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Dozens killed and injured by new airstrikes in western Yemen, UN coordinator condemns ‘outrageous’ toll

INTERNATIONAL, 11 March 2019 - Humanitarian Aid - Reports from Yemen’s Hajjah Governorate indicate that scores of civilians have been killed following airstrikes that hit residential areas over the past two days. Medical sources suggest that at least 22 have died, with more than 30 injured during the aerial bombardment.

“We condemn these deaths and injuries unequivocally and we share our deep condolences with the families of the victims,” said UN Humanitarian Coordinator in the country, Lise Grande. “It is outrageous that innocent civilians continue to die needlessly in a conflict that should, and can be solved”, she added. 

Reportedly, the attacks took place in Kushar district, and took the lives of 10 women and 12 children. Among the 30 injured, at least 14 were under-18. Many of the injured children have been sent to hospitals in Abs district and in Sana’a for treatment and several require possible evacuation to survive.

In her statement, Ms. Grande added that “a higher percentage of people in Yemen are hungry and suffering, than in any other country.” The province of Hajjah is one of the worst impacted, with more than a million people going hungry and thousands of new cholera cases being reported on a regular basis.

“We fear that thousands of civilians are trapped between the parties [to the conflict] and lack the basic services they need to survive,” lamented Ms. Grande. 

“We’re doing everything we can to reach the people who need help in Hajjah and throughout the country,” she explained, noting that in Hajjah specifically, humanitarian organisations have distributed emergency supplies, provided access to safe drinking water and dispatched emergency mobile medical teams.

“We desperately want to help people but we are facing serious problems,” said the Humanitarian Coordinator. “We need access, visas, specialized equipment and approvals for our programmes,” she added, asking all parties to the conflict to help humanitarians do their life-saving work. 

Since conflict escalated in 2015, Yemen has been facing the world’s worst humanitarian crisis. Nearly four in five Yemenis in the country depend on humanitarian assistance and protection to survive. About 10 million people are on the brink of famine and starvation, and 7 million people are malnourished.  

The 2019 Yemen Humanitarian Response Plan requires US$4.2 billion to assist more than 20 million Yemenis including 10 million people who rely entirely on humanitarian assistance to meet their basic needs every month. To date, the response is only 4 per cent funded

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UN rights expert calls for end to ‘purgatory’ of ‘international inaction’ facing Myanmar’s remaining Rohingya

INTERNATIONAL, 11 March 2019, Human Rights - A humanitarian crisis fuelled by the suppression of basic human rights is continuing across Myanmar’s Rakhine state, a UN Human Rights Council-appointed expert said on Monday, in an appeal for alleged atrocities there to be referred to the International Criminal Court (ICC).

Presenting her latest report to the 47-Member body in Geneva, Yanghee Lee, Special Rapporteur on the situation of human rights in Myanmar, highlighted several areas of concern across the country, including grave abuses linked to the mass exodus of some 700,000 Rohingya Muslims from Rakhine in August 2017, which was sparked by separatist violence against police posts. 

A separate Council-appointed probe last year called for the prosecution of top Myanmar military commanders for genocide, crimes against humanity and war crimes. 

In reply, Myanmar’s Kyaw Moe Tun, Permanent Representative of the Republic to the UN in Geneva, rejected the Special Rapporteur’s update.

Rohingya ‘torched their own houses’ officials claim

Among her findings, Ms. Lee noted that just last week she had received a report that 24 Rohingya houses in the town of Buthidaung in Rakhine, had been burned down, which officials explained afterwards by saying that the owners had torched the properties themselves.

Under the terms of a 2018 UN led agreement between Myanmar and Bangladesh - which hosts more than a million Rohingyas in exile – Myanmar has agreed to create conditions conducive to the voluntary, safe, dignified and sustainable repatriation of Rohingya refugees. 

Today, the conditions of this Memorandum of Understanding have not been met, the Special Rapporteur said.

The deal “expires in a few months”, she added, insisting that there was “nothing to indicate that conditions have improved for the Rohingya who remain in Myanmar”.

Staying with Rakhine state, the Special Rapporteur maintained that clashes between the separatist Arakan Army and the Myanmar military had forced 10,000 people to flee since November.

“Allegations exist of fighters dressing as civilians and using civilian vehicles, landmine use, forced recruitment and forced portering, and arrest and detention of civilians suspected of being associates or sympathisers of the Arakan Army,” Ms. Lee said. “It does not appear that the situation will improve in the immediate future.”

