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First Person: From Afghan refugee to Ukraine aid worker

Having previously endured conflict in Afghanistan, Ali comprehended the far-reaching implications of large-scale military actions on the lives of civilians. 

Immediately after the start of the Ukraine war, Ali and his wife, the owners of a small clothing store in Odessa, began to engage in relief work and donate clothes to people who had been forced to flee their homes due to the conflict,

He told UN News about his work for The Tenth of April relief organization which works alongside the UN Refugee Agency, UNHCR, in Ukraine.

UNHCR is assisting people whose apartments were damaged by a deadly night blast in Odessa, Ukraine.
© UNHCR/Victoria Andrievska

‘More concerned about war in Ukraine’

“Twenty-four years ago, my parents took me and my brother and sister and moved from Afghanistan, fleeing war and persecution. This country became our new home.

We are more concerned and worried about the situation in Ukraine than in Afghanistan, and we are trying to help as much as we can.

At such a moment, when the country desperately needs help, it is necessary to get involved, to do something good.

Now I work a lot with people who suffer from shelling in Odessa oblast. We distribute humanitarian aid, which is extremely necessary for the affected people.

With each passing day, we see an increasing number of people seeking assistance. 

I can speak a number of languages, so I am able to work with The Tenth of April to aid refugees and asylum seekers who had earlier fled to Ukraine to seek protection. I am now engaged as a social worker and logistician.

Ali (left) has been working for the humanitarian organization The Tenth of April for more than a year.
©Tenth of April/Yuliia Marchenko

Frontline destruction

What is happening in the villages near the frontline is simply terrible. Everything is broken there, Houses are destroyed. People barely survive there.

Gratitude in people’s eyes inspires me the most. Because of it, I forget about tiredness. A girl, an internally displace person from a family from Kherson, once gave me a yellow-blue ribbon, which she made herself, and it touched me very much. Such moments are unforgettable.

Staff members of this organization supported my family when we were asylum seekers in Ukraine, I saw how committed they were to their work.

My wife and 15-year-old son do not want to leave Ukraine and are trying to help however they can.

Recently, during the distribution of construction materials among the residents of the house that was damaged during the shelling in Odessa, my son went to the distribution and helped unload, and he was with me until night.

Today, among my colleagues are internally displaced people from Kherson, from Mykolaiv. I see that they put their heart into everything they do, and this inspires me to work as best as possible and do more.”

How UNHCR is helping Ukrainians

  • The UN estimates that 18 million people will need humanitarian assistance this year. 
  • Humanitarian needs are particularly acute for internally displaced persons who have been away from home for a long time and for those who have remained in frontline areas during the war.
  • The UN Refugee Agency, UNHCR, cooperates with 29 partner organizations, such as The Tenth of April, to help people in need throughout Ukraine.
  • With the support of its donors, UNHCR aims to help 3.6 million people in Ukraine in 2023.

Mediterranean ‘becoming a cemetery for children and their futures’

More than 11,600 unaccompanied children have crossed the Central Mediterranean to Italy so far this year the UN Children’s Fund (UNICEF) said on Friday, an increase of 60 per cent compared with last year.

The number of arrivals peaked this month on the small island of Lampedusa off Italy’s southern coast, with 4,800 people arriving on a single day, the agency noted.

According to news reports, a migrant reception centre there was overwhelmed earlier this month, as aid and medical workers coped with transferring thousands of people to the mainland.  

Many of the flimsy and crowded boats sink or capsize in the Mediterranean, leading to over 2,000 deaths so far this year, according to UN migration agency IOM.  

The real figure is likely considerably higher due to boats that sink that without trace.

Overcrowded dinghies

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“Children who undertake these harrowing journeys alone are often placed in overcrowded inflatable dinghies or shoddy wooden fishing boats unsuitable for poor weather conditions. Some are placed in the hold of the ship, some on iron barges – particularly dangerous for navigation,” UNICEF stated.

According to the UN humanitarian agency, “the lack of regionwide, coordinated and adequate search and rescue capacities and cooperation at sea on disembarkation compound the dangers children face when crossing.”

War, conflict, violence and poverty are among the main factors, prompting children to flee their home countries alone.  

UNICEF highlighted that “Evidence shows that unaccompanied children are at risk of exploitation and abuse on every step of their journeys, with girls and children from sub-Saharan Africa the most likely to suffer abuse.”

