolds

INTERNATIONAL, 20 March 2019, Humanitarian Aid - As the full scale of the devastation caused by Cyclone Idai in South-West Africa continues to be assessed, the UN and humanitarian partners are ramping up the provision of emergency food, shelter, water and health care supplies to hundreds-of-thousands who have been affected across Mozambique, Malawi and Zimbabwe.

The UN’s Central Emergency Response Fund (CERFallocated $20 million on Wednesday to ensure aid reaches those most affected.

The cyclone made landfall on Thursday night near Beira City, in central Mozambique, bringing heavy rains and flooding to the three countries and forcing thousands from their homes.

To date, it is feared that over 1,000 may have died in the disaster, with more than 200 confirmed dead in Mozambique, over 100 in Zimbabwe, and around 60 in Malawi. Hundreds are injured and many more unaccounted for.

The cyclone wreaked havoc in Mozambique, the worst-affected of the three countries, causing damage to 90 per cent of Beira City. Inhambane, Manica, Sofala, Tete and Zambezia provinces have been heavily affected. About 400,000 are internally displaced. A national state of emergency has been declared.

In Zimbabwe, the east of the country was particularly affected with close to 1,000 homes destroyed in the districts of Chimanimani, Chipinge, Mutasa, Mutare, Buhera, Chikomba, Gutu and Bikita districts. Through rapid needs assessments in Malawi, it is estimated that over 82,500 were displaced.

These figures are expected to rise in the days ahead as the full extent of the damage and loss of life becomes known.

“The CERF funds will complement the three Governments’ immediate efforts to provide life-saving and life-sustaining assistance to affected communities, including in health, food security, protection, nutrition and education,” said UN humanitarian chief Mark Lowcock. “Vulnerable groups such as children, women who are pregnant or breastfeeding, people with disabilities, and those affected by chronic illnesses will be prioritized”.

The allocation will also help humanitarian organizations to rapidly support critical logistics and emergency telecommunications and scale up water and emergency health services to reduce the risk of vector and waterborne diseases.

Mr. Lowcock explained that CERF funding was just the beginning, and much more will be needed, especially in terms of food assistance in the short- and medium-term as the flooding occurred in the middle of the crop-growing season. Much of the livestock is believed to have perished in the flooding, in areas that were already facing ‘food-crisis’ levels of food insecurity.

The warehouse of the UN’s World Food Programme (WFP) in Beira was badly damaged by Idai, but some food stores remain intact and is being distributed to displaced people in the city and in Dondo, higher north.

Twenty tons of high-energy biscuits have been airlifted in, to be distributed by helicopter in cut-off regions. WFP is also funding drones to support Mozambique’s disaster management agency, the INGC, with emergency mapping. To enable the humanitarian workers to operate, an emergency wi-fi connection was set up in Beira by the UN.

The UN disaster and assessment coordination (UNDAC) team was deployed to help coordinate the response, but access to affected areas is a major constraint in the delivery of aid, as much of the infrastructure such as roads and bridges were destroyed by the cyclone.

“The situation is very bad. The damage is quite serious,” said the head of the UN’s migration agency (IOM) in Mozambique, Katharina Schnoering. “It Is very difficult to get a clear overview of what is going on. There are many communications issues, there’s no power in Beira. There is no road access because the Buzi River came up and washed out the road.”

In Malawi, the representative of the UN Children’s Fund (UNICEF), Johannes Wedenig, saidemergency supplies have started arriving in the country but that many were already “pre-positioned in areas of Malawi that are regularly affected by natural disasters”, allowing the UN to move quickly to meet people’s immediate needs, in particular in terms of water and sanitation, medicine, insecticide-treated bed nets, and schools supplies for the establishment of temporary classrooms.

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UN court increases sentence of former Bosnian-Serb leader to life imprisonment

INTERNATIONAL, 20 March 2019, Peace and Security - A United Nations appeals court on Wednesday increased the 40-year sentence initially imposed on Radovan Karadžić, former leader of the Republika Srpksa region of Bosnia and head of the Bosnian-Serb Army, to life imprisonment.

