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Posts tagged ‘United Nations’

UN refugee agency fears for displaced Venezuelans amid COVID

June 18, 2020

GENEVA (AP) — The head of the U.N. refugee agency says he is “very worried” about the impact of the new coronavirus in Latin America, where millions of Venezuelans have fled upheaval at home and could face hardship abroad among lockdowns and other restrictive measures to fight the pandemic.

U.N. High Commissioner for Refugees Filippo Grandi said 164 countries have either partially or totally closed their borders to fight COVID-19, the disease that can be caused by the virus. Many people who flee abroad rely on the “informal economy” often involving day work — activities at risk as host governments ratchet up lockdowns.

“Of course, it is good that countries are taking these measures of prudence” against the virus, Grandi said. “Unfortunately, COVID that has been able to cause the entire world to grind to a halt has not been able to stop wars, conflicts, violence, discrimination.”

“People are still fleeing their countries to seek refuge, to seek protection. This needs to be considered,” he added, appealing to governments. The impact could be especially stark for 3.7 million Venezuelans abroad, the world’s second-largest nationality of refugees after the 6.6 million Syrians displaced by their country’s war. The Americas have become the world’s epicenter of the coronavirus pandemic.

“One region about which we’re very worried is, of course, Latin America and South America and in particular where countries host many millions of Venezuelans,” Grandi said in an interview. “They are particularly hit by COVID.”

The comments came as UNHCR issued its annual “Global Trends” report, which found that the number of asylum-seekers, internally displaced people and refugees shot up by nearly 9 million people last year — the biggest rise in its records — to 79.5 million people, accounting for 1% of all humanity, amid conflict, repression and upheaval.

UNHCR chalked up the surge to a new way of counting people displaced from Venezuela and a “worrying” new displacement in the persistent trouble spots of Congo, the Sahel region of Africa, Yemen and Syria, which alone accounted for more than 13 million of those people on the move.

While the total figure of people facing forced displacement rose from 70.8 million at the end of 2018, some 11 million people were “newly displaced” last year, with poorer countries among those most affected.

UNHCR says forced displacement has nearly doubled from 41 million people in 2010, and five countries — Syria, Venezuela, Afghanistan, South Sudan and Myanmar — are the source of nearly two-thirds of people displaced abroad.

Grandi also noted about 30% to 40% of the world’s refugee population lived in camps. He said COVID-19 hasn’t affected “in dramatic numbers” camps like those in Cox’s Bazar, Bangladesh — a country that has taken in nearly a million Rohingya Muslims fleeing from Myanmar — or in Africa.

Amid the outbreak, UNHCR has stepped up its “cash transfer” programs that put money directly in the pockets of displaced people. Grandi says 65 countries now benefit from such programs, “and we have added 40 countries in just the last few months.”

UN forced to cut aid to Yemen, even as virus increases need

June 01, 2020

CAIRO (AP) — Aid organizations are making an urgent plea for funding to shore up their operations in war-torn Yemen, saying they have already been forced to stop some of their work even as the coronavirus rips through the country.

Some 75% of U.N. programs in Yemen have had to shut their doors or reduce operations. The global body’s World Food Program had to cut rations in half and U.N.-funded health services were reduced in 189 out of 369 hospitals nationwide.

“It’s almost impossible to look a family in the face, to look them in the eyes and say, ‘I’m sorry but the food that you need in order to survive we have to cut in half,’” Lise Grande, resident U.N. coordinator for Yemen, told The Associated Press.

The dwindling funds are the result of several factors, but among the top reasons is obstruction by Yemen’s Houthi rebels, who control the capital, Sanaa, and other territories. The United States, one of the largest donors, decreased its aid to Yemen earlier this year, citing interference by the Houthis.

It’s yet to be seen whether the Houthis will allow monitoring and oversight or give U.N. agencies the space to operate. A U.N. pledging conference for Yemen on Tuesday seeks $2.41 billion to cover essential activities from June to December.

Grande said the Houthis are working to become more transparent, and that she hopes this will encourage donor countries to give aid. Her optimism, however, comes as the Houthis face heavy criticism for suppressing information about the number of COVID-19 cases and fatalities in areas they control, while putting no mitigation measures in place.

Tuesday’s conference will be co-hosted for the first time by Saudi Arabia — a major player in Yemen’s civil war since it first unleashed a bombing campaign in 2015 to try to push back the Iranian-backed Houthis who had seized the northern half of the country.

Critics question the Saudis’ high-profile role in rallying humanitarian support even as they continue to wage a war — as do the Houthis — that has created the world’s worst humanitarian crisis. Maysaa Shuja al-Deen, a Yemeni researcher and a non-resident fellow at the Sana’a Center for Strategic Studies, said the kingdom is trying to repair its international image by changing the conversation.

