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‘We cannot abandon the people of Gaza’: chiefs of UN agencies and NGOs unite in appeal for UNRWA

Despite the “horrifying” allegations that 12 UNWRA staff were involved in the Hamas-led terror attacks on Israel on 7 October, “we must not prevent an entire organization from delivering on its mandate to serve people in desperate need”, said the UN-led group of aid agencies, known collectively as the Inter-Agency Standing Committee (IASC).

Regional collapse

“Withdrawing funds from UNRWA …would result in the collapse of the humanitarian system in Gaza, with far-reaching humanitarian and human rights consequences in the Occupied Palestinian Territory and across the region,” warned the IASC panel, headed by UN emergency relief chief Martin Griffiths.

Hundreds of thousands of people have been left homeless and “on the brink of famine”, the IASC Principals said, since Israeli bombardment and a ground invasion began after the Palestinian militants butchered some 1,200 people in Israeli communities and took more than 250 others hostage.

Historic role

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UNRWA – the largest aid agency in Gaza whose key role in education, healthcare and more in the enclave dates back to 1949 – provides a lifeline to more than two million people in the Strip. 

Its future is in jeopardy after several major donors halted funds pending probes into Israel’s allegations that 12 of the agency’s 30,000 staff played a role in the 7 October attacks. 

Probe activated

A full and urgent investigation is already underway by the Office of Internal Oversight Services (OIOS) – the highest investigative body in the UN system – the IASC chiefs said, noting in addition that UNRWA had announced an independent review of its operations.

“Decisions by various Member States to pause funds for UNRWA will have catastrophic consequences for the people of Gaza,” the IASC statement continued. “No other entity has the capacity to deliver the scale and breadth of assistance that 2.2 million people in Gaza urgently need.”

In its latest humanitarian update, the UN aid coordination office, OCHA, noted that the death toll in Gaza since continuing “intense” Israeli bombardment began had now risen to at least 26,751, according to the enclave’s health authorities.

Hostilities continued to be “particularly intense” in the southern city of Khan Younis, OCHA reported late on Tuesday, “with heavy fighting reported near Nasser and Al Amal hospitals, and reports of Palestinians fleeing to the southern town of Rafah, which is already overcrowded, despite the lack of a safe passage”.

Ground operations and clashes between Israeli forces and Palestinian armed groups were also reported across much of Gaza, OCHA noted, with new evacuation orders issued to neighbourhoods in western Gaza city on Monday and Tuesday, including Ash Shati Refugee Camp, Rimal Ash Shamali and Al Janubi, Sabra, Ash Sheikh ‘Ajlin, and Tel Al Hawa.

“The new order covered an area of 12.43 square kilometres…This area was home to almost 300,000 Palestinians before 7 October and, subsequently, 59 shelters with an estimated 88,000 internally displaced people (IDPs) seeking refuge there,” OCHA said.

Shrinking space to shelter

Mass evacuation orders issued by the Israeli military that began on 1 December cover a total of 158 square kilometres, amounting to 41 per cent of the Gaza Strip. “This area was home to 1.38 million Palestinians before 7 October and, subsequently, it contained 161 shelters hosting an estimated 700,750 IDPs,” according to the UN aid coordination office.

As of 30 January, 218 Israeli soldiers have been confirmed killed and 1,283 injured, citing the Israeli military.

The past week has also seen “large numbers of Palestinian men” detained by the Israeli military at a checkpoint in Khan Younis “with many of them stripped to their underwear, blindfolded and taken away”, the OCHA update reported.

Vulnerable populations in northern and central Gaza are increasingly beyond reach because of “an increasing trend in denied and restricted access”, the UN aid coordination office reported. “The reasons include excessive delays for humanitarian aid convoys before or at Israeli checkpoints and heightened hostilities in central Gaza. Threats to the safety of humanitarian personnel and sites are also frequent, impeding the delivery of time-sensitive and life-saving aid and pose serious risks to those involved in humanitarian efforts.”