Given the gravity of the situation, she appealed for the UN Security Council to take the international lead on the matter.

“I still firmly believe that the situation in Myanmar must be referred to the ICC by the Security Council...Victims must not be forced to wait in the purgatory of international inaction,” she said.

Exploitation of gems, timber, high on list of alleged rights violations

Allegations of misuse of Myanmar’s natural riches constituted one of the biggest areas of the Special Rapporteur’s investigations, particularly in the gemstones and timber sectors.

“Revenues from natural resource extraction needed for vital services and development being diverted to the military and its allies undermines the civilian Government, democratic reforms, the peace process, sustainable development and the realisation of rights,” the Special Rapporteur explained. 

Rohingya refugees give Council testimony for first time

For the first time, the Council heard testimonies from two Rohingya refugees, Hamida Khatun from Shanti Mohila and Muhub Ullah from the Arakan Rohingya Society for Peace and Human Rights.

“In August 2017, I fled Burma to Bangladesh when my village was attacked,” Mrs Khatun said. “My Rohingya brothers and sisters were killed, my husband and mother were killed. I’m the only Rohingya woman who could leave Bangladesh to tell you what happened to hundreds of thousands of us.”

In her comments, delivered by Lawyers’ Rights Watch Canada, Mrs Khatun added that she had “three requests for the international community: first, justice including compensation; second, to return home in safety and security including citizenship; and third, access to education.”

Rakhine problem vast and complex, says Myanmar

Myanmar told the Council that the Government had sought sustainable peace and national reconciliation, while the issue in Rakhine state was vast and complex.

“We share the concern over the plight of all affected communities due to the violence triggered by provocative, coordinated attacks of ARSA terrorists against multiple security outposts in October 2016 and August 2017,” said Ambassador Kyaw Moe Tun.

“I would like to reiterate Myanmar’s readiness to receive the verified returnees in a voluntary safe and dignified manner in accordance with the bilateral agreements with Bangladesh.”

In response to Ms. Lee’s appeal for an international tribunal to investigate alleged abuses, Mr. Kyaw insisted that his country “will not accept any call for referring the situation in Myanmar to the ICC. The Government of Myanmar established an Independent Commission of Enquiry in July last year. The Commission will investigate...as part of Myanmar’s effort to the address the issue of accountability,” he said adding that the Government “is willing and able to address the accountability issue.”

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UN chief sends condolences to families of Malawi flood victims

INTERNATIONAL, 11 March 2019, Humanitarian Aid - UN Secretary-General António Guterres has extended his condolences to the families of flood victims across Malawi, where at least 23 have died in recent days, and to the Government and citizens of the country.

In a statement released on Monday, Mr. Guterres said that he was “deeply saddened” by the loss of life and the “significant damage to people’s homes and livelihoods” caused by the heavy rains and subsequent flooding.

The UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA) estimates that the flooding has affected some 115,000 people, particularly in the south of Malawi. In a factsheet on the floods released on Saturday, OCHA warned that the number of people affected is expected to rise, as assessment teams reach new areas.

The flooding has had a major impact on power supplies in Malawi: according to media reports, the country’s main utility company, EGENCO, has said that more than 80% of the country’s available hydro-electric capacity is down.

On Friday, Malawian President Peter Mutharika declared a State of Emergency in the areas hit hardest by the rains and flooding, which followed the formation of a “tropical disturbance” over the Mozambique Channel earlier in the week.

Search and rescue teams from Malawi’s Department of Disaster Management Affairs, have been working with local partners to deliver relief to affected people, including tents, plastic sheets, maize, rice, beans, blankets and kitchen utensils, according to a statement issued by the Ministry of Homeland Security.

The United Nations expressed its solidarity with the Malawian authorities, and committed to support them as they respond to the humanitarian needs of the population: the UN response has involved several main agencies. The World Food Programme (WFP) has deployed two boats to accompany the assessment and response; the UN Childrens’ Fund (UNICEF) is providing drones; and the UN Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO), in collaboration with the WFP, will support mapping using satellite imagery.

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UN unveils global influenza strategy to prevent ‘real’ threat of pandemic

INTERNATIONAL, 11 March 2019, Health - A new UN-led plan has been unveiled to tackle the estimated one billion cases of influenza which occur each year, and protect against the “real” threat of a global pandemic, the head of the organization’s health agency said on Monday.