Saudi Arabia “has always tried to change the narrative of the war and present itself as a backer of the legitimate government, not part of the conflict,” she said. In past years, the kingdom has been one of the top donors for U.N. humanitarian aid operations in Yemen. The Saudi ambassador to Yemen, Mohammed al-Jaber, said the kingdom will allocate half a billion dollars this year to support U.N. programs, including $25 million for a COVID-19 response plan.

The U.N. itself has also investigated allegations of corruption and diversion of aid in Yemen in its own ranks. Reports indicate that the coronavirus is spreading at an alarming rate throughout the country.

Among the slashed programs is financial support to thousands of health workers who haven’t received salaries from the government for nearly three years. Grande said that just a week before the first coronavirus case was announced in Yemen, aid agencies had to stop paying health workers.

Without salaries, medical staff won’t be able to provide health services to patients amid the pandemic. The U.N. received around $3.6 billion in 2019 in international donations for its campaign, short of its $4.2 billion goal. For its 2020 plan, it has so far received only 15% out of the needed $3.5 billion.

Yemen has been caught in a grinding war since 2014 when Houthi rebels descended from their northern enclave and took over Sanaa, forcing the internationally recognized president to flee. In the spring of 2015, a U.S.-backed, Saudi-led coalition began a destructive air campaign to dislodge the Houthis while imposing a land, sea and air embargo on Yemen.

The air war and fighting on the ground has killed more than 100,000 people, shut down or destroyed half of Yemen’s health facilities, and driven 4 million Yemenis from their homes. Cholera epidemics and severe malnutrition among children have led to thousands of additional deaths.

As the war enters its sixth year, with no sign of a viable cease-fire, the suffering looks set to continue. Fighting has continued unabated along several front lines in Yemen, including in Marib, an oil-rich eastern province, threatening new waves of displacement.

The U.N.’s massive aid program, totaling $8.35 billion since 2015, is vital to keeping many Yemenis alive. Ten million people are on the brink of famine and 80% of the 30 million population are in need of aid, according to the U.N.

With the coronavirus spreading, more money is needed. Since April, authorities in areas controlled by Yemen’s internationally recognized government reported 283 cases, including 85 deaths. The Houthis declared only four cases, including one death.

The World Health Organization believes that there is a significant underestimation of the outbreak, which could further hinder efforts to get supplies into Yemen that are needed to contain the virus. Richard Brennan, the WHO’s regional emergency director, told the AP that he believes the deaths are in the hundreds and cases in the thousands, based on what he’s heard from numerous health care providers. But he said the lack of funding means the organization’s health programs are hanging by a thread.

The International Rescue Committee, an aid group, said Yemen is conducting just 31 tests per one million people, among the world’s lowest scores. With increasing needs and fewer funds, the U.N. refugee agency will have to stop cash assistance and shelter programs for more than 50,000 displaced families by August, said spokeswoman Heba Kanso. She said the agency will be forced to end its partnership with dozens of Yemeni NGOs that will have let go more than 1,500 national staff.

Relief agencies worry that donors will give less as many countries struggle their own virus outbreaks. But they warn that the world’s worst humanitarian crisis can indeed get much worse. “The world’s attention is diverted elsewhere and these are the vulnerable among the most vulnerable on the planet, and we need a commitment,” said Brennan.

Clashes and unity calls at UN on World War II anniversary

May 09, 2020

UNITED NATIONS (AP) — A U.N. Security Council meeting on the 75th anniversary of the end of World War II in Europe on Friday saw a clash between Russia and some Europeans, calls for unity to fight COVID-19, and warnings that the seeds of a new global conflict must be prevented from growing.

Nearly 70 speakers, including more than 45 foreign ministers and the European Union’s top diplomat, took part in the informal video meeting organized by Estonia, which holds the council presidency this month, on lessons learned from the war for preventing future atrocities and the Security Council’s responsibility.

EU foreign policy chief Josep Borrell said the world is facing “its biggest crisis since the end of World War II” triggered by the outbreak of the coronavirus, which “is shaking the foundations of our societies and exposing the vulnerabilities of the most fragile countries.”

“It has the potential to deepen existing conflicts and generate new geopolitical tensions,” Borrell warned. Beyond the immediate public health challenges, he said, “millions of people around the world are still displaced by persecution, conflict and atrocities.”

He urged the international community to tackle inequalities and uphold human rights equally everywhere, singling out Syrians, Yemenis, Venezuelans, Palestinians and Myanmar’s Rohingya Muslims. And he said “we must act against the re-emergence of anti-Semitism, racism, xenophobia and authoritarian politics.”

Germany’s Foreign Minister Heiko Maas said the hope for a better future after the war that killed over 60 million people led to the creation of the United Nations and the European Union, “and it found its expression in the forgiveness that my country has received from its former enemies,” which “to this day … fills us with immense gratitude and humility.”

