• English

From one anti-racism trailblazer to another: Andrew Young remembers Ralph Bunche

Speaking to UN News in July 2020, Andrew Young recounted his memories of Mr. Bunche, and explained why his influence continues to be felt, at the UN and in the broader fight against racism.

“Ralph Bunche was one of my childhood heroes. I thought of him as my father, because he has already done everything that I was trying to do, 40 years earlier!

Ralph left Howard University, [one of the foremost historically black universities] in 1939 to take a tour of Africa, developing military intelligence on the continent, for the US Second World War effort.

He went by boat to Morocco, Tunisia and Egypt, then through the Suez Canal to Kenya and South Africa, and he was the only person in the US army who really knew anything about the continent, in terms of military intelligence. Much of the UN doctrines on decolonization, peacekeeping, immigration, refugees and asylum came, I believe, from the studies he made during this period.

‘A US citizen, marching for freedom’

Ambassador Andrew Young of the United States, President of the Security Council, is seen calling a  meeting to order on South Africa. (March 1977)

UN Photo/Yutaka Nagata
Ambassador Andrew Young of the United States, President of the Security Council, is seen calling a meeting to order on South Africa. (March 1977)

During the civil rights era, and even though he was a senior UN official, and not directly involved with Martin Luther King, he didn’t hesitate to advise and encourage Dr. King.

He even came to march with Dr. King in Selma [scene of the 1965 civil rights marches by non-violent activists, demonstrating the repression of their constitutional right to vote], showing that, as well as being an internationally renowned scholar, he retained a direct connection with the black community and the civil rights leadership: he didn’t come as an official of the United Nations, he wanted to be there simply as a US citizen, marching for freedom in his country.

When I met Mr. Bunche at the UN [in 1967, accompanying Martin Luther King] he said that he didn’t want to criticize Dr. King for his stance on Viet Nam, which he agreed with [Martin Luther King was vocal in opposing America’s involvement in the Viet Nam war], but he said that he hated to see Dr. King involved with both the civil rights movement and the peace movement at the same time, because it left him too exposed.

Dr. King replied that he didn’t want to be involved but he had no choice: “I don’t want be involved with this, but I can’t run form it. I can’t segregate my conscience. I can’t be for non-violence between races and classes in the world and endorse violence in international conflict”.

That meeting took place one year to the day before Dr. King was assassinated. It’s almost as if Mr. Bunche was predicting that the variety of roles that Dr. King was playing was unwise, and he was advising him to slow down a bit and last a little longer.

Master of the back channels

Ralph Bunche was always very rational and logical, and he resisted all kinds of emotional and anger politics that could exist between races, or between the developed and less developed worlds.

He was a master mediator, with a cold, logical, and analytical mind, which he applied to volatile, emotional subjects. He didn’t believe in secrecy, but he believed that diplomacy depends on a certain level of private confidence: there’s a back-channel game constantly going on at the UN.

This article is one of a series of multimedia features published as part of the commemorations surrounding the twentieth anniversary of the UN’s Durban Declaration, considered to be a milestone in the global fight against racism.


Ralph Bunche, a man of peace

  • The achievements of Ralph Bunche are hard to overstate. At a time of pronounced racial inequality in the United States, Mr. Bunche became the first African American to gain a doctorate from an American university in the 1930s. After serving his country in the Second World War, in military intelligence, he worked on two of the UN’s foundational documents: the United Nations Charter, and the Universal Declaration of Human Rights.
  • Mr. Bunche went on to become Under-Secretary-General for the UN, supporting the efforts of colonised peoples to achieve freedom and independence in the Trusteeship Council, and mediating the 1949 armistice between Israel and neighbouring Arab countries, for which he was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize in 1950.
  • Mr. Bunche was the architect and director of subsequent United Nations peacekeeping operations, and he personally led the largest and most challenging of these, the 1960 UN operation in the Congo.
  • Although Mr. Bunche had left the UN by the time Andrew Young became the Organization’s first African American US Ambassador in 1977, the two men had met previously, during the 1960s. Mr. Young accompanied Dr. Martin Luther King on his visit to UN Headquarters in 1967, at the height of the US civil rights movement.
  • A more detailed description of Mr. Bunche’s UN achievements, and his personal qualities, read this article by another founding member of the UN Secretariat, Brian Urquhart.

