UN refugee agency 'extremely worried' about renewed violence in Central African Republic

30 June 2017 &#150 The United Nations refugee agency has voiced concern over a flow of people fleeing renewed violence in some parts of the Central African Republic, a country that has already seen a half million people internally displaced and another half million taking refuge in neighbouring countries.

The Office of the UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) &#8220is extremely worried over the resurgence of violence being seen in parts of the Central African Republic,&#8221 said UNHCR spokesperson Andrej Mahecic at today’s press briefing in Geneva.

He said renewed violence has erupted in the towns of Zemio, Bria and Kaga Bandaro in southern and northern CAR as clashes are reported between self-defence groups and other armed groups. Civilians and humanitarian workers are also being targeted.

Clashes between the mainly Muslim Séléka rebel coalition and anti-Balaka militia, which are mostly Christian, plunged the country of 4.5 million people into civil conflict in 2013. Violence in CAR has uprooted some 503,600 people inside the country, including more than 100,000 in 2017, and more than 484,000 have been registered as refugees in Cameroon, the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC), Chad and the Republic of Congo.

Mr. Mahecic noted that in Zemio, close to the border with the DRC, UNHCR workers have reported intense heavy weapons fire since Tuesday. Some houses close to UNHCR’s office were burnt down. Over 1,000 people have fled their homes. Many are seeking refuge in a Catholic church in the town, while some 66 people have sought safety in the UNHCR compound &#8211 among them terrified women and children in fear of their lives, he added.

In the town of Bria, several hundred kilometres northeast of the capital, Bangui, clashes were reported on June 20 that continued for three consecutive days, he said.

Reports suggest a camp hosting some 2,400 internally displaced people in the Ndourou IV district is now completely empty with its whole population having fled the recent attacks.

Indiscriminate attacks in Bria have left some 136 people dead and 36 wounded, with 600 houses burned and an additional 180 looted.

In a separate incident, unidentified armed men tried to break into UNHCR accommodation in Kaga Bandaro in the north of the country on Wednesday night with the intention of attacking staff and looting belongings. The attack was thwarted by the UN peacekeeping forces there.

UNHCR teams were able to distribute relief items including plastic sheets, blankets, mats, mosquito nets, kitchen sets, buckets and soap to more than 5000 households in accessible parts of Bria over the past three weeks – despite the fragile security situation.

&#8220UNHCR renews its call on all parties to the conflict in the area to immediately end attacks against civilians and aid workers. UNHCR is also seeking immediate and unhindered humanitarian access to assist those affected by the recent wave of violence,&#8221 Mr. Mahecic said.

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UN refugee agency ‘extremely worried’ about renewed violence in Central African Republic

The United Nations refugee agency has voiced concern over a flow of people fleeing renewed violence in some parts of the Central African Republic, a country that has already seen a half million people internally displaced and another half million taking refuge in neighbouring countries.

The Office of the UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) is extremely worried over the resurgence of violence being seen in parts of the Central African Republic, said UNHCR spokesperson Andrej Mahecic at today’s press briefing in Geneva.

He said renewed violence has erupted in the towns of Zemio, Bria and Kaga Bandaro in southern and northern CAR as clashes are reported between self-defence groups and other armed groups. Civilians and humanitarian workers are also being targeted.

Clashes between the mainly Muslim Seleka rebel coalition and anti-Balaka militia, which are mostly Christian, plunged the country of 4.5 million people into civil conflict in 2013. Violence in CAR has uprooted some 503,600 people inside the country, including more than 100,000 in 2017, and more than 484,000 have been registered as refugees in Cameroon, the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC), Chad and the Republic of Congo.

Mr. Mahecic noted that in Zemio, close to the border with the DRC, UNHCR workers have reported intense heavy weapons fire since Tuesday. Some houses close to UNHCR’s office were burnt down. Over 1,000 people have fled their homes. Many are seeking refuge in a Catholic church in the town, while some 66 people have sought safety in the UNHCR compound � among them terrified women and children in fear of their lives, he added.

In the town of Bria, several hundred kilometres northeast of the capital, Bangui, clashes were reported on June 20 that continued for three consecutive days, he said.

Reports suggest a camp hosting some 2,400 internally displaced people in the Ndourou IV district is now completely empty with its whole population having fled the recent attacks.

Indiscriminate attacks in Bria have left some 136 people dead and 36 wounded, with 600 houses burned and an additional 180 looted.

In a separate incident, unidentified armed men tried to break into UNHCR accommodation in Kaga Bandaro in the north of the country on Wednesday night with the intention of attacking staff and looting belongings. The attack was thwarted by the UN peacekeeping forces there.

UNHCR teams were able to distribute relief items including plastic sheets, blankets, mats, mosquito nets, kitchen sets, buckets and soap to more than 5000 households in accessible parts of Bria over the past three weeks – despite the fragile security situation.

UNHCR renews its call on all parties to the conflict in the area to immediately end attacks against civilians and aid workers. UNHCR is also seeking immediate and unhindered humanitarian access to assist those affected by the recent wave of violence, Mr. Mahecic said.

Source: UN News Centre

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Daily Press Briefing by the Office of the Spokesperson for the Secretary-General

The following is a near-verbatim transcript of today’s noon briefing by Stéphane Dujarric, Spokesman for the Secretary-General.

**United States

The Secretary-General is on his last day of his visit to Washington, D.C.  This morning, he was at the State Department, where he met with the Deputy Secretary of State, John Sullivan.  That comes after a meeting he had yesterday afternoon with the Secretary of State, Rex Tillerson.  He also met just a short while ago with the Qatari Foreign Minister, Sheikh Mohammed bin Abdulrahman al Thani.  The Secretary-General and the Foreign Minister had a good exchange of views.  The Secretary-General delivered and repeated the message that he has delivered to other parties dealing with the crisis in the Gulf — mainly that he strongly supports the Kuwaiti mediation efforts and hopes that they will lead to a progressive de-escalation of the situation, gradually creating the conditions for a meaningful dialogue to take place.

The Secretary-General is scheduled to fly to Switzerland from Washington this afternoon, where he will attend tomorrow the Conference on Cyprus that is taking place in Crans-Montana.

And just to recap the meetings the Secretary-General had in Washington yesterday after the briefing.  He met with the House Appropriations Chairman, Rodney Frelinghuysen.  That was followed by a meeting with Senators Todd Young of Indiana and Jeff Merkley of Oregon, and then a separate meeting with Senators Marco Rubio, Chris Coons, Kirsten Gillibrand and Bob Casey.

**Côte d’Ivoire

This morning, you will have seen, we issued a statement by the Secretary-General on the closure of the UN Operation in Côte d’Ivoire (UNOCI) that takes place tomorrow.

The Secretary-General congratulated the people and Government of Côte d’Ivoire for their determination and efforts in turning the page of crisis and conflict. He also paid tribute to all uniformed and civilian personnel who have served with the UN mission, and expressed his profound respect for the memory of the 150 peacekeepers who lost their life in the service of peace during the 13 years of deployment of the UN peacekeeping mission.

The Secretary-General reiterated the commitment of the rest of the UN family present in Côte d’Ivoire to support the Government with the implementation of outstanding reform activities with a view to ensuring that the hard-won peace can be sustained and the country and its people will continue to progress and thrive.

**Palestinians

Back here, the Committee on the Exercise of the Inalienable Rights of the Palestinian People began a forum today to mark 50 years of occupation of Palestinian territory.  The Deputy Secretary-General spoke at the event.