He said Germany’s commitment to global solutions and multilateralism “is based on our historic experience — that nationalism leads to destruction.” Maas said that during the last months, “we have witnessed attempts to stir up nationalist feelings by trying to rewrite history.”

“Those who try to turn the victims into perpetrators and the attacked into attackers are violating the memory of the victims,” he said. “This is unacceptable.” Maas warned that political backing for international institutions is too often missing today, especially in the Security Council, whose mandate is to maintain international peace and security. He pointed to its failure to end wars in Syria and Libya and bring peace to the Middle East and Ukraine.

France’s Foreign Minister Jean-Yves Le Drian said the world today is witnessing “a brutalization of international life,” pointing to conflicts and “the multiplication of faits accomplis” from the South China Sea to Eastern Europe, the use of chemical weapons in Syria, Malaysia and on European soil, terrorism, new threats from cyberspace, and stiffening international competition.

Estonia’s Foreign Minister Urmas Reinsalu, who chaired the meeting, rejected Russia’s recent attempts “to manipulate historical events” and justify the August 1939 non-aggression treaty between the Soviet Union and Nazi Germany, with its secret protocol dividing Europe into spheres of influence for each of them.

Reinsalu said the pact “paved the way for the outbreak of World War II.” “We should remember that after the war, for half a century, many European nations remained under direct Soviet suppression, deprived of freedom, sovereignty, dignity, human rights and free development,” Reinsalu said.

He stressed that World War II “taught us to protect our freedom, to reject and condemn the illegal use of force and to cooperate in order to achieve and preserve peace.” Russia’s U.N. Ambassador Vassily Nebenzia countered that “the Soviet Union was the main victim in that war and at the same time it made the biggest sacrifice.”

“Attempts to challenge this, to present the Soviet Union as allegedly equally responsible for starting the war that surface today and circulate today by some modern politicians and … historians are not only immoral but disgusting and sacrilege to the truth and to our historical memory,” he said.

And claims the Soviet Red Army didn’t liberate countries from Nazism but put them “into enslavement” are also an “insult,” he said. “Rewriting history has become a popular trend,” Nebenzia said. “The aim is clear, to shift the blame to deprive Russia retroactively of its status as one of the heroes of World War II.”

He said perhaps the greatest lesson of the war “was that mankind realized the need for a vaccine against the ideology of hate.” “What fortunately the world has not seen is another world war which would have been nuclear and catastrophic, but we shouldn’t be complacent about it,” he said. “Current international relations show some trends that are reminiscent of those before World War I and World War II – deep distrust among major international players, attempts to achieve hegemony, unilateral actions, scapegoat — to name a few.”

Nebenzia expressed hope that the wisdom and will to act together against common threats and challenges will prevail today as it did during World War II, warning that a new global war “may become the final for mankind.”

Russia tries again to win UN approval for virus resolution

April 18, 2020

UNITED NATIONS (AP) — Russia is trying again to win U.N. General Assembly approval for a resolution on the coronavirus pandemic, dropping a call to end unilateral sanctions without U.N. Security Council approval but still calling for an end to protectionist practices.

The 193-member world body has until noon EDT on Wednesday to consider the revised Russian draft resolution, which is called a “Declaration of solidarity of the United Nations in the face of the challenges posed by the coronavirus disease.”

The General Assembly instituted new voting rules because it isn’t holding meetings as a result of the pandemic. Normally, assembly resolutions are adopted by majority votes or by consensus, but now if a single country objects a resolution is defeated.

The original Russian draft resolution, which was co-sponsored by Central African Republic, Cuba, Nicaragua and Venezuela, failed to win apporoval on April 2. Diplomats said the European Union, United Kingdom, United States and Ukraine objected to it.

The revised Russian draft resolution, which was sent to member states Friday by General Assembly President Tijjani Muhammad-Bande, significantly increases the number of co-sponsors to about 30, drops a call to end trade wars, and adds a number of new provisions.

One addition expresses grave concern at “the negative impact of the spread of COVID-19 on public health and the global economy,” and makes a commitment to pursue “coordinated and decisive actions aimed at defeating the pandemic, guided by the spirit of solidarity and international cooperation.”

Another welcomes the April 3 statement by the Group of 77 and China — the main group of developing countries at the United Nations which now has 134 member states — on COVID-19, calling it “a strong message of solidarity in the face of the pandemic from the developing world.”

The G-77 statement includes a call on the international community “to adopt urgent and effective measures to eliminate the use of unilateral coercive economic measures against developing countries,” saying that at this juncture they have “a negative impact” on the ability of countries to respond to the pandemic.

The General Assembly adopted a resolution on COVID-19 on April 2 sponsored by Ghana, Indonesia, Liechtenstein, Norway, Singapore and Switzerland. It recognizes “the unprecedented effects” of the coronavirus pandemic and calls for “intensified international cooperation to contain, mitigate and defeat” the COVID-19 disease.

