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DR Congo: days ahead ‘critical’ to ‘historic election process’ Security Council hears

INTERNATIONAL, 11 January 2019, Peace and Security - With millions in the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC) demonstrating “their commitment to the political process”, the days ahead are “critical” to what has been an “historic election process”, the top UN official in the country told the Security Council on Friday.

Leila Zerrougui, Special Representative and head of the UN Stabilization Mission (MONUSCO), said that Congolese voters had shown “impressive maturity” and patience during the presidential poll, which finally took place on 30 December, two years later than originally planned.  

“We must, therefore, show our collective solidarity with them, as the electoral process is finalized, and as the Democratic Republic of the Congo prepares to undertake the first peaceful transfer of power in the country’s history”, Ms. Zerrougui said via video conference.

The provisional election result declared Felix Tshisekedi the winner on Wednesday, but another leading opposition candidate, Martin Fayulu – who heads the Lamuka coalition - has now formally challenged the vote in court, accusing the authorities of electoral fraud. This opposition to the vote, said Ms. Zerrougi, had the potential “to provoke disorder throughout the country”.

According to Ms. Zerrougui, all national and international observation missions, as well as MONUSCO teams deployed on the ground, reported that despite technical, logistical and security problems, citizens had not been hindered in exercising their right to vote, adding that the delayed publication of results, had not led to any breakdown in public order.

She told the Council that reactions to CENI’s announcement had been “swift and varied”, and welcomed Mr. Tshisekedi, who vowed to be a president “for all Congolese”.

‘Supreme sense of responsibility’ must prevail

Ms. Zerrougui told Council members there had been some “serious security incidents”, including violent protests in Kwilu province that have reportedly left at least twelve dead. She said that MONUSCO teams were being deployed there to determine the facts and “engage with a view to de-escalating tension”.

Injuries, arrests and unverified deaths were also reported in Kisangani, the country’s third largest city, and several locations in Kasai province. Meanwhile a “tense situation” also prevails in several Kinshasa communes.

“I deplore all such acts of violence, and appeal to the Congolese people and security forces alike to exercise calm and restraint in this critical period”, she underscored.

With the final results expected to be announced within a week, she said she would “continue to discharge my good offices, engaging with all Congolese stakeholders, to reinforce the need for calm and recourse to established judicial proceedures and to emphasize that a supreme sense of responsibility must prevail through the days ahead.”

UN Photo/Eskinder Debebe
Leila Zerrougui (on screen-left), Special Representative of the Secretary-General and Head of the UN Organization Stabilization Mission in the Democratic Republic of the Congo (MONUSCO), briefs the Security Council on 11 January 2019.

'Overriding goals' reached by Congolese people: CENI

Also via video link, Corneille Nangaa, President of the Independent National Electoral Commission (CENI), spoke at length of the tremendous difficulties throw up by the long process towards polling day and beyond, adding that “there was not a single decision that was not challenged”.

Notwithstanding the significant snags, 40 million voters were successfully registered, and the election took place amid relative calm.

He underscored that “three overriding goals” had been achieved by the Congolese people: a refusal to accept changes to the constitution; resisting the desire for a third term the current Head of State, Joseph Kabila, who has ruled for 18 years; and that for the first time in nearly 60 years, there would now be a transfer of power at the highest level.

Mr. Nangaa paid tribute to 32 CENI staff who gave their lives in service to the democratic process, concluding that CENI “has done what it was able to do.”

Speaking in the chamber on behalf of the African Union (AU), Fatima Kyari Mohammed informed the Council that while there had been as many as 75,000 polling stations and the AU was only able to dispatch an election mission to a limited number, reports from there had been positive.  

She elaborated that the polls opened on time; all materials were available; polls were carried out in a calm and peaceful atmosphere; candidate representatives were present; and the election was conducted within the legal framework.

Joseph Malanji, Foreign Minister of Zambia, enumerated some of the “historical challenges” that the election process had thrown up, including a warehouse fire just days before the poll that destroyed thousands of voting machines, an Ebola outbreak in the east, and continuing violence.

Notwithstanding these hurdles, he made clear that the elections were managed in a “peaceful and calm atmosphere.”