In 2016, the International Criminal Tribunal for the Former Yugoslavia (ICTY), found the 1990s wartime leader guilty of genocide and war crimes, including the planning of the notorious 1995 Srebrenica massacre, during which some 8,000 Bosnian Serbs were murdered. The aftermath was described at the time as resembling “scenes from Hell” by a Tribunal judge. Karadžić was also found responsible for the three-year long siege of Sarajevo, which led to the deaths of an estimated 10,000 civilians.

On Wednesday, the Appeals Chamber of the successor to the ICTY, the Hague Branch of the Mechanism for International Criminal Tribunals, largely upheld the 2016 verdict, as well as ensuring that Mr. Karadžić will serve life for his crimes.

The appeal was the third and final opportunity for the Bosnian-Ser, who contested the charges against him, to attempt to have his sentence overturned. The Appeals Chamber, however, found this the initial sentence was, in fact, too lenient and, in a statement, wrote that “the Trial Chamber committed a discernible error and abused its discretion in imposing a sentence of only 40 years of imprisonment.”

Responding to the appeal decision, Adama Dieng, UN Special Advisor on the Prevention of Genocide, said that the judgement confirmed that accountability, rather than impunity, but he warned that such court decisions cannot bring genuine reconciliation to divided communities.

“Real change in society,” he said, “can only come from self-reflection, acceptance, consistent and collective effort to move forward. It takes hard work and perseverance. It also takes sustained commitment to reconciliation, trust-building and constructive and meaningful dialogue by political and social leaders and citizens.”

On a visit to Srebrenica in 2018, Mr. Dieng expressed his concern at ongoing attempts to glorify war crimes, and minimise their gravity, giving the example of a student dormitory at the University of East Sarajevo, which was named after Karadzic. He added that “Mr. Karadzic is not a hero, he is a criminal. The true heroes are the survivors and witnesses of the crimes committed by him. They have displayed immense courage by coming to the courts to testify and never gave up hope that they would see justice.”

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UN launches ‘South-South Galaxy’ knowledge-sharing platform in Buenos Aires

INTERNATIONAL, 19 March 2019, Economic Development - When countries of the Global South forged an historic technical cooperation deal among themselves 40 years ago, digital technology was a thing of the future, but developing nations have come a long way since then.

China, for example, has managed to send an exploration vehicle to the dark side of the Moon, while India has a satellite orbiting Mars. A new digital tool launched on Tuesday, just ahead of the Second High-level UN Conference on South-South Cooperation, aims to strengthen the ways countries share their technology, to benefit developing countries.

The “South-South Galaxy”, is a global knowledge sharing and partnership platform, officially launched in the city hosting the “BAPA+40” conference – the Argentine capital, Buenos Aires - by the UN Office for South-South Cooperation (UNOSSC).

The project aims to give systematic and effective support to countries of the South so they can connect, learn and collaborate with potential partners in the wider digital world.

"The Galaxy project will place in a single digital space all the great experiences of South-South cooperation”, said Jorge Chediek, Special Envoy of the Secretary General, and Director of the UNOSSC, in an interview with UN News, which will be covering the conference throughout the week. “We are talking about the best cases, the best opportunities to establish contacts and partnerships”, he added.

The project, which was launched on the eve of the conference, seeks to unite existing platforms developed by UN agencies and their partners, allowing all in the South-South cooperation field to access and navigate a wide range of knowledge, solutions, research, and development initiatives.

“I look forward to making it a live database. The key for that is to have a strong institutional commitment of many partners and to develop it in a way that it becomes an useful element where users can find what they need to build a better reality in their countries”, Mr. Chediek explained.

From recipients, to tech pioneers

For the Special Envoy, technology has become essential for developing countries, which are increasingly taking the initiative to innovate in the digital world.

"Traditionally, the countries of the South were the recipients of technology. The productive technology, the information technology, was generated in the North,” said Mr. Chediek. “Currently these countries are creating new technologies and have developed new models of how to use them for the benefit of their societies. In this context, South-South cooperation becomes very important for other developing countries to learn and take advantage of these new tools", he added.

The Envoy stressed during the event how in 1978, when the Buenos Aires Plan of Action was adopted to promote technical cooperation among developing countries, there was still no notion of what technology will actually represent in the 21st century.