The 14 IASC signatories to the appeal are: 

  • Martin Griffiths, Emergency Relief Coordinator and Under-Secretary-General for Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA)
  • Jane Backhurst, Chair, ICVA (Christian Aid) 
  • Jamie Munn, Executive Director, International Council of Voluntary Agencies (ICVA
  • Amy E. Pope, Director General, International Organization for Migration (IOM
  • Volker Türk, United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR
  • Paula Gaviria Betancur, United Nations Special Rapporteur on the Human Rights of Internally Displaced Persons (SR on HR of IDPs
  • Achim Steiner, Administrator, United Nations Development Programme (UNDP
  • Natalia Kanem, Executive Director, United Nations Population Fund (UNFPA)
  • Filippo Grandi, United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR
  • Michal Mlynár, Executive Director a.i., United Nations Human Settlement Programme (UN-Habitat
  • Catherine Russell, Executive Director, UN Children’s Fund (UNICEF)
  • Sima Bahous, Under-Secretary-General and Executive Director, UN Women 
  • Cindy McCain, Executive Director, World Food Programme (WFP)
  • Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, Director-General, World Health Organization (WHO)


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Myanmar demands greater focus urges UN rights chief, three years after coup

“Amid all of the crises around the world, it is important no one is forgotten. The people of Myanmar have been suffering for too long,” Volker Türk said ahead of the anniversary of the coup on 1 February.

He explained that fighting between the military and armed opposition groups has resulted in mass displacement and civilian casualties, with the regime “launching waves of indiscriminate aerial bombardments and artillery strikes” after recent setbacks on the battlefield.

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Rise in deaths

Sources have verified that over 554 people have died since October, while the number of civilians reportedly killed by the military rose to over 1,600 in 2023, an increase of some 300 from the previous year. 

Overall, nearly 26,000 people have been arrested on political grounds. The majority, 19,973, remain in detention. Some reportedly have been subjected to torture and abuses, and with no hope of a fair trial, some 1,576 individuals have died over the past three years while in military custody. 

“Military tactics have consistently focused on the punishment of civilians who they view as supporting their enemies,” Mr. Türk said. “As a result, the military has routinely targeted civilians and protected objects under international humanitarian law, especially medical facilities and schools.” 

Concern for Rohingya community

He said Rakhine state has been especially hard hit since fighting restarted there in November, with the mostly Muslim Rohingya community particularly affected. 

Meanwhile Rohingya refugees living in dire humanitarian conditions in camps in Bangladesh “are again risking desperate and dangerous journeys by sea, finding few ports or communities in the region willing to accept or welcome them”. 

Accountability and sanctions 

Mr. Türk said the crisis in Myanmar will only be resolved by insisting on accountability for the military’s leadership, the release of political prisoners and the restoration of civilian rule. 

I urge all Member States to take appropriate measures to address this crisis, including to consider imposing further targeted sanctions on the military to constrain their ability to commit serious violations and disregard international law, limiting access to weapons, jet fuel and foreign currency,” he said.

Invest more in human rights

Separately, Mr. Türk also called for a significant increase in funding for his office this year, warning that it remains woefully short of the funds needed to better promote human rights around the world.

Speaking to UN Member States in Geneva, he appealed for $500 million to support the work of rights office, OHCHR, amid immense challenges globally.

“Right now, we are living through profoundly divided times,” he said, pointing to concerns such as spiralling conflict in many parts of the world, climate impacts, rising disinformation and an increase in hunger, poverty and inequality.

Last year, OHCHR’s advocacy contributed to the release of more than 13,000 detainees. Staff also undertook some 3,664 human rights monitoring missions and monitored at least 1,088 trials, among other accomplishments.

Member States and other funding partners donated $283.2 million in voluntary contributions to the office last year. 

“Yet, we are still falling drastically short of the funding we need to provide human rights solutions that are more effective and wider reaching, solutions that we desperately need in today’s world marked by breakneck pace shifts and persistent, urgent challenges,” he said. 

World News in Brief: Response plan for Somalia launched, mass executions in Iraq, Ukraine update, new European heat record

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Somalia was hit by multiple shocks last year, including devastating drought, unprecedented heavy rains and flooding and further mass displacement. Millions of people also continue to suffer from hunger and malnutrition, the UN said.

The plan, launched with federal and state governments, was launched as four million people – nearly a quarter of the population – remain acutely food insecure in Somalia. 

Two in five children under five suffer from acute malnutrition. Some 3.8 million people are internally displaced, and a cholera outbreak is spreading in several areas.

Multiple drivers

In addition to climatic shocks, conflict and insecurity, widespread poverty and disease outbreaks will continue to drive humanitarian needs this year,” said George Conway, Resident and Humanitarian Coordinator for Somalia.

