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FIRST PERSON: Wine still helping heal, post-Hurricane Katrina

Beth Ribblett is the owner of Swirl Wine Bar and Market in the New Orleans’ neighbourhood of Faubourg St. John. At college she studied costume design, and subsequently exercise physiology, but then decided she wanted to open a wine bar. Her business is now almost 14 years old and is focused on serving the local community. 

“Swirl Wine Bar and Market is really a post-Hurricane Katrina story. I was interested in wine for a long time and it was in my 5-year plan to open a wine-focused business, but when Hurricane Katrina devastated New Orleans, the long-term became more immediate.  

My dad raised really strong girls, giving us confidence, so I never thought that as a woman I could not achieve my goals. And as a gay woman, I have never expected any help from men and that’s the way I have lived my life. – Beth Ribblett 

I realized it was important to focus on the things that you love, so three months after Katrina struck, I decided to sign a lease and invest in the city and help bring New Orleans back to life. At that time, we didn’t know what was going to happen, whether the city was going to recover.   

Swirl became a place for people to get together to tell their stories of rebuilding, to talk about what was happening in the city, it was a community meeting place. 

The service industry and this business in particular is about relationships. Some 90 per cent of our customers are regulars, so it’s important that we build a good relationship, that we provide a great service and that they trust us.  

We are about community; one time, I had to help a passenger who had drunk too much into a cab.  

My work means making sure my customers are enjoying themselves and I also get great satisfaction from educating people about the wine we are serving. I want them to know where it’s from and the story behind the wine. This is one of the most important things we do. I always want to be learning and educating customers helps me to do this.   

ILO Photo/John Isaac
The owner of Swirl Wine Bar and Market, Beth Ribblett, samples a glass of wine.

The catering industry is male dominated, from chef to sommelier, so it can be tough for women. My dad raised really strong girls, giving us confidence, so I never thought that as a woman I could not achieve my goals. And as a gay woman, I have never expected any help from men and that’s the way I have lived my life.  

When my partner and I tried to get the neighbourhood association to agree to our license application, they fought us. If we had been a male-female couple, or if it was just a man applying, then I believe it would have been different, but we didn’t let this stop us. 

Right now, I feel as though the way women are treated in the industry has gone backwards, probably as a result of the current political atmosphere. I am sad to hear stories of men taking advantage of young women and I hate that this is still part of our business.   

I am upset that women feel they have to put up with this behavior or somehow ignore it in order to make progress. My advice to young women is to be knowledgeable, trust that knowledge, and themselves, if challenged. It requires a certain amount of fearlessness. 

Technology does not have a huge influence on our business as so much is about relationships, our conversations with customers. This type of service industry can’t be automated, you can’t have a conversation with a machine.” 

FROM THE FIELD: The Comeback Crane

Unsplash/Dan Freeman

Rapid industrialization over the past 30 years and subsequent urbanization and intensification of agricultural production in the southeast Asian country, has resulted in the over-exploitation of natural resources and the loss of habitat on a massive scale. 

While many impoverished Thai people benefitted from the development, the Eastern Sarus Crane became a casualty, as did the Spoon-billed Sandpiper and the Water Onion, colloquially referred to as ‘water lily’.  

But now all three species are thriving following the collaboration of farmers and conservationists, who found ways to carry on farming while protecting the ecosystems that they rely on.  

Read more here about how Thailand is protecting its fragile bio-diversity. 

Ending war only ‘real hope’ for prosperous Afghanistan: UN mission chief

Tadamichi Yamamoto, head of the UN Assistance Mission in Afghanistan (UNAMA), underscored that peace is the only solution to ongoing conflict which has resulted in more than 100,000 casualties over the past decade. 

“As I told the Security Council last week, whatever the outcome of the presidential election may be, peace will be the issue of paramount importance to the new administration,” he said in a statement. 

“I reiterate the call by the United Nations for everyone to raise their voices for peace, and for all stakeholders to make genuine and concrete steps toward ending the war, as there can be no military solution to the conflict in this country.” 

Inclusion of women and youth essential 

Mr. Yamamoto underlined the UN’s commitment to supporting intra-Afghan talks which uphold human rights and lead to sustainable peace.   

He stressed that women and youth must be included as they are essential for an Afghan-owned peace process, in addition to being fundamental to all ongoing peace efforts. 

UNAMA has been working with communities across the country to peacefully resolve long-standing disputes over resources, such as land and water, and Mr. Yamamoto said these efforts will continue. 

“However, only by ending the war can there be real hope for an Afghanistan with a prosperous future,” he stated. 