Nearly 1,000 dead on central route

It said between June and August this year, at least 990 people including children died or disappeared as they attempted to cross the Central Mediterranean, triple the number compared to the same period last summer when at least 334 people lost their lives.

Children who survive their journeys are first held in centres known as hotspots before being transferred to reception facilities that are often closed and limit movement.

More than 21,700 unaccompanied children across Italy are currently in such facilities, up from 17,700 a year ago.

‘Broken migration system’

“The Mediterranean Sea has become a cemetery for children and their futures. The devastating toll on children seeking asylum and safety in Europe is a result of policy choices and a broken migration system,” said Regina De Dominicis, UNICEF Regional Director, and Special Coordinator for the Refugee and Migrant Response in Europe.

“The adoption of a Europe-wide response to supporting children and families seeking asylum and safety and a sustained increase in international aid to support countries faced by multiple crises are desperately needed to prevent more children suffering.”

In line with international law and the Convention on the Rights of the Child, UNICEF is calling on governments to provide safer and legal pathways for seeking asylum and ensure children are not held in closed facilities.

Boost protection

It’s also recommending strengthened national child protection systems and more coordination of search and rescue operations that lead to safe disembarkation.

The agency said the ongoing debate between the European Parliament and EU Member States on a new pact on migration and asylum presents an immediate opportunity to affirm and uphold key child protection principles.


Viet Nam: UN rights office condemns crackdown on climate activists

On Thursday, Hoang Thi Minh Hong, an acclaimed climate activist and former World Wide Fund for Nature (WWF) employee, was sentenced to three years in prison and fined $4,100 after being convicted for tax evasion.

Her trial lasted only three hours, and access to family and defence counsel were limited throughout her detention.

Moreover, the charges against her may have been politically motivated, according to independent human rights experts.

‘Wider crackdown’

She becomes the fifth of six environmental human rights defenders arrested since 2021, to be convicted.

“Four other environmental rights advocates have been prosecuted on similar charges and sentenced to up to five years imprisonment, in what seems to be a wider crackdown on environmental rights defenders and against civic space in Viet Nam,” Spokesperson Jeremy Laurence said.

The charges levelled against the sixth person remaining have still not be made public.

‘A chilling effect’

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The arrests need to be viewed in the light of Viet Nam’s Just Energy Transition Partnership, OHCHR said.

It is an international collaboration designed to support decarbonisation efforts in developing nations, and Viet Nam opened its Secretariat in July, according to news reports.

The office reiterated that to successfully achieve a just and sustainable transition to green energy, human rights defenders and environmental organizations must have the freedom to participate actively and without hinderances in shaping policies and decision-making.

“These prosecutions and the arbitrary application of restrictive legislation are having a chilling effect on the critically important work of environmental defenders, and that of other human rights defenders in Viet Nam,” Mr. Lawrence said.

Call for unconditional release

He called on the Government to refrain from using criminal charges to curtail the exercise of fundamental freedoms and to release unconditionally all those who have been detained in such cases.

“We also remind the authorities of their obligations under international law to respect the rule of law, the right to a fair trial, and ensuring judicial independence.”

UNESCO chief calls for ‘intensification’ of investment in girls’ education

Audrey Azoulay was speaking on Friday in Beijing, China, where she co-chaired the award ceremony for the 2023 UNESCO Prize for the Education of Women and Girls, alongside the agency’s Special Envoy, Professor Peng Liyuan.

She appealed for an “intensification of global investments in favour of girls and women’s access to education”.

Striving towards equality 

Ms. Azoulay said “significant progress” has been made in education since the international community adopted the UN Declaration and Programme of Action for Women’s Rights in 1995.

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Today, 90 per cent of girls worldwide have completed primary education, and more than 40 per cent have access to higher education.

“This dynamic must continue because gender equality in education is not yet a reality. Currently, two-thirds of illiterate adults in the world are women,” she said.

Honouring outstanding initiatives 

The UNESCO Prize honours outstanding and innovative contributions made by individuals, institutions, and organizations to advance girls’ and women’s education. 

The award, which is presented annually, was established in 2015 and is supported by China. Two projects in Pakistan and China are this year’s recipients.

