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Urgent solution needed to address fuel woes in war-torn Yemen

Martin Griffiths, Special Envoy of the Secretary-General for Yemen, outlined the devastating and widespread humanitarian consequences of the shortages. 

“Life in Yemen is unforgiving enough without forcing Yemenis to struggle even harder for their everyday needs that are connected to fuel such as clean water, electricity and transportation,” said the Special Envoy. 

“The flow of essential commercial imports, including of food, fuel and medical supplies, and their distribution to the civilian population across the country must be ensured,” he added. 

According to the UN relief wing (OCHA), the shortage has led to skyrocketing fuel costs in the informal market, long queues at petrol stations, and inflated costs for water, transport and some goods. The fuel shortage and spiralling costs have also impacted the humanitarian response, causing a reduction and suspension of some aid programmes. 

The humanitarian crisis in Yemen remains one of the worst in the world, driven by conflict, disease, economic collapse, and the breakdown of public institutions and services. After six years of conflict, millions of people are hungry, ill, destitute and acutely vulnerable, and a staggering 80 per cent of the country’s population requires some form of humanitarian assistance and protection. 

Engage constructively, in good faith 

Special Envoy Griffiths said that detailed discussions were held with both parties to reach a solution that ensures Yemenis’ ability to receive the fuel and oil derivatives they need through the port of Hudaydah, and the use of associated revenues to pay the salaries of public sector employees. 

“I urge the parties to engage constructively, urgently, in good faith and with no preconditions with the efforts of my Office in that regard,” Mr. Griffiths said. 

The Office of the Special Envoy has consistently worked to support the parties to agree on continued and regular flow of commercial fuel imports into Yemen through Hudaydah port – a major commercial and humanitarian lifeline into the country – and to put associated revenues toward paying civil servant salaries, based on the 2014 database.  

In December 2018, the Special Envoy facilitated the talks between the parties, in Stockholm, to reach the Hudaydah Agreement. He also facilitated an agreement on temporary arrangements that allowed for the entry of some 72 ships carrying over 1.3 million tons of commercial fuel imports into Hudaydah port from November 2019 until April 2020.  

Since the suspension of the temporary arrangements, the Office of the Special Envoy has been engaging with the parties to find an urgent solution for the import of fuel and use of associated revenues for payment of salaries. The Office said it has made several attempts to convene the parties to discuss the terms of a disbursement mechanism.  

“However, to the Office’s regret, this meeting has not yet materialized. The Office renews its invitation to the Parties to convene this meeting as soon as possible,” it added. 

Sudan: Darfur deal a ‘significant step’, says head of UN-AU peacekeeping mission

Sudan’s transitional Government initialled the deal alongside the Sudan Revolutionary Front (SRF) and Sudan Liberation Movement–Minni Minnawi (SLM/MM), at a ceremony held in neighbouring South Sudan. 

Determination, courage and commitment 

“I would like to congratulate Sudanese people on this significant step and commend in particular the signatory parties for their determination, courage and commitment to lasting peace in Sudan”, said Jeremiah Mamabolo, the UNAMID Joint Special Representative, who attended the ceremony. 

It is expected that the peace agreement will end 17 years of often brutal conflict in Darfur. 

Fighting between the forces of former President Omar al-Bashir, backed by allied militia, and various rebel movements, left around 300,000 dead, according to UN estimates, and millions displaced. 

President al-Bashir was overthrown in April 2019 following unrest that began in December 2018. 

 “We hope that this agreement is perceived as the start of a process that includes all in a positive move towards peace, justice and national unity. This includes the full realization of the hopes, dreams and aspirations of all the people of Sudan, including Darfuris”, said Mr. Mamabolo. 

Praise for South Sudan mediation 

At the ceremony, the UNAMID chief conveyed greetings from UN Secretary-General António Guterres and the AU Commission Chairperson, Moussa Faki. 

He also applauded the South Sudanese mediation team for facilitating the negotiation process amidst challenges. 

Mr. Mamabolo hoped that those parties who remain outside will soon join the peace process to fulfill the hopes and aspirations of the Sudanese people and the objectives of the December 2018 Revolution. 

“To that end, the United Nations and the African Union remain committed to supporting this process to the very last day of UNAMID’s mandate”, he said. 