“The hopes and aspirations of millions of ordinary Afghans – young and old, women and men, girls and boys – rest on the shoulders of those who are striving to bring the war to an end with a lasting political settlement.”  

Civilian casualties top 100,000 

The UN mission chief lamented that the ongoing fighting continues to take an “appalling toll” on ordinary Afghans. 

UNAMA statistics show that civilian casualties recently surpassed 100,000 in the past 10 years alone, which is when the mission began systematic documentation of these figures. 

“The United Nations urges all stakeholders to seek ways to reduce levels of violence, especially the violence which harms civilians, on the way to a lasting political settlement and a permanent ceasefire,” said Mr. Yamamato, adding that “implementing a reduction of violence is also important in creating an environment which enables constructive intra-Afghan talks on peace to take place”. 

UN refugee agency welcomes move to register all births in Kazakhstan

The country this month amended its Code on Marriage and Family to allow universal birth registration for all children regardless of the legal status of their parents. 

“This will benefit children born to parents who are undocumented in Kazakhstan and people with undetermined nationality; and will also prevent children from becoming stateless in the future,” Yasuko Oda, UNHCR’s Regional Representative for Central Asia, said on Thursday.  

UNHCR explained that lack of birth registration and a birth certificate can make it difficult for a person to prove where they were born, as well as family ties, thus blocking their entitlement to the nationality of any State.  

While Kazakhstan has a birth registration rate of almost 100 per cent, children born to undocumented migrants and people with undetermined nationality were previously unable to have their births officially recorded. 

The legislative amendments follow commitments made in October at a meeting on statelessness, where the authorities pledged to improve access to birth registration procedures. 

In 2014, UNHCR launched a 10-year campaign to address statelessness called #IBelong.  Since then, agency partners have identified more than 5,000 people in Kazakhstan who could be affected, many of whom were children who lacked birth registration and birth certificates. 

So far, more than 1,500 have received assistance, 10 per cent of whom were children whose births were not registered because their parents were undocumented. 

UNCHR says millions of people around the world are stateless, meaning they are denied basic rights and official recognition.   

Although data from 78 countries puts the figure at some 3.9 million, the agency believes the number is significantly higher. 

Independent UN rights experts raise alarm over ‘incommunicado detention’ of Chinese scholar

The whereabouts of former Xinjiang University President Tashpolat Tiyip have been unknown since his detention in 2017.

“The Chinese authorities have indicated to us that Mr. Tiyip is being tried on corruption charges, that a lawyer has been hired by his relatives, and that he has not been sentenced to death,” the experts said.

While any proceedings against Professor Tiyip have been shrouded in secrecy, reports indicate that he had already been convicted and sentenced to death.

“Information that Mr. Tiyip is not sentenced to death, if it is confirmed, is welcome news”, the experts stated, reiterating their recommendation that information on his current place of detention be made public and that his family should be allowed to visit him.

The uncertainty regarding the charges against Mr. Tiyip, the conditions of his trial, and his sentencing are “matters of particular concern, especially if the information that he was sentenced to death is correct”, maintained the UN experts.

Mr. Tiyip’s trial should be independently reviewed, taking into account his right to fair trial and due process of law – UN experts

Any death sentence imposed under conditions that do not meet the most stringent guarantees of fair trial will violate international human rights law and be arbitrary.

 “Mr. Tiyip’s trial should be independently reviewed, taking into account his right to fair trial and due process of law”, they upheld, adding that “incommunicado detention, enforced disappearances and secret trials have no place in a country governed by the rule of law”.

They flagged that “the rule by law is not the rule of law”, saying that such practices go against the spirit of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, which China has signed in 1998,” the experts said.

These and other UN experts have repeatedly expressed concerns about the situation of other detainees, who appear to be mainly members of the Uyghur community and are being held without or on unknown charges in a number of facilities in the Xinjiang Uyghur Autonomous Region.

The experts have been in contact with the Chinese Government to clarify the fate and whereabouts of Mr. Tiyip and will continue to seek formal and official clarification on his situation and that of other detainees whose human rights may be violated.

The UN experts are Agnes Callamard, Special Rapporteur on extrajudicial, summary or arbitrary executions; Ahmed Shaheed, Special Rapporteur on freedom of religion or belief; Fernand de Varennes, Special Rapporteur on minority issues; members of the Working Group on Enforced or Involuntary Disappearances; and members of the UN Working Group on Arbitrary Detention.

