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UN honours fallen colleagues and legacy of hope they leave behind

Facing perilous situations due to crisis, conflict and instability, are commonplace working in the field as a UN staffer, and this year, as the Organization marks its 75th anniversary, the COVID-19 pandemic has created “unprecedented upheaval”. 

Yet, “all around the world, especially in the most fragile contexts, the blue flag of the United Nations symbolizes hope”, the UN chief underscored.

“That hope is part of the legacy of the colleagues we mourn today”, Mr. Guterres said. “They paid the ultimate sacrifice so that others could look forward to better days”.

Making a pledge

The UN chief told the participants that he is “keenly aware” of his responsibility to those who have died while serving, along with their families and loved ones, and to “all UN staff” who serve in unstable and dangerous environments, where “one death is one too many”.

As such, he pledged to “continue to ensure that our Organization constantly reviews and improves our practices related to the safety and care of staff”.

“When our colleagues pay the ultimate sacrifice, it is our duty to honour them and support their families”, Mr. Guterres stressed.

Before calling for a moment of silence for those who sacrificed their lives, he urged everyone to “honour the memory of our fallen colleagues by recommitting ourselves to the noble cause of promoting peace, prosperity and opportunity for everyone, everywhere, for generations to come”.

Serving with valour

The President of the UN Staff Union, Patricia Nemeth, also spoke during the commemoration online, noting that those who died in service were “driven solely by a desire to help the most vulnerable to have hope, building a better future and ensuring that everyone can enjoy life, liberty, dignity, peace, security and justice”.

“The service that staff members provide within the United Nations is more than just a job”, she explained. “It is a calling for us, as we want to serve the ideals of the Organization, ensuring a brighter future for the entire human race”. 

Noting that 77 colleagues had perished over the past year, she added that “year-after-year our Organization suffers another loss, a different kind of loss, and that is a loss of innocence for the United Nations”. 

“That is why, on this day, we remember our sacred obligation for those who made the ultimate sacrifice so that we can continue to live our lives and do our work”, spelled out Ms. Nemeth. “We owe it to them to finish the task for which these men and women have given their lives”.


Pause before sharing, to help stop viral spread of COVID-19 misinformation

That’s the latest message from the United Nations’ Verified initiative, which wants people around the world to pause before sharing emotionally charged content on social media.     

“One of the ways it [misinformation] is spreading is the way people are sharing”, Melissa Fleming, who oversees the UN’s global communications effort, said on the eve of the Pause campaign’s launch, chosen to coincide with Social Media Day.

“The idea of pause is: take care before you share. We hope that ‘take care before you share’, starts to be a social norm that people have in the back of their heads and that will enable a personal behavior change.” 

The Pause campaign consists of videos, graphics and colourful gifs that stress sharing only trusted and accurate science-based social media content. 

It is meant to get people thinking about misinformation, which is often packaged as being  “more slick, more shareable” and full of “black and white statements that people who communicate responsibly, and rely on science, would not do because we have to communicate nuance”, Ms. Fleming said. 

She noted that, for example, anti-vaccine groups are already coming out against a future COVID-19 vaccine. 

Through Verified, the UN has recruited so called “digital first responders” to counter fake news. These responders – of whom there are more than 10,000 signed up for the daily and weekly feeds – range from fact checkers in Colombia, to young journalists in the United Kingdom, and the number signing up is growing at a rate of about 10 per cent per week, according to the UN’s Department for Global Communications. 

The campaign also has the support of most of the countries that make up the UN. Spearheaded by Latvia, some two-thirds of the 193 UN Member States put out a statement on 12 June, countering the proliferation of widespread misinformation, in the context of COVID-19.

“We are… concerned about the damage caused by the deliberate creation and circulation of false or manipulated information relating to the pandemic. We call on countries to take steps to counter the spread of such disinformation, in an objective manner and with due respect for citizens’ freedom of expression,” the statement reads.

Sometimes sharing can do more harm than good. Pause and #takecarebeforeyoushare., by UN Social Media

A number of large media companies around the world are also distributing Pause content on their channels, online and via text message.

The aim is to help stem the spread of inaccurate information about COVID-19 on social media, Ms. Fleming said, stressing that only platforms like Facebook or Twitter can truly stop the viral spread of fake news.  

“We also need the platforms to work with us”, she said, adding that the UN is “in conversation” with such technology companies. Many social media platforms have committed to promoting Pause, while also scaling up their efforts to halt the circulation of misinformation.

UN probes ‘abhorrent’ video showing ‘likely’ field staffers engaging in alleged sexual misconduct

UN Spokesperson Stéphane Dujarric, issued a statement to reporters in New York on Friday afternoon, confirming that the short video clip which runs less than half a minute, featured a 4×4 vehicle, containing personnel “likely assigned to the UN Truce Supervision Organization”, or UNTSO.

The mission was the first ever peacekeeping mission established by the UN in 1948, comprising Military Observers to monitor ceasefires, supervise armistice agreements and prevent military escalation. UNTSO is headquartered in Jerusalem.

It has 153 Military Observers, 91 international civilian personnel and 153 national staff, according to UN figures, drawing troops from more than two dozen countries. Observers are deployed to UN missions at the border between Israel and Lebanon, as well as in the Golan.