He said it would enhance “collective outcomes that will help reduce needs, risks and vulnerabilities, increase resilience and ensure that future shocks do not lead to catastrophe.”

“More than 80 per cent of the displaced are women and children and face serious protection risks,” said Mohamud Moalim, Commissioner for the Somalia Disaster Management Agency.

“The Somali Government is concerned about the humanitarian situation that is worsened by climate-induced crises. We are determined to address the underlying causes of Somalia’s crises, improve livelihoods and build long-term durable solutions.”

Humanitarian partners will be implementing a more targeted response with a focus on assisting those in most severe need, the UN in Somalia said.

The funding requirements represent a 37 per cent reduction on last year’s request. 

Iraq: Rights experts denounce ‘secretive’ executions

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UN independent human rights experts on Tuesday expressed deep concern over reports that Iraqi authorities have begun carrying out mass executions within the prison system.

In a news release, the Human Rights Council-appointed experts highlighted that over 250 prisoners were facing imminent execution amid an accelerated enforcement of detainees’ sentences by the government.

“We are shocked to hear that unannounced mass executions are taking place in Iraqi prisons, particularly in Nasiriyah Central Prison, where at least 13 people were recently executed on the same day and hundreds of others are at risk of imminent execution,” the experts said, noting reliable reports that an “execution list” has been approved.

The experts – who serve in their individual capacity and are not UN staff – also voiced deep concern about the “secretive nature” of the death penalty implementation, emphasizing the need for transparency in such cases.

They also urged Iraq to publish full information each year on executions, including on those sentenced to death and the number of executions. 

The experts reiterated prior concerns about Iraq’s Anti-Terrorism Law No. 13 (2005), noting its vague definition of terrorism and the potential for arbitrary accusations. 

They called on the government to immediately halt all planned executions and to consider clemency and the commutation of sentences as a vital step towards complete abolition of the death penalty.

Ukraine: 11 million received vital aid last year

UN and partners assisted almost 11 million people in Ukraine last year, delivering critical aid to families whose lives have been devastated by war, the Organization’s humanitarian official in the country said on Tuesday.

Denise Brown, Humanitarian Coordinator for Ukraine, added that UN and aid agencies will continue efforts to ensure civilians receive the same level of support in 2024.

“To this end, funding will be crucial. The suffering of the Ukrainian people is not over, and our support is as necessary as ever,” she said.

Throughout 2023 via 100 inter-agency convoys, humanitarians provided people in Ukraine with food supplies, water and hygiene supplies, repair kits, healthcare, education and demining services as well as psychosocial counselling and legal aid.  

In the winter months, they delivered clothes, blankets, fuel and insulation to help families keep warm in temperatures as low as minus 20°C.

“However, for another entire year, we were prevented from helping people in areas occupied by Russia, where humanitarian needs are direst and the response extremely limited,” Ms. Brown said.

She added humanitarian efforts will continue despite the repeated denial by Russian authorities.

 Temperatures reached record highs across the world in 2023.
© Unsplash/Paul Pastourmatzis

Temperatures reached record highs across the world in 2023.

WMO confirms new heat record for Europe

The World Meteorological Organization (WMO) has officially confirmed a new record temperature for continental Europe of 48.8°C – that’s nearly 120°F. 

The searing temperature was recorded in Syracuse on the Italian island of Sicily on 11 August 2021 and verified by an international panel of atmospheric scientists.

The previous record of 48.0°C had been held by the Greek cities of Athens and Elefsina since July 1977. 

However, it was based on government sources and not independently verified by WMO, the UN’s weather agency.

Spokesperson Clare Nullis said it was important that the world “has confidence” that global records are properly measured and verified, adding that “the extremes that we are monitoring, verifying [are] snapshots of our changing climate”.

The agency said the investigation also demonstrates the alarming tendency for continuing high temperature records to be set, warning that greater extremes will occur across Europe in the future.

The confirmation involved lengthy procedures, meticulous care and painstaking evaluation to ensure the levels of confidence, Ms. Nullis added.

USA: Rights experts slam ‘outrageous’ execution of inmate by nitrogen gas suffocation

Kenneth Eugene Smith, 58, was executed in the southern state of Alabama on 25 January.  He had been convicted of murder in 1988. 

