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Coronavirus and human rights: New guidance highlights support for persons with disabilities

As Michelle Bachelet explained, not only are people with disabilities at higher risk because of the crisis, they also are disproportionately affected by response measures such as lockdowns.

“People with disabilities are in danger in their own homes, where access to day-to-day support and services may be limited due to lockdowns, and some may suffer greatly from being isolated or confined”, she said.

“Persons with disabilities face even greater threats in institutions, as care facilities have recorded high fatality rates from COVID-19 and horrific reports have emerged of neglect during the pandemic.”

Disturbing reports of discrimination

The UN rights chief added that making information about the virus available in accessible formats is vital. She also expressed concern over discrimination and stigma at this unprecedented time.

“I have been deeply disturbed by reports that the lives of persons with disabilities may somehow be given different weight than others during this pandemic”, she said.

“Medical decisions need to be based on individualized clinical assessments and medical need, and not on age or other characteristics such as disability.”

Promising practices highlighted

The guidance note published by the UN human rights office, which Ms. Bachelet heads, outlines steps governments and stakeholders can take during the pandemic.

They range from discharging persons with disabilities from institutions, to increasing existing disability benefits, and removing barriers to COVID-19 treatment. Prioritizing testing and promoting preventive measures within institutions to reduce infection risk are other recommendations.

Coronavirus Portal & News Updates

Readers can find information and guidance on the outbreak of the novel coronavirus (2019-nCoV) from the UN, World Health Organization and UN agencies here. For daily news updates from UN News, click here.

Additionally, the guidance spotlights promising practices already in place in some countries.

For example, in Switzerland and Spain, some persons with disabilities living in institutions were moved out to be at home with their families, while authorities in Canada have issued priority COVID-19 testing guidelines with specific measures for these settings.

UN chief calls for ‘solidarity, unity and hope’ in battling COVID-19 pandemic

“We mourn the lives lost – more than 200,000”, Secretary-General António Guterres said in a virtual press conference on Thursday. “We despair that many more will follow, particularly in places least able to cope”. 

He ran through the multiple ways the Organization is working to combat the virus on the ground, and said that on Friday, a new UN policy report would be launched to advise how best to protect older persons, along with an analysis of COVID-19 consequences for persons with disabilities.

“Our voice has been clear, calling for solidarity, unity and hope”, he told reporters.

Global ceasefire resonates

Mr. Guterres recalled his global ceasefire appeal in March to face together the common enemy of COVID-19.
“The cease-fire call has resonated widely”, he told journalists, however, as mistrust is challenging implementation, his envoys are “working tirelessly…to turn expressed intentions into effective cease-fires”.  

The Idlib cease-fire is holding in Syria, “but we are still hopeful for a country-wide end to hostilities”, he said, adding that the UN is pushing in Afghanistan for a humanitarian ceasefire between the Government and Taliban fighters.

And although fighting in Libya has escalated, declarations made yesterday present “a glimpse of hope that a cessation of hostilities remains possible”.

“I believe there is an opportunity for peace in Yemen”, upheld Mr. Guterres, citing that all parties supported his appeal. Saudi Arabia has declared a temporary unilateral cease-fire, with the UN engaging with all actors to make it permanent, to restart the political process towards lasting peace.  

Pointing out that the first two COVID-19 deaths were registered there on Wednesday, he said, “it is time to recognize that the Yemeni people have suffered too much”.  

“All our efforts depend on strong political backing”, stressed the UN chief, sharing his hope the Security Council would be able to “find unity and adopt decisions that can help to make ceasefires meaningful and real”.  

The most vulnerable 

The Secretary-General also spoke to the press about the needs of people most vulnerable to the economic meltdown.

“The International Labour Organization (ILO) reported this week that the global workforce will be hit with the equivalent of the loss of more than 300 million jobs”, he said, adding that millions of children risk missing life-saving vaccines and that those officially living in poverty could rise by around 500 million – “the first increase in three decades”.

Underscoring the “massive and urgent support” needed for developing countries, he echoed his call for a worldwide relief package of at least 10 per cent of the global economy’s output. 

He acknowledged steps taken by the International Monetary Fund (IMF) – $12.3 billion in emergency financing; the World Bank, with $160 billion of extra financing; and the G20 leading economies, which have agreed to suspend debt service payments for the poorest countries, but added, “even this is not enough”.  