Amina Mohammed read out a message from the Secretary-General, in which he said that ending the occupation is the only way to lay the foundations for enduring peace that meets Israeli security needs and Palestinian aspirations for statehood and sovereignty.  It is the only way to achieve the inalienable rights of the Palestinian people, he said. He added that it is time to return to direct negotiations to resolve all final status issues on the basis of relevant UN resolutions, agreements and international law.  It is time to end the conflict, he said, by establishing an independent Palestinian State, side by side in peace and security with the State of Israel.

In her own remarks, the Deputy Secretary-General said that some think that the situation can be managed.  They are wrong, she said, it must be resolved.  Real peace cannot be achieved without a just and lasting resolution.  She recalled the Secretary-General’s remarks that there is no “Plan B”.

**Syria

The UN’s Emergency Relief Coordinator, Stephen O’Brien, briefed the Security Council on the humanitarian situation in Syria a short while ago.  He warned that 13.5 million people in the country are caught in a protection crisis that threatens their lives on a daily basis.  We will have as our guest, in a few minutes, Kevin Kennedy, the Regional Humanitarian Coordinator for the Syria Crisis, who can go into more detail, as soon as we are done here.

**Iraq

Our humanitarian colleagues are deeply concerned for the safety and well-being of civilians in the remaining Da’esh-held part of Iraq’s western Mosul, as military operations in the Old City continue.  Some 10,000 to 50,000 civilians are still inside the Old City.  Since the start of operations in October, at least 15,000 people have been treated for trauma injuries.  Nearly 900,000 people have been displaced from Mosul city since last October.

People leaving western Mosul report deteriorating conditions, including unsafe water [sources] due to potable water shortages, as well as malnutrition.  It is estimated that half of west Mosul’s female population requires sexual and gender-based violence response services.  Aid workers are providing emergency assistance, with 1.85 million people having received front-line emergency support, including food, water and basic hygiene items.  Partners are also distributing 6.4 million litres of water into Mosul every day.

**Libya

Regarding Libya, the UN Support Mission in that country (UNSMIL) confirmed the safe return of UN staff to Tripoli following an attack yesterday on a convoy traveling from Surmon to the capital Tripoli.  All staff are safe and accounted for.  The Mission reiterates its appreciation to the Government of National Accord, House of Representative Members from Zawiyah and local authorities for securing the safe return of our colleagues.

**Central African Republic

The UN Mission in the Central African Republic (MINUSCA) reports clashes between local self-defence groups and members of the Muslim community in Zémio in Haut-Mbomou prefecture.  Unidentified armed elements also fired at MINUSCA peacekeepers this morning and yesterday in Zémio, but no injuries were sustained.

About 85 displaced persons sought refuge in UNHCR [Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees] premises nearby, while another 500 took shelter at a local church.  The UN peacekeepers are securing both locations, with additional reinforcements on their way today, and they are also facilitating engagement at the community level to discourage youth from joining self-defence groups.

**Nigeria

Our colleagues at the UN refugee agency are alarmed over a fresh incident of forced returns of refugees from Cameroon into north-east Nigeria.  On Tuesday, some 887 Nigerian refugees, most of them children, were forcibly removed to Banki in desperate conditions.  Several dozen refugees fearing that they would be returned against their will reportedly escaped and went into hiding.

Inside Nigeria, insecurity is preventing refugees from returning to their places of origin.  Many end up in Banki, where more than 45,000 internally displaced men, women and children are already accommodated.

UNHCR renews its call on Cameroon and Nigeria to refrain from further forced returns and calls on both parties to take urgent steps to convene a meeting of the Tripartite Commission — which consists of UNHCR and the two countries — to ensure a facilitated voluntary return process in line with international standards.

**Malawi

The Government of Malawi and UNICEF [United Nations Children’s Fund] launched today an air corridor to test the potential humanitarian use of unmanned aerial vehicles, also known as drones.  The corridor, which will run for at least one year, is the first in Africa and one of the first globally with a focus on humanitarian and development use.  It is designed to provide a controlled platform for the private sector, universities and other partners to explore how drones can be used to help deliver services that will benefit communities.  UNICEF is working globally with a number of Governments and private-sector partners to explore how drones can be used in low-income countries.

**Tropics

Today is – what day is today? – it is the International Day of the Tropics, the area between the Tropic of Cancer and the Tropic of Capricorn.  The Day seeks to celebrate the extraordinary diversity of this region, while also highlighting the unique challenges that nations of the tropics face.  The tropics host 80 per cent of the world’s biodiversity and over half of the world’s renewable water resource, but they are threatened by climate change, deforestation, urbanization and demographic changes.  More information online.

**Cybercrime

Yesterday, I think it was you, Masood, who asked about the UN’s response to the current cyberattacks.  Our colleagues at the UN Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC) tell us they assist Member States to more effectively combat and prevent cybercrime, working with national- and regional-level partners, particularly through ASEAN [Association of Southeast Asian Nations]-based mechanisms and forums.

Khalas.  I will stop there, and I will take some questions.  Masood?

**Questions and Answers

Question:  Stéphane, there’s a report saying that the Secretary‑General is… suggesting the Secretary‑General is reluctant to mediate or to involve themselves in this Qatari crisis, because he fears that the Saudi and the coalition partners would withdraw from the United Nations.  And they were citing these part… one particular threat, which has been confirmed by the United Nations High Commissioner, Zeid Ra’ad Al Hussein, on Saudi threat when it was included in the list of the nations… I mean, involved in Yemen.

Spokesman:  Masood, as I think I’ve been… we’ve been talking about now for a few days, the Secretary‑General has been obviously following the current crisis in the Gulf extremely closely.  Over the last 48 hours, he has met with the Qatari Foreign Minister, the Foreign Minister of Saudi Arabia, as well as the Cabinet Minister of Kuwait, who is personally involved in the mediation.  His message to all three is his support for the Kuwaiti initiative, which he hopes will lead to a de‑escalation, where a conversation and a dialogue can be initiated.  So he is not afraid of getting involved in any way.  His focus right now, the UN’s focus, is on supporting the Kuwaiti efforts.

Question:  Nonethe… nonetheless, sir, can I ask you a follow‑up question? Say, that will the Secretary‑General after these meet… the way things are going, the Saudis do not seem to budge on their demand, I mean, no matter how many… I mean, interpretations or how many… how many interventions that are there.  Is the Secretary‑General going to involve himself more aggressively?

Spokesman:  I don’t know how much better to answer your question.  I think… to say that the Secretary‑General has not been paying attention, I think, would be wrong.  As I said, he’s just met with three Foreign Ministers who are deeply involved in this, representing both sides of the issue, and he will continue to follow this very closely.  Abdelhamid?

Question:  Thank you.  As a follow‑up, I mean, the deadline for these demands to be met is on the… 2 July.  That means something could happen after 2 July.  I mean, the question we have been raising, would the SG put a note before the Security Council on this issue?

Spokesman:  I’m not aware of any efforts to put this… for the Secretary‑General to raise Article 99 of the Charter.  I think he has… the Secretary‑General has spoken out publicly on this matter, either directly or through me, and he’s deeply aware of the risks that go beyond the region if this crisis is not resolved through dialogue.

Question:  Thank you.  As a follow‑up, Stéphane, one of the demands is to close down Al Jazeera and all its related or affiliated channels.  And that is something that had to do with freedom of expression and freedom of opinion and freedom of the flow of information.  And I think that should, you know, instigate the UN to say something about that particular demand…

Spokesman:  Well, I think you’ve had different human rights bodies and mechanisms speak out, as they are as within their mandates, as is normal for them to do.  As a matter of principle, of course, the Secretary‑General supports the freedom of expression, but we’re not going to get into the nitty‑gritty of these things publicly at this point.  Mr. Lee?