Announcing the revised Global Influenza Strategy for 2019-2030World Health Organization(WHO) Director-General Dr Tedros Ghebreyesus, warned that the “question is not if we will have another pandemic, but when”.

“The threat of pandemic influenza is ever-present,” he said, noting that the risk of a new influenza virus transmitting from animals to humans and potentially leading to a pandemic is “real”.

Influenza remains one of the world’s greatest public health challenges, according to the WHO, which says that the viral respiratory disease is responsible for between 290,000 and 650,000 related deaths a year.

Globalization, urbanization and mobility will result in the next pandemic moving faster and further, the agency maintains, while also underlining that those infected with the virus can face other health threats, such as heart attacks, strokes and severe pneumonia.

Outbreaks highlight pressures on poorer countries

The WHO’s 11-year plan focuses on the formulation of robust national programmes and has three goals: reducing seasonal influenza, minimizing the risk of transmission from animals to humans, and limiting the impact of a pandemic.

In addition, WHO is calling for better tools to prevent, detect, control and treat influenza, such as more efficient vaccines and anti-viral drugs.

Influenza outbreaks tend to emphasise the pressures faced by health systems in low and middle-income countries in particular, WHO says, insisting that investing in influenza-prevention measures will encourage a rapid response to many other infectious diseases.

An outbreak in Madagascar in 2002 had a 2.5 per cent fatality ratio, which is very similar to the 1918-1919 pandemic, WHO says, noting that the cost of pandemic preparedness globally is estimated at $4.5 billion a year, which is less than one per cent of the estimated cost needed to respond to a “medium-to-severe” pandemic. 

“A severe pandemic can result in millions of deaths globally, with widespread social and economic effects, including a loss of national economic productivity and severe economic burdens on affected citizens and communities” WHO says.

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Despite progress towards peace, Afghanistan facing ‘daunting challenges’ ahead of presidential vote

INTERNATIONAL, 11 March 2019, Peace and Security - The UN Special Representative in Afghanistan, Tadamichi Yamamoto, hailed on-going efforts made towards peace and the engagement of women and youth across the country, but warned the Security Council on Monday that “daunting challenges” remain.

”This year is likely to bring both numerous challenges and unprecedented opportunities,” said Mr. Yamamoto, briefing Council members on the latest report of the Secretary-General on the situation in Afghanistan and its implications for international peace and security. “Addressing the challenges, and taking advantage of the opportunities, will require the concerted efforts of the international community, with Afghanistan in the lead”, he added.

Tadamichi Yamamoto, Special Representative of the Secretary-General for Afghanistan and the head of UN Assistance Mission in the country (UNAMA), briefs the Security Council. Photo: UN Photo/Eskinder Debebe

“Tangible progress” on the peace process

Various talks aimed at ending years of conflict have taken place in past weeks, notably between the United States Government and senior Taliban officials, as well as some Afghan representatives and the militant group.

“Despite such engagements, the Taliban have not yet accepted to engage in direct talks with the Government,” lamented Special Representative Yamamoto, who also heads the UN Assistance Mission in the country, UNAMA. “I stress the imperative need for the Taliban to directly talk with the Government,” as “inclusiveness, coherence, and representativeness in negotiations are critical for success.”

Commending the efforts made by the Government to establish a “negotiating structure, including a negotiating team,” and a consultative assembly of traditional leaders, Mr. Yamamoto insisted on the importance of ensuring all efforts towards peace are “Afghan-led and Afghan-owned.”

He stressed that the “peace process must be inclusive of the meaningful participation of groups representing all segments of Afghanistan's diverse society including women, youths, ulemas (Islamic legal scholars), and community and political leaders,” adding that the rights of the victims also need to be taken into consideration.

‘Daunting challenges’ ahead of presidential elections

Afghanistan is set to hold a presidential election later this year, a critical step in further consolidating the country’s representative political system.

“The holding of the presidential election on schedule, however, will be very challenging,” noted Mr. Yamamoto, citing “widespread reports of irregularities during last October’s parliamentary elections”, and “increasing scepticism” towards the country’s two election commissions mandated with delivering “credible and timely” elections.

The Special Representative explained that new members are being selected for these two commissions and called on all candidates and political actors “to commit to respecting the independence of the two commissions to enable them to work without any interference”.

With less than five months until election day, he warned that the remaining “technical and political challenges are daunting,” including the implementation of the new Election Law, along with the holding of three other elections (provincial council elections, district-council elections, and parliamentary elections for the province of Ghazni).