Bishop urges 'path of true peace'

In contrast, Bishop Otembi of the Catholic Bishops’ National Episcopal Conference of the Congo (CENCO) said that their analysis of the presidential election did not correspond to the CENI-announced results.

Church authorities, which play a powerful role in Congolese society, deployed around 40,000 monitors for the 30 December vote.

The bishop called for the Security Council to express its solidarity with the Congolese people, and invited the UN body to request the publication of official notes from each polling station, so that the tallies and data could be compared with those of CENI, to remove all doubt.

He urged the Council to invite the parties in the potentially fraught days ahead, to favour "the path of truth and peace".

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‘Critical test’ for North Korea’s Government as civilian suffering remains rife, warns UN rights expert

INTERNATIONAL, 11 January 2019, Human Rights - The human rights situation in Democratic People’s Republic of Korea – DPRK - remains “extremely serious”, and along with international demands for denuclearization, this constitutes a “a critical test” for the year ahead, a senior UN-appointed expert said on Friday.

Tomás Quintana was speaking in his capacity as UN Special Rapporteur on human rights in DPRK, commonly known as North Korea; his press conference was held in the South Korean capital, Seoul, as he continued to be denied access to its northern neighbour.

The whole country is a prison - anonymous statement provided to UN expert Tomás Quintana

“Of those who left the North recently that I interviewed during this mission, every person gave accounts of ordinary people being subjected to exploitative labour and serious human rights violations such as forced evictions in the name of development,” he said. “Stories were told to me of people, including children, being subjected to long hours of labour where they were forced to work without remuneration…. One person concluded: “the whole country is a prison.”

Mr. Quintana urged the DPRK authorities to engage with his mandate and allow him to visit the country “to hear the voice of the people and the authorities”. 

Many ordinary people ‘being left behind’

He detailed personal testimonies gathered during his five-day mission about “political prison camps” which contain “thousands of people” accused of committing crimes against the State.

Their detention happens without “due process guarantees or fair trial, in a manner that amounts to enforced disappearances with the family not knowing their whereabouts”, the Special Rapporteur explained, before highlighting that people’s “fear” of being imprisoned was “very real and deeply embedded in the consciousness of the ordinary North Korean people”.

Surveillance and close monitoring of ordinary citizens is also a fact of life in DPRK, Mr. Quintana continued, as well as other restrictions on basic freedoms, not least the prohibition on leaving the country.

His comments follow a historic meeting between DPRK leader Kim Jong-Un and US President Donald Trump in Singapore last June, which focused on denuclearization talks.

Humanitarian aid remains ‘vital’

Noting that Kim had stated that “improving people’s standard of living radically” was a priority in his New Year message, Mr. Quintana said that this might represent “recognition” of economic and social hardships for ordinary people.

It “represents an important first step towards taking action to address the challenges,” the UN expert said, before calling on the international community to continue to support the “vital” humanitarian assistance that was being provided by various actors to the people of the DPRK. 

“In particular, it is important that humanitarian cooperation is extended without politicization and in full respect of the principles of neutrality and independence,” he said, reiterating a call to the UN Security Council to ensure its sanctions do not have a detrimental impact on the people of the DPRK.  

The findings of Mr. Quintana’s latest report will be delivered to the Human Rights Council in Geneva at its next regular session which begins in late February.

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Thousands risk lives fleeing fighting in Syria’s last ISIL stronghold

INTERNATIONAL, 11 January 2019, Humanitarian Aid - North-east Syria is seeing increasing numbers of civilian casualties and large-scale displacement amid intensifying efforts to defeat extremists from ISIL, otherwise known as Da’esh, in Deir-ez-Zor governorate, the UN refugee agency, UNHCR, said on Friday.

Speaking to journalists in Geneva, spokesperson Andrej Mahecic warned that, in recent months, clashes and airstrikes in the eastern governorate’s Hajin enclave – once part of an ISIL stronghold straddling the Syria and Iraq border – have forced tens of thousands of people to flee northwards in search of safety.

“Over the past six months more than 25,000 people have been displaced in that part of the country, said Mr. Mahecic. ‘We have seen an increase, especially with the escalation that has occurred in the course of December.”