“The debt moratorium must be extended to all developing countries that are unable to service their debt, including several middle-income countries…followed by targeted debt relief…to prevent defaults leading to prolonged financial and economic crises”, he spelled out. 

Coronavirus Portal & News Updates

Readers can find information and guidance on the outbreak of the novel coronavirus (2019-nCoV) from the UN, World Health Organization and UN agencies here. For daily news updates from UN News, click here.

A better recovery 

Mr. Guerres maintained that a smart recovery from COVID-19 would help steer the world onto a “safer, healthier, more sustainable and inclusive path”, but that it was “critical to address the fragilities”.

Inequalities, social protection gaps and gender equality must be “front and centre” to build resilience to future shocks: “And recovery needs to go hand-in-hand with climate action.”

The Secretary-General called on Governments to ensure that revitalized spending “accelerate the decarbonization of all aspects of our economy and privilege the creation of green jobs”.

He also stressed that taxpayers’ money not be used to subsidize fossil fuels or bail out carbon-intensive industries; a price should be placed on carbon; and public funds be invested in a future where financial institutions and investors take climate risks fully into account.  

“Our template remains the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) and Paris Agreement on climate change”, concluded the UN chief.

UN Photo/Eskinder Debebe
After addressing a virtual press conference, Secretary-General António Guterres wished a happy centennial birthday to Captain Tom Moore, who walked 100 laps in his garden to raise over $40 million for National Health Workers in the United Kingdom.

COVID-19 can’t stop the music on International Jazz Day

The artists were originally set to perform in Cape Town, South Africa, but have united for an online concert that will be streamed live starting at 4 pm Eastern Standard Time.

Audrey Azoulay, head of the UN cultural organization, UNESCO, pointed out that music is bringing people together and helping to keep hope alive during the global crisis.

“It is the magic of jazz that we need now, at a time when we are all reminded of the cardinal importance of music – and indeed, of all the arts – in our lives”, she said in a statement for the day.

Legendary American pianist Herbie Hancock, UNESCO Goodwill Ambassador for Intercultural Dialogue, will host the all-star concert which will feature artists from across the globe.

He said International Jazz Day embodies values such as freedom of expression, peace and human dignity.

“Keep these values alive as you play your music in your home or on your balcony, share your music through digital platforms, enjoy jazz recordings, or watch one of our past Jazz Day global concerts”, he said in a video message.

Tribute to Manu Dibango

This year’s commemoration of the international day also has a sombre tone as it serves as a tribute to saxophonist Manu Dibango, who died from COVID-19 on 24 March.

The Cameroon-born force behind the 1972 international hit ‘Soul Makossa’ – sampled, remixed and cited in songs such as ‘Wanna Be Startin’ Somethin’’ by Michael Jackson – had been a UNESCO Artist for Peace since 2004.

Said Ms. Azoulay: “Manu Dibango believed deeply in the power of music to bring peoples and cultures together because, as he said in a UNESCO Courier article in March 1991, music is “the most spontaneous, natural form of contact between one person and another”.

Coronavirus Portal & News Updates

Readers can find information and guidance on the outbreak of the novel coronavirus (2019-nCoV) from the UN, World Health Organization and UN agencies here. For daily news updates from UN News, click here.

At a time of physical distancing and other measures to halt further spread of the novel coronavirus, music is indeed uniting people, according to Mr. Hancock, the UNESCO Goodwill Ambassador.

“Jazz artists and the jazz community are resilient,” he said. “There is hope and solidarity in jazz music: something we all need right now.”

Greta Thunberg launches campaign to support UNICEF protection efforts against COVID-19

“The coronavirus pandemic is the greatest struggle the world has seen in generations”, said UNICEF Executive Director Henrietta Fore. 

Food shortages, strained healthcare systems, violence and lost education are just some of the damaging effects of the coronavirus.

“Children and young people are among the most severely impacted by the knock-on effects of COVID-19, so it is only natural that they would want to do something about it”, the UNICEF chief continued. “Through her activism, Greta Thunberg has proven that young people are ready to take a stand and lead change in the world.” 

It’s a child rights crisis – Thunberg

“Like the climate crisis, the coronavirus pandemic is a child-rights crisis”, said Ms. Thunberg. “It will affect all children, now and in the long-term, but vulnerable groups will be impacted the most”. 