“The United Nations will continue to work with Afghan stakeholders to help them ensure that the electoral process is conducted in a credible, transparent and inclusive manner. It is important, however, that Afghan institutions and stakeholders fully realize that the ultimate responsibility and ownership for elections rests with the people of Afghanistan,” said Mr. Yamamoto.

The impact of conflict on civilians

In February, the UNAMA released devastating figures showing the direct impact of the conflict on the civilians. Fighting and brutal violence claimed 3,804 civilian lives in 2018, the highest number recorded since the UN started keeping records ten years ago. In addition, 7,189 people were injured in 2018, 5 per cent more than in 2017.

UNAMA report
Number of civilian casualties in Afghanistan, 2009-2018.

“But even these figures do not capture the full human cost of the war,” Mr. Yamamoto told the Council, noting that over half the population in the country lives under the poverty line and that 13.5 million people “survive on less than one meal a day,” a situation compounded by last year’s severe drought.

Although last year, the world mobilized for the international humanitarian response in Afghanistan – 78 per cent of the funding requirements were met – this year’s humanitarian response is only 4 per cent funded to date.

Finally, Special Representative Yamamoto mentioned the illicit trafficking of opiates as “another major socio-economic challenge” threatening stability in the country. It is estimated that 10 per cent of the adult population is addicted to narcotics.

“In order to tackle this complex issue, the whole demand and supply chain needs to be addressed,” he stressed, adding that “the United Nations family remains committed to supporting the country s humanitarian and development goals”.

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‘A new chapter’ dawns for democracy in Guinea-Bissau: top UN official

INTERNATIONAL, 10 March 2019, Peace and Security - The UN’s Deputy Special Representative in the West African state of Guinea-Bissau, has congratulated politicians, voters and officials across the country for the peaceful conduct of Sunday’s national assembly elections.

Speaking to UN News in the capital Bissau, David McLachlan-Karr called it “a very positive result for the people” adding that that “people have come out to vote in large numbers, voted peacefully. There have been no reports of major security incidents around the country.”

The United Nations, as expressed in a recent Secretary-General’s report published in February and a Security Council resolution approved last week, has high hopes that this vote will help to end the political crisis that has rocked the country since 2015.

That year, then President José Mário Vaz, dissolved the government of Prime Minister Domingos Simões Pereira, whose party had won a majority in the 2014 elections. Since then, there have been seven different heads of government.

On Sunday, the Deputy Special Representative described the day as “a new chapter in the country’s democratic history. It will pave the way for the formation of a new government, and for the creation, we hope, of the right conditions for reform and for democratization, peacebuilding, and stabilization in the future.”

Preliminary results are expected on Monday night, and the official tally should be announced on Wednesday. The party that gains a majority of the seats will be invited to form a government, according to political convention.

UN watching closely

Last month, the Security Council approved a resolution which will see the closure of the UN Integrated Peacebuilding Office in Guinea-Bissau, UNIOGBIS, by the end of 2020. Mr. McLachlan-Karr said that, for the next two years, he hopes “the United Nations Mission will continue to lead good offices to ensure there is a stabilization and peace building agenda” and that it “will continue to work with the new government, continue to work with civil society and other agencies to ensure that a series of necessary reforms takes place.”

At a press conference held as polls closed on Sunday, a spokesperson for the National Election Commission, CNE, said the voting had happened in a “calm, very serene” way with “acceptable” turnout, even though final results will not be known for some days.

Early in the morning, inside some of the capital’s hotels, more than 130 international observers started being dispatched to every one of the eight regions of the country of 1.9 million people. There were 21 parties running, the biggest number in the country’s history.

Currently, only five parties have seats in the Assembly. Throughout the day, the election was monitored in various parts of the capital by various organizations, including civil society groups.

At its headquarters, UNIOGBIS set up a situation room with several members of its staff, who followed the latest news and information received from the regional delegations. The same was true of the Electoral Process Monitoring Cell, which was set up with UN support, where constant updates from 420 monitors were analyzed.

One of the key national concerns prior to the vote centred around electoral lists. In recent weeks, there had been some controversy over voters missing from official registers, despite having voter identification.

Last week, CNE, with the approval of every party, decided they wouldn’t be allowed to vote. On Sunday, the Commission said only around 2% of voters were effected.

