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Girls’ performance in maths ‘starting to add up to boys’, says UNESCO

The finding, from the UN agency UNESCO, followed analysis of primary and secondary education in 120 countries.

Although boys perform better than girls in the subject in the early years, this gender gap disappears in secondary school – even in the world’s poorest countries – researchers found.

Girls in the lead

Some countries even saw girls do better than boys in maths, including Malaysia, where by age 14, girls have a seven per cent lead on boys, Cambodia (three per cent) and the Philippines (1.4 per cent). 

Despite this progress, the UN educational, cultural and scientific agency, warned that gender “biases and stereotypes” will continue to affect girls’ schooling, as boys “are far more likely to be overrepresented” at the top level of maths, in all countries.

The problem extends to science, with data from middle and high-income countries showing that although girls in secondary school score significantly higher in scientific studies, they are still less likely to opt for careers in science, technology, engineering and mathematics, the STEM subjects.

Girls’ chapter and verse

While girls perform well in maths and science, they show even greater proficiency in reading, with more of them achieving minimum proficiency in reading than boys.

The largest gap in primary education is in Saudi Arabia, UNESCO said, where 77 per cent of girls but only 51 per cent of boys in grade 4 (age 9-10), achieve minimum proficiency in reading.

In Thailand, girls outperform boys in reading by 18 percentage points, in the Dominican Republic by 11 points and in Morocco by 10 points.

Even in countries where girls and boys have the same level of reading in the early grades – as in Lithuania and Norway – by the age of 15, girls are roughly 15 percentage points ahead of boys. 

Girls are demonstrating how well they can do in school when they have access to education,” said Malala Yousafzai, co-founder of Malala Fund, cited by UNESCO. “But many, and particularly the most disadvantaged, are not getting the chance to learn at all. We shouldn’t be afraid of this potential.

We should feed it and watch it grow. For example, it’s heart-breaking that most girls in Afghanistan do not have the opportunity to show the world their skills,”

“Although more data is needed, recent releases have helped paint an almost global picture of gender gaps in learning outcomes right before the pandemic”, said Manos Antoninis, Director of UNESCO’s Global Education Monitoring Report.

“Girls are doing better than boys in reading and in science and are catching up in mathematics. But they are still far less likely to be top performers in mathematics because of continuing biases and stereotypes. We need gender equality in learning and ensure that every learner fulfils their potential”.

Human rights: Belarus journalists win World Press Freedom Prize

The BAJ was formed in 1995 as a non-governmental association of media workers with the objective of promoting freedom of expression and indepenent journalism in Belarus.

It brings together over 1,300 associated journalists, and is a member of the International Federation of Journalists (IFJ) and of the European Federation of Journalists (EFJ).

Crackdown and violations

Since the disputed presidential election in Belarus in August 2020, which drew millions onto the streets in protest during the ensuing months, basic human rights have been in the crosshairs.

In March this year, the UN human rights office produced a Human Rights Council-mandated report on the situation in the European nation, which said the Government’s continuing crackdown had violated the rights of hundreds of thousands.

“The examination not only lays bare the violations inflicted on people trying to exercise their fundamental human rights, but highlights the inability of victims to access justice”, said UN rights chief, Michelle Bachelet.


In August 2021, following a police raid on the office of the BAJ, the Supreme Court of Belarus ordered the dissolution of the organization, at the request of the country’s Ministry of Justice.

“By awarding the prize to the BAJ, we are standing by all journalists around the world who criticize, oppose and expose authoritarian politicians and regimes, by transmitting truthful information and promoting freedom of expression”, said Alfred Lela, Chair of the Prize‘s international jury, and founder and director of an Albanian media organization.

“Today we salute and praise them; we find a way to say: we are with you, and we value your courage”.

The head of UNESCO, Audrey Azoulay, noted that for 25 years, the UNESCO/Guillermo Cano Prize “has been calling the world’s attention to the bravery of journalists around the world who sacrifice so much in the pursuit of truth and accountability.

Once again, we are inspired by their example and reminded of the importance of ensuring the right of journalists everywhere to report freely and safely” 

History of courage

The $25,000 Prize recognizes outstanding contributions to the defence or promotion of press freedom especially in the face of danger. It is named after Guillermo Cano Isaza, the Colombian journalist who was assassinated in front of the offices of his newspaper El Espectador in Bogotá, Colombia, on 17 December 1986.