IAEA ‘deeply troubled’ by DPRK nuclear reactor development

The 5-megawatt reactor is widely believed to have produced plutonium for nuclear weapons and is at the heart of North Korea’s nuclear programme, the agency said.

Responding to journalists’ questions, the UN Spokesperson Stéphane Dujarric, said on Monday that the Secretary-General was aware of the reports “and concerned by the latest developments.”

“He calls for the DPRK to refrain from any nuclear weapon-related activities and to resume talks with the other parties concerned. 

“Diplomatic engagement remains the only pathway to sustainable peace and complete and verifiable denuclearization of the Korean Peninsula.”

Indications of operations since July

In its annual report, issued before a meeting of its Member States, the UN-convened atomic energy watchdog said the reactor has been discharging cooling water since July, suggesting it is operational.

The report said the duration of that apparent work – from mid-February to early July – suggested a full batch of spent fuel was handled, in contrast to the shorter time needed for waste treatment or maintenance.

“The new indications of the operation of the 5MW(e) reactor and the Radiochemical (reprocessing) laboratory are deeply troubling”, and a clear violation of UN Security Council resolutions, it said. The report also said there were indications of mining and concentration activities at a uranium mine and plant at Pyongsan.  

First activity since 2018

DPRK, which is more commonly known as North Korea, has continued to develop nuclear weapons since IAEA inspectors were expelled in 2009, holding its last test in 2017.

Since then, the IAEA has had no access to North Korea and now monitors North Korea from afar, largely through satellite imagery, to get an idea of how many weapons the regime is capable of producing.

This latest observation was the first sign of operational activity at the Yongbyon reactor since December 2018, months after former US President Donald Trump met North Korea leader Kim Jong-un in Singapore, according to the IAEA. 

Call for compliance

The agency has called upon North Korea to comply fully with its obligations under relevant UN Security Council resolutions and to cooperate promptly with the Agency in the full and effective implementation of its global Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT) Safeguards Agreement, and to resolve all outstanding issues, especially those that have arisen during the absence of Agency inspectors from the country.

The Agency said it continued to maintain its enhanced readiness to return to North Korea and to strengthen its ability to play its essential role in verifying the DPRK’s nuclear programme. 

UN health agency secures life-saving medical supplies to Afghanistan

Announcing the news, the World Health Organization (WHO) said that the successful airlift meant that it could “partially replenish” health facilities’ reserves and ensure that services can continue, for now.

Some 12.5 metric tonnes of supplies arrived in the northern airport of Mazar-i-Sharif, aboard a plane provided by the Government of Pakistan. WHO said that the shipment consisted of enough trauma and emergency health kits to cover the basic health needs of more than 200,000 people, as well as provide 3500 surgical procedures and treat 6500 trauma patients.

The supplies will be delivered immediately to 40 health facilities in 29 provinces across Afghanistan, the UN agency added.

Airbridge vital

The plane was loaded with the supplies earlier on Monday by WHO’s logistics team at the International Humanitarian City in Dubai, United Arab Emirates.

It is the first of three flights planned with Pakistan International Airlines to fill urgent shortages in medicines and medical supplies in Afghanistan.

“The support of the Pakistani people has been timely and life-saving,” said Dr Ahmed Al Mandhari, WHO Regional Director for the Eastern Mediterranean. While WHO is working with partners to ensure more shipments to the country, the agency said a reliable humanitarian air bridge is urgently required, to scale up the collective humanitarian effort.

Tens of millions of vulnerable Afghans remain in the country and the work of meeting their needs is now just beginning, said the agency adding that the world cannot now divert its attention from the people of Afghanistan at this critical time.

International community must act

Adding his voice to the appeal, the UN High Commissioner for Refugees, Filippo Grandi has urged the international community to help the many millions in need in Afghanistan and in neighbouring countries.

In an appeal on Monday for long-term solutions for Afghans whose lives have been blighted by 40 years of war, the UN Refugee chief said that although thousands had managed to escape via Kabul airport, “there will still be millions who need the international community to act”.

