Category Archives: U.N

UN calls for end of ‘impunity’ for police violence against black people

A mural commemorating Kevin Clarke, who died after he was restrained by Metropolitan police officers in March 2018, in Lewisham, south London
A mural commemorating Kevin Clarke, who died after he was restrained by Metropolitan police officers in March 2018, in Lewisham, south London. Photograph: Aaron Chown/PA

A UN report that analysed racial justice in the aftermath of the murder of George Floyd has called on member states including the UK to end the “impunity” enjoyed by police officers who violate the human rights of black people.

The UN human rights office analysis of 190 deaths across the world led to the report’s damning conclusion that law enforcement officers are rarely held accountable for killing black people due in part to deficient investigations and an unwillingness to acknowledge the impact of structural racism.

The 23-page global report, and its accompanying 95-page conference room paper, features seven examples of deaths involving police, including the case of Kevin Clarke, who died after being restrained by officers in London in 2018.

A jury at Clarke’s inquest, who had been diagnosed with paranoid schizophrenia in 2002, found the police’s inappropriate use of restraints contributed to his death.

Other case studies include Luana Barbosa dos Reis Santos and João Pedro Matos Pinto in Brazil; George Floyd and Breonna Taylor in the US; Janner García Palomino in Colombia; and Adama Traoré in France.

The UN human rights office was tasked in June 2020 to produce a comprehensive report on systemic racism against black people. The report investigated violations of international human rights law by law enforcement, government responses to anti-racism peaceful protests, as well as accountability and redress for victims. The report was led by Michelle Bachelet, the UN high commissioner for human rights and a former president of Chile.

Bachelet described the status quo as “untenable”. She said: “Systemic racism needs a systemic response. There needs to be a comprehensive rather than a piecemeal approach to dismantling systems entrenched in centuries of discrimination and violence.

“I am calling on all states to stop denying, and start dismantling, racism; to end impunity and build trust; to listen to the voices of people of African descent; and to confront past legacies and deliver redress.”

The analysis was based on online consultations with more than 340 individuals, mostly of African descent; more than 110 written contributions; a review of publicly available material; and additional consultations with relevant experts.

In examining deaths in police custody in different countries, the report notes the patchwork of available data paints “an alarming picture of system-wide, disproportionate and discriminatory impacts on people of African descent in their encounters with law enforcement and the criminal justice system in some states”.

“Several families described to me the agony they faced in pursuing truth, justice and redress – and the distressing presumption that their loved ones somehow ‘deserved it’,” Bachelet said. “It is disheartening that the system is not stepping up to support them. This must change.”

Wendy Clarke, Kevin Clarke’s mother, told the UN commission: “We want to see accountability, and real change, not just in training, but the perception and response to black people by the police and other services. We want mental health services better funded so the first point of response is not just reliant on the police.”

Marcia Rigg, whose brother Sean Rigg died in a Brixton police station in 2008, was another family member who spoke to the UN commission. She said: “It was an honour to meet the other families, like Breonna Taylor’s mother and the brother of George Floyd. But it was also striking that the patterns and our experiences were similar.”

Deborah Coles, the director of the campaign group Inquest, said: “While the UK government is explicit in its denial of systemic racism, this UN report confronts them with the evidence. The disproportionate number of black men who die after the use of lethal force and neglect by the state is at the sharp end of a continuum of violence and racism. There is a pattern of systemic racism in our policing and criminal justice system.”

Rigg hoped the report will reignite longstanding calls for systemic change in the UK and that the British government responds. “It’s been happening here for decades. There are many George Floyds here, before George Floyd and after George Floyd, including my personal experience and what happened to my brother.”

https://www.theguardian.com/law/2021/jun/28/un-calls-end-impunity-police-violence-against-black-people-george-floyd

Violations against children in conflict ‘alarmingly high’: UN

According to the report, the highest numbers of grave violations were verified in Afghanistan, the DRC, Somalia, Syria, and Yemen [File: Omar Sobhani/Reuters]
According to the report, the highest numbers of grave violations were verified in Afghanistan, the DRC, Somalia, Syria, and Yemen [File: Omar Sobhani/Reuters]

Grave violations against children in conflict remain “alarmingly high”, with the coronavirus pandemic increasing their vulnerability to abduction, recruitment and sexual violence, a new United Nations report has found.

In its annual Children and Armed Conflict (CAAC) report (PDF), released on Monday, the UN said at least 19,379 children affected by war in 2020 were victims of grave violations such as recruitment or rape.

The UN verified a total of 26,425 grave violations, of which 23,946 were committed in 2020 and 2,479 were committed earlier but verified only in 2020.