It is funded by the Guillermo Cano Isaza Foundation (Colombia), the Helsingin Sanomat Foundation (Finland), the Namibia Media Trust, Democracy & Media Foundation Stichting Democratie & Media (The Netherlands), and the Thomson Reuters Foundation.

The 2022 World Press Freedom Day Global Conference will take place from 2 to 5 May under the theme Journalism under Digital Siege.

The Conference will discuss the impact of the digital era on freedom of expression, the safety of journalists, access to information, and privacy.

Sustaining peace, more important, but ‘more complex’ than ever, as wars rage

Volker Türk, Under-Secretary-General for Policy laid out the “multiple, compounding risks” which are stacking up – from Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, to climate change, to the threats posed by emerging technologies.

“The number of violent conflicts is at the highest level since 1945 with terrible human consequences, seen in record levels of forced displacement and global humanitarian needs. 

“Peacebuilding is the responsibility of the entire UN system – as was recognized in the landmark 2015 resolutions on the peacebuilding architecture”, he told participants.

‘Unique approach’

“Our unique approach seeks to build a foundation for peaceful societies through addressing root causes and drivers of conflict.”

The policy chief pointed to examples in the Central African Republic, where the Secretary-General’s Peacebuilding Fund is supporting the implementation of the 2019 Political Agreement for Peace and Reconciliation, through improved violence prevention efforts in Bambari, in alliance with multiple UN and civil society organisations.

In the Democratic Republic of Congo’s restive and vast Kasai region, where UN peacekeeping mission, MONUSCO, is drawing down, the Fund has supported efforts to reintegrate nearly 500 ex-combatants. 

Since 2018, the Secretary-General’s reports have presented many and various options for increasing, restructuring and better prioritizing funding dedicated to the UN’s peacebuilding activities, and “some progress” has been made, he stressed.

Voluntary contributions to the Fund have increased, allowing it to invest $195 million in 2021.

Volker Türk, Under-Secretary-General for Policy of the Executive Office of the Secretary-General, addresses the General Assembly high-level meeting on Peacebuilding Financing.

UN Photo/Manuel Elías
Volker Türk, Under-Secretary-General for Policy of the Executive Office of the Secretary-General, addresses the General Assembly high-level meeting on Peacebuilding Financing.

Investment ‘insufficient’ so far

“But, progress is insufficient”, he warned.

Allocation targets have been cut for the past three years because of a lack of funding, and the UN is significantly short of the “quantum leap” needed, to $500 million per year.

“The Fund also remains wholly dependent on voluntary contributions from a small number of donors. In contrast, the needs in the areas of prevention and peacebuilding continue to increase.  Demand for support consistently outpaces resources.”

Financing, he added, is a “critical enabler” in the drive to more effective peacebuilding, “and the money is there.”

Figures released earlier this week showed that global military expenditure reached an all-time high last year, passing $2 trillion for the first time ever.

Weapons into ploughshares

“Countries that can afford record investments in weapons can afford to increase their investments in preventing and resolving conflict and building peace”, said Mr. Türk.

The costs of conflict are unsustainable, he added, called for new investment, as outlined in the report presented to the high-level meeting. Today, he said, was “an opportunity to get serious about the essential, targeted work of building peace.”

‘Woeful’ underfunding: Shahid

President of the General Assembly, Abdullah Shahid, noted that only a small part of global resources spent on security and development, were being invested in peacebuilding.

“It remains woefully underfunded and under resourced. To be clear, the goal of investing $500 million per year towards the Peacebuilding Fund is not yet being met.

“This financial gap weakens peacebuilding; financing is too unpredictable and inadequate for programmes that are intended to be long-term…Not only is this counterproductive to our intentions, it is likewise fiscally shortsighted. Investing in peacebuilding could end up resulting in net savings of five to 70 billion”, he declared.

He encouraged all Member States, to advance solutions, and make commitments, to address the financial gap for preventing conflict, and building the institutions necessary for long-term peace.