Question:  Sure.  I wanted to ask you about what UNHCR said about this… this expulsion of almost 900 people of Cameroon into Nigeria… I wanted to know…

Spokesman:  They were, in fact, in a camp in Nigeria very close to the Cameroonian border.  So I said they were internally displaced people (IDPs), but the operation, as we understand it, was jointly conducted by Cameroonian and Nigerian authorities.

Question:  Sure.  My… my… and my… given that a number of groups have said it violates both the agreement between the countries and international law, I wanted to know whether the Secretary‑General, given his history in these issues of IDPs, refugees, etcetera, has considered speaking with President Paul Biya.  And I ask because I’ve seen, as I’m sure you have, the reports that he did reach out to Iran about a former UN staff member, Baqer Namazi, asking for humanitarian release.  And there’s a UN staff member who’s on trial with the death penalty in Cameroon called Agbor Balla.  So I’m just wondering, one, can you… will you… what can you confirm or say about his… his communications to Iran?  And, two, is this a policy on his part…?

Spokesman:  No, I’m not going to get into the details of private conversations; the Secretary‑General may have private communications.  The welfare of UN staff that is… that are detained, that may be detained anywhere, is of concern to us.  As far as the issue having to do with the people who were forcibly returned to an area that we feel… that UNHCR feels is not safe, UNHCR is on the lead on this issue and continues to be for the time being.

Question:  And do you have… obviously, you’ve seen… on the… on the peacekeeping budget and the… the… the reduction in… in… from 7.9 to $7.3 billion, what are the next steps for DPKO [Department of Peacekeeping Operations]? What… do you have any comment generally on it?

Spokesman:  Well, I… first of all, my understanding is that the budget will not be officially approved until this afternoon, voted on this afternoon.  So we will react more officially at that point.  Obviously, it is the right and responsibility of the legislative bodies of this Organization to set the budget.  Once we see what actually has been voted on, we will take the appropriate measures to follow up and ensure that our mandates are fulfilled with the resources that are given to us.

Question:  Can we get DPKO to, like, come and do some kind of briefing on this?

Spokesman:  I said I will… We will have some sort of reaction afterwards.  Mr. Klein?

Question:  Yes. I guess I want to go to a question of the Secretary‑General’s priorities.  I mean, with all of the hot conflicts going on around the world, you know, from… from Yemen, Syria, Libya and Africa and so forth, why does he seem to be spending so much of his personal attention and time on the more than 40‑year‑old Cyprus conflict or… which hasn’t really resulted in any violence to speak of?  Why is he devoting so much of his time and effort to that… to that matter, and appears to be delegating to others the handling of… of more imminent crises around the world?

Spokesman:  You know, I… first of all, I don’t really agree with your analysis.  I think the Secretary‑General has, as many of his predecessors have involved themselves in the mediation negotiations over the resum… the positive resolve of conflicts at certain times when we are within striking distance.  So I think it’s important… the Secretary‑General felt it was important to attend the conference on Cyprus.  The effort to facilitate the talks are being led by Mr. [Espen Barth] Eide and Mr. [Jeffrey] Feltman.  It’s important for the Secretary‑General to be there, and if… you know, I think we’ll have to… obviously have to see what happens, but if his presence is critical to resolve this issue, it’s important for him to be there.  There are many crises throughout the world. Obviously, some have caused more pain and destruction to civilians than others.  But I think for… we also have to look at it from the point of those who are living these crises.  The Cyprus issue has been going on, as I said, for a long, long time.  There’s been an absence of open conflict, which is welcome, but it doesn’t mean that there hasn’t been human tragedy and human pain for the inhabitants of the island.  And if we are… if the Secretary‑General’s presence can help finally resolve this conflict and sew up old wounds, then I think it’s a good use of his time.  He’s also able to multitask and has been staying in touch with envoys on all sorts of other crises, and when his physical presence is necessary, he will be where he needs to be.  Yes?

Question:  Follow‑up…?

Spokesman:  Yes.

Question:  Follow‑up on Cyprus.  SG, what… what outcome he’s awaiting, he’s expecting about this new round of talks, especially for the security and the guarantees?

Spokesman:  Listen, I’m not going to get into the details.  The talks are in high gear and are going on as we speak in Crans‑Montana.  Mr. Eide and Mr. Feltman spoke to the press yesterday.  The Secretary‑General is on his way.  Obviously, we would like to see the situation resolved, but I’m not going to get into pre-emptive details at this point.  Pam?

Question:  Thanks, Steph.  Do you expect — just a follow‑up on the travel — the Secretary‑General to go to any of the countries where there is a peacekeeping mission, or Darfur, any… any… any of those areas?  Do you have any projections on that?  And has he gotten… a separate issue.  Has he gotten any feedback on the… from the House Appropriations Chairman on budget, how they see the… any readout on that?

Spokesman:  No, this… I think the talks with House leaders, with Senate leaders have been very productive.  As we said, it’s an ongoing conversation.  It’s a chance for him to have some in‑depth conversations about the US involvement in the UN, the need for sustained US involvement, for them to… for him to answer questions about UN reform and other issues.  It’s a conversation.  Obviously, the legislators will decide on the budget and what impacts the UN, but I think it was important for the Secretary‑General to be there and to continue and have sustained conversations with them. Yeah?

Question:  And just a quick…

Spokesman:  And nothing on travel to announce.

Question:  Okay. And quick… just a timetable.  Do you have any timetable or sense of when this new Office of Counter‑Terrorism starts up, when the new Under‑Secretary‑General arrives?

Spokesman:  It’s been approved.  Maybe Farhan [Haq] will come in with a note to tell me exactly when he’s supposed to be here, but he’s been named so it’s a matter of logistics.

Question:  Right.  So July, August?

Spokesman:  It’s a matter of logistics more than anything else.  I don’t know.  Abdelhamid?

Question:  Thank you.  I have few questions.  First, it has been announced in Israel that the SG… Secretary‑General would be visiting Israel in August.  First, do you confirm that?  And if it’s so, would he be visiting Gaza, as well?

Spokesman:  Well, we always… this is not the first time that others announce the travels of the Secretary‑General. I would ask for reference to wait until announcements of the Secretary‑General’s travel are made by his Office, most likely me.

Question:  My question also is about IOM [International Organization for Migration].  I think you mentioned in your briefing saying the UN refugee agency, and it has been referred to as such.  So what is the relation between IOM and UNHCR?  Are they one… and… two and… separate entities?

Spokesman:  They are two separate entities.  As you know, IOM was independent of the UN system up until a few months ago.  It is now a part of the UN system.

Question:  So how is the work?  Is it duplicated or…?

Spokesman:  No, it’s not duplicated.

Question:  Can you invite…?

Spokesman:  It’s not duplicated… it’s not… I mean, we can have… the next time Mr. [William] Swing is here, we’d be happy to have him.

Correspondent:  We’d like to.

Spokesman:  But, obviously, they deal with different parts of the same issue, which is the global movement of people across the globe.

Correspondent:  I’d like to meet with him so we can see him.  Thank you.

Spokesman:  Masood?  Sorry, Matthew, and then Masood.

Question:  Sure.  Just some… some court case questions, but I just wanted to know, is… is the Secretary‑General… the… the Cyprus talks, are they take… are they going on over the weekend?  Is he… how… how many days does he plan to participate in them?

Spokesman:  Let’s get him there, and then we can talk about when he leaves.

Question:  Will we talk about it?

Spokesman:  Go ahead.  Next question?

Question:  Okay.  What I wanted to ask is, I’m sure you’ve seen the decision in The Hague by Netherlands appeals court confirming that the… the partial responsibility of the Dutch battalion of UN peacekeeping in the deaths of… in Srebrenica.  And the… people are angry because it’s reduced the damages to 30 per cent; it’s basically saying they would have… they might have been killed otherwise.  But what is the UN’s response, given this… that the… the… the Dutch battalion was, in fact, a UN peacekeeping battalion.  What’s been learned to it, and what do you have any to say about that?

