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Yemen prisoner release boosts hopes of peace at last for war-weary civilians

Welcoming the development, UN Special Envoy for Yemen, Martin Griffiths, said he hoped that it would lead to both sides meeting “in the nearest opportunity” to resume the discussions on a future exchange, as per the UN-led deal signed by their representatives in the Swedish capital last December.

Describing the release of conflict-related prisoners as a “unilateral” move by Ansar Allah – the official name of the Houthis – Mr. Griffiths said he hoped that the move “will lead to further initiatives that will facilitate the exchange of all the conflict-related detainees as per the Stockholm Agreement”.

In addition, he urged the parties “to expedite the release, transfer and repatriation” of prisoners, while welcoming “previous steps” taken by the Government of Yemen and the Arab Coalition that led to the release of Yemeni minors”.

Under the terms of the Stockholm Agreement, some 7,000 prisoners were due to be swapped by both sides.

The other key elements of the deal covered the pull-back of troops from the Red Sea port of Hudaydah – a vital aid, fuel and medical lifeline for millions of Yemenis – and the deescalation of fighting in Taizz city.

Since fighting escalated in Yemen in March 2015 when a Saudi-led coalition lent its support to the embattled Government of President Hadi, UN data indicates that out of nearly 20,000 civilians injured, 7,537 non-combatants are confirmed to have been killed.

In its latest report covering the period 6-19 September, the UN human rights office, OHCHR, verified 47 civilian casualties, including 18 killed and 29 injured.

It also noted that the highest civilian casualties were recorded in Hudaydah, where it described the situation as “alarming – particularly in terms of on-ground armed clashes”.

The same two-week period also saw three extrajudicial killings in Aden; two by the Security Belt Forces (SBF) and one case attributed to forces loyal to President Hadi, OHCHR said, citing hostilities and armed clashes “in many parts of the country”.

Prisoner release is positive step, says Red Cross

In a statement, the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) confirmed that the prisoner release had taken place on Monday, describing it as a “positive step”.

In total, 290 detainees were freed, ICRC noted, including 42 survivors of an attack reportedly by the Saudi-led coalition, on Dhamar detention facility in central Yemen earlier this month; a former community college building.

“We are always ready to act as a neutral facilitator in the release of detainees when we receive a request from the parties to the conflict,” said Franz Rauchenstein, ICRC head of delegation in Yemen.

The hope is that “this operation opens the door to further releases to bring comfort to families awaiting reunification with their loved ones”, he added.

According to the Red Cross, a medical staff member was present prior to the release to make sure the detainees were fit to travel.

Two released detainees were transferred to their areas of origin by Yemeni Red Crescent Society ambulances, it noted.

Between April and August this year, the Red Cross said that it had also secured the transfer of 31 minors previously held in Saudi Arabia, from Ma’rib in northern Yemen, to Sana’a, the Houthi-held capital, where they were reunited with their families.

A Saudi national detainee with a health condition, was repatriated to Saudi Arabia with the Red Cross’s help, it said, while seven Yemeni detainees held in Saudi Arabia who were also suffering from various ailments, were also sent back to Sana’a.

‘We need to stand up now’ for the elderly: urges UN rights expert on World Day

By 2030, 1.4 billion elderly people globally will outnumber youth – a big rise from 2017, when that figure stood at 962 million. 

Numbers in the developing world are seeing the steepest hikes. In South-East Asia alone, the elderly account for nearly 10 percent of the population as of 2017, compared to eight percent in 2010. This number will continue to increase, with older people expected to make up 13.7 percent of the population by 2030, according to regional World Health Organization (WHO) data. 

Given this “demographic revolution”, greater attention must be paid to specific vulnerabilities the elderly face, the UN Independent Expert on the enjoyment of all human rights by older persons, Rosa Kornfeld-Matte, said in a statement. 

Unlike refugees, women and children, persons with disabilities or other groups, older persons are not protected by any specific human rights instrument; which may explain the lack of representation of the unique challenges faced by the elderly, in terms of global policy, including the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), she explained.  

