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Nations agree landmark treaty on traditional knowledge, protecting Indigenous Peoples’ rights

The Treaty on Intellectual Property, Genetic Resources and Associated Traditional Knowledge also includes key provisions aimed at protecting the rights of Indigenous Peoples and local communities.

Its approval by consensus, in Geneva, marked the conclusion of negotiations that began in 2001.

“Today we made history in many ways. This is not just the first new WIPO Treaty in over a decade but also the first one that deals with genetic resources and traditional knowledge held by Indigenous Peoples as well as local communities,” said Daren Tang, the agency’s Director-General.

“Through this, we are showing that the IP system can continue to incentivize innovation while evolving in a more inclusive way, responding to the needs of all countries and their communities.”

Carefully calibrated solution

Guilherme de Aguiar Patriota, Brazil’s Permanent Representative to the World Trade Organization (WTO), president of the Diplomatic Conference adopting the Treaty, highlighted the achievement.

It represented “a very carefully balanced outcome” of the Conference, he said.

“It constitutes the best possible compromise and a carefully calibrated solution, which seeks to bridge and to balance a variety of interests, some very passionately held and assiduously expressed and defended over the course of decades.”

Genetic resources, found plants and crops, are often utilized in research and inventions.
ADB/Tengo Giorbelidze

Genetic resources, found plants and crops, are often utilized in research and inventions.

About the treaty

The Treaty mandates that, where a patent application involves genetic resources, the applicant must disclose the country of origin or source.

If traditional knowledge associated with genetic resources is involved, the applicant must disclose the Indigenous Peoples or local community that provided it.

Genetic resources, found in entities such as medicinal plants and agricultural crops, are often utilized in patented inventions, although they themselves cannot be patented.

The traditional knowledge associated with these resources, conserved and used by Indigenous Peoples and local communities over generations, plays a crucial role in scientific research and the development of new inventions.

Next steps

Once ratified by 15 contracting parties, the Treaty will establish an international legal framework requiring patent applicants to disclose the origin of genetic resources and the associated traditional knowledge used in their inventions.

Japan: Safeguarding a mother tongue and mother nature

Even though both Nami and Tomoyuki were born on Okinoerabu Island (currently home to only 12,000 inhabitants), neither learned to speak Shimamuni – a local variety of the Kunigami language – fluently as children.

Kunigami was added to UNESCO’s Atlas of the World’s Languages in Danger in 2009 and classified as “definitely endangered” to raise public awareness that “children no longer learn the language as a mother tongue in the home.”

A family takes action

After learning that the indigenous language of Okinoerabu Island was officially considered endangered, the couple and their four children took it upon themselves to translate their love for language into impactful actions that have since resonated far beyond the island.

Okinoerabu Island residents were not just concerned about losing a language, but also increasingly alarmed by the proliferation of marine litter. In what began as a school project assigned over the summer break, the Sao children decided that they could tackle both issues simultaneously by performing daily beach clean-up while engaging in language activities, such as singing and keeping a diary in Shimamuni to document their day-to-day progress.

Residents of  Okinoerabu Island collect rubbish on a beach.
Sao Family

Residents of Okinoerabu Island collect rubbish on a beach.

Leveraging the Shimamuni vernacular as a thread of shared local identity connecting people from diverse walks of life, the Sao family has since expanded its conservation pursuits to include cooking local delicacies, providing haircuts to residents of nursing homes, learning arts and crafts at the community centre and participating in a “Shimamuni Salon” where language lessons are offered and local environmental issues are regularly discussed. The goal is to cultivate the next generation of eco-conscious Shimamuni speakers.

“Without these community-driven activities, the language would become extinct with the passing of its elderly speakers,” said Dr. Sumittra Suraratdecha, assistant professor of linguistics at the Research Institute for Languages and Cultures of Asia (RILCA) in Thailand.

Linguistic diversity and sustainable development

When queried about the underlying motivation for his family’s involvement in such a broad range of activities, the thoughtful Tomoyuki cites the urgency of reaching the ambitious Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) by 2030.

He felt that rather than imparting to his children knowledge that he acquired through formal education 20 to 30 years ago, it would be better to support their learning by doing and thereby facilitate their accumulation of real-life experiences that will empower them to make a difference.

Residents of Okinoerabu Island prepare local delicacies.
Sao Family

Residents of Okinoerabu Island prepare local delicacies.