Spokesman:  Obviously, we’re aware… I think, first of all, our thoughts need to be with the victims of the massacres that took place in Srebrenica and with the relatives of the victims and the survivors and all of those who perished in the atrocities committed throughout the Former Yugoslavia.  As you know, the UN was not a party to this court case, which was in a national court in the Netherlands.  We will study the judgment carefully, but, at this point, we’re not going to make any further comment, because our… my understanding, at least, is that it will be appealed to a higher court.  And as you know, the UN issued years ago a rather exhaustive report on its failings, the Organization’s failings in Srebrenica.

Question:  But isn’t it not a party because it cited immunity early in the case?  I mean, I’ve seen the lawyer even of this current case saying that that’s why the UN’s not…

Spokesman:  Well, the fact is we’re not a party.

Question:  Okay.  All right.  And just if… just two related.  One, there’s a case also in The Hague against Royal Dutch Shell by the… the… the… it’s called the Ogoni nine, but it’s a case basically tying corporate responsibility to a military crackdown.  Separately, there’s a case now just begun against the Banc Nationale de Paribas about the Rwanda genocide.  I don’t expect… you can say obviously these are not UN related, but since both seem to be members of the UN Global Compact, I wanted to know, does the UN track such high‑profile human rights corporate cases? And, if so, what… are… are the institutions expected to respond?

Spokesman:  My understanding is that these cases are all ongoing, and the Global Compact, as you know, has a mechanism to deal with its own members.  So I will leave it at that.  Okay. Masood?

Question:  Thank you, Stéphane.  There’s a report that says that Israel has prosecuted more than 5,000 Palestinian children.  At… at presently, according to United Nations, there is like… there are about 354 children in Israeli jails.  Can you tell us, has you… have you had any conversation with the Israeli authorities to release them at all?

Spokesman:  I think you’ve raised this issue before, and I have nothing new to add.  Olga, did you have your hand raised?  Did I answer your question?

Correspondent:  You answered my question.

Spokesman:  All right. Then we’ll get to Mr. Kennedy, if you can come up. Thank you.

Question:  On the Burundi thing, have you run the names through?

Spokesman:  As soon as I have something on it, I will share it.

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Peace is Breaking Out in Colombia

Colombia marked a major milestone this week in ending its 52 year-long conflict with FARC when the UN certified disarmament of the rebel group as complete. This is a step — and a very consequential one — toward an enduring peace for the country.

Still, despite this accomplishment, the road to a lasting peace is still quite long–with some big obstacles in the way.

On its own, the Colombian peace process is a mammoth undertaking, achieved after four years of negotiations. After announcing a deal last August, the peace process hit a stumbling block early on when a slim majority of Colombians voted against it in an October referendum. Further negotiations resulted in a slightly modified agreement, which the government sent to Congress for ratification rather than hold a second referendum. With ratification in late November, the 52 year conflict between the government and FARC formally ended.

But accepting a peace agreement and implementing it are two different things. Despite an indefinite ceasefire, disarming, demobilizing and reintegrating thousands of fighters, many of whom know nothing but war, into the society they fought against is a significant task. That is why news from the UN that it successfully collected weapons from all of FARC’s 7,000 fighters is such a big deal. Even though the fighters will stay in demobilization camps until July, by giving up their weapons FARC is turning a corner that would be extremely difficult to walk back from.

Guns turned over to the UN. Credit: UN Mission in Colombia

At a ceremony marking the disarmament, Colombia’s President Juan Manuel Santos said, “The laying down of arms is a symbol of the new country that we can be.” FARC’s top leader Rodrigo Londoño – better known by his nom de guerre Timochenko – echoed this sentiment in his own speech. “Farewell to arms, farewell to war, welcome to peace,” he said to a cheering crowd of demobilized fighters. “Today doesn’t end the existence of the FARC; it ends our armed struggle.”

Yet beyond this week’s well deserved celebrations, there is still a lot of work to do. As part of reintegrating members of FARC into Colombian society, one key element of the peace agreement is the establishment of special courts to try former FARC fighters. Those not accused of war crimes can be eligible for amnesty while others can receive reduced sentences for their crimes under certain circumstances. But the government has yet to actually establish any of these courts or judicial mechanisms. With an estimated 3,400 FARC fighters in jail, the delay is a sore point for FARC while critics of the peace agreement – including former Colombian president Alvaro Uribe – believe that FARC fighters are being treated too leniently given the extent of their crimes.

The perception that many FARC fighters are getting off too easy for their crimes is one of the reasons analysts believe the October referendum on the peace deal failed; by going around the public and seeking ratification through Congress, the government avoided having to substantially address or change this element of the peace agreement.

That decision may come back to haunt President Santos. In May, the Colombian Constitutional Court ruled against the government on the “fast track” provisions included in the peace agreement that allows for special legislative authority to implement parts of the deal. The fear is this will allow Congress to see the negotiated provisions of the peace agreement as mere “suggestions” and unwind key parts of the agreement that took years of negotiation to agree on. Following the court’s ruling, many groups throughout the political spectrum raised alarm bells on what it could mean for the peace process. So far the process has endured, but is still at risk for political sabotage in coming months, a stated goal of some of the peace agreement’s fiercest critics.

As the largest rebel group in the country, reaching an agreement with FARC was a necessary step towards peace but FARC is not the only militant group still in Colombia.

Although less than half the size of FARC, the National Liberation Army (ELN) shares a common history dating back to 1964. Unlike FARC, the ELN resisted several attempts by the Santos government for peace talks. After several delays, formal talks did start in February but the challenges are daunting. A few weeks after the talks started, ELN bombed a bull ring outside of Bogota that killed 1 and injured 25 more. Just this month, ELN claimed responsibility for a bombing at an upscale shopping mall that killed 3 and a bombing that stopped the flow of oil in Colombia’s second largest pipeline. With no indication that they are willing to give up violence, peace with the country’s last major leftist guerilla group appears out of reach for now.

On the other side of the political spectrum is the issue of right-wing paramilitary groups. Also a long standing part of the Colombian conflict, the main paramilitary group the United Self-Defence Forces of Colombia (AUC) only partially demobilized under former President Uribe, leading to the creation of “succession” paramilitary groups that are filling the vacuum of control now left vacant by FARC. In some areas, the amount of violence experienced has actually increased as FARC demobilized. The largest of these succession groups, the Gaitanista Self-Defense Forces of Colombia (AGC), recently declared human rights defenders as legitimate military targets and local news organizations have tracked as at least 37 civil society leaders killed in 2017 alone.

Efforts to combat the paramilitary groups is complicated by the historical ties many Colombian politicians have with the groups. There is the concern that politicians opposed to the peace agreement with FARC can use these paramilitary groups to further block implementation and sabotage the peace process, returning the country into full scale war. There is also some speculation that because of the close ties between mainstream politicians and the paramilitary groups, peace with them is not particularly wanted as very real and proverbial skeletons could come out of the closet in negotiations or a subsequent truth commission. Those ongoing entanglements need to be unwound before any real progress can be made.

All of this highlights how far Colombia has to go in ending decades of civil war. The disarmament of FARC is a huge accomplishment, and not one that should be underestimated. But Colombia’s problems were always more than just FARC and now the country needs to address the other outstanding issues it faces after five decades of war. Peace is not easy, but the progress Colombia has made so far is a good sign that eventually it will come to the whole country.

