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Syria’s needs are at their highest ever, says top rights probe 

According to the Commission of Inquiry on Syria, 14.6 million Syrians depend on humanitarian assistance, 12 million face acute food insecurity, and nine in 10 now live below the poverty line. 

Just last month, humanitarians warned that the funds pledged for relief operations were too small to help, said Commission of Inquiry chair, Paulo Pinheiro: 

Wrong priorities 

“Given this disturbing reality, it is unconscionable that discussions at the Security Council are focused on whether to close the one remaining authorized border crossing for aid, rather than how to expand access to life-saving aid across the country and through every appropriate route.” 

Mr. Pinheiro was referring to the imminent closure of the Bab al-Hawa humanitarian border crossing into northern Syria from Turkey, which will require a UN Security Council resolution to stay open beyond 10 July.  

Bab al-Hawa is the last of four international cross-border operations still functioning in Syria after lack of consensus among Security Council Members about keeping the others open, as they had been, from 2014 until early 2020. 

Through the sole cross-border operation still authorized by the Security Council, aid reaches around 2.4 million of them every month, a vital lifeline to the population in northwest Syria. 

Repeated failure 

“Parties to the conflict have themselves consistently failed in their obligations to allow and facilitate rapid and unimpeded passage of humanitarian relief for civilians in need across Syria,” Mr. Pinheiro continued. “These and all other obstacles to humanitarian aid must be removed – including those caused by unilateral sanctions, even when unintentional.” 

The top rights expert also highlighted concerns about whether it is safe to return for the more than 13.4 million Syrians who have fled their homes.  

Millions of refugees who fled the country are now under increasing pressure to return,” said Mr. Pinheiro. “When UNHCR recently polled refugees, nearly 92.8 per cent said they do not intend to return in the next year.” 

The probe – established in August 2011 by the Human Rights Council to investigate alleged violations of international law – once again raised the alarm over the many thousands of relatives of foreign fighters still being held in dreadful conditions in camps in Syria’s northeast. 

Al Hol nightmare continues 

We need to remind this body that 40,000 children are still held in appalling conditions in Al Hol and Al Roj camps in northeast Syria, alongside 20,000 adults, mainly women,” Mr. Pinheiro said. “Insecurity in Al Hol remains rife, with at least 24 murders reported this year. Even humanitarian workers have been targeted; a Red Crescent nurse was killed and an ICRC doctor stabbed.”  

Replying to the Commission of Inquiry chair, Syria’s representative, Hussam Edin Aala, rejected “the allegations and fallacies” that he claimed were contained in the Commission’s reports. 

He also refused to accept any attempt “to promote the establishment of new international mechanisms on Syria”, along with “prefabricated accusations, controversial decisions and false reports”. 

Human rights under threat in DR Congo and beyond, Security Council hears

Bintou Keita, who also heads the UN’s Stabilization Mission in DRC (MONUSCO), said peacekeepers under her command were “determined to protect civilians and help tackle drivers of conflict and violence”.

However, she added that “unity of purpose within the Council and among troop and police contributing countries, remains essential for the Mission to deliver on its core mandated responsibilities”.

Rising casualties

As MONUSCO along with the national security forces, known as the Armed Forces of the DRC (FARDC), have redeployed military to the “Petit Nord” to respond to M23 threats, armed groups have sought to take advantage of the resulting security vacuum.

The M23 militia began as a renegade force of army mutineers in 2012, committing atrocities and war crimes. The current offensive against Government forces is reportedly the biggest in a decade.

Increased assaults by Allied Democratic Forces (ADF) militants in North Kivu and Ituri provinces, as well as attacks and reprisals by the Cooperative for Development of the Congo (CODECO) and others militia, have taken a heavy toll on the civilian population, the senior UN official said, noting that between 28 May and 17 June, more than 150 civilians had been killed.

“The humanitarian situation across the eastern provinces has deteriorated, and the overall number of people displaced this year has risen to some 700,000”.

Inciting violence

Meanwhile, rising regional tensions have coincided with a deeply worrying increase in hate speech and incitement to violence, Ms. Keita continued, highlighting at least eight cases of hate speech between May and June that specifically targeted Rwandophones.