A better future for girls

The Star Schools programme in Pakistan ensures girls’ education in emergency situations. More than 540,000 minority girls benefit, including Afghan and Rohingya refugees, and victims of natural disasters such as the deadly and devastating floods last year.

UNESCO spoke to Fajer Pasha, Executive Director of the Pakistan Alliance for Girls Education (PAGE), which runs the project. 

“When girls have been through a Star School, we want them to come out not just literate but confident and above all aware of their rights so that they believe a future exists for them,” he said.

Putting girls first 

The Spring Bud project in China supports access to quality education for four million adolescent girls from 56 ethnic groups, spread across 31 provinces.

The initiative by the China Children and Teenagers’ Fund (CCTF) was created at a time when nine years of compulsory education was not yet fully established across the country, and families still had to pay fees and textbook costs. 

“Some rural families were too poor to send their girls to school. Some parents in remote areas, influenced by old cultural biases, would choose boys, not girls when they could only afford to send some of their children to school,” CCTF Secretary-General Zhang Yanhong told UNESCO. 

Cultural heritage visit 

While in China, Ms. Azoulay also met with President Xi Jinping, who reaffirmed the country’s commitment to supporting UNESCO’s mandate and working together with all Member States of the organization.

She travelled to two World Heritage sites: the Forbidden City in Beijing and the Beijing Man site in Zhoukoudian, where remains of prehistoric human societies were found.

World Heritage sites are natural and cultural places that are of outstanding universal value to humanity, and there are more than 1,000 across the planet. 

These locations are protected under the World Heritage Convention, adopted by UNESCO in 1972. 

Sudan: WHO supports battle against cholera in the east

The UN agency said on Friday that 264 suspected cholera cases, four confirmed cases and 16 associated deaths werereportedin the eastern state as of 25 September. 

Investigations are taking place to determine whether the disease has spread to Khartoum and South Kordofan states, which have seen increased cases of acute watery diarrhoea. 

Sampling and surveillance 

WHO is deploying rapid response teams to the affected localities and is actively supporting the Ministry of Health to transfer samples of suspected cases to the Public Health Laboratory in Port Sudan. 

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Surveillance is ongoing in affected and high-risk areas to identify and address risk factors. A request is going out to the international body managing emergency vaccine supplies during major outbreaks, the ICG, for oral cholera vaccines.  

Access amid war 

The WHO Representative in Sudan, Dr Nima Abid, visited Gederaf state on 17 September and met with health authorities and partners to coordinate response to the outbreak.  

He stressed the importance of having unhindered access to the affected areas and nearby locations. 

“A cholera outbreak can have a devastating effect in the context of a health system already overstretched because of war, shortages of medical supplies and health workers, malnutrition and access challenges,” he said.

Healthcare under fire 

The war in Sudan erupted in mid-April. Fierce fighting between the national army and the paramilitary Rapid Support Forces (RSF) has left thousands dead and uprooted more than five million, with impacts across the region.  

Sudan is also grappling with disease outbreaks and malnutrition, which have been compounded by heavy rains and flooding. The health system is overwhelmed by attacks on facilities as well as the scarcity of medical supplies and equipment, health workers and operational funds. 

Some 70 per cent of hospitals in conflict-affected states are non-functional, while active hospitals elsewhere are overwhelmed by the influx of internally displaced people. 

Support, supplies and training 

WHO said that even before the outbreak was declared it had already provided cholera supplies such as antibiotics, oral rehydration solution and intravenous fluids to six states in Sudan. 

The agency was also supporting three cholera isolation centres in Gedarefstate, providing medicines and health supplies to two facilities, and equipment and medical supplies to the third. 

Earlier this year, more than 2,800 Sudanese health workers took part in an online training course conducted by WHO on the management of acute watery diarrhoea in times of crisis.  

Another online course was held this week for 8,000 health workers which covered cholera, dengue and malaria management protocols. 


World News in Brief: Aid workers under attack, DR Congo food crisis, Niger floods

OCHA spokesperson Jens Laerke told reporters in Geneva that out of 71 aid worker deaths recorded so far this year, 22 had been working in South Sudan and 19 in Sudan.

The victims are overwhelmingly local humanitarians working on the front lines of the response, Mr. Laerke said.

He stressed that attacks on aid workers and aid facilities are violations of international humanitarian law and insisted that perpetrators must be held accountable. 