Protect women and girls, UN rights experts urge Taliban

The UN Committee on the Elimination of Discrimination against Women (CEDAW) and the UN Committee on the Rights of the Child (CRC) have called on the Taliban to honour their pledge to protect Afghan women and girls, and to respect and fulfil the human rights enshrined in the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against Women and the Convention on the Rights of the Child.

“As the planned withdrawal of international troops from Afghanistan is due to be completed within hours, the Committees urge the Taliban and all other parties to take measures to protect the lives and respect the human rights of women and children”, said the independent rights experts, in a statement.

They said they were alarmed by the “restrictive practices and ongoing reports of targeted attacks on women and girls including academics, health workers, human rights defenders, media workers, civil servants and many others who have contributed to the country’s development over the past 20 years, as well as those exercising their right to education.”

The statement praised women in public life, adding that “excessive and arbitrary restrictions on women’s and girls’ rights to freedom of movement and expression, education, work and their right to participate…are incompatible with the principles of proportionality and non-discrimination.

“Both Committees urge those in power and exercising effective control in Afghanistan to comply with the basic tenets of international human rights and humanitarian law, including their due diligence obligation to prevent and protect women and girls from gender-based violence and discrimination.”

Noting that the Taliban has issued a number of statements in recent days referring to their plans to form an inclusive government and allow women to work freely, the Committees “urge the Taliban to honour their own commitments and not to let history repeat itself”, the statement said.

10 million children ‘in desparate need’ – UNICEF

There are nearly 10 million children “in desperate need of humanitarian aid” today, according to UNICEF Afghanistan Representative, Hervé Ludovic De Lys, who briefed journalists at UN Headquarters in New York. 

“Those least responsible for this crisis, are paying the highest price — including the children killed and injured in a series of atrocities in Kabul since last Thursday”, the senior UN Children’s Fund official told correspondents.  

“Again, today, I heard of more unsettling reports – of unaccompanied children across the country…more reports of grave violations, including children being recruited by armed groups…All this in a year in which more than 550 children have been killed, and more than 1400 injured.” 

He said that against a backdrop of conflict and insecurity, children are living in communities that are running out of water because of drought. “They’re missing life-saving vaccines, including against polio, a disease that can paralyze children for life. Many are so malnourished they lie in hospital beds too weak to grasp an outstretched finger. 

“These children are deprived of their right to a healthy and protected childhood”, he added.  

“It is for each and every one of these children that UNICEF is staying. We have been in Afghanistan for 65 years and we’re here to deliver critical aid and enable services for those most in need.”

UNESCO warning

Meanwhile, The UN Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) has warned Afghanistan is at risk of seeing progress made over the last two decades totally unravel, in terms of human rights, education and international standards.

The country has made huge strides, but they must be preserved, or the country’s development will be plunged into reverse, it said.

Highlighting the challenges that lie ahead, UNESCO noted that 12 million young people and adults in Afghanistan still lack basic literacy skills, while 81 journalists were killed between 2006 and 2021, with seven fatalities so far this year.

From September 2020 to February 2021, almost one in five women journalists left the profession, due to ongoing violence and threats.

UNESCO said it was monitoring the evolving situation in Afghanistan with particular attention to issues concerning the universal right to education, freedom of expression and heritage.

It urged the international community to step up its support to the Afghan people, as what action it takes now will “serve as a benchmark for the future”.

Ensuring the right to a nationality, more pressing than ever: UNHCR

“New global challenges, such as COVID-19 and the effects of climate change, on top of persistent ones like rising forced displacement, showcase just how critical the right to a nationality is,” said Filippo Grandi, UN High Commissioner for Refugees.

“Having a nationality – and the protection of a government that nationality affords – can make a life-saving difference, even more so in times of crisis, whether it’s vaccination, evacuation or providing a social safety net that is needed”.

Falling between the cracks 

Stateless people can fall between the cracks in conflict and displacement situations because they lack the protection of any government, they don’t have proof of their legal identity, or both, the UN agency warned.

They can also risk being excluded from accessing COVID-19 vaccinations are unlikely to be included in countries socio-economic relief packages intended to lessen the pandemic’s impact on livelihoods.