She said that while each met the Rabat threshold – a six-part test to assess if a particular statement reaches the level of incitement to discrimination, hostility or violence – at least three came from Congolese military and police authorities.

“The United Nations has been clear in its condemnation of these reprehensible attempts to fuel inter-communal tensions,” she added.

End militant ‘scourge’

Ms. Keita said it was incumbent upon the Security Council to fully support regional efforts to defuse the current diplomatic and security tensions between neighbouring States and “put an end to the scourge of armed groups”.

“Should the M23 continue its well-coordinated attacks against FARDC and MONUSCO with increasing conventional capabilities, the mission may find itself confronted by a threat that goes beyond its current capabilities,” warned the Ms. Keita.

She also cautioned that ongoing militia activities in eastern DRC threaten to reverse hard-won progress in security throughout the country and the region.

Jump start response

The Special Representative updated the ambassadors on a US$35 million Response Plan for the M23-crisis, which was developed by the Humanitarian Country Team. The Humanitarian Coordinator has allocated $5 million from the DRC Humanitarian Fund for the plan, to kick-start the response.

Moreover, the current crisis has triggered a request for the development of a Central Emergency Response Fund (CERF) Rapid Response, to meet civilian needs in Ituri and North Kivu.

UN Special Representative Bintou Keita updates the Security Council on the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC).

UN Photo/Rick Bajorna
UN Special Representative Bintou Keita updates the Security Council on the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC).

Paying tribute

In closing, the MONUSCO chief expressed her gratitude for the Council’s continued support, “particularly at a time when the mission is facing challenges to the implementation of its mandate”.

I salute the bravery and courage of the women and men serving under the United Nations flag, and the commitment of their contributing countries, under these trying circumstances”.

Cries of distress

Julienne Lusenge, President of Female Solidarity for Integrated Peace and Development (SOFEPADI) spoke of a tragedy that has gone on “much too long” and a “siege” that continues to threaten civilians daily.

She cited gruesome details of armed attacks, which included a woman having to cook and eat human flesh and the trauma that often results from such abuses.

The internationally recognized human rights activist also detailed accounts of mothers being forced to “cook dust” and implored the Council to hear their cries of distress.

Click here to watch the meeting in its entirety.

COVID-19: BA.4 and BA.5 variants spur 20 per cent rise in cases

WHO Director-General Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus stressed in his weekly briefing to journalists that the global figure overall remains “relatively stable”, but nobody should be under any illusion, that the coronavirus is on the way out.

“This pandemic is changing but it’s not over. We have made progress but it’s not over.

Act together

Only with concerted action by governments, international agencies and the private sector can we solve the converging challenges”, said the WHO chief.

He warned that our ability to track the virus is under threat as reporting and genomic sequences are declining. The optimistic mid-year deadline for all countries to vaccinate at least 70 per cent of their populations is looking unlikely, with the average rate in low-income countries, standing at 13 per cent.

On the bright side, in the past 18 months, more than 12 billion vaccines have been distributed around the world, and 75 percent of the world’s health workers and over-60s are now vaccinated.

20 million lives saved by shots

The influential Lancet medical journal, estimates that 20 million lives have been saved because of vaccines, said Tedros.

Last year, it was the hoarding of vaccines by rich and manufacturing countries which proved to be the major barrier to access, but this year, it’s what he described as the wavering “political commitment to getting vaccines out to people – and challenges of disinformation”, which are thwarting the pace of inoculations at the national level.

He called for all at-risk groups, to be vaccinated and boosted, as soon as possible.

“For the general population, it also makes sense to keep strengthening that wall of immunity, which helps lessen the severity of the disease and lowers the risk of long- or post-COVID condition.”

He said continuing ‘mild’ cases are disruptive and damaging, keeping children out of school and adults from their jobs, “which causes further economic and supply chain disruption.” 

He said the goal of 70 per cent coverage was still desirable, based on the principle that if we don’t share vaccines equitably, “then we undercut the philosophy that all lives have equal worth.”

Second generation vaccines

Tedros said that it was critical for funding to be secured for “second generation vaccines”, as well as testing and treatments.