Rules of warfare

“Parties to conflict have an obligation to respect the laws of war without exceptions,” he said.

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Mr. Laerke highlighted the dire humanitarian needs in both countries and the funding gaps. The humanitarian response plan for Sudan remains only 32 per cent funded while the response in South Sudan has received 53 per cent of the required funds. 

The World Health Organization (WHO) also sounded the alarm about the situation in the South Sudan, where three in four people need humanitarian assistance and two in every three are facing crisis levels of hunger.

Over 25 million Congolese in food crisis: UN agencies

More than 25 million people continue to face crisis or emergency levels of food insecurity in the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC), according to the latest international food security report (IPC) released on Friday.

The country continues to be one of the world’s largest food crises, said the Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) and UN World Food Programme (WFP).

Despite high levels of hunger, DRC boasts fertile lands and abundant water resources that should make it self-sufficient – if not a net exporter.

However, various underlying causes such as intensifying conflict in the restive east and a lack of investment in rural development, are preventing the country from producing enough supplies. 

“I am alarmed by the number of people who continue to face hunger across the country,’’ said Peter Musoko, the World Food Programme’s Country Director and Representative in the DRC.

“In such a fragile context, the cost of inaction is truly unthinkable. Together, we need to work with the government and the humanitarian community to increase resources for this neglected crisis.”

Niger floods cause death and destruction as rains continue

As heavy rains continue in Niger, UN humanitarians are growing increasingly concerned by flooding which is hitting the south of the country hard.

“Last week alone, 13,000 people were affected and since July, according to the Ministry of Humanitarian Affairs, some 160,000 people have been impacted by the floods with more than 14,000 houses that have collapsed and over 50 deaths”, said UN Spokesperson Stéphane Dujarric, briefing reporters in New York on Friday.

Military leaders seized power in Niger in July, ousting the democratically elected president Mohamed Bazoum, who has remained in detention ever since. Some western nations and regional powers have imposed sanction on the new military rulers.

The de facto authorities and aid agencies continue to support the aid response for Nigeriens impacted by the severe flooding and have distributed mattresses, mosquito nets, blankets and other essential supplies, said Mr. Dujarric. 

More than 13,000 families have also received food support. 

“Humanitarian colleagues are warning that major gaps persist, particularly in the areas of shelter, water and sanitation, and health. We are also working with communities on flood preparedness”, added the Spokesperson. 

‘We know the solutions’: Youth offer UN tips for better world

And a busy stage it was. The big week of UNGA’s 78th session was triple focused on health, climate change, and turbocharging the race midway to realizing the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs).

While world leaders’ report cards on this global stage have traditionally headlined past UNGA sessions, recent years have seen a growing number of non-diplomats, from movie stars to grassroots organizers, stepping up on the sidelines.

They all echoed a universal call to ramp up progress at the halfway point to realizing the 2030 Agenda and its 17 Goals (SDGs). But other vital issues were on the table at the first fully in-person UNGA since the outbreak of the global COVID-19 pandemic in 2020. 

UNGA 78 also left us wondering how much the buzz of alternative voices – ringing out beyond the iconic, green-marbled podium of the General Assembly Hall – made a dent on the formal proceedings. Were they being heard? We asked. They answered.

Rachel Sterling and Nancy Rhodes, co-founders of alternew, a sustainable fashion software company based in the United States.
UN News/Eileen Travers

Rachel Sterling and Nancy Rhodes, co-founders of alternew, a sustainable fashion software company based in the United States.

‘We’re not suits’

Cobblers were among the missing on-the-ground gamechangers at UNGA 78, according to Rachel Sterling and Nancy Rhodes, co-founders of alternew. Their US-based company provides business software to help tailors, shoemakers, watch, and jewellery repairers to connect with consumers to buck fast fashion and create a circular economy that promotes sustainable consumption (SDG 12).

“Even if you’re a tailor, cobbler, or jeweller, you’re playing a fundamental role in the circular economy,” Ms. Sterling said near the SDG Media Zone which sat in the shadow of the UN General Assembly building.

The sustainable trendsetter told UN News that as she was gearing up for UNGA 78, she struggled with what to wear.

“We’re not suits,” she said, but in the end, expecting a corporate-style setting, she traded sneakers for heels.