“Alabama’s use of Kenneth Smith as a human guinea pig to test a new method of execution amounted to unethical human experimentation and was nothing short of State-sanctioned torture,” the experts said in a statement

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“The use, for the first time in humans and on an experimental basis, of a method of execution that has been shown to cause suffering in animals is simply outrageous.”

Painful death 

The experts have joined the chorus of UN officials deploring Smith’s execution, including UN High Commissioner for Human Rights Volker Türk.

They had previously called for a stay of execution, noting that nitrogen gas inhalation causes a painful and humiliating death. Additionally, experimental executions by gas asphyxiation are contrary to international law. 

They said Mr. Smith reportedly took over 20 minutes to die “instead of the ‘swift, painless and humane’ death predicted by authorities, who defended the use of the method despite the lack of scientific evidence”.

Witnesses reported that he writhed and convulsed on the gurney, gasping for air and pulling on the restraints.

Decades on death row 

Mr. Smith had spent decades on death row after being convicted in the murder-for-hire killing of Elizabeth Sennett in March 1988. His first death sentence, in 1989, was dismissed on procedural grounds three years later.

He was tried again in 1996, when the jury voted nearly unanimously to sentence him to life in prison. However, the trial judge overrode the decision and imposed the death penalty instead.

Alabama abolished the practice of judicial overrides in 2017, yet without retroactive effects. Mr. Smith survived a botched execution by intravenous injection in 2022 that lasted hours and reportedly amounted to torture.

Ban ‘barbaric’ practice 

The experts reiterated their grave concern that other US states were taking steps to use nitrogen gas inhalation as a method of execution. Calling for a ban, they reminded the US of its obligations under international treaties that uphold civil rights and prohibit cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment.

“The gruesome execution of Kenneth Eugene Smith is a stark reminder of the barbaric nature of the death penalty and a powerful moment to intensify calls for its abolition in the United States of America and the rest of the world,” they said.

About UN experts

The four experts who issued the statement are all UN Special Rapporteurs appointed by the UN Human Rights Council, located in Geneva.

Their mandates cover the issues of extrajudicial, summary or arbitrary executions, torture and other cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment, the independence of judges and lawyers and the right to enjoy the highest standard of physical and mental health. 

They are not UN staff and are not paid for their work. 

‘No substitute’ for UNRWA’s lifesaving work in Gaza: Senior Humanitarian Coordinator

Apart from a political decision, which would have to be made by the General Assembly, “there is no way any organization can replace or substitute the tremendous capacity and the fabric of UNRWA and its ability and knowledge,” Sigrid Kaag, Senior Humanitarian and Reconstruction Coordinator for Gaza, told correspondents at a stakeout outside the Security Council Chamber in New York.

She also noted the key role the agency has played over decades, before the current conflict, in education, healthcare and other services. UNRWA was established by the General Assembly in December 1949.

UNRWA’s operations are in jeopardy after several donor countries, including the United States, United Kingdom, Germany and Japan, suspended funding in the wake of extremely serious allegations that several of its staff were involved in the 7 October terror attacks in Israel.

The Organization has initiated an investigation, and the Secretary-General has reiterated that any employee found to be involved will be held accountable, including through criminal prosecution.

First appearance

Ms. Kaag’s remarks to the press followed her first closed-door briefing to the Security Council since taking up her key coordination role pursuant to Council resolution 2720 (2023).

Her mandate is to facilitate, coordinate, monitor and verify humanitarian relief consignments to Gaza as well as establish a UN mechanism to accelerate humanitarian relief shipments to the enclave through States which are not party to the conflict.

Ms. Kaag underscored that the success of her mandate “is about the ability to achieve and meet the needs” of the civilians in Gaza.

“That is the only indicator, as far as I am concerned.”  

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Challenges on the ground

Ms. Kaag emphasized that the absence of a humanitarian ceasefire is hampering aid efforts and causing delays.

Currently, there is no space, given the fact that there is no ceasefire there and the conflict is raging. There is no space to have monitors all over Gaza to work with the agencies to see, to verify and monitor.”

She also reiterated the importance of increasing the flow of commercial goods into Gaza in addition to humanitarian assistance.

Commercial goods need to be allowed back in,” she said. “There will be no recovery, let alone reconstruction in future, without that broad bandwidth.”

Seasoned humanitarian

Ms. Kaag of the Netherlands has held a wide range of senior positions in the UN system. She was appointed by the Secretary-General on 26 December 2023 and began her assignment on 8 January.