“The ideal solution would be the development of a pan-coronavirus vaccine that covers all the variants so far and potentially future ones”, the WHO chief declared.  

“This is feasible, WHO continues to convene scientists and researchers and there has been a lot of research into this virus and understanding immunology overall.”

New global trials

He said through the agency’s Solidarity Trials, global trials of new vaccines could take place to rapidly establish their safety and efficacy.

“Now is the time”, he concluded, for government health departments to integrate tests and anti-virals into clinical care, so that people that are sick can be treated quickly. 

“With new variants of concern likely – genomic sequencing remains critical. I also call for accelerated efforts and incentives to be developed around the moonshot of developing a pan-coronavirus vaccine.”

Myanmar: Shocking toll on children must be spur to action, says UN rights expert 

Three months since his last update to the UN rights forum in Geneva, Special Rapporteur on the situation of human rights in Myanmar, Thomas Andrews, said that he’d met youngsters who’d fled the country after suffering “irreparable harm”. 

Empty seat 

Myanmar – whose seat was empty in the Council – “passed several grim milestones since March”, he continued: “more than 2,500 civilians have now been killed in the junta’s bloody campaign against its opponents; over one million people are now internally displaced.” 

The number of arbitrarily detained political prisoners now exceeds 11,000, Mr. Andrews said, before warning that the junta “has announced that executions will soon begin of political prisoners who have been put on death row”.  

Amid widespread public opposition to Myanmar’s de facto rulers, the independent rights expert described how the military had “trained its guns on growing numbers of villagers and other non-combatants” and “accelerated a brutal campaign of arson and murder in the northwest. 

Children killed and maimed 

The task of reporting on such abuses has been complicated by internet shutdowns which “which, of course is the intention, the very intention, of the military”, Mr. Andrews said, before describing in detail the abuse meted out to youngsters suspected of having links to opposition fighters.  

“At least 382 children have been killed or maimed; more than 1,400 children have been arbitrarily detained…142 children have been tortured since the coup.” 

He added: “These children have been beaten, cut and stabbed; they have been burned with cigarettes; they have had their fingernails and teeth pulled out; they have been forced to hold stress positions; they have been subjected to mock executions; they have been sexually assaulted.” 

War crimes charge 

Such crimes and “repeated attacks on civilians” constituted war crimes and crimes against humanity, insisted the Special Rapporteur, who is an independent and unpaid rights expert, appointed by the Human Rights Council for three years, in line with special procedures mandates. 

Failure to take action soon risks an even worse humanitarian crisis in Myanmar, where relief work has been seriously hampered because the UN’s 2022 Humanitarian Response Plan for Myanmar is only 10.5 per cent funded. “This has meant that lifesaving programs have had to be suspended,” Mr. Andrews explained. 


Some “33,000 children could die of preventable deaths this year alone, merely because they have missed routine immunizations,” the Special Rapporteur added. “Five million children require urgent humanitarian assistance. Experts warn of a looming food crisis and the possibility of a dramatic increase in rates of childhood malnutrition and stunting. 

Physical and sexual abuse, the trafficking of children and child labour are all on the rise. Girls are particularly vulnerable to forced marriage and sexual exploitation.” 

When will the Security Council act? 

After insisting that the international community’s approach to Myanmar “is not working”, Mr. Andrews urged the Security Council to take action. 

“The people of Myanmar continue to wait for the Security Council to even consider a resolution about Myanmar,” he said. “Some Members have failed to impose sanctions on the junta, even when they have done so in response to other crises. Member States who have adopted sanctions have too often failed to strategically coordinate these sanctions. Many have failed to target the junta’s largest sources of revenue and their ability to move funds. ASEAN’s Five-Point Consensus has failed to generate any tangible outcomes.” 

A visionary ‘blue transformation’ strategy to enhance underwater food systems

The Conference’s third day, spotlighting the state of the global fishing industry and the sustainability of aquaculture, featured the launch of the UN Food and Agriculture Organization’s (FAO) State of World Fisheries and Aquaculture flagship report.

