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Security Council renews Central African Republic arms embargo

Thirteen of the 15 Council members voted in favour of the resolution, with China and Russia abstaining. 

The resolution prohibits the supply, sale or transfer of weapons, ammunition and military equipment to the country, including vehicles.   

Items for the UN peacekeeping operation there, MINUSCA, and European and French forces deployed on training missions, are exempt. 

Despite the signing of a peace deal between the Government and 14 armed groups last February, the CAR continues to experience violence and insecurity. 

The resolution was sponsored by France, and renews the arms embargo through the end of July, with the expert mandate expiring the following month. 

French permanent representative Anne Gueguen underscored support for the West African country.  

“Against a security backdrop which is still unstable, we deem it important to maintain a responsible approach and to ensure that we assist the Central African authorities in progress towards reforming security sector and towards the disarmament, demobilization and rehabilitation of former members of armed groups, as well as the management of weapons and ammunition. This is a key element for enduring peace and security”, she said. 

China explained that it had abstained from voting partly because the resolution did not fully respect the wishes of the CAR authorities. 

Noting that political and security conditions are improving, deputy permanent representative Wu Haitao said the Council should lift the embargo which “will help the CAR Government enhance its capability to maintain national safety and security, and facilitate the political settlement of the CAR issue.” 

Russia was unable to support the resolution as the text did not take all arguments into consideration, according to deputy permanent representative Dmitry Polyanskiy. 

He described the arms embargo as a “de facto obstacle” to the re-arming of the national forces, adding that “meanwhile, armed groups – the spoilers of the peace process – have no obstacles when it comes to obtaining arms through trafficking.” 

US Middle East peace plan ‘lopsided’, says independent UN rights expert

President Donald Trump announced his administration’s ‘Vision for Peace, Prosperity and a Brighter Future’ at the White House on Tuesday, which would legalize Israeli settlements in the West Bank and East Jerusalem. Israel also would be allowed to annex around 30 per cent of the West Bank.

In response, the UN underlined its longstanding commitment to realizing a two-State solution, with Israelis and Palestinians “living side by side in peace and security, within recognized borders, on the basis of the pre-1967 lines.” 

However, what the US plan offers is “a one and half state solution”, according to Michael Lynk, the UN Special Rapporteur on the situation of human rights in the occupied Palestinian territory. 

“This is not a recipe for a just and durable peace but rather endorses the creation of a 21st century Bantustan in the Middle East”, he said, referring to the homelands established for black South Africans during the apartheid era. 

“The Palestinian statelet envisioned by the American plan would be scattered archipelagos of non-contiguous territory completely surrounded by Israel, with no external borders, no control over its airspace, no right to a military to defend its security, no geographic basis for a viable economy, no freedom of movement and with no ability to complain to international judicial forums against Israel or the United States.” 

Mr. Lynk deplored the proposal to legalize Israeli settlements, and he urged countries to condemn any call to annex Palestinian territory, which is prohibited under international law. 

“This unilateral act undermines the Palestinians’ right to self-determination, and it threatens to drag the world back to darker times, when conquest was acceptable, borders could be redrawn and territorial integrity was regularly undermined”, he stated.  

Under the Trump plan, Jerusalem would remain Israel’s undivided capital, which, Mr. Lynk called distressing as it “recognizes the conquest and illegal annexation of East Jerusalem, which remains occupied territory under international law, as embedded in scores of United Nations resolutions”. 

The rights expert also took issue with proposals that would prevent Palestinian refugees from returning to their homes in Israel. 

 “Nothing in the Trump plan alters the continuing prevalence of the laws of occupation, the human rights of the Palestinians under occupation, and the absolute obligation on the international community to redouble its efforts to achieve a just, equitable and durable solution on the basis of equal rights for Palestinians and Israelis alike,” said Mr. Lynk. 

“International law remains the Northern Star, the only guide to a sustainable peace.” 

Independent experts’ role

Independent experts and Special Rapporteurs and 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.