Babies are among the dead, 'too weak to survive'

Those at risk include “many” women, children and the elderly, the UN official said, adding that many families reaching the safety of Al Hol refugee camp in north-east Syria near the border with Iraq had risked their lives to do so. “The dangerous and difficult journey and the conditions inside the enclave are reported to have led to the deaths of six children – all under 12 months.  Most died after arriving at Al Hol, too weak to survive,” the UN spokesperson explained.

Emergency health teams in the camp are tending to “wounds, amputated limbs, injuries and frostbite”, Mr. Mahecic continued, before adding that some of those fleeing the fighting had spent “four nights or more” in the desert, in heavy rain and cold weather, with barely any belongings. “People coming out of the conflict zone do also have wounds that have been inflicted. We also know that many of them tell us that they have been targeted while they were fleeing.”

Urging all parties “and those with influence over them” to ensure freedom of movement and safe passage for displaced families, the UNHCR spokesperson explained that the crisis is far from over.

“This is still going on and people are arriving daily,” Mr. Mahecic said. “Through the desert, trying to move through the different checkpoints and reach safety in the camps and other areas outside the conflict zone.”

Together with its partners, UNHCR teams inside Syria prioritize protection for unaccompanied or separated children, while also identifying and helping those in need of medical assistance. Tents and other essential relief items are provided to new arrivals, while communal facilities are being scaled up to prepare for an expected increase of arrivals from Hajin.

“It’s estimated right now that 2,000 people remain in the conflict-affected area of Hajin,” Mr. Mahecic explained. “Those fleeing report increasingly desperate conditions, with diminishing services and extremely high prices for basic foods. We are worried for civilians who continue to be trapped in ISIL-held areas.”

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‘Everyone must be on board’ for peace in Central African Republic: UN’s Lacroix

INTERNATIONAL, 10 January 2019, Peace and Security - The agreement by the Government and armed groups in the Central African Republic to hold talks later this month (CAR) is “an important step to resolve the country’s crisis”, said the UN peacekeeping chief, Jean-Pierre Lacroix, on Thursday.

“Now there is a path, it is the path of dialogue. There is a date to start this dialogue, it's 24 January,” said the head of the Department of Peace Operations (DPO), speaking to reporters in the capital Bangui. “There is an organization…which will convene and organize these discussions in Khartoum, it is the African Union,” he added.

Mr. Lacroix has been in the country since Tuesday, alongside the African Union (AU) Commissioner for Peace and Security, Smail Chergui, in a bid to revive a stalled peace process. During his visit, he appealed for all international actors to ensure that 2019 is “the year of peace” for CAR.

Speaking before departing the country, Mr. Lacroix said that all Central Africans needed to be involved, adding that “everyone must be on board and everyone must be mobilized for it to succeed”.

He called for a “period of dialogue and commitment to ensure that the country can turn the page of the violence”, highlighting the importance of the apparent momentum that represents a “chance for the Central African Republic”.

For his part, African Union Commissioner for Peace and Security, Smail Chergui, underlined "everyone's" commitment to implement the initiative. "This is the moment, it is a historic moment for all, really, to stand together and look to the future of this country," he added.

CAR has been grappling with violence since fighting between the mostly Christian anti-Balaka militia and the mainly Muslim Séléka rebel coalition broke out in 2012. While a peace agreement was reached in January 2013, rebels seized the capital that March, forcing then President François Bozizé to flee.

According to the UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA), in 2019, 2.9 million people, more than half of whom are children, will need humanitarian and protection assistance; more than 63 per cent of a population of 4.6 million. 

Concerned with the security, humanitarian, human rights and political crisis within the country and its implications for the region, the UN Stabilization Mission in CAR, MINUSCA began operating in 2014 under Chapter VII of the UN Charter.

With the protection of civilians as its utmost priority, Chapter VII provides for the use of force – meaning, with Security Council authority, peacekeepers may respond to acts of aggression in kind.

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FROM THE FIELD: One teen's journey from refugee camp to US school principal

INTERNATIONAL, 10 January 2019, Migrants and Refugees - After escaping from two years of captivity at the hands of Mai Mai rebels in eastern Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC), Bertine Bahige was relieved to end up in a UN refugee agency (UNHCR) camp, in faraway Mozambique.

He’d been forcibly taken from his family at 13, and thrown into the horrifying world of being a child soldier, before escaping his captors.