Growing demand for fish and other aquatic foods is rapidly changing the whole sector, with consumption expected to increase, driven mostly by a fast-paced increase in population, changes in post-harvest practices and distribution, as well as in dietary trends focusing on better health and nutrition.

Is sustainability at sea realistic?

According to FAO, created in 1945 to alleviate hunger, the current demand, and the approach to meeting the needs of 10 billion people as population grows, are pressuring food systems, at the same time that climate change, COVID-19, environmental degradation, and conflict are putting them to test.

The State of World Fisheries and Aquaculture (SOFIA) flagship report analyses the status of global stocks as well as trends in fisheries, and aquaculture, including at the regional level.

Concentrating on ‘Blue Transformation’, a visionary strategy designed to enhance the potential of food systems under water and feeding the world’s growing population sustainably, SOFIA works as a critical reference for governments, policymakers, academics and others in the sector.

A ‘Blue Transformation’ in how we can produce, manage, trade, and consume aquatic foods, in order to achieve the UN Sustainable Development Goals or SDGs, said FAO.

As the sector continues to expand, FAO says more targeted transformative changes are needed to achieve a more sustainable, inclusive, and equitable fisheries and aquaculture sector, and combat the growing threat of food insecurity.

Speaking to the press, Manuel Barange, Director of FAO’s Fisheries and Aquaculture division, highlighted that this was the first time that such a key report has been launched outside FAO Headquarters in Rome.

Record high

According to FAO, growth of aquaculture, particularly in Asia, lifted total production in the sector to an all-time high of 214 million tonnes in 2020, consisting of 178 million tonnes of aquatic produce and 36 million tonnes of algae for consumption.

Production in 2020 was 30 percent higher than the average in the 2000s and more than 60 percent above the 1990s average.

“There is a real concern over the price of fish, price of food in general, but price of fish in particular which has grown 25 per cent from December last year, to April this year. [That] puts pressure on the consumer”, Mr. Barange told journalists.

Food insecurity

With more than 800 million people now suffering hunger and 2.4 billion people with severely limited access to adequate food, the challenge of feeding a growing population without exhausting current resources, continues to increase.

In this context, aquatic food systems are increasingly in the spotlight, due to their huge potential to meet rising demand.

‘’The growth of fisheries and aquaculture is vital in our efforts to end global hunger and malnutrition, but further transformation is needed in the sector to address the challenges,’’ says FAO Director General, QU Dongyu.

‘’We must transform agrifood systems to ensure aquatic foods are sustainably harvested, livelihoods are safeguarded, and aquatic habitats and biodiversity are protected”, he added.


Significant growth in aquaculture has driven global fisheries and aquaculture production to a record high as aquatic foods make an increasingly critical contribution to food security and nutrition in the 21st century.

Speaking at the SDG Media Zone at the Conference in Lisbon, UN Secretary-General’s Special Envoy for the Ocean, Peter Thomson, called aquaculture the “healthiest nutrition for the world”, that holds the “potential to feed our grandchildren and other generations to come, if we do it right”.

Senegalese fisherman offload fish from their boats to sell in local markets and export to other countries.

© FAO/John Wessels
Senegalese fisherman offload fish from their boats to sell in local markets and export to other countries.

Aquaculture as a solution

In 2020, animal aquaculture production reached 87.5 million tonnes, six percent higher than in 2018. On the other hand, the volume of catch from open seas, dropped to 90.3 million tonnes, a fall of four percent compared with the average over the previous three years.

Growing demand is rapidly changing the fisheries and aquaculture sector. Consumption is expected to increase by 15 percent to supply on average 21.4 kg per capita in 2030, driven mostly by rising incomes and urbanization, changes in post-harvest practices and distribution, as well as in dietary trends focusing on better health and nutrition.

With total production of aquatic foods expected to reach 202 million tonnes in 2030, mainly due to the continuing growth of aquaculture, the figure is expected to reach 100 million tonnes for the first time in 2027, and 106 million tonnes in 2030.

“We need to make sure that we start looking at the species that are arriving to markets that might be different from the historical ones”, said Mr. Barange, adding that if the adaptation to climate change is done properly, aquatic food consumption per capita would continue to grow, helping release pressure on land-based food production systems.

