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Human rights experts: Humanity facing ‘unprecedented global toxic emergency’

The fifth session of the International Conference on Chemicals Management (ICCM-5), organized by UN environment programme UNEP and hosted by Germany, kicks off in Bonn on Monday.

“ICCM-5 is expected to be a watershed moment for international cooperation on chemicals and wastes”, said a statement released by the group of more than 30 experts.  

‘Once in a generation’ chance

“It is a once in a generation opportunity to deliver a robust outcome to confront the global toxic tide.”

They urged those attending the conference to be guided by human rights principles in line with a “post-2020 global policy framework on the sound management of chemicals and wastes.”

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According to the experts, “the threats of infertility, deadly illnesses, neurological and other disabilities resulting from exposure to hazardous chemicals and wastes, reveal the widespread and systematic denial of basic human rights for countless persons and groups in vulnerable situations.”

The experts went on to list people who are mostly exposed to these toxic environments, including workers, women and children, the poor and Indigenous Peoples.

‘Toxification’ must stop

“Humanity cannot afford to further aggravate the toxification of the planet,” the experts added.  

“For ICCM-5 to deliver the ambition and strength needed to overcome the global toxic emergency facing humanity, it needs to explicitly embrace a human rights-based approach,” the group of UN experts warned.

Special Rapporteurs and other UN experts are not UN staff and are independent from any government or organisation. They serve in their individual capacity and receive no salary for their work. 

World News in Brief: Healthcare crisis in DRC, Türk slams Iran hijab law, welcomes new India bill boosting women

The World Health Organization’s representative to the DRC, Dr Boureima Hama Sambo, warned that in six eastern provinces, health facilities have been set alight, health workers killed and others face constant physical and psychological threats, while supplies have been looted. Heavy rain, flooding and landslides have also compromised aid access.

Dr Sambo said that the DRC is facing its worst cholera outbreak since 2017, with the eastern provinces accounting for 80 per cent of the cases. The country is also battling a major measles epidemic and the combination of measles and malnutrition was particularly deadly for children under five.

The UN health agency official said that WHO has deployed experts to the affected areas to support the authorities in investigating and responding to these outbreaks, delivered medical supplies for cholera treatment, supported transportation of samples to labs for testing, and built cholera treatment centres.

Vaccine campaign

The World Health Organization recently completed a vaccination campaign in Ituri province reaching over one million of children under five, with more campaigns to follow in Kasaï and Mai-Ndombe. 

WHO was also providing health services, including access to mental health and psychosocial support, to victims of gender-based violence. Some 23,000 cases were reported in the six provinces from January to August 2023 and Dr Sambo said that the real figures were “probably much higher”.

For a “more sustainable and resilient health response” in eastern DRC, Dr Sambo called for stronger donor support, as the UN health agency’s response in the region was only 14 per cent funded so far.

Women and girls in Iran are required by law to follow a dress code outside their homes.
© Unsplash/Omid Armin

Women and girls in Iran are required by law to follow a dress code outside their homes.

Iran: new hijab bill must be shelved: Türk

High Commissioner for human rights Volker Türk, said on Friday that Iran’s “draconian” Chastity and Hijab Bill “flagrantly flies in the face of international law” and must be shelved.

Volker Türk, UN High Commissioner for Human Rights, addresses the 54th Session of the Human Rights Council.

The bill vastly increases jail terms for offenders and provides for crushing fines on women and girls who do not obey the compulsory dress code.

According to the UN rights office (OHCHR), under the new, “even stricter” bill, now in its final stage of consideration before Iran’s constitutional court, those who do not comply with country’s strict Islamic dress code on head coverings and modest clothing risk up to 10 years in jail.

Those found in breach could also be flogged, as well as fined up to an equivalent of $8,500, subjected to travel restrictions and deprived of online access.

OHCHR called the decree “repressive and demeaning”, insisting that “women and girls must not be treated as second class citizens”.

Russia expert says mandate provides ‘bridge to the Russian people’

The independent UN Special Rapporteur on human rights in Russia, Mariana Katzarova, underscored on Friday the importance of her mandate to give a voice to victims of alleged violations in the country.

