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UN Special Adviser welcomes start of trial against top Rwanda genocide suspect

Opening statements in the case against Félicien Kabuga are set for Thursday and Friday at the UN’s International Residual Mechanism for Criminal Tribunals (IRMCT), located in The Hague. 

According to his indictment, Mr. Kabuga was a founder of the radio station Radio Télévision Libre des Mille Collines, whose broadcasts furthered hatred and violence against the Tutsi ethnic group and others. 

He is charged with genocide, direct and public incitement to commit genocide, conspiracy to commit genocide, persecution on political grounds, extermination, and murder as crimes against humanity. 

Prevention and accountability 

“Our collective commitment not to forget constitutes a commitment to prevent” said UN Special Adviser on Genocide, Alice Wairimu Nderitu, in a statement issued on Wednesday. 

“Accountability is prevention in itself and hence a deterrent for future crimes,” she added.  

Ms. Nderitu said fair and credible judicial proceedings can also provide victims with a form of redress for the gross and systematic violations of human rights and humanitarian law that they have endured.   

They can also help prevent and address feelings of frustration and bitterness, and the possible desire for retaliation.   

However, when justice is not served, lingering perceptions of injustice can become a risk factor for further violence and possibly, atrocity crimes, she warned.  

Alice Nderitu, UN Special Adviser on the Prevention of Genocide

Kate McElwee
Alice Nderitu, UN Special Adviser on the Prevention of Genocide

Collective responsibility 

The Special Adviser commended the important work by the UN Mechanism on ensuring accountability for serious international crimes, including in the context of Mr. Kabuga’s alleged role in the genocide against the Tutsi in Rwanda, during which moderate Hutu, Twa and others who opposed the genocide, were killed. 

Ms. Nderitu stressed that hate speech contributes to mistrust between communities.  It also feeds what she called “an ‘us versus them’ narrative” and corrodes social cohesion between communities.  In its most serious forms, hate speech can lead to incitement to violence and even genocide. 

She said commitment to prevent atrocity crimes requires all relevant stakeholders to take appropriate measures against hate speech and incitement to discrimination, hostility, or violence.  

“Literally all atrocity crimes were preceded by hate speech.  Hence, it is our responsibility to pay particular attention to this phenomenon if we are really committed to prevent atrocity crimes,” she added. 

Support UN Mechanism 

Mr. Kabunga was apprehended in Paris in May 2020 by French authorities as a result of a joint investigation with the IRMCT.  

At the time, he was among the world’s top fugitives, and had been wanted by the UN Mechanism since 2013.   

The IRMCT performs essential functions previously carried out by the international tribunal for Rwanda, which closed in December 2015, and another for the former Yugoslavia, which concluded two years later. 

Ms. Nderitu further called for countries to continue to fully cooperate with the IRMCT in the identification, arrest, detention, surrender, and transfer of accused persons who are still at large.   

She also urged the international community to step up efforts to address and counter hate speech, and prevent incitement to violence, in line with the UN action plans. 

Israel-Palestine: ‘Meaningful initiatives’ needed soon, to reverse current course

Tor Wennesland updated ambassadors on a litany of violations, including “mounting pressure” on Palestinians to leave their homes, and plans for new construction outposts.

“The absence of a meaningful peace process to end the Israeli occupation and resolve the conflict is fueling a dangerous deterioration across the OPT [Occupied Palestinian Territory], particularly in the West Bank, and driving the perception that the conflict in unresolvable”, he said.

‘Perpetual state of violence’

The UN envoy reminded that resolution 2334 called for “immediate steps to prevent all violence against civilians,” before listing a wide range of attacks carried out between June and September in the West Bank and Gaza, the vast majority of which left Palestinians dead or injured.

“I am particularly appalled that children continue to be killed and injured in large numbers,” he stated. “Children must never be the target of violence or put in harm’s way”.

He said Israel should only use lethal force when “strictly unavoidable to protect life”, must thoroughly investigate all resulting deaths or injuries, and “hold those responsible, accountable”.

“Negotiations can no longer be pushed off indefinitely”, Mr. Wennesland continued, observing that the current course is heading towards “a perpetual state of violence and conflict”.

Reversing ‘negative trends’

As resolution 2334 also calls for immediate steps to “reverse negative trends…imperiling the two-State solution”, he described some positive developments, such as on 7 July when President Abbas and Defense Minister Gantz met in Ramallah, and the following day when Israeli President Herzog and Prime Minister Lapid, spoke to President Abbas by phone.