She was Special Coordinator for Lebanon from 2015 to 2017 and from 2013 to 2015, the head of the Joint UN-Organization for Prohibition of Chemical Weapons Mission in Syria.

She also served as Assistant Secretary-General with the UN Development Programme (2010-13) and was UNICEF Regional Director for the Middle East and North Africa (2007-10).  

Prior to that, Ms. Kaag held several senior positions with the UN International Organization for Migration (IOM) and UNRWA.

She speaks fluent Arabic and five other languages.

She also held many senior roles in the Dutch Government, including as Deputy Prime Minister and Foreign Minister.

Senior Coordinator Sigrid Kaag speaks to the media at the UN Headquarters, in New York.

Gaza: Aid cuts to UN agency could be felt in weeks

“While we’re addressing these concerns very actively, the humanitarian work needs to go on,” UN Spokesperson Stéphane Dujarric told reporters at the Noon Briefing at Headquarters in New York on Tuesday.

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“Civilians in Gaza who are suffering, need the continued support of everyone,” he said. “The critical humanitarian work the UN does not only in Gaza, in the region, needs to be supported. People’s lives depend on it.”

Several major donors have halted funds pending probes into Israel’s allegations late last week that 12 of UNRWA’s 30,000 staff members colluded with Hamas in the 7 October attacks that left 1,200 Israelis dead and 250 taken hostage. UNRWA launched an independent review of the agency’s humanitarian operations on 17 January.

Later today, the UN Secretary-General will meet with 35 Member States and the European Union to discuss UNRWA, brief them on the allegations and listen to their concerns, he said.

‘The UN does not work with Hamas’

Emphasizing that every year, UNRWA shares with Israel and the Palestinian Authority its staff member lists for Gaza, the West Bank, Lebanon, Jordan and Syria, Mr. Dujarric said “no concerns” had been raised by either.

“UNRWA does not work with Hamas,” he said. “We have operational contact with de facto authorities like in other countries.”

The UN has yet to receive any reports directly from Israel about the allegations in writing, he said. Meanwhile, a thorough investigation is under way and the UN has fired several agency staff members implicated in the allegations. Media reports indicate that two of the suspects are dead.

Our aim is for a humanitarian ceasefire, for greater volume and quality of aid going in, and for a political solution that would lead us back to the two-State solution,” the UN Spokesperson said.

What’s on the line?

With over 26,000 dead and as the war spirals into ever deepening suffering for civilians in Gaza caught between the warring sides, concerns on the ground are rising.

Mr. Dujarric said the UN humanitarian coordination agency, OCHA, reported that Israel issued a new evacuation order in western Gaza City, which had been home to 300,000 civilians before the crisis began, and that a trend since mid-January had seen heightened hostilities and excessive delays for aid convoys.

As for UNRWA, tasked with serving more than 2.2 million Palestinians in Gaza, its work will be affected, he said.

“The financial situation will be very precarious after February,” Mr. Dujarric told reporters on Tuesday.

UNRWA operates primarily on donations, with its most recent records showing $1.1 billion in pledges for its programmes for Palestine refugees.

Food aid arrives at an UNRWA school-turned-shelter in Gaza.

Food aid arrives at an UNRWA school-turned-shelter in Gaza.

Looming funding cuts

Major donors, including the United States, Canada and Germany, announced they would suspend funding to UNRWA during the probes.

According to UNRWA records from 2022, the United States is the largest donor, having contributed almost $ 344 million, or about one third of the agency’s annual operating budget.

On the heels of media reports of Washington’s announcement to withhold about $1 million now and suspend funding until the investigation is completed, US Ambassador Linda Thomas-Greenfield spoke to reporters outside the Security Council Chamber on Tuesday.

Welcoming the UN’s decision to conduct an investigation, she said the US Government has reached out to Israel for further information.

‘There has to be accountability’: US

“There has to be accountability for anyone who participated in the attacks on October 7, but we also know that UNRWA plays a critical role in providing lifesaving assistance to Palestinians,” she said.

“We need to see fundamental changes before we can resume providing funding,” she continued, adding that she will raise her delegation’s concerns when meeting with the UN Secretary-General Tuesday afternoon.

We shouldn’t let this information undermine the efforts that UNRWA is making to provide lifesaving assistance,” she said, noting that the UN agency has “literally saved thousands of lives”.