"Who would have thought that after 40 years we would meet in Buenos Aires, at the same time that China has managed to send an exploration vehicle to the dark side of the Moon, and India orbits a satellite on Mars", Mr. Chediek said.

UNOSSC also launched its new report “South-South Cooperation in a Digital World”, on Tuesday, which further explores and analyzes development prospects and trends affecting and impacting digital industries in the Global South, and puts forward proposals for digital industrial cooperation among Southern countries.

Uruguay hails digital opportunities

The President of Uruguay, Mr. Tabaré Vásquez, echoed the Special Envoy’s words of the Envoy saying the world was going through a torrent of technological changes, changing the development paradigm.

"The economy as we have conceived it until now has a new discipline: the digital economy, which is advancing by leaps and bounds. If we look closely at the Big Data market from 2011 to 2017, it has multiplied by 5, and it is estimated that in the next ten years it will triple", he said.

"The immense amount of data available, the ability to process and transmit it, opens a wide range of development opportunities. However, the challenge is that these changes benefit the largest number of inhabitants of our planet and reach the entire population, serving the neediest”, Mr. Vásquez added.

UNIC Argentina.
Flag Raising Ceremony for the Second High Level UN Conference on South-South Cooperation in Buenos Aires, Argentina. 19 March, 2019.

Flags fly at BAPA+40

On Tuesday, the United Nations flag was raised next to flag of Argentina at the Convention and Exhibition Center of Buenos Aires, marking the formal opening of BAPA+40. UN Development Programme (UNDP) chief Achim Steiner, was joined by Jorge Chediek, and the Argentine Foreign Minister, Jorge Faurie, at the ceremony.

“South-South Cooperation enables countries to reach their development goals and reduce poverty through mutual assistance and solidarity. The Conference will adopt a crucial roadmap to accelerate the implementation of concrete solutions to achieve the sustainable development agenda”, said the UNDP chief.

“We are not talking about abstract realities. We are talking about practices and exchanges that are oriented to improve the quality of lives”, the Special Envoy told UN News.

More than 1,000 participants and high-level delegations from dozens of countries, will debate the importance of South-South Cooperation as a tool for achieving the Sustainable Development Agendaby 2030.

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Safe drinking water, sanitation, are ‘basic human rights’: new UN Water Development report

INTERNATIONAL, 19 March 2019, SDGs - Safe water and access to proper sanitation are essential to eradicate poverty, build peaceful societies and ensure that no one is left behind on the path towards sustainable development, according to the 2019 UN World Water Development Report, launched on Tuesday in Geneva. 

In collaboration with the UN Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO), the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) and the World Water Assessment Programme, the report Leaving no one Behind, stresses that waterfor all is “entirely achievable”. 

“Access to safe, affordable and reliable drinking water and sanitation services are basic human rights”, the report spells out. And yet, billions still lack these facilities.  

UNESCO World Water Assessment Programme coordinator Stefan Uhlenbrook launches 2019 UN World Water Development Report in Geneva, Switzerland, March 2019., by Screen capture

The report underscores that exclusion, discrimination, poverty and inequalities are among the main obstacles to achieving the water-related goals of the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development. 

While the wealthy generally receive high levels of service at low prices, the poor often pay a much higher price for services of similar, or lesser quality.  

“It is insane that often in slum areas, people have to pay more for a volume of water than people living it better off neighbourhoods”, Stefan Uhlenbrook, UNESCO World Water Assessment Programme coordinator, said at the launch.

Moreover, rapid urbanization means slums will continue to develop, excluding those who live there from the benefits of having an address, or water and sanitation networks, leaving them reliant on costly alternatives. 

He pointed out that slum-dwellers pay up to 10-20 per cent more for not having piped in access to water and sanitation so “depend on water vendors, kiosks and other things”. 

Equal access to water for agricultural production, even if only for supplemental watering of crops, can make the difference between farming as a mere means of survival and farming as a reliable source of income, according to the report.  

“Three-quarters of people living in extreme poverty live in rural areas” flagged Mr. Uhlenbrook, adding that the vast majority are smallholder family farmers, who, while constituting the backbone of national food chains, often suffer from food insecurity and malnutrition. 