And during his July visit to Israel and the OPT, US President Biden announced a $100 million contribution to the East Jerusalem Hospital Network; $201 million for UN Palestine refugee relief agency, UNRWA, and $15 million to address food insecurity.

Moreover, Israel issued some 16,000 worker and other business permits for Palestinians in Gaza and extended social entitlements under Israeli labour laws, to workers entering from the Gaza Strip.

Chief concerns

The UN envoy informed the 15 Council members of the Secretary-General’s concerns over continued settlement expansion in the occupied West Bank.

He highlighted the Supreme Court’s Mitzpeh Kramim decision that could set a legal precedent for additional outposts, and demolitions and seizures of Palestinian-owned property.

He also noted civilian casualties from the latest escalation in Gaza; indiscriminate rocket launches there by Palestinian militants; and the deteriorating security situation in the occupied West Bank.

He also relayed the UN chief’s apprehension that “the current negative trajectory” puts at great risk the socioeconomic and institution-building that has prepared the Palestinian Authority for eventual statehood.

At the same time, the Secretary-General welcomed the Special Representative’s 22 September report on a comprehensive package of “incremental, durable, and meaningful steps” that the parties and their partners should take, to address the current situation, strengthen the Palestinian Authority, and advance the goal of a sustainable peace.

Tor Wennesland, Special Coordinator for the Middle East Peace Process, briefs the Security Council meeting on the situation in the Middle East, including the Palestinian question.

UN Photo/Ariana Lindquist
Tor Wennesland, Special Coordinator for the Middle East Peace Process, briefs the Security Council meeting on the situation in the Middle East, including the Palestinian question.

‘Meaningful initiatives’

In closing, Mr. Wennesland stressed the need for “meaningful initiatives” to reverse the current trajectory, adding, “they are needed quickly”.

He said that “Israelis and Palestinians must determine how they envision the future”.

“Ending the occupation and realizing a two-State solution must drive our collective efforts”, he concluded, vowing to remain “actively engaged in advancing these objectives with Israeli and Palestinian leaders, and with key international and regional partners”.

Referenda in Russian-controlled Ukraine ‘cannot be regarded as legal’: UN political affairs chief

Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy also briefed ambassadors, blasting the “sham referenda”, though Russia objected to his participation via videoconference. 

The country’s ambassador, Vassily Nebenzia, said the President should participate in person, in line with the rules.  “The Council should not turn into a forum for political shows or cinema,” he added.

Door-to-door voting 

The referenda were held over the past five days in the Donetsk, Luhansk, Kherson, and Zaporizhzhia regions for residents to vote on whether they wished to become part of the Russian Federation. 

Voting took place in polling centers, Ms. DiCarlo reported, and de facto pro-Russian authorities accompanied by soldiers, also went door-to-door with ballot boxes.  

These exercises – which were held during active armed conflict, in areas of Ukraine under Russian control and outside Ukraine’s legal and constitutional framework – “cannot be called a genuine expression of the popular will,” she said. 

“Unilateral actions aimed to provide a veneer of legitimacy to the attempted acquisition by force by one State of another State’s territory, while claiming to represent the will of the people, cannot be regarded as legal under international law.” 

Upholding Ukrainian sovereignty 

The political affairs chief underscored the UN’s full commitment to the sovereignty, unity, independence, and territorial integrity of Ukraine. She reminded Russia of its obligation to respect the country’s laws in the administration of occupied territories. 

This latest development is among recent actions that threaten to further escalate the conflict, now in its seventh month.  

Ms. DiCarlo spoke about heavy fighting in southern Ukraine in the past few weeks and escalating military operations in Donetsk and Luhansk.   

The Ukrainian military also conducted a successful counter-offensive this month to restore control over most of the Russian-held areas in the Kharkhiv region. 

Meanwhile, daily attacks on many Ukrainian cities have continued, including in Donetsk and Luhansk, as well as targeting of civilian energy and water infrastructure.  

Nuclear threat persists 

“We have also heard alarming rhetoric regarding the use of nuclear weapons. This is unacceptable,” said Ms. DiCarlo. 

The UN remains deeply troubled by reports of continuing attacks near the Zaporizhzhia Nuclear Power Plant, and she urged combatants to cooperate with the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA). 

“It is imperative that all attacks on nuclear facilities end, and that the purely civilian nature of such plants be re-established,” she stressed.   

Human rights violations 

Ms. DiCarlo also expressed grave concern over allegations of human rights violations committed in areas of northeastern Ukraine, including after the recovery of more than 400 bodies from improvised graves in the city of Izium. 