“Escalation of conflict, armed clashes and disregard for international humanitarian law and international human rights law had a severe impact on the protection of children,” the report found.

According to the report, the highest numbers of grave violations were recorded in Afghanistan, the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC), Somalia, Syria, and Yemen.

While more than 8,400 children were killed or harmed in ongoing wars, nearly 7,000 others were recruited to fight, mainly in the DRC, Somalia, Syria, and Myanmar.

Verified cases of abduction and sexual violence against children increased by 90 and 70 percent, respectively, it said – with abductions often coupled with the “recruitment and use of children and sexual violence” including rape.

The UN said the coronavirus pandemic “aggravated existing vulnerabilities of children, including by hampering their access to education, health and social services, limiting child protection activities and shrinking safe spaces”.

Attacks on schools and hospitals were also prevalent in 2020, including serious attacks committed against girls’ education and against health facilities and their staff.

There was also an increase in the military use of schools and hospitals, especially with the brief closure of schools during COVID lockdowns – making them easy targets for military occupation and use, the report said.

“The wars of adults have taken away the childhood of millions of boys and girls again in 2020,” Virginia Gamba, the Secretary-General’s Special Representative on CAAC, said.

“This is completely devastating for them, but also for the entire communities they live in, and destroys chances for a sustainable peace.”

‘List of shame’

Meanwhile, Save the Children in a statement on Monday criticised the CAAC for failing to add perpetrators of violations against children to the so-called “list of shame”, an addendum to the UN’s report which singles out parties who fail to keep children safe during conflict.

The rights group said that “in a disheartening decision”, the UN Secretary General António Guterres again failed to add the Saudi-led coalition fighting Houthi rebels in war-torn Yemen to the list.

“Despite killing and maiming at least 194 children in Yemen in 2020 according to UN verified data, the Saudi and Emirati-led coalition gets a green light to continue destroying children’s lives in Yemen,” Save the Children said.

“Unfortunately, other parties to the conflict in Afghanistan, the occupied Palestinian territory and Syria, also got a free pass for committing grave violations of children’s rights – despite the UN verifying a pattern of grave violations year after year,” it added.

Israel was not added to the list, despite the UN recording 1,031 grave violations against 340 Palestinians and three Israeli children in the occupied West Bank, East Jerusalem, the Gaza Strip and Israel.

Israeli security forces killed eight Palestinian children and one Israeli child last year, and 87 children reported ill-treatment and breaches of due process by Israeli forces while in detention – with 83 percent reporting physical violence.

While Save the Children welcomed the inclusion of countries such as Myanmar as situations of concern, it also noted Ethiopia, Mozambique, and Ukraine were not included.

Commenting on the report, Inger Ashing, CEO for Save the Children, said: “We strongly urge the Secretary General to reconsider his decision and hold parties to conflict all over the world to the same standard. The decision to include an armed actor in the ‘list of shame’ should be based only on a pattern of grave violations against children verified by the UN, not on politics.

“While there have been some positive steps this year, not applying the same criteria fairly and consistently can have dramatic consequences for children,” she said.

https://www.aljazeera.com/news/2021/6/21/violations-against-children-in-conflict-alarmingly-high-un

We are running out of time to reach deal to save natural world, says UN talks chair

A hermit crab near a discarded face mask.
A hermit crab near a discarded face mask. The Kunming biodiversity summit was meant to take place in October last year but has been delayed twice due to the coronavirus pandemic. Photograph: Daniel Garcia Mendoza/Alamy

The world is running out of time to reach an ambitious deal to stem the destruction of the natural world, the co-chair of negotiations for a crucial UN wildlife summit has warned, amid fears of a third delay to the talks.

Negotiators are scheduled to meet in Kunming, China, in October for Cop15, the biggest biodiversity summit in a decade, to reach a hoped-for Paris-style agreement on preventing wildlife extinctions and the human-driven destruction of the planet’s ecosystems.

The summit was meant to take place in October last year but has been delayed twice due to the coronavirus pandemic.

Basile van Havre, a co-chair for the UN convention on biological diversity (CBD) negotiations, has raised the prospect of a third delay to the Kunming summit, which he fears would threaten the ambition of the biodiversity targets for this decade.

Van Havre said countries must meet in person for preparatory talks for at least two weeks if the biodiversity summit is to go ahead in China. He warned the talks were unlikely without a major push on vaccinations for delegates in developing countries and, given China’s restrictive travel policy, also called for another country to step up and host preparatory talks to help the process stick to the current schedule.

“In my view, the time has come to roll up our sleeves and put a practical plan on the table or face another delay. We need a proper plan,” Van Havre said. “If we need to delay by a few months, fine – everyone can understand that. But let’s give ourselves a full plan that enables us to meet the deadline and not wait for things to magically happen.