As it turns out, the Shimamuni language not only serves as a vehicle for transmitting local knowledge, such as traditional dessert recipes, to the island’s youth, it also improves the efficiency of communication about environmental issues to elderly islanders, some of whom once harboured the mistaken belief that marine litter should simply be left to degrade on its own.

Given the current global reality of burgeoning non-degradable waste and microplastics, the Shimamuni mother tongue helps to convey the true extent of the problem to senior residents with greater immediacy.

Reflecting on the circumstances of the Sao family and their creative response to local ecocultural challenges, Kyungah Kristy Bang, a consultant for multilingual education at the UNESCO regional office in Bangkok and coordinator of the Asia-Pacific Multilingual Education Working Group, remarked that “celebrating linguistic diversity can be an effective tool and solution to achieving the SDGs at the local level.”

Recognition on a global stage

In October 2023, the Sao family had the opportunity to present their inspiring story at the seventh International Conference on Language and Education, in Bangkok, Thailand.

The Sao family
UNESCO/Santibhap Ussavasodhi

The Sao family

As representatives of Okinoerabu Island participating in a major international conference co-hosted by UNESCO, they attended the event, which drew over 450 language experts and participants from all over the globe.

The Sao family garnered island-wide support, as the two principal towns on the island united in helping to prepare the family’s presentation videos and cover a portion of their travel expenses.

“While the conference brings together various stakeholders, such as policy makers, practitioners and researchers who share their experiences with language in education, we often forget that there is more often an entire team or community, or in such case a family, driving the sustainability of linguistic diversity,” said Brandon Darr, a education consultant with UNESCO’s regional office.

For Tomoyuki, achieving recognition on an international stage has only served to strengthen his family’s guiding sense of purpose.

“Our goal is to live a mentally abundant life,” he said.

His wife concured.

“When our children grow up, they can live anywhere,” she said, “but I want them to preserve their language and culture in their hearts.”

Atlas of the World’s Languages in Danger

Launched in 1996 with some 600 endangered languages mapped globally, the Atlas continues to thrive today as an interactive online tool premised on the belief that linguistic diversity underpins sustainable development and fosters equitable and pluralistic societies.

Learn more about the Atlas and the languages it protects here.

UN expert raises alarm over unfair treatment of pro-Palestinian student protesters in US

“I am deeply troubled by the violent crackdown on peaceful demonstrators, arrests, detentions, police violence, surveillance and disciplinary measures and sanctions against members of the educational community exercising their right to peaceful assembly and freedom of expression,” UN Special Rapporteur on the right to education, Farida Shaheed said, in a statement at the end of an official visit to the US.

The UN Human Rights Council-appointed expert said she is particularly concerned by the way protesters are unfairly treated based on their political viewpoint – specifically pro-Palestinian protestors.

Core constitutional commitment

While Ms. Shaheed was in the US, she visited Washington DC, Indiana and Colorado.

Her visit occurred simultaneously with US students setting up encampments on campus grounds to stand in solidarity with Palestinians, call for a ceasefire, and in many cases demand that university divest any assets linked to Israel.

She said, “These attacks signal a concerning erosion of intellectual freedom and democratic principles within educational settings.”

Ms. Shaheed is appealing to the US Government to reiterate its core commitment to freedom of speech by ensuring all students have unrestricted access to diverse ideas and perspectives.

Academic freedoms under threat

The Special Rapporteur also expressed concern about 307 policies and educational gag order bills introduced in the US since January 2021.

“These policies, manifested through book bans and restrictions on curricula, have instilled a pervasive ‘chilling effect’ that stifles the free exchange of ideas and silences marginalised voices,” she said.

Ms. Shaheed found that underfunding in the US educational system paved the way for other systemic issues including teacher shortages and student mental health support challenges.

These educational funding disparities are worsened by over reliance on local property taxes, harming marginalized and low-income neighbourhoods.

The rapporteur said, “Communities need to find a way to distribute funds more equitably between wealthier and poorer districts to end the cycle of deprivation and segregation.”

“I also urge the federal government to take decisive action to address disparities in educational funding,” she added.

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Increased educational rights

The Special Rapporteur has called on federal and state authorities to acknowledge education as a human right while ensuring fair access for all students irrespective of background or identity, level of income, place of residence or any other personal circumstance.

Ms. Shaheed also mentioned that despite federal non-discrimination safeguards, school safety and police presence in schools in addition to standardised testing and students’ mental health, are all related but negatively affect people from marginalized and minority communities.