The digital building blocks of better communities

“We need shade against strong sun and wind”, says Nsyamuhaki Joseph. “And places to enjoy arts and culture”. Mr. Joseph, a resident in the Kalobeyei Integrated Settlement in Kenya, was speaking during workshops held for residents of the site, which was set up in 2015 to cope with an influx of refugees from Sudan and other regional countries, into northern Kenya.

UN-HABITAT | Children at Kalobeyei Integrated Settlement in Kenya enjoy public spaces, improved following Block by Block workshops.

The workshop, held at the end of 2017, was part of a project to bring the refugees and locals closer together, by involving them in the process of creating public spaces, including a playground and a park, that would benefit both communities, using Minecraft.

Minecraft, one of the world’s most popular computer games, has been described as “digital lego”. It allows users to collaborate on models, based on real-life sites using textured cubes. It is also designed to be easy to learn, so that people with little knowledge of computers can quickly grasp the basics and start building.

During the two four-day workshops in Kalobeyei, host and refugee participants developed design skills by using the game and visited the physical sites they planned to improve. They then took turns sharing their ideas, and worked up a plan that included shade structures, solar lights, trees and the first boda boda (motorcycle taxi) station at the settlement.

The community has since seen a marked improvement to their environment: solar lights have been installed in the public spaces, and more than 500 trees have been planted, providing the shade requested by Mr. Joseph and others, and improving the area’s micro-climate.

Design from the bottom up

UN-HABITAT | Girls at a Block by Block workshop in Gaza design improvements to their neighbourhood.

The Minecraft initiative is called Block by Block, the name also given to a foundation run by representatives from the UN Human Settlements Programme (UN-Habitat), Mojang (the makers of Minecraft) and Microsoft (which now owns Mojang).

Block by Block began in 2012, as an idea to get community members more involved in the planning of public spaces, by using the game to develop plans that architects and municipal authorities could then turn into reality. It is one of a small number of non-profit organizations whose work directly supports Sustainable Development Goal 11 (making cities inclusive, safe, resilient and sustainable).

Since then, Block by Block, which is funded by the sale of licensed Minecraft merchandise, has taken on a range of community projects in dozens of countries, from Mogadishu to Mexico, and from Haiti to Hanoi.

Safer streets for girls in Viet Nam

UN-HABITAT | Hanoi schoolgirls at Block by Block workshop.

In the Kim Chung neighbourhood of Hanoi, Viet Nam, local girls often travel several miles every day, walking through dangerous, poorly lit areas. In 2017, Block by Block decided to include the girls in a project designed to make their daily commutes more enjoyable, and to improve their safety.

The participants started by taking part in “safety walks” to assess the dangers, and saw that common problems included inadequate lighting, dark corners, and a tunnel under a five-lane highway.

“I hate the tunnel and never like to walk through it by myself, but I have to do it at least twice per day when I go to school”, complained 15-year-old workshop participant Nguyen Ngoc Anh. “We have lots of ideas how to make it nicer so that people will learn to treat it better, and then it can be a safer place for everyone.”

The girls then worked in teams, using Minecraft to reimagine their neighbourhood a safer, more functional place, with unbreakable streetlights, lighted walkways, and improved signage. They also proposed ideas such as women-only coffee shops, shelters and security fences.

The workshop concluded with the girls presenting their proposals to NGOs and Vietnamese politicians, who went away with concrete proposal to improve the Kim Chung neighbourhood. Many of their recommendations have now become reality: three underpasses have been cleaned up, with streetlamps lighting them once it gets dark.

Bridging the gap between citizens and city leaders

UN Photo/Loey Felipe | UN-Habitat and partners are working with community members to improve the design of public spaces, using the computer game Minecraft. ​​​

As more and more people move to urban areas, it is becoming increasingly important to ensure that communities have the opportunity to participate in the ways that public spaces are planned.

Block by Block is just one example of the ways that digital technology can be used at a grassroots level, and help to bridge the gap between citizens and policymakers, and ensure that urban planners include people’s needs and desires in their decision-making process.