“If we’re not going to get together in the short term, we cannot have an ambitious agreement.”

Negotiators are approaching the end of gruelling virtual scientific and financial discussions for the agreement, which have been held six days a week for three hours. Timezone clashes have meant that some negotiators have been participating in talks in the early hours.

“I really feel for people that come from small island states in the Pacific where the negotiation is taking place at night. The lady representing Palau said she was negotiating at night and doing her job during the day, which is not what we had in mind,” Van Havre said, emphasising the importance of meeting in person.Advertisementhttps://f572d467114db3849a860f06074a6bc0.safeframe.googlesyndication.com/safeframe/1-0-38/html/container.html

A decision is expected on the next steps for the Kunming summit in mid-June.

Li Shuo, a policy adviser for Greenpeace China who has been following biodiversity negotiations closely, said it was clear decisions had to be made face to face, not online.

“The virtual talks are not flawless; they have helped advance the discussion. The problem is there is just so much work. They are only doing three hours a day – it is simply not enough time,” Li said.

“It is not likely that China will allow thousands of diplomats to come with the pandemic. What if someone tested positive on the second day of the Cop? A normal Cop15 in October that completes all its major tasks are difficult.”

Resource extraction, agricultural production and pollution are driving what some scientists believe is the sixth mass extinction of life on Earth, with 1 million species at risk of disappearing largely as the result of human activity. The world has never met a single UN target to prevent the destruction of nature.

https://www.theguardian.com/environment/2021/jun/07/age-of-extinction-running-out-of-time-to-reach-deal-to-save-natural-world-says-un-talks-chair

Ethiopia’s Tigray crisis: Tragedy of the man-made famine

A displaced child from Western Tigray waits at meal time to receive a plate of food outside a classroom in the school where they are sheltering in Tigray's capital Mekele on February 24, 2021.

“There’s famine now in Tigray.” The world’s most senior humanitarian official, UN emergency relief coordinator Mark Lowcock, said these frank words on the situation in the northern Ethiopian region on Thursday.

His statement – at a roundtable discussion ahead of the G7 summit – drew on the authoritative assessment of the crisis by the UN-backed Integrated Food Security Phase Classification (IPC).

In a report, it estimated that 353,000 people in Tigray were in phase 5 (catastrophe) and a further 1.769 million are in phase 4 (emergency).

That’s a technical way of saying “famine”. The IPC didn’t use that word because it’s so politically sensitive – the Ethiopian government would object.

Behind these numbers lies a brutal human tragedy. Huge numbers of deaths by starvation are unavoidable. Indeed, it is already happening.

Tigrayans tell of remote villages where people are found dead in the morning, having perished overnight. Women who were kidnapped by soldiers and held as sexual slaves, cared for in hospitals or safe houses, are tormented by the children from whom they were separated, who may well be starving without their mothers’ care.

Starvation is a cruel way to die, as the undernourished body consumes its own organs in order to generate enough energy to keep a flicker of life.

Those who succumb first are young children – typically two-thirds of those who die in a famine. Based on the just-released numbers from Tigray, it is quite realistic to fear 300,000 child deaths – equivalent to half the pre-school children in London.

The numbers err on the side of understatement. The survey teams could not reach all areas and relied on extrapolating from limited data.

According to the Tigray Humanitarian Atlas published by researchers at Belgium’s University of Ghent, out of Tigray’s six million people:

  • Just one-third live in areas controlled by the Ethiopian government
  • Another third are in areas occupied by the Eritrean army, which is Ethiopia’s military ally, but which doesn’t cooperate with humanitarian agencies
  • A further 1.5 million live in rural areas controlled by the Tigrayan rebels, where aid workers cannot go and mobile-phone coverage has been shut off.

The government says that there are only “remnants” of resistance by Tigrayan rebels and promises it will soon be in full control.

The UN forecasts that the situation will deteriorate – the question is just how far and how fast.

The IPC report includes the line that “this report has not been endorsed by the Government of Ethiopia”.

That’s a warning.

The Ethiopian authorities will probably dispute the “famine” warning, on the technicality that the “catastrophe” conditions were spread out across different parts of Tigray and in no single location did the proportion of people in phase five reach 20%, the standard threshold for declaring famine.

Ploughing in the darkness

At the roundtable, USAid administrator Samantha Power waved away what she called “attempts at obfuscation by the Ethiopian government”.

Humanitarian workers are worried that, with the summer rains now falling across Tigray, farmers need to be busy cultivating – and they’re not.