Election day reaction

In Santa Luzia, one of the biggest neighborhoods in this city of close to 400,000 people, UN News saw voters started lining up along its unpaved roads before the booths opened at 7am local time. At 5pm as soon as the voting ended, the counting began.

In one of the most popular voting places, by the National Heroes Plaza, one of the electoral officers gave results in real time, by holding up a ballot, announce the result, and showing it to everyone gathered around.

At the end of this process, which took close to two hours, the results for that location were posted on a nearby wall.

As the sun was setting, people would stop to look, make some comments, and keep walking up toward the Presidential Palace, just a few hundred feet way. When it comes to the new occupant of that building, the people of Guinea-Bissau should choose its new resident, by October or November this year.

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UN chief ‘deeply saddened’ by Ethiopia plane crash which killed more than 150 - UN staff among the dead

INTERNATIONAL, 10 March 2019, UN Affairs - An Ethiopian  Airlines fight crashed shortly after take off from the capital Addis Ababa on Sunday, killing more than 150 people on board. The UN  Secretary-General António Guterres said in a statement that he was “deeply saddened at the tragic loss of lives” , as reports emerged that UN staff were also among the dead.

The Boeing airliner bound for the Kenyan capital, Nairobi, took off at 8:44 am local time, losing contact with air traffic control atj Bole International Airport in Addis Ababa, just six minutes later, according to news reports. The plane was reportedly carrying passengers from more than 35 different countries. 

Mr. Guterres conveyed his “heartfelt sympathies and solidarity to the victims’ families and loved ones, including those of United Nations staff members, as well as sincere condolences to the Government and people of Ethiopia”.

According to the UN Department of Safety and Security in Kenya, 19 UN staff perished in the crash. The World Food Programme (WFP) lost six staff, the Office of the High Commissioner on Refugees (UNHCR) lost two, as did the International Telecommunications Union (ITU). The Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO), International Organization for Migration (IOM) in South Sudan, World Bank and UN Assistance Mission in Somalia (UNSOM) each lost one staff member. Six staff from the UN Office in Nairobi (UNON) were also tragically killed.

The cause of the disaster is not yet known, although weather conditions were reportedly good and the plane went down in a field near Bishoftu, around 35 miles southeast of the capital.

The UN is in contact with the Ethiopian authorities and “working closely with them to establish the details of United Nations personnel who lost their lives in this tragedy” the Secretary-General stated.

The disaster happened on the eve of the UN Environment Assembly when Heads of State, environment ministers and thousands of others will convene for five days in the Kenyan capital.

UN officials express condolences, sadness

Many senior UN officials took to Social Media to express their condolences and sadness. On Twitter, José Graziano da Silva, Director General of the Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO,) sent his “heartfelt condolences and sympathies to the bereaved families”, saying that one FAO staff member was among the victims.

Executive Director of the World Food Programme (WFP) David Beasley tweeted  that “the WFP family mourns today”, revealing that WFP staff were also among those on board the flight. “We will do all that is humanly possible to help the families at this painful time. Please keep them in your thoughts and prayers”, he said.

Houlin Zhao, ITU SecretaryGeneral tweeted his "sincere condolences to the families and friends of those who lost their lives in the  plane crash" Noting that two ITU staff were on the flight, he said: "Our colleagues in Addis are providing support to their families during this difficult time."

“All of us at UNICEF mourn the tragic loss of our UN colleagues and all those who died in the Ethiopian Airlines crash today. May they rest in peace. Our thoughts are with their families and loved ones”, Henrietta H. Fore, Executive Director of the UN Children’s Fund, tweeted.

On behalf of the UN Human Settlements Programme (UN-Habitat), whose Headquarters are in Nairobi, Executive Director Maimunah Mohd Sharif tweeted here “deepest condolences and prayers to the Great Nation of Ethiopia and to the families of the passengers and crew members who lost their lives in this tragedy. May they rest in eternal peace”.

High Commissioner for Refugees Filippo Grandi issued a condolence statement saying: “UNHCR has suffered today a huge loss”.

IOM Director-General António Vitorino issued a statement expressing his deep sadness over the 157 lives lost, “including a young IOM staff member Anne-Katrin Feigl”, who “was en route to a training course in Nairobi as part of her role as a Junior Professional Officer”. 

Catherine Northing, Chief of the IOM Mission in Sudan where Ms. Feigl worked, called her “an extremely valued colleague and popular staff member, committed and professional”, saying “her tragic passing has left a big hole and we will all miss her greatly”.  