“I would remind Member States that peacebuilding is primarily a national challenge and responsibility”, he said. “National ownership is essential to achieving success and sustainability. In that regard, national capacity development must be central to all international peacebuilding efforts, including on the allocation of peacebuilding financing.

“Let us demonstrate greater political will to ensure adequate, sustainable and predictable financing for peacebuilding and sustaining peace.”

Ambassador Rabab Fatima of Bangladesh addresses the General Assembly high-level meeting on Peacebuilding Financing.

UN Photo/Manuel Elías
Ambassador Rabab Fatima of Bangladesh addresses the General Assembly high-level meeting on Peacebuilding Financing.

‘Critical challenge’

Chair of the UN’s intergovernmental advisory body, the Peacebuilding Commission, Rabab Fatima, said that the body elected by the General Assembly to aid conflict-affected nations, recognized that “adequate, predictable and sustained financing remains a critical challenge”.

The Chairperson, who is also Bangladeshi Ambassador to the UN, said the PBC was concerned about the fact that financial flows to conflict-affected countries “have been severely stressed”, particularly in terms of Official Development Assistance devoted to peacebuilding.

“The challenge is particularly acute for countries in transitions”, she said, amidst COVID-19 and public spending constraints.

“Considering the socio-economic impacts of the pandemic, particularly on conflict affected countries, the Commission reiterates the need to ensure that recovery and sustainable development efforts are conflict-sensitive and promote peacebuilding, including by focusing more on prevention and reducing inequalities.”

She called for more work to be done in support of the women, peace and security agenda, the youth, peace and security agenda, and stressed the importance of “good peacebuilding financing”, which should include stronger partnerships with regional and sub-regional organizations, together with international financial institutions.

Use sand resources ‘wisely’ or risk development fallout – UNEP report

Sand and Sustainability: 10 Strategic Recommendations to Avert a Crisis, makes clear that the world cannot continue to keep taking 50 billion tonnes of sand out of the ground and sea every year without serious consequences. 

“Our sand resources are not infinite, and we need to use them wisely,” said Pascal Peduzzi, Director of GRID-Geneva at UNEP and report programme coordinator.

“To achieve sustainable development, we need to drastically change the way we produce, build and consume products, infrastructures and service.”

Precious resource

After water, sand is the most used resource globally. 

The world uses 50 billion tonnes of sand and gravel each year, enough to build a wall 27 metres wide and 27 metres high around planet Earth.

Given our dependency on it, sand must be recognized as a strategic resource and its extraction and use needs to be rethought, the new report finds.

“If we can get a grip on how to manage the most extracted solid material in the world, we can avert a crisis and move toward a circular economy,” said Mr. Peduzzi.

Extract mindfully

The report provides guidance on switching to improved practices for extracting and managing the resource.

According to its authors, sand must be recognized as more than a construction material, but as a strategic resource with multiple roles in the environment.

Extracting sand from rivers and coastal or marine ecosystems can lead to erosion, salination of aquifers, loss of protection against storm surges and impacts on biodiversity – posing a threat to livelihoods, including through water supply, food production or fisheries, as well as the tourism industry. 

The authors stress that governments, industries and consumers should price sand in a way that recognizes its true social and environmental value.

Shifting sands?

Keeping sand on coasts may be the most cost-effective strategy for climate adaptation because it protects against storm surges and sea level rise. They argue that such services should be factored into its value. 

Moreover, the report proposes that an international standard be developed on how sand is extracted from the marine environment, underscoring that it could bring about dramatic improvements as most marine dredging is done through public tenders, open to international companies.

It also recommends banning sand extraction from beaches as it is crucial for coastal resilience, the environment and the economy.

Given our dependency on sand, it should be recogniszd as a strategic resource and its extraction and use needs to be reassessed”, Mr. Peduzzi attested.

Global Goals impact

As an essential element in producing concrete for vital infrastructure, sand is critical to economic development.

It also provides habitats for flora and fauna while supporting biodiversity, including marine plants that act as carbon sinks or filter water.

Despite its importance in achieving the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) and tackling the triple planetary crisis of climate change, pollution and biodiversity loss, sand is being used faster than it can be naturally replenished, making its responsible management crucial.

Circular economy

Banning the landfilling of mineral waste and encouraging sand to be reused in public procurement contracts, are among the policy measures cited that will aid the move towards a virtuous, circular economy for sand.