Inaugurated with an initial donation of $200,000 on behalf of Human Act and the Greta Thunberg Foundation, campaign proceeds will go directly towards UNICEF’s emergency programmes to fight COVID-19, including to provide soap, masks, protective equipment and other support to healthcare systems.

“I’m asking everyone to step up and join me in support of UNICEF’s vital work to save children’s lives, to protect health and continue education”, asserted the young climate activist who rose to global prominence through her “school strike” campaign against global warming.

Ms. Thunberg recently received an award from Human Act, who granted her foundation the prize money of $100,000. This sum will now go to UNICEF along with a matching $100,000 from Human Act.

“UNICEF is very pleased that Greta and her supporters have not only chosen to take a stand against this pandemic, but to do so in partnership with UNICEF”, said Ms. Fore. 

Children face additional risks

A UN report issued earlier this month warned that children risk being among the biggest victims of the COVID-19 pandemic. 

Children of all ages in every country across the world are being affected by the coronavirus’ socio-economic impacts and in some cases, by the mitigation measures to stem its spread.

UNICEF is working with partners to help reduce the transmission and ease its impact on children while ensuring that their essential services continue. 

UNICEF’s global COVID-19 response 

•    Ensure access and availability of key supplies and services for children, women and vulnerable populations. 
•    Scale up messages on handwashing with soap. 
•    Back governments in procuring personal protective equipment for health care workers. 
•    Support distance learning for children who cannot access school.
•    Provide mental health and psychosocial support to affected children and families.
•    Help maintain essential immunization and other services for children. 

    Ms. Thunberg electrified the UN General Assembly last September with her call for governments to do more to address the climate crisis.


    How can schools open up again safely? The UN has some new guidelines

    Launched in March by the UN Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO), UN Children’s Fund (UNICEF), World Food Programme (WFP) and World Bank, the Coalition works to foster inclusive learning opportunities.

    “Rising inequality, poor health outcomes, violence, child labour and child marriage are just some of the long-term threats for children who miss out on school”, said UNICEF Executive Director Henrietta Fore. “Unless we prioritize the reopening of schools – when it is safe to do so – we will likely see a devastating reversal in education gains.”

    Indeed, the adverse effects of school closures on children’s safety and learning are well documented.

    Millions rely on schools for food

    In the poorest countries, children often rely on schools for their only meal of the day. David Beasley, World Food Programme Executive Director explained that with many schools now closed, 370 million children are missing out on these meals, as well as the health support they normally receive. “When schools reopen, it is critical that these meal programmes and health services are restored,” he said.

    The agencies are urging Governments to assess the benefits of classroom-based instruction compared to remote learning, and risk factors related to reopening of schools. In those calculations, they note the inconclusive evidence around the infection risks related to school attendance.

    While far from straightforward, the decision of when and how to reopen schools should be a priority. “Once there is a green light on the health front, a whole set of measures will need to be in place to ensure that no student is left behind”, said UNESCO Director-General Audrey Azoulay.

    Right to education

    The guidelines provide all-round advice for Governments and partners to facilitate reopening, she said. “We share one goal: to protect and advance the right to education for every learner.”

    In terms of policy, the guidelines recommend having clear directives in place for school opening and closure during public health emergencies. Expanding equitable access for marginalized and out-of-school children is also important, as are efforts to standardize remote learning practices.

    They also recommend addressing the impact of COVID-19 on education and investing in education systems to stimulate recovery and resilience.

    Soap and water

    In the area of safety, they advise ensuring conditions are in place to reduce disease transmission and promote healthy behaviour. This includes access to soap and clean water for safe handwashing and protocols on social distancing.

    Practices that compensate for lost instructional time, strengthen teaching methods that work, and build on hybrid learning models are also covered, as are ways to ensure students’ wellness and protection, including through the provision of essential school-based services such as healthcare.

    Focus on ending marginalization

    Throughout, the guidelines prioritize the most marginalized. They cover how to expand school opening policies and practices to those who are often excluded –particularly displaced and migrant children – by making critical communications available in relevant languages and accessible formats.

    “Once schools begin to reopen, the priority becomes reintegrating students into school settings safely and in ways that allow learning to pick up again”, said Jaime Saavedra, World Bank Global Director for Education.