As a mark of respect IOM said it would “fly its flag at half-mast at its offices tomorrow, as will the UN and it’s agencies”.

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DR Congo: Second vicious attack on Ebola clinic, UN health chief vows to continue serving ‘most vulnerable’

INTERNATIONAL, 9 March 2019, Peace and Security - Amidst a deadly Ebola outbreak, on Saturday morning armed groups brutally attacked an Ebola treatment centre in the Democratic Republic of the Congo’s (DRC) eastern city of Butembo, prompting the United Nations health agency’s chief chief’s call “to protect the treatment centres”.

Just hours after the assault, Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, Director-General of the World Health Organization (WHO), toured the centre, which was also attacked last week, thanking personnel for their steadfast dedication.

“It breaks my heart to think of the health workers injured and police officer who died in today’s attack, as we continue to mourn those who died in previous attacks, while defending the right to health", he said. “But we have no choice except to continue serving the people here, who are among the most vulnerable in the world".

The visit came as he concluded a three-day mission to the country, along with other WHOleadership and senior United States officials who met with the President, government officials, partner organizations and local responders involved in the outbreak response. He also spoke to a group of partners, officials and staff in Butembo.

He stressed that “these are not attacks BY the community, they are attacks ON the community” conducted by “elements who are exploiting the desperation of the situation for their own purposes”.

“The people of Katwa and Butembo, as in the other communities affected by Ebola, want and deserve a place to receive care and a chance of survival”, he spelled out. “They do not deserve to suffer in their homes while infecting their loved ones, they do not deserve to suffer in inadequately resourced health centers while infecting health workers”.

After careful negotiations, health workers have been allowed in the area permeated with dozens of armed groups, according to news reports. But attacks on treatment centers greatly hinder the ability to contain the virus, as fear pushes people to flee.

“WHO has requested and received further support from UN and local police forces to protect the treatment centres” the WHO chief continued.

To conquer Ebola, he explained “we must strike a delicate balance between providing accessible care, maintaining the neutrality of the response, and protecting patients and staff from attacks by armed groups”.

Pointing out that “these are the dilemmas we face in conflict zones around the world”, he concluded by reiterating WHO’s commitment “to ending the outbreak, and “to improving the health of the people of DRC”.

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Guinea-Bissau ready for ‘peaceful, free and fair' legislative election on Sunday, says UN

INTERNATIONAL, 9 March 2019, Peace and Security - After months of preparation, on the day before casting their ballots, Guinean voters are all set for a “peaceful, free and fair” national election, the United Nations said on Saturday.

With UN support, 21 parties are battling to hold, for four years, 102 seats in the National Assembly. Preliminary results are expected on Monday.

As required by electoral law, the 21 parties paused their activities on Saturday for a day of reflection. And while t-shirts continued to be distributed and worn by their supporters, not a sound of campaign promises or candidate speeches was heard.

Speaking to UN News, the Commissioner for Political Affairs, Peace and Security of the Commission of the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS), General Francis Behanzin, said that "everything is ready", the security situation "is OK" and the "campaign happened very well".

He said that the parties are talking to each other, calling it  “a very good thing for democracy in West Africa”.

Local election monitor in Guinea-Bissau., by Alexandre Soares.

“After the election,” he concluded, “we will address the challenge of development”.

Citing, among other things, donor fatigue in raising funds for the national election, Julia Alhinho, head of public communications at the UN Integrated Peacebuilding Office in Guinea-Bissau (UNIOGBIS), told UN News “Everything is ready in spite of all difficulties”.

“We expect that it is peaceful, free and fair”, she attested.

Gearing up

From the hotels in the capital, dozens of international observers from the African Union (AU), ECOWAS, Community of Portuguese Language Countries (CPLP) and others were sent to locations deemed important to the elections’ success throughout the country. 

The UN’s technical support of the process included training 80 police officers, 400 members of civil society, 450 electoral officers and 120 journalists.

“Support of international community [is] vital and much appreciated for monitoring of free, fair and secure elections”, David McLachlan-Karr, the UN Resident Coordinator there tweeted on Friday, saying that UNIOGBIS had briefed election observers from the AU, ECOWAS, CPLP, the United States and the United Kingdom.

Pre-election Security Council visit 

Prior to the elections, the Security Council visited Guinea-Bissau last month to monitor and evaluatethe crisis resolution process in this country.