“We need to stand up now for older person’s rights” Ms. Matte pressed, “while we aspire to live for as long as possible, we do not want to age. Pervasive gerontophobia, the fear of age-related self-degeneration and death, nurtures prejudice against older people, discrimination and ultimately the denial of human rights in older age.” 

Disparities in old age reflect an accumulated disadvantage, stemming from location, gender, socio-economic, health and income factors, the UN says. 

The Day’s theme this year, “The Journey to Age Equality”, aims to empower older persons in all dimensions of development, including promoting their active participation in social, economic and political life as a means of ensuring their inclusiveness.  

The 2019 focus on equality is in line with the 2030 Sustainable Development Agenda, specifically SDG 10, the target to reduce inequality within and among countries and ensure equal opportunities for all.  

Urging all to defend the rights of older persons, Ms. Matte said “We all are duty bound to ensure that future generations – our children and grandchildren – as they grow older, are seen as valuable contributors to society. 

“Young people, those in positions of power today, need to realise that they too will age. It is for them to shape older people’s reality and the future they want,” she added. 

Millions of Afghans have ‘voted not just for a president, but also for democracy’, UN Assembly told

Congratulating his fellow Afghans for exercising their right to vote, even some who had had their fingers cut off by the Taliban in previous polls,” Mr. Mohib wholeheartedly thanked the “brave and professional Afghan National Defense and Security Forces for protecting that right.”

Indeed some 70,000 soldiers protected the citizenry and “because of their professionalism, most of the attacks – and all attacks that were intended to inflict mass casualties on civilians – were averted.”

“The next step in the journey to peace will be taken by Afghans, just as the first step was,” he continued, giving credit to Afghan women, “the first Afghan citizens to unite nationally around an agenda for peace.” Indeed, this past February, some 15,000 women from 34 provinces had been consulted on what would be acceptable to them in any peace agreement.

Mr. Mohib went on to highlight the historic national consultations that had been held in April and told the Assembly that as Afghanistan prepares to take the next step forward in the process, “we are committed to the principles of inclusivity, sustainability and dignity.

“No Afghan,” he said, “will truly be able to live in peace and freedom, until the day that every single Afghan lives in peace and freedom. It is the day we know we achieve with our international friends and partners.”

“Increasingly, Afghanistan is a country driven and defined by the expectations of its youth,” he said, explaining that this generation of young Afghans had been born and raised in war. “We are the new Afghanistan … We believe in our abilities to bring about peace we have hoped for all our lives.”

He said the message of the Afghan people to the “Taliban and their foreign sponsors is: join us or we will continue to fight.” Thanking the country’s international friends and partners that had supported the peace effort, he stressed the Afghan people have demanded a ceasefire immediately to stop the bloodshed and that talks must take place between the Government and the Taliban.

Stressing the need to extinguish the ideologies behind terrorism, he called for stronger institutional cooperation and collective security which considers the nexus of transnational criminal activities as a whole, including the flow of terrorist fighters, their recruitment and resources that allow them to remain lethal. 

Mr. Mohib went on to underscore the effects of climate change and humanitarian crisis, saying that Afghanistan, a predominately agricultural economy, has felt tremendous adverse effects of climate change. 

Prolonged drought has been a matter of life and death, driving many out of their homes and into severe poverty, he noted, recalling the upcoming Conference of the Parties to the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change (COP25) meeting in Chile in December.

UN General Assembly President upholds value of multilateralism in speech closing annual debate

Tijjani Muhammad-Bande underscored the value of multilateral cooperation in addition to what he described as “the give-and-take spirit” that defines it.

“It is perfectly legitimate to raise questions about the essence of, and the need for, multilateralism,” he said.

“All the same, even when we disagree on how the world should be organized to respond to or anticipate mounting challenges, we shall eventually come to common cause on the need for a rules-based international order.”

Indeed, the broad participation in this year’s General Debate had shown that far from being an out-moded principle, multilateral cooperation remains an accepted and reliable method of managing relations among nations.

The debate began on Tuesday and saw active participation by Heads of State or other senior officials from 192 of the 193 UN Member States.

While the General Assembly is the UN body where these countries have equal representation, Mr. Muhammad-Bande pointed out that only 16 had women deliver their national statements.

“When we speak of a representative United Nations, this is clearly not what we mean,” he said, calling for wider participation of women.