    “To manage re-openings, schools will need to be logistically prepared with the teaching workforce ready”, he said. That includes plans specifically to support learning recovery of the most disadvantaged students.

    In the end, schools must look at how they can “reopen better”. The agencies say the best interests of children and overall public health considerations – based on an assessment of associated benefits and risks to education, public health and socioeconomic factors – must be central to these decisions.

    UN prepares for potentially devastating COVID-19 outbreak in conflict-ravaged northeast Nigeria

    Displaced people there already face outbreaks of several deadly diseases, including cholera, malaria and measles, and fighting has severely weakened the health system: more than a third of facilities have been destroyed in attacks, and there is limited access to drinking water and sanitation infrastructure. 

    IOM fears an outbreak of COVID-19 would exacerbate the current situation, placing further stress on disrupted health systems, and potentially overwhelm the response capacity of international humanitarian agencies. A rise in cases is also likely to increase current projections of people in need.

    Crisis on all fronts

    Aftermath of attack on Ngala humanitarian hub, 18 January 2020 , by UNOCHA

    COVID-19 is arriving in northeast Nigeria with the region some ten years into a brutal conflict that has led to around 7.9 million people in need of humanitarian assistance. 2019 saw an upsurge in violence, and more than 180,000 people fled their homes. 

    The renewed conflict has restricted humanitarian operations, with aid workers increasingly the focus of armed groups. Humanitarian offices and accommodation have been hit, and 12 aid workers killed in the last year. Only 15 per cent of Borno State is currently accessible to humanitarian agencies.

    Despite the instability, the UN and partners are forging ahead with quarantine shelter construction, which will serve internally displaced people and host communities in the northeastern towns of Gwoza, Pulka, Bama, Dikwa and Monguno. 

    Each shelter will contain individual units with a latrine, shower, handwashing station and living quarters. To minimise the risk of virus spread, facilities will have separate entrance and registration areas, as well as restricted areas for health personnel.

    “Given the rapidly evolving situation in Nigeria and across the world, we must ensure that the health of displaced and host communities is a central part of our response”, said Franz Celestin, IOM Nigeria Chief of Mission.

    Drastic increase in funding needed

    Construction of a quarantine shelter in Borno State, by IOM Nigeria

    As well as building quarantine shelters, IOM is relocating residents from congested camps to new facilities (around half of the camps in Borno are overcrowded); disseminating hygiene messages; and providing basic hygiene items. 

    “Camp decongestion has been a challenge, but it is now a priority. I call on all stakeholders to urgently contribute to efforts being made to decongest camps in respect of people’s rights and dignity”, said Edward Kallon, the Humanitarian Coordinator in Nigeria.

    The existing Humanitarian Response Plan for Nigeria calls for $86.2 million for life-saving health services. IOM estimates that this requirement is likely to increase by one-third, if COVID-19 gains a foothold in the northeast.

    The money will be needed for improved coordination, extra surveillance and contact tracing; as well as providing access to life-saving clinical care and treatment for COVID-19.

    In addition, to control the spread, it will be necessary to buy and administer tests, and protective equipment for frontline workers; put in place additional prevention and control measures; share risk communication messages; and build additional quarantine shelters and isolation centres.

    Lift Cuba embargo or risk many lives lost to COVID-19, UN rights experts warn US

    The joint statement by UN special rapporteurs, independent experts and working groups, calls on the US administration to withdraw measures aimed at establishing trade barriers, and ban tariffs, quotas, non-tariff measures, noting that they are obstructing humanitarian responses to help Cuba combat COVID-19.

    They said the US has ignored repeated calls to waive sanctions that undermine the capacity of Cuba and other countries to respond effectively to the crisis and save lives.

    “In the pandemic emergency, the lack of will of the US Government to suspend sanctions may lead to a higher risk of such suffering in Cuba and other countries targeted by its sanctions”, the experts said.

    ‘No one should be denied’ care

    COVID-19 is not only deadly, it also inflicts enormous physical and psychological suffering, especially in countries where medical personnel are unable to perform their professional duties due to a lack of adequate equipment and available medicine.

    A chorus of voices across the UN system have emphasized, since the onset of the pandemic, that bringing the virus under control will only be achieved through multilateralism, cooperation and solidarity.

    In their statement, the UN experts voiced alarm that the US embargo on Cuba – along with sanctions imposed on other countries – seriously undermines efforts to build that much-needed solidarity.