My message for world leaders is ‘You cannot negotiate with nature; history will not remember you by how much profit you made’ if they do not save our planet. – Ayisha Siddiqi, SDG Climate Youth Advocate from Pakistan

Break down ‘silos’

While happy to participate in discussions on the sidelines, they agreed that their voices and others could be better heard inside UN Headquarters.

“To shake things up, silos must come down,” Ms. Rhodes said.

A case in point is that the fossil fuel crowd and the sustainable fashion advocates attending UNGA were having separate conversations when they really are aiming at the same goals: reduce emissions and promote green energy alongside sustainable consumption and production, she explained.

Language barriers must also be eliminated, Ms. Rhodes said.

“It’s about making everyone part of the solution,” Ms. Sterling said. “It’s not just the English-speaking world that can solve this.”

First time at ‘UN house’

Across the North Lawn of UN Headquarters, celebrities were posing for selfies outside the 17 Rooms exhibit, installed to promote accelerated action to realize the SDGs. The semi-circle “pavilion” featured doorways to surprise art installations, each representing one of the Goals.

Outside the door leading to SDG 16 on peace, security, and strong institutions, Nigerian stars and influencers Alhaníslam and Rahama Sadau posed for a photo with a fan.

“As an actress, I felt the biggest impact I could have is to lend my voice,” said Ms. Sadau, who has three million social media followers and advocates for education (SDG 4) and partnerships (SDG 17).

Alhaníslam, who co-wrote, with Congolese poet Pacifique Akilimali, Peace Begins With Me on the occasion of the 75th anniversary of UN peacekeeping, said she uses her voice to amplify the work done in local communities.

Poet Alhaníslam and actor Rahama Sadau pose for a photo with a fan.
UN News/Eileen Travers

Poet Alhaníslam and actor Rahama Sadau pose for a photo with a fan.

‘My voice has been heard’

“I believe my voice has been heard,” she said. “People have been sending me messages that they are inspired.”

Opening up door 16, she said, “you can find this”, pointing to the Poem for Peace, written and recorded by Malian poet Salimata Fofana, who shared the harsh reality of a childhood defined by war.

‘Room for new ideas’

The UN could “do more in getting diverse young people to participate in all the work they’re doing”, Alhaníslam said. One way would be to have a “talent scout team” in various communities to “find new voices that are doing different things to solve problems”.

“There should be room for new ideas,” she said.

United Nations

‘We know the solutions’

“We have a huge task ahead of us and all systems must respond,” said Temilade Salami, an environmentalist and marine biologist involved with youth-led sustainability initiatives across Nigeria.

“The time for action is now”, she said while moderating a talk on education at the SDG Pavilion last week. “We know that education can play a part in changing mindsets and building skills to mitigate and adapt as our planet changes.”

I’m here to ask world leaders to step up action on climate change. – Vishal Prasad, Fiji, which is on “the frontlines of the climate crisis”, with 40 villages currently in need of relocating

“One of the ways you can encourage young people like myself is to make sure that you support the work that we’re doing back at home because we are the ones who are closest to these problems, and we know the solutions that properly fit our communities,” Ms. Salami said.

Julieta Martinez, founder of the education group Fundación Tremendas in Chile, agreed.

“We have projects. So, work with us, and you’ll see how many great projects we can do because nobody understands the problems that young people are facing but themselves.”

Others UN News spoke with echoed her call, including Varaidzo Kativhu, an education activist from Zimbabwe who uses her audience of 300,000 social media followers to help to promote empowering unsupported and underrepresented students in recognizing their academic potential.

Young people “want meaningful engagement” she said at the meeting on the Summit of the Future. “We want to be at the table where decisions are being made. Please stop talking about us and start talking to us, and not only talking to us but working with us.”

Education activist Varaidzo Kativhu addresses the Summit of the Future at UN Headquarters in New York.
UN Photo/Laura Jarriel

Education activist Varaidzo Kativhu addresses the Summit of the Future at UN Headquarters in New York.

‘Trying to capture everything’

At the end of the week, the main stage in the General Assembly Hall attracted presidents, prime ministers, and nearly 3,000 journalists from across the world. 

Yvette Tanamal, a reporter from the Jakarta Post who was covering UNGA’s high-level week for the first time, summed up the general feeling against the backdrop of “hundreds of events and thousands of bilaterals”.