According to news reports, the video, shot at night, was taken on HaYarkon Street, a major thoroughfare in Tel Aviv, but shot by an anonymous source, its provenance and authenticity has not been confirmed.

Behaviour ‘against everything that we stand for’

“We are shocked and deeply disturbed by what is seen on the video”, said Mr. Dujarric. “The behaviour seen in it is abhorrent and goes against everything that we stand for and having been working to achieve in terms of fighting misconduct by UN staff”, he added, speaking at the regular noon briefing to UN correspondents.

“We became aware of the video a little bit more than two days ago and our colleagues in the Office of Internal Oversight Services, OIOS, were immediately activated. Their investigation I know is moving very quickly. We know the location of the incident with the identification of individuals in the video, who are likely assigned to the UNTSO, is close to being completed.”

The Spokesperson said the probe by OIOS was expected to end “very quickly” and that “prompt appropriate action” would be taken.

UNTSO response

UNTSO also issued a statement adding that the Mission stands committed to the UN’s zero-tolerance policy against any kind of misconduct, including sexual exploitation and abuse, and reminds its personnel of their obligations to the UN Code of Conduct.

“As part of the UN’s commitment to transparency, the UN will provide updates on the conclusion of the investigation, and any further action”, said Mr. Dujarric. 

UN marks 75-year milestone anniversary of founding Charter 

Adopted by Member States as the Second World War was coming to a close, the UN chief noted that the world today was marking the milestone anniversary “as global pressures are spiraling up”.  

The Charter was signed in San Francisco on 26 June 1945 and came into force on 24 October 1945. 

Conceived above all as a means to save future generations from the scourge of war, the Charter calls for the Organization to maintain international peace and security; promote social progress and better standards of life; strengthen international law; and promote human rights.

“The Charter’s vision stands the test of time and its values will continue to carry us forward”, said the UN chief. “It remains our touchstone for a world mired in a pandemic, torn by discrimination, endangered by climate change and scarred by poverty, inequality and war”. 

Standing strong

Against a backdrop of a global reckoning with racism, environmental degradation, increasing cyberattacks, nuclear proliferation, corruption and pushback on basic human rights, he noted that back in 1945, the delegates in San Francisco – who had also lived through a global pandemic, depression and war – “seized their opportunity to plant the seeds of something better and new”. 

“Today, we must do the same”, said the top UN official. “To achieve that watershed moment, we need to reimagine multilateralism, give it teeth to function as the founders intended, and ensure that effective global governance is a reality when it is needed”. 

And inclusive multilateralism today also requires the “essential voices” of civil society, cities, the private sector and young people to shape the world we want.

Drawing inspiration 

Yet there is also “much to encourage us and drive us onward”, he said, such as the general level of solidarity shown in responding to the pandemic, the embracing of the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), and the recent activism of racial justice protesters and others, towards advancing equality, climate action, and a green economy.

Paying tribute to the service and sacrifice of peacekeepers, staff and others who gave their lives advancing UN values, Mr. Guterres said: “I am inspired by so much that has been built and achieved across 75 years”.

“Now is the time to persevere, press ahead, pursue our goals, show responsibility for our world, and take care of each other…It is up to us to rise to the test of this pivotal moment for our future”.

Imagining a better world

The penholders of the Charter “dared to imagine a better world defined by peace and equality”, General Assembly President Tijjani Muhammad-Bande told the commemoration.

“As we work towards the future we want, and the UN we need, we must be results-focused”, he asserted.  “Now more than ever, we need a strong UN development system and effective collaboration between the UN and international financial institutions”.  

In pursuit of inclusive multilateralism, the Assembly president maintained that we must continue to create space for civil society and “ensure the full participation of voices that have gone unheard for too long”, such as women, youth, indigenous persons and people with disabilities. 

“This is a moment of reckoning for our shared planet and shared future. This is a time for action, ambition and partnership”, he spelled out. 

In closing Mr. Muhammad-Bande pointed out that three-quarters of a century ago, sceptics doubted the resolve of UN Members States, saying, “cynicism did not prevail then, nor will it now. 

“‘We the peoples’ remain nations, united guided by the principles of our Charter”, he upheld. 

Stay engaged, unified

Mona Juul, President of the UN Economic and Social Council (ECOSOC) pledged “to continue engaging… to ensure that ECOSOC remains as relevant today and in the future, as it was when first envisioned in the Charter 75 years ago”. 

“Today” she said, “the world is shifting beneath our feet”, calling the COVID-19 pandemic “a wake-up call for us to strengthen international collaboration”.

“75 years ago today, the UN Charter was signed in San Francisco”, the chief for UN Political and Peacebuilding Affairs Rosemary DiCarlo said. “A declaration of unity of purpose after the ravages of the Second World War, it set out our mission: ‘to save succeeding generations from the scourge of war’ [and] guides us to this day”.

UN tallies action so far to fight COVID-19, and roadmap out of the pandemic

Not only does the report outline actions taken since the pandemic was declared, he said, it also offers a roadmap for building back better through greater global solidarity and unity.