‘The plight of displaced people’ 

The report discusses the barriers that refugees and internally-displaced people often face in accessing water supply and sanitation services.  

By the end of the 2017, conflict, persecution, or human rights violations forcibly displaced an unprecedented 68.5 million from their homes. And sudden-onset disasters displaced another 18.8 million.  

Mass displacement places strain upon natural resources and water-related services at transition and destination points for both existing populations and new arrivals, creating potential inequalities and a source of conflicts among them. 

Delivering a keynote address at the launch event, 19-year-old Syrian refugee Maya Ghazal, advocate for refugee rights, shared her experience as a 12-year old. 

“In 2011 the flames of the Syrian war sparked making it hard to maintain normal life requirements, gas, electricity or water”, she began. “I was 12 at the time and with my two younger brothers, we were tasked to be responsible for water”. 

Responsible for the family supply of water, the then pre-teen shared some of her “water hacks”. 

“First of all” she informed the group, “make sure that you install a water tank on your roof and make sure it has a centrifugal pump, so you will always have water, even when the primary source is cut off”. 

She cautioned to “always” check that the primary water source is pumping water because when “war activities” happen, water would be cut off.  

Her other “hacks” included limiting showers, “practice climbing” for going up to the roof to check on the water tank and “be nice to your neighbor” in case you need to borrow water. 

UNECO Special Envoy for Science for Peace, Princess Sumaya bint El Hassan of Jordan, told the gathering that while States bear the major responsibility in ensuring the human right to access water and sanitation, “the plight of displaced people starkly highlights that ensuring water provision is a collective responsibility for the entire international community”.  

Meeting challenges 

The report lays out recommendations on how to overcome exclusion and inequality for everyone to access water and sanitation, including by highlighting that investing in it makes good economic sense.  

While prioritizing those most in need, the report maintains that international human rights law obliges States to impartially work for all to have access to water resources while shining a spotlight on accountability, transparency and justice as good governance features. 

Finally, Leaving no one behind points out that tailored responses targeting specific groups can help ensure that affordable water supply and sanitation services are available to all. 

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First peaceful transfer of power in DR Congo ‘an extraordinary opportunity’ for advancing rights

INTERNATIONAL, 19 March 2019, Human Rights - The election of President Felix Tshisekedi in the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC), marks “an extraordinary opportunity” for the country to advance civil and political rights, said a senior UN official, on Tuesday at the Human Rights Council in Geneva.

UN Assistant Secretary-General for Human Rights (OHCHR), Andrew Gilmour, welcomed Mr. Tshisekedi’s inaugural speech in January, in which he made a “clear commitment” to respect citizens’ rights and end discrimination.

The president’s recent decree ordering the release of all political prisoners was also to be welcomed, Mr. Gilmour said, in anticipation of their actual release and the closing of all unofficial detention centres. 

Mr. Tshisekedi’s unexpected election win on 30 December, despite a week’s delay due to logistical concerns, coming on top of a two-year delay due to former President Joseph Kabila’s reluctance to leave office, marked the first peaceful transfer of power in the country of more than 80 million, since independence from Belgium, almost 60 years ago.

Mr. Kabila governed DRC for 18 years, before agreeing to step down last year, although his former ruling coalition has a majority in the legislature.

In his inaugural speech in late January, according to news reports, the new president said he and his party were committed to building a modern, peaceful, democratic State, and pledged then to release all political detainees. 

Mr. Gilmour said that “such measures, if fulfilled, would represent an exceptionally positive development towards the opening up of democratic space, which has been increasingly restricted in recent years.” 

“During the electoral process, such restrictions were obvious. In the weeks just before and after the elections, the Joint Human Rights Office in the DRC documented the killing of at least 36 civilians in elections-related violence” said the OHCHR official, “most killed by security forces using disproportionate use of force, including the use of live ammunition.”

The Assistant Secretary-General’s comments coincided with the publication of a report into DRC violence and rights abuses, in 2018.

It found that more than 1,100 people were killed in conflict-related violence, almost 900 were subjected to sexual violence in a war-setting, including 279 children.