In 2004, he was one of the lucky ones to be resettled in Maryland, United States, where he landed a job taking out the trash at a fast-food restaurant. Eventually, his hard work, intelligence and enduring optimism landed him a university scholarship – way out in the Rocky Mountains.

Speaking at the UN last year in support of the Global Compact on Refugees, Mr. Bahige shared the fascinating story of how he went from a child aspiring to become a doctor in the DRC, to an elementary school principal in Wyoming with a wife and two children of his own.

“All refugees are asking for is an opportunity,” he said. Read the story here.

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Storms and snow in Lebanon worsen plight for Syrian refugees

INTERNATIONAL, 10 January 2019, Migrants and Refugees - Storm-force winds and snow across Lebanon have worsened the plight for tens of thousands of Syrian refugees who’ve been forced from their homes by nearly eight years of conflict, a top UN humanitarian official said on Thursday.

Speaking to journalists in Geneva, Philippe Lazzarini, Resident and Humanitarian Coordinator for Lebanon, said that refugees had been moved from shelters - including in the exposed Bekaa valley where wintery conditions are especially acute - to safer facilities, after Storm Norma hit at the weekend.

“Some of the settlements have been completely flooded, very cold, it’s extremely inclement conditions, and to describe daily life, it’s just miserable,” he said.

What’s important is, if returns are taking place, it takes place in an environment where people feel confident enough to go back and where you have the necessary trust - UN Coordinator Philippe Lazzarini

Although the number of Syrian refugees officially hosted by Lebanon is more than 900,000, registration ended in 2014, and it is estimated that the real figure is between 1.2 and 1.3 million.

Around 70 per cent live under the poverty line, Mr. Lazzarini said, noting that this was in fact an improvement on 2017, when the number was even higher.

This high ratio of refugees to nationals – around one in four – would be “unthinkable and unacceptable” anywhere else, the UN official said, before playing down “tensions” between host Lebanese communities, 10 to 20 per cent of whom live below the poverty line.

Rejecting suggestions that the refugee situation alone was responsible for discontent within the country, the Resident and Humanitarian Coordinator noted that its leaders have been in “deadlock” and unable to agree on a power-sharing arrangement for effective central governance, despite elections last year.

“Today I would say there is an atmosphere of anxiety in the country which is very much related to the political deadlock,” he said. “The inability to put in place a cabinet, the inability to decide and put in place the long-overdue reform, combined with the economic situation, combined with the geo-politics in the region and the refugees.”

International support and solidarity for the Lebanon situation remains strong, Mr. Lazzarini insisted, amounting to up to $1.5 billion per year since 2015.

Nonetheless, he cautioned that eight years into the crisis, humanitarian funding “might have reached a ceiling” and that other longer-term development funding may need to be found, notably for education projects requiring a minimum four-year investment.

For returnees, ‘trust’ paramount

Asked about how many Syrian refugees have chosen to return to their war-scarred country, the UN official explained that only 16,000 to 17,000 registered with authorities in Damascus during 2018 – a slight increase on the previous year, when no more than 13,000 went home.

Suggestions that the UN had prevented people from doing so were incorrect, he insisted, noting that the organization ensured that returnees had all the “necessary documentation” they needed, such as birth and marriage certificates, to avoid difficulties reintegrating back into Syrian life.

“Ultimately people will decide if yes or not, if they are confident enough to return,” he said. “What’s important is, if returns are taking place, it takes place in an environment where people feel confident enough to go back and where you have the necessary trust.”

Latest UN figures indicate that there are more than 5.6 million Syrian refugees outside the war-torn country; Turkey hosts most, at 3.6 million.

Next is Lebanon, at more than 900,000, followed by Jordan (670,000), Iraq (250,000) and Egypt (130,000), while North Africa shelters 35,000.

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More attacks, ‘persisting security challenges’ threaten progress in West Africa, Sahel

INTERNATIONAL, 10 January 2019, Peace and Security - A rising number of attacks by extremist groups, using more sophisticated tactics, risk undermining progress in West Africa and the Sahel, the region’s UN envoy told the Security Council on Thursday.

“Military solutions, while necessary, are not sufficient,” Mohamed Ibn Chambas, the Special Representative for West Africa and the Sahel (UNOWAS), pushing for holistic responses, “grounded in the respect of human rights, and the socioeconomic needs of the population in the affected areas.”