The UN human rights office, OHCHR, is working with local authorities to investigate this and other allegations in areas in the Kharkiv region that were until recently under Russian control.  

Last week, the UN-appointed Independent International Commission of Inquiry on Ukraine concluded that war crimes had been committed in the conflict.  

Ms. DiCarlo called for those responsible to be brought to account. 

“Rarely, if ever, has the international community collected so much evidence of human rights violations, potential war crimes and other atrocities as they were happening,” she said. 

“It is tragic that we have not been able to stop them. But it would be shameful if we were not able to ensure justice for the victims and their loved ones.” 

Extend grain deal

Overall, the war has resulted in some 14,844 verified civilian casualties so far, with nearly 6,000 deaths, according to OHCHR, though actual numbers are likely to be considerably higher. 

Its ripple effects continue to be felt by millions worldwide, affected by rising fuel and energy costs. Ms. DiCarlo highlighted the vital need to renew the Black Sea Grain Initiative, which is due to expire in November. 

More than five million metric tonnes of foodstuffs have been shipped from Ukrainian ports since the deal was signed in July, according to the UN Spokesperson briefing journalists in New York on Tuesday, heralding the 5,250,578-tonne figure so far, as “good news”. 

The initiative continues to gather pace, Ms. DiCarlo told ambassadors, while efforts to remove remaining obstacles to Russian food exports continue. 

President Volodymyr Zelenskyy (on screen) of Ukraine addresses the Security Council meeting on maintenance of peace and security in Ukraine.

UN Photo/Laura Jarriel
President Volodymyr Zelenskyy (on screen) of Ukraine addresses the Security Council meeting on maintenance of peace and security in Ukraine.

Attempt to steal territory: Zelenskyy

Appealing for international action, President Zelenskyy called for Russia to be isolated in the international community.

“In front of the eyes of the whole world, Russia is conducting this so-called sham referenda on the occupied territory of Ukraine”, he said, speaking through an interpreter.

The alleged results have been prepared well in advance, “just as this compulsory issue of passports for the population of the occupied territories,” he continued, adding that Russia wants to annex these areas.

“This is the most brutal violation of the UN Charter,” he said.

“This is an attempt to steal the territory of another state. This is an attempt to erase the norms of international law. This is a very cynical attempt to force the male population in the occupied territory of Ukraine to mobilize into the Russian army in order to send them to fight against their own homeland.”

Referenda followed norms: Russia

Mr. Nebenzia, the Russian ambassador, defended the controversial referenda, which he said were monitored by more than 100 independent international observers from 40 countries.

He told the Council President Zelenskyy had stated in an interview that people who considered themselves Russian, or who liked Russia, should leave Ukraine.

“Now the inhabitants of Donbass, Kherson and Zaporizhzhia  oblasts are carrying out his cynical recommendation.  They’re returning to the homeland and they’re taking their land with them that their forefathers lived on for centuries,” he said, speaking through an interpreter.

“The referendum were conducted exclusively transparently with upholding of all electoral norms. This is an undisputed fact. However, the Kyiv regime and its backers want to say anything to the contrary.”

World ‘must engage’ or risk Afghanistan’s collapse, Security Council hears

Despite some positive developments over the past few months, the Deputy Special Representative for Afghanistan said they have been “too few and too slow and they are outweighed by the negatives”.

Women’s rights

He drew attention to the ongoing ban on girls’ secondary education and growing restrictions on women’s rights, as “signals that the Taliban are indifferent to more than 50 per cent of the population” and are willing to risk international isolation.

“The relegation of women and girls to the home not only deprives them of their rights, but Afghanistan as a whole is denied the benefit of the significant contributions that women and girls have to offer,” he detailed.

Terrorism concerns ‘dismissed’

Meanwhile, from armed clashes to deadly terrorist attacks, the UN Assistance Mission in Afghanistan (UNAMA) has monitored a steady rise in security incidents by terrorist groups and others.

“Our earlier warnings about the capabilities of Islamic State Khorosan Province (ISKP) were dismissed by the Taliban”, he told ambassadors.

“But ISKP has demonstrated in the last few months alone that it can carry out assassinations of figures close to the Taliban, attacks against foreign embassies, as well as fire rockets across Afghanistan’s border to attack its neighbours – all while maintaining its long-standing sectarian campaign against Shia Muslims and ethnic minorities,” said Mr. Potzel.

Provincial rights violations

And armed clashes are continuing between Taliban security forces and armed opposition groups in the Panjshir, Baghlan, Kapisa, Takhar, and Badakhshan provinces, the UN envoy continued.