While there, the delegation met with the Speaker of the National Assembly, the leaders of political parties, the President of the National Electoral Commission, the President of the Supreme Court and representatives of civil society, as well as with President José Mario Vaz.

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International Women's Day: Empowering more women decision-makers ‘essential’, says Guterres

INTERNATIONAL, 8 March 2019, Women - Under the theme “Think Equal, Build Smart, Innovate for Change”, the United Nations hosted its flagship event celebrating International Women’s Day on Friday to recognize unsung women from across the world, and encourage innovation to transform lives.

UN Secretary-General António Guterres opened the event by enumerating some of the world’s collective challenges, “from climate change…to the weakening of commitment to multilateralism,” stressing that “gender equality and women’s rights are fundamental to addressing each of these”.

“We can only re-establish trust and rebuild global solidarity by challenging historic injustices and promoting the rights and dignity of all”, he maintained. “We can only achieve sustainable development and peace by drawing on all our assets and capacities.”

United Nations Observance of International Women's Day: , by UN Photo/Eskinder Debebe

“Gender equality is fundamentally a question of power” he stated, saying that a still male-dominated world has “ignored, silenced and oppressed women for centuries – even millennia”.

Despite women’s achievements and successes, their voices are still routinely overlooked, and their opinions ignored, with everyone paying the price for inequality and oppression. 

“Increasing the number of women decision-makers is essential”, Mr. Guterres remarked, adding that the UN has reached gender parity among its leaders around the world.

Shocking statistics

General Assembly President María Fernanda Espinosa Garcés told the event that she had mixed feelings about the Day.

“On the one hand, it is important that we celebrate the gains we have made”, she said, noting that Barbados, Ethiopia, Georgia, Romania and Trinidad and Tobago welcomed their first female leaders last year and, among other firsts, Uruguay saw its first conviction for femicide.

However, she regretted that nearly four decades after the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination Against Women was adopted and some 25 years after the landmark Beijing Declaration and Platform for Action, “we are still not even close to equal”.

On pretty much any measure of development, women are behind, she said. “Every woman and girl knows that her lived reality is very different to that of her father or brother” Ms. Espinosa said, adding: These statistics are shocking”.

We are sitting centre-stage and we have absolutely no plans to lower the volume  Geraldine Byrne Nason

Noting that just 11 years remain to reach the Sustainable Development Goals, she spelled out: “We desperately need to close the gender education gap and get more women into science and technology”.

In a bid to push women forward, she encouraged the support of grassroots organization, “to take the fight into our communities and into the corridors of power”. To boost the number and diversity of women in leadership positions, on 12 March she will convene a high-level event on “Women in Power”.

Ms. Espinosa concluded her address by recalling “Audre Lorde’s powerful words: ‘I am not free while any woman is unfree, even when her shackles are very different from my own.’”

The Chair of the UN Commission on the Status of Women, Geraldine Byrne Nason, recalled the early days of the UN, when “women were few and far between”.

“It took us quite some time for our voices to be heard and for our messages to register”, she stated, but today “we are sitting centre-stage and we have absolutely no plans to lower the volume”.

Get inspired and innovate, to lead the way

The event host and Executive Director of UN Women, Phumzile Mlambo-Ngcuka, said that “we want women and girls themselves to be inspired to innovate and influence the whole ecosystem of innovation.”

“Women are not simply consumers of prescribed solutions, they also design solutions for whole societies and they are equipped to address the issues that affect their lives”, she told the group.

She said her equality and empowerment agency was  “injecting the gender lens in the DNA of innovation” adding: “Women and girls have a vital role to play in the fourth industrial revolution, shaping the policies, services and infrastructures that affect their lives."

Education propels you to far-away places

Delivering the keynote speech, former Director of the Johnson Space Centre in the United States, Ellen Ochoa - the first female Latina astronaut - credits her education in science with propelling her into four outer space missions.

She said her mother had been a role-model who took one college course each semester for 20 years to earn her bachelor’s degree, underscoring to her family, the importance of education. Ms. Ochoa herself emphasized that it was essential that girls study science, technology, engineering, and mathematics, known as STEM.

“Engineering, development and innovation is about curiosity, creativity, working with teams and solving problems,” she explained, saying “Girls love to do those things!”

But describing the uphill struggle for women to be admitted to astronaut training programmes, she credited activists working tirelessly to change the laws, adding that she was pleased now to serve as a role model for “girls around the world who are dreaming big dreams”.

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