Moreover, as climate change worsens, stateless people risk being excluded from government efforts to mitigate the effects of extreme weather events, the agency added. More broadly, being stateless can mean having no access to education, medical care or legal employment.

Statelessness can hinder freedom of movement, the ability to buy property, vote, open a bank account or even get married. 

More than 4 million affected

Globally, 4.2 million people are known to be stateless. However, the UNHCR estimates that the true number of persons not recognized as citizens by any country is likely to be much higher, given gaps in data collection.

On the anniversary of the 1961 Convention the Agency is reminding all States that applying the treaty would help ensure that no child is born without a nationality and ultimately support the eradication of statelessness over time.

As of the end of August 2021, 77 States have joined the 1961 Convention, with increasing numbers signing up over the last decade.

Since 2010, 40 States have formalized their commitment to reduce statelessness by becoming parties, most recently Iceland and Togo. In the same period, more than 800,000 stateless people are known to have had their nationality confirmed and statelessness resolved. 

A displaced Nigerian woman is happy that the children she delivered will get birth certificates .

© UNHCR/Gabriel Adeyemo
A displaced Nigerian woman is happy that the children she delivered will get birth certificates .

Ending statelessness

Accession to the 1961 Convention is one of the 10 actions of the Global Action Plan to End Statelessness. The Plan provides a framework for States to achieve the goals of the #IBelong Campaign, which was launched by UNHCR and partners in 2014 to end statelessness within 10 years.

“In this anniversary year, UNHCR is urging all States that have not already done so, to join the 1961 Convention on the Reduction of Statelessness, to incorporate the safeguards of the Convention into their nationality laws, and to guarantee every person’s right to a nationality,” Mr Grandi said.

Security Council urges Taliban to provide safe passage out of Afghanistan

Thirteen of the 15 ambassadors voted in favour of the resolution, which further demands that Afghanistan not be used as a shelter for terrorism.

Permanent members China and Russia abstained.

Airport attack condemned

Countries condemned in the strongest terms the deadly blasts at Kabul airport on Thursday, which killed more than 150 people and injured upwards of 200 more.  The terrorist group Islamic State in Khorosan Province (ISKP) claimed responsibility.

The attack targeted people fleeing Afghanistan in the wake of the Taliban’s takeover two weeks ago, and international forces assisting the evacuations.

Thousands of Afghans have been trying to escape from the country ahead of the full withdrawal of the United States by its self-imposed Tuesday deadline.


Ambassador Linda Thomas-Greenfield of the United States addresses the Security Council meeting on the situation in Afghanistan.

UN Photo/Eskinder Debebe
Ambassador Linda Thomas-Greenfield of the United States addresses the Security Council meeting on the situation in Afghanistan.

USA: Live up to commitment

The resolution was tabled by the United States, alongside fellow permanent Council members France and the United Kingdom.

“The Security Council expects the Taliban to live up to its commitment to facilitate safe passage for Afghans and foreign nationals who want to leave Afghanistan, whether it’s today, tomorrow, or after August 31,” said US Ambassador Linda Thomas-Greenfield.

“Consistent with the right to leave any country, including one’s own, everybody must be allowed to safely leave Afghanistan, for whatever reason, whenever they want, by air or by land. This is of the utmost importance to us.”

Since July, the USA has evacuated more than 122,000 Americans, foreign nationals and at-risk Afghan citizens, she reported.  Ms. Thomas-Greenfield added that the resolution also reflects the Council’s “crystal clear” commitment to assisting those who remain in Afghanistan.

“It underscores that all parties need to facilitate humanitarian assistance, and that humanitarian actors be given full safe and unhindered access to continue service delivery to those in need,” she said.

France: Reach all in need

The resolution takes note of a Taliban statement this week which allows Afghans to leave the country at any time. Nathalie Estival-Broadhurst, Deputy Permanent Representative of France, called for that commitment to be upheld.

Nathalie Estival-Broadhurst, Deputy Permanent Representative of France addresses the Security Council meeting on the situation in Afghanistan.

UN Photo/Eskinder Debebe
Nathalie Estival-Broadhurst, Deputy Permanent Representative of France addresses the Security Council meeting on the situation in Afghanistan.