In breaking down some of the most pressing challenges, he highlighted:
  • In the Chad Basin, there have been increased Boko Haram attacks in recent months, notably against military installations. Also, violent clashes between farmers and herders continue, but on a lesser scale.
  • Burkina Faso: Against the backdrop of a significant rise in security incidents, a state of emergency had been declared in seven of the country’s 13 regions in the north, west and east.
  • Niger: Despite mass mobilization of defense and security forces, they are “continuing to face challenges in the west and south.”
  • Niger, Benin and Togo: “Increased attacks and kidnappings by extremist groups are heightening security risks”.

Against the backdrop of high population growth, worsening youth unemployment and economic austerity measures, including the elimination of subsidies in some countries, Mr. Chambas underscored that “rising insecurity has placed a heavy burden on governments in the region”.

Rising insecurity has placed a heavy burden on governments in the region – UN Special Representative for West Africa and the Sahel 

The Special Representative outlined that UNOWAS was working to advance the region’s long-term stabilization goals, cooperating closely with regional partners, within the framework of the last year’s new UN Integrated Strategy for the Sahel (UNISS).

He also noted that while “laudable progress” was made in implementing the Council’s 2017 resolution for a regional response to the Lake Chad Basin crisis, “more support is needed to advance the stabilization efforts in the Sahel”.

Elections: ‘A litmus test’

Beyond the “persisting security challenges” Mr. Chambas lauded presidential elections in Mali last year, regional elections in Mauritania, and voting across Togo and Cote d’Ivoire, while underscoring that “despite appreciable progress in democratic consolidation in the region, continuous efforts are needed to address contentious issues around elections”.

Indicating that this was of particular importance over the next six months as the region would conduct “several high-stake elections” in Nigeria, Senegal, Mauritania and Benin, he called the next cycle of regional elections “a litmus test for the consolidation of democratic gains”.

Mr. Chambas pointed out that women continue to be discriminated against and marginalized from political processes, saying that they “comprise less than 15 per cent of parliamentarians in several countries of the region”.

He also expressed concern over human rights challenges, particularly allegations of human rights violations by security forces, as well as the increasing re-emergence of self-defence groups, “whose actions have been fueling intercommunal tensions”.

“Through inclusive approaches predicated on national ownership, we must continue to work hard on addressing the governance deficits, the extreme poverty and lack of development that feed and sustain armed violence and extremism”, concluded the UN Special Representative.

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THE COMMITTEES: ‘All roads lead to the Fifth’

INTERNATIONAL, 10 January 2019, Peace and Security - At the United Nations, there is a popular saying – all roads lead to the Fifth – the “Fifth” here is the General Assembly’s main Administrative and Budgetary Committee, where all financial and programme matters concerning the UN system, are discussed. In this feature series on the work of the General Assembly, the UN body made up of all 193 Member States, UN News gives you an inside look at the critical work of the Fifth Committee.

Ambassador Gillian Bird, the Permanent Representative of Australia to the UN and the current chair of Fifth Committee, explained the unique role of the Committee to UN News in an exclusive interview.

“The Committee is responsible for all of the administrative and budgetary matters of the UN, every year it considers and approves the Organization’s budget,” she said.

Given the enormity of the issues it has to consider – from reports of the Board of Auditors and overseeing the UN’s expenses and human resource management, to financing UN peacekeeping operations – delegates and staff often find themselves in UN Headquarters at weekends and burning the midnight oil on week nights.

Ambassador Bird, who earlier in her diplomatic career served as a delegate to the Fifth Committee, said that her priority as the chair is to try to move away from this stressful 24/7 work schedule.

“I think we all work better if we are not working around the clock and on weekends.”

During its current, 73rd session, the Fifth Committee successfully concluded the main part of its work on 22 December, having started on 9 October.

Late last month, the General Assembly plenary acted on the recommendations of the Fifth, adopting 16 resolutions, including two resolutions on the scale of assessments, one for the regular budget and another for peacekeeping. Details can be found here.

The Assembly also approved $651.24 million for the UN’s special political missions, a recommendation that came straight from the Fifth Committee.

What is ‘scale of assessments’? 