People in fishing communities

“Over 58 million people depend directly on fisheries and aquaculture: fisherman, fisherwoman and aqua-culturists”, FAO expert Mr. Barange stressed.

Fisheries and aquaculture contribute to employment, trade, and economic development.

According to the latest data, an estimated 58.5 million people were employed in the sector, and of these, only 21 percent are women.

Neighbors help each other pull a fishing net in Gentuma Raya, Indonesia.

© ADB/Eric Sales
Neighbors help each other pull a fishing net in Gentuma Raya, Indonesia.

Around 600 million people are estimated to depend on fisheries and aquaculture in some way for their lives and livelihoods. With those numbers, the need to build resilience is obviously critical for equitable and sustainable development.

Margaret Nakato, coordinator at the Katosi Women Development Trust (KWDT) in Uganda, also taking part at the Conference, works with fisherman and fisherwoman on the ground.

“One of the problems is that the current regimes of conservation are contributing to displacing and destructing the fishing communities from their territories”, the Conference heard.

She called on Member-States to involve small fishing communities, saying that “any sustainability agenda has to take them into consideration, as well as the social, cultural and economic components of the fishing communities, to ensure that our measures are effective but also we can share the equitable benefits from the resources”.

The need for transformation

FAO says more needs to be done to feed the world’s growing population while enhancing the sustainability of stocks and fragile ecosystems and protecting lives and livelihoods in the long-term.

The sustainability of marine fishery resources remains of significant concern, according to the FAO report, with the percentage of sustainably fished stocks falling to 64.6 percent in 2019, a 1.2 percent decline from 2017.

The fishing port of Joal in Senegal.

© FAO/Sylvain Cherkaoui
The fishing port of Joal in Senegal.

However, there are encouraging signs as sustainably fished stocks provided 82.5 percent of the total volume of 2019 landings – a 3.8 percent increase since 2017. This seems to indicate that larger stocks are being managed more effectively.

Before leaving the stage, UN Secretary-General’s Special Envoy Peter Thomson called for more financing for SDG14, suggesting that financing should be put in alternatives.

“I think things are changing”, he said, stressing the need to finance the solutions that are being developed. “Action is about money, put the hand in the pocket and make it happen”, Mr. Thomson concluded.

Until Friday, UN News will bring you daily coverage on the Conference as well as interviews, podcasts, and features, which you can access here.

Safer roads, a global development challenge for all: Senior UN official 

Nneka Henry, who heads the United Nations Road Safety Fund (UNRSF) Secretariat, noted that 500 children die in crashes every day, and that of the older population, women are 17 times more likely to be killed during a car crash than men, even when wearing seatbelts. 

Challenge for all 

Despite these statistics, road safety is not just a challenge for women or for young people. It is “for each and every one of us who walk, ride, cycle or drive on our roads,” Ms. Henry told Diedra Sealey, a young diplomat in the President of the General Assembly’s HOPE Fellowship programme. 

The interview took place ahead of the High-level Meeting of the General Assembly on Improving Road Safety, which gets underway at UN Headquarters in New York on Thursday and Friday, organized by the President of the General Assembly, Abdulla Shahid, and the World Health Organization (WHO).  

Coinciding with the meeting, is the UN Road Safety Fund pledging conference. The Fund was established in 2018 with a vision to “to build a world where roads are safe for every road user, everywhere.” It specially finances projects in low- and middle- income countries, where some 93 per cent of road deaths and injuries take place. 

“I am here in New York to remind all 193 Member States of their commitment to the Fund’s mandate and success,” Ms. Henry said.  

Those successes include the announcement that as of 1 July, all vehicles imported in East Africa need to be below the Euro 4/IV emission standard and no more than eight years old. 

The Fund has been working with the Economic Community of West African States’ 15 members, to harmonize vehicle standard resolutions.  

Nneka Henry, Head of the UN Road Safety Fund speaks to Diedra Sealey, a HOPE Fellow in the Office of the President of the General Assembly.

© Paulina Kubiak Greer
Nneka Henry, Head of the UN Road Safety Fund speaks to Diedra Sealey, a HOPE Fellow in the Office of the President of the General Assembly.