“By a representative UN we mean a body that allows every human being to realize his or her fullest potential, unhindered by his or her gender or by history of advantage. Gender equality in the contemporary world is still a work in progress. We therefore need to double our efforts to speed up the process of including women, not only in decision-making structures but also in the list of speakers billed to address this high-level forum.”

This year’s high-level week was marked by five major summits on global challenges such as climate action and universal access to health care.

Mr. Muhammad-Bande recalled that young people also made their voices heard during this period, with millions worldwide taking to the street for the global climate strike. They also took over the General Assembly for a Youth Climate Action Summit.

“Let me assure you, youth, we hear you,” he said. But that ‘I hear you’ does not mean you should lower the volume. You should continue to make your voice heard at every opportunity you have

Another summit underlined the need for additional financing to realize the promise of the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) before the deadline of 2030.

World leaders adopted the 17 SDGs four years ago with the aim of eradicating extreme poverty, promoting greater equality and protecting the environment for the benefit of all people, but also the planet.

As another $2.4 trillion is needed to meet these commitments, the General Assembly president suggested countries could work to curb illicit financial flows which siphon $2.6 trillion annually from the global economy.

“We must also accord good governance high priority,” he said. “This is to ensure that corruption does not continue to derail progress and fuel conflict as we approach the year 2030,” he said.

DPRK reports ‘little progress’ since historic June 2018 summit with US

Kim Song, head of the country’s delegation, observed that more than a year has passed since DPRK leader Kim Jong Un and US President Donald Trump issued a joint statement following a historic summit in Singapore in June 2018.

It included security guarantees from Washington while the DPRK, also referred to as North Korea, committed to complete denuclearization of the Korean Peninsula.

“However, the relations between the DPRK and the US have made little progress so far and the situation of the Korean peninsula has not come out of the vicious cycle of increased tension, which is entirely attributable to the political and military provocations perpetrated by the US resorting to the anachronistic hostile policy against the DPRK,” Mr. Song said.

“It depends on the US whether the DPRK-US negotiations will become a window of opportunity or an occasion that will hasten the crisis.”

Last year also saw strides in the relationship between the DPRK and its neighbour to the south, the Republic of Korea.

Pyongyang and Seoul held three summits in 2018 covering numerous measures included denuclearization, but also on bringing an official end to the Korean War, which began in 1950. Although fighting ended three years later, the sides failed to reach agreement on a peace treaty.

Mr. Song reported that the inter-Korean dialogue has also flatlined, and he blamed “the double-dealing behavior of the South Korean authorities”, as evidenced by joint military exercises conducted with the US.

“The improvement of inter-Korean relations can only be achieved when the South Korean authorities put an end to big-Power worship and the policy of dependence on foreign forces encroaching upon the common interests of the nation and fulfill their responsibility assumed before the nation by implementing the inter-Korean declarations in good faith,” he stated.

On the development front, Mr. Song informed that his country is part of the global push to create a better world for all people and the planet.

He said the DPRK is taking efforts to achieve the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) “through vigorous struggle to build a powerful socialist country, upholding the banner of self-reliance”.

He further stressed the need for all 193 UN Member States to create a peaceful environment to realize the Goals by 2030.

In this regard, Mr. Song expressed his country’s solidarity with nations including Syria, Cuba and Venezuela.

‘Are we ready for the age of disruption?’, Thailand’s Foreign Minister asks UN Assembly

that it is the duty of those representing their countries to preserve and protect the livelihood of the “generation of the future”, Mr. Pramudwinai said that the world is witnessing “a sea change”, with many challenges and opportunities.

The irony, continued the Foreign Minister, is that in a world where connectivity and interconnection are the norm, reaching out is considered a weakness, rather than strength.

Nevertheless, the Fourth Industrial Revolution has arrived, he said, “irrespective of our preparedness, bringing with it an avalanche of technological advancements that will have far reaching and weighty ramifications on all matters affecting our lives.”

This is the reason that Thailand, which is chairing the Association of South-East Asian Nations (ASEAN), has adopted the theme of “Advancing Partnership for Sustainability”, explained the Foreign Minister, embodying the notion of long-term and sustainable advancements for mutual benefit, rather than short-term gain.