On the continuing inter-communal violence in the province of Mai-Ndombe, around Yumbi town, that left hundreds dead last December following an orchestrated and well-planned massacre, Mr. Gilmour urged the authorities to extend the rule of law throughout the country.

There is an urgent need to take measures to defuse tensions and promote reconciliation in the region and avoid further bloodshed, he said, and to ensure that those responsible are prosecuted. 

In reply, Marie-Ange Mushobekwa, Minister of Human Rights in DRC, said that those responsible for the Mai-Ndombe killings, in the west of the country, on the banks of the Congo River - and earlier massacres in the Kasais - would be prosecuted.

And she confirmed that 36 people have been convicted in association with the killing of UN experts, Michael Sharp and Zaida Catalan in Kasai on 12 March 2017.

The highly-regarded experts on the region, were brutally murdered while investigating reports of mass atrocities in the Kasais, around conflict between the Kamuina Nsapu militia and Government forces. The fallout from the case continues, with a Congolese army colonel, reportedly arrested in connection with the killing of the two UN monitors, early in December.

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Cyclone Idai: emergency getting ‘bigger by the hour’, warns UN food agency

INTERNATIONAL, 19 March 2019, Humanitarian Aid - The full scale of the devastation caused by Tropical Cyclone Idai in south-west Africa is becoming clearer, the UN said on Tuesday, warning that the emergency “is getting bigger by the hour”.

Five days after the storm made landfall in Mozambique, causing widespread damage and flooding, at least 1,000 people are feared dead there alone.

Victims are reportedly trapped on roofs and clinging to trees awaiting rescue, UN agencies said, while across Mozambique, Malawi and Zimbabwe, tens of thousands of people have lost their homes, while roads, bridges and crops have been washed away.

“We are talking about a massive disaster right now where hundreds of thousands -in the millions of people – (are) potentially affected,” said Jens Laerke from the UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA). “We need all the logistical support that we can possibly get.”

Although floodwaters have reportedly begun to recede in Zimbabwe and Malawi, allowing some people to return home, the World Food Programme (WFP) warned that Mozambique is facing “a major humanitarian emergency that is getting bigger by the hour”.

An estimated 1.7 million people were in the path of the cyclone in Mozambique, WFP spokesperson Herve Verhoosel told journalists in Geneva, in addition to the 920,000 people affected in Malawi and “thousands more” impacted in Zimbabwe.

WFP/Photo Library
Over 900,000 people in Malawi, and 600,000 in Mozambique have already been affected by exceptionally severe flooding this week caused by heavy rains associated with the Tropical Cyclone IDAI. 

Flooding resembles ‘inland oceans’

Aid access is “the biggest challenge”, the WFP spokesperson insisted, while the agency reported that staff members who flew over the area inundated since the weekend, when two swollen rivers burst their banks, spoke of “inland oceans extending for miles and miles”. 

In Mozambique, WFP aims to support 600,000 people affected by the cyclone, which struck with wind speeds in excess of 150 kilometres per hour. In Malawi, the UN agency plans to target 650,000 people with food assistance.

Amid the humanitarian response, heavy rain is continuing and more is forecast, according to Clare Nullis, spokesperson for the World Meteorological Organization (WMO). “The Mozambican President is quoted as saying they are fearing there are more than 1,000 casualties,” she said. “If these reports, these fears are realized, then we can say that this is one of the worst weather-related disasters - tropical cyclone-related disasters - in the Southern hemisphere.”

Thousands fighting for their lives on rooftops, in trees

UN Children’s Fund UNICEF confirmed the scale of the emergency, noting that 260,000 children have been affected in Mozambique, which bore the brunt of Idai.

“Many people are in desperate situations, several thousand are fighting for their lives at the moment sitting on rooftops, in trees and other elevated areas,” said spokesperson Christophe Boulierac. “This includes families and obviously many children.”

Matthew Cochrane, spokesperson for the International federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies (IFRC), underlined the perilous situation, noting that colleagues “talked of flooding perhaps in parts as deep as six metres, covering roofs, covering palm trees covering telephone poles”.