“It is crucial to remove police presence from schools and invest in qualified personnel such as counsellors and social workers to create a safe and nurturing learning environment,” Ms. Shaheed said.

“It is time to shift the narrative, prioritising holistic growth and social interaction skills over standardised testing results reducing students to mere numbers.”

Special Rapporteurs and other UN rights experts are not UN staff and are independent from any government or organisation. They serve in their individual capacity and do not receive a salary for their work.

World News in Brief: Palestinian journalists win top press freedom prize, child migrant detention, Niger meningitis epidemic

The top award for reporters who have born witness to the destruction of much of their homeland under Israel’s relentless bombardment came at the recommendation of an international jury of media professionals.

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“In these times of darkness and hopelessness we wish to share a strong message of solidarity and recognition to those Palestinian journalists who are covering this crisis in such dramatic circumstances”, said Mauricio Weibel, who chaired the jury. 

Huge debt

“We have a huge debt to their courage and commitment to freedom of expression”. he added.

The UN science, education and culture agency’s chief Audrey Azoulay said that the Prize reminded everyone of “the importance of collective action to ensure that journalists around the world can continue to carry out their essential work to inform and investigate”.

The ongoing conflict in Gaza is having grave consequences for journalists. Since 7 October, UNESCO has condemned and deplored the deaths of 26 journalists and media workers in the line of work, based upon information from its international NGO partners.

UNESCO is supporting journalists reporting from conflict and crisis zones which includes distributing essential supplies to journalists in Gaza, and has established safe working spaces and provided emergency grants for journalists in Ukraine and Sudan.

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Detention of child migrants in EU must end, say top rights experts

Migration news now, and a call from top independent rights experts on Thursday to end the practice of detaining the children of migrants and asylum-seekers entering the European Union.

In their appeal to the EU bloc, experts including Gehad Madi, Special Rapporteur on the rights of migrants, insisted that detention of children because of their parents’ migration status was “always a violation” of their rights.

The development comes as the European Union’s 27 Members prepare to implement a new Pact on Migration and Asylum, pending its approval by the EU Council in Brussels. 

The measures which are expected to come into effect in 2026 include the creation of national mechanisms to monitor respect for human rights during the screening of migrants and asylum seekers at country borders.

“Asylum-seekers should not be penalised for exercising the right to seek asylum, and migration should not be criminalised,” the independent experts said in a statement.

WHO launches urgent vaccination in Niger to contain meningitis epidemic

The UN World Health Organization (WHO) started a mass vaccination campaign in Niger’s Niamey region on Thursday in response to an ongoing and deadly meningitis outbreak. 

More than 2,000 cases were recorded in just one week last month and 123 people have died, the WHO said. 

Niger is one of 26 African countries where the disease is endemic and persistently poses a high-risk in the so-called African meningitis belt. 

The recent surge in cases represents a 50 per cent increase from last year, with a mortality rate exceeding six per cent.

The focus of the epicentre is Niamey region, with an infection rate of more than 52 cases per 100,000 people. Other regions such as Agadez, Zinder and Dosso also require urgent intervention to confront high infection rates, the UN health agency said.

To help protect at-risk communities, WHO is joining forces with several technical and financial partners to respond to the epidemic with a new vaccine.

Unlike previous jabs, the new meningitis vaccine is single-dose – and it protects against five strains of the infection.

Guterres demands better protection for journalists on environment beat

The UN chief said journalists and media workers “have a key role in informing and educating” the public about the world’s current environmental and climate emergency which stands as a threat to future generations.

It is through this work that people can have a greater understanding of environmental factors affecting the world and advocate for change, he said. 

However, based on recent UN Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) reports, journalists, especially environmental journalists, face violent attacks, and even death, for simply doing their job.  

Dozens of journalists covering illegal mining, logging, poaching and other environmental issues have been killed in recent decades,” Mr. Guterres said. But, “In the vast majority of cases, no one has been held to account.” 

Sounding the alarm

UNESCO’s report analyzed the violence environmental journalists face.

The report found that journalists and news outlets reporting on environmental issues dealt with about 750 attacks in the past 15 years, the Secretary-General said.

In an interview with UN News, Guilherme Canela, UNESCO’s Chief of Freedom of Expression and Safety of Journalists, said the report found that 70 per cent of journalists doing environmental reporting dealt with at least one form of violence, and a quarter of the surveyed journalists dealt with legal attacks. 

