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World News in Brief: Haiti’s humanitarian crisis, disease outbreaks in Sudan, UK sentencing reform

Ulrika Richardson, the Deputy Special Representative of the Secretary-General in Haiti, who is also the UN Resident and Humanitarian Coordinator, told journalists in Geneva that 5.2 million Haitians need humanitarian assistance and over 4.3 million face acute food insecurity – that’s a staggering two out of five people in a country which used to be self-sufficient in terms of food production.

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Frustratingly, the UN’s humanitarian response plan for the country is only 33 per cent funded as the year draws to a close, she said.

Gangs are in control of 80 per cent of the capital Port-au-Prince and the violence has been spreading to the neighbouring Artibonite department – Haiti’s breadbasket.

Overall, there are some 300 armed gangs in the country, Ms. Richardson said, and 2023 has already seen 8,000 killings, lynchings, kidnappings and cases of brutal rape.

Country awaits support mission

The UN official stressed that most Haitians openly welcomed the expression of solidarity with their country in the form of Security Council resolution 2699 adopted last October to deploy a multinational security support mission to shore up Haiti’s National Police.

The are eagerly awaiting its arrival. 

The timing depended on a pending high court approval for the mission in Kenya, which had taken the lead and pledged 1,000 police officers to the new mission. 

Through a statement from his spokesperson, UN chief António Guterres said on Thursday that he looked forward to continued preparations for the deployment of the “urgently needed” mission and expressed concern over the “limited progress” in the inter-Haitian dialogue to restore the country’s democratic institutions.

Sudan: Conflict-shattered health system overwhelmed by disease outbreaks

Almost eight months of conflict in Sudan have created a dire humanitarian crisis, forced some 6.8 million people out of their homes and brought the health system to its knees. 

UN health agency WHO representative in the country, Dr. Mohammad Taufiq Mashal, warned on Friday of the rapid spread of disease outbreaks amid mass displacement and a lack of healthcare access.

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Within a month, cholera has spread from three to nine of Sudan’s states, he said, with over 5,400 suspected and confirmed cases and 170 deaths. Over 4,500 suspected measles cases and 104 deaths have been reported, along with over 6,000 cases of dengue and 56 related deaths.

Limited humanitarian access

Dr. Mashal stressed that insecurity and bureaucratic hurdles continue to limit humanitarian access across the country. The situation in Darfur is “especially concerning”, he said, as violence and a lack of essentials continue to force people to seek safety in neighbouring Chad. 

Speaking to journalists from Port Sudan, Dr. Mashal highlighted WHO’s efforts to distribute relief supplies despite access challenges, using cross-border routes to cover hard-to-reach areas. 

WHO is preparing to dispatch medical and diagnostic supplies to Darfur and Kordofan as part of a larger UN convoy, he said. 

The UN health agency is supporting 21 mobile clinics in 8 states to reach internally displaced people with primary health care and operating 10 cholera treatment centres. 

Dr. Mashal also said that together with the UN Children’s Fund (UNICEF) and partners, WHO supported an oral cholera vaccination campaign in Gedaref and Al Jazirah states, reaching over 2.2 million people.

Currently 11 million of Sudan’s 25 million people require urgent health assistance according to WHO, and almost three quarters of health facilities in conflict areas are closed.

Bolder action needed on reform of UK sentencing system 

The UN Special Rapporteur on Torture, Alice Jill Edwards, on Friday welcomed changes made by parliamentarians in the UK’s House of Commons to the so-called Imprisonment for Public Protection (IPP) law.

This law, in effect, made it often a years-long wait for sentences to be reviewed and terminated. Now, the maximum wait time for review has been reduced from ten years to three. 

“The changes adopted by the House of Commons on 4 December are very welcome as they provide a clearer process towards resolving the situation of approximately 1,800 individuals currently serving their sentences,” said Ms. Edwards.

Problem persists

However, she admitted that the problem has not been resolved for many others still in the prison system.

Their future is uncertain as they could remain in jail for an indefinite period of time, even for relatively minor crimes. The Special Rapporteur thinks their sentences should be reviewed quickly to fix this issue. The changes have been passed in the Commons, but must now go to the second chamber of parliament, the House of Lords.

The IPP system put in place mandatory indefinite sentences for at least 50 serious crimes in England and Wales from 2005 to 2012. 

Many more were convicted under the legislation than expected – 8,711 in total. By September this year, almost 1,250 were still in prison with IPP sentences, and over 700 of them have been confined for more than 10 years past original sentencing. 

Special Rapporteurs are appointed by the UN Human Rights Council to monitor specific country situations or thematic issues. 

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

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