Muhammad-Bande, the assembly president, sent a Mexican-drafted resolution to member nations on Thursday calling for global action to rapidly scale up development, manufacturing and access to medicine, vaccines and medical equipment to confront the coronavirus pandemic. Member states have until 5 p.m. EDT on Monday to object.

South African and Egypt are also reportedly preparing draft resolutions on COVID-19 to put before the assembly. Some diplomats believe the world body should draft an omnibus measure instead of considering many separate ones. Its resolutions are not legally binding but are an important gauge of world opinion.

The more powerful 15-member Security Council, whose resolutions are legally binding, has not adopted a resolution since the pandemic began circling the globe, infecting more than 2.1 million people and killing more than 140,000 worldwide, according to a tally by Johns Hopkins University.

Its five permanent members, who have been divided on how to address the pandemic, are discussing a French-drafted resolution while its 10 elected members have their own draft. Diplomats said discussions have started on merging the rival texts.

UN chief warns of violence at home, Japan nears emergency

April 06, 2020

TOKYO (AP) — With more than 1.2 million people infected with the new coronavirus, the U.N. chief appealed for “peace at home” — all homes — out of concern that domestic violence was rising as the social and financial toll of the pandemic deepened.

U.S. officials warned of sad developments to come in the worst-hit country, where medical supplies were short and morgues were crowded. Japanese officials on Monday considered declaring a state of emergency. Infections are soaring in the country that has the world’s third-largest economy and its oldest population.

The reported declaration would likely cover the sprawling megacity of Tokyo and other areas and would come a couple of weeks after the Summer Olympics were postponed until next year. U.N. Secretary-General Antonio Guterres described “a horrifying global surge in domestic violence” in recent weeks. Following his call on March 23 for an immediate cease-fire in all armed conflicts, he said it was time to appeal for an end to all violence, “everywhere, now.”

“For many women and girls, the threat looms largest where they should be safest — in their own homes,” Gutteres said in his statement. “And so I make a new appeal today for peace at home — and in homes — around the world.”

He also noted that health care providers and police were overwhelmed and other options for helping victims were stretched or not available as communities cut back services during lockdowns to fight the pandemic.

“I urge all governments to make the prevention and redress of violence against women a key part of their national response plans for COVID-19,” Guterres said. In Japan, reports say Prime Minister Shinzo Abe plans to declare an emergency in Tokyo and other cities Tuesday. His government is also expected to announce a $550 billion economic package to fund coronavirus measures and support businesses and jobs.

Japanese officials say they cannot enforce a hard lockdown as in China or parts of Europe, a government restraint that is partly a legacy of Japan’s fascist history until the end of World War II. Most of the measures in Abe’s declaration would be requests and instructions, and objectors would not be punished. But such requests would put major psychological pressure on people to comply.

Tokyo reported more than 100 cases two days in a row for a total of 1,033 on Sunday. Nationwide, Japan has more than 4,000 cases, with more than 80 deaths. In the United States, the nation’s top doctor warned that many would face “the hardest and saddest week” of their lives while Britain assumed the unwelcome mantle of deadliest coronavirus hot spot in Europe after a record 24-hour jump in deaths that surpassed even hard-hit Italy’s.

British Prime Minister Boris Johnson was hospitalized for tests after continuing to have symptoms of COVID-19. Downing St. says the hospitalization is a “precautionary step” and he remains in charge of the government.

In many parts of Asia, there have been victories against the spread of the disease. But on Monday South Korea’s vice health minister, Kim Gang-lip, expressed concerns over loosened attitudes toward social distancing that he says puts the country at potential risk of an infection “explosion.” The country reported 47 new cases of the coronavirus, the smallest daily jump since Feb. 20, but rising infections have been linked to international arrivals as students and other South Korean nationals flock back from the West as outbreaks worsened and school years were suspended.

Some hard-hit areas were seeing glimmers of hope — the number of people dying appeared to be slowing in New York City, Spain and Italy. Leaders cautioned, however, that any gains could easily be reversed if people did not continue to adhere to strict lockdowns.

U.S. Surgeon General Jerome Adams offered a stark warning about the expected wave of virus deaths. “This is going to be our Pearl Harbor moment, our 9/11 moment,’’ he told “Fox News Sunday.” But President Donald Trump later suggested the hard weeks ahead could foretell the turning of a corner. “We’re starting to see light at the end of the tunnel,” Trump said at an evening White House briefing.

In New York City, the U.S. epicenter of the pandemic, daily deaths dropped slightly, along with intensive care admissions and the number of patients who needed breathing tubes inserted, but New York state Gov. Andrew Cuomo warned it was “too early to tell” the significance of those numbers.

The outlook, however, was bleak in Britain, which reported more than 600 deaths Sunday, surpassing Italy’s increase. Italy still has, by far, the world’s highest coronavirus death toll — almost 16,000.