Additionally, Mr. Canela said that over the past 50 years, 44 journalists covering environmental stories were killed.

He said it is important to remember that journalists are important observers of conflict zones and that they provide life-saving information for civilian populations affected by these conflicts.

Mr. Canela said, “UNESCO is sounding the alarm that we need to take care of the protection of those journalists covering environmental issues, because raising that awareness about what’s going on in the environment and holding powerful actors accountable is absolutely essential to face the current environmental challenges that the planet is having.” 

Safety for all journalists 

In a statement for World Press Freedom Day, Volker Türk, UN High Commissioner for Human Rights, said losing a journalist means losing a human rights defender, and that the world needs “independent, ethical and quality journalism perhaps now more than ever.

Mr. Türk said journalists – emphasising environmental journalists – need “stronger commitments from their governments and their employers to protect them”, safer work environments, and the right to work without attacks.

The Secretary-General also recognized journalists’ “invaluable” work and their efforts to keep the public informed and engaged and is calling on governments, private sectors and civil societies to recommit to protecting press freedom and the rights of journalists and media professionals globally.

Without press freedom, we won’t have any freedom,” he said. “A free press is not a choice, but a necessity.” 

Debate at UN examines impact of Portugal’s ‘Carnation Revolution’

Named after the flowers civilians stuffed in the muzzles of the soldiers’ guns, the revolution put Portugal on the path to democracy and led to the independence of its six remaining colonies, stretching from Africa to the Pacific, with ripple effects in Brazil – independent since 1822, but under military rule at the time.

UN Secretary-General António Guterres, a former Portuguese Prime Minister, argues that from a historical perspective, the uprising “should have occurred decades earlier.”

Reflection and analysis

Ahead of the 50th anniversary of the revolution, which is also known as 25 April, Mr. Guterres and UN Ambassadors from Portuguese-speaking countries sat down to reflect on its significance and implications today. 

Participating in the debate were the Permanent Representatives of Angola, Brazil, Cabo Verde, Mozambique, Portugal and Timor-Leste. Their countries are all members of the Community of Portuguese Language Countries (CPLP), established roughly a decade after the revolution. Other members include Guinea-Bissau and the island nation of São Tomé and Príncipe.

UN News’s Portuguese team organized the high-level discussion, moderated by journalists Marta Moreira from Portugal and Felippe Coaglio from Brazil. 

Secretary-General Participates in Debate on 50th Anniversary of Portugal’s Carnation Revolution
UN Photo/Mark Garten

The debate will be broadcast by media outlets throughout the Lusophone world. Globally, roughly 250 million people speak Portuguese.

‘On the right side of history’

Having experienced the events of the Carnation Revolution firsthand, Mr. Guterres declared that “being on the side of freedom against oppression” means being on the right side of history.

“It is clear that we are on the right side of history, freeing a country from dictatorship, and we are on the right side of history re-establishing justice in international relations after a colonial past that is unacceptable,” he said.

The UN chief declared that 25 April would not have occurred “without the struggle of the African liberation movements”. For him, “the two things are interconnected and that is why there is no cause-and-effect relationship”.

In this regard, Mr. Guterres noted that if there were any criticism of 25 April, it would be that “from a historical point of view, it should have happened decades earlier.”

Catalyst for independence 

The Permanent Representative of Angola, Francisco José da Cruz, stated that the Carnation Revolution was of great importance to Angolans as it created the dynamics that led to the country’s independence.

“Portugal’s desire to move forward in this process became clearer when the Secretary-General of the United Nations, Kurt Waldheim, visited Portugal in August, and Portugal made it clear that this would be the path to follow and that the liberation movements would be the legitimate interlocutors in this process that would lead to independence,” he said.

UN Secretary-General António Guterres attends event organized by Portugal to celebrate the 50th anniversary of the Carnation Revolution
Eleuterio Guevane/ ONU News

Brazilian Ambassador Sérgio Danese said 25 April had two main impacts on South America’s largest country. The first was to show that “there was hope” for a path towards democratic rule once again and the second was in diplomacy.

“We had a very strong contradiction in our foreign policy. We recognized the independence of all former French, British and Dutch colonies, but we remained tied to Portuguese colonialism, and the 25th of April and its immediate consequences promptly freed us from that yoke,” he recalled.