“It’s been really fun, especially the adrenalin you feel trying to capture everything,” she said, adding sage advice for other UNGA newcomers: “Wear comfortable shoes.”


What walking the talk looks like

In contrast to the sombre voices of world leaders, UN Headquarters was transformed by hundreds of activists who took part in a dizzying carousel of events, with the UN Secretary-General welcoming these “movers and doers”. 

Walking the talk was what these passionate young participants had in common, as they head home to their communities to continue their valuable work:

  • Chile: Julieta Martinez, author of No Soy Julieta, a book about her experiences in business and social activism, became a UN-Women adviser at age 16, and founded Fundación Tremendas, with more than 1,500 volunteers in 18 countries focused on realizing the SDGs.
  • Nigeria: Rahama Sadau raised awareness to stop child marriage and founded the Ray of Hope Foundation, reaching children most in need to spread gender quality and empower women and girls (SDG 5).
  • Nigeria: Temilade Salami founded EcoChampions, one of Africa’s largest networks of young environmentalists, with programmes in 26 countries (SDG 13).
  • Zimbabwe: Varaidzo Kativhu wrote EMPOWERED, a practical self-help book for young people, volunteers for education-focused charities, is an active ambassador for United World Schools, CAMFED, and GirlUp Zimbabwe, and founded Empowered By Vee, which has more than 17,600 students in its network (SDG 4).

Karabakh emergency escalates, thousands still pouring into Armenia: UN agencies

Some 65,000 have already been registered at Government-run centres where long lines have formed.

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Anxiety and fear

UNHCR is supporting the refugees with core relief items, said agency representative in Armenia Kavita Belani, who’s has been on the ground since day one of the crisis:

“People are tired. This is a situation where they’ve lived under nine months of blockade. When they come in, they’re full of anxiety, they’re scared, they’re frightened and they want answers as to what’s going to happen next.”

Ms. Belani said that the most urgent needs included psychosocial support, medication and shelter for everybody, given the high volume of arrivals, as well as targeted support for the most vulnerable: the elderly and children.

The UN Children’s Fund (UNICEF) told reporters in Geneva that 30 per cent of those arriving are minors and many have been separated from their families.

UN response in full gear

UNICEF is working with the authorities to make sure that family tracing is done right away so that the youngsters can be reunited with their relatives.

UNHCR is leading the inter-agency refugee response and coordination to complement the Armenian Government’s efforts, Ms. Belani said, and an appeal for funding is being finalized.

She stressed that while the response plan was for a duration of six months, the UN was already thinking of longer-term support to help Armenia integrate the new arrivals.

Earlier this week, Alice Wairimu Nderitu, the Special Adviser on the Prevention of Genocide, reiterated her “strong concern” over the ongoing situation and called for “all efforts to be made” to ensure the protection and human rights of the ethnic Armenian population who remain in the area and of those who have left.

More to come, including a full interview with UNHCR’s Armenia representative…

DR Congo: UN mission still disinformation target, as withdrawal speculation grows

Attacks on local populations, roadblocks and denial of humanitarian access, continue to fuel suffering in Ituri, North Kivu and South Kivu provinces, Special Representative Bintou Keita told the Security Council in New York.

“As I speak today, over six million people remain displaced in [these places],” she stated, urging continued support for underfunded relief operations.

Eventual departure

Turning to the planned – but not finalized – departure of UN peacekeepers from the DRC, Ms. Keita called on the Council to express itself clearly on the recommendations set out in the August report of the Secretary-General on the future of the mission she leads, MONUSCO.

Later in the day, in response to a question at a press stakeout, Ms. Keita said detailed discussions will be held with authorities and an action plan with key benchmarks agreed with them in the spirit of partnership.

Last week, the President of the DRC at the General Assembly called on the UN mission to accelerate and bring forward its withdrawal deadline by one year: from December 2024 to December 2023.

Video: SRSG Keita speaks at a press stakeout after the Security Council meeting

Gender-based violence

Another deeply concerning aspect within the crisis is the prevalence of gender-based and sexual violence. Over 10,000 survivors sought assistance from the UN peacekeeping mission, MONUSCO, in the three provinces in June and July, Ms. Keita said.

In response to the acute risk of sexual violence in displacement sites, the UN Mission has stepped up patrols, including with the Congolese armed forces.