The report also details that crushed rock, recycled construction, demolition material, and ‘ore-sand’ from mine tailings are viable alternatives that should be incentivized.

For sand to be more effectively governed and best practices implemented, new institutional and legal structures are needed.

Sand resources must furthermore be mapped, monitored and reported on, the report recommends, and everyone involved in decisions related to its management, allow for place-based approaches and avoid one-size-fits-all solutions, the paper stressed. 



Young innovators win video competition with ideas for a better future

Selected among 142 entries from 63 countries, the top three winners come from Syria, Ghana, and China, the World Intellectual Property Organization (WIPO) winners sent the message globally that young people are stepping up to innovation challenges, using their energy and creativity to steer a course towards a better future.

Smart devices, rice threshers and pictograms

Twenty-five-year-old Hekma Jabouli from Syria won the first prize with her short film showing a home-made smart device designed to help her sister regain mobility after shrapnel injured her spinal cord.

Twenty-seven-year-old John Wobil from Ghana took second place for his video about a new rice thresher, while digital designers Li Binglu and Cai Quinge, Chinese nationals living in Japan, came in third with their story about creating new pictograms or emojis to forge connections among remote workers.

Youth’s innovation potential

Underscoring the fact that half the world’s population is under the age of 30 and the fastest-growing demographic in many parts of the world, WIPO Director General Daren Tangsaid that “younger people are already working on solutions to shared issues, supported by IP [intellectual property] rights like trademarks, patents, designs, copyright, and others that help people earn a living from their work”.

Furthermore, he said “at a time when humanity needs to come together to address a range of urgent challenges – from overcoming the pandemic, to combatting climate change – we must help our youths to realize their innovation potential”.

Inclusive intellectual property ecosystem

WIPO has been working to build a more inclusive IP ecosystem by expanding access to IP for groups who have been historically under-represented, including women, smaller enterprises, and younger people, which is why the theme for this year focuses on “Intellectual Property and Youth innovating for a Better Future”.

Created in 2000, World IP Day aimed to increase the general understanding of intellectual property. Since then, it has offered a unique opportunity each year to join with others around the globe to consider how IP contributes to the flourishing of music and the arts and driving the technological innovation that helps shape the world.


A group of judges created a shortlist of 20 videos from the almost 150 that were submitted, which were then subjected from 12 through 22 April to an online public vote that garnered 36,819 ballots. Entrants were requested to submit a short video clip under the theme: “We are young and innovative. Let’s build a better future with IP!”.

The three winning videos were screened at an event at WIPO headquarters in Geneva.

“Innovating for Better Health: Supporting Young Innovators through IP” was organized to mark the Day, bringing together young people from different regions.

You can watch the three winning videos here.

More than one disaster a day looming without action on risk reduction, UN warns

The Global Assessment Report (GAR2022), released by the UN Office for Disaster Risk Reduction (UNDRR) ahead of next month’s Global Platform on reducing risk, reveals that between 350 and 500 medium to large-scale disasters took place every year over the past two decades.

The number of disaster events is projected to reach 560 a year – or 1.5 each day, statistically speaking – by 2030.

The GAR2022 blames these disasters on a broken perception of risk based on “optimism, underestimation and invincibility,” which leads to policy, finance and development decisions that exacerbate existing vulnerabilities and put people in danger.

‘Spiral of self-destruction’

“The world needs to do more to incorporate disaster risk in how we live, build and invest, which is setting humanity on a spiral of self-destruction,” said Amina Mohammed, UN Deputy Secretary-General, who presented the report at the UN headquarters in New York.

“We must turn our collective complacency to action. Together we can slow the rate of preventable disasters as we work to deliver the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) for everyone, everywhere.”

The report entitled, Our World at Risk: Transforming Governance for a Resilient Future, found that the implementation of disaster risk reduction strategies, as called for in the Sendai Framework for Disaster Risk Reduction agreed in 2015, had reduced both the number of people impacted, and killed by disasters, in the last decade.

However, the scale and intensity of disasters are increasing, with more people killed or affected, in the last five years, than in the previous five.

Disasters disproportionately impact developing countries, which lose an average of one percent of GDP a year to disasters, compared to less than 0.3 per cent in developed countries.