Kickstarting economies without COVID-19 plan, ‘a recipe for disaster’: Tedros

“If countries are serious about opening, they must be serious about suppressing transmission and saving lives”, said WHO chief Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, briefing reporters from Geneva.  “Opening up without having control, is a recipe for disaster.”

While this may seem an impossible balance, it can be done if countries are in control of transmission, he said.  The more control they have, the more they can open. 

The reality is that coronavirus spreads easily, he said.  It can be fatal for people of all ages and most people remain susceptible.

Prevention, prevention, prevention

To control transmission, he said it is essential to prevent events that lead to outbreaks. COVID-19 spreads efficiently among clusters of people, with explosive outbreaks linked to gatherings at places such as sports stadiums, nightclubs and places of worship. 

At the same time, there are ways to hold gatherings safely, Tedros said.  Decisions about how and when must be made with a risk-based approach, tailored to local conditions. 

Tedros said countries experiencing significant community transmission may need to postpone such events.  Those seeing sporadic cases or small clusters, on the other hand, can find creative ways to hold events while minimizing risk.

He advocated a focus on reducing deaths by protecting the elderly, people with underlying conditions and essential workers.  Countries that do this well may be able to cope with low levels of transmission as they open.

Individuals must play their part by staying at least one metre away from others, cleaning their hands regularly, practicing respiratory etiquette by wearing a mask and avoiding close-contact settings.

For governments, widespread stay-at-home orders can be avoided if they take temporary, geographically targeted interventions. It is important to find, isolate, test and care for COVID-19 cases – and both trace and quarantine contacts. 

WHO guidance for safe reopening

The UN health agency chief said WHO has a range of evidence-based guidance that can be applied in different transmission scenarios, most recently for hotels, cargo ships and fishing vessels.

Meanwhile, the agency is working with its partners through the ACT Accelerator and COVAX Global Vaccines Facility to ensure that a vaccine, once developed, is available equitably to all communities.  He thanked the European Commission, which announced today it would join the COVAX Facility, for its €400 million contribution.

Health systems under pressure

To be sure, all countries are under extreme pressure, he declared.  A WHO survey on the impact of COVID-19 on health systems in 105 countries found that 90 per cent of those surveyed have experienced disruption to their health services, with low- and middle-income countries reporting the greatest difficulties. 

Most nations reported that routine and elective services have been suspended, while critical care – such as cancer screenings and treatment, and HIV therapies – have seen high-risk interruptions in low-income countries.

While many countries are now implementing WHO-recommended strategies to mitigate service disruptions, only 14 per cent have reported the removal of user fees, which WHO recommends, offsetting potential financial difficulties for patients.

He said WHO is also developing the COVID-19 Health Services Learning Hub, a web-based platform that will allow countries to share their experiences.

Aftermath of Beirut explosion

Tedros also touched on WHO’s response to the 4 August blast in Beirut, which injured 6,500 people, left more than 300,000 homeless and severely damaged health infrastructure.

He said the agency is ensuring access to basic health and mental health care for the injured.  It is also expanding COVID-19 testing and treatments, buying medicines and protecting health workers.

To sustain these efforts, Tedros said WHO had launched a $76 million appeal. The WHO Foundation on Monday launched a campaign into which any individual or organization can contribute.

“This virus thrives when we are divided,” he said.  “When we are united, we can defeat it.”

Generations of progress for women and girls could be lost to COVID pandemic, UN chief warns

In an address to a virtual town hall with young women from civil society organizations, the Secretary-General said that the global pandemic has already reversed decades of limited and fragile progress on gender equality and women’s rights. 

“Without a concerned response, we risk losing a generation or more of gains”, he cautioned. 

Mr. Guterres underscored the vital role played by women, as healthcare workers, essential staff, teachers and carers, helping millions globally – both within and outside their homes.  

However, few are recognized due to persisting inequalities and biases. At the same time, many women working in the informal sector have been thrown into financial insecurity, without regular income or effective social safety nets. 

“The pandemic has exposed the extent of its impact on physical and mental health, education and labour force participation”, said Mr. Guterres, amid disturbing reports from around the world of skyrocketing gender-based violence, “as many women are effectively confined with their abusers, while resources and support services are redirected”. 