The scale of assessments is the share each UN Member State is obliged to pay to the regular and peacekeeping budgets of the Organization.

The term “scale of assessments” refers to the amount of money that the General Assembly determines should be assessed to finance the approved appropriation, divided among Member States, to pay expenses.

The “scale of assessments” is considered in depth every three years. It is determined based on the recommendations made by the Committee on Contributions to the General Assembly, for the body’s final approval.

UN Photo/Michael Ali
Peacekeepers serving with the United Nations Organization Stabilization Mission in the Democratic Republic of the Congo (MONUSCO) partner with local organizations to provide medical and nutritional care to orphaned and otherwise vulnerable children in North Kivu province.

Working by consensus to find common ground

Another unique characteristic of the work of the Fifth Committee, is that it strives to make all its decisions by consensus. This working style is not a firm rule, but more of a tradition and a practice at the Fifth, and at times the discussions move into so called “informal informals”.

Chairperson Bird explains: “Delegations discuss in a really informal setting, for example the nearest available sofa, to try to find common ground.”

The negotiation process, is not easy, as Member States might have quite different positions or views on particular topics”. So, it does require a lot of patience and perseverance on the part of delegates, as well as a sense of creativity and the common desire to reach an outcome,” she said, noting that there are sometimes vote, but not many.

“Working by consensus sometimes makes negotiation more challenging but it does seem to create a sense of collegiality among delegates that I haven’t really seen in other committees or processes, it also leads to outcomes where everyone shares ownership”, added Ms. Bird.

For intrepid readers who want to know more about the fine details, go here: The Process of Informals in the Fifth Committee

Heavy workload

While the main part of the Fifth Committee’s work concludes before the end of the year, because of its heavy workload, delegates get together once again in March and for a second resumed session to deal with administrative and budgetary aspects of UN Peacekeeping.

In addition to topics above, the agenda of the Fifth Committee this year includes reviewing the administrative and financial functioning of the UN; the programme budget for the biennium 2018-2019; improving the UN’s overall financial situation; the pattern of conferences; the UN pension system; administration of justice at the Organization; and the administrative and budgetary coordination of the UN with the specialized agencies and the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA).

Full list and related documents here.

MONUSCO/Alain Likota
MONUSCO's medical personnel celebrated International Human Rights Day with free medical consultations at Kabare Prison, in the Democratic Republic of the Congo. 10 December 2018.

Officials and the secretariat

Alongside Ms. Bird as the Chair, are three vice chairs, elected by the Committee. This year, the vice chairs are Fabio Esteban Pedraza-Torres (Colombia), Andre Lipand (Estonia), and Haseeb Gohar (Pakistan). Hicham Oussihamou (Morocco) is the current Rapporetur, tasked with preparing the Committees report.

The officers are supported by a team of UN Secretariat staff, serving as the secretariat to the Fifth Committee. The current Committee secretary is Sharon Van Buerle.

Find resources, navigating the UN system, to reach Fifth Committee resources

The Fifth Committee, like other Main Committees, uses UN PaperSmart, the Organization’s online platform providing delegates access to core documents. For delegates, Committee information, speaker lists, requests (and other resources) are all available through the e-deleGATE portal.

On the UN Official Document System, Fifth Committee documents are numbered using the pattern “A/C.5//.” For example, the document A/C.5/73/1, contains the agenda items allocated to the Committee. All official documents are issued in the six main languages.

Official and open meetings of the Committee are carried live in UN Web TV.

Additional information can be found at the Committee’s website here.

You can read our other in-depth explainers on the crucial work of the General Assembly Committees below:

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‘We cannot lose momentum’ on the road to peace in Yemen, UN envoy warns

INTERNATIONAL, 9 January 2019, Peace and Security - “The difficult part” of reaching a lasting political settlement in Yemen “is still ahead of us” said the UN Special Envoy on Wednesday, urging the Security Council to support the “speedy implementation” of the fragile ceasefire agreed in and around the crucial port city of Hudaydah, at breakthrough talks in Sweden last month.

Martin Griffiths told Council members he was “under no illusion that these are very sensitive and challenging days” for both the Government coalition, and opposition Houthi leaders, “and for Yemen as a whole.”