“Why is my mandate important? Because it’s also the bridge to the Russian people, to the victims, to the civil society, to those who dare speak against the war on Ukraine”, she told reporters in Geneva. 

“It’s a voice for the people of the Russian Federation, this mandate.” 

The independent Human Rights Council-appointed expert presented her first report to the Council on Thursday, sounding the alarm about what she says is a pattern of suppression of civil and political rights in Russia.

‘Persistent use of torture’

She voiced grave concerns over mass arbitrary arrests and the “persistent use of torture and ill-treatment.”

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Citing almost 200 sources from inside and outside the country, the independent expert expressed concern about a lack of judicial independence and right to a fair trial.

The mandate of the Special Rapporteur on Russia was created by the Human Rights Council in October last year, for a period of one year.

Ms. Katzarova told reporters that she thought a continuation of the mandate would be important, especially amid what she called “dark times for human rights” in Russia.

This is the first time in its history that the Council has authorised a rights expert to investigate rights violations within the borders of one of the permanent members of the UN Security Council, the so-called “P5”.

 Ms. Katzarova stressed that the P5 had a special responsibility to set an example for the rest of the world.

India: UN rights chief welcomes new bill to boost women in parliament

Rights chief Volker Türk welcomed on Friday the passage of a landmark bill in India which will reserve one third of seats in national and state parliaments for women.

The UN rights office (OHCHR) said that the Women’s Reservation Bill will constitutionally entrench women’s representation in parliament and be a “transformative move” for gender equality in India.

Citing India’s example, Mr. Türk called on parliamentarians around the world to adopt legislative measures – including, where necessary, gender quotas – to ensure women’s equal participation in the political discourse.

The new Bill requires ratification by at least 50 per cent of India’s states to enter into force and the UN rights office called for their “swift support” and rapid implementation of the new system.

Yemen: Unsung heroes unite for lasting peace

Ongoing peace talks provide a glimpse of hope that a political resolution to the conflict is on the horizon. 

However, on International Day of Peace, celebrated annually on 21 September, humanitarian needs remain staggering and the funding to respond insufficient, as recently highlighted by almost 100 aid agencies.

Six months on from the last UN pledging conference for Yemen, only a fraction of what is required to meet the needs of millions has been pledged.

A displaced family in Marib, Yemen, carries a winter aid package back to their shelter.

A displaced family in Marib, Yemen, carries a winter aid package back to their shelter.

Durable solutions needed

Despite a significant decrease in fighting since last year’s UN-brokered truce, over 4.3 million people remain displaced across the country. Most do not feel safe enough to return home anytime soon and plan to remain in the areas they have settled in for the foreseeable future.

Many are dispersed across hundreds of displacement camps in underdeveloped areas, mainly along the frontlines. Others have sheltered in urban areas or among host communities where social services are more readily available, yet poverty is rife.

In the long term, concrete, durable solutions for displaced communities who have settled in new areas, likely for the long haul, is crucial, according to the UN International Organization for Migration’s (IOM).

It adds that significant investments must be made to allow them to continue this lifesaving work and to promote a more sustainable future and long-term recovery through revitalizing agriculture, education, water systems, and other infrastructure.

water systems, and other infrastructure.

A migrant rests at a clinic in northern Yemen after a long and exhausting journey.
IOM/Rami Ibrahim

A migrant rests at a clinic in northern Yemen after a long and exhausting journey.

Trafficking crisis

Migrants remain some of those most vulnerable to the effects of the crisis. The maritime route migrants take from the Horn of Africa to Yemen is the second busiest in the world.

According to the IOM displacement tracking matrix, an estimated 90,000 migrants – mostly Ethiopian – have arrived on Yemen’s shores in 2023 so far, in the hopes of reaching Saudi Arabia.

Tens of thousands have become stranded. They have traveled too far and gone too deep in debt to turn around, but know the journey ahead is too deadly or costly to continue, according to IOM, whose staff hears daily accounts from migrants of exploitation at the hands of traffickers and grave abuse on their journeys.