A team from the University of Ghent, until last year working on agricultural projects in the region, describes how large areas of farmland are abandoned this year because peasants don’t have seeds, oxen to plough, or fertilizers.

Worse, soldiers threaten them: “You won’t plough, you won’t harvest, and if you try we will punish you.”

In remoter villages, farmers rouse their oxen at midnight and plough in the darkness before dawn, with scouts to warn them of marauding soldiers.

If there’s no harvest later this year, Tigrayans will depend on aid – or starve.

This is a man-made famine. There’s no drought, and last year’s locust swarms have gone.

The region was classified as borderline “food secure” seven months ago, before fighting erupted between the Tigray People’s Liberation Front (TPLF) – then the party in power in the region – and the federal government, led by Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed.

Food aid stolen

The war disrupted services, closed banks and stopped the government’s biggest emergency response system – the “productive safety net programme”.

The most fertile parts of Tigray were occupied by forces from neighbouring Amhara region, depriving Tigrayans of their farms and also shutting down the biggest seasonal labour opportunities.

The Eritrean forces that joined the conflict have been accused of widespread pillage and, along with the Ethiopian army, of burning crops, destroying health facilities, and preventing farmers from ploughing their land.

The UN conservatively estimates that 22,000 survivors of rape will need support. Fear of sexual violence means that women and girls stay in hiding, unable to seek food.

Humanitarian agencies have been slow to respond, impeded both by the insecurity and by numerous bureaucratic obstacles placed in their way by the Ethiopian authorities. To operate in a context such as this, aid workers need communications equipment.

The UN officially claims that aid distributions have reached 2.8 million people. Privately, the humanitarian workers say that is far too rosy.

Many of those have received one distribution of rations, perhaps 30kg of flour – enough to feed a family for 10 days. Luckier ones have got two allocations.

And there are persistent reports that aid offloaded from trucks is then stolen by troops. Some villagers report that Eritrean troops show up immediately after aid distributions and take the food.

Independent estimates are that just 13% of the 5.2 million people in need are getting aid.

https://www.bbc.com/news/world-africa-57422168

António Guterres on the climate crisis: ‘We are coming to a point of no return

‘To spend these trillions of dollars and not use this occasion to reverse the trends and massively invest in the green economy will be an unforgivable lost opportunity.’
‘To spend these trillions of dollars and not use this occasion to reverse the trends and massively invest in the green economy will be an unforgivable lost opportunity.’ Photograph: Maxim Shemetov/EPA

Wealthy countries risk an “unforgivable lost opportunity” by not emerging from the Covid-19 pandemic with newly green economies to address the climate crisis, the United Nations secretary general has warned.

Before meeting the leaders of the world’s major economic powers at the G7 summit in the UK, António Guterres said he was concerned that the richest nations have pumped billions of dollars more into fossil fuels than clean energy since the pandemic, despite their promises of a green recovery.

“I’m more than disappointed, I’m worried about the consequences,” Guterres told the Guardian at the UN headquarters in New York, as part of a Covering Climate Now consortium of interviews alongside NBC News and El Pais. “We need to make sure we reverse the trends, not maintain the trends. It’s now clear we are coming to a point of no return.

“To spend these trillions of dollars and not use this occasion to reverse the trends and massively invest in the green economy will be an unforgivable lost opportunity.”

A recent analysis showed the G7 countries – the UK, US, Canada, Italy, France, Germany and Japan – have committed $189bn to support oil, coal and gas, as well as offer financial lifelines to the aviation and automotive sectors, since the outbreak of the coronavirus. This is over $40bn more than has been directed towards renewable energy.

Several leaders, including the British prime minister, Boris Johnson, and the German chancellor, Angela Merkel, have stressed the need for the climate crisis to be central to the Covid recovery, with various cities around the world ushering in cyclists and pedestrians to streets previously dominated by cars.

But while the G7 countries have agreed to stop the international financing of coal, the world’s wealthiest nations are pouring billions of dollars into developing gas, another fossil fuel, in the global south at a rate four times that of finance supporting wind or solar projects. With economies starting to reopen, planet-heating emissions are expected to jump by the second biggest annual rise in history in 2021, according to the International Energy Agency.

Guterres said he welcomed the G7 commitment as “many countries are still addicted to coal” but that much more needed to be done in what he called a “make-or-break year” that will be rounded off by crucial UN climate talks in Scotland in November.

“We need to abolish subsidies to fossil fuels, this is a central question,” he said. “We have to look at the real costs that exist in the economy, which means a price on carbon. If we do these things, many of the investments made to fossil fuels in the recovery phase will obviously not be profitable. They will be stranded assets with no future.”