Discussion

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News in Brief 29 June 2017 (AM)

29 Jun 2017

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Nigerian refugees returning from Cameroon wait to register at Banki camp in northern Nigeria. Photo UNHCR/Romain Desclous

UNHCR warns against involuntary return of Nigerian refugees

The forced return of Nigerian refugees from Cameroon must be avoided at all costs, the UN Refugee Agency, UNHCR, said on Thursday.

These people are being sent back to northeast Nigeria where conditions are “dangerously unprepared to receive them,” according to the agency.

UNHCR said ongoing insecurity there is making it difficult for refugees to return to their places of origin.

Many end up in the Nigerian border town of Banki which is already hosting more than 45,000 internally displaced people in severely overcrowded conditions that lack basic facilities such as drinking water and sanitation.

The warning comes after nearly 900 Nigerian refugees, most of them children, were repatriated on Tuesday.

UNHCR renewed its call on Cameroon and Nigeria to halt further returns.

UNICEF seeking US$22 million to support children in Sudan

Children continue to bear the brunt of multiple emergencies in Sudan, according to the UN Children’s Fund (UNICEF).

Over the past few months, the country has recorded more than 16,000 cases of acute watery diarrhoea, resulting in 317 deaths, in addition to high rates of malnutrition.

Furthermore, an influx of refugees from neighbouring South Sudan has also increased the burden on host communities in a country where more than 2.3 million are already displaced.

UNICEF is appealing for US $22 million to provide children with lifesaving water, health and other services.

Young scientists awarded by UN nuclear energy agency

Six young nuclear scientists have been awarded by the UN for their solutions to address climate change.

They were the winners of a competition which solicited original research proposals on how nuclear technology which can contribute to achieving the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs).

The scientists, all under the age of 35, were presented with certificates during a three-day conference organized by the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) which concluded in Russia on Thursday.

More than 600 experts attended the conference, representing 29 countries and six international organizations.

Dianne Penn, United Nations.

Duration: 2’20”

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Highlights – Monday 2 July: EFSD and Capacity Building for Development votes – Committee on Development

Welcome words

Chair of the Committee on Development

Welcome to the website of the Committee on Development (DEVE). I have had the honour of being Chair of the committee since July 2014.

Nearly a billion people around the world live in extreme poverty. Many more face hunger and disease or have no access to healthcare or education. Yet global development efforts, under the framework of the Millennium Development Goals, have led to measurable progress, and we have seen millions being lifted out of poverty in recent years. At the same time however, we are also seeing growing inequalities and need to find ways to make economic growth more beneficial for a greater number of people.

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The EU’s contribution to supporting development is vital and parliamentary support and scrutiny is an important element. Our committee participates in deciding the budget for EU aid spending, we keep a close watch on the European Commission, External Action Service and all those using EU aid funds, and we push for better coordination between donor countries and agencies. We participate in making the laws that frame EU development aid. We also meet with officials, stakeholders and experts from around the world to discuss solutions and hear what’s really needed on the ground. I invite you to regularly check the news and announcements, consult meeting documents or even watch our committee meetings live as they happen.

Linda McAvan

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Peace is Breaking Out in Colombia

Colombia marked a major milestone this week in ending its 52 year-long conflict with FARC when the UN certified disarmament of the rebel group as complete. This is a step � and a very consequential one � toward an enduring peace for the country.

Still, despite this accomplishment, the road to a lasting peace is still quite long�with some big obstacles in the way.

Recent legal challenges to the peace process and ongoing paramilitary violence highlights the difficulties in finding peace after decades of conflict and the hard work it takes by everyone involved.

On its own, the Colombian peace process is a mammoth undertaking, achieved after four years of negotiations. After announcing a deal last August, the peace process hit a stumbling block early on when a slim majority of Colombians voted against it in an October referendum. Further negotiations resulted in a slightly modified agreement, which the government sent to Congress for ratification rather than hold a second referendum. With ratification in late November, the 52 year conflict between the government and FARC formally ended.

But accepting a peace agreement and implementing it are two different things. Despite an indefinite ceasefire, disarming, demobilizing and reintegrating thousands of fighters, many of whom know nothing but war, into the society they fought against is a significant task. That is why news from the UN that it successfully collected weapons from all of FARC’s 7,000 fighters is such a big deal. Even though the fighters will stay in demobilization camps until July, by giving up their weapons FARC is turning a corner that would be extremely difficult to walk back from.

At a ceremony marking the disarmament, Colombia’s President Juan Manuel Santos said, The laying down of arms is a symbol of the new country that we can be. FARC’s top leader Rodrigo LondoAo � better known by his nom de guerre Timochenko � echoed this sentiment in his own speech. Farewell to arms, farewell to war, welcome to peace, he said to a cheering crowd of demobilized fighters. Today doesn’t end the existence of the FARC; it ends our armed struggle.

Yet beyond this week’s well deserved celebrations, there is still a lot of work to do. As part of reintegrating members of FARC into Colombian society, one key element of the peace agreement is the establishment of special courts to try former FARC fighters. Those not accused of war crimes can be eligible for amnesty while others can receive reduced sentences for their crimes under certain circumstances. But the government has yet to actually establish any of these courts or judicial mechanisms. With an estimated 3,400 FARC fighters in jail, the delay is a sore point for FARC while critics of the peace agreement � including former Colombian president Alvaro Uribe � believe that FARC fighters are being treated too leniently given the extent of their crimes.

The perception that many FARC fighters are getting off too easy for their crimes is one of the reasons analysts believe the October referendum on the peace deal failed; by going around the public and seeking ratification through Congress, the government avoided having to substantially address or change this element of the peace agreement.

That decision may come back to haunt President Santos. In May, the Colombian Constitutional Court ruled against the government on the fast track provisions included in the peace agreement that allows for special legislative authority to implement parts of the deal. The fear is this will allow Congress to see the negotiated provisions of the peace agreement as mere suggestions and unwind key parts of the agreement that took years of negotiation to agree on. Following the court’s ruling, many groups throughout the political spectrum raised alarm bells on what it could mean for the peace process. So far the process has endured, but is still at risk for political sabotage in coming months, a stated goal of some of the peace agreement’s fiercest critics.

And amid all this political wrangling there is still violence to deal with.

As the largest rebel group in the country, reaching an agreement with FARC was a necessary step towards peace but FARC is not the only militant group still in Colombia.

Although less than half the size of FARC, the National Liberation Army (ELN) shares a common history dating back to 1964. Unlike FARC, the ELN resisted several attempts by the Santos government for peace talks. After several delays, formal talks did start in February but the challenges are daunting. A few weeks after the talks started, ELN bombed a bull ringoutside of Bogota that killed 1 and injured 25 more. Just this month, ELN claimed responsibility for a bombing at an upscale shopping mall that killed 3 and a bombing that stopped the flow of oil in Colombia’s second largest pipeline. With no indication that they are willing to give up violence, peace with the country’s last major leftist guerilla group appears out of reach for now.

On the other side of the political spectrum is the issue of right-wing paramilitary groups. Also a long standing part of the Colombian conflict, the main paramilitary group the United Self-Defence Forces of Colombia (AUC) only partially demobilized under former President Uribe, leading to the creation of succession paramilitary groups that are filling the vacuum of control now left vacant by FARC. In some areas, the amount of violence experienced has actually increased as FARC demobilized. The largest of these succession groups, the Gaitanista Self-Defense Forces of Colombia (AGC), recently declared human rights defenders as legitimate military targets and local news organizations have tracked as at least 37 civil society leaders killed in 2017 alone.