“In short, the pandemic is exposing and exacerbating the considerable hurdles women face in achieving their rights and fulfilling their potential”, he said. 

Monday’s town hall meeting is a regular fixture on the UN calendar, but generally organized on the side-lines of the annual session of the Commission on the Status of Women. This year, however, it was postponed due to the pandemic and held virtually, with thousands of women activists and defenders of women’s rights participating remotely.  

Here to listen 

The Secretary-General underlined that his main objective during the town hall was to listen, not talk, and he encouraged participants to ask questions and share their opinions. 

Martha, an activist from Poland, spoke of the rise of populism and nationalism in Europe which is putting democracy and human rights at risk.  She wondered how to address this challenge, especially amid a global crisis. 

Like the UN chief, Nina from Georgia agreed that women’s work is undervalued, and that the pandemic has placed additional responsibilities on them. 

“While we are trying to unpack what a pandemic has caused, I think it is important for us to once again understand the invisible barriers that women are facing for their economic empowerment,” she said. 

Some participants submitted written questions which were read out by Phumzile Mlambo-Ngcuka, head of UN Women, the UN agency which promotes gender equality globally. 

Issues raised covered the rise in teenage pregnancy during the pandemic, protection of human rights defenders, support for people with disabilities, and the need to fight racism. 

“We are delighted that women across the world have this opportunity to speak to the UN Secretary-General at this time about their issues and concerns, and to hear from him”, said Ms. Mlambo-Ngcuka, who served as the event’s moderator.   

“Civil society and the women’s movements are unflinching partners in the drive to name and tackle the inequalities that have grown under COVID-19, and to put women at the centre of recovery.” 

Women and girls at the centre of rebuilding 

In his remarks, the UN chief recalled the UN’s policy brief issued in April, which urged governments to put women and girls – their inclusion, representation, rights, and protection – at the centre of all efforts to tackle and recover from COVID-19. 

The first phase, Mr. Guterres said, was for nations to take a “holistic view” of the pandemic’s health impact.  

“All women have a right to quality, affordable sexual and reproductive health services. Governments have a responsibility to make sure women and girls can access these services, even during a crisis”, he said, calling for health systems that meet the needs and realities of all – including women and girls. 

“This means prioritizing and funding primary health care and Universal Health Coverage,” added the Secretary-General, while also prioritizing protection of women from gender-based violence in national COVID-19 plans. 

A market vendor uses the SafeBoda app which connects vendors to households using the SafeBoda transport service during the COVID-19 lockdown in Kampala, Uganda.

Mitigating social and economic impacts 

Equally important is putting money into the hands of women working in both formal and informal economies, the UN chief continued. 

“Cash transfers, credits and loans should be targeted at women, to mitigate the immediate impact of job losses and increased caring responsibilities”, he said. 

Governments should expand social safety nets and recognize the value of invisible and unpaid care work, as they inject stimulus funds to get their economies back to work. 

Doing so will address vulnerabilities women experience, ensure women’s central role in economic life, and in the long term, contribute to sustainable development and more inclusive and resilient economies, explained Mr. Guterres. 

Economic reset 

He highlighted that the pandemic has demonstrated “what we all know”, that millennia of patriarchy have resulted in a male-dominated world with a male-dominated culture that damages everyone – women, men, girls and boys. 

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“It is clear that we cannot go back to the failed policies that have resulted in the fragility we see around us – in healthcare systems, in social protection, in access to justice. This is the time to rebuild more equal, inclusive, and resilient societies. Our roadmap is the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development”, the UN chief declared. 

“We need to take the opportunity of an economic reset to ensure the rights to life, dignity, and security for everyone.” 

Recovery goes beyond governments 

Alongside governments, the private sector, academic institutions and civil society, should be fully engaged in recovering better, Mr. Guterres said.  

He called for protecting and expanding the civic space so that civil society organizations can play their full part. 

“We must also emerge from this crisis with women’s equal leadership and representation,” added the UN chief. 

He went on to recognize women leaders, officials and health workers for their empathy, compassion, communication and evidence-based decision-making, fighting the ravages of the coronavirus. 

“Their actions are showing the value of inclusivity. It stands to reason: doubling the resources, capacity and expertise we put into decision-making benefits everyone”, the UN chief said, calling for gender parity and bringing more women into leadership positions. 