A key priority for the UN secretary general at the G7 summit will be to press leaders on the contentious issue of climate finance. As part of the landmark Paris climate agreement in 2015, rich countries agreed to provide $100bn a year to developing countries to help them adapt to the damaging flooding, drought, heatwaves and other impacts of the climate crisis.

This money has never been delivered in full, however, and Guterres said it will be “impossible” to effectively deal with the climate crisis without assistance for poorer countries. He said the G7 will need to deliver the money to “rebuild trust” with developing nations.

“The $100bn is essential,” said the secretary general. “Climate action has until now been centered on mitigation, on reducing emissions. But developing countries have huge problems in adaption from the existing impacts of climate change.”

Guterres said he was hopeful that Joe Biden will be able to mobilize other countries to meet commitments on climate aid as the US continues its reintegration into international climate diplomacy following the presidency of Donald Trump.

But the US has “a lot of catching up to do”, said Saleemul Huq, director of the International Centre for Climate Change and Development in Bangladesh. “Biden doesn’t get a free pass because it’s the US that caused the damage. If you fail to deliver for the rest of the world that will be our problem and it will come back to bite you.”

Scientists recently warned that the world could breach, albeit temporarily, the 1.5C average temperature increase limit set out in the Paris agreement within the next five years. Guterres, however, said it’s “not only possible, it’s necessary” to strive to avoid global heating above this threshold, beyond which disastrous climate impacts are expected.

“We still have time, but we are on the verge,” he said. “When you’re on the verge of the abyss, you need to make sure your next step is in the right direction.”

https://www.theguardian.com/environment/2021/jun/11/antonio-guterres-interview-climate-crisis-pandemic-g7

COVID won’t respect borders – UN urges divided world to unite

ARCHIVE PICTURE: Antigua and Barbuda Prime Minister Gaston Browne addresses the United Nations General Assembly in the Manhattan borough of New York, U.S., September 24, 2016. REUTERS/Eduardo Munoz

NEW YORK, – The United Nations on Thursday urged a divided world to unite against a virus that ignores all borders, saying the pandemic could delay by a decade its goal to end global inequalities.

A new U.N. report estimated that the novel coronavirus has unleashed the worst recession in 90 years, threatening to derail its ambitious list of 17 Sustainable Development Goals.

The goals, approved in 2015 with a 15-year deadline, aim to end hunger, gender inequality and violence against women, while expanding access to education and health care in poorer nations.

“What this pandemic has proven beyond all doubt is that we ignore global interdependence at our peril. Disasters do not respect national boundaries,” U.N. Deputy Secretary-General Amina Mohammed said in a statement.

“A diverging world is a catastrophe for all of us. It is both morally right and in everyone’s economic self-interest to help developing countries overcome this crisis.”

An estimated 114 million jobs have been lost worldwide, and about 120 million people have sunk back into extreme poverty as the virus circles the globe, the report found.

The U.N. said the economic devastation has widened “already yawning” inequities, with the chasm between the world’s haves and have-nots mirrored in the vaccine rollout.

Of $16 trillion distributed in relief, only 20% was spent in developing countries, the report found, and all but nine of the 38 countries administering vaccines were developed nations.

It called on nations to contribute an estimated $20 billion to vaccinate poorer nations this year, and urged richer members to offer developing nations debt relief, investment – and hope.

“Countries must be helped to not only stay afloat financially, but to invest in their own development,” U.N. Under Secretary-General Liu Zhenmin said in a statement.

It is not the first time the U.N. has said development goals are at risk in a pandemic that has prioritized short-term survival over long-term aspirations.

But the warning has taken on new urgency as cross-border rows erupt over the fairest way to vaccinate the whole world, with some countries accused of abandoning common cause to safeguard their home front.

https://news.trust.org/item/20210325174645-xw5k2/

‘A pandemic of abuses’: human rights under attack during Covid, says UN head

Composite: Wires agencies

The world is facing a “pandemic of human rights abuses”, the UN secretary general António Guterres has said.

Authoritarian regimes had imposed drastic curbs on rights and freedoms and had used the virus as a pretext to restrict free speech and stifle dissent.

Writing exclusively in the Guardian, Guterres said the Covid-19 pandemic had rolled back years of progress on human rights, and that abuses had “thrived because poverty, discrimination, the destruction of our natural environment and other human rights failures have created enormous fragilities in our societies”.

There has been a global crackdown on opposition activists and human rights defenders, increased attacks on journalists and moves to curb free speech, censor the media, roll out invasive tracking apps and put in place extreme surveillance measures, many of which are likely to far outlast the virus.