Reflecting on the key summits held during the high-Level week of the General Debate – in particular those on Universal Health Coverage, Climate Action, and the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) – Mr. Pramudwinai noted that Thailand now ranks sixth globally in terms of universal health coverage,

The country has also pressed successfully for the ASEAN region to take a collective stand on marine debris, and ratified the 2015 Paris climate agreement; and adopted a Sufficiency Economy Philosophy as its approach to implementing the SDGs, which strives for balance between development and progress, and social factors and coherence: “Without balance the road out of economically deprived existence for millions will lead nowhere”.

Because peace and stability are necessary prerequisites for these issues, Thailand, the Foreign Minister said, along with the other members of ASEAN, is pushing for partnerships, and turning conflicts into cooperation, to enable development and progress to be sustainable: “Essentially, it is our duty to give partnership and cooperation a chance, to prove that, with a different mindset, peace and common benefits can be achieved”.

The counter-globalism movement was described by Mr. Pramudwinai as “the elephant in the room” that the world can no longer ignore, which includes “ethnophobic populism”, which stems mainly from people’s disenfranchisement from economic globalization.

For this reason, Thailand is promoting “people-centric” policies as an essential part of its economic and social policies, he continued, and fostering a development model that “leaves no-one behind”, because to do otherwise would lead to “the implosion of the economic order and widespread calamity”.

Mr. Pramudwinai concluded by warning that history has shown that great powers must know their limits and accompany their strength with a sense of responsibility and accountability.

Without due regard to this lesson, he said, the world will “remain trapped in the vicious circle that has brought this esteemed body into existence in the first place”.

Timor-Leste Foreign Minister highlights value of UN in resolving conflicts

The UN helped guide the south-east Asian country to independence in May 2002 after years of occupation by Indonesia following the departure of colonial ruler Portugal in 1975. 

“We have a historical relationship with the UN. The UN has a permanent and very special place in our hearts,” Mr. Babo Soares stated. 

“Timor-Leste continues to be an example of the best the UN has to offer to resolve conflicts and maintain peace and the legal international order when its Member States join efforts.” 

The Foreign Minister outlined some of the achievements of the “young democracy” which continues to engage in areas such as rule of law, good governance and human rights. 

Gender equality and parity are also “fundamental objectives”, with women constituting nearly 40 per cent of the country’s parliamentarians. 

“We have adopted a plan of action  against gender-based violence, including an integrated victim support programme, the promotion of economic empowerment programmes and awareness-raising campaigns,” he added.

Regarding regional developments, Mr. Babo Soares said Timor-Leste and Australia this month concluded talks on the ratification of a treaty on maritime boundaries. 

“Timor-Leste continues to have strong and special co-operation ties with our nearest neighbours, Indonesia and Australia. We have deepened our relations not only with Indonesia and Australia, but also with all ASEAN members and we serenely await a decision on our request to join this organization,” he said, speaking about the Association of South-East Asian Nations.

Like other small island developing states, Timor-Leste is on the frontlines of the climate crisis.   

Mr. Babo Soares spoke of some of the impacts already being felt, such as an extended dry season which has affected crop yields. In response, the Government is devising policies related to sectors such as renewable energy, forest conservation and promotion of organic farming. 

Timor-Leste is also doing its part in global efforts to achieve the 17 Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), which seek to benefit both people and the planet. 

The Foreign Minister said while poverty eradication is a key priority, challenges persist, and the Government is working to attract investment that will support transformation.   

He pointed to progress in tackling pollution and stamping out plastics use. 

“With respect to preservation of the environment, including ocean conservation, Timor-Leste has adopted a Zero Plastic Policy, which is one of our national campaigns against pollution. We are also in the process of establishing a plastic recycling plant that will allow Timor-Leste to become a plastic-neutral country” he said.

“My country acknowledges, and fully supports, the current multilateral negotiations on the Biodiversity of areas Beyond National Jurisdiction (BBNJ).  We hope that they will result in a collective consensus, and that a legally binding international instrument is adopted to ensure the distribution of the benefits from a collective asset of humanity.”