Major benefits 

“This will have major air quality and road safety benefits,” Ms. Henry said about the latest announcement.  

Some of the other achievements by the Fund include legislation in Azerbaijan to help emergency post-crash response, help to increase enforcement of the speed limits and other road traffic rules in Brazil and Jordan, as well as improving data collection in Cote d’Ivoire and Senegal, and training urban planners on making safer school zones in Paraguay.  

Vision for the future 

As part of the High-level meeting this week, UN Member States will adopt a political declaration, to lay out a “vision for the future of mobility as one that promotes health and well-being, protects the environment, and benefits all people,” according to a press release. 

The interconnected targets are part of the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) that show how road safety is also integrated into the SDGs, from allowing safer access to education, to allowing people access to groceries and reducing carbon emissions into the atmosphere. 

Halving traffic deaths and injuries by 2030 is a target under the third SDG, on good health and well-being. 

Children ride a bike in Fada, Burkina Faso.

© UNICEF/Frank Dejongh
Children ride a bike in Fada, Burkina Faso.

Flight from cities due to COVID-19 short-lived, says flagship UN-Habitat report

The large-scale flight from major cities in the early stages of the pandemic to the perceived safety of the countryside, or smaller towns, was a short-term response that will not alter the course of global urbanization, according to the UN-Habitat’s flagship World Cities Report 2022 – Envisaging the Future of Cities.

The biannual report was officially launched at the 11thWorld Urban Forum (WUF11) on 29 June in Katowice, Poland.

Build back ‘differently’

Urbanization remains a powerful 21st century mega-trend,” said Maimunah Mohd Sharif, UN Under-Secretary-General and Executive Director of UN-Habitat – the UN agency for building a better urban future, that is hosting the Forum.

“That entails numerous challenges, which were further exposed and exacerbated by the pandemic. But there is a sense of optimism that COVID-19 has provided us with the opportunity to build back differently. With the right policies and the right commitment from governments, our children can inherit an urban future that is more inclusive, greener, safer and healthier.”

Three scenarios

The report identified three potential scenarios for the world’s cities. In the worst-case or “high damage” scenario, the number of people living in poverty could increase by more than 200 million by 2050.

The pessimistic” scenario foresees a reversion to the status quo before the pandemic, a business-as-usual approach which would lock in cycles of poverty, poor productivity, inequality and unhealthy living for decades.

In the optimistic vision, by 2050 there could be 260 million people lifted out of poverty compared to the pre-COVID baseline. Governments and donors would invest in urban development sufficiently to create just, resilient, healthy and prosperous cities everywhere.

Getting it right

Ms. Sharif added: “If we don’t get cities right, then 68 per cent of the global population will face serious problems or challenges.

“We need to accelerate. We only have 90 months, or 2700 days, until we reach 2030, the target for the Global Goals. This report is a very timely wake-up call.”

Welcoming the report, Małgorzata Jarosińska-Jedynak, Secretary of State in Poland’s Ministry of Development Funds and Regional Policy, said: “I urge everyone to read the World Cities Report and follow its recommendations. It talks about coherent policy and coordinated urban planning, which is extremely important.”

Katowice was chosen as the location for WUF11 in recognition of its transition from a heavily polluted city in Poland’s Soviet-era industrial heartland to a centre of culture and technology. That transformation was assisted by UN-Habitat in the mid-1990s.

Maimunah Mohd Sharif, Executive Director of UN-Habitat, signs a copy of the World Cities Report 2022 at the World Urban Forum in Katowice, Poland.

UN Habitat/Monika Wcislak
Maimunah Mohd Sharif, Executive Director of UN-Habitat, signs a copy of the World Cities Report 2022 at the World Urban Forum in Katowice, Poland.

Ukraine factor

Its proximity to Ukraine led to major revisions to the original programme to include discussions on how urban areas can better cope with and recover from conflict and disaster.

A special session on those issues heard from Igor Terekhov, the Mayor of Kharkhiv, Ukraine’s second largest city, who said that preparations were underway to “rebuild a new, better Kharkiv”, even as the bombs continued to fall on his city.