“UN-Habitat supports the engagement of communities in revitalizing their spaces, giving both refugees and host communities new skills”, says Pontus Westerberg, the UN-Habitat project manager for Block by Block. “Minecraft helps to make this a participatory process and gives residents room to visualize the potential of public space within their neighborhoods.”

As digital technology progresses, it is hoped that it will become easier, and more common, for community members to take an active role in the development of public spaces, and make urban planning and design more accessible to all parts of society, regardless of age, gender or ethnicity.

$1.4 billion needed this year to fund UN’s agency for Palestine refugees

Christian Saunders said the funds would provide essential services throughout 2020, including life-saving humanitarian assistance for 5.6 million registered Palestine refugees across the Middle East.

He noted that the pledges of support UNRWA received at the General Assembly in December was “an overwhelming validation of the agency and of our mandate” and stressed the importance of donors and partners matching those commitments, to allow the agency to provide refugees with “protection and those critical services considered a basic human right”.

He said UNRWA would ensure “that every penny of public funding we receive is used wisely, properly and effectively.”

Impacting Palestine refugees

In 2020, Palestine refugees in the West Bank, including East Jerusalem, Gaza, Jordan, Lebanon and Syria will “continue to face daunting human development and protection challenges” precipitated by the occupation of the West Bank, the conflict in Syria, the political crisis in Lebanon and the growing needs in Jordan, said Mr. Saunders.

“We are stretched to our limits under our shrinking budgets and the growing needs of Palestine refugees who are impacted by the same volatility and unpredictability that people face in the Middle East every day”, he said.

The funds will be used for essential core services, including infrastructure, protection, social services and microfinance as well as to contribute to the realization of the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) and the 2030 Agenda. 

Moreover, it will help to provide education to over half a million girls and boys in some 700 schools across the region and enable 8.5 million patient visits in its health facilities, similar to laast year 2019.

Until there is a just and durable solution, “we are the only agency able to provide the type of essential services that Palestine refugees are entitled to”, he maintained, calling on donors to strongly support UNRWA, and saying “your investment is very well-placed, it is an investment in a beleaguered people deserving of your continued support and it is an investment in the region’s stability”.

US proposal to end Israel-Palestine conflict

Turning to US President Donald Trump’s administration’s ‘Vision for Peace, Prosperity and a Brighter Future’ aimed to resolve the decades-long conflict between Israelis and Palestinians, the top UNRWA official said that “a lot of Palestinians are in a state of shock at this point in time, in a state of disbelief”.

The United States administration’s proposal aims to legalize Israeli settlements in the West Bank and East Jerusalem while allowing Israel to annex around 30 per cent of the West Bank

Mr. Saunders said it was “extremely unsettling for the Palestine refugees living under occupation, under blockade, and through conflict after conflict and crisis after crisis, hoping for justice and human rights, and with the constant fear that the international community will one day abandon them”.

“Today, more than ever there is a need for stability and today the international community must send a clear message to Palestine refugees and to the world at large that the international community stands firmly behind them”.

He recalled that in 2018, UNRWA’s largest donor at that time, the US, stopped its funding, cutting nearly one-third of the agency’s budget.

“The repercussions on our finances and plans were huge, but the support we received from our member States and partners was phenomenal”, he said, calling it “a true testament to the continued international commitment to Palestine refugees.”

Despite the potential implications of the loss of funding, the “incredible support allowed us to continue to provide vital services and protection to Palestine refugees”, he concluded.

Suriname’s climate promise, for a sustainable future

The South American country describes its new national plan as a “cost-effective pathway to decarbonization of substantiable economic development.”

But what does this all mean in terms of global efforts to reverse the warming of the planet? Read on for an explanation.

What are these plans and why are we hearing about them now?

Globally, 196 countries, plus the European Union, originally signed up to the Paris Agreement in 2015 which commits the international community to restrict global warming to “well below 2 degrees Celsius” and aim, if possible, for 1.5C.

It’s hoped that these ambitious targets will be met collectively by countries by setting distinct, individual or national goals known as Nationally Determined Contributions or NDCs. These NDCs are a key part of the Paris Agreement and are reviewed and updated every five years by the countries themselves. It’s now 2020, so all countries are expected to declare their amended NDCs. The Marshall Islands in the Pacific Ocean was the first nation to do so, Suriname is the second.