A landmark year 

The Secretary-General noted that 2020 contains several important landmarks. It is the twenty-fifth anniversary of the Beijing Declaration; the twentieth anniversary of Security Council Resolution 1325 on Women, Peace and Security; and the first year of the Decade of Action on the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) – key achievements in gender equality and women’s empowerment. 

In that vein, he reinforced his determination to advance women’s priorities and to ensure their equal rights and participation in the peace and security agenda, on climate change, on building inclusive economies, and on reducing and eliminating the digital divide so that women have an equal role in designing technologies of the future. 

‘Wisdom’ of Guatemala’s indigenous people needed for sustainable development: a UN Resident Coordinator blog

“Now more than ever, we must heed the wisdom of indigenous peoples. This wisdom calls upon us to care for the earth so that not only our generation may enjoy it, but that future generations may as well.” 

The UN Resident Coordinator in Guatemala, Rebeca Arias, Flores promotes the Sustainable Development Goals with the help of two young children., by UN Guatemala/Hector Delgado

This wisdom is passed down to us through stories and spirits. Consider the example of Nawal, a supernatural spirit of harvests that can take on animal forms, according to Mesoamerican beliefs. On certain days in the indigenous calendar, people call on Nawal for a good harvest. It is a fine thing to have one good harvest. It is even better for the earth to yield its bounty again and again. To enjoy such repeated success, farmers in the area know they must respect the seasons, to plant, to sow, to let the land lay fallow for a time. 

This wisdom was also articulated in a declaration from 2012, on an auspicious date in the Mayan calendar. It was Oxlajuj B’aktun or a “change of era,” the end of a cycle that lasts more than 5,000 years. On that date, the three UN entities working with indigenous peoples came together in Guatemala, their first joint meeting outside the UN’s New York headquarters. 

Together, they issued a declaration pleading with humanity to respect human rights, promote harmony with nature, and pursue development that respects ancestral wisdom. These three bodies included the Permanent Forum for Indigenous Issues, the Mechanism of Experts on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples, and the Special Rapporteur on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples.

This wisdom found its way into “K’atun: Our Guatemala 2032”, the national plan which has guided sustainable development of three successive administrations. It serves as the compass for the country’s UN Cooperation Framework for Sustainable Development 2020-2024, created in collaboration with the Government of Guatemala.

The UN in Guatemala has been supporting K’iche’ indigenous farmers during the pandemic.

Indigenous Guatemalans hit hardest by coronavirus pandemic

To pursue K’atun, we must look at the status of indigenous peoples. In Guatemala, they are amongst the most vulnerable people because they are constantly displaced from their ancestral lands. Data from recent years show that the poverty rate among indigenous people was 79 per cent, almost 30 points above the national average. Even before the COVID-19 pandemic eight out of every 10 indigenous girls, boys and adolescents, live in poverty. Only six finish primary school, only two go to secondary school, and one goes to university. Six in 10 indigenous children under five years of age suffer from chronic malnutrition. 

COVID-19 is devastating for all of Guatemala. Many people are sick, some are dying, and countless others are losing their livelihoods because of the disease itself and because the quarantine prevents them from working and earning money. 

However hard the pandemic hits Guatemala, it will hit the indigenous peoples even harder. They were already the furthest left behind, and now they will be set back even more. The situation of indigenous women, who are often the main providers for their families, is even more worrisome.

UN Women/Ryan Brown
The knowledge held by indigenous people in Guatemala is passed on through stories and art.

Indigenous people hold key to collective survival

And yet, indigenous people are seeking their own solutions, drawing on their own ingenuity. They are using traditional knowledge and practices to contain the disease. 

 We all must concern ourselves with the wellbeing of indigenous peoples, for their sake. We must respect their wisdom, for their sake. We must protect their human rights, for their sake. We must include them in decision-making, for their sake. It is only right. 

But we must also do this for the sake of all Guatemalans. All of Guatemala, indeed, the whole world, has much to learn from indigenous peoples. It is a painful irony that they have been so exploited and oppressed, and yet they may hold a key to our collective survival. It is a painful irony, too, that indigenous people are among those most affected by climate change, and yet they contribute the least to it. 