    “In the face of such global challenge, no one should be denied vital medical care,” they stressed.

    Slow imports, out-of-reach technology

    The economic and financial embargo, first imposed by Washington in 1958, adds a cumbersome and expensive licensing process to the export and re-export of goods to Cuba. The issuance of licenses or clearance for exemptions can take several months, according to the experts.

    “Since the outbreak of the COVID-19 pandemic, the impact of the comprehensive embargo has imposed additional financial burden, increased cargo travel time due to an inability to procure supplies, reagents, medical equipment and medicines necessary for the diagnosis and treatment of COVID-19,” the experts said. It also makes access to technology difficult, delaying the development of e-health and telemedicine.

    “This is a matter of utmost importance and great urgency,” they said. “The COVID-19 virus does not choose its victims. It crosses borders easily and targets people regardless of nationality, race, religion, political opinion or social status.”

    The UN General Assembly has repeatedly expressed its concerns about the effects of the US blockade – including its humanitarian and health impacts – demanding its urgent repeal in a series of 28 consecutive resolutions.

    The Special Rapporteurs are appointed by the  UN Human Rights Council, which is based in Geneva, to examine and report back on a specific human rights theme or a country situation. Their positions are honorary, and they are not paid for their work.

    UN committed to a ‘brighter future’ for Haiti, as independent rights experts call for more action on behalf of cholera victims

    “The importance of relief is even more urgent in light of the COVID-19 pandemic, which could deal a double blow to victims of the cholera outbreak and their families”, the experts said. “We recognise the immense challenges all actors face in responding to the coronavirus, but this new threat cannot mask past failures and ongoing violations.”

    The Independent Experts, Special Rapporteurs and Working Groups are part of what is known as the Special Procedures of the Human Rights Council. They work on a voluntary basis; they are not UN staff and do not receive a salary for their work. They serve in their individual capacity.

    UN has ‘failed to pay any compensation’

    The experts said in their joint statement, that more than three years ago, the UN acknowledged the role played by its peacekeepers in causing the epidemic.

    “It has since failed to pay any compensation and its subsequent underfunded aid effort has amounted to little more than a spate of symbolic development projects”, they added.

    “Serious shortfalls in funding and expenditures make the UN’s promises illusory. Despite initially seeking $400 million over two years, the UN has raised a mere $20.5 million in about three years and has spent a pitiful $3.2 million. This is a deeply disappointing showing following the loss of 10,000 lives,” they said. 

    They also raised concerns about the UN’s decision to help people affected by cholera through community assistance rather than direct support. “Some victims prefer monetary payments, an option that was once on the table, but the UN has foreclosed that possibility seemingly without carrying out consultations or producing a detailed feasibility assessment,” said the experts. “Compensation is ordinarily a central component of the right to an effective remedy, and development projects are simply not a replacement for reparations”.

    In a 2016 report to the UN General Assembly, the Special Rapporteur on extreme poverty and human rights, Philip Alston, called on the UN to accept its legal responsibility for the outbreak and provide appropriate remedies.

    “Many of these shortcomings result from the UN’s admission of its ‘moral responsibility’ but not its legal one”, said the experts. “Asking UN Member States to make a charitable contribution is entirely different from payments linked to a legal obligation,” they added.

    The experts have relayed their concern to both the UN Secretary-General and the Government of Haiti.

    UN pledges review, and response

     Responding to the independent experts, UN Spokesperson, Stéphane Dujarric, confirmed receipt of the letter, saying that the Organization was “reviewing the concerns raised, and would be “responding in due course”.   

    Since taking office, the Secretary-General has been strongly committed to supporting the people of Haiti and the fight against cholera

    “Since taking office, the Secretary-General has been strongly committed to supporting the people of Haiti and the fight against cholera. He reiterates the United Nations’ deep regrets for the loss of life and suffering caused by the cholera epidemic.”  

    In 2016, a formal New Approach to Cholera in Haiti was launched, together with the Government, to defeat cholera in the Caribbean nation, leading to progress, said Mr. Dujarric:

    “Haiti has not had a single laboratory confirmed case of cholera in nearly 15 consecutive months. The Secretary-General welcomes this significant progress towards eliminating the disease”, he added. “Efforts are now accelerating to achieve another important milestone: three years with no laboratory confirmed cases of cholera, the time required to declare Haiti cholera-free. The two-track approach prioritizes the emergency response to eliminate the transmission of cholera, and support for those most affected by the disease.”   