WFP hails ‘incredible pilots’ delivering vital food aid

To date, WFP has coordinated airlifts of high-energy biscuits, water and blankets to people crammed on rooftops and elevated patches of land outside the port city of Beira, where 90 per cent of buildings are damaged, including the agency’s warehouse and port unloading machinery.

“It was very difficult to land a plane like this,” said Mr. Verhoosel. “Can you imagine in an airport, damaged by the water, dark with no light or radio communication with the control tower, nothing. I mean, those pilots are incredible."

Four tonnes of biscuits are to be delivered by air later on Tuesday, in addition to the 1.2 tonnes dispatched on Monday - part of a 20-tonne consignment flown in from Dubai.  

Negotiations are also “at an advanced stage” to bring in two freight aircraft to Beira, including a Hercules C-130, the agency said.

To respond to people’s health needs, Christian Lindmeier from the World Health Organization (WHO) explained that the initial priority is helping those with crush and trauma injuries. 

“So for the immediate needs, WHO is positioning health kits, emergency health kits, trauma kits and also cholera kits in order to be able to assist people on the ground, as soon as these kits gets there,” he said.

Longer-term needs will include dealing with a potential rise in waterborne diseases and rebuilding “many destroyed health centres”, the WHO spokesperson added.

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What is ‘South-South cooperation’ and why does it matter?

INTERNATIONAL, 18 March 2019, Economic Development - This week in Argentina’s capital, Buenos Aires, over one thousand people, including high level government delegations and representatives from the private sector and civil society, will gather for the Second High-level United Nations Conference on South-South Cooperation, or BAPA+40.

The Conference marks the 40th anniversary of the United Nations Conference on Technical Cooperation Among Developing Countries, which was also held in Buenos Aires.

The central theme of discussion will be how South-South cooperation represents an opportunity to achieve the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development, the globally-agreed blueprint for peace and prosperity for people and the planet.

UN Secretary-General António Guterres, who will participate in opening ceremony of the event, strongly believes in the importance of South-South cooperation to generate both new ideas and concrete projects and also as a means to enable voices from the Global South to drive innovation and promote development.

UN News has put together a handy guide to answer some questions regarding this important meeting.

1. Let’s start with the basics, what is South-South Cooperation?

South-South cooperation refers to the technical cooperation among developing countries in the Global South. It is a tool used by the states, international organizations, academics, civil society and the private sector to collaborate and share knowledge, skills and successful initiatives in specific areas such as agricultural development, human rights, urbanization, health, climate change etc.  

2. What happened in Argentina 40 years ago?

During the 1960s and 1970s, with the global socio-economic climate entangled with Cold War politics, developing countries began seeking ways to chart the course of their own development; alternatives to the existing economic and political order.

Technical cooperation among these Southern States started as a pioneering associative effort to strengthen their diplomatic and international negotiating power through political dialogue.

What is now known as South-South cooperation, derives from the adoption of the Buenos Aires Plan of Action for Promoting and Implementing Technical Cooperation among Developing Countries (BAPA) by 138 UN Member States in Argentina, on September 18, 1978.

The plan established a scheme of collaboration among least developed countries, mostly located in the south of the planet. It also established for the first time a framework for this type of cooperation, and incorporated in its practice the basic principles of relations between sovereign States: respect for sovereignty, non-interference in internal affairs and equality of rights, among others.

The BAPA defined as well a series of new and concrete recommendations aimed at establishing legal frameworks and financing mechanisms at the national, regional, interregional and global levels.

Technical cooperation was defined in Buenos Aires as “an instrument capable of promoting the exchange of successful experiences among countries that share similar historical realities and similar challenges”.

3. But what about North-South cooperation and Triangular cooperation?

The division of “North” and “South” is used to refer to the social, economic and political differences that exist between developed countries (North) and developing countries (South).

Although most of the high income countries are indeed located in the northern hemisphere, it should be noted that the division is not totally faithful to the actual geographical division. A country is defined as North or South not by location, but depending on certain economic factors and the quality of life of its population.

North-South cooperation, which is the most traditional type of cooperation, occurs when a developed country supports economically or with another kind of resources a less favored one, for example, with financial aid during a natural disaster or a humanitarian crisis.