‘Life or death’ consequences

Aid agencies have warned there is “simply not enough food”, with some raising alarms of looming famine, disease and displacement in the enclave.

Without funding, UNRWA cannot discharge its task of providing assistance, the agency’s former head of legal affairs, Johan Sufi, told UN News on Monday.

“By losing their funding, the agency is basically losing any means to operate,” said Mr. Sufi, who headed UNRWA’s legal affairs team from 2020 to 2022. “This means immediate consequences on the salary of its staff [and] on its ability to deliver humanitarian assistance to the population.”

The more serious, immediate risk is for the population: no access to water, to food, to medical assistance, to any humanitarian relief, as UNRWA is the main provider of aid, he warned.

Given that the ICJ has considered there is a serious risk of genocide in the Gaza Strip, he said one of the reasons is the worsening of conditions that could spell further physical destruction of part of Gaza’s population.

Referring to the new funding cuts, he said “this decision might have direct consequences.”

“We are literally talking about a life or death matter,” he said.

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World confronts an ‘ugly and inescapable truth’ in Darfur, says ICC Prosecutor

Prosecutor Karim Khan emphasized the “ugly and inescapable truth” that failure to act now is not only a damning verdict on the present but will subject future generations to a similar fate.

It cannot be a case of ‘play, rewind, and repeat’,” he warned.

A clear assessment by his office indicated the presence of “grounds to believe” that Rome Statute crimes – genocide, war crimes, and crimes against humanity – are being committed by both the Sudanese Armed Forces (SAF) and the Rapid Support Forces (RSF) along with affiliated groups.

“We need to do more”, he stressed, urging Sudan to comply in good faith with Security Council resolutions, cooperate with and provide requested information to his office, and allow investigators in the country.

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Referral to the ICC

In March 2005, the Security Council referred the situation in Darfur to the ICC Prosecutor for investigations into allegations of genocide, war crimes, and crimes against humanity. 

During that time, the region was engulfed in a brutal war involving the military-led government, the Janjaweed militia, and rebel groups, resulting in the loss of hundreds of thousands of civilian lives and the displacement of millions more from their homes in a campaign marked by ethnic cleansing against non-Arabs. 

In July last year, Mr. Khan announced an investigation into fresh allegations of war crimes and crimes against humanity in Darfur against the backdrop of the ongoing war between SAF and RSF forces and their affiliated groups.

Situation ‘dire by any metric’

Speaking to ambassadors via video link from N’Djamena, the capital of Chad, Mr. Khan described the situation as “dire by any metric”.

Since the conflict’s onset in April 2023, over 7.1 million Sudanese civilians have been displaced, with 1.5 million forced to seek refuge in neighbouring countries. 

Chad, in particular, hosts more than 540,000 Sudanese refugees, a number expected to rise to 910,000 by the end of 2024.

“One in three of the population in the affected parts of Chad are refugees […] they are arriving at a rate faster than Chad, faster than the United Nations can respond,” Mr. Khan said, with many showing signs of serious injury and trauma.

Refugees themselves have provided chilling testimony describing sexual violence against Darfuri women and girls, brutal killings, and racially motivated crimes.

Rule of law collapsing

Mr. Khan warned ambassadors that the crisis in Darfur was deepening, with the war impacting whole swathes of the continent: from Libya on the Mediterranean to Sub-Saharan Africa, and from Sudan’s Red Sea coast to the Atlantic. 

We see a number of areas where conflicts seem to be triumphing against rule of law and deafening out the voices of the most vulnerable people,” he said.

Stressing that judicial orders and court judgements alone cannot solve the problem, the ICC prosecutor urged the international community to devise innovative solutions to address the “catastrophe” in Darfur and prevent the violence from spreading further.

Meeting expectations

Mr. Khan urged Council members not to lose sight of the individual human stories behind the statistics of those affected by brutal crimes and war.

“These are individuals whose lives have been torn apart, each of whom has a story of woe and of suffering,” he said, emphasizing the collective responsibility of the Security Council, the United Nations, Member States, regional organizations and the ICC “to live up to our promises that we have repeatedly made.”


Latest Mediterranean deaths highlight need for safe migration routes

IOM underscored the need for regular migration pathways at a one-day summit in Rome hosted by Italy to boost development in Africa and curb migration flows.