    International investment

    Since the beginning of the outbreak, the Spokesperson said, the international community has invested over $705 million to fight cholera, in support of the Government’s National Plan, including more than US$139 million mobilized by the UN and its agencies. “Investments made in Haiti’s health, epidemiological, water and sanitation systems to combat the disease are now playing a key role in fighting the COVID-19 pandemic”, he added.

    “The United Nations remain committed to helping Haiti and its people build a brighter future.  The Secretary-General urges Member States to demonstrate their solidarity with the people of Haiti by increasing their contributions to eliminate cholera and provide assistance to those affected.”

    Syria: As coronavirus threat intensifies, ceasefire more urgent than ever

    “We cannot afford hostilities which would surely lead to another surge in displaced vulnerable communities”, Geir O. Pedersen said via video-teleconference. “We could not afford this scenario before the pandemic; the price could only be higher now”.

    Dozens reported killed in Afrin

    Just yesterday, a bomb detonated in a crowded market on the country’s Turkish border in the north-western city of Afrin, reportedly killing more than 40 people.

    The governor of the neighbouring Turkish border province of Hatay said a fuel tanker rigged with a hand grenade exploded amidst the crowd.

    Secretary-General António Guterres strongly condemned the “horrific bombing” and extended his “heartfelt condolences to the families of those who lost their lives”

    The UN chief reiterated his called for “a complete and immediate ceasefire throughout Syria to enable comprehensive efforts to address COVID-19”, adding that “those who violate international humanitarian and human rights law must be held accountable”.

    The Regional Director of the UN Children’s Fund (UNICEF), Ted Chaiban, said it was “tragic that 11 children were reportedly killed and many more were injured”, adding that “the death toll might be much higher”.  

    Back in 2018, an escalation of violence in Afrin drove nearly 56,000 children to other parts of Syria, and 10 years into the brutal conflict, “children continue to be hit the hardest by unprecedented levels of violence, destruction and death”, he said. “Violence breeds more violence”. 

    Meanwhile, the UN Special Envoy told the Council he had been speaking with a range of key players involved in talks to end the more than nine year civil war, to facilitate progress on the political track and to sustain ceasefire arrangements.

    The envoy welcomed the “significant calm” in much of the country pointing out that Russian-Turkish arrangements, including joint patrols, in the northwest have made “a positive difference on the ground” and that ceasefire arrangements between Russia, Turkey and the US in the northeast also “continue to broadly hold”. 

    But he conceded that there is “an uneasy and fragile calm” in the north, with looming escalation risks, such as a resurgence by ISIL extremists, and Israeli airstrikes in Homs and Damascus, which were reported on Monday.  

    Fighting COVID as one

    COVID-19 caseloads in Syria have been relatively low, with 42 cases reported in Government-controlled areas thus far; one case in the north-east and none reported in the north-west; but Mr. Pedersen maintained that the trend lines would be important to monitor in the coming weeks. 

    While the Syrian Government, the opposition and other de facto authorities are taking significant steps to combat the virus, a lack of sufficient testing, health professionals, medical equipment and supplies are hamstringing the response.

    “The healthcare system is degraded in some areas and destroyed in others”, explained Mr. Pedersen, reiterating the need for “full, sustained and unimpeded humanitarian access”.

    Coronavirus Portal & News Updates

    Readers can find information and guidance on the outbreak of the novel coronavirus (2019-nCoV) from the UN, World Health Organization and UN agencies here. For daily news updates from UN News, click here.

    Women under pressure

    The Women’s Advisory Board emphasized to the UN envoy that women are at the forefront of community-based initiatives, raising awareness and preventing the COVID-19 spread as well as carrying additional caregiving responsibilities at home due to the movement restrictions.

    The board consists of diverse women from civil society, as an independent source of expertise. Mr. Pedersen said members were concerned over the heightened risk of domestic violence during home isolation and that COVID-19 responses would gradually push women back into traditional and marginalized roles.

    Take the ‘responsible path’

    Mr. Pedersen reiterated his appeal for “a nationwide ceasefire and an all-out effort to ensure that Syrians across the country will have access to the equipment and resources needed to combat and treat COVID-19”.