Political solutions needed

Continued humanitarian and security measures are still essential she said. Ms. Keita also underscored the need for political and regional solutions to address the menace of armed groups operating in eastern DRC.

She expressed encouragement for the recent visit of peace process acilitator, former President Uhuru Kenyatta, to Goma, emphasizing the importance of implementing confidence-building measures.

The extension of the East African Community regional force mandate for three months and the commitment of the Southern African Development Community (SADC) to deploy a peace mission in eastern DRC signal ongoing regional engagement, she noted.

Special Representative Keita stressed that such efforts can succeed only if essential reforms in the security sector are adopted, financed, and implemented.

Upcoming elections

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The recruitment of 13,000 police officers ahead of the 2023 elections should help extend State authority and strengthen the rule of law, she said.

The looming general elections planned for December are a crucial milestone for the country, she added, commending national efforts to meet the deadline set out in the constitution.

“It is important for the Government to ensure that the democratic space is protected, that freedom of expression and freedom of the press are guaranteed and that human rights are respected,” she added.

Conducive environment for MONUSCO

In conclusion, Ms. Keita stressed the importance of a conducive environment which will allow MONUSCO to withdraw in line with its overarching mandate.

“Regrettably, the mission continues to be targeted by mis- and disinformation, as well as threats and attacks,” she said, condemning the killing of civilians by national security forces on 30 August in Goma.

“I am hopeful that the trials currently underway will provide justice to the bereaved families of the victims, including one police officer, and shed light on the circumstances surrounding this tragic event.”

Stopping war, stepping up climate action: Francis wraps up UNGA78

In his first press conference in post, Assembly President Dennis Francis briefed journalists on highlights from the 78th general debate of Heads of State of Government from the 193 countries that comprise the UN, which concluded earlier this week.

It marked the first time the gathering has been fully in-person since the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic in March 2020.

Elevating women’s contributions

Mr. Francis said 189 leaders spoke from the rostrum, “an impressive increase indeed over recent years.” Twenty-one were women, or one less than the previous year. 

The Assembly President convened the second annual platform of women leaders at the outset of the High-Level Week, which ran from 19-26 September.  Focus was on the role of women in achieving the SDGs, which aim to deliver a more just, equitable and greener world by 2030.  

“These leaders showcased why it is so important to recognize and elevate the talents and perspectives of half of humanity in tackling today’s challenges,” he said. 

Stop the war

The general debate was marked by calls for resolving conflicts in Africa, the Middle East and Ukraine. 

“I was unequivocal when speaking to the membership that we need peace, Ukraine needs peace, and that this war must stop, must end,” he said. 

Mr. Francis added that the call for stronger climate action also resonated across the General Assembly Hall, in his meetings with leaders, and at two high-level meetings on climate mobility and sea level rise.

Going for the Goals

Meanwhile, the SDG Summit and resulting political declaration marked the start of a new phase of accelerated progress to achieve the 17 goals by their deadline. 

Other high-level meetings focused on Financing for Development and health issues, with leaders approving the first-ever UN political declaration on pandemic prevention, preparedness and response. 

Governments also reaffirmed the right to universal health coverage, set targets to stamp out tuberculosis by the end of the decade, and underlined the need for “serious action” to eliminate nuclear weapons which he called “a moral duty of our time”. 

Security Council reform 

Mr. Francis also answered journalists’ questions on other issues of global concern raised during the general debate, such as reform of the UN Security Council, whose five permanent members – China, France, Russia, the United Kingdom and the United States – possess right of veto, allowing them to block any resolution or decision. 

At a Council meeting held during the High-Level Week, Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy suggested that the General Assembly should be given the power to override vetoes.

Reflect current realities

Mr. Francis said the Council was designed for a world that no longer exists and reform is not a simple task. 

“We do need to rethink the structure of the Security Council so that it more aptly represents current realities of global politics. That is going to be a process that will continue to engage the house for some time,” he said. 

When asked if he was convinced world leaders will take the action required to achieve the SDGs by 2030, the General Assembly President turned the spotlight on the media and their important role in society. 

“These commitments were made in public in front of you guys, who influence public opinion,” he said. “How will you react if you detect over time that commitments made have not in fact been honoured?” 

While expressing hope that the pledges will become reality, he remarked that “at the end of the day, the proof of the pudding, as they say, is in the eating.”


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