Heavy toll in Asia-Pacific

The highest cost is borne by the Asia-Pacific region, which loses an average of 1.6 percent of GDP to disasters every year, while the poorest also suffer the most within developing countries.

A lack of insurance to aid in recovery efforts, adds to the long term impacts of disasters. Since 1980, just 40 percent of disaster-related losses were insured while insurance coverage rates in developing countries were often below 10 percent, and sometimes close to zero, the report said.

“Disasters can be prevented, but only if countries invest the time and resources to understand and reduce their risks,” said Mami Mizutori, Special Representative of the Secretary-General for Disaster Risk Reduction and Head of UNDRR.

Bankrolling destruction

“By deliberately ignoring risk and failing to integrate it in decision making, the world is effectively bankrolling its own destruction, she said. “Critical sectors, from government to development and financial services, must urgently rethink how they perceive and address disaster risk.”

A growing area of risk is around more extreme weather events as a result of climate change.  GAR2022 builds on the calls to accelerate adaptation efforts made at COP26, according to the UN disaster risk reduction office, by showcasing how policymakers can climate-proof development and investments.

This includes reforming national budget planning to consider risk and uncertainty, while also reconfiguring legal and financial systems to incentivize risk reduction.

Funding climate fight

It also offers examples that countries can learn from, such as Costa Rica’s innovative carbon tax on fuel launched in 1997, which helped to reverse deforestation, a major driver of disaster risks, while benefiting the economy.

By 2018, some 98 percent of the electricity in Costa Rica came from renewable energy sources.

GAR2022 was drafted by a group of experts from around the world as a reflection of the various areas of expertise required to understand and reduce complex risks.

Its findings will feed into the Midterm Review of the implementation of the Sendai Framework, which includes national consultations and reviews of how countries are performing against the goal, targets and priorities for action.

With the review getting underway, “this report should be a wake-up call that countries need to accelerate action across the Framework’s four priorities to stop the spiral of increasing disasters”, said Ms. Mizutori

“The good news is that human decisions are the largest contributors to disaster risk, so we have the power to substantially reduce the threats posed to humanity, and especially the most vulnerable among us.”

Don’t lose focus on Syria, UN envoy tells Security Council

Recalling that Syria is “a hot conflict, not a frozen one”, he listed some of the threats resulting from the war, including an uptick in airstrikes, intensified clashes in the northeast, “regular incidents between or involving international actors”, as well as terrorism. 

“My message today is simple: focus on Syria”, said Mr. Pedersen, speaking from Geneva. 

“The current strategic stalemate on the ground and Syria’s absence from the headlines should not mislead anyone into thinking that the conflict needs less attention or fewer resources, or that a political solution is not urgent.” 

More Syrians than Ukrainians displaced 

Syria also remains among the greatest humanitarian crises of this era, he said, and suffering is at its highest level since the war began 11 years ago.  

“While the displacement caused by the war in Ukraine is tragically catching up, Syria remains the biggest displacement crisis in the world, with 6.8 million refugees and 6.2 million IDPs (internally displaced persons) – half the pre-war population, a whole generation born and brought up in displacement.” 

Fresh political negotiations 

Mr. Pedersen updated ambassadors on the work of the of the Syrian Constitutional Committee, whose efforts should contribute towards a peaceful solution to the war, and future political reform. 

The Committee is formed from equal numbers of representatives from the Government, the opposition, and civil society, known as the “Middle Third”. 

During its latest session, held in Geneva last month, delegations were expected to submit revised texts reflecting their discussions, and the revisions were to be discussed by Committee members on the last day. 

“I can report that delegations offered at least some revisions to some of the texts presented. Some of these embodied amendments indicating an attempt to reflect the content of the discussions, and narrow differences. Still, others contained no changes.”  

Mr. Pedersen has sent out invitations for the next Committee session, to be held from 28 May to 3 June. “In doing so, I have affirmed the methodology, including the expectation to submit revisions on the fifth day to reflect the content of the discussion, and I stress the importance of this expectation being fulfilled,” he said. 