A young migrant looks out to see after arriving in Yemen from Djibouti.
© UNOCHA/Giles Clarke

A young migrant looks out to see after arriving in Yemen from Djibouti.

Slavery, torture, extortion

The migrants are often promised good jobs and decent living conditions and do not anticipate the challenges they will face. Instead, thousands of migrants are sold into sexual slavery, tortured on video while their families are extorted, or forced to work for months without pay on farms, according to IOM.

The situation has become a trafficking crisis of extraordinary proportions, the UN agency warned. Many also struggle to access essential public services, like health care, shelter, sanitation facilities, and food while also experiencing stigma and discrimination.

Humanitarians mobilized along the eastern corridor migration route are striving to ensure assistance is available to people on the move and that those who wish to return home can do so safely and voluntarily. But, the demand for these services continues to outweigh the resources available to respond to all migrants in need.

More meaningful efforts from world leaders to restore the rights of and end violence toward people on the move in Yemen – regardless of background or migration status – must also be made, the UN agency said.

IOM is providing services to patients at a health centre on the west coast of Yemen.
© IOM/Majed Mohammed

IOM is providing services to patients at a health centre on the west coast of Yemen.

Yemenis welcome newcomers

Confronted with these harsh realities, it is Yemeni community members who often go out of their way to help newcomers. Thousands of Yemenis work for humanitarian agencies in dangerous areas. Some have moved far from their homes to lend a hand to communities in need across the country.

Host communities, still reeling from years of war, have stepped up to support and welcome those in dire need.

Yemeni doctors provide relief to people suffering from ailments on their journeys, engineers build extensive water networks in arid lands, community leaders help mitigate conflict over dwindling resources, and teachers spread knowledge to children whose education has been compromised by war.

The realization of the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) depends on supporting these unsung heroes to make concrete contributions to development and peace in countries in crisis.

Human rights in Russia: ‘Significant deterioration’

The UN’s Special Rapporteur for Russia, Mariana Katzarova, sounded the alarm on what she says is a pattern of suppression of civil and political rights there. 

Addressing the Human Rights Council in Geneva, Ms. Katzarova voiced grave concerns over mass arbitrary arrests and the “persistent use of torture and ill-treatment.”

Clear evidence

Citing almost 200 sources from both in and outside the country, the UN-appointed expert also highlighted the lack of judicial independence and right to a fair trial.

“The large amount of information shared with me is indicative of the magnitude of the human rights challenges facing Russian society today,” she said.

Ms. Katzarova said that mass arbitrary arrests, detentions and harassment were recorded for “anyone speaking out against Russia’s war on Ukraine or daring to criticize the government’s actions.”

But the fraying of basic rights did not begin in February last year, rather, “the roots of this repression go back much further.”

‘Incremental and calculated’

“The incremental and calculated restrictions on human rights in Russia over the past two decades have culminated in the current state policy of criminalising any actual or perceived dissent.”

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Over 20,000 people were detained between February 2022 and June 2023 for participating in ‘largely peaceful’ anti-war protests.

Additionally, Ms. Katzarova received reports of torture and ill-treatment in detention, including sexual violence and rape, by law enforcement officials targeting anti-war protesters.

Russian authorities have also used propaganda and rhetoric to incite hatred and violence against Ukrainians, the report claims, with 600 criminal lawsuits were initiated against so-called “anti-war activity.

Ms. Katzarova added that children in schools face threats and serious consequences for “even drawing an anti-war picture.”

Civil society 

The situation in Russia has signalled an “effective closure of the civic space, silencing of public dissent and independent media”, Ms. Katzarova emphasised, a thought echoed by many Member States during the Council session. 

For example, changes to the law on so-called foreign agents or ‘undesirable organisations’ means that independent voices such as human rights defenders and independent media outlets, are now being heavily restricted.

“The often-violent enforcement of these laws has resulted in a systematic crackdown on civil society organizations,” Ms. Katzarova said, referencing the scrutiny, detention and sometimes persecution of the now “stigmatised”, independent groups – many who are forced into exile or prison. 

Russian push back

Joined by many Member States, the UN expert urged Russia to undertake “comprehensive human rights reforms” to address the “damage of the past two decades.”