“This resolution calls on everyone to make all efforts to secure the airport and the surrounding area.,” she said, speaking through an interpreter.

“And to create this safe passage and protection is a sine qua non condition to ensure that threatened Afghans who wish to leave can do so safely, but also to ensure that humanitarian assistance can reach all of those who need it through the airport, of course, but also over land borders.”

UK: Protect rights gains

On the issue of human rights, UK Ambassador Barbara Woodward emphasized the need to protect gains made over the past two decades, stressing that the rights of women, children and minorities must be safeguarded.

Ambassador Barbara Woodward of the United Kingdom addresses the Security Council meeting on the situation in Afghanistan.

UN Photo/Eskinder Debebe
Ambassador Barbara Woodward of the United Kingdom addresses the Security Council meeting on the situation in Afghanistan.

She described the resolution as an important step towards a unified international response to the situation in Afghanistan.  

“We will continue to build on this to ensure the Council holds the Taliban accountable on its commitments. The Taliban will be judged by the international community on the basis of their actions on the ground, not their words,” she stated.

Russia: Concerns not included

In explaining his vote, Ambassador Vassily Nebenzia said Russia was forced to abstain because certain “principled concerns” were not reflected in the draft text, which was circulated on Friday.

Ambassador Vassily Nebenzia of the Russian Federation addresses the Security Council meeting on the situation in Afghanistan.

UN Photo/Eskinder Debebe
Ambassador Vassily Nebenzia of the Russian Federation addresses the Security Council meeting on the situation in Afghanistan.

“Firstly, despite the fact that the resolution was proposed against the backdrop of a terrible terrorist attack, the authors categorically refused to refer to a passage on the fight against terrorism containing internationally recognized terrorist organizations ISIL and the East Turkistan Islamic Movement,” he said, speaking through an interpreter.

“We see this as a reluctance to acknowledge the obvious, and a desire to divide terrorists into ‘ours’ and ‘theirs’; and that is to say, to downplay the terrorist threat coming from these groups.”

China: Reflection and correction

Ambassador Geng Shuang of China stated that given the fragile situation on the ground, and the uncertainties, any Council action should help ease tensions, and not intensify them.

Ambassador Geng Shuang of China addresses the Security Council meeting on the situation in Afghanistan.

UN Photo/Eskinder Debebe
Ambassador Geng Shuang of China addresses the Security Council meeting on the situation in Afghanistan.

“The recent chaos in Afghanistan is directly related to the hasty and disorderly withdrawal of foreign troops,” he said.  “We hope that relevant countries will realize the fact that withdrawal is not the end of responsibility, but the beginning of reflection and correction.” 

Secretary-General calls for bold action to end biodiversity crisis

In remarks to a high-level virtual meeting to develop a new global framework to address biodiversity loss, he underlined the need for commitment, ambition and credibility.

“The future of humanity depends on our collective efforts”, he said. “Let us work together to sustain all life on Earth so people and nature may benefit.”

A critical moment

The new framework will be adopted at the UN Biodiversity Conference, known as COP-15, to be held in Kunming, China, next year.

At the Pre-COP meeting on Monday, organized by Colombia, countries and other stakeholders shared actions and initiatives, as well as commitments, towards its implementation.

Participants included world leaders, ministers, heads of international organizations and multilateral banks, women, youth, and indigenous peoples.

The Secretary-General said they were meeting at a critical moment as “biodiversity is collapsing – and we are the losers”, pointing to degraded ecosystems around the world.

“As people and livestock encroach further into wild habitats, we run the risk of unleashing terrifying new pandemics,” he warned.

Transform relationship with nature

Mr. Guterres said the world is counting on an ambitious new agreement that will transform humanity’s relationship with nature, and that fully reflects the value of biodiversity and healthy ecosystems, including to the global economy.

The new plan must support ecosystems that help humanity to adapt and build resilience to climate change.

Empower indigenous peoples

He urged Governments to “shift the perverse subsidies that destroy healthy soils, pollute our water and empty the oceans of fish to those that incentivize actions to sustain nature.”

They must also establish larger and better managed conservation areas to safeguard species, functioning ecosystems and carbon stocks for current and future generations.
“And we need to safeguard and empower the leadership of indigenous peoples and local communities whose lands encompass much of the world’s remaining biodiversity.”