    He offered to work with the all the “relevant players on the ground” and countries with influence. 

    Working together in a common effort to support calm and scale up the pandemic response “is the only responsible path”, according to the UN envoy. 

    “There is no military solution to the Syria crisis”. 

    “We must act on our common humanity, help build trust and confidence…to move towards a political settlement that can meet the legitimate aspirations of the Syrian people”, he concluded.

    ‘Tragedy beckons’

    In an afternoon briefing to the Council, Emergency Relief Coordinator Mark Lowcock warned that if the coronavirus pandemic behaves in Syria as it has elsewhere, “then tragedy beckons”.

    “We cannot expect a health care system decimated by almost a decade of war to cope with a crisis that is challenging even the wealthiest nations”, he stated. “We cannot expect mitigation measures to succeed where millions are displaced in crowded conditions, without adequate sanitation, and no assets or safety net to fall back on”. 

    While noting a “modest increase” in testing capacity, Mr. Lowcock maintained that it remains “vastly insufficient”, and is a humanitarian priority.

    COVID-19 “compounds the impact of Syria’s severe economic crisis”, according to the relief chief, who relayed that according to the World Food Programme (WFP) over the past year, basic food prices have jumped more than 100 per cent.

    And despite the ceasefire, the humanitarian situation in the north-west remains as “dismal as it has ever been” with “alarming” levels of stunting and malnutrition among pregnant and breastfeeding women.

    “It is simply impossible to sustain the scale and scope of assistance into the north-west without the cross-border operation”, he asserted, “there is no alternative”.


    Coronavirus lockdown casts harsh light on our data and privacy online

    Reporting the results of a fresh survey on the adoption of cyberlaws around the world, UNCTAD said that the vulnerability is even more stark among least developing countries, amounting to 43 per cent.

    The share is highest in Europe at 96 per cent, followed by 69 per cent in the Americas, 57 per cent in Asia and the Pacific, and 50 per cent in Africa.

    “Given the rise in cybercrime, scams and online fraud during the COVID-19 pandemic, the survey results are very worrying”, said Shamika Sirimanne, head of UNCTAD’s technology and logistics division.

    UNCTAD does not specifically collect data on cybercrime, but the agency told UN News that there has been a spike in complaints during the worldwide lockdowns. With millions now working from home, computer security is much more at risk than in secure work environments and with more transactions taking place online, fraud is on the rise.

    Trust and protection

    If e-commerce is to support development, consumers and businesses must feel that their online transactions are protected, especially at a time when digital tools are increasingly the only way to access goods and services, she said.

    The survey, conducted in February, indicated that 10 per cent of countries have draft legislation on data protection and privacy in the pipeline that is expected to become law this year.

    They include Brazil and Thailand, which – like Australia, New Zealand, the Republic of Korea and South Africa – are basing their legislation on the European Union’s General Data Protection Regulation, implemented two years ago this month.

    Enforcement is key

    UNCTAD noted, however, that once relevant legislation goes into place, it must be enforced – and developing countries often lack the resources they need to enforce the law.

    The ever-changing cybercrime landscape and the resulting skills gap pose a significant challenge for law enforcement agencies and prosecutors, especially with regards to cross-border enforcement.

    In adopting new cyberlaws, countries should opt for technology-neutral legislation whenever possible, thus avoiding the need for regular revisions and to ensure compatibility among different legal systems, UNCTAD said.

    Summarizing other key findings, UNCTAD said that globally, 81 per cent of countries have e-transaction laws, with Europe and the Americas having the highest share (98 per cent and 91 per cent respectively) and Africa the lowest (61 per cent).

    Seventy-nine per cent have cybercrime legislation, but with wide variations between regions, from 89 per cent in Europea to 72 per cent in Africa.

    Least developed nations, trailing behind

    For online consumer protection, the global share is 56 per cent, but the rate of adoption once again varies between 73 per cent in Europe and 72 per cent in the Americas to 46 per cent in Africa.

    “In general, least developing countries are traiing behind,” UNCTAD said. The share with relevant laws is particularly weak for data and privacy protection (42 per cent) and consumer protection (40 per cent).

    UNCTAD said that more than 60 countries took part in the survey. It also consulted with several international organizations and experts, including the United Nations Commission on International Trade Law (UNCITRAL), the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC) and the Council of Europe.

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