Special Rapporteurs and independent experts are appointed by the Geneva-based UN Human Rights Council to examine and report back on a specific human rights theme or a country situation. The positions are honorary and the experts are not UN staff, nor are they paid for their work.

UN chief offers the world wishes for ‘peace and a blessed New Year’

“In these turbulent and trying times, we must stand together for peace and harmony”, said the UN chief.  “And that is the spirit of this season”. 

He told the Pontiff that his “vision, guidance and example” reflects this in abundance.

Meeting with the Pope just a few days before Christmas was especially meaningful for Mr. Guterres.

“My deepest thanks to you, your Holiness, and my best wishes, to all those celebrating, for a Christmas in peace and a blessed New Year”, he concluded.

For his part, Pope Francis advocated for building trust and goodwill among people.

“Confidence  in dialogue, in multilateralism, in the role of international organizations, in diplomacy as a tool for comprehension and understanding, is indispensable for building a peaceful world,” he said.

Likewise, the head of the Catholic Church considered that  “Christmas, in its authentic simplicity, reminds us that what truly counts in life is love.”

FIRST PERSON: Feeling the milliner’s vibe

Kai Bussant is a fashion designer and milliner in New Orleans. She refurbishes hats at the Goorin Bros store. She has multiple jobs including styling and tailoring, and is about to launch her own fashion brand. She sold her first piece of clothing when she was at elementary school.  

“I became a designer as I understand and am very comfortable with materials, and let them lead me. There are not many milliners so it’s quite a unique situation and not many people understand what it involves; so much so, that sometimes I feel as though they are asking me to be a magician when refurbishing their hats.  

Historically, millinery has been male-dominated, but I don’t believe customers are concerned about a woman working on their hat. – Kai Bussant

A lot of the work I do is hidden, so I do my best to explain to customers what is involved and what is possible.  

Historically, millinery has been male-dominated, but I don’t believe customers are concerned about a woman working on their hat. As a woman, when I’m dealing with customers, I like to be inclusive and comforting and explain the process and timeline. 

The contact with the customer is extremely important; the customer wants to understand how I work, they want to ‘feel the vibe’. 

There is a poetic process of designing or bringing a hat back to life as well as an exacting attention to detail. So, the fit and symmetry needs to be right. 

Historically, millinery has been male-dominated, but I don’t believe customers are concerned about a woman working on their hat. As a woman, when I’m dealing with customers, I like to be inclusive and comforting and explain the process and timeline. 

ILO Photo/John Isaac
Kai Bussant says that in three years’ time she expects to be the creative director of her own brand.

The contact with the customer is extremely important; the customer wants to understand how I work, they want to ‘feel the vibe’. 

There is a poetic process of designing or bringing a hat back to life as well as an exacting attention to detail. So, the fit and symmetry needs to be right. 

Technology is not playing any role in my work, as millinery hasn’t really changed since its fruition, although there are new materials and new ways to shape materials. It is important to maintain the traditional methods of creation, the craft of millinery and pass them on.  

The 2010 – 2020 UN News Decade in Review, part two

2014: UN tackles worst Ebola outbreak in history


In December 2013, in the village of Meliandou, in Guinea, a toddler named Emile Ouamouno died. It was a tragedy for his family, but the child’s death took on a much wider significance, when Emile was named as patient zero, in what became the worst outbreak of Ebola in history.

The deadly, highly contagious virus spread rapidly through Guinea, as well as neighbouring Liberia and Sierra Leone, to become known as the Western Africa Ebola Outbreak. the economies of the three countries came close to collapse, and health services were strained to their limits. Some 6,000 deaths were recorded that year, and whole communities paralysed by fear.

By August 2014, the World Health Organization (WHO) had declared the outbreak a Public Health Emergency of International Concern (PHEIC), in order to ensure a coordinated international response, release international funding, and halt the further spread of the disease to other countries.

It would take two years until the WHO was able to declare the PHEIC over, by which time it had recorded 28,616 cases of Ebola in Guinea, Liberia and Sierra Leone, and 11,310 deaths.

A 2016 independent report commissioned by WHO, noted that there had been a delay in identifying the unprecedented scale of the outbreak, and highlighted the importance of improved training for teams of health workers and improved communication between health networks.

Sadly, since 2018, another part of Africa has been contending with the second largest Ebola outbreak on record: more than 2,200 lives have been lost, amid some 3,300 confirmed infections in the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC).

The eastern part of the country, where the outbreak is centred, is also facing serious insecurity and violence, which is hampering efforts to contain the disease. Following fighting in November 2019, the WHO declared that around a third of its Ebola response team in the Beni region had been temporarily relocated, a move that would, the UN health agency warned, make the further spread of the virus more likely.