Is Suriname a big emitter of the greenhouse gasses which lead to climate change?

UNDP Suriname/Pelu Vidal | Forests cover 93% of Suriname’s land mass and are rich in biodiversity.

No, on the contrary Suriname stated as far back as 2014 that it had a carbon negative economy; that means that any global warming gasses it does produce, are offset by natural resources which absorb those gasses.

The South American country is 93 per cent covered by forest, which acts as a massive carbon sink; in other words, all those trees capture, or suck in, harmful carbon dioxide gas removing it from the atmosphere. Less carbon dioxide means less warming.

So why is Suriname’s update of its NDCs significant?

It’s significant on a number of levels, firstly as a statement that this small country is committed to fighting climate change but also as a reminder to other countries that they too must update their plans if the international community is going to reach the 2 degree Celsius target it agreed on in Paris five years ago.

And many of the smaller developing countries and especially island states, or those with low-lying coastal areas, are keen to push forward the new commitments because they are particularly susceptible to climate change, even though they have contributed least to the problem.

Suriname has a small population of just over half a million, and thus most infrastructure and economic activity is concentrated along its easily accessible Atlantic coast.

This coastal zone has already experienced extensive erosion and has suffered damage from heavy rainfall, flooding, higher temperatures during dry seasons and high winds; the types of natural phenomena (and in some cases disasters) which are expected to worsen with climate change.

Do the climate action plans of the world’s poorest countries account for the need for development?

Unsplash | Traffic congestion in the city of Paramaribo, Suriname. 

Absolutely, in fact all countries, rich and poor, are aiming to develop in a sustainable way by growing their economies and the wealth and social well-being of their citizens while finding ways to reverse climate change and protect the environment. So, when Suriname talks of a “cost-effective pathway to decarbonization of substantiable economic development”, it commits to maintaining the “integrity of natural forest acting as a carbon sink” while diversifying its economy with the aim of creating the conditions for sustainable development.

The significant difference between developing and developed countries is that the former, generally don’t have enough money to turn their plans into reality and that’s why richer countries and the private sector are being asked to step in and partner with the poorer countries. Suriname says its “NDC enhancement process” will cost US$696 million.

So, what are Suriname’s plans?

Suriname’s updated NDCs focus on four key areas; forests, electricity, agriculture and transport. It is committed to maintaining 93 per cent forest cover but says “significant international support is needed for the conservation of this valuable resource in perpetuity.”

Sustainable and “clean” electricity is also a priority and in its updated NDCs, Suriname has pledged to “maintain the share of electricity from renewable sources above 35% by 2030.”

Agriculture is the cause of 40 per cent of the country’s total emissions but also provides a valuable source of income. At the same time, the sector is strongly impacted by climate change, so Suriname is focusing on the development of climate-smart farming. That includes water resources management, the promotion of sustainable land management; and adopting innovative technologies, for example converting biomass into energy.

Transport is another large and growing source of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere, and plans have been announced to improve public transportation and introduce controls on vehicle emissions.

What happens next?

UNDP Suriname | Agriculture is an important part of the economy in Suriname. 

It’s hoped and expected that more countries will update their NDCs during 2020 and present them at the next major international climate conference (known as COP26) to be held in Glasgow in the UK in November.

The UN Secretary-General António Guterres has said that “in Glasgow, governments must deliver the transformational change our world needs and that people demand, with much stronger ambition – ambition on mitigation, ambition on adaptation, and ambition on finance.”

Ultimately, the meeting should give a clear indication of whether the global community is on track to meet the 2 degrees Celsius target.

Read more here how the UN is supporting countries to enhance their NDCs.

Find a list of Nationally Determined Contributions registered by Member States.

Do not confuse food charity with ‘right to food’, UN expert tells Italians, labelling food system exploitative

Despite an estimated gross domestic product (GDP) of $2.84 trillion, world-renowned innovative businesses, a large agriculture sector and modern manufacturing capabilities, smallholder farmers are being exploited in Italy, the expert said.