China has been accused of particularly egregious breaches, including online censorship, invasive surveillance and the arrest of coronavirus whistleblowers.

“The Chinese regime has threatened, arrested, jailed and silenced whistleblowers and citizen journalists who tried to warn of or report on the pandemic. There are grave concerns that the surveillance technology it has rolled out as part of the effort to combat the coronavirus could be used to further stifle dissent and violate human rights,” said Benedict Rogers, chief executive of Hong Kong Watch.

Around the world, governments are failing to guarantee basic rights to health, education and equality, hitting the poorest, most marginalised and minorities the hardest.

Guterres said that the failure to ensure equity in vaccination efforts was “the latest moral outrage” to come out of the pandemic.

More than three-quarters of 128m vaccine jabs given so far have been administered in only 10 countries, according to the World Health Organization. Not a single dose has been administered in 130 countries, with combined populations of 2.5 billion.

While deaths tolls appear to be significantly higher in western states, the economic impact of Covid has been felt most acutely in the developing world. After years of progress on eradicating poverty, last year the pandemic pushed up to 124 million more people below the poverty line, defined as living on less than $1.90 (£1.36) a day, according to the World Bank. Advertisement

The impact on education has also been “catastrophic”, with school closures affecting around 1.6 billion children, says the UN. Girls in particular are likely to drop out, leaving them vulnerable to child marriage, early pregnancy and domestic violence.

Progress on gender equality has been set back decades. “Violence against women and girls in all forms has skyrocketed, from online abuse to domestic violence, trafficking, sexual exploitation and child marriage,” said Guterres.

The pandemic has shone a harsh spotlight, too, on the dire working conditions of millions of low-wage workers. Massive orders for PPE have been produced by North Korean women toiling in secret factories in China, in conditions that amount to slave labour. Garment makers in Bangladesh have been left struggling to survive as orders from western clothing giants suddenly dried up. And in the Gulf, one of the world’s wealthiest regions, migrant workers have been victims of racial discrimination, arbitrary detention in appalling conditions and wage theft on a huge scale.

On top of the slew of pushbacks and attacks on human rights resulting from the pandemic, crises such as the conflict in Yemen, spiralling violence in Afghanistan, the military takeover in Myanmar and an escalating humanitarian crisis in Venezuela threaten the lives of millions across the world.

“From Syria to Myanmar, South Sudan or Yemen, or the situation facing the Uighur population in China, the pandemic has added another layer to existing and unfolding human rights crises around the world,” said Kate Allen, director of Amnesty International UK.

“There has been a failure of national governments and the United Nations in taking decisive action to address these big global issues and the UN security council veto must not continue to be used to block action on genocide or human rights abuses.”

In a speech to open the 46th regular session of the Human Rights Council in Geneva today, Guterres also said that racist, extremist movements are engaging in a “feeding frenzy of hate” and represent “the number one internal security threat” for some countries. He said global coordinated action was needed to defeat the grave and growing danger of racism.

“The danger of these hate-driven movements is growing by the day. Let us call them what they are: white supremacy and neo-Nazi movements are more than domestic terror threats. They are becoming a transnational threat,” he said. “These and other groups have exploited the pandemic to boost their ranks through social polarisation and political and cultural manipulation.”

The UN secretary general also said that gender inequality was the world’s biggest human rights scourge.

“The crisis has a woman’s face,” he said. “Violence against women and girls in all forms has skyrocketed, from online abuse to domestic violence, trafficking, sexual exploitation and child marriage.”

But amid the despair, there are some reasons for hope. “A real battle” had emerged in defence of human rights, according to Kenneth Roth, the executive director of Human Rights Watch. “The pandemic has posed enormous and dangerous challenges and has left millions of people less secure and more vulnerable than they were a year ago, but it has also spotlighted many of the inequalities that we can now focus on.”

Guterres called for a response based on solidarity and cooperation. “With the pandemic shining a spotlight on human rights, recovery provides an opportunity to generate momentum for transformation,” he said. “The virus threatens everyone. Human rights uplift everyone.”

https://www.theguardian.com/global-development/2021/feb/22/human-rights-in-the-time-of-covid-a-pandemic-of-abuses-says-un-head

COVID won’t respect borders – UN urges divided world to unite

ARCHIVE PICTURE: Antigua and Barbuda Prime Minister Gaston Browne addresses the United Nations General Assembly in the Manhattan borough of New York, U.S., September 24, 2016. REUTERS/Eduardo Munoz

NEW YORK, – The United Nations on Thursday urged a divided world to unite against a virus that ignores all borders, saying the pandemic could delay by a decade its goal to end global inequalities.