“There are disturbing reports, as well as videos and photos, indicating possible serious human rights violations committed in Panjshir,” he said, calling for an investigation into allegations of extra-judicial killings there.

The mission will continue to carefully monitor these and other reports of serious human rights violations, he added.

UN bolstering cash economy

As per capita income has collapsed to 2007 levels – erasing 15 years of economic growth – the country’s economic situation “remains tenuous” (with little detail forthcoming from the Taliban) due in part to Afghanistan’s isolation from the international banking system.

Liquidity remains heavily dependent on the cash that the UN continues to bring in for humanitarian operations – cash, I must stress, that supports the needs of the Afghan people and does not directly reach the de facto authorities,” said Mr. Potzel.

But even the funding is uncertain as the 2022 Humanitarian Response Plan has only received $1.9 billion out of a $4.4 billion requirement.

No representation

Humanitarian and economic measures will not meet the Afghan people’s longer-term needs, and the emergency aid cannot replace essential service delivery systems, such as health and water, or hold off an economic collapse, he warned.

Moreover, a continued lack of political inclusivity and transparency in decision-making leave most Afghans without any government representation.

“There are no consistent mechanisms for citizens to provide feedback to the authorities and little indication that the Taliban wish to even hear any,” the UN envoy said.

‘We have to engage’

While the Taliban’s self-identified emirate has not been recognized by any State, the international community also does not want to see the country collapse, Mr. Potzel stressed.

“If the Taliban do not respond to the needs of all elements of Afghan society and constructively engage within the very limited window of opportunity with the international community, it is unclear what would come next,” said the Deputy Special Representative.

“Further fragmentation, isolation, poverty, and internal conflict are among the likely scenarios, leading to potential mass migration and a domestic environment conducive to terrorist organizations, as well as greater misery for the Afghan population.

“That’s why we have to engage”, he declared, adding that “continued qualified engagement” was the most realistic way of helping the Afghan people.

Ukraine: UN and partners ramp up assistance to over 150,000 in Kharkiv region

The UN Humanitarian Coordinator for Ukraine, Denise Brown, was in Kharkiv on Monday, and aid workers had begun making life-saving deliveries to the thousands in need, just days after Russian troops withdrew following the surprise Ukrainian counter-attack to secure the region around the country’s second largest city.

Kharkiv is located in northeastern Ukraine, just a few miles from the Russian border. Ukrainian authorities said they had recaptured around 6,000 square kilometres of territory from Russia during their September counter-offensive.

Food for more than 73,000

A statement issued by the Spokesperson for UN humanitarian affairs coordination office (OCHA) on Monday, said that “in the past 10 days, aid workers distributed food to more than 73,000 people, nearly half of the people living in these areas which, until a short while ago, were out of our reach.”   

“Our colleagues have also delivered hygiene kits to some 12,000 people, as well as kitchen sets, solar lamps, blankets and other critical household items to about 15,000”, OCHA’s Saviano Abreu continued. 

Medical supplies

“Health centres have been stocked with enough medicine, surgical kits and emergency health kits to treat 10,000 patients in the coming weeks.”  

Humanitarian Coordinator Ms. Brown met workers with local organizations and volunteers, and noted that there is “a dire humanitarian situation” across the region.

She visited some cities that since mid-September, are back under Government control, and saw the level of destruction of civilian infrastructure, including homes, schools, and hospitals.

Expanding aid effort

“The humanitarian community is working closely with national and local authorities, as well as with volunteer groups, to expand assistance even further and help people who have endured the horrors of seven months of war without adequate access to vital items”, Mr. Abreu concluded.

Security Council urged to act in face of ‘humanitarian catastrophe’ in Haiti

Meanwhile, political stakeholders are still struggling to find common ground and define a path to elections against this backdrop, she added. 

Haitian-led solution critical 

“An economic crisis, a gang crisis, and a political crisis have converged into a humanitarian catastrophe. We must not lose hope, but rather combine our efforts to find a pathway to a better tomorrow,” said UN Special Representative Helen La Lime, speaking from the capital Port-au-Prince. 

“A Haitian-led political solution is the first necessary step to address the current crisis. To support Haitians in their effort towards a better future, this Council must take urgent action.” 

Gang violence continues to disrupt daily life in Haiti, driving more than 20,000 people from their homes. 

More than 1 million affected 

The UN estimates that at least 1.5 million people in the Caribbean country have been directly impacted by recent unrest, with gender-based violence, and in particular rape, being used systematically. 