“Italy is very active in promoting human rights internationally, in particular the right to food, but this does not altogether resonate nationally”, said Hilal Elver, UN Special Rapporteur on the right to food.

Following conversations with people who depend on food banks and charities for their next meal, she upheld that people in agriculture “work excessively long hours, under difficult conditions and with a salary too low to cover their basic needs.”

Moreover, undocumented migrant workers are often left “in limbo” with no access to regular jobs or the possibility of renting a decent place to live. And students do not have access to school canteens because their families are too poor to pay for it.

“As a developed country and the third largest economy in Europe, such levels of poverty and food insecurity in Italy are unacceptable”, spelled out Ms. Elver.

“The Italian Government should understand food charity is not to be confused with right to food.”

Vulnerable migrant workers

Agricultural migrant workers are one of the most vulnerable groups.

Between 450,000 to 500,000 migrants work in Italy’s agricultural sector, representing about half of its total workforce.

The field is often the only sector in which low-skilled workers can find employment, and hires the highest share of illegal migrant workers.

“From the north to the south of Italy, hundreds of thousands of workers farm the land or take care of livestock without adequate legal and social protections, coping with insufficient salaries and living under the constant threat of losing their job, being forcibly repatriated or becoming the object of physical and moral violence”, the UN expert said.

She maintained that seasonal and non-seasonal workers often find in the caporalato system, which outsources the recruitment of temporary workers to intermediaries and is accused of being exploitative, “the sole possibility to sell their labour and obtain payment.”

Illicit activity

Other ways in which the black market encroaches on the Italian food system include dumping and burning contaminated products in rural areas; purchasing land with illicit cash; and using toxic fertilizers, often sprayed by workers without their knowledge.

Major distribution chains control the majority of the market and impose low prices that small-scale farmers cannot match – UN Expert

“The increase in large-scale retailing has led to a significant reshaping of the food sector, as major distribution chains control the majority of the market and impose low prices that small-scale farmers cannot match”, the expert said.

The Special Rapporteur travelled to ten cities in the regions of Lazio, Lombardy, Tuscany, Piedmont, Apulia and Sicily where she met with local authorities, migrant workers, small-scale farmers and agricultural workers, among others.

She also discussed access to school canteens with academics, teachers and students.

“They expressed the urgent need to establish a national framework for school feeding programmes to combat disparities among municipalities and ensure that all students have access to canteens, despite their families’ economic situation”, concluded the independent expert.

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 honourary and the experts are not UN staff, nor are they paid for their work.

UN chief underscores value of cooperation with Southeast Asian countries

While recognizing the organization’s contributions to peace and security, the UN chief also highlighted the need to work together to counter potential threats, including the climate crisis. 

“Given that four ASEAN Member States rank among the 10 countries in the world most affected by climate change, we look forward to strengthening our ties with ASEAN nations as they take urgent action to strengthen adaptation and build resilience to disasters,” he said. 

Preventive diplomacy efforts 

ASEAN was established in 1967 and represents nearly 650 million people, more than half of whom are under the age of 30. 

Since inception, it has been engaged in preventing disputes within the region, according to Secretary-General, Dato Lim Jock Hoi.   

“Cooperation with the UN in further enhancing our capacity to undertake preventive diplomacy measures, such as, for example, through the workshops organized by the UN in conjunction with the ASEAN Regional Forum, which has preventive diplomacy as one of its set key milestones, are beneficial”, he said. 

The UN chief pointed to recent ASEAN diplomatic efforts on the situation in Myanmar’s Rakhine state, where a reported military crackdown in August 2017 pushed more than 700,000 members of the minority Rohingya community into neighbouring Bangladesh. 

“It is essential that international efforts find a solution to the plight of displaced persons and refugees still living in desperate conditions,” he said. 

Although Mr. Guterres told ambassadors that the situation on the Korean Peninsula “remains of deep concern”, again, ASEAN has contributed to promoting peace there. 

He recalled that Singapore and Hanoi hosted historic meetings between North and South Korea. 