Without indigenous people, neither Guatemala nor the rest of the world will achieve sustainable development. Without indigenous people we cannot enjoy the gifts of the earth and maintain them for all those who will come after us. This is and must be the work of all governments and all people. 

75 years ago, the signatories of the United Nations Charter reaffirmed “the dignity and worth of the human person.” 

Now, let us reaffirm that belief once more. And let us ensure that indigenous people are included in it.” 

The UN Resident Coordinator

The UN Resident Coordinator, sometimes called the RC, is the highest-ranking representative of the UN development system at the country level. In this occasional series, UN News is inviting RCs to blog on issues important to the United Nations and the country where they serve.

The key to Viet Nam’s successful COVID-19 response: A UN Resident Coordinator blog

“Despite a new wave which began on 25 July which Viet Nam is now also in the process of bringing under effective control, it is globally recognized that Viet Nam demonstrated one of the world’s most successful responses to the COVID-19 pandemic between January  and April 16. After that date, no cases of local transmission were recorded for 99 consecutive days.

There were less than 400 cases of infection across the country during that period, most of them imported, and zero deaths, a remarkable accomplishment considering the country’s population of 96 million people and the fact that it shares a 1,450 km land border with China.

Long-term planning pays off

Kamal Malhotra is the UN Resident Coordinator in Viet Nam. , by UN Viet Nam/Nguyen Duc Hieu

Viet Nam’s success has drawn international attention because of its early, proactive, response, led by the government, and involving the whole political system, and all aspects of the society. With the support of the

World Health Organization (WHO) and other partners, Viet Nam had already put a long-term plan in place, to enable it to cope with public health emergencies, building on its experience dealing with previous disease outbreaks, such as SARS, which it also handled remarkably well.

Viet Nam’s successful management of the COVID-19 outbreak so far can, therefore, be at least partly put down to the its investment during “peacetime”. The country has now demonstrated that preparedness to deal with infectious disease is a key ingredient for protecting people and securing public health in times of pandemics such as COVID-19.

As early as January 2020, Viet Nam conducted its first risk assessment, immediately after the identification of a cluster of cases of “severe pneumonia with unknown etiology” in Wuhan, China. From the time that the first two COVID-19 cases were confirmed in Viet Nam in the second half of January 2020, the government started to put precautionary measures into effect by strengthening entry-screening measures and extending the Tết (Lunar New Year) holiday for schools.

Teachers and students were able to return to school in Lao Cai, Viet Nam, in May.

By 13 February 2020, the number of cases had climbed to 16 with limited local transmission detected in a village near the capital city, Hanoi. As this had the potential to cause a further spread of the virus in Viet Nam, the country implemented a targeted three-week village-wide quarantine, affecting 11,000 people. There were then no further local cases for three  weeks.

But Viet Nam had simultaneously developed its broader quarantine and isolation policy to control COVID-19. As the next wave began in early March, through an imported case from the UK, the government knew that it was crucial to contain virus transmission as fast as possible, in order also to safeguard its economy.

Viet Nam therefore closed its borders and suspended international flights from mainland China in February, extending this to UK, Europe, the US and then the rest of the world progressively in March, whilst requiring all travelers entering the country, including its nationals, to undergo 14-day mandatory quarantine on arrival.

This helped the authorities keep track of imported cases of COVID-19 and prevent further local transmission which could have then led to wider community transmission. Both the military and local governments were mobilized to provide testing, meals and amenity services to all quarantine facilities which remained free during this period.

No lockdown required

While there was never a nationwide lockdown, some restrictive physical distancing measures were implemented throughout the country. On 1 April 2020, the Prime Minister issued a nationwide two week physical distancing directive, which was extended by a week in major cities and hotspots: people were advised to stay at home, non-essential businesses were requested to close, and public transportation was limited.

Such measures were so successful that, by early May, following two weeks without a locally confirmed case, schools and businesses resumed their operations and people could return to regular routines. Green One UN House, the home of most UN agencies in Viet Nam, remained open throughout this period, with the Resident Coordinator, WHO Representative and approximately 200 UN staff and consultants physically in the office throughout this period, to provide vital support to the Government and people of Viet Nam.