“We were the first country to recognize Angola. And then we were among the first to recognize each of the former Portuguese colonies,” he added.

A deep friendship

When asked what helped shape new relations between the Portuguese-speaking nations, the Ambassador of Cabo Verde, Tânia Romualdo, highlighted the relationship between their populations as the basis for the bond between the emerging States.

This revolution made it possible not to begin, but to continue this deep friendship that united peoples,” she said. “There was a union there, a very strong friendship, that preceded the revolution itself which contributed to the revolution and which helped the decolonization process after 25 April to accelerate bilateral cooperation”.

Among the issues raised during the debate was how Portuguese-speaking countries have much in common, despite their different paths to democracy and nationhood.

Unity and fraternity

Ambassador Pedro Commissar of Mozambique highlighted how the Lusophone bloc is defined by ties of proximity and solidarity with the United Nations. Mozambique is currently the only Lusophone country on the 15-member UN Security Council, occupying one of the 10 seats allotted to non-permanent members.

“The CPLP is a totally different model from the Commonwealth or Francophonie model. It is a model of sovereign States but linked by a bond of deep fraternity. 25 April gave us that basis, that impulse so that today we have this affection that unites our countries,” he said.

ONU News Debate on the 50 years anniversary of the Carnation Revolution
UN Photo/Mark Garten

On this issue, the Ambassador of Portugal, Ana Paula Zacarias, pointed to ongoing efforts on the diplomatic front to amplify their common voice, in Portuguese, at the UN. She emphasized that some of their common positions are already being heard in the General Assembly and the Security Council.

“Being heard means working together – and working together in areas that have already been identified,” she said.  “Above all, we have a lot to do in political coordination, in coordinating security and defense issues which are currently fundamental. And everything that has to do with the fight against climate change.”

The Representative of Timor-Leste, Dionísio Babo Soares, spoke of reinforcement at an internal and external level to boost future action as a bloc in a world marked by complexities in politics and development.

“For Timor-Leste, the CPLP is an entry point to the world. Member countries are located in different parts of the world,” he said. Furthermore, efforts to reintroduce the Portuguese language in Timor-Leste are intensifiying. 

“We work together with Portugal in this sense, and we are committed to moving forward with this programme of having Portuguese as the official language of the United Nations”.

‘Symbol of peace’

Looking to the future, Mr. Guterres characterized the cooperative relations that exist today between Portuguese-speaking countries as a “symbol of peace” that should inspire the world.

The Secretary-General expressed hope that the bloc “can play a decisive role in re-establishing the trust that has unfortunately been lost in our world, and in re-establishing the conditions that can allow us not only more peace but at the same time fairer development, respect for human rights and overcoming the dramatic divisions that today weigh on us all as a threat to the future of humanity.”

Debate na ONU: Legado da Revolução dos Cravos nas nações de língua portuguesa

UNESCO report spotlights harmful effects of social media on young girls

In an interview with UN News, Senior Policy Analyst from the GEM report team Anna D’addio said the report examines the issue of technology in education through a gender lens.

She said the report highlights progress in the reversal of discrimination against girls over the past two decades but also exposes the negative impact of technology on girls’ education opportunities and outcomes.

Harassment online

Girls on social media are much more exposed to different forms of harassment. Cyber cyberbullying is much more frequent among girls than among boys,” Ms. D’Addio said.

“It’s something that affects their well-being, and their well-being is important for learning”, she added.

Guterres stresses internet access

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The report coincides with the UN telecoms agency (ITU) led International Girls in ICT Day.  

In a post on his Twitter account, the Secretary-General called for more equipment and support for girls in the Information and Communication Technology field, pointing out that fewer women than men have access to the internet – and that stands in their way of getting an equal opportunity for work. 

Mental health, body disorders

Based on the report’s findings, social media exposes young girls to a range of unsuitable video material including sexual content – and the promotion of unhealthy and unrealistic body standards that negatively affect mental health and wellbeing.

It was reported that adolescent girls are twice as likely to feel lonely than boys and suffer from an eating disorder.

There is increasing evidence that shows that increased exposure to social media is related to mental health problems, eating disorders and many other issues that condition and distract social media users, and particularly girls, from education which affects their academic achievement,” Ms. D’Addio said.

Instagram has reportedly accounted for 32 per cent of teenage girls’ feeling worse about their bodies after consuming the platform’s content, according to a Facebook statistic cited in the report.