Mr. Terekhov said talks had begun with the United Nations on plans for post-war reconstruction that would have a “new public transport network with electric buses, industrial parks, a dynamic IT sector and energy efficient housing”.

Mr. Terekhov addressed the World Urban Forum in Katowice virtually, at a Special Session on Rebuilding Communities and Neighbourhoods after War or Natural Disaster.

The frontline role of mayors and city leaders in conflict and disaster emerged as a prominent theme throughout the forum’s sessions. Opinions and insight from panel discussions at the forum will be used to inform future policy direction.

Ms. Sharif said that reconstruction efforts after conflict and disasters globally needed to move “beyond just talking about damage assessment, but focus on the damage done to communities, the damage done to people and living environment”.

“This is not just about rebuilding buildings but rebuilding communities.”

Mayor of Kharkhiv, Igor Terekhov, in a virtual address to a Special Session on Rebuilding Communities and Neighbourhoods After War and Natural Disasters.

UN-Habitat/Marius Ogonowsk
Mayor of Kharkhiv, Igor Terekhov, in a virtual address to a Special Session on Rebuilding Communities and Neighbourhoods After War and Natural Disasters.

Mayors as ‘first responders’

Filiep Decorte, Emergency Response Director at UN-Habitat, said: “Mayors are first responders. They are very well placed to work with local communities and the private sector. They know that reconstruction is not a dream for the future but should start now.

Raouf Mazou, Assistant High Commissioner for Operations at UNHCR, said that around the world displaced people were increasingly concentrated in urban areas, raising a new set of challenges for local authorities, particularly regarding employment and social services.

Gilles Carbonnier, Vice-President of the International Committee of the Red Cross, said that more needed to be done collectively to rebuild essential services, not only after urban warfare subsided but during conflicts.

Every day, tens of thousands of people are returning to their homes in Ukraine – Sergii Mazur, Mayor of Balta

Mr Terekhov said that since the Russian invasion, 3,500 homes and 500 public buildings in Kharkiv had been destroyed or damaged, including nearly 400 schools and kindergartens, 15 hospitals, 14 university buildings and 28 cultural centres.

“Kharkiv is still alive,” said Mr Terekhov. Reconstructing a greener, more accessible city was “necessary for us, Europe and the entire planet”, he added. Ukraine was given candidate status last week to join the European Union, which “would undoubtedly be a motivator for us to transform our country”.

Poland has received an estimated four million people from Ukraine, with approximately one million crossing back to their home country as parts have become safer, according to UNHCR data.

Coming home

The forum also heard from Sergii Mazur, Mayor of Balta, a town near Odesa in Ukraine’s south. He appealed to mayors and city leaders, particularly in the EU and Great Britain, to partner with counterparts in Ukraine to provide badly needed assistance for the reconstruction of towns and cities.

Contact between mayors from one country to another is very rapid and faster than contacts at central government level,” he said following an Extraordinary Dialogue on Urban Crisis Response and Recovery.

“Every day, tens of thousands of people are returning to their homes in Ukraine. Those homes may be destroyed, but we have already started reconstruction of infrastructure.

We need to rebuild schools and our hospitals. We need medical equipment. We need to reconstruct our infrastructure, we need vehicles – new fleets of vans and light trucks for utility services, to reconstruct the power grid, to start delivering basic services in de-occupied territories and also in occupied zones.”

UN rights office in probe call, after Morocco-Spain migrant deaths, Texas tragedy, show need for safer pathways

The Morocco-Spain border incident took place last Friday when African migrants were reportedly “beaten with batons, kicked, shoved, and attacked with stones by Moroccan officials”, said OHCHR spokesperson Ravina Shamdasani, in their attempt to scale the barbed-wire fence that separates Morocco from the North African, Spanish city of Melilla.

“This is the highest recorded number of deaths in a single incident over many years of migrants attempting to cross from Morocco to Europe via the Spanish enclaves of Melilla and Ceuta,” she said. “140 Moroccan border guards also reportedly sustained injuries.”