Notably, the Vietnamese public had been exceptionally compliant with government directives and advice, partly as a result of trust built up thanks to real time, transparent communication from the Ministry of Health, supported by the WHO and other UN agencies. 

Innovative methods were used to keep the public informed and safe. For instance, regular text updates were sent by the Ministry of Health, on preventive measures and COVID-19’s symptoms. A COVID-19 song was released, with lyrics raising public awareness of the disease, which later went viral on social media with a dance challenge on Tik Tok initiated by Quang Dang, a local celebrity.. 

UN Viet Nam/Nguyen Duc Hieu
Young people in Viet Nam take part in International Youth Day 2020 festivities in June.

Protecting the vulnerable

Still, challenges remain to ensure that the people across the country, especially the hardest hit people, from small and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs) and poor and vulnerable groups, are well served by an adequately resourced and effectively implemented social protection package. 

The UN in Viet Nam is keen to help the government support clean technology-based SMEs, with the cooperation of international financial institutions, which will need to do things differently from the past and embrace a new, more inclusive and sustainable, perspective on growth.

Challenges remain

As I write, Viet Nam stands at a critical point with respect to COVID-19. On 25 July, 99 days after being COVID-free in terms of local transmission, a new case was confirmed in Da Nang, a well-known tourist destination; hundreds of thousands of people flocked to the city and surrounding region over the summer.

The government is once again demonstrating its serious commitment to containing local virus transmission. While there have been a few hundred new local transmission cases and 24 deaths, all centered in a major hospital in Danang (sadly, all the deaths were of people with multiple pre-conditions) aggressive contact tracing, proactive case management, extensive quarantining measures and comprehensive public communication activities are taking place.

I am confident that the country will be successful in its efforts to once again successfully contain the virus, once more over the next few weeks.”

The UN Resident Coordinator

The UN Resident Coordinator, sometimes called the RC, is the highest-ranking representative of the UN development system at the country level. In this occasional series, UN News is inviting RCs to blog on issues important to the United Nations and the country where they serve.

UN agencies call for urgent disembarkation of hundreds of refugees and migrants rescued in Central Mediterranean

The International Organization for Migration (IOM) and the UN refugee agency, UNHCR,  also underlined the need  for regional agreement on safe disembarkation amid the COVID-19 pandemic and reduced search and rescue capacity.

“The humanitarian imperative of saving lives should not be penalized or stigmatized, especially in the absence of dedicated state-led efforts,” they said in a joint statement.

Fears for overcrowded vessel

The agencies reported that some 200 refugees and migrants were in urgent need of transfer and disembarkation from the Louise Michel, a search and rescue vessel operated by a German non-governmental organization (NGO) and funded by the reclusive British artist Banksy.

The boat had assisted in a rescue early on Saturday and was overcrowded.  “Any delays could jeopardize the safety of all people onboard, including its crew members,” the agencies warned. 

Following calls for assistance, 49 people were later evacuated by the Italian coastguard, according to media reports.  

An ‘unacceptable’ situation

Meanwhile, some 27 people who had departed from Libya have been aboard a commercial vessel since being rescued more than three weeks ago.  Those on the Maersk Etienne include a pregnant woman and children.

Describing the situation as “unacceptable”, the UN agencies stressed that a commercial tanker “cannot be considered a suitable place to keep people in need of humanitarian assistance or those who may need international protection”, adding that “appropriate COVID-19 prevention measures can be implemented once they reach dry land.” 

A further 200 migrants and refugees are on board another NGO rescue vessel, the Sea Watch 4.

Lack of regional agreement 

Both IOM and UNHCR have long called for regional agreement on a  mechanism for disembarkation of people rescued at sea.

“The lack of agreement…is not an excuse to deny vulnerable people a port of safety and the assistance they need, as required under international law,” they said, calling for stalled talks to be resumed and for other European Union (EU) states to step up support to Mediterranean countries on the frontline of the issue.

The UN agencies also expressed concern about what they described as the continued absence of dedicated EU-led search and rescue capacity in the Central Mediterranean. 

“With relatively fewer NGO vessels compared to previous years, the gap is being increasingly filled by commercial vessels,” they said.

“It is vital that they are permitted to disembark rescued passengers promptly, as without such timely processes, shipmasters of commercial vessels may be deterred from attending to distress calls for fear of being stranded at sea for weeks on end.”