With Member States Indonesia and Viet Nam sitting on the Security Council, “we hope that stronger links can be built between ASEAN and the UN to advance diplomatic efforts on the Korean Peninsula”, he added. 

Strengthening cooperation for peace 

Looking ahead, he said the two partners can strengthen cooperation on peacekeeping, including in training and increasing women’s participation in peace processes. 

He added that the UN will further boost technical support to ASEAN in counter-terrorism initiatives and preventing violent extremism, among other areas. 

“I am deeply convinced of the value of ASEAN-UN cooperation for peace, security and sustainable development”, said Mr. Guterres.  

“With the presence of two engaged and dynamic ASEAN members on the Council in 2020, I look forward to our two organizations working increasingly closely together for the future we want and need.” 

Find unity ‘to halt Libya’s senseless unraveling’, UN envoy urges Security Council

“There are unscrupulous actors inside and outside Libya who cynically nod and wink towards efforts to promote peace and piously affirm their support for the UN”, Ghassan Salamé, Special Representative of the Secretary-General and Head of the UN Support Mission in Libya, told the Security Council.

“Meanwhile, they continue to double down on a military solution, raising the frightening spectre of a full-scale conflict and further misery for the Libyan people, more refugees, the creation of a security vacuum and further interruptions to global energy supplies”, he added.

Since the fall of President Muammar Gaddafi in 2011, Libya has been in the throes of ongoing instability and economic collapse, despite its large oil reserves.

Thousands have been killed in fighting between factions of the self-styled Libyan National Army (LNA) commanded by Khalifa Haftar, based in the east, and the internationally recognized government in Tripoli, located in the west.

Truce ‘only in name’

Against the backdrop of a fragile truce that temporarily reduced the violence, a summit was held on 19 January in Berlin, hoping to pave way for peace.

And while representatives of concerned countries and regional organizations –some of whom have directly or indirectly fuelled the conflict – agreed not to interfere in the country’s internal affairs and abide by the UN arms embargo, artillery exchanges have escalated significantly, leading to increased civilian casualties.

Painting a picture of indiscriminate shelling that has caused death and injury, including to children, Mr. Salamé said: “With recent developments on the ground, I regret to report that the truce holds only in name”.

Engulfing the wider region

Although participants of the Berlin Conference committed themselves to respect and implement the arms embargo established by the Council and called on all international actors to do the same, proxy involvement continues to intensify, in breach of UN sanctions.

The warring parties have continued to receive a sizable amount of advanced equipment, fighters and advisors from foreign sponsors, “in brazen violation of the arms embargo” and the pledges made by representatives of these countries in Berlin, stated the top UN official.

And last Saturday, UNSMIL issued a press release regretting “the continued blatant violations of the arms embargo in Libya, even after the commitments made” during the Conference.

He was also deeply worried over “the military reinforcements coming to both sides, raising the spectre of a broader conflict engulfing the wider region”.

‘More dangerous conflagration’

Meanwhile, the LNA has reinforced its forces along the frontlines in Tripoli with arms, equipment and infantry elements, including foreign fighters and there has been a notable increase in heavy cargo flights to Benina Airport and Al-Khadim Airbase in eastern Libya, delivering military equipment to the LNA.

At the same time, Mr. Salamé reported that thousands of foreign fighters supportive of the Government of National Accord (GNA) were flown into Tripoli and deployed alongside Libyan forces.

“The GNA forces, supported by a foreign sponsor, established advanced air defence systems throughout the western region”, he informed, adding that foreign naval assets, including warships, were witnessed off the coast of Tripoli, violating the spirit of the Berlin Conference and threatening “to precipitate a new and much more dangerous conflagration”.

Mr. Salamé urged the parties and their foreign sponsors to “desist from reckless actions and instead renew their expressed commitment to work towards a ceasefire”.

Unstable economy

The conflict is also fracturing the economy amidst failing institutions, and infrastructure.

“Libya’s national debt has now surpassed 100 billion dinars and is spiking upwards”, the UN envoy said. “Expenditures on salaries proliferate as competing authorities add to an already bloated payroll”.