Stage set for successful 2020 Burundi elections, Foreign Minister tells General Assembly

Mr. Nibigira declared that there is an increasingly favourable climate for free, transparent and calm election, and warned that any attempt by other countries to interfere with the elections would be an attack on Burundi’s sovereignty.

Several “positive gestures” from the authorities towards ensuring peaceful elections, were outlined by Mr. Nibigira, including the promotion of freedom of expression and allowing new political parties to exist; the decision of Burundi’s President, Pierre Nkurunziza, not to stand in presidential elections scheduled for 2020; the reintegration of refugees and political exiles; and the release of more than 2,000 prisoners since the beginning of the year.

However, “foreign actors”, declared the Foreign Minister, are attempting to destabilize Burundi ahead of the elections; support those who attempted a coup against President Nkurunziza in 2015; and distract the people of Burundi from the core matter of the elections, and the implementation of a national development plan.

Burundians, he continued, are opposed to all foreign interference in national affairs.

Turning to security, Mr. Nibigira described the situation as “stable, calm and under control throughout the whole territory,” with Burundians in all parts of the country enjoying their full civic and political rights.

Burundi, he said, welcomes the large-scale, voluntary return of refugees who fled the country in 2015 which, he said, demonstrates a return to peace, calm, confidence, and the stability of the country.

The Foreign Minister reiterated his Government’s call for Burundi to be removed from the UN Security Council’s agenda, and called for reform of the body which, he said, by denying the African continent of a permanent seat, is depriving 1.2 billion Africans of the same rights enjoyed by citizens of the current permanent members.

Concerning the UN 2030 Agenda. Mr. Nibigira said Burundi is integrating the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) into its national development plans, as well as local and regional plans, and will produce regular reports on the implementation of the SDGs.

The Minister called for more ambition, action and resources to make the Agenda a reality, adding that the climate crisis is compromising decades of progress.

On the subject of peace operations, Mr. Nibigira said that, while they are not perfect, such operations remain very useful for the maintenance and consolidation of world peace. For that reason, Burundi called for adequate, sustainable and flexible budgets to allow UN and African Union peace missions to successfully conduct their operations.

“Burundi, which contributes some 6,000 men to peace missions, reiterates its commitment to continue its substantial contribution to peacekeeping operations throughout the world”, thus returning the favour to countries that supported Burundi during the most difficult periods of its history.

“My country, Burundi, has never stopped believing in international solidarity, multilateralism and a rejection of “might is right” diplomacy”, concluded Mr. Nibigira.

Monday's Daily Brief: Hopes rise for peace in Syria and Yemen, UNGA speeches end, Guterres saddened by India flood deaths

Constitutional Committee breakthrough offers ‘sign of hope’ Syrians

There is a “sign of hope for the long-suffering Syrian people” as a Syrian-led, Syrian-owned, credible and inclusive Constitutional Committee is set to start deliberations next month, the United Nations Special Envoy for the country told the Security Council on Monday.

As the “first concrete political agreement” between Government and opposition groups, it “implies a clear acceptance of the other as an interlocutor”, said Geir O. Pedersen. “It commits their nominees to sit together in face-to-face dialogue and negotiation, while at the same time opening the space for civil society at the table”.

Get our coverage here.

UN chief saddened by death toll, displacement in India, due to major flooding

The UN chief said on Monday he was “saddened by the loss of life” across the Indian states of Uttar Pradesh and Bihar over the past few days, due to heavy rains which sparked major flooding.

More than 100 have reportedly died since Thursday. In a statement issued by his Spokesperson, Secretary-General António Guterres, said the rains had also caused  “displacement of people and destruction of property due to monsoon rains and associated flooding”.

“He extends his condolences and solidarity to the families of the victims, to the Government and people of India and wishes those injured a speedy recovery”, said the statement.

 Mr. Guterres said the UN stood ready to work with the authorities “as they respond to the humanitarian needs resulting from this ongoing monsoon season.”

Curtain closes on UN General Debates

As the 74th General Assembly Debate comes to a close, the UN body’s President declared multilateralism “the only guarantee” of peace and sustainable development for the future.