Above all, the world needs commitment, ambition and credibility, he said, emphasizing that everyone must act on the understanding that protecting nature will create a fairer, healthier and more sustainable world.

“I am optimistic this can happen, especially when I see the awareness and commitment of the world’s young people,” he said. “And I applaud the commitments already made.”

However, he stressed that only bold action on the ground will end the biodiversity crisis.

End of leaded fuel use a ‘milestone for multilateralism’

“Lead in fuel has run out of gas – thanks to the cooperation of governments in developing nations, thousands of businesses and millions of ordinary people,” he said.

Healthy, wealthy and wise

The UN Environment Programme (UNEP) spearheaded the initiative to put the brakes on a century of leaded petrol use. The move is expected to net the global economy $2.45 trillion in savings.

Mr. Guterres highlighted the health benefits.

“Ending the use of leaded petrol will prevent more than one million premature deaths each year from heart disease, strokes and cancer,” he said. “And it will protect children whose IQs are damaged by exposure to lead.”

Inger Andersen, the UNEP Executive Director, echoed his message.

“Overcoming a century of deaths and illnesses that affected hundreds of millions and degraded the environment worldwide, we are invigorated to change humanity’s trajectory for the better through an accelerated transition to clean vehicles and electric mobility.”

Road to riddance

The world officially said goodbye to leaded petrol in July, when service stations in Algeria stopped offering it to drivers.

Vehicles have been running on leaded fuel since 1922, when the compound tetraethyllead was added to gasoline to boost engine performance.

By the 1970s, almost all petrol produced worldwide contained lead, UNEP said. The health impacts have been catastrophic, as the Secretary-General pointed out, but the environment has suffered too, with air and soil contamination just two examples.

Most high-income nations had prohibited leaded petrol use by the 1980s, but almost all low and middle-income countries were still using it as late as 2002.

That same year, UNEP began the Partnership for Clean Fuels and Vehicles (PCFV), the public-private alliance behind the campaign.

The initiative brought together all stakeholders, and its activities included raising awareness and overcoming resistance from local oil dealers and producers of lead, as well as investing in refinery upgrades and providing technical assistance.

After a 20-year campaign, the use of leaded petrol or gasoline has ended worldwide, including in Chad. (pictured)

UN News/Daniel Dickinson
After a 20-year campaign, the use of leaded petrol or gasoline has ended worldwide, including in Chad. (pictured)

Challenges to progress

Progress aside, UNEP noted that the growth in vehicle use globally contributes to air, water and soil pollution, as well as the climate crisis. Greenhouse gas emissions from the transport sector will rise from nearly a quarter to one-third by 2050, according to the agency.

Although many countries are transitioning to electric cars, with 1.2 billion new vehicles hitting the road in the coming decades, many nations, particularly in the developing world, are still dependent on fossil fuels.

UNEP said millions of poor-quality used vehicles, imported to countries from Europe, the United States and Japan, are adding to global warming and air pollution, and are also bound to cause accidents.

Inspiration for a greener future

“That a UN-backed alliance of governments, businesses and civil society was able to successfully rid the world of this toxic fuel is testament to the power of multilateralism to move the world towards sustainability and a cleaner, greener future,” said Ms. Andersen.

“We urge these same stakeholders to take inspiration from this enormous achievement to ensure that now that we have cleaner fuels, we also adopt cleaner vehicles standards globally – the combination of cleaner fuels and vehicles can reduce emissions by more than 80 per cent.”

The “international success story” was an example of what countries can accomplish when they work together for the common good, the Secretary-General said, and he called for this same commitment to be directed to ending the “triple crises” of climate disruption, biodiversity loss and pollution.

Solidarity and science

Mr. Guterres repeated his longstanding appeal for Governments to shift away from fossil fuels, such as coal, to renewable sources, and to reform the energy, food, transport and financial sectors to work with nature, not against it.

“To succeed, we need international cooperation. Compromise. Solidarity. All guided by science,” he said.

“Let’s focus all our efforts on making peace with nature. And let’s build a cleaner, greener future for all.”