“The pandemic has laid bare severe and systemic inequalities. And it has underscored the world’s fragilities more generally – not just in the face of another health emergency but also the climate crisis, lawlessness in cyberspace, and the risks of nuclear proliferation again”, he said.

Fighting on many fronts

The report reveals how the UN has been fighting the battle against COVID-19 on many fronts.

Response has been centred around three pillars: human health, recovery, and addressing the socioeconomic, humanitarian and human rights aspects of the pandemic.

Mr. Guterres reported that the UN has shipped more than 250 million items of personal protective equipment destined for health workers in over 130 countries.

The Organization placed its supply chain network at the service of Member States, and established global air hubs which have delivered nearly 70,000 cubic meters of medical goods in the past six weeks alone.

It is also supporting research into the development of an affordable and accessible “people’s vaccine” for the disease and has launched the Verified campaign to tackle “the plague of misinformation” surrounding COVID-19.

“My appeal for a global ceasefire has been endorsed by nearly 180 countries, more than 20 armed groups as well as religious leaders and millions of members of civil society. The difficulty is to implement it”, said the Secretary-General.

“My Special Envoys and I are working together to establish effective ceasefires and doing everything possible to overcome the legacy of long-lasting conflicts with deep mistrust among the parties and spoilers with a vested interest in disruption.”

No going back

The report was launched on the eve of the 75th anniversary of the adoption of the UN Charter, the founding document of the Organization.

This year’s commemoration comes at a time of “colossal global upheaval and risk”, as Mr. Guterres observed, falling as the pandemic deepens with nearly 10 million cases confirmed, climate disruption, protests over racial injustice, and rising inequalities.

Looking beyond the pandemic, the Secretary-General underlined the UN’s strong commitment to leading renewal efforts.

“We cannot go back to the way it was and simply recreate the systems that have aggravated the crisis”, he stressed.

“We need to build back better with more sustainable, inclusive, gender-equal societies and economies.”

The Secretary-General called for effective and inclusive multilateralism. He urged countries to reimagine the ways in which they cooperate, and to draw on the “indispensable contributions” of civil society, business, youth, and others.

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“The problem is not that multilateralism is not up to the challenges the world faces. The problem is that today’s multilateralism lacks scale, ambition and teeth. And some of the instruments that do have teeth, show little or no appetite to bite, as has recently been the case with the difficulties faced by the Security Council”, he said highlighting the failure to reach consensus on crucial issues between the five permanent members.

Relationships ‘have never been more dysfunctional’

He noted that it was “difficult to have a meaningful transformation of the mechanisms of global governance without the active participation of the world powers – and, let me blunt, their relationships today have never been more dysfunctional.”

“We need to give multilateralism the capacities to confront our challenges, not only to meet immediate needs but to enable future generations to meet theirs.”

Frontline public servants lauded for ‘remarkable acts of service to humankind’ 

Pointing to the nurses, doctors and paramedics who provide life-saving care; sanitation workers “who disinfect and clean public spaces”; transportation workers who have kept buses and trains running worldwide; teachers and the “public health officials, data managers and statisticians who provide vital and reliable information on the transmission and prevention of the disease”; the UN chief said selfless public servants had often operated “in dangerous conditions, with high human interaction and without access to personal protective equipment”.

“Some have lost their lives to COVID-19 in the process”, he added.

While honouring essential workers, the top UN official highlighted the importance of better protecting, recognizing and investing in their well-being.

“And I say directly to these inspiring public servants: We are all deeply indebted to you”.

Boost public service morale

General Assembly President Tijjani Muhammad-Bande told the virtual gathering that the day offered “a rare opportunity to discuss how to reposition governments and the public service for effective containment of the current and future threats to public safety”.

“In discharging its responsibilities and fulfilling its mandates, the public sector must constantly be guided by the finest principles of public administration, notably, altruism, loyalty, dedication, excellence, integrity, responsiveness, and accountability”, he said.

To contain the spread of fallout from natural disasters, frontline workers need to be permanently ready with containment and mitigating scenarios, and above all, contact tracing and effective public communication should be the highpoints of pandemic control efforts.

“If we learnt any lesson from COVID-19, it is that, in a period of emergency, the proactive and morale-boosting role of the public service remains critical”, he added.

Commit to action: WHO chief

More than ever, the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic has highlighted the necessity of robust, responsive and effective public service delivery.

“We have all become acutely aware of the capacity and resilience of public servants, especially the millions of essential workers who keep systems and services functioning”, Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, Director-General of the World Health Organization (WHO) told the virtual celebration event.

And while acknowledging that it is right to applaud and celebrate public sector workers, he asked the question: “What is it that we are doing for others?”

The WHO chief stressed that the pandemic continues to grow and “the number of cases and deaths continues to rise”. 

“We have a lot of work to do”, he said, elaborating, among other things, on the need to enhance the capacities of public services, protect them from stigma and harassment, and enable better and stronger regulations to support health workers to deliver safe care for the public.

“This is not just about survival. It is about building back better”, he concluded asking everyone to “commit to action…that empowers and enables health workers as the foundation of the healthier, safer, fairer world we all want”.

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