A new U.N. report estimated that the novel coronavirus has unleashed the worst recession in 90 years, threatening to derail its ambitious list of 17 Sustainable Development Goals.

The goals, approved in 2015 with a 15-year deadline, aim to end hunger, gender inequality and violence against women, while expanding access to education and health care in poorer nations.

“What this pandemic has proven beyond all doubt is that we ignore global interdependence at our peril. Disasters do not respect national boundaries,” U.N. Deputy Secretary-General Amina Mohammed said in a statement.

“A diverging world is a catastrophe for all of us. It is both morally right and in everyone’s economic self-interest to help developing countries overcome this crisis.”

An estimated 114 million jobs have been lost worldwide, and about 120 million people have sunk back into extreme poverty as the virus circles the globe, the report found.

The U.N. said the economic devastation has widened “already yawning” inequities, with the chasm between the world’s haves and have-nots mirrored in the vaccine rollout.

Of $16 trillion distributed in relief, only 20% was spent in developing countries, the report found, and all but nine of the 38 countries administering vaccines were developed nations.

It called on nations to contribute an estimated $20 billion to vaccinate poorer nations this year, and urged richer members to offer developing nations debt relief, investment – and hope.

“Countries must be helped to not only stay afloat financially, but to invest in their own development,” U.N. Under Secretary-General Liu Zhenmin said in a statement.

It is not the first time the U.N. has said development goals are at risk in a pandemic that has prioritized short-term survival over long-term aspirations.

But the warning has taken on new urgency as cross-border rows erupt over the fairest way to vaccinate the whole world, with some countries accused of abandoning common cause to safeguard their home front.

https://news.trust.org/item/20210325174645-xw5k2/

Pandemic woes seen swelling global ranks of child soldiers

ARCHIVE PHOTO: South Sudanese children released by armed groups attend a ceremony in the western town of Yambio, South Sudan February 7, 2018. REUTERS/Denis Dumo

More children could be pushed into joining armed groups in conflict zones as families face increasing poverty due to the COVID-19 pandemic, a top U.N. official warned on Friday.

The exact number of child soldiers is unknown, but in 2019 alone about 7,740 children – some as young as six – were recruited and used as fighters or in other roles by mostly non-state armed groups, according to United Nations data.

FIRST PERSON: In South Sudan, a former child soldier fights to rebuild her life

Speaking on International Day against the Use of Child Soldiers – or Red Hand Day – the U.N. Special Representative for Children and Armed Conflict Virginia Gamba said that number was likely to rise as a result of coronavirus-related hardship.

“There is a real threat that as communities lack work, and are more and more isolated because of the socio-economic impact of COVID-19, we’re going to see an increase in the recruitment of children for a lack of options,” she said.

“More and more children will be either attracted or sometimes told by their parents to just go and join because someone’s got to feed them,” she told the Thomson Reuters Foundation in a video call.

Girls and boys are still forced to join armed groups, as fighters or in roles such as cooks or for sexual exploitation, in at least 14 countries including the Democratic Republic of Congo, South Sudan and Somalia, the United Nations has said.

The United Nations called for a global ceasefire last year to help fight COVID-19, but armed groups have continued fighting and Gamba said the pandemic had also hampered efforts to protect children in conflict zones.

She said she was concerned about a surge in attacks by Islamist militants against children in the Sahel and Lake Chad region, including kidnappings, killings and forced displacement, noting that COVID-19 was changing armed groups’ tactics.

“As children are not in schools, therefore the target of attacking a school for abduction or recruitment of children … is shifting to where the children are,” she said.

The pandemic has also delayed progress on implementing legislation in different countries to prohibit and criminalize the recruitment and use of children by armed forces and groups, Gamba said, calling for lawmakers to prioritise the issue.

“The issue of accountability is fundamental,” she said.

But despite some worrying trends, progress on combating the use of child soldiers is being made, Gamba said.

In South Sudan, the number of violations against children including their recruitment as fighters has significantly declined over the past five years, according to her office’s annual report.

And last week, the International Criminal Court (ICC) convicted Dominic Ongwen, a commander of Ugandan Lord’s Resistance Army rebels and former child soldier, of dozens of crimes including child abductions and murder.

Ongwen’s conviction at the Hague-based court was applauded by the United Nations, but Gamba said a concerted effort at the national level was the best way to stop children becoming soldiers.

“In all our joint action plans with the government, and with the armed groups, we make it very, very clear we expect to see an oversight of the way their own officers, their own personnel are engaging in recruitment,” she said.