Border protection call

The OHCHR official urged Morocco and Spain to ensure that migrants’ human rights were protected at their joint border, and that border officers refrain from any use of excessive force.

An independent investigation was needed in view of the “competing accounts” of what had happened, she said.

“We also call on them to take to all necessary steps alongside the European Union, the African Union, and other relevant international and regional actors – to ensure human rights-based border governance measures are in place,” Ms. Shamdasani continued.

“These include access to safe migration pathways, access to individualised assessments and protection from collective expulsions and from refoulement, as well as from arbitrary arrest and detention.”

Texas truck tragedy

In a related development, Ms. Shamdasani expressed shock at reports that at least 50 bodies of migrants, according to latest news reports, had been found in an abandoned truck on the outskirts of San Antonio, Texas, apparently after crossing the border from Mexico.

Reports say that the deceased migrants included two dozen from Mexico, seven Guatemalans and two Hondurans, who had suffered heat stroke and heat exhaustion. Four children were among those who were found alive, and transported to hospital for treatment.

Three people have been arrested in connection with the horrific incident.

This is not the first such tragedy, and it illustrates again the critical need for regular safe pathways for migration as well as for accountability for those persons whose conduct has directly led to such loss of life,” the OHCHR official said.

Asked by journalists in New York about the migrant deaths in Texas, UN Spokesperson Stéphane Dujarric, said that it was important for both the US and Mexican governments to investigate and “bring to justice all those who were responsible for this horrific chain of events.”

“This horror, I think, once again highlights the tragedy that migrants face and asylum seekers, and it also highlights the need for comprehensive strategies for safe, orderly and regular migration in the region.”

Syria: Decade of brutal war left nearly 307,000 civilians dead

“The conflict-related casualty figures in this report are not simply a set of abstract numbers, but represent individual human beings,” UN High Commissioner for Human Rights Michelle Bachelet said, in a press release.

“The impact of the killing of each of these 306,887 civilians would have had a profound, reverberating impact on the family and community to which they belonged”.

Tallying losses

Mandated by the UN Human Rights Council, the report documents 143,350 civilian deaths in detail, enhanced by statistical techniques of imputation and multiple systems estimation, to connect the dots on missing information.

Using these techniques, a further 163,537 civilian deaths were assessed to have occurred, in order to produce the stark new estimate.

“The work of civil society organizations and the UN in monitoring and documenting conflict-related deaths is key in helping these families and communities establish the truth, seek accountability and pursue effective remedies,” said Ms. Bachelet. “This analysis will also give a clearer sense of the severity and scale of the conflict”.

‘Direct result of war’

The report also disaggregates data for the documented deaths, including by age, gender, year, governorate, those likely responsible, and the weapon type used.

The 306,887 estimate translates to an average of 83 civilians suffering a violent death every day during the decade – representing “a staggering 1.5 per cent of the total population,” according to the report.

It also triggers serious concerns as to “the failure of the parties to the conflict to respect international humanitarian law norms on the protection of civilians”.

“Let me be clear, these are the people killed as a direct result of war operations. This does not include the many, many more civilians who died due to the loss of access to healthcare, to food, to clean water and other essential human rights, which remain to be assessed,” said the High Commissioner.

Work continues

The report set out the challenges in recording casualties during a conflict, beyond the immediate risk to those trying to access the sites of attacks.

“Where civil society actors undertake casualty recording, efforts…can put the recorders themselves at risk. They also face multiple challenges in their documentation efforts, including the collapse of their usual networks of information as people are on the move, displaced or in areas where there is a general information shutdown; the limited, or lack of, access to mobile data, Internet and electricity to collect and transmit information; limitations on their movements; and surveillance,” the report stated.

Information pertaining to different periods across the 10 years covered, was sourced from various local human rights centres as well as government records and those of OHCHR itself.

Individuals, families, ‘at the centre’

The process placed “individuals, their families and communities at the centre by ensuring that those killed are not forgotten, and that information is available for accountability-related processes and to access a range of human rights,” the report states.

“Unless and until the conflict ends, there is a continued risk of civilian deaths. It is, therefore, critical that all States, the United Nations and civil society use all available means to end the conflict and support a transition to peace.”

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