COVID jabs needed for educators and kids to keep schools open: WHO, UNICEF

In addition to calling for all school staff to be included in nationwide coronavirus vaccination plans, children aged 12 and above who suffer from underlying health conditions should also be immunized amid rising Delta variant numbers, said UN Children’s Fund UNICEF and the World Health Organization (WHO).

Online limits

Highlighting the quick roll-out of online lessons in Serbia when the pandemic began last year, Belgrade high school teacher, Milena Maric, backed the UN-led call for greater protection measures.

“The students lacked continuity, socializing, collaborative work, the sharing of ideas in real time, communication without technology,” she said. “I know that the only way out of this situation is if we keep respecting measures to prevent the transmission of the virus and if we vaccinate all educators.”

Within all 53 countries that make up the WHO European Region, the UN agencies urged better classroom ventilation, smaller class sizes where possible, physical distancing and regular COVID-19 testing of children and staff.

Learning for mental health and protection

“The pandemic has caused the most catastrophic disruption to education in history. It is therefore vital that classroom-based learning continues uninterrupted across the European Region”, said Dr. Hans Kluge, WHO Regional Director for Europe. “This is of paramount importance for children’s education, mental health and social skills, for schools to help equip our children to be happy and productive members of society.”

The implementation of such measures is of key importance to the mental health of youngsters and should “remain our primary objective, so we don’t rob them of the opportunities they so deserve”, Dr Kluge added.

Delta threat

Although a full COVID-19 vaccination course significantly reduces the risk of severe disease and death, the high incidence of the Delta variant in many countries – including a majority of those in the European Union – has made the risk of transmission within schools “much more likely”, both UN agencies warned.

To counter this – and another year of disrupted schooling – more people need to be offered the COVID-19 jab, they said.

“Vaccination is our best line of defence against the virus”, Dr. Kluge said. “And for the pandemic to end we must rapidly scale up vaccinations fairly in all countries, including supporting vaccine production and sharing of doses, to protect the most vulnerable, everywhere. We must also continue to follow the public health and social measures we know work, including testing, sequencing, tracing, isolation and quarantine.”

Pandemic ‘not over’

Echoing that message, UNICEF insisted that everyone could contribute to keeping schools open by signing up for the vaccine.

“The pandemic is not over…Children and youth cannot risk having another year of disrupted learning. Vaccination and protective measures together will help prevent a return to the darkest days of the pandemic when people had to endure lockdowns and children had to experience disruption of learning,” said Philippe Cori, Deputy Regional Director, UNICEF Europe and Central Asia.

Describing children as “the silent victims of the pandemic”, Mr. Cori noted that the most marginalized have been amongst the hardest-hit by COVID-19 disruption, as they were “already out-of-school, or in school, but not learning at the same level as their classmates”.

Schools are “so much more than a building”, the UNICEF senior official said. “It’s a place of learning, safety and play, at the heart of our communities. When they are closed, children, miss out on learning, being with their friends and may be exposed to violence in the home. The pandemic worsened an already unacceptable situation – we must ensure that schools reopen, and they stay open safely.”

The eight key recommendations to help keep schools open and safe, endorsed by WHO, UNICEF and UNESCO and developed by the WHO European Technical Advisory group for schooling during COVID-19:

  1. Schools to be among the last places to close and first to re-open.

  2. Put in place a testing strategy.

  3. Ensure effective risk-mitigation measures.

  4. Protect children’s mental and social well-being.

  5. Protect the most vulnerable and marginalized children.

  6. Improve the school environment.

  7. Involve children & adolescents in decision-making.

  8. Implement a vaccination strategy designed to keep children in school.

UN chief calls for action to end enforced disappearances

The UN chief made the appeal in his message to mark the International Day honouring victims of this serious human rights violation, observed on Monday.

“Together, we can and we must end all enforced disappearances,” he said. 

A global problem

Enforced disappearance refers to the arrest, detention or abduction of persons by agents of the State, or those acting with State authorization or support, whose whereabouts are unknown.

Once largely the product of military dictatorships, it has become a global problem, according to the UN, with hundreds of thousands of people “disappeared” in more than 80 countries. Impunity remains widespread.