Humanitarian crisis continues 

On the humanitarian front, the UN envoy called for expanding cross-line and cross-border assistance, and highlighted the need to address the plight of the tens of thousands of Syrians who remain detained, abducted or missing

UN deputy humanitarian affairs chief, Joyce Msuya, who also briefed ambassadors, warned that “Syria is on the verge of becoming yet another forgotten crisis” even as millions there struggle each month to survive. 

The economic crisis continues unabated, while food and fuel prices spiral, impacting delivery of water and sanitation, as well as other basic services. 

As Syrians face a bleak future, humanitarians are also confronting dwindling resources

“We simply do not have the money needed,” she said bluntly. “For far too many people, we are not able to provide the bare minimum in assistance. It is clear, we cannot continue business as usual. We must support Syrians in need to find a more sustainable path forward.” 

Cross-border aid 

In recent months, three cross-line convoys have delivered aid into northwest Syria, where more than four million people require aid, with hopes of further deployments in May. 

While hailing this “important progress”, Ms. Msuya stressed it was modest when compared with the tremendous needs.   

Regarding the situation in northeast Syria, where the last pockets of opposition fighters are based in the Idlib region, she said the UN also should be given the space to coordinate humanitarian response from within the country from its hub in Qamishli. 

Echoing the UN Secretary-General, Ms. Msuya urged the Security Council to “maintain consensus” on renewing its resolution on cross-border aid deliveries in July. 

Heightened security fears on Chernobyl disaster anniversary

The defunct Chernobyl nuclear plant, and the city of Slavutich – whose residents maintain the site, which needs constant monitoring to ensure radioactive material does not leak out –  was occupied by Russian troops for over a month.

Bogdan Serdyuk, chairman of the union that represents plant workers, recalls the battle near the site, which marked the beginning of the Russian invasion, on 24 February.

“The station staff heard the roar of military equipment, and soon the site was surrounded by Russian tanks. The tracks threw up contaminated dust, which immediately increased the background radiation.

“The station has security units, specialized in counter-terrorist warfare, but they were no match for the Russian forces and, in any case, there are rules that prohibit combat operations on the territory of a nuclear power plant.” 

Reactor 3 of the Chernobyl nuclear power plant, in Ukraine.

© Unsplash/Mick de Paola
Reactor 3 of the Chernobyl nuclear power plant, in Ukraine.

The main problem, according to the staff, was that as a result of the shelling, power lines were damaged and both Slavutych and the plant itself, lost power. 

“The plant has four units, including the one that was destroyed in the 1986 accident. All the nuclear fuel from the three units that were still functioning after the explosion was removed and placed in a nuclear waste repository”, explains Mr. Serdyuk.

“The fuel rods are stored in water that is circulated to keep them cool. The moment the power went off, everyone was worried about whether the water would begin to heat up. Experts believe that, if it is not circulated, the water could boil, and the spent fuel would begin to melt, with unpredictable consequences”.

Another cause for concern was the safety of the protective sarcophagus which contains the destroyed reactor of the fourth power unit, and the remains of nuclear waste. Damage to the sarcophagus could lead to radioactive dust escaping.

A sign warns of radiation danger at Chernobyl, Ukraine.

© Unsplash/Michał Lis
A sign warns of radiation danger at Chernobyl, Ukraine.

A concern for the whole world

Work at Chernobyl is carried out by some 2,700 people. Most live in Slavutych, a satellite city built immediately after the 1986 accident, around 50 kilometers away from the epicenter of the disaster. 

Nuclear power plant workers with their families, as well as residents of the evacuated city of Pripyat, and the entire 30-kilometre zone around the station affected by radioactive contamination, were relocated there. 

In peacetime, the plant employees in Slavutych commuted to work by train, which took about 45 minutes. However, when the railway lines were blown up, travel from Slavutych took eight hours, and staff now rotate, spending week-long shifts at the plant, which was not designed for people living on-site.

“Nuclear plants are designed to withstand an impact comparable in strength to an aircraft. But this is not the same as the shelling that took place at the Zaporizhzhya nuclear power plant”, warns Mr. Slavutych, in reference to another, still functioning, Ukrainian plant.

“The seizure of the Chernobyl nuclear power plant, and the shelling of the Zaporizhzhya nuclear power plant raise the question of nuclear safety not only for Ukraine. Nuclear power plants should not become targets for the military, because even partial destruction can lead to catastrophic consequences for the whole world”.