The economic crisis has caused food prices to soar, while fuel is often available only on the black market. 

Protests broke out in Haiti after the Prime Minister announced on 11 September that the Government will reduce some $400 million in fuel subsidies in efforts to increase revenue for social programmes. 

By the following day, barricades had been erected throughout the country, prompting a nationwide shutdown, with the situation persisting in the capital for a full five days. 

One of the largest gang alliances also blocked the main fuel terminal there on 12 September. The siege lasted for over a week, despite concerted operations by the police over the weekend. 

Good offices role 

On the political front, Ms. La Lime said she has maintained good relations with all sectors of society and has encouraged dialogue. 

“While so-far inconclusive efforts have led to a perceived stalemate, national stakeholders have begun to re-engage with a renewed sense of urgency. In the past weeks, Government representatives, political groups, and civil society organizations launched new consultations on ways to forge a wider consensus on a path to elections. But we’re not there yet,” she said. 

Aid delivery hampered

The insecurity has also severely curtailed humanitarian access and made it “very difficult and dangerous” to deliver, according to Valerie N. Guarnieri, Deputy Executive Director at the World Food Programme (WFP). 

 “We expect food security to further deteriorate this year, surpassing the record high of 4.5 million people estimated to face crisis or worse levels of acute food insecurity, including 1.3 million people in emergency,” she said. 

The gangs strangling the capitol are blocking access to fuel supplies and key logistics hubs, including ports and airports, as well as road access to other areas of the country.  

Protesters have also ransacked and looted humanitarian warehouses, with WFP losing one-third of its food stocks in just one week. UN agencies and partners estimate they have lost some $6 million during such attacks, which come at the peak of the hurricane season. 

Appeal for support 

Ms. Guarnieri stressed that WFP and other aid agencies intend to stay and deliver in Haiti despite the challenges, but will need greater assistance. 

“Simply put, we’re not in a position to support all of those that need our help due to the general lawlessness and operational environment,” she said. 

“Therefore, we’re looking forward to increased support from the Member States, from you, to further facilitate humanitarian access as well as protection of humanitarian actors, personnel and assets.”  

Fighting illicit trafficking 

The armed groups not only compromise stability and security, they also hamper efforts towards peace and lasting development, said Ghada Fathi Waly, Executive Director of the UN Office on Drugs and Crimes (UNODC). 

Haiti is particularly vulnerable to the illicit traffic in commodities, particularly drugs, firearms and ammunition. due to its 1,500 kilometres of coastline and land border with the Dominican Republic. 

Ms. Waly said UNODC is supporting border management and is working to map out transnational criminal activities in Haiti, as well as their regional impact. 

They are also assisting the authorities in building capacity to inspect containers at strategic points such as ports and border crossings. 

“These efforts should ensure that customs revenue be effectively sent to activities to support border modernization and border management,” she said, speaking in French. 

Colombia’s ‘dinosaur of peace’

Researchers now know that, around 175 million years ago, a 12-metre long sauropod, roamed around an area of northern Colombia. The scientific world is attributing the discovery of this new species of herbivorous dinosaur to the improved security situation that exists in Colombia since the signing of a 2016 peace deal, which put an end to half a century of civil war.

Just two years after the signing of the agreement, it was deemed safe for a group of researchers from the Universidad del Norte, Barranquilla, and the University of Michigan, United States, to visit the Serranía del Perijá, and gather fresh data.

Professor Aldo Rincón and his guide, Pedro Pablo Contreras, conducting fieldwork in the Serranía del Perijá mountain range.

© Marcos Guevara
Professor Aldo Rincón and his guide, Pedro Pablo Contreras, conducting fieldwork in the Serranía del Perijá mountain range.

Searching for clues, 80 years on

The scientists returned to the place where a fossil of a dinosaur dorsal spine vertebra was found by a geologist working for an oil company in 1943. At the time no-one knew that it was part of a brand-new species and, after the find, the fossil was taken, along with some sediment samples, to the United States and given to the University of California scientific collection at Berkeley.

Aldo Rincón Burbano, professor at the Department of Physics and Geosciences at the Universidad del Norte in Barranquilla and one of the research leaders in Colombia, acknowledged that “without the security conditions provided in the area today, it would have been difficult to return to the field. This is due to the Peace Agreement.”

Those security conditions are monitored by the UN Verification Mission in Colombia, which was established by the Security Council in 2017 to support the progress of the Peace Agreement, and verify the reintegration of former combatants of the FARC-EP rebel group and their families into Colombian society.