While strictly prohibited under international human rights law, Mr. Guterres said enforced disappearance continues to be used across the world as a method of repression, terror, and stifling dissent.

Paradoxically, it is sometimes used under the pretext of countering crime or terrorism. Lawyers, witnesses, political opposition, and human rights defenders are particularly at risk,” he added. 

The COVID-19 pandemic has exacerbated the impact on victims of enforced disappearances and their relatives.

Unsplash/Tao Yuan
The COVID-19 pandemic has exacerbated the impact on victims of enforced disappearances and their relatives.

Families also suffer

Having been removed from the protection of the law, victims, who can include children, are deprived of all their rights and are at the mercy of their captors. 

They are frequently tortured and know that it is unlikely anyone will come to their aid.  Some are even killed. 

“Enforced disappearance deprives families and communities of the right to know the truth about their loved ones, of accountability, justice and reparation,” the Secretary-General said.

“The COVID-19 pandemic has added to the agony and anguish of enforced disappearance, by limiting capacities to search for missing persons and investigate alleged enforced disappearance.”

The International Day of the Victims of Enforced Disappearances has been commemorated annually on 30 August since 2011.

Obligation to prosecute

It was established by the UN General Assembly, which adopted a resolution in December 2010 expressing deep concern about the rise in incidents in various regions, and increasing reports of harassment, ill-treatment and intimidation of witnesses of disappearances, or relatives of people who were disappeared.

The resolution also welcomed the adoption of the International Convention for the Protection of All Persons from Enforced Disappearance, which calls for countries to take measures to hold perpetrators criminally responsible.

“The Convention for the Protection of all Persons against Enforced Disappearances is indispensable in helping to tackle this cowardly practice. But it requires the will and commitment of those with the power to do so,” the Secretary-General said.

“States must fulfil their obligations to prevent enforced disappearance, to search for the victims, and to investigate, prosecute and punish the perpetrators.”

Mr. Guterres reiterated his call for countries to ratify the Convention, and to work with the UN Committee that monitors its implementation, as well as the Working Group on Enforced Disappearances, which assists families in determining the fate of their loved ones.

Afghan children ‘at greater risk than ever’, top UNICEF official warns

George Laryea-Adjei, Regional Director for UNICEF South Asia, said children have paid the heaviest price in recent weeks of increased conflict and insecurity.

Not only have some been forced from their homes, and cut off from their schools and friends, they have also been deprived of basic healthcare that can protect them against polio, tetanus and other diseases.

“Now, with a security crisis, skyrocketing food prices, a severe drought, the spread of COVID-19, and another harsh winter just around the corner, children are at greater risk than ever,” he warned.

Malnutrition threat looms

UNICEF has predicted that if the current trend continues, one million under-fives in Afghanistan will face severe acute malnutrition, a life-threatening condition.

Mr. Laryea-Adjei said more than four million children, including 2.2 million girls, are out of school.

Around 300,000 youngsters have been forced to flee their homes, some of whom were in bed sleeping, “and too many of them have witnessed scenes that no child should ever see”, he said.

“Children and adolescents are struggling with anxieties and fears, in desperate need of mental health support,” he added.

Step up support

With some humanitarian partners considering cutting aid to Afghanistan, Mr. Laryea-Adjei voiced concern over having enough resources to keep health centres up and running, schools open, and services available to treat severely malnourished children.

UNICEF, which has been in Afghanistan for more than six decades, continues to maintain a field presence across the country, and is engaging with interlocutors to scale up response.

The agency is currently supporting mobile health and nutrition teams at camps for displaced people, and setting up child-friendly spaces, nutrition hubs and vaccination sites, while also prepositioning additional lifesaving supplies and supporting thousands of students in community-based education classes.

However, Mr. Laryea-Adjei stressed that more resources are direly needed. UNICEF recently launched a $192 million appeal to address the escalating humanitarian crisis, and urged donors to step up support.

“Young people and children have been telling us they are in desperate need of the most basic items and services – needs which, given support, the humanitarian community can easily respond to,” he said.

“The needs of the children of Afghanistan have never been greater. We cannot abandon them now.”


Get help now

Send a message with a description of your problem and possible ways of assistance and we will contact you as soon as we consider your problem.

    [recaptcha class:captcha]