The Russian Government has not accepted the mandate of the report and denied the independent expert access to the country. Russia’s were represented at the Human Rights council in Geneva during the report’s presentation but did not respond. 

Addressing the Geneva forum, Ms. Katzarova called on Russia to “reconsider its approach” towards her mandate – a sentiment echoed by many Member States present.

This is the first time in its history that the Council has authorised a rights expert to investigate human rights violations within the borders of one of the permanent members of the UN Security Council.

Special Rapporteurs are part of what is known as the Special Procedures of the Human Rights Council. They are not UN staff and work on voluntary basis, without remuneration.

World News in Brief: Afghan rights, Armenia-Azerbaijan ceasefire, road safety campaign

A new report by UNAMA’s Human Rights Service has documented over 1,600 cases of human rights violations including torture, committed by the de facto authorities across the country during the arrest and detention of individuals from 1 January 2022 to 31 July this year.

Commenting on the findings, UN rights chief Volker Türk described as “harrowing” the personal accounts of beatings, electric shocks, water torture and numerous other forms of cruel and degrading treatment, along with threats made against individuals and their families.

“Torture is forbidden in all circumstances,” he insisted.

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According to the report, violations of due process guarantees, including denial of access to lawyers, have become the “norm” in the country. 

Mr. Türk urged the Taliban to halt the abuses and hold perpetrators accountable.

Afghanistan remains bound as a State Party by numerous international human rights treaties. UNAMA is mandated by the UN Security Council to support their implementation.

Armenia-Azerbaijan: UN reiterates calls for humanitarian access

UN Secretary-General António Guterres has said that he remained concerned about the humanitarian situation in the South Caucasus where there’s been a flare-up in fighting.

Through his Spokesperson, Mr. Guterres reiterated his call for full-fledged access for aid workers to people in need.

In a statement referring to the situation between Armenia and Azerbaijan, Mr. Guterres said that he was “extremely concerned” over the use of military force in the region and reports of casualties, including among the civilian population. 

According to the latest media reports, a cessation of hostilities in the region was announced on Wednesday.

Conflict between Armenia and Azerbaijan over the region has persisted for more than three decades, but a ceasefire was agreed almost three years ago following six weeks of fighting, by the leaders of Armenia, Azerbaijan and Russia, leading to the deployment of several thousand Russian peacekeepers.

The UN chief urged “in the strongest terms” for de-escalation and “stricter” observance of the 2020 ceasefire and principles of international humanitarian law.

Just last month, UN humanitarians and partners briefed the Security Council on the need for unimpeded passage of aid in the region through the Lachin Corridor. The key route reportedly reopened last week.

Mr. Guterres said that he regretted that the latest “worrying developments” followed the delivery of “much-needed humanitarian assistance” to the local population on 18 September.

The UN rights chief Volker Türk also said on Tuesday that he was worried about “the impact of renewed use of armed force on civilians”. He insisted that it was “absolutely critical” that Azerbaijan and Armenia return to the peace process and work on an agreement “grounded in human rights”. 

UN launches star-studded road safety campaign

Coming soon to a billboard near you: a new global UN road safety campaign launched on Wednesday to help prevent road traffic crashes, which kill 1.35 million people each year.

Crashes are the leading cause of death for people aged five to 29 around the world and developing countries account for a staggering 93 per cent of the victims. 

According to the UN Economic Commission for Europe (UNECE), the most vulnerable road users, such as pedestrians, cyclists and motorcyclists, and the poor are disproportionately affected.

The UN chief’s Special Envoy for Road Safety, Jean Todt, said that road safety was “not high enough” on the political agenda in most countries.

To raise awareness of the issue, the new UN campaign mobilizes celebrities ranging from pop star Kylie Minogue to football icon Ousmane Dembélé who are encouraging road users to adopt safe practices. The billboards will go on display in some 1,000 cities worldwide.

World News in Brief: Reparations for African diaspora, child deaths in Sudan, Libya update

That’s the message from UN human rights chief Volker Türk, who called for strong leadership and political will from States to heed the call of people of African descent for accountability and redress.