The A Bridge for Common Life conference represented a critical opportunity to examine “unified and sustainable mechanisms to stop further needless loss of human life on treacherous routes,” said Amy Pope, the agency’s Director General, who was at the summit.

‘A stark reminder’ 

“Even one death is one too many,” she added, calling the latest numbers “a stark reminder that a comprehensive approach that includes safe and regular pathways – a key strategic pillar for IOM – is the only solution that will benefit migrants and States alike.” 

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Italy is working to strengthen its role as a bridge between Europe and Africa through a model of cooperation, development and equal partnership, IOM said, and the summit is taking place at a time when the number of people presumed to be dead or missing at sea is rising.  

Missing and presumed dead 

Three vessels coming from Libya, Lebanon, and Tunisia within the last six weeks carrying 158 people are unaccounted for, though IOM has recorded 73 people from these “invisible” shipwrecks as missing and presumed dead.   

Last Wednesday, authorities rescued a group of 62 migrants off Cape Greco in southeastern Cyprus who had left Lebanon on 18 January. Most are hospitalized and described as severely ill, with several children in a critical condition, one of whom has since died.  

Additionally, seven bodies that came ashore in Antalya, Türkiye, in recent days are believed to belong to a group of 85 migrants missing since they set off from Lebanon on 11 December.  

The annual number of migrant deaths and disappearances in all the Mediterranean jumped from 2,048 in 2021, to 2,411 in 2022, and to 3,041 by the end of last year, according to IOM’s Missing Migrants Project database.

Invest in sustainable development 

More than 20 leaders from Africa and the European Union, as well as representatives from UN agencies, the World Bank, and other organizations, attended the conference in the Italian capital.

Delivering remarks, UN Deputy Secretary-General Amina Mohammed called for supporting Africa’s progress by scaling up investment to achieve the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), which are woefully off-track as the 2030 deadline looms. 

She said this includes endorsing the $500 billion annual SDG stimulus plan put forward by the UN Secretary-General.

Reform financial system 

“Accelerating sustainable development across Africa relies on a surge in private investment. The international financial institutions play a critical role in making that a reality, as does the private sector,” she added. 

Ms. Mohammed also stressed the need to “refresh” international financial institutions, which were established nearly 80 years ago, so that they are fit for today.

“African countries are not represented appropriately. And the institutions are largely insufficiently responsive to their needs. It is high time to make the change needed,” she said. 

“We also need new frameworks to address new technologies, and to help release their potential to accelerate progress toward the SDGs.” 


World News in Brief: Progress on transfats, Ukraine war update, General Assembly President in China

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Denmark, Lithuania, Poland, Saudi Arabia, and Thailand have received the first-ever WHO certificates for demonstrating that they have a best practice policy for industrially produced trans-fatty acids (iTFA) elimination in effect, supported by adequate monitoring and enforcement systems.

Trans fats are industrially produced or naturally occurring, and both are linked to an increased risk of heart attacks and heart disease.

They have “no known health benefit, but huge health risks,” said WHO chief Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus. Furthermore, the fried foods, cakes and ready meals where they can be found lurking are often high in sugar, fat and salt.

WHO had set an ambitious target in 2018 to fully eliminate iTFA from the global food supply by the end of 2023.  Although it was not met, the UN agency said remarkable progress towards this goal has been made in every region of the world.

A grand total of 53 countries now have “best practice” policies in place to tackle mass-produced trans fats in food. This covers 3.7 billion people, 46 per cent of the global population, up from just six per cent only five years ago.

Ukraine: Fresh attacks deepen suffering for winter-weary civilians 

Recent attacks in Ukraine are causing further suffering for civilians already enduring harsh winter conditions, the UN humanitarian affairs office, OCHA, said on Monday. 

OCHA cited Ukrainian officials who reported that more than a dozen civilians were killed or injured in attacks in eastern, central and southern Ukraine over the past three days. Homes, schools, a hospital and energy infrastructure were also impacted. 

“In the eastern region of Kharkiv, authorities said shelling caused damage to homes and electrical grids,” the UN agency said. 

“In the southern region of Kherson, attacks over the weekend also damaged homes, as well as education and telecommunications facilities, according to the governor of the oblast.” 

OCHA and partners continue to provide urgent humanitarian assistance to people in these areas. 