Mr. Griffiths updated the Council that since the consultations in Stockholm, President Abd Rabbo Mansour Hadi and Abdelmalik Al-Houthi, leader of Houthi opposition movement Ansar Allah, have recognized the meetings “as an important step towards a comprehensive resolution to the conflict” and were determined to build on that progress through more dialogue.

Noting that the 18 December ceasefire in and around Hudaydah had been largely adhered to, Mr. Griffiths said the fighting was now “very limited” compared to the clashes beforehand, which threatened the lives of hundreds-of-thousands of civilians living inside the Houthi-held port and city.

“This relative calm, I believe, indicates the tangible benefit of the Stockholm Agreement for the Yemeni people and the continued commitment of the parties to making the agreement work,” he asserted.

The special envoy credited the Council’s “swift authorization” of December’s  resolution 2451, and rapid deployment of ceasefire monitors as “a clear signal to the parties and the Yemeni people of the international community’s desire to turn the agreement into facts on the ground” and hoped that security arrangements and the humanitarian access routes agreed in Stockholm will be implemented swiftly.

This relative calm, I believe, indicates the tangible benefit of the Stockholm Agreement  -- UN envoy

Turning to the major city Taiz where the two sides have battled for control for more than three years, the UN envoy recalled its “enormous historic significance” and called its people a driving economic and cultural force.

“Civilians in Taiz have suffered far too much for too long, and the destruction in the city has been terrible”, he underscored. “The flow of humanitarian aid needs to increase, and people need the chance to rebuild”, he added, pointing out that the Stockholm consultations provided a platform for this.

On the prisoner exchange agreement, Mr. Griffiths said that although implementation has been “gradual and tentative”, the UN was working with both parties to finalize the lists each submitted in Stockholm and would follow up with talks on 14 January in Amman, Jordan.

“I hope these talks will allow many thousands of prisoners to go home and be reunited with their families”, he said, asking for the Council’s support in encouraging the parties to “overcome any challenges that may be encountered along the way.”

Mr. Griffiths lamented that no consensus was reached on the Central Bank of Yemen or opening the Sana’a airport, which would significantly contribute to the economy and help relieve humanitarian suffering.

“I continue to work with the parties to resolve them,” he maintained, urging both sides to “exert restraint in their media rhetoric”.

With the goal of reaching a lasting political settlement, Mr. Griffiths said “Sweden was just a start” and that it was important to keep up the momentum in moving the process forward.

Calling speedy implementation “crucial”, he stressed that a lot of work needs to be done “before the parties can reach a comprehensive peace agreement”.

The UN envoy spelled out: “We need to convene the next round, but we need substantive progress on what was agreed in Stockholm”.

“Progress in Sweden is a basis for confidence. It would be conducive to further progress at the next round of consultations”, he concluded.

‘Implement what was agreed in Sweden’

UN Emergency Relief Coordinator Mark Lowcock was next to brief the 15-member Council and began with positive news that the Stockholm Agreement, and resolution 2451, “is already having an impact”.

Civilians in Hudaydah “are a little more confident and a little less afraid that they will be victims of air strikes or caught in crossfire as they go about their lives” he said, although, he added that the wider humanitarian situation in Yemen “remains catastrophic”.

Mr. Lowcock laid out what humanitarian agencies are doing to meet Yemen’s needs, including the World Food Programme’s (WFP) December operation, providing a record 9.5 million people with emergency food assistance.

“WFP will expand operations to reach 12 million people a month, including the 10 million most at risk of famine, and two million acutely-vulnerable Internally Displaced People (IDPs)” he elaborated.

Humanitarian agencies continue to roll back what was the world’s worst cholera epidemic last year, improve IDP living conditions, and mitigate hunger and malnutrition for 240,000 people facing catastrophic levels of food insecurity. “Altogether, operations in Yemen this year will, if funding is available, reach 15 million people – about half the population,” he informed.

He acknowledged the seriousness of WFP’s recent strong statement against the theft of food intended for civilians, seeking action from defacto authorities over food aid misappropriation, saying “Steps to improve targeting and delivery mechanisms are being taken as we speak”.

Security Council resolution status

The relief chief also updated the Council on humanitarian issues related to Resolution 2451, beginning with access.