“The world will not survive for long unless we cultivate the give-and-take spirit which is a distinct and defining attribute of multilateralism,” Assembly President Tijjani Muhammad-Bande told delegates.

“It is gratifying to note that even those who are a bit skeptical about the direction of multilateralism acknowledge this much. Active participation in the General Debate by 192 of our 193 Member States is the clearest indicator of the acknowledgement of the interdependence between and among nations”, he added.

The Assembly chief went on to praise world leaders and General Debate participants for strides made in the climate dialogue, elimination of nuclear weapons, and global finance, among others.

Full story here.

Yemen prisoner release boosts hopes of peace at last for war-weary civilians

Hopes for a possible end to the war in Yemen are growing slightly, following news that nearly 300 detainees have been released as a gesture of goodwill by Houthi forces, pitted against the Government of Abd Rabbu Mansour Hadi.

Welcoming the development, UN Special Envoy for Yemen, Martin Griffiths, said he hoped that it would lead to both sides meeting at “the nearest opportunity” to resume the discussions on a future exchange, as per the UN-led deal signed by their representatives in the Swedish capital last December.

Read the full story here.

First group of vulnerable refugees evacuated from Libya to Rwanda

A group of 66 vulnerable refugees have been successfully evacuated from Libya to Rwanda, the UN’s support Mission in Libya (UNSMIL) announced on Sunday, making the group the first to benefit from the recently-implemented Emergency Transit Mechanism.

After landing at Kigali International Airport on Thursday morning, all were granted asylum-seeker status, pending assessment of their refugee claims by the UN’s refugee wing (UNHCR).

In total, 26 of the evacuees were children, nearly all unaccompanied, hailing from Sudan, Somalia and Eritrea. One of the youngsters had not been outside a detention centre for more than four years.

International Day recognizes pivotal role of multilingualism for peace

The world is paying tribute to the work of language professionals, who play a vital role in all international relations and dialogue for peace, on International Translation Day, observed 30 September.

Transposition of a literary or scientific work between languages, and interpretation are indispensable to preserving clarity and productivity in international relations and interpersonal communication, the UN says.

The UN is one of the world’s largest employers of language professionals, employing several hundred language staff between New York, Geneva, Vienna, Nairobi and other regional commissions.

Listen to or download our audio News in Brief for 30 September on Soundcloud:

UN Mission in Haiti calls on protestors, authorities, to refrain from violence

At the dailypress  briefing in New York, he told reporters that the UN Mission for Justice Support in Haiti, known by its acronym MINUJUSTH, was calling on everyone to “refrain from the use of violence”.

According to news reports, a deepening economic crisis along with chronic food and fuel shortages has seen thousands take to the streets, demanding the resignation of President Jovenel Moïse.

Opposition leaders called for a nationwide day of resistance to the Government, reportedly urging supporters to take the streets, after a demonstration on Friday when several homes and businesses were set on fire, with police firing tear gas at protesters. Several have died during clashes in the past few weeks.

Meanwhile, on Saturday, Bocchit Edmond, the Minister for Foreign Affairs of Haiti, told the General Assembly, that the President was making efforts to pursue a Haitian national dialogue towards resolving the crisis.

However, he cautioned that “Haiti will not be able to recover without substantial, sustained, sustainable, coherent, well-coordinated and effective support from the international community.”

While praising the work of the Haitian National Police, which “has done its utmost to provide security to the Haitian people, State institutions and private property”, the UN peacekeeping mission continues to closely follow recent developments.

At the same time, MINUJUSTH and international partners are in discussions with local participants to find a peaceful way out of the situation and alleviate the suffering of the population, which Mr. Dujarric said, “has been bearing the brunt of this crisis”.

UN presence in transition

Back in June, the Security Council approved a resolution to create a UN “Integrated Office” in Haiti to support the country’s Government in strengthening political stability and good governance.

It will be run by a Special Representative, who will assist the Government with planning elections; human rights training for Haitian National Police; responding to gang violence; ensuring compliance with international human rights obligations; improving prison oversight; and strengthening the justice sector.

Using the French acronym BINUH (Bureau Intégré des Nations Unies en Haïti) the Office will replace MINUJUSTH on 16 October, putting an end to 15 years of peacekeeping presence in the country.

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