Convoys deliver aid 

On Friday, the UN Humanitarian Coordinator in Ukraine, Denise Brown, led a convoy to the Kherson Region. The trucks delivered food, medical supplies, winter clothes, solar lamps, hygiene items and children’s supplies to about 800 people in need. 

Another convoy that arrived in the Kharkiv Region on Friday brought blankets, bottled water, solar lamps, medical supplies and hygiene kits, supplies for people with disabilities, and construction materials to repair damaged homes. 

The Russian invasion of Ukraine will reach the second-year mark on 24 February.  

During 2023, the UN and partners sent over 107 humanitarian convoys to support some 400,000 residents in the front-line areas in the eastern and southern parts of the country.

The President of the General Assembly, Mr. Dennis Francis, is talking with researchers at Shanghai Institutes for International Studies.
PGA spokesperson’s office

The President of the General Assembly, Mr. Dennis Francis, is talking with researchers at Shanghai Institutes for International Studies.

General Assembly President calls for new commitment to UN Charter 

With the world at “an inflection point”, countries must recommit to the core principles of the UN Charter, the President of the General Assembly said in China on Sunday.

Delivering keynote remarks at the Shanghai Institutes for International Studies, Dennis Francis highlighted how the worsening impacts of climate change, hunger and multidimensional poverty are hampering efforts to achieve a safer, more just and more sustainable world.

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Meanwhile, geopolitical divides have sparked new conflicts, and deepened pre-existing ones, across areas of Africa, Eastern Europe and the Middle East. 

Mr. Francis said these worrying developments are laying bare the limits of the multilateral system and raising legitimate questions about both the relevance and ability of the UN to solve complex problems. 

“They demand that we fortify our foundation – and recommit to the core principles of the UN Charter, that have offered us a guiding light out of the tumultuous past since the founding of the United Nations,” he said.

He commended China for continuing to play a leading role in global affairs, noting that it was the first country to sign the UN Charter, the Organization’s founding document, and since then has been a “notably steadfast support of multilateralism”. 

“Since the horrific 7 October attack on Israel – the escalation of violence in the Middle East, and the wrenching humanitarian catastrophe in the Gaza Strip, continue to project the worst aspects of the human condition; precisely that which the Charter was intended to avoid,” Mr. Francis said. 

The General Assembly “has been both active and ambitious” on the crisis, he said, by resuming its Tenth Emergency Session on the Middle East and adopting two resolutions that received overwhelming support from its 193 members. 

UN chief to meet UNRWA donors as major charities call for continued support

The UN chief also met with the head of the Office of Internal Oversight Services (OIOS), the highest investigative body in the UN system, his Spokesperson Stephane Dujarric said on Monday at the regular Noon Briefing.

This is to ensure that the investigation into allegations that several UNRWA personnel were involved in the 7 October terror attacks in Israel “will be done as swiftly and efficiently as possible”, Mr. Dujarric said.

“We have a process of accountability that is going on. While that is going on, people need to survive and we need continued support for UNRWA and all our humanitarian work,” he added.

Dire needs must be met

Mr. Dujarric noted that the Secretary-General is “personally horrified” by the accusations, but that his message to donors, especially those who have suspended their contributions is to “at least guarantee the continuity of UNRWA’s operations, as we have tens of thousands of dedicated staff working throughout the region.”

“The dire needs of the desperate populations they serve must be met,” Mr. Dujarric added.

In addition to its programmes in the Gaza Strip, UNRWA provides vital humanitarian aid to Palestine refugees in Jordan, Lebanon, Syria, and in the West Bank including East Jerusalem.

In the Gaza Strip, the agency is providing lifesaving aid to over two million civilians, operating shelters for over one million and providing food, water and healthcare services.

NGOs urge continued support

Also on Monday, a group of leading international aid agencies and NGOs called on countries which have pulled funding for UNRWA over the allegations concerning staff collusion “to reaffirm support for the vital work” the UN agency does.

These include the Norwegian Refugee Council, Oxfam, Save the Children and the War Child Alliance.  

They called on the donor States which have suspended funding – which include the United States, the United Kingdom, Austria, Finland, and Japan – to restore urgently needed support or “risk further depriving Palestinians in the region of essential food, water, medical assistance and supplies, education and protection.”

Some countries have stated they will continue their funding, while expressing deep concern over the allegations, while other donors have reportedly decided to continue funding while the investigations run their course.

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