The Senior Policy Analyst said social media usage can have positive effects on young girls, especially when used to increase knowledge and raise awareness on social issues.

“I think what is important is…to teach how to use social media and technology,” Ms. D’Addio said.

Girls in STEM

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She said the report calls attention to the fact that girls are at a disadvantage in accessing science, technology, engineering and mathematical (STEM) careers which shows a lack of diversity in the production and development of cutting edge tech.

Data from the UNESCO Institute for Statistics (IUS) showed that women only make up 35 per cent of tertiary education STEM graduates globally, and only hold 25 per cent of science, engineering and information and communication technology (ICT) jobs.

“There are still too few girls and women that choose…the STEM subjects and work there,” the Senior Policy Analyst said.

She said having more diversity will allow stronger contributions to science and developments without bias.

How does it get better?

The report’s results reveal the need for a greater investment in education and smarter regulation of digital platforms.

Ms. D’Addio said UNESCO is constantly working on remedying the exclusion of girls’ access and attainment to education that remains by advocating for policies that make the education system more inclusive, and “promoting laws and regulations that guarantee equal access to education for girls and protect them from discrimination.

Healing page by page in earthquake-affected Türkiye

Ahead of World Book and Copyright Day, marked annually on 23 April, Miko Alazas of IOM caught up with a bibliophile in Adiyaman, Türkiye, who is helping to heal his community through the power of books. 

Muhammed vividly remembers the day his uncle gifted him his first storybook. At the age of 10, this was the beginning of his love for literature and poetry. 

Growing up, he would arrange book club gatherings with friends. In his teens, he would organize book fairs. After university, he worked in journalism. 

In his 20s, he had already envisioned his dream retirement plan: open a bookshop. 

When earthquakes struck his hometown of Adiyaman in 2023 and left a trail of devastation, little did he know that his retirement plan would come to fruition decades early. 

The 2023 earthquake caused widespread devastation in western Türkiye.
IOM 2023/Enver Mohammed

The 2023 earthquake caused widespread devastation in western Türkiye.

“I lost many relatives and saw many horrible things,” Muhammed recalled of the immediate aftermath. “We all had to come together as neighbours, as a community. 

He spent some time in Istanbul to receive medical treatment, then returned to Adiyaman wondering what his next steps would be. 

As part of recovery plans, authorities constructed a ‘social market’ in the town centre – where various shops would cater to residents’ needs and revive economic activity. Included in the plan was a bookshop. 

Muhammed, already known in his community as a booklover, came on top the list of recommendations of who could be trusted to open and run the bookshop. 

“I was selected by authorities to lead this effort and provided by the Turkish Red Crescent a first set of books,” he says. “I started from zero. Everything was devastated after the earthquakes.” 

Despite the uphill battle, Muhammed was driven by his belief that books could aid in his community’s collective healing. 

“My goal was to help people recover through books. Books can teach everything and make one feel everything, from pain to happiness.” 

Starting with old iron shelves, Muhammed wanted to transform his bookshop into a more charming and comfortable environment. 

Through the International Organization for Migration’s (IOM) cash grant programme, Muhammed was able to purchase new bookshelves. 

“The cash grant programme is part of IOM’s wider support to recovery efforts in the affected region. Working closely with local authorities, we aid select entrepreneurs to purchase items or equipment, enabling them to re-establish or expand their business. This, in turn, drives socioeconomic activity,” explains Çağlar Yetişkin, IOM National Project Officer (Livelihoods). 

As of March 2024, 333 entrepreneurs in 10 provinces have received cash grants. Recipients include migrants, refugees and host community members, covering sectors such as food, textile and services. 

Muhammed is one of over 300 earthquake-affected entrepreneurs to benefit from IOM’s cash grant programme.
© IOM/Anıl Bahşi

Muhammed is one of over 300 earthquake-affected entrepreneurs to benefit from IOM’s cash grant programme.

Almost a year since he opened the bookshop, Muhammed is happy with where life has taken him, despite going through such a shocking disaster not too long ago. 

“I love this business. I’m happy being around books. I meet people of all walks of life and have a unique relationship with each of my customers.” 

Muhammed is also involved in efforts to re-establish public libraries, named in commemoration of literature teachers who perished during the earthquakes. Through this, he hopes to make books more accessible. 

“When you read, you are captured by a new world,” he remarks. 

Indeed, each day, Muhammed hopes that his customers are captured into a new world of healing and hope amidst the tragedy. 