His comments followed the release of a new UN report which sets out a series of concrete steps for governments to make reparations from former colonists, a reality.

The proposed measures, which must be guided by people of African descent themselves, include public apology, education and awareness raising, restitution and compensation.

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Up to 30 million people were violently uprooted from Africa for enslavement over the course of four centuries. After slavery ended, policies such as segregation and apartheid perpetuated racial discrimination.

Mr. Türk stressed that reparatory justice was “not just about addressing the wrongful acts of the past” but also about building societies that are truly inclusive, equal and free from racism. 

Libya: Derna a ‘sad snapshot’ of the state of our world: UN chief

The thousands of people killed, injured or displaced by the floods in Derna, Libya, were “victims many times over” of conflict and climate change, UN Secretary-General António Guterres told world leaders gathered at the UN in New York on Tuesday.

Derna is a “sad snapshot of the state of our world”, Mr. Guterres said at the UN General Assembly, as humanitarians in Libya continue to assess needs in the wake of the disaster.

“The situation on the ground is catastrophic. I have been a humanitarian worker for over 19 years and this is one of the worst disasters that I have witnessed. The level of destruction is unfathomable”, said UN refugee agency (UNHCR) Assistant Chief of Mission, Rana Ksaifi, speaking to reporters, from Benghazi:

He said an estimated 30,000 people have been displaced in Derna alone. Christopher Laker, the UN Development Programme (UNDP) Resident Representative in the country, said that 97 per cent of some neighbourhoods had been “washed away” as dams collapsed. 

He highlighted the urgent need for maintenance of Libya’s water reservoirs and dams and said that UNDP teams would be supporting the authorities with infrastructure assessments.

Sudan: Children dying amid healthcare system collapse

In Sudan, more than 1,200 children under five have died in camps in the space of four months from a combination of measles and malnutrition, UN humanitarians said on Tuesday.

The children were refugees living in nine camps in Sudan’s White Nile state, according to UNCHR and the World Health Organization (WHO).

The refugee agency said that over 3,100 suspected measles cases and more than 500 suspected cholera cases were reported in the same period in the country, along with outbreaks of dengue and malaria.

Here’s UNHCR’s Chief of Public Health, Dr. Allen Maina:

“The situation has brought healthcare in the country to its knees, despite heroic efforts of local clinics and aid agencies to continue to provide much-needed health services.”

WHO said that 3.4 million children in the country were acutely malnourished, while up to 80 per cent of hospitals in conflict-affected states are out of action.

With the lack of access to treatment, the UN Children’s Fund (UNICEF) warned that “many thousands of newborns” may die in Sudan by the end of the year. 

Meanwhile, the UN’s 2023 Sudan Humanitarian Response Plan launched in May remains only 30 per cent funded.

UN rights experts condemn Iran’s protest crackdown

Protests erupted throughout the country on Saturday marking the one-year anniversary of the 22-year-old Iranian woman’s death after she was detained by Iran’s morality police for allegedly not wearing her headscarf properly.

Crackdown on protesters

Iranian authorities briefly detained Ms. Amini’s father on Saturday and beefed-up security nationwide to deter protesters from taking to the streets.

“Iranian authorities must end their crackdown against those who participated in the protests against Jina Mahsa Amini’s death and deliver justice and accountability for grave violations committed during the 2022 protests,” the UN experts said.

Her death sparked nationwide demonstrations and unrest, and authorities responded with a brutal crackdown, reportedly arresting thousands and executing at least seven people in connection with the protests.

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Family persecuted

In the lead up to the anniversary of Ms. Amini’s death, the UN experts received reports that authorities had detained the young woman’s father and warned him against marking the first anniversary of his daughter’s death before releasing him.  

The experts said security forces surrounded her family home on 16 September, preventing family members from leaving to attend a graveside memorial event.

“Iran must account for the death of Jina Mahsa Amini in police custody last year and end its crackdown on protests sparked by her demise,” the experts said. “After months of brutally repressing demonstrations over the course of the past year, authorities have imposed restrictions and threatened reprisals against public commemorations”, they said.