Triangular cooperation, as the name implies, involves three actors, two from the South and one from the North. The latter, which can also be an international organization, provides the financial resources so that the countries of the South can exchange technical assistance on a specific topic.

For example, in what is considered a successful experience, Japan International Cooperation Agency (JICA) made it possible financially for demining Cambodian experts to travel to Colombia and exchange their knowledge and experience in that field. Both Cambodia and Colombia had a major issue with anti personnel-mines in different moments of their history.

4. What is the importance of South-South cooperation?

“Innovative forms of knowledge exchange, technology transfer, emergency response and recovery of livelihoods led by the South are transforming lives,” said the Secretary-General in November 2018, during the inauguration of the 10th South-South Development Expo at UN Headquarters in New York.

“The facts speak for themselves”, António Guterres said. The countries of the South have contributed to more than half of the world's growth in recent years; intra-south trade is higher than ever, accounting for more than a quarter of all world trade; the outflows of foreign direct investment from the South represent a third of the global flows; and remittances from migrant workers to low and middle income countries reached 466 billion dollars last year, which helped lift millions of families out of poverty.

The UN chief believes that the ambitious and transformational 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development can not be achieved without the ideas, energy and tremendous ingenuity of the countries of the Global South.

5. What can South-South cooperation achieve?

Together with political dialogue and financial cooperation, South-South cooperation has promoted a large number of knowledge and expertise exchanges through programs, projects and initiatives that have helped solve specific problems in the countries of the Global South.

Last November, the UN Office for South-South Cooperation published a document gathering more than 100 successful experiences that have contributed to the development of countries around the world.

The publication contains examples from all regions of the world that demonstrate the potential success of South-South cooperation such as Cuba's support in the fight against Ebola in West Africa; Mexico's experience in diversifying corn products to improve health and nutrition in Kenya; the knowledge of strategies to reduce hunger shared by Colombia to Mesoamerican countries; and the lessons from Chile to the Caribbean countries on product labeling as a measure to end obesity, among many others.

UNOSSC
Doctor examining child in Cambodia, member state of the South-South cooperation. 

6. What is going to happen this week in Argentina?

The Member States will meet again in Buenos Aires for the Second High Level Conference on South-South Cooperation, BAPA+40, to review four decades of trends and launch a  new strategy in order to implement the 2030 Agenda.

BAPA+40, provides a unique opportunity to review the lessons learned since 1978, identify new areas and mechanisms where South-South and Triangular cooperation can add value and have a greater impact, and commit to build an adequate and systematic follow-up in the framework of the United Nations system.

For three days, world leaders will meet to discuss a political declaration that is expected to call for an increase in South-South cooperation, as well as an institutional strengthening of reporting and monitoring systems for this type of partnership.

The event will also feature panel discussions and a pavilion of different countries that will share successful experiences, demonstrating the effectiveness of this type of cooperation, and the potential of the ideas of the countries in the Global South.

7. How can I participate in the discussion?

You can follow live coverage of the event on UN Web TV.

If you miss anything, all on-demand videos related to BAPA+40 can be found here: http://webtv.un.org/meetings-events/conferencessummits/second-high-level-united-nations-conference-on-south-south-cooperation-20-22-march-2019-buenos-aires-argentina/

On social media, you can comment, tweet, and participate using the hashtags: #BAPA40; #SouthSouthCooperation; and #SouthSouth.

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Gaza investigators call on Israel to review ‘rules of engagement’ as Gaza protest anniversary looms

INTERNATIONAL, 18 March 2019, Human Rights - Human Rights Council-appointed investigators urged Israel on Monday to revise its military rules of engagement, shortly before the one-year anniversary of the start of mass demonstrations at the country’s border fence with Gaza, that have left hundreds of Palestinians dead and thousands more injured. 

Speaking in Geneva, Santiago Canton, Chairperson of the Commission of Inquiry on the 2018 protests in the Occupied Palestinian Territory, explained what the panel knew about the Israeli Defence Force’s relevant military protocols with regard to demonstrators. 