Moreover, the humanitarian situation remains deeply concerning, including forced disappearances and arbitrary detention by armed groups.

“There are reports of families forced to flee, some due to their affiliation with the GNA and others due to their association with elements of the former regime”, he recounted, adding that the “fate of many forcibly disappeared Libyans remains unknown”.

Candid assessment

Mr. Salamé underscored that the crumbling situation is being done “in blatant disregard of Libya’s sovereignty, the fundamental rights of the Libyan people, and in flagrant violation of international consensus and the rules-based international order”.

He closed with a plea to Council members in the coming days, to “find your unity and your voice to halt Libya’s senseless unravelling”.

“Too much is at stake, including our collective credibility”, concluded the Special Representative.

UNHCR suspends work at key transit site in Libya

In another development reflecting the deteriorating security situation, the UN refugee agency, UNHCR, has halted operations at a site in Tripoli, out of fear that it could become a target. The agency on Thursday announced that it has suspended work at the Gathering and Departure Facility, which houses asylum seekers and refugees, after learning the police and military are conducting training exercises nearby.

Jean-Paul Cavalieri, UNHCR’s Chief of Mission in Libya, said: “We fear that the entire area could become a military target, further endangering the lives of refugees, asylum seekers, and other civilians.”

LNA forces have lain siege to southern Tripoli since April last year. The Gathering and Departure Facility was established as a transit site for refugees identified for resettlement or evacuation to third countries. Some 400 asylum seekers from a detention centre that was hit by deadly airstrikes last July are also sheltering there.

 UNHCR said it had begun moving some of the people to safer locations.

Iraq: Solutions needed ‘urgently’ to quell ongoing violence, break political deadlock

“The continuing loss of young lives and the daily bloodshed is intolerable”, said UN Special Representative Jeanine Hennis-Plasschaert, lamenting that “at least 467 protesters have been killed and over 9,000 injured since 1 October”.

She warned that that the use of force only costs “precious lives” and will not end the crisis.   

A recent increase in the use of live ammunition by security forces, shootings by unidentified gunmen at protesters and “the continued targeted killing of demonstrators and human rights defenders, are alarming”, said Ms. Hennis-Plasschaert, who also heads up the UN Assistance Mission for Iraq (UNAMI).

She added it was “imperative” that Iraqi authorities protect the rights of peaceful protesters and ensure that use of force complies with international standards: “Equally important is full accountability: the perpetrators of unlawful killings and attacks must be brought to justice”.

Political action must replace indecisiveness to deliver on promises and intentions, she said, which requires building resilience both at “the State and societal levels” as “the only way forward to draw people out of despair and into renewed hope”, the Special Representative emphasized.

“Many have sacrificed everything to have their voices heard. Solutions are urgently needed”, she spelled out. “Iraq cannot afford the ongoing violent oppression nor the political and economic paralysis”.

Human rights violations prevail

The UNAMI Human Rights Office has been closely monitoring the human rights situation surrounding the demonstrations.

Since the protests over rising unemployment, years of corruption and failing public services began last October, UNAMI has issued three reports documenting human rights violations for the period 1 October to 9 December, and presented recommendations to the authorities.

It has recorded at least 19 demonstrators killed and over 400 injured by security forces in Baghdad, Basra, Dhi Qar, Diyala, Diwaniya, Karbala and Wassit, since 17 January.

Preliminary information points to the use of live ammunition and the impact of tear gas canisters as the chief cause of death, while additional injuries occurred as a result of security forces beating demonstrators with sticks.

Moreover, most violence used by security forces occurred in the context of attempts to clear roadblocks or disperse demonstrators.

And targeted killings continue against demonstrators and activists.

Since 1 October, there have been at least 28 incidents in which persons associated with demonstrations, either as participants, journalists covering the protests, or prominent activists, have been targeted by armed men or improvised explosive devices, resulting in 18 deaths and the injury of at least 13 others, including the targeted killing of two reporters for the Dijlah Television network.  