Efforts to combat the paramilitary groups is complicated by the historical ties many Colombian politicians have with the groups. There is the concern that politicians opposed to the peace agreement with FARC can use these paramilitary groups to further block implementation and sabotage the peace process, returning the country into full scale war. There is also some speculation that because of the close ties between mainstream politicians and the paramilitary groups, peace with them is not particularly wanted as very real and proverbial skeletons could come out of the closet in negotiations or a subsequent truth commission. Those ongoing entanglements need to be unwound before any real progress can be made.

All of this highlights how far Colombia has to go in ending decades of civil war. The disarmament of FARC is a huge accomplishment, and not one that should be underestimated. But Colombia’s problems were always more than just FARC and now the country needs to address the other outstanding issues it faces after five decades of war. Peace is not easy, but the progress Colombia has made so far is a good sign that eventually it will come to the whole country.

Source: UN Dispatch

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Sahel Deterioration Due Partly to Lack of Development, Deputy Secretary-General Tells Economic and Social Council, Peacebuilding Commission

Despite numerous strategies to improve security, governance and development, the situation in the Sahel remained fragile, speakers in a joint meeting of the Economic and Social Council and Peacebuilding Commission agreed today, amid calls for Governments and international partners to improve coherence on the ground by matching short-term objectives with a longer term vision for the region.

Opening the session, Deputy Secretary-General Amina Mohammed said deterioration in the Sahel stemmed in part from the lack of development, good governance, and respect for human rights.  While Mali was at the centre of Islamist violence, other countries had experienced attacks from across the border.  Niger faced a triple threat from Boko Haram, Al-Qaida and Islamic State in Iraq and the Levant (ISIL/Da’esh), along with spillover effects from the Libyan conflict.

Those and other groups were competing for ungoverned spaces, she said, and vigilantism was replacing legitimate authority.  Thirty million people in the Sahel struggled daily with food insecurity.  One in five children suffered from acute malnutrition, while more than 5 million people faced displacement and required protection.  That confluence had spurred a deadly flow of migration through the desert towards the Mediterranean and beyond.

She said reversing those conditions required regional and international cooperation, along with renewed efforts to close the gap between humanitarian needs and development imperatives.  Governments must link short-term objectives in pursuit of a long-term vision, with efforts to address root causes coordinated with the United Nations Development Group and the resident coordinators in Sahel countries.

She also expressed support for consistent efforts to reassert State authority, cautioning against a disproportionate emphasis on security.  Any approach must be based on increased financing by Governments and partners alike, while full use must be made of the Ministerial Coordination Platform for Sahel Strategies.  “We have set in motion reforms to enable faster, more effective, inclusive and sustainable action,” she said, stressing that improved partnership between the Council and the Commission was part of that approach.

Frederick Musiiwa Makamure Shava (Zimbabwe), President of the Economic and Social Council, said today’s meeting built on last year’s joint meeting on the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development and Sustaining Peace.  “We need to make sustaining peace part of the coordinated approach for implementing the 2030 Agenda”, he said.  Against that backdrop, the Council had joined forces with the Commission to focus on the situation in the Sahel, which remained fragile.  “This is a region with complex and multidimensional challenges” he said, ranging from socioeconomic inequalities, to climate change, to a lack of jobs.

He said today’s meeting would take stock of strategies for the region, and offer ideas about long-term stability and development, especially in taking a cross-border approach to building resilience.  It would explore how to coordinate strategies and plans to achieve results on the ground.

Cho Tae-yul (Republic of Korea), Chair of the Peacebuilding Commission, said that body had responded to the 20 January Security Council presidential statement encouraging it to assist the United Nations Office for West Africa and the Sahel (UNOWAS) in implementing the United Nations Integrated Strategy for the region.  The Commission had convened a meeting on 6 March, where participants welcomed such a role.

Further, he had attended the 14 June Ministerial Coordination Platform meeting in N’Djamena, where the Group of Five for the Sahel (G-5 Sahel) countries (Burkina Faso, Chad, Mali, Mauritania and Niger), the Special Representative of the Secretary-General, the African Union High Representative and the European Union Special Envoy had reviewed progress since the launch of the Strategy in 2013.  Participants reiterated their commitment to maintaining the Platform as the political coordination framework to address transnational challenges.  They also welcomed efforts to expand it to include thematic groups focused on security, resilience and governance.

In the ensuing panel discussion, Mohammed ibn Chambas, Special Representative of the Secretary-General and Head of United Nations Office for West Africa and the Sahel (UNOWAS), said that while the idea of a multidimensional approach was as valid today as in 2013, the complexity of the Sahel required a flexible response.  Marginalization and radicalization, as well as human, drug and arms trafficking existed alongside demand for employment and education access.  Success depended on collaboration in conflict prevention, prompt humanitarian intervention, early recovery and peacebuilding efforts that built on locally defined solutions.

Abdoulaye Mar Dieye, Assistant Administrator and Director, Regional Bureau for Africa, United Nations Development Programme (UNDP), said fragility in the Sahel had a number of causes, stemming from deficiencies in resilience, governance and investment, especially in agriculture and youth employment.  Many of the 17 strategies to address them were reactionary:  partial, short-term responses that covered limited territory.

It was important to have a vision of the future, which defined nature and scope of public and private investment, he said.  Creating that vision should include border communities.  The United Nations Integrated Strategy could be streamlined to serve as a framework for unifying initiatives around the region.  As border issues had been the “Achilles heel” of many strategies, building security required making the borders a link, not a barrier.  The 2016 Bamako Declaration on border management was a strategic frame of reference that would allow for organizing a response.

Speakers from United Nations agencies, funds and programmes, joined delegates in posing questions to panellists, outlining both critical challenges and efforts to address them.  Mali’s delegate said G-5 Sahel countries sought to empower local communities to manage their own affairs and requested international support for those choices.  “We need resources,” he said, which must target their priorities.  Chad’s delegate, meanwhile, said the 14 June Ministerial Platform meeting highlighted the need for initiatives based on recommendations made at that meeting, the most important of which was communication of the actions already under way.

Mauritania’s delegate cautioned against making the Sahel a “laboratory” for different concepts.   He advocated support for “integrationist thinking” among regional countries, as an “ideology of dehumanization” was gaining ground.  Respect for State sovereignty was also essential in ensuring that what was done was actually viable.

Panel

The joint meeting then heard presentations by Mohammed ibn Chambas, Special Representative of the Secretary-General and Head of United Nations Office for West Africa and the Sahel (UNOWAS), and Abdoulaye Mar Dieye, Assistant Administrator and Director, Regional Bureau for Africa, United Nations Development Programme (UNDP).

Mr. CHAMBAS, speaking via video link, said the United Nations Integrated Strategy for the Sahel (UNISS) defined three strategic goals for tackling security challenges:  enhancing inclusive and effective governance, strengthening national and regional security mechanisms, and integrating humanitarian and development plans in order to build resilience.  Those areas were considered complementary and offered an integrated response to the multiple challenges in the Sahel.

Yet, he said, “a lot has changed and the situation has evolved since the strategic approach of 2013”, citing political and security developments, institutional changes in the United Nations field presence, and a growing number of partnerships and programmes.  While the idea of a multidimensional approach was as valid today as it was in 2013, the complexity of the Sahel required a flexible response, as challenges existed in different contexts.  Marginalization and radicalization existed, as well as human, drug and arms trafficking alongside demand for employment and education access.  Success depended on collaboration in conflict prevention, prompt humanitarian intervention, early recovery and peacebuilding efforts that built on locally defined solutions.

He underscored the need to redefine “the how” and address any duplication of efforts, pointing to a document titled “elements of an action plan for the UNISS” adopted during the Strategy’s steering committee meeting on 23 June, and which just today, he had sent to the Department of Political Affairs for transmission to the Deputy Secretary-General.  It outlined a clear division of labour for United Nations actors to separate coordination and advocacy functions from implementation of the Strategy’s programmes.