A recent photo of the city of Slavutich, Ukraine.

Courtesy of Vladimir Udovichenko
A recent photo of the city of Slavutich, Ukraine.

‘We cannot allow such a tragedy to happen again’

“We have a tradition in Slavutych. Every year, from April 25 to 26, at the same minutes when the Chernobyl accident occurred, we gather near for the Chernobyl victims”, says Vladimir Udovichenko, the town’s mayor.

“We silently honour the memory of those who protected Ukraine and the whole world from further terrible consequences of the accident. And today we will not break this tradition. We cannot allow such a tragedy to happen again.

“What happened at Chernobyl [following the Russian invasion] and continues now in Enerhodar [the town where the Zaporizhzhya plant is located] is unacceptable. This needs to be stopped and we now need to think about what can be done to strengthen the safety of nuclear power plants. We expect IAEA experts to work with us”.

The Director General of the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA), Rafael Mariano Grossi (centre) spoke to journalists on Tuesday after arriving at the Chernobyl nuclear power plant in Ukraine.

The Director General of the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA), Rafael Mariano Grossi (centre) spoke to journalists on Tuesday after arriving at the Chernobyl nuclear power plant in Ukraine.

IAEA team arrives in Ukraine 

A team of IAEA staff, led by Director General Rafael Mariano Grossi, is visiting Chernobyl, to deliver equipment and conduct radiological and other assessments at the facility. Personal protective equipment will also be delivered.

In addition, IAEA specialists will repair the remote data control systems installed at the facility, which the occupying forcers disabled, resulting in IAEA staff at the Agency’s headquarters in Vienna being unable to receive online data from Chernobyl. 

Since the beginning of the war, the IAEA has expressed serious concern about the safety and security of Ukraine’s nuclear facilities. According to Mr. Grossi, the physical integrity of nuclear power plants, the ability of personnel to work without excessive pressure, and access to external power sources should be ensured.

These rules have been seriously violated over the past two months. In March, communication with the Chernobyl nuclear power plant was lost. The station was left without external power supply, and for several days it was necessary to use emergency diesel generators. 

“The IAEA’s presence in Chernobyl will be of paramount importance to our support activities for Ukraine, as it seeks to restore regulatory control over the nuclear power plant and ensure its safe and secure operation”, said Mr. Grossi. “This will be followed by additional IAEA missions to this, and other nuclear facilities in Ukraine”.

UN General Assembly mandates meeting in wake of any Security Council veto 

China, France, Russia, the United Kingdom and the United States have the power to veto Security Council resolutions, enshrined in the UN Charter – a right accorded to them because of their key roles in establishing the United Nations.

Following the resolution adopted by consensus, any such use will now trigger a General Assembly meeting, where all UN members can scrutinize and comment on the veto.

The resolution comes in the wake of Russia’s use of the veto in the Council, the day after it invaded Ukraine, calling for it’s unconditional withdrawal from the country.

On behalf of 83 cosponsors, Liechtenstein’s UN Ambassador, Christian Wenaweser, introduced the draft entitled Standing mandate for a General Assembly debate when a veto is cast in the Security Council, adopted without a vote.

The resolution, which will take immediate effect, accords on an exceptional basis, precedence to the veto-casting States in the speakers list, of the subsequent General Assembly debate, thereby inviting them to account for the circumstances behind the use of the veto.

Cause to act

Liechtenstein began work on the initiative to scrutinize the veto more than two years ago, together with a core group of States, said Ambassador Wenaweser, “out of a growing concern” that the Council had found it “increasingly difficult” to carry out its work in accordance with its mandate under the UN Charter, “of which the increase in the use of the veto is but the most obvious expression”.

Noting that all Member States had given the Council the primary responsibility for the maintenance of international peace and security, and agreed that it acts on their behalf, he underscored that the veto power comes with the responsibility to work to achieve “the purposes and principles of the UN Charter at all times”.

“We are, therefore, of the view that the membership as a whole should be given a voice when the Security Council is unable to act, in accordance with this Assembly’s functions and powers reflected in the Charter,” particularly Article 10, he said.