🎥 Watch the 2014 Year in Review

2015: Fresh hope for climate action

Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon (second left), UNFCCC’s Christiana Figueres (left), French Foreign Minister Laurent Fabius and President of the UN Climate Change Conference in Paris (COP21), and President François Hollande of France (right), celebrate historic adoption of Paris Agreement.


Hopes were raised for the environment in December 2015, at the adoption of the Paris Agreement on climate change. For the first time, practically all countries of the world pledged to combat the climate crisis and adapt to its consequences, which include the existential threat of global warming.

Ban Ki-Moon, the then Secretary-General, hailed the agreement as a “monumental triumph”, writing on social media that it “sets the stage for progress in ending poverty, strengthening peace and ensuring a life of dignity and opportunity for all.”

The deal was adopted following two weeks of negotiations at the COP21 UN climate change conference, covering the areas deemed necessary for a landmark conclusion: mitigation, in order to keep temperatures no more than 2 degrees Celsius higher than pre-industrial levels; adaptation, so that countries can deal better with the impacts of climate change; and support, with finance available for the most vulnerable, and poorest nations.

The adoption took place in a spirit of high emotion and hope, with tears in the eyes of many delegates. Mr Ban said that all of those involved should be proud of what they had achieved, but ended his remarks to delegates by noting that the Agreement is just the beginning, because “the work starts tomorrow”.

Four years on, the deal is still seen as a key staging post on the long road towards a cleaner, more sustainable global economy, but there have been many indicators that not enough work has been done: a host of damning environmental reports and studies have shown continuing damage to the environment, due to man-made climate change, and the likelihood that if we continue on the current path, temperatures will soar well beyond the level of 1.5 degrees, and the consequences for many will be catastrophic.

Mr Ban’s successor as UN chief, António Guterres, has made the climate crisis one of the central pillars of his mandate, instituting several initiatives that ensured the issue was given fresh momentum and focus, particularly in 2019 (more in the third and final part of our Decade in Review).

🎥 Watch the 2015 Year in Review

2016: A blueprint for a better future


For the first 15 years of the 21st Century, many of the UN’s activities were guided by the Millennium Development Goals, with eight objectives ranging from halving extreme poverty rates, to halting the spread of HIV/AIDS and providing universal primary education.

By 2015, the target year for the goals, much positive work had been achieved, but a new vision was needed. This came in the form of the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development, which was officially launched in 2016, and was designed to build on the MDGs and complete what they were not able to accomplish.

The Agenda set out a plan of action for people, the planet and prosperity, including the eradication of poverty, described by the UN as “the greatest global challenge, and an indispensable requirement for sustainable development”.

17 Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) were announced, with targets designed to bring about action in five main areas: People (eradication of poverty and hunger), Planet (protection from degradation and urgent action on climate change), Prosperity (ensuring prosperous and fulfilling lives for all), Peace (fostering societies free from fear and violence) and Partnership (in order to mobilize the means to achieve the Goals).

At the launch of the Goals, the then Secretary-General, Ban Ki-Moon, said that the SDGs represent a “shared vision of humanity and a social contract between the world’s leaders and the people. They are a to-do list for people and the planet, and a blueprint for success”.

In 2020 there will be just 10 years left to achieve the Goals and implement the Agenda, and the UN has launched a Decade of Action to speed up the process. This was announced in September 2019, at the first Summit on the progress of the Agenda, which was convened at UN Headquarters in New York.

Speaking at the closure of the two-day conference, Deputy Secretary-General Amina Mohammed said that she had drawn three concrete messages from the summit: a renewed commitment from world leaders to implement the Agenda, which she described as critical to respond to the world’s greatest challenges; an acknowledgement that the Goals are off track, and a determination to step up efforts to achieve them; and clarity on the task ahead, with a decisive decade left to “nurture more ambitious global action; local action; and people action”.

🎥 Watch more on this story and more in the 2016 UN Year in Review

Violent attack in Burkina Faso leaves dozens of women dead, draws censure of UN chief

In a statement issued by his spokesperson on Wednesday, the UN chief expressed his deep condolences to the families of the victims and wished a speedy recovery to those injured in the incursion, which took place in Arbinda, Soum province.

Moreover, Mr. Guterres conveyed the solidarity of the UN to the Government and people of the West African nation.

“He also reiterated the continued support of the United Nations to the Governments of Burkina Faso and the other countries of the Sahel region in their efforts to fight terrorism and violent extremism”, said the statement.