As the Sahel hosted 17 bilateral and multilateral strategies, which had grown difficult for countries, “we are compelled to have coordinated regional approaches to tackle security, governance, resilience and development challenges”, he said.  He underscored the need to focus on common objectives and consider the role of Sahelian countries, regional institutions and international actors.  An overemphasis on security or humanitarian response must be avoided, as that would only tackle the effects of the crisis, rather than its roots.

Mr. DIEYE said the fragile situation had a number of different causes, all of which were “well known and overstudied”.  They stemmed from deficiencies in resilience, governance and investment, especially in agriculture and youth employment.  There was also an enormous security challenge, stemming from trafficking, transnational crime, unregulated migration, identity issues, the war in Libya and emergence of extremist groups, along with the fact the Sahel linked the Atlantic with the Red Sea, and had enormous mining and energy resources.  Many of the 17 responses were reactionary in nature.  They were partial, short-term, and covered limited territory.  They were not coordinated and carried high transactional costs.  “Their aggregated effect is thus quite limited,” he said.

It was possible, however to build a Sahel that was not a prisoner to fatalism, he said, noting that such efforts would require a structural response.  First, it was important to have a vision of the future, which defined nature and scope of public and private investment.  Creating that vision should not be left to States alone; participation, especially by border communities, was appropriate.  The second imperative was the need to coordinate actions in the Sahel.  The United Nations Strategy could be streamlined to serve as a framework for unifying initiatives around the region.  Structures including the Lake Chad Basin Commission must be strengthened.  The third imperative related to optimal management of border regions, as border issues had been the “Achilles heel” of many strategies.  In a region of boundaries that often were artificial, building security required making the borders a link, not a barrier.  The 2016 Bamako Declaration on border management was a strategic frame of reference that would allow for organizing a response.

In the ensuing discussion, speakers from United Nations agencies, funds and programmes, joined delegates in outlining the critical challenges and efforts to address them.  The representative of the World Bank said that, as of this month, the financial institution will have delivered on the $1.5 billion commitment made by its President in 2013 while on a visit to the region.  A further $1 billion from the International Development Association would start 1 July and focus on irrigation, solar power and a Lake Chad initiative.  The Bank viewed the drivers of fragility as unequal benefit-sharing, demography, climate risk, the spread of extremist ideology and the trafficking of drugs, people, weapons and finance.  The speaker from the Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO), meanwhile, said 13.7 million people in the region were severely food insecure, the most vulnerable of whom were in urgent need of food and livelihood assistance.  FAO was working with the World Food Programme (WFP) to improve resilience, especially in the Lake Chad Basin, where they provided humanitarian and livelihood assistance.

The representative of Mexico said the presentations made today reflected the inconsistencies and lack of coherence of the United Nations system and Member States alike.  There was clarity around the problems.  “It seems like the formulas we have get lost on route to implementation on the ground,” he said.  He asked what was happening, questioning whether the Organization was fragmented or if agencies were competing with one another.

The representative of Mali expressed concern over the security situation, which had worsened with the rise of terrorist groups and traffickers.  As the impact of both factors transcended individual countries, Burkina Faso, Mali, Mauritania, Niger and Chad had formed the Group of Five for the Sahel (G-5 Sahel), which aimed to re-establish security and promote development.  Noting that the Security Council had recently endorsed the creation of a regional force to improve security, he said “we won’t be able to guarantee development for our populations until we’ve emphasized security,” stressing that the Group had also launched transport, farming and energy projects.  On the issue of governance, he said G-5 Sahel countries sought to empower local communities to manage their own affairs and he requested international support for those choices.  “We need resources,” he said, which must target their priorities.

The representative of Senegal, recalling a 2017 Security Council presidential statement, said “we have to recognize that poverty affects a very high proportion of the population”, in a region with limited economic prospects and faced with the impacts of climate change.  The positive trend of reinforced cooperation must be welcomed.  The Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS) had become a platform for dialogue and he recalled the objective of promoting peaceful, inclusive societies.  Regional approaches were essential to sustaining peace in the region, he said, given the cross-cutting nature of the challenges ahead.

The representative of Indonesia registered his disapproval with how the term “jihadism” had been related with terrorism and violent extremism in the joint meeting’s concept note.  Jihad had no relation to terrorism and must not inadvertently validate such an understanding of it.  He supported the African Peace and Security Architecture 2016-2020 Roadmap for the peace and security architecture, calling for greater support for Strategy’s goals of governance, security and resilience, which must be adequately financed.

The representative of Norway, stressing that stability and development in the Sahel was important for her own region, said her State had increased political dialogue, as well as its contributions to humanitarian action and to the United Nations Multidimensional Integrated Stabilization Mission in Mali (MINUSMA).  “We must use our resources more strategically,” she said, linking long-term investments with humanitarian action.  In addition to health and education initiatives, she advocated mobilizing the private sector to create jobs.

The representative of Japan advocated a holistic approach to the Sahel, stressing that, as focal point for institution-building in the Peacebuilding Commission, his delegation had held a meeting earlier today on cross-border issues in the Sahel.  Participants had advocated greater partnerships and expanded support for cross-border projects, stressing that international assistance should support national and regional strategies.

The representative of Chad, noting that his country was recently declared eligible for peacebuilding funds, said such resources would help build national cohesion.  Chad was an integral part of the Sahel situation and he supported tackling deep-rooted security problems with a regional approach.  There were various plans and strategies under way, all of them requiring effective coordination.  The 14 June meeting of the Ministerial Platform in N’Djamena, attended by the Peacebuilding Commission, highlighted the need for initiatives based on recommendations made at that meeting, the most important of which was communication of the actions already under way.  “What is missing is a certain prioritization of actions,” he said, expressing support for the creation of a mechanism to promote coordination.

The representative of the United States advocated the whole-of-system perspective, stressing that breaking down institutional siloes was essential to meet the needs of countries in conflict or transition.  He expressed strong support for countries in the region to foster stability and enhance economic opportunities.  The situation in the Sahel had been over-strategized and over-studied by the United Nations and efforts should focus on deploying funds towards existing strategies and frameworks.

The representative of Cameroon said that many doctors had come to the bedside, yet the Sahel and Lake Chad Basin were still “very ill”.  Questions centred on whether the treatments were correct, whether those treatments had been administered in a timely manner, and whether the dosage was the right amount.  For some issues, the timing and dosage were off.

The representative of Mauritania said the relevant diagnoses had been made.  “We now just have to find the ways and means to guarantee peace and development in the Sahel,” he said, underscoring the need for both investment and an integrated United Nations strategy for development, which promoted initiatives from national communities and stakeholders.   He advocated support for “integrationist thinking” among regional countries, including through partnerships with national communities, especially as an “ideology of dehumanization” was gaining ground.  “Let’s avoid making the Sahel a laboratory for different concepts,” he said.  “We’re talking about peace and sustainable development,” for which there was much potential.  Respect for State sovereignty was also essential in ensuring that what was done was actually viable.

Also speaking today were representatives of Brazil, Russian Federation, Egypt, Chile, France, China and Australia.

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‘Inclusive, equitable and quality education’ at the heart of high-level UN event

Education leaders from around the world convened today at the United Nations to discuss ways to advance action on Sustainable Development Goal 4, which aims to ensure inclusive and quality education for all and promote lifelong learning.

Inclusive, equitable and quality education goes to the heart of the 2030 Agenda as a key enabler of sustainable development, said Peter Thomson, President of the General Assembly, in his opening remarks at the High-level SDG Action Event on Education.