Article 10 spells out that the Assembly may discuss any questions or matters within the scope of the Charter or the powers and functions of any organs provided for within it, and, except as provided in Article 12, “may make recommendations to the Members of the United Nations or to the Security Council or to both on any such questions or matters.”

Multilateralism commitment

In putting the text forward, the Liechtenstein Ambassador described it “as an expression of our commitment to multilateralism, with this Organization and its principal organs at the forefront,” adding that “there has never been a stronger need for effective multilateralism than today”.

“And there has never been a stronger need for innovation in order to secure the central role and voice of the United Nations in this respect”.

After extensive individual and collective outreach and consultations, in bilateral and various group settings, he explained that the text was first circulated to the Member States on 3 March and made available to a wider public on 12 April.

On 19 April it was discussed in an open format with all interested States, who have helped to refine and improve it.

The adopted text stands as a “straightforward, legally sound and politically meaningful” resolution, the Ambassador said, which will shine a light on the use of the veto moving forward, and allow input from all Member States.

UN human rights experts urge United States to ease Afghanistan assets freeze

The Da Afghanistan Bank has more than $7 billion in blocked reserves that could be used to provide desperately-needed humanitarian relief to tens of millions in the country, said the group of experts.

Renewed blockage of cash

In February, President Biden issued an Executive Order to continue to block the cash and reportedly use part of the funds for purposes within the US, instead of the immediate and longer-term humanitarian needs in Afghanistan.

The rights experts appealed to Washington in a statement, saying that humanitarian exemptions to Afghan sanctions – agreed to by UN Security Council last December – has led to “no significant progress” in financial or commercial aid to Afghanistan, as many foreign banks were concerned about breaching restrictions.

‘Epic’ humanitarian crisis in the country

Gravely concerned about the humanitarian crisis in the country, the experts added that it “puts at serious risk the lives of more than half of the country’s population”.

“While gender-based violence has been a long-standing and severe threat to women and girls, it has been exacerbated by the measures imposed by the US, together with the drought and widening gender-based discrimination adopted by the de facto authorities”, the statement continued.

Echoing the words of the UN Secretary-General, who recently called it an ‘epic humanitarian crisis on the verge of a development catastrophe’, the experts urged States to re-assess any adopted unilateral measure and lift all obstacles in providing the necessary financial and humanitarian aid.

In January, the UN launched its largest-ever humanitarian appeal for a single country, requiring more than $5 billion this year to help the Afghan people.

Emergency food insecurity

According to international assessments, Afghanistan has now the highest number of people in emergency food insecurity in the world, with more than 23 million in need of assistance, and approximately 95 per cent of the population having insufficient food consumption.

Of particular concern is the vulnerability of more than four million internally displaced, including people belonging to minorities and over 3.5 million seeking refuge in neighbouring countries.

A ten-year-old displaced boy uses heat from a firewood stove to keep warm during the harsh winter in Herat Province, Afghanistan.

© UNICEF/Sayed Bidel
A ten-year-old displaced boy uses heat from a firewood stove to keep warm during the harsh winter in Herat Province, Afghanistan.

No progress in financial and commercial flows

Furthermore, the experts highlighted that since the December adoption of Security Council resolution 2651 and the establishment of humanitarian exemptions to existing sanctions, there has been no significant progress in financial or commercial flows for development and humanitarian purposes to Afghanistan by States or international financial institutions.

The uncertainty caused by banks’ zero-risk policies and over-compliance with sanctions has left humanitarian actors facing serious operational challenges.

According to the experts, the US Executive Order may “exacerbate the climate of uncertainty among relevant actors…resulting in over-zealous compliance with sanctions,” thus preventing Afghans from “access to basic humanitarian goods”.

Call to re-assess

The UN experts called on the US to seriously consider the growing humanitarian crisis in Afghanistan and re-assess its decision to block the Da Afghanistan Bank’s foreign assets, recalling that States have an obligation under international human rights law to guarantee that activity under their jurisdiction does not result in human rights violations.

They concluded by calling US authorities to take all appropriate action to reverse the unilateral measure and contribute to international efforts in addressing the growing humanitarian crisis in the country.

Special Rapporteurs and independent experts are appointed by the Geneva-based UN Human Rights Council to examine and report back on a specific human rights theme or a country situation. They are independent from any government and are not paid for their work.

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