In a rare televised address, Queen Elizabeth II appealed to Britons to rise the occasion, while acknowledging enormous disruptions, grief and financial difficulties. “I hope in the years to come, everyone will be able to take pride in how they responded to this challenge,” she said. “And those who come after us will say that the Britons of this generation were as strong as any.”

Worldwide, more than 1.2 million people have been confirmed infected and nearly 70,000 have died, according to Johns Hopkins University. The true numbers are certainly much higher, due to limited testing, different ways nations count the dead and deliberate under-reporting by some governments.

The vast majority of infected people recover from the virus, which is spread by microscopic droplets from coughs or sneezes. For most people, the virus causes mild to moderate symptoms such as fever and cough. But for some, especially older adults and those with existing health problems, it can cause pneumonia and death.

Associated Press writers around the world contributed to this report.

UN climate summit postponed until 2021 because of COVID-19

April 02, 2020

LONDON (AP) — This year’s United Nations global climate summit is being postponed because of the coronavirus pandemic, host country Britain said Wednesday, The U.K. government said the meeting, due to take place in Glasgow, Scotland, in November, will now be held next year at a date still to be determined.

The government said in a statement that “in light of the ongoing, worldwide effects of COVID-19, holding an ambitious, inclusive COP26 in November 2020 is no longer possible.” The meeting is formally known as the 26th Conference of the Parties.

The decision was made by the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change, Britain and Italy, which had been due to host some preparatory events. Scottish First Minister Nicola Sturgeon tweeted that it was a “disappointing decision, but absolutely the right one as we all focus on the fight against #coronavirus.”

Glasgow’s SEC Arena, which had been due to host the event, has been named as the site of a temporary hospital for COVID-19 patients. Prime Minister Boris Johnson has made tackling climate change a priority, but Britain’s tenure at the helm of the conference got off to a bumpy start even before the coronavirus pandemic. In January, Johnson fired Claire O’Neill, a former British government minister appointed last year to head the event, and replaced her with Business Secretary Alok Sharma.

“We will continue working tirelessly with our partners to deliver the ambition needed to tackle the climate crisis and I look forward to agreeing a new date for the conference,” Sharma said Wednesday.

Patricia Espinosa, who heads the U.N. climate office, said the new coronavirus “is the most urgent threat facing humanity today, but we cannot forget that climate change is the biggest threat facing humanity over the long term.”

U.N. Secretary-General Antonio Guterres stresses that safeguarding lives “is our foremost priority” but countries must step up action on climate change especially as they recover from the COVID-19 pandemic, U.N. spokesman Stephane Dujarric said.

“Countries must work to protect the health of people, and the planet has never been more at risk,” the U.N. chief’s spokesman said. “Solidarity and greater ambition is needed now more than ever to transition to a sustainable, resilient low carbon economy that limits global warming to 1.5 degrees Celsius (2.7 degrees Fahrenheit).”

The meeting in Glasgow would have been held five years after the 2015 Paris climate accord was agreed. Countries that signed the landmark agreement are still expected to provide an update on their efforts to reduce greenhouse gas emissions driving global warming.

In the Paris Agreement, countries agreed to limit global warming to 2 degrees Celsius (3.6 degrees Fahrenheit) and do their best to keep it below 1.5 degrees C (2.7 degrees Fahrenheit) by the end of the century, compared with pre-industrial times.

President Donald Trump has triggered the United States’s withdrawal from the Paris accord, a move that formally comes into force in November. His Democratic rivals have said they would rejoin if elected.

Environmental campaigners said postponing this year’s U.N. talks was the right move. “It doesn’t make sense to bring people from every country together in the middle of a pandemic,” said Mohamed Adow, a longtime participant at U.N. climate meetings who heads the think tank Power Shift Africa.

Adow said postponing the conference mustn’t stop countries from taking action to curb global warming, though, and suggested plans to revive economies after the pandemic ends should avoid propping up the kinds of industries that contribute to climate change.

“Economies in the rich north must not be kick-started with dirty investment that will lead to climate suffering in the global south,” he said. Environment officials are planning to hold a lower-level meeting online at the end of April.

Associated Press writer Jill Lawless reported this story in London and AP writer Frank Jordans reported from Berlin.

UN praises Turkey’s treatment of refugees

March 12, 2020

United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) Deputy Representative for Turkey Jean Marie Garelli today praised efforts toward asylum-seekers in every region of Turkey.

“Turkey is a country where refugees and asylum-seekers are welcomed in the best way and get significant support; you are a praiseworthy model to the whole world in this manner,” Garelli said during a delegation visit to Edirne where asylum-seekers wait at the Greek border to be allowed to cross to Europe.

At the end of last month, Turkey allowed thousands of migrants and asylum seekers to cross its borders with Greece in response to the EU’s lack of action in the Syrian governorate of Idlib.