UN envoy welcomes ‘commonalities’ shared by Syrians in Geneva talks

Speaking to journalists in the Swiss city after a week of “challenging” stop-start talks, interrupted by the discovery that four participants had tested positive for COVID-19 on Monday, Mr. Pedersen insisted that “several areas of commonalities” had been found.

“There are still very strong disagreements and, you know, my Syrian friends are never afraid of expressing those disagreements. But I was also, you know, extremely pleased to hear the two co-chairs saying very clearly that they thought also there were quite a few areas of commonalities. And what I’m looking forward to is hopefully when we meet again, that we will be able to build on those commonalities and bring the process further forward.”

He added: “I am confident that we have been able to build a little bit of confidence, a little bit of trust, and that we can build on this and continue the work that we have started, we would see progress in the work of the committee. But as I have said, progress is happening, it’s of course up to the Syrians themselves within the Committee.”

Hoped-for trust-building gestures from the Syrian Government and the opposition, including progress on the release of abductees and detainees, had been elusive, he said. “The issue of abductees, detainees and missing persons, as you know, has been one of my so-called five priorities from when I started, and it’s an area where I’m afraid we haven’t seen enough progress. But of course, it is my hope that with the continued calm on the groun,d and with progress on the political track, that we could also see some progress on this front.”

Call for nationwide ceasefire

Highlighting the keen global interest in the Geneva process, given the presence of several major regional and international nations inside Syria, the Special Envoy reiterated his call for a nationwide ceasefire, beyond the fragile truce largely holding in Syria’s northwest.

“It is calmer and that is obviously conducive to the talks that we are having,” Mr. Pedersen insisted. “But at the same time, I think we have agreed the principle that the talks that are happening here in Geneva do not depend on the situation on the ground. We are, you know, in all my briefings to the Security Council, this is one of the key issues I am addressing, and appealing for the parties to make sure that we develop this calm into what we have called in line with Security Council Resolution 2254, a nationwide ceasefire.”

UN-facilitated talks

The third session of the UN-facilitated discussions of the Syria Constitutional Committee’s small body convened in Geneva after a nine-month break caused by differences over the agenda, which were resolved by March, and then by COVID-19 restrictions.

Earlier negotiations to decide the make-up of the Committee’ s larger body were held in Geneva at the end of October 2019.

The larger body comprises 150 participants: 50 each from the Syrian Government, 50 from the opposition, and 50 from civil society – the so-called “middle third” – who hail from different religious, ethnic and geographical backgrounds.

Under the Committee’s rules of procedure and terms of reference agreed by participants, the small group of 45 people is tasked with preparing and drafting proposals. 

These are then discussed and adopted by the larger body, although the 75 per cent decision-making threshold means that no single bloc can dictate the Committee’s outcomes.

Up to the Syrian people

At the start of the week, Mr. Pedersen told journalists that meetings had been “constructive” and that a “clear agenda” for the session had been agreed.

Owing to the interruption caused by the COVID-19 development, Mr. Pedersen explained that he would continue discussing the agenda for the Committee’s next meeting separately with the two co-chairs, Ahmad Kuzbari from the Government and Hadi Albahra for the opposition.

But as the UN-facilitated process belonged to the Syrian people and their representatives, it was up to them set a new date for the next round of talks, the Special Envoy insisted.

He also reiterated his confidence that the process would result in a fair representation of the wishes of all Syrians, in line with its terms of reference agreed by the co-chairs.

“It is stated in the terms of reference that to be able to proceed, in the end we would need consensus or a 75 per cent majority,” he said. “And this is of course something in place exactly to be able so that we can move – that all the sides know that they cannot force their views upon the other – if we are to reach, you know a new constitutional reform, it will have to be built as I said either on a strong consensus or bringing people together with a 75 per cent majority.”


Enforced disappearances ‘rife across the world’ – UN chief

“The crime of enforced disappearance is rife across the world”, Secretary-General António Guterres said in his message commemorating the day. “We see new cases almost daily, including the disappearance of defenders of the environment, who are often indigenous peoples”.