“The humanitarian scale-up that Yemenis need will not be possible if aid workers and supplies cannot travel safely and freely to where they are needed”, he said, pointing out that enough grain for 3.5 million people had been sitting unused, possibly spoiling in the Red Sea Mills and humanitarian warehouses of Hudaydah.

“All parties must allow and facilitate safe, timely and unhindered humanitarian access, in line with international humanitarian law and the requirements of Security Council resolution 2451,” he said, saying that WFP still had nearly 500 containers stuck in Aden port.

Regarding the economy, he said: “Your resolution also points out that paying pensions and civil-servant salaries across the country is another key element of strengthening the economy.”

Situation at a glance:

  • More than 24 million people, or 80 per cent of the population, need humanitarian assistance.
  • Nearly 10 million of them are one step away from famine.
  • More than 3.3 million have been displaced, 600 in the last 12 months.
  • Only half of health facilities are fully functioning.
  • Millions of Yemenis are hungrier, sicker and more vulnerable than a year ago.
The resolution calls also on the parties to strengthen the economy and the Central Bank.

Mr. Lowcock noted that the Yemeni rial is losing value, and without intervention, the International Monetary Fund (IMF) estimates that the exchange rate is likely to slide further - devastating for the millions of people who need “food, fuel and medicines.”

Turning to additional funding for the 2019 UN Coordinated Humanitarian Response Plan, he recalled that last year, $2.4 billion, or 83 per cent of requirements, were eventually raised.

“In response to the deterioration in the situation we have seen especially over the last six months, humanitarian agencies will need even more money,” he argued.

He outlined that on 26 February, the Secretary-General would convene a high-level pledging conference in Geneva where “We are counting on all our donors to announce even more generous funding”.

“Millions of Yemenis are looking to us for assistance and protection, and we need to see more and faster progress on all the humanitarian elements of your resolution to make any practical difference to their lives” concluded the Humanitarian Coordinator.

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Guatemala: UN anti-corruption body will continue working, as Constitutional Court blocks Government expulsion

INTERNATIONAL, 9 January 2019, Law and Crime Prevention - Following the Guatemalan Government’s unilateral decision to shut down a long-running UN anti-corruption commission, its spokesperson told UN News on Wednesday that the team is looking at ways to continue to carry out its mandate,  hours after the country's highest court ruled against the Government expulsion order.

The International Commission Against Impunity (CICIG) was set up by the UN in conjunction with the Guatemalan Government, 11 years ago, and has sucessfully highlighted corruption cases involving hundreds of politicians, bureaucrats and business people. Its mandate is due to run through to 3 September this year.

“As Secretary-General António Guterres has pointed out, the CICIG must complete its mandate with respect to the international agreement reached between the State of Guatemala and the United Nations,” in line with “the decision made by the Constitutional Court,” to promote the “respect for the rule of law in Guatemala,” stated Commission spokesperson, Matías Ponce.

On Monday, Guatemalan Foreign Minister Sandra Jovel met UN chief Guterres at UN Headquarters in New York and presented him with a letter notifying him of the Government’s decision to terminate the agreement that established the CICIG, within 24 hours. Under the agreement, the mandate of the Commission was scheduled to end on 3 September 2019.

The UN chief "strongly rejected" the move, led by President Jimmy Morales, who foreshadowed this week's announcement last September, by banning CICIG Commissioner, Ivan Velasquez, from re-entering the country. The Commission has launched probes into the President's financial affairs as well as other family members. 

In a statement released on Tuesday, the Secretary-General, recalling the “important contribution of the Commission to the fight against impunity in Guatemala”, strongly rejected the contents of the letter and stated that the Government is expected to “entirely fulfil its legal obligations” under the agreement.

Mr. Ponce explained that Commissioner Valasquez - who has been continuing his job from outside Guatemala - and his team “are evaluating the different actions that will be taken to continue with the Commission's tasks”.

"At the same time", he added, "we are grateful for the support that the citizens and various movements of civil society in Guatemala, the international community, the national and international press, international aid workers, national justice authorities and the United Nations have given to the work of CICIG in Guatemala."

According to news reports, Guatemala's Constitutional Court backed the continuation of the Commission's work through this year, during all-night deliberations, after considering appeals against the Government's cancellation of its agreement with the UN. 

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