Thousands of asylum seekers and migrants have been waiting at the border region separating Turkey and Greece since 27 February to cross into Europe amid reports of abuse at the hands of Greek authorities.

Turkey has said Europe violated a deal it signed with Ankara in 2016 aimed at thwarting the movement of refugees to Greece and then on to other European countries.

EU officials have, however, slammed Turkey for using refugees as a political tool.

Turkey hosts around 3.6 million refugees – more than any other country. And since December 2019, hundreds of thousands more people have fled towards its border with Syria as a result of the regime’s airstrikes on the province as President Bashar Al-Assad fights to recapture the last opposition stronghold in Syria.

Source: Middle East Monitor.

Link: https://www.middleeastmonitor.com/20200312-un-praises-turkeys-treatment-of-refugees/.

Rohingya hail UN ruling that Myanmar act to prevent genocide

January 23, 2020

THE HAGUE, Netherlands (AP) — The United Nations’ top court on Thursday ordered Myanmar to do all it can to prevent genocide against the Rohingya people, a ruling met by members of the Muslim minority with gratitude and relief but also some skepticism that the country’s rulers will fully comply.

The ruling by the International Court of Justice came despite appeals last month by Myanmar’s civilian leader Aung San Suu Kyi for the judges to drop the case amid her denials of genocide by the armed forces that once held the former pro-democracy champion under house arrest for 15 years.

Judge Abdulqawi Ahmed Yusuf, president of the court, said in his order that the Rohingya in Myanmar “remain extremely vulnerable.” In a unanimous decision, the 17-judge panel added that its order for so-called provisional measures intended to protect the Rohingya is binding “and creates international legal obligations” on Myanmar.

U.N. Secretary-General Antonio Guterres welcomes the court’s order and “will promptly transmit the notice of the provisional measures” it ordered to the U.N. Security Council, U.N. spokesman Stephane Dujarric said.

Diplomats said the U.N.’s most powerful body is not expected to take any action until it sees how Myanmar is implementing the court’s order. While the court has no ability to enforce the orders, one international law expert said the ruling will strengthen other nations pressing for change in Myanmar.

“Thus far, it’s been states trying to put pressure on Myanmar or using their good offices or … diplomatic pressure,” said Priya Pillai, head of the Asia Justice Coalition Secretariat. “Now, essentially for any state, there is legal leverage.”

The orders specifically refer to Rohingya still in Myanmar and thus did not look likely to have an immediate impact on more than 700,000 of them who have fled to neighboring Bangladesh in recent years to escape Myanmar’s brutal crackdown.

Even so, Yasmin Ullah, a Rohingya activist who lives in Vancouver and was in court for the decision, called it a historic ruling. “Today, having the judges unanimously agree to the protection of Rohingya means so much to us because we’re now allowed to exist and it’s legally binding,” she told reporters on the steps of the court.

But asked if she believes Myanmar will comply, she replied: “I don’t think so.” Myanmar’s legal team left the court without commenting. Later, its foreign ministry said in a statement that it took note of the ruling, but repeated its assertion that there has been no genocide against the Rohingya.

The court sought to safeguard evidence that could be used in future prosecutions, ordering Myanmar to “take effective measures to prevent the destruction and ensure the preservation of evidence related” to allegations of genocidal acts.

At the end of an hour-long session in the court’s wood-paneled Great Hall of Justice, judges also ordered Myanmar to report to them in four months on what measures the country has taken to comply with the order and then to report every six months as the case moves slowly through the world court.

“I think this is the court maybe being much more proactive and … careful in acknowledging that this is a serious situation and there needs to be much more follow-up and monitoring by the court itself, which is which is quite unusual as well,” Pallai said.

Rogingya refugees living in camps in Bangladesh welcomed the order, which was even supported by a temporary judge appointed by Myanmar to be part of the panel. “This is good news. We thank the court as it has reflected our hope for justice. The verdict proves that Myanmar has become a nation of torturers,” 39-year-old Abdul Jalil told The Associated Press by phone from Kutupalong camp in Cox’s Bazar.

However, he too expressed doubts that Myanmar would fully comply. “Myanmar has become a notorious state. We do not have confidence in it,” Jalil said. “There is little chance that Myanmar will listen.”

Rights activists also welcomed the decision. “The ICJ order to Myanmar to take concrete steps to prevent the genocide of the Rohingya is a landmark step to stop further atrocities against one of the world’s most persecuted people,” said Param-Preet Singh, associate international justice director of New York-based Human Rights Watch. “Concerned governments and U.N. bodies should now weigh in to ensure that the order is enforced as the genocide case moves forward.”

The world court order for what it calls provisional measures came in a case brought by the African nation of Gambia on behalf of an organization of Muslim nations that accuses Myanmar of genocide in its crackdown on the Rohingya.

The judges did not decide on the substance of the case, which will be debated in legal arguments likely to last years before a final ruling is issued. But their order to protect the Rohingya made clear they fear for ongoing attacks.