 “Meanwhile”, he continued, “the excruciating pain of old cases is still acute, as the fate of thousands of disappeared people remains unknown, making the crime a continuous presence in the lives of the loved ones of the lost”.

States have a duty to strengthen their efforts to prevent enforced disappearances — UN chief

Global problem

Enforced disappearance has become a global problem – not restricted to any specific region of the world. 

Once largely the product of military dictatorships, enforced disappearances can nowadays be perpetrated in complex situations of internal conflict, especially as a means of political repression of opponents, according to the UN. 

Shining a spotlight

Particular concerns involve the ongoing harassment of human rights defenders, relatives of victims, witnesses and legal counsel dealing with cases of enforced disappearance.

The UN Committee and Working Group on Enforced Disappearances have identified additional worrying trends, Mr. Guterres said, “including reprisals against relatives of the victims and members of civil society, often in the name of security and counter-terrorism”.  

“Enforced disappearance also has gendered consequences particularly affecting women and LGBTI persons,” he added.

Carte blanche

Also concerning is the use of enforced disappearance by States of counter-terrorist activities as an excuse for breaching their obligations along with the widespread exemption from punishment for the crime.

“Impunity compounds the suffering and anguish,” underscored the UN chief maintaining that it is “critical to pursue credible and impartial judicial investigations.”

Under international human rights law, families and societies have a right to know the truth about what happened.  

“I call on Member States to fulfil this responsibility”, he upheld.

Renewing UN commitment

Hundreds of thousands of people have vanished during conflicts or periods of repression in at least 85 countries around the world, attests the UN.

“With the support of international human rights mechanisms, States have a duty to strengthen their efforts to prevent enforced disappearances, to search for victims, and to increase assistance to victims and their relatives,” the top UN official stated.

And special attention must be given to vulnerable populations, like children and people with disabilities. 

“On this International Day, let us renew our commitment to end all enforced disappearances”, the Secretary-General said, calling on all States to “ratify the Convention for the Protection of all Persons against Enforced Disappearances and to accept the competence of the Committee to examine individual complaints”. 

He called it “a first, but crucial step, towards the elimination of this atrocious crime”.

Complex security, environmental crises worsen conditions for over 360,000 in western Chad

According to Paul Dillon, an IOM spokesperson, while the region has been a target of repeated attacks by insurgents since 2015, the situation has worsened dramatically in 2020. 

“Recurrent security attacks and incursions by non-State armed groups since the beginning of the year prompted the Chadian Government in March to declare the departments of Fouli and Kaya, two of Lake Chad’s borderlands departments ‘war zones’,” he said. 

Since April, the number of the displaced has increased by almost 22 per cent, according to the IOM Displacement Tracking Matrix, a tool to monitor displacement and movement of people in emergency or crisis situations. 

Double crisis 

Located in the western part of Chad, the Lake (or Lac) region borders Nigeria and Niger. The three nations along with Cameroon form the Lake Chad Basin, where thousands have lost their lives and millions forced to flee their homes due to attacks by non-State armed insurgents.  

The crisis has also exacerbated food security, leaving many dependent on humanitarian assistance.   

This is a worrying trend as the displacement is recurrent, protracted due to the deterioration of security and environmental situations, and involves large in numbers of people – IOM spokesperson

In addition to the security challenges, the situation in the Lake region has been further complicated by some of the heaviest rainfall in nearly 30 years, with roughly 400 millimetres of rainfall that resulted in flash floods in villages and fields. 

“This is a worrying trend as the displacement is recurrent, protracted due to the deterioration of security and environmental situations, and involves large in numbers of people,” said Mr. Dillon. 

IOM response 

In response, IOM is providing emergency assistance to vulnerable populations. It has delivered more than 2,500 transitory and semi-permanent shelters to nearly 13,000 persons; and over 2,700 non-food item packages including hygiene kits, sleeping mats, clothes and basic cooking equipment for over 14,000 persons. 

However, much more is needed immediately as many families are facing heavy rainfall without proper housing, with the added complexity of the COVID-19 pandemic.  

In addition, three-quarters of the displaced persons IOM identified live in displacement sites, most of which are made of straw and metal shelters.  

Many of them sleep in the open without adequate protection from bad weather, with limited access to amenities such as water, hygiene facilities, health services and COVID-19 protective equipment. 

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