UN leaders call for more action to end racism and discrimination

UN Secretary-General António Guterres celebrated the achievements and contributions of people of African descent from across the world, while addressing the forum via video message, but also acknowledged existing racial discrimination and inequalities Black people continue to face. 

He said the establishment of the Permanent Forum shows a dedication from the international community to address these injustices. Still, it needs to be backed by significant change for people of African descent globally.

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“Now we must build on that momentum to drive meaningful change – by ensuring that people of African descent enjoy the full and equal realization of their human rights; by stepping up efforts to eliminate racism and discrimination – including through reparations; and by taking steps towards the full inclusion of people of African descent in society as equal citizens,” said Mr. Guterres. 

‘Formidable convening power’

Deputy High Commissioner for Human Rights Nada Al-Nashif praised the forum for its “formidable convening power” by meeting for a third high profile session less than two years after becoming operational.

She commended the forum’s planned 70 side events focusing on climate justice, education, health, and more for people of African descent, saying it shows a “remarkable effort, amplifying the reach and impact of our collective commitment.”

Ms. Al-Nashif urged Member States to participate in discussions and act on recommendations derived from them. 

“Only then can we ensure that all civil, political, economic, social, and cultural rights of people of African descent can be fully realized without discrimination or bias,” she said.

Decade should extend

Ms. Al-Nashif said the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights, Volker Türk, supports the extension of the International Decade for people of African Descent – a time proclaimed by the General Assembly in 2015 to focus on recognition, justice and development. 

During the Permanent Forum, a conversation will be centred around achievement limitations and expectations of the requested second international decade. 

“We look forward to the outcome of the discussions of this session; and we will be following the intergovernmental discussions in relation to the International Decade throughout this year,” said Ms. Al-Nashif.

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All reports from the Permanent Forum will be presented to the 57th session of the UN Human Rights Council in September, as well as the new session of the UN General Assembly, which begins that month.

A fight for change

The Deputy High Commissioner said her office is continuing to look for ways to ensure “the meaningful, inclusive, and safe participation of people of African descent in public life is essential in the fight against systemic racism.”

Make 2024 a ‘turning point’ for education, UN deputy chief urges

Addressing a high-level education on education convened by the European Union (EU) in Brussels, Amina Mohammed paid tribute in particular to the children of Gaza, who have had no education for over six months, and where there have been direct hits on 212 schools.

“Today, the light for Gaza and the children of Gaza, is out. We need a commitment to try to light that candle again for the children and the people of Gaza. Education is hope. Education is the future,” she said.

Building momentum

This year will see a series of meetings that will build on the Transforming Education Summit convened by the UN in September 2022 in response to a global crisis in education, after more than 90 per cent of the world’s children lost access to the classroom during the COVID-19 pandemic.

In September this year, world leaders will gather to forge a new international consensus as part of the Summit of the Future. 

 Ms. Mohammed called for two specific outcomes on education at the Summit. 

“First, we need a clear recognition from world leaders of the urgent need to transform and invest in education as a global imperative,” she said.

“Second, we need major breakthroughs on issues that are critical for education, including reform of the international financial architecture, strengthened digital cooperation and a new agenda for peace.”

Education a human right

Without additional measures, an estimated 84 million children and young people will still be denied access to the classroom by 2030, and approximately 300 million students will lack the basic – and vital – numeracy and literacy skills.

“Education is a fundamental human right. Investing in education is the greatest investment we can make in our common future, in peace, and sustainable development, and particularly in gender equality,” Ms. Mohammed stressed.

Contemporary education systems across the world are beset by challenges, including access, equity, relevance and digital inequality – which could leave billions of people behind, she added.

“I know that we can make 2024 a turning point for education. Let’s get to it.”

Spotlight on violence against women

During her visit to Brussels, the Deputy Secretary-General also chaired the Governing Body meeting of the Spotlight Initiative, the world’s largest targeted effort to eliminate violence against women and girls.  

The UN initiative is in partnership with the (EU) and other stakeholders and responds to all forms of violence against women and girls

Its programmes across 30 countries and regions, focus on domestic and family violence, sexual and gender-based violence and rising rates of femicide, together with human trafficking. 

Since 2019, the initiative has resulted in more than 2.5 million women and girls accessing gender-based violence services, and two million men and boys have been educated on positive masculinity.

Spotlight Initiative – a partnership between the UN and the EU

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