Félix Arango, a 64-year-old former FARC combatant, was one of Professor Aldo Rincón's guides at the ETCR in Tierra Grata.

© UNVMC/Jorge Quintero
Félix Arango, a 64-year-old former FARC combatant, was one of Professor Aldo Rincón’s guides at the ETCR in Tierra Grata.

From fighter to guide

Former FARC-EP fighters provided logistical services, lodging, and guides for the researchers, as they tried to locate the site where the fossil had been unearthed some 80 years earlier.

Félix Arango, a 64-year-old former FARC-EP combatant who now works on an ecotourism project in Tierra Grata, accompanied them on long walks, searching for the exact spot. “I didn’t know they were looking for a dinosaur because they were studying rocks; luckily I was familiar with the area because the former 41st front of the FARC operated there”.

“We spent almost a year in the process, writing and searching, and although we didn’t find any new fossils, we managed to get to the site and find the same sediment collected alongside the vertebra in 1943”, says Mr. Rincón. “By studying the sediment, we were able to conclude that the vertebra was from a new genus, and a new species.”

They named the species Perijasaurus lapaz: the first part after the place where it was found, and the second as a tribute to the historic Peace Agreement. The dinosaur is similar to other sauropods of this period found in Asia, North Africa, and southern Patagonia, which were smaller than the later dinosaurs belonging to this group.

“We still must look for more fossils in rocks of the same age in other areas of the country. Including the Tatacoa desert in Huila; the Girón area in Santander; and Nobsa in Boyacá,”, says Mr. Rincón.

Mr. Arango, the former combatant who accompanied Mr. Rincón and his team, says that, hopefully, these other investigations can also tell the story of the experience of former combatants, who now, thanks to peace, play a different role in society.

At least 70 dead in latest ‘tragic’ shipwreck, off Syria coast: UN agencies

In a joint news release issued late on Thursday, the International Organization for Migration (IOM), the UN refugee agency, UNHCR, and UN relief agency for Palestine refugees (UNRWA) said the boat had reportedly set off towards Europe on Tuesday from the port of Miniyeh, near Tripoli, Lebanon, carrying between 120 and 170 passengers.

The refugees and migrants were mostly Syrians, Lebanese, and Palestinians. Passengers included women, children, men and elderly people.

Search and rescue operations have confirmed that at least 70 people died in Syrian waters.

At least 20 hospitalized

“Early reports indicate that 20 people were transferred to the hospital in the city of Tartous, some in a serious condition”, said the statement.

News reports said that boat was believed to be en route to Europe, but it is unclear what led to the sinking.

In Lebanon, the three agencies are following up with the relevant authorities and will offer support to bereaved families, the reported. UNHCR in Syria is also providing some material support to the survivors who are recovering from their ordeal in Tartous. 

“This is yet another heart-wrenching tragedy and we extend our deepest condolences to all those impacted,” said Filippo Grandi, UN High Commissioner for Refugees.

Solidarity call

“We call for full solidarity from the international community to help improve the conditions of forcibly displaced people and host communities in the Middle East, particularly in countries neighbouring Syria. Too many people are being pushed to the brink.”

António Vitorino, IOM Director General, declared that those simply looking for safety “should not be compelled to take such perilous and often deadly migration journeys”.

“We must work together to increase safe and legal pathways to regular migration to help reduce loss of life and protect vulnerable people on the move.

Volunteers help refugees arriving on the island of Lesbos, in the North Aegean region of Greece. (file)

© UNICEF/Ashley Gilbertson
Volunteers help refugees arriving on the island of Lesbos, in the North Aegean region of Greece. (file)

‘Nobody gets in these boats lightly’

“This is just tragic. No one gets on these death boats lightly. People are taking these perilous decisions, risking their lives in search of dignity”, said UNRWA Commissioner-General, Philippe Lazzarini.

“We must do more to offer a better future and address a sense of hopelessness in Lebanon and across the region, including among Palestine refugees”.

In response to increased sea departures from the region over the past months, IOM, UNHCR, and UNRWA are calling on coastal States “to increase efforts to build their capacity to provide search and rescue services and to work to ensure predictability in identifying safe places of disembarkation.”

Address root causes

However, the agencies argue that it’s even more critical, that action be taken to address the root causes of these movements and for the international community, in line with the principle of sharing responsibility, to strengthen access to safer, alternative pathways.

“Much more humanitarian and development support must also go to those displaced and host communities throughout the region to help stem their suffering and improve their living conditions and opportunities.