According to news reports, suspected Islamist militants on motorbikes killed dozens of civilians, the majority of whom were women, in an attack that lasted several hours. 

Although jihadists have been active for years in neighbouring Mali, the historically-calm landlocked nation has recently been experiencing a spate of violence.

And despite Western efforts to help regional governments combat insurgency, the violence continues. 

FIRST PERSON: ‘Big Chief’ and the million beads

Demond Melancon, also known as Big Chief, is a Mardi Gras Indian Chief of the Young Seminole Hunters group, contemporary bead artist and costume designer based in New Orleans. He started beading at 14 years old and after working in a number of different jobs – including pouring concrete on construction sites, cooking lobsters, washing dishes and cleaning cars – decided to fulfill his ambition and become an artist working with beads. 

I learnt from my elders by watching, but I’m teaching these kids in a hands-on way, showing them techniques. It feels good to pass on this culture to somebody. – Demond Melancon 

 “I’m a contemporary beader and make Mardi Gras Indian chief suits. I’ve been working with beads for 27 years. My 2018 suit is called Ethiopia and is dedicated to Haile Selassie and Empress Menen of Ethiopia. It’s all hand-beaded. There are millions of beads and it took me 365 days to complete. It weighs 150 pounds and I wear it in Mardi Gras parades and challenge other chiefs in the city. 

Beading means the world to me, man, I couldn’t live without my art. When I started, it was all about making masks for Indian chiefs in Mardi Gras, but now I realize it is my life. Growing up, I never thought I could be a contemporary artist. 

UN News/Daniel Dickinson
Over one million beads were used in Demond Melancon’s Mardi Gras Indian chief suit.

I was a hip-hop junkie, so I spray-painted my walls with graffiti all the time, so I was always doing art. But I thought I would have a job pouring concrete on a construction site, earning maybe $20 or $25 an hour, and living out my life like that. 

You learn to get a good job, go to work in the morning and make enough money to pay your bills and try to get a little extra like that.   

Then, work meant just living; right now, it means putting something into the system and not being a standing-on-the-corner type of person. I watched my mom and grandma work hard in the system; my grandma was a teacher.  

Now, I want to make them proud. But work is not just about working for someone in the system as you can be part of the economy by doing your own work and being your own boss. That’s way harder than working for somebody, I won’t lie to you. For me it means getting up at 5am and working until late at night; 1am or sometimes later than that. It means making my mom and grandma proud and not being a slug in the system. 

Mardi Gras

Mardi Gras is an annual carnival of around two weeks for which the city of New Orleans is famous.

It’s the climax of the Carnival Season in the city, falling just before the first day of Lent, which marks six weeks of religious observance up to Easter Sunday.

Big Chiefs head up the various Mardi Gras Indian tribes or ‘krewes’ and dress in a ceremonial suit to parade through the streets of New Orleans.

The Big Chiefs begin the ritual and ceremonial dancing when two of them challenge each other, demanding respect – a nod to the history of score-settling, from early Mardi Gras tradition.

I spent $7,500 on making the 2018 Mardi Gras suit and in the process lost my house, because I couldn’t make rent. I was down to eating peanut butter and crackers.

I lost my phone, I couldn’t pay for the lights and I got tired of living like that. I was too proud to ask my mom and grandma to help me get my life back on track. 

This was a turning point. I knew my art, my beading, was nice and I saw people making money from painting portraits and thought I could do that too. People saw something good in my work and started paying a nice amount of money for it.  

So, success is beginning to happen for me. My hard work is paying off, this is an important thing that I have learned, but you need to keep on working hard. 

Success means a lot, to be able to live from my work, it’s like being born again, like I’m young again. But I never lose the doubt that my shoulder begins to hurt, or I get another injury that prevents me from working.  

UN News/Daniel Dickinson
Demond Melancon is a contemporary bead artists working in New Orleans in the United States.

I’m working towards buying my own home as I don’t want to be in the same position again of possibly losing it. I want to get that house when my grandma is still here, so we can have that family feeling again. 

The future for kids now in New Orleans is different now from when I was a kid. After Hurricane Katrina, the schools have improved and there are more facilities and more opportunities, so kids are now behaving better. 

I also teach these kids. That’s important to me as it helps to keep the culture beating. I’m the first to create a contemporary art form with bead work, with Mardi Gras Indian beading. It’s my duty to teach, to keep the culture alive. I learnt from my elders by watching, but I’m teaching these kids in a hands-on way, showing them techniques. It feels good to pass on this culture to somebody.” 

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