Activists fight for freedom

According to the Human Rights Council-appointed experts, A 28-year-old man was shot by security forces on 16 September near the city of Saqqez, in Iran’s western Kurdish region near the cemetery where Ms. Amini is buried. His condition remains critical.  

Iranian State media also announced the arrest of more than 260 individuals across the country over the weekend in connection with the protests.

According to the independent experts, Iranian authorities have put new laws and practices in place to repress women and girls.

But they have failed to conduct an independent, impartial, and transparent investigation into the death and have consistently denied any misconduct or wrongdoing.

Ongoing clampdown

“We remain concerned and alarmed by the ongoing policies and practices in Iran which amount to total impunity for grave crimes committed under international law in the year that followed Jina Mahsa Amini’s death,” the experts said.

The experts expressed concern that family members of individuals who were executed in connection with the protests were either summoned to court or detained by authorities for seeking justice. They also noted a “concerning pattern” of mistreatment of human rights defenders, journalists, lawyers in custody.

“The Government of the Islamic Republic of Iran could have learned important lessons from the tragic death of Jina Mahsa Amini. But its response to the demonstrations that have led to the deaths of hundreds of protestors since September 2022 shows that authorities have chosen not to,” the UN experts said.

UN experts are not UN staff and are independent from any government or organisation. They serve in their individual capacity and receive no salary for their work. 


Ethiopia: Mass killings continue, risk of further ‘large-scale’ atrocities

The latest report from the International Commission of Human Rights Experts on Ethiopia documents atrocities perpetrated “by all parties to the conflict” since 3 November 2020 – the start date of the armed conflict in Tigray –  including mass killings, rape, starvation, destruction of schools and medical facilities, forced displacement and arbitrary detention.

Commission Chair Mohamed Chande Othman said that violent confrontations were now “at a near-national scale” and highlighted “alarming” reports of violations against civilians in the Amhara region as well as on-going atrocities.

 “The situation in Oromia, Amhara and other parts of the country – including ongoing patterns of violations, entrenched impunity, and increasing securitization of the State – bear hallmarked risks of further atrocities and crimes,” he warned.

Amhara: ‘mass arbitrary detention’

In the Amhara region, where the Government announced a state of emergency last month, the Commission said that it was receiving reports of “mass arbitrary detention” of civilians and “at least one drone strike” carried out by the State.

Multiple urban centres in the region are under curfew, and a militarized “Command Post” system without civilian oversight has been deployed. The Commissioners said “such structures are often accompanied by serious violations”. 

“We are deeply alarmed by the deteriorating security situation in Amhara and the continued presence of risk factors for atrocity crimes,” they said.

Humanitarian needs in the region have surged. In early August WHO Director-General Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus said that the people of Amhara “could not bear another conflict”, emphasizing that almost two million required health assistance – a situation made even more complex by the influx of refugees from war-torn Sudan.

Tigray: intergenerational trauma

Turning to Tigray, Commissioner Radhika Coomaraswamy warned that rape and sexual violence against women and girls by Eritrean forces was “ongoing” in the region.

“The ongoing presence of Eritrean troops in Ethiopia is a clear sign not only of an entrenched policy of impunity, but also continued support for and tolerance of such violations by the Federal Government,” she said.

The Commissioner highlighted the trauma brought on by atrocities in Tigray, which is “likely to persist for generations”.

‘Flawed’ justice process

The Commissioners called for a “credible” process of truth, justice, reconciliation and healing, while pointing out the shortcomings of the consultation process initiated by Ethiopia’s Government.

Their report maintained that Ethiopia’s Government has “failed to effectively prevent or investigate violations” and has instead launched a “flawed” transitional justice process where victims “remain overlooked”.

The Commission

The International Commission was established by the UN Human Rights Council in December 2021 to conduct an impartial investigation into violations committed in Ethiopia since the start of the conflict in Tigray in November 2020.

It is composed of three human rights experts appointed by the President of the Council, who are not UN staff and do not receive a salary for their work. 