This material has been funded by UK aid from the UK government; however the views expressed do not necessarily reflect the UK government’s official policies.

https://news.trust.org/item/20210212035937-fkzaw/

Human destruction of nature is ‘senseless and suicidal’, warns UN chief

A sign protesting the IMF and World Bank investments in fossil fuels.
A sign protesting against investments in fossil fuels. The UN report says trillions of dollars of ‘perverse’ subsidies must be diverted to green energy. Photograph: Saul Loeb/AFP via Getty

Humanity is waging a “senseless and suicidal” war on nature that is causing human suffering and enormous economic losses while accelerating the destruction of life on Earth, the UN secretary-general, António Guterres, has said.

Guterres’s starkest warning to date came at the launch of a UN report setting out the triple emergency the world is in: the climate crisis, the devastation of wildlife and nature, and the pollution that causes many millions of early deaths every year.

Making peace with nature was the defining task of the coming decades, he said, and the key to a prosperous and sustainable future for all people. The report combines recent major UN assessments with the latest research and the solutions available, representing an authoritative scientific blueprint of how to repair the planet.

The report says societies and economies must be transformed by policies such as replacing GDP as an economic measure with one that reflects the true value of nature, as recommended this month by a study commissioned by the UK Treasury.

Carbon emissions need to be taxed, and trillions of dollars of “perverse” subsidies for fossil fuels and destructive farming must be diverted to green energy and food production, the report says. As well as systemic changes, people in rich nations can act too, it says, by cutting meat consumption and wasting less energy and water.

“Humanity is waging war on nature. This is senseless and suicidal,” said Guterres. “The consequences of our recklessness are already apparent in human suffering, towering economic losses, and the accelerating erosion of life on Earth.”

The triple emergency threatened our viability as a species, he said. But ending the war would not mean poorer living standards or an end to poverty reduction. “On the contrary, making peace with nature, securing its health and building on the critical and undervalued benefits that it provides are key to a prosperous and sustainable future for all.”

“This report provides the bedrock for hope,” he said. “It makes clear our war on nature has left the planet broken. But it also guides us to a safer place by providing a peace plan and a postwar rebuilding programme.”

Inger Andersen, the head of the UN Environment Programme (Unep), said: “We need to look no further than the global pandemic caused by Covid-19, a disease transmitted from animals to humans, to know that the finely tuned system of the natural world has been disrupted.” Unep and the World Health Organization have said the root cause of pandemics is the destruction of the natural world, with worse outbreaks to come unless action is taken.

The report says the fivefold growth of the global economy in the last 50 years was largely fuelled by a huge increase in the extraction of fossil fuels and other resources, and has come at massive cost to the environment. The world population has doubled since 1970 and while average prosperity has also doubled, 1.3 billion people remain in poverty and 700 million are hungry.

It says current measures to tackle the environmental crises are far short of what is needed: the world remains on track for catastrophic warming of 3C above pre-industrial levels, a million species face extinction and 90% of people live with dirty air.

“We use three-quarters of the land and two-thirds of the oceans – we are completely dominating the Earth,” said Ivar Baste of the Norwegian Environment Agency, a lead author of the report.

Prof Sir Robert Watson, who has led UN scientific assessments on climate and biodiversity and is the other lead author of the report, said: “We have got a triple emergency and these three issues are all interrelated and have to be dealt with together. They’re no longer just environmental issues – they are economic issues, development issues, security issues, social, moral and ethical issues.

“Of all the things we have to do, we have to really rethink our economic and financial systems. Fundamentally, GDP doesn’t take nature into account. We need to get rid of these perverse subsidies, they are $5-7tn a year. If you could move some of these towards low-carbon technology and investing in nature, then the money is there.”

This meant taking on companies and countries with vested interests in fossil fuels, he said: “There are a lot of people that really like these perverse subsidies. They love the status quo. So governments have to have the guts to act”.

Financial institutions could play a huge role, Watson said, by ending funding for fossil fuels, the razing of forests and large-scale monoculture agriculture. Companies should act too, he said: “Proactive companies see that if they can be sustainable, they can be first movers and make a profit. But in some cases, regulation will almost certainly be needed for those companies that don’t care.”

Pollution was included in the report because despite improvements in some wealthy nations, toxic air, water, soils and workplaces cause at least 9 million deaths a year, one in six of all deaths. “This is still a huge issue,” said Baste.

The world’s nations will gather at two crucial UN summits in 2021 on the climate and biodiversity crises. “We know we failed miserably on the biodiversity targets [set in 2010],” said Watson. “I’ll be very disappointed if at these summits all they talk about is targets and goals. They’ve got to talk about actions – that’s really what’s crucial.”

https://www.theguardian.com/environment/2021/feb/18/human-destruction-of-nature-is-senseless-and-suicidal-warns-un-chief