“Failing this, refugees, asylum-seekers, migrants, and internally displaced people will continue to take dangerous journeys in search of safety, protection, and a better life.

‘Harsh reminder’: UNICEF

The UN Children’s Fund, UNICEF, said in a statement issued later on Thursday, that the tragedy, “and those that have come before it, are harsh reminders that collective action is urgently needed to stop families dying at sea.”

The agency reported that another boat carrying some 55 migrants, had also sunk off the Greek coast, with three children reported missing. Lebanon with it’s spiralling crises, has witnessed a rise in “desperate attempts” to flee the country in recent months, “that have left many dead”, UNICEF noted. 

“Each and every death of a child at sea underscores the need to protect and support children where they are and expand options for children and families to move safely, without having to risk their lives.”

The agency said it was standing by to provide help to the children and families affected, and remains committed to working with Lebanon and other countries in the region, “to ensure children’s safety and wellbeing at all time.”

Ukraine refugees: Eager to work but need greater support

Lives on Hold: Intentions and Perspectives of Refugees from Ukraine, is based on 4,800 responses from people who have fled the brutal war in their homeland and are now living in countries in Europe and beyond. 

The survey was conducted between August and September. 

Staying put for now 

Seven months after the start of the conflict, Ukrainian refugees remain grateful for the warm reception that they have received across Europe, and most plan to stay put for now, said Matthew Saltmarsh, a UNHCR Spokesperson in Geneva. 

The majority, 81 per cent, intend to return home to reunite with their families, but only 13 per cent plan to do so in the next three months. 

“Large parts of Ukraine remain devastated, with towns and livelihoods destroyed in many areas. The onset of winter and spiralling energy prices – or the lack of power – make return home at the moment difficult for many of the displaced,” he said. 

Keen to contribute 

Many refugees surveyed mentioned positive factors in their host countries, such as their links to family or friends, security and stability, the availability of medical services, access to education, and the overall economic situation. 

Most are highly educated, willing to work and want to contribute.  Some 70 per cent possess higher education qualifications, and two-thirds were previously working in Ukraine.  

“Refugees are eager to reenter the labour market, which would lessen their reliance on welfare, but currently, less than one-third are employed or self-employed,” said Mr. Saltmarsh. 

They want to play a more active role in their new communities, he added, but need support such as language classes, formal recognition of skills, and, importantly, assistance with childcare services so they can work outside the home. 

Struggling to survive 

Three-quarters of those surveyed said they intended to send their children to local schools, while 18 per cent preferred remote learning using the Ukrainian curriculum. 

Without work, many are struggling to make ends meet and find adequate housing. Nearly half, 41 per cent, are staying with host families, and 20 per cent are living in collective sites or hotels.  A quarter are renting.  

“Many are deeply concerned about finding alternative sustainable solutions ahead of winter,” said Mr. Saltmarsh. 

Meanwhile, psychological support and specialized help for children with disabilities and older people, are among their remaining pressing needs.  

The majority of the refugees, 87 per cent, are women and children, and almost a third have a family member with at least one disability. 

Support at home and beyond 

With more than 7.4 million Ukrainian refugees across Europe, UNHCR is urging continued support from host countries to ensure they have access to adequate assistance, as well as socio-economic inclusion. 

The agency also continues operations in Ukraine, where nearly seven million people have been uprooted. 

As winter approaches, staff are conducting repairs and insulation on homes for vulnerable families. 

More than 815,000 have received food and non-food items, including winter clothes, while more than 31,000 have received emergency shelter materials.  

UNHCR aims to distribute emergency shelter kits for over 100,000 people by the end of the year. 

Redouble efforts to end ‘senseless’ war in Ukraine, UN chief tells Foreign Ministers

The conflict, now in its seventh month, has also sparked a global food, energy and finance crisis that is pushing more people into extreme poverty and hunger, and growing fears of potential nuclear disaster. 

“As I have said from the start, this senseless war has unlimited potential to do terrible harm – in Ukraine, and around the world,” the UN chief recalled.  

“There is only one way to end the suffering in Ukraine – and that is by ending the war.” 

Welcome development 

The Secretary-General described yesterday’s news that more than 250 prisoners of war were exchanged between Ukraine and Russia as a welcome development.  

“I commend the efforts of both parties and hope that they will build on this with further exchanges aiming at an ‘all for all’ formula,” he said, thanking Türkiye and Saudi Arabia for their role in securing the agreement. 