Over-compliance with unilateral sanctions hurts human rights

As governments increasingly use unilateral sanctions measures to pursue foreign policy objectives, it has become common for businesses, including banks and financial institutions to over-comply with them, said the UN Human Rights Council-appointed Special Rapporteur on unilateral coercive measures, Alena Douhan.

Ms. Douhan said some individually imposed sanctions are having a widespread detrimental impact on people’s right to healthcare.


“Health systems around the world are highly vulnerable to the enforcement of unilateral sanctions and the growing cases of over-compliance and excessive de-risking policies,” she said. 

In her report to the 54th session of the Human Rights Council, Ms. Douhan highlighted the negative effects of over-compliance with unilateral sanctions by businesses across the globe. 

She noted sanctions can pose serious challenges to the procurement and delivery of medicines, medical equipment and other humanitarian goods, which are exempt from any restrictions.

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Secondary sanctions

The growing use of secondary sanctions has serious implications for the human rights of citizens living in sanctioned countries, including their right to adequate, appropriate and timely healthcare. 

The UN said the impact of these sanctions extends to a wide range of health-related issues, including the shortage of health workers in sanctioned countries, limited opportunities for training and barriers to accessing scientific knowledge and research.

Knock-on effects

“It also affects all relevant underlying determinants of health, including access to safe water and sanitation, food safety, and clean, healthy and sustainable environment, among others,” Ms.Douhan added. 

She recalled that the enforcement of unilateral sanctions and zero-risk policies violated numerous international treaties and customary obligations of States.

That includes obligations under the UN Charter and relevant international human rights treaties. 

“Claims about the unintentional character of the adverse humanitarian impact of unilateral sanctions on human rights, and in particular on the right to health, and references to good intentions should not be invoked to legitimize designing and implementing such unilateral measures,” the Special Rapporteur warned.

Special Rapporteurs and other UN experts are not UN staff and are independent from any government or organisation. They serve in their individual capacity and receive no salary for their work.

Rights expert appeals for action to tackle elder abuse

Claudia Mahler, UN independent expert on the enjoyment of all human rights of older persons, made the appeal in her annual report to the UN Human Rights Council in Geneva.

She said violence against older persons remains unaddressed despite being widespread, pervasive and putting millions of older persons at risk, amid a rapidly ageing world.

Not a priority 

“Combatting abuse in old age is not a priority at national, regional or global levels,” she added.

Ms. Mahler cited information from the World Health Organization (WHO), which estimates that one is six older persons has experienced some form of violence. 

In her report, she noted that violence, neglect and abuse in old age has far-reaching consequences to both mental and physical well-being, underscoring the need for adequate interventions and solutions. 

Cases spike in crises

“An increase in violence against older persons was noticed during ongoing crises such as the COVID-19 pandemic, as well as in armed conflicts and the consequences of climate change,” she said.

“Crises lead to economic setbacks, which put more strain on support structures worldwide, which in turn may put more older persons at risk of suffering from violent acts.”

While there is currently no globally accepted definition of “elder abuse”, she said five forms of abuse can be identified: physical; psychological or emotional; sexual; financial or material; and neglect.

Ageism fuels abuse 

Ms. Mahler also recognised hate speech as an additional form of abuse against older persons.

“Ageism plays a significant role and risk factor in the prevalence of abuse on older persons,” she said.

“Negative stereotypes and bias underlie the concept of ageism and can lead to harmful consequences, including violence against and abuse and neglect of older persons”.

Prevent and protect

Ms. Mahler’s report identifies several actions to prevent and protect against abuse of older persons, including legislative and policy interventions, prevention programmes, provision of age-appropriate community services, law enforcement response and access to justice.  

She also encouraged the effective collection and analysis of data on the prevalence of violence, abuse and neglect cases. 

“Such data is crucial to provide a comprehensive understanding of the issue. The diversity of older persons should be integrated in data-collection methodologies and protocols,” she recommended.

Independent voices

Independent experts are appointed by the UN Human Rights Council to monitor specific country situations and thematic issues. 

They work on a voluntary basis. serve in their individual capacity and are independent from any government or organization. 

The experts are not UN staff and do not receive payment for their work. 


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