“Under the rules, they could be shot in the leg at any moment,” he said. “While in theory, this key inciter status was to be conferred only when the crowd was posing an imminent threat to life, in reality - and that has been one of the main findings of the Commission - that was rarely the case.”

Mr. Santiago’s comments followed his assertion that the panel’s “main conclusion…is that we found reasonable grounds to believe that the Israeli Security Forces committed serious violations of human rights and international humanitarian law”.

During last year’s demonstrations in the Gaza Strip - referred to as the “Great March of Return and the Breaking of the Siege” - the Commission found that 189 Palestinians were killed, 183 with live ammunition. 

Victims included children, persons with disabilities – including a double amputee who was shot and killed while sitting in his wheelchair - journalists and medical personnel.

Less than two weeks from the anniversary of the beginning of the protests, the panel’s concern is to avoid a repeat of deadly demonstrations such as those on 30 March, 14 May and 12 October. “We hope that the international community gets involved in order to avoid more killings and more shootings during the anniversary,” Mr. Santiago told reporters after his address to the Human Rights Council earlier in the day. “I think that is why this presentation was important. It’s important that Israel change the rules of proceedings and stop the shootings, basically.”

‘Triggers were pulled 6,000 times’

In addition to those killed during weekly protests at the border fence with Israel, the UN panel underscored the damage caused by high-velocity bullets, which replaced the rubber bullets initially used against demonstrators.

“In the case of many of the killings, there were very small entry wounds and huge exit wounds,” Commission member Sara Hossain said. “We also have detailed evidence about the kinds of bullets, but also about the use of long-range sniper rifles, sophisticated optical aiming devices,” she added. 

“We know that the target could be magnified in the sight of the snipers, so they could know the consequences of at least some of the shootings. But nevertheless, triggers were pulled, and the trigger was pulled more than 6,000 times.”

Asked about the legality of targeting unarmed protesters in a crowd, the Commission insisted that doing so based on individuals’ membership of an armed group was unlawful.

“We believe that in situations of crowd control and in situations that we deem to be civilian in nature, if there are individuals in the crowd that may be a legitimate target, you still cannot shoot at the crowd, because you may kill or shoot innocent individuals”, Mr. Santiago said.

Israel probe into 11 incidents welcomed

The Commission also welcomed inquiries into 11 incidents which Israel has said it will undertake, although Ms. Hossain called for more transparency.

“On the nature of investigations, for the ones from Israel, they have announced that there are these 11 incidents...but that is after one year,” she said. “And there is no announcement as to the progress of those investigations and we think that there is at least a moral obligation to disclose what the outcome of those is.”

The issue of demonstrators launching incendiary kites and balloons from Gaza was also covered in the Commission’s report to the Human Rights Council, Ms. Hossain said, noting that “significant property damage” had been caused in southern Israel.

In a related development on Monday, Human Rights Council-appointed Special Rapporteur Michael Lynk warned of an impending “humanitarian catastrophe” in Gaza linked to the “stifling restrictions” on the Strip’s residents.

“Israel has maintained a hermetic air, sea and land blockade around Gaza, controlling who and what enters and leaves the (Gaza) Strip,” Mr. Lynk told the Council. “For nearly five million Palestinians living under occupation, the degradation of their water supply, the exploitation of their natural resources and the defacing of their environment, are symptomatic of the lack of any meaningful control they have over their daily lives.”

A major concern is the “collapse of natural sources of drinking water in Gaza and the inability of Palestinians to access most of their water sources in the West Bank”, the Special Rapporteur said.

Scale of Gaza victims’ needs is immense, warns UN health agency 

Coinciding with developments at the Human Rights Council on Monday, the World Health Organization (WHO) appealed for $5.3 million to help the many thousands of Gazans hurt and handicapped in the demonstrations.

“The sheer magnitude of trauma needs in Gaza is immense; every week injured patients continue to arrive at hospitals requiring complex long-term treatment.” said Dr Gerald Rockenschaub, head of WHO’s office for the Occupied Palestinian Territory.

WHO reiterated concerns that the upcoming one-year anniversary of the Great March on 30 March could result in further casualties and an increase in people requiring trauma care and rehabilitation services.

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