‘Unspeakable suffering and devastation’ 

The meeting was held on the margins of the annual debate in the UN General Assembly and brought together Foreign Ministers from countries serving on the 15-member Council, Ukraine, the European Union, and other nations. 

Mr. Guterres said the war has caused “unspeakable suffering and devastation” in Ukraine, and latest developments – including the potential for nuclear catastrophe – will only lead to “an endless cycle of horror and bloodshed.” 

Thousands of civilians have been killed or injured, hundreds of them children, while some 14 million people have been forced to flee.   

“Every day, an average of five children are killed or injured. Almost every child in Ukraine has been scarred by the nightmare of war, from violence to family separation,” he said. 

‘Catalogue of cruelty’ 

The UN human rights office, OHCHR, has also documented reports of “a catalogue of cruelty”, including summary executions, sexual violence, torture and other inhumane and degrading treatment against civilians and prisoners of war.  

Latest accounts of burial sites in the city of Izyum are “extremely disturbing”, he added. 

A Fact-Finding Mission into the deadly blast at a detention facility in Olenivka in July has been established, and members are ready to deploy “as soon as all necessary assurances are received”. 

Responding to needs

Meanwhile, the UN continues to work to alleviate the suffering, including through the Secretary-General’s direct engagement with the Russian and Ukrainian Presidents.  

The Organization and aid partners have so far delivered humanitarian aid to nearly 13 million people.  

With support from Türkiye, the UN also brokered a landmark deal in July to resume food and fertilizer exports from three Ukrainian ports on the Black Sea.  

Since then, more than 4.3 million metric tonnes of food have been transported to nearly 30 countries.  This includes supplies for World Food Programme (WFP) operations in Afghanistan, the Horn of Africa and Yemen. 

“It is vital that these food shipments continue and increase, so commodity markets further stabilize,” he said. 

ICC investigation

The Council also heard from Karim Khan, Prosecutor at the International Criminal Court (ICC), which investigates genocide, war crimes and crimes against humanity. 

The ICC opened an investigation into the situation in Ukraine just weeks after the war began.  Staff are continuing their forensic work and have maintained a presence in the country since May. 

“Through this work, a picture will emerge. And the picture that I’ve seen so far is troubling indeed,” said Mr. Khan. 

“I have been to Ukraine three times, and one has seen a variety of destruction, of suffering and harm that fortifies my determination, and my previous finding, that there are reasonable grounds to believe the crimes within the jurisdiction of the Court have been committed.” 

Protecting international order 

Russia’s war in Ukraine has prompted “remarkable unity” among countries, according to Antony Blinken, Secretary of State in the Biden Administration. 

He said defending Ukraine’s sovereignty and territorial integrity is about much more than standing up for a country’s right to choose its own path 

“Fundamental as that right is, it’s also about protecting an international order, where no nation can redraw the borders of another by force,” said Mr. Blinken. 

“If we fail to defend this principle, when the Kremlin is so flagrantly violating it, we send a message to aggressors everywhere that they can ignore it, too. We put every country at risk. We open the door to a less secure, a less peaceful world.” 

Russian objection 

Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov criticized the basis of the meeting itself, saying that crimes committed during the eight-year war in eastern Ukraine have gone unpunished. 

“Over the past few years, the Kyiv regime has conducted a frontal assault on the Russian language in brazenly trampling on the rights of Russian and Russian-speaking people in Ukraine,” he said, speaking through an interpreter. 

Mr. Lavrov reported that the Ministry of Education has excluded Russian language and literature from the school curriculum. 

“Books are being destroyed just as in Nazi Germany, and ethnic Russians are being subjected to intolerance.  And today, the officials from Ukraine have no longer even tried to hide their anti-Russian feelings, calling on the killing of Russians,” he said. 

Furthermore, his country has “no confidence” in the work of the International Criminal Court (ICC), “and we don’t expect anything more from this institution or a whole range of other international institutions.” 

‘No peace without justice’ 

Ukraine’s Foreign Minister, Dmytro Kuleba, was adamant that Russia will not win the war. 

“Today, every Ukrainian is a weapon ready to defend Ukraine and the principles enshrined in the UN Charter. Russia will fail and will bear full responsibility for the crime of aggression and consequent war crimes, crimes against humanity, and genocide,” he said. 

Mr. Kuleba also was confident that justice will be served as national authorities, their partners and countries that support Ukraine, are working with the ICC to collect evidence of crimes committed during the war. 

“We owe it not only to thousands of victims, but to future generations in Ukraine and beyond. There will be no peace without justice,” he said. 

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