At public hearings last month, lawyers used maps, satellite images and graphic photos to detail what they called a campaign of murder, rape and destruction amounting to genocide perpetrated by Myanmar’s military.

The hearings drew intense scrutiny as Suu Kyi defended the campaign by her country’s military forces. Suu Kyi, who as Myanmar’s state counselor heads the government, was awarded the 1991 Nobel Peace Prize for championing democracy and human rights under Myanmar’s then-ruling junta.

Buddhist-majority Myanmar has long considered the Rohingya to be “Bengalis” from Bangladesh even though their families have lived in the country for generations. Nearly all have been denied citizenship since 1982, effectively rendering them stateless. They are also denied freedom of movement and other basic rights.

In August 2017, Myanmar’s military launched what it called a clearance campaign in northern Rakhine state in response to an attack by a Rohingya insurgent group. The campaign forced more than 700,000 Rohingya to flee to neighboring Bangladesh and led to accusations that security forces committed mass rapes and killings and burned thousands of homes.

Suu Kyi told world court judges in December that the exodus was a tragic consequence of the military’s response to “coordinated and comprehensive armed attacks” by Rohingya insurgents. Thursday’s ruling came two days after an independent commission established by Myanmar’s government concluded there are reasons to believe security forces committed war crimes in counterinsurgency operations against the Rohingya, but that there is no evidence supporting charges that genocide was planned or carried out.

Phil Robertson, Human Rights Watch’s deputy Asia director, said the panel’s findings were “what would have been expected from a non-transparent investigation by a politically skewed set of commissioners working closely with the Myanmar government.”

At December’s public hearings, Paul Reichler, a lawyer for Gambia, cited a U.N. fact-finding mission report at hearings last month that said military “clearance operations” in Myanmar’s northern Rakhine state spared nobody. “Mothers, infants, pregnant women, the old and infirm. They all fell victim to this ruthless campaign,” he said.

Gambia’s Justice Minister Aboubacarr Tambadou urged the world court to act immediately and “tell Myanmar to stop these senseless killings, to stop these acts of barbarity that continue to shock our collective conscience, to stop this genocide of its own people.”

Anna Roberts, executive director of Burma Campaign UK, called the order “a major blow to Aung San Suu Kyi and her anti-Rohingya policies.” She urged the international community to press her to enforce the court’s order.

“The chances of Aung San Suu Kyi implementing this ruling will be zero unless significant international pressure is applied,” Roberts said. “So far, the international community has not been willing to apply pressure on Aung San Suu Kyi over her own appalling record on human rights.”

They said it: Leaders at the UN, in their own words

September 26, 2019

UNITED NATIONS (AP) — Lots of leaders saying lots of things about lots of topics — topics that matter to them, to their regions, to the world. That’s what the speechmaking at the U.N. General Assembly invariably produces each year. And each year, certain enormous topics and certain louder voices dominate.

Here, The Associated Press takes the opposite approach and spotlights some thoughts you might not have heard — the voices of leaders speaking at the United Nations who might not have captured the headlines and the airtime on Wednesday, the second day of 2019 debate.

“We must ensure that nobody has to choose between sending her daughter to school and sending her to work.”

— Edgar Lungu, president of Zambia

“The peoples of the world have seen the movement of globalization nurture in them this common dream of seeing the Earth become a genuine global village. But, alas, we have never seen so many walls and barriers thrown up.”

— Faustin Archange Touadera, president of the Central African Republic

“Multilateralism is nothing but showing compassion for the fate of others.”

— Kersti Kaljulaid, president of Estonia

“More than most, island nations must have faith in the multilateral international order. We are by nature isolated and by design, our livelihoods are tied to the rest of the world. We rely heavily on this premise as well as on the actions or inactions of others for our very survival.”

— Danny Faure, president of Seychelles

“All of you are coffee drinkers around the world. I want to ask all of you a question: If you would dare ask those who sell that cup of coffee to you whether they’re paying a fair price to the producers, would you ask that question? Would you even consider it? Think about it. Think about it. Because I am certain that if the answer is yes, that would be very powerful. It would be very powerful because it could change the lives of some 120 million families of coffee producers around the world.”

— Honduran President Juan Orlando Hernández, whose coffee-growing country is contending with a drop in its harvest that he attributes to both low global prices and climate change

New UN warming report sees hungry future that can be avoided

August 08, 2019

WASHINGTON (AP) — On the ground, climate change is hitting us where it counts: the stomach — not to mention the forests, plants and animals. A new United Nations scientific report examines how global warming and land interact in a vicious cycle. Human-caused climate change is dramatically degrading the land, while the way people use the land is making global warming worse.