UNAMI also continues to track and monitor reports of physical attacks against demonstrators, including stabbings, demonstrators and activists gone missing, and incidents of threat and intimidation.

Pointlessness of violence

Stressing the futility of violence in responding to the protests, Ms. Hennis-Plasschaert said that all efforts should instead focus on how to fully implement reforms and initiate a constructive dialogue to tackle the country’s problems.  

“It is high time to restore confidence by setting aside partisanship, acting in the interest of the country and its people”, she concluded. “Hard work and goodwill gestures will resonate with the people, and will be met in kind, strengthening the country’s resilience as it seeks to emerge stronger from this crisis”.

How mobile money is rebuilding lives in Sudan

Five months of detention

In 2016, facing financial hardship, Mr. Ahmed decided to leave his home town in Sudan, and travel to Libya in search of a better life. However, as Libya became increasingly drawn into violent conflict, his aspirations turned to Erope, where he hoped to be able to find work, and to study.

Like many of his fellow Sudanese, however, these dreams were dashed. Mr. Ahmed was arrested by the Libyan authorities and, along with more than 80 other Sudanese, held in a detention centre in Misrata City, where he was kept for five months.

Migrants in Libyan detention centres face harsh conditions, and can even find themselves under direct attack: in July 2019, at least 53 migrants at the Tajoura detention centre were killed in an airstrike, an act which Michelle Bachelet, the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights, said could constitute a war crime. Following the strikes, the UN refugee agency (UNHCR) and UN migration agency (IOM) described conditions in detention centres as “inhumane”, and called for them to be closed.

A life-changing decision

When a member of the Sudanese consulate visited the Misrata camp in 2018, asking the detainees if they wanted to return home, Mr. Ahmed decided to accept the offer. He was the only one to do so and, for him, it has proved to be a life-changing decision: today, with help from IOM, he is the owner of a thriving business in his home country.

“The person from the consulate said that they would contact the IOM, who then made arrangements for me to come home. When I arrived in Sudan, they gave me money for transportation, and we made arrangements to meet in their office in Al Manshiya (a district in Khartoum). Three days later I went to meet them, and we discussed my business plan”.

The assistance that Mr. Ahmed received was part of an initiative, created jointly by the European Union and IOM, to reintegrate Sudan nationals, many of who were stranded in Libya, by helping them to start small businesses.

Solving a cash-flow problem

As Andrew Gray, head of migration management and development at IOM Sudan, explains, one of the problems entrepreneurs face in Sudan is a lack of cash, due to the economic upheaval faced by the country in recent years. Fewer than 10 per cent of people in Sudan have bank accounts, and those who do face limits on the amount of cash they can withdraw, which makes life difficult for business owners who need to pay suppliers. Mobile money, transferred through phones, is a way around this dilemma.

“With mobile money, funds are transferred through a user’s mobile phone. These funds can then be used to purchase other items or cashed out. The technology is safe and easy to use, and transaction costs are low. Users only need a simple mobile and a mobile phone signal to send and receive SMS messages. There is no need for internet access.

Mobile money is well established in many countries in Africa and is a major payment method, but it is relatively new to Sudan, and we are excited to be doing our bit to raise awareness of this new payment option.”

For Mr. Ahmed, the scheme provided a way for him to open up a general store in Omdurman market, near Khartoum. After he had sourced the products he needed, and found the best deals, IOM kickstarted the business by paying for the initial stock with mobile money.

Since then, the business has proved to be sustainable, and his situation is markedly improved: “business is going well”, he says. “I also got married, and life has been getting better”.

How IOM is helping Sudanese to build a better life at home

The mobile money initiative is part of a programme set up in 2016 by IOM and the European Union, in close cooperation with 26 African countries in the Sahel and Lake Chad, the Horn of Africa and North Africa regions.

The programme aims to make migration safer, and better organized, both for migrants and their communities. Ensuring that migrants can develop a livelihood, is one way to ensure that they choose to stay in their home country.

In the Horn of Africa, the initiative, which is running from March 2017 to March 2021, is mainly focused on four identified priority countries: Ethiopia, Djibouti, Somalia and Sudan.

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