Mr. Thomson pointed out that education taps the Earth’s greatest asset, namely the inherent potential of the world’s people.

Access to quality education is not only a goal in itself, but a fundamental building block to creating a better world of sustainable peace, prosperity and development, he underscored.

He went on to explain that education holds the key to fuelling sustainable growth, building social cohesion and stability, and promoting human rights and equality � calling it the golden thread that runs through all 17 SDGs.

UN Deputy Secretary-General Amina Mohammed dubbed education as the cornerstone of sustainable development.

Ms. Mohammed maintained that the world can only be shaped by quality and relevant education, stressing the importance of investments to ensure a strong framework.

We know when we deliver education to a young person, we’re not only delivering the knowledge and skills they will need to chart their own future � we’re preparing them to lend their hands, their mind, and their heart to shaping a more peaceful, prosperous future for their society, and indeed, for the world, she said.

The UN deputy chief focussed specifically on the five interrelated areas of finance, innovation, girls’ education, lifelong learning, and education in humanitarian contexts.

Noting that the wealthiest children enjoy up to 18 times more public education financing than the poorest, she exhorted, This injustice must be reversed.

There is no better investment in the future peace and resilience of a society than in the education of its citizens, she stated.

For her part, Irina Bokova, Director-General of the UN Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO), emphasized education as a basic human right and the foundation for inclusive sustainable development.

Education is a transformational force that cuts across all of the Sustainable Development Goals, making progress sustainable across the board, said Ms. Bokova.

Citing UNESCO’s regular global monitoring reports, she noted that 264 million children, adolescents and youth were out of school � most of them girls.

Girls and women face the steepest challenges. Two-thirds of the more than 750 million illiterate adults in the world are women, stressed Ms. Bokova, adding that they are often discriminated against, prevented from enrolling or continuing their education, dropping out of secondary education and facing strong barriers.

If we do not move these barriers away we will not achieve Sustainable Development Goal 4, she underscored.

If all adults completed secondary education, 420 million people could be lifted from poverty, reducing the number of poor people by more than half globally, by almost two-thirds in Sub-Saharan Africa, in South Asia and yet, aid to education has fallen for the sixth consecutive year, Ms. Bokova indicated. This can simply not go on.

As experts discussed how to advance SDG 4, the event also highlighted innovations in education through a panel discussion and a marketplace that showcased solutions to delivering low-cost or free learning resources to students and educators.

Today’s event, which also featured musical performances, was the last in a series of SDG action events convened by the Office of the President of the General Assembly. Others focussed on sustainable peace, climate action, financing and innovation.

Source: UN News Centre

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Press Releases: Remarks at the 2017 Trafficking in Persons Report Launch Ceremony

AMBASSADOR COPPEDGE: Good morning.

AUDIENCE: Good morning.

AMBASSADOR COPPEDGE: Welcome to the Department of State. We have quite the full room. My name is Susan Coppedge and I am the Ambassador-at-Large for the Office to Monitor and Combat Trafficking in Persons. Thank you all for joining us today for the release of the 17th Annual Trafficking in Persons Report. (Applause.) I was looking for a copy to hold up because I’m a prosecutor and I like my props. (Laughter.)

But a quick word about our program. First, our host, Secretary of State Tillerson, will share keynote remarks with us. Following additional remarks by Advisor to the President Ivanka Trump, we will honor our eight wonderful trafficking in person heroes and hear brief remarks from one of them. After the event concludes, I will invite you to pick up your own copy of the report. It is an honor to be here this morning with Secretary Tillerson and Ms. Trump, and I thank you both for elevating the issue of human trafficking and for your support of the Trafficking in Persons Office.

And now, ladies and gentlemen, Secretary of State Rex Tillerson. (Applause.)

SECRETARY TILLERSON: Well, thank you so much, Susan, and welcome to all of you to the State Department for this important event, and particularly I’m honored to welcome members of Congress, and in particular I want to highlight the leadership of Chairman Corker who’s with us from the Senate Foreign Relations Committee this morning. Thank you. (Applause.) I think this really illustrates the dedication to combating human trafficking and the commitment of our country that we have this joint effort underway across the entire United States Government.

And I also want to thank Ambassador Coppedge for her 16-year career devoted to this issue. (Applause.) And I also know she doesn’t do this alone, and we’re grateful to her staff and also the many, many State Department colleagues at our embassies and our consulate offices who both help with the preparation of this report, but I think more importantly, they encourage governments to progress their efforts to combat human trafficking every day in our engagement with them.

I also want to welcome ambassadors and representatives from the foreign diplomatic corps. Our partnership with you, obviously, is essential to combating human trafficking as well.

And finally, I want to recognize the survivors of human trafficking as well as representatives of the many NGOs and international organizations who are with us today, and thank you for being here for this rollout of this report.

I think before I get to some of my prepared remarks, it’s – since this was my first one of these to review and sign off on and make the report, I thought it useful to go back and read the original reason why we do this. This is the Victims of Trafficking and Violence Protection Act of 2000, and that’s really where this all began. And I think it is useful to remind us why we’re here this morning, why we’re gathered in this room, and what the United States Government and the people of the United States were really trying to express in this area.

And I think if you go back to the preamble to this act, I think it really sums it up well. It says, “The purpose of this act is to combat trafficking in persons, a contemporary manifestation of slavery, whose victims are predominantly women and children, to ensure just and effective punishment of traffickers, and to protect the victims.” And then it – I want to read just one more line: “As the 21st century begins, the degrading institution of slavery continues throughout the world.”

That is why we are here this morning. It then does – the act goes on to require that the State Department prepare this annual report to make an assessment of how governments around the world are taking action to address this. And I think it’s really through actions what this act motivated and what the State Department is doing as it meets its obligation, is we’re identifying first where the problems are: how do the problems manifest themselves – because they continue to evolve and take on new characteristics; how do we then work with governments to cause them to put in place laws that allow them to then pursue those who participate in these various forms of human trafficking; how do we encourage governments to enforce those laws and actually begin to hold people accountable; and lastly, how do we create the conditions where the victims or the potential victims of human trafficking are able to come forward in a non-threatening way and help us understand better how this is occurring.

And it’s really the results of what we do that matter. The report is an important tool to help us understand and help us help other governments understand, but the end of it – it’s the individual, it’s the victim, and our ability to prevent others from being victimized.

Human trafficking is as old as humankind. Regrettably, it’s been with us for centuries and centuries. But in the expression of this act, as I read that one line to you, it is our hope that the 21st century will be the last century of human trafficking, and that’s what we are all committed to. Regrettably – (applause).

Regrettably, our challenge is enormous. Today, globally, it’s estimated that there are 20 million victims of human trafficking. So, clearly, we have a lot of work to do and governments around the world have a lot of work to do.

So let me now make a few comments on the report and why it’s so important. Obviously, the consequences of our failure to act in this area has so many other negative impacts around the world: it breeds corruption; it undermines rule of law; it erodes the core values that underpin a civil society. Transnational criminal networks also – whether they be drug dealers, money launderers, or document forgers – are partly enabled by participating in human trafficking activities as well.

When state actors or nonstate actors use human trafficking, it can become a threat to our national security.

North Korea, for instance, depends on forced labor to generate illicit sources of revenue in industries including construction, mining, and food processing. An estimated fifty to eighty thousand North Korean citizens are working overseas as forced laborers, primarily in Russia and China, many of them working 20 hours a day. Their pay does not come to them directly. It goes to the Government of Korea, which confiscates most of that, obviously.

The North Korean regime receives hundreds of millions of dollars per year from the fruits of forced labor. Responsible nations simply cannot allow this to go on, and we continue to call on any nation that is hosting workers from North Korea in a forced labor arrangement to send