Thursday’s science-laden report says the combination is already making food more expensive, scarcer and even less nutritious. “The cycle is accelerating,” said NASA climate scientist Cynthia Rosenzweig, a report co-author. “The threat of climate change affecting people’s food on their dinner table is increasing.”

But if people change the way they eat, grow food and manage forests, it could help save the planet from a far warmer future, scientists said Earth’s land masses, which are only 30% of the globe, are warming twice as fast as the planet as a whole. While heat-trapping gases are causing problems in the atmosphere, the land has been less talked about as part of climate change. A special report, written by more than 100 scientists and unanimously approved by diplomats from nations around the world at a meeting in Geneva, proposed possible fixes and made more dire warnings.

“The way we use land is both part of the problem and also part of the solution,” said Valerie Masson-Delmotte, a French climate scientist who co-chairs one of the panel’s working groups. “Sustainable land management can help secure a future that is comfortable.”

Scientists in Thursday’s press conference emphasized both the seriousness of the problem and the need to make societal changes soon. “We don’t want a message of despair,” said science panel official Jim Skea, a professor at Imperial College London. “We want to get across the message that every action makes a difference”

The report said climate change already has worsened land degradation, caused deserts to grow, permafrost to thaw and made forests more vulnerable to drought, fire, pests and disease. That’s happened even as much of the globe has gotten greener because of extra carbon dioxide in the air. Climate change has also added to other forces that have reduced the number of species on Earth.

“Climate change is really slamming the land,” said World Resources Institute researcher Kelly Levin, who wasn’t part of the study but praised it. And the future could be worse. “The stability of food supply is projected to decrease as the magnitude and frequency of extreme weather events that disrupt food chains increases,” the report said.

In the worst case scenario, food security problems change from moderate to high risk with just a few more tenths of a degree of warming from now. They go from high to “very high” risk with just another 1.8 degrees (1 degree Celsius) of warming from now.

Scientists had long thought one of the few benefits of higher levels of carbon dioxide, the major heat-trapping gas, was that it made plants grow more and the world greener, Rosenzweig said. But numerous studies show that the high levels of carbon dioxide reduce protein and nutrients in many crops.

For example, high levels of carbon in the air in experiments show wheat has 6 to 13% less protein, 4 to 7% less zinc and 5 to 8% less iron, she said. But better farming practices — such as no-till agricultural and better targeted fertilizer application — have the potential to fight global warming too, reducing carbon pollution up to 18% of current emissions levels by 2050, the report said.

If people change their diets, reducing red meat and increasing plant-based foods, such as fruits, vegetables and seeds, the world can save as much as another 15% of current emissions by mid-century. It would also make people more healthy, Rosenzweig said.

The science panel said they aren’t telling people what to eat because that’s a personal choice. Still, Hans-Otto Portner, a panel leader from Germany who said he lost weight and felt better after reducing his meat consumption, told a reporter that if she ate less ribs and more vegetables “that’s a good decision and you will help the planet reduce greenhouse gas emissions.”

Reducing food waste can fight climate change even more. The report said that between 2010 and 2016 global food waste accounted for 8 to 10% of heat-trapping emissions. “Currently 25-30% of total food produced is lost or wasted,” the report said. Fixing that would free up millions of square miles of land.

With just another 0.9 degrees of warming (0.5 degrees Celsius), which could happen in the next 10 to 30 years, the risk of unstable food supplies, wildfire damage, thawing permafrost and water shortages in dry areas “are projected to be high,” the report said.

At another 1.8 degrees of warming from now (1 degree Celsius), which could happen in about 50 years, it said those risks “are projected to be very high.” Most scenarios predict the world’s tropical regions will have “unprecedented climatic conditions by the mid to late 20th century,” the report noted.

Agriculture and forestry together account for about 23% of the heat-trapping gases that are warming the Earth, slightly less than from cars, trucks, boats and planes. Add in transporting food, energy costs, packaging and that grows to 37%, the report said.

But the land is also a great carbon “sink,” which sucks heat-trapping gases out of the air. From about 2007 to 2016, agriculture and forestry every year put 5.7 billion tons (5.2 billion metric tons) of carbon dioxide into the air, but pulled 12.3 billion tons (11.2 billion metric tons) of it out.

“This additional gift from nature is limited. It’s not going to continue forever,” said study co-author Luis Verchot , a scientist at the International Center for Tropical Agriculture in Colombia. “If we continue to degrade ecosystems, if we continue to convert natural ecosystems, we continue to deforest and we continued to destroy our soils, we’re going to lose this natural subsidy.”

Overall land emissions are increasing, especially because of cutting down forests in the Amazon in places such as Brazil, Colombia and Peru, Verchot said. Recent forest management changes in Brazil “contradicts all the messages that are coming out of the report,” Portner said.

Stanford University environmental sciences chief Chris Field, who wasn’t part of the report, said the bottom line is “we ought to recognize that we have profound limits on the amount of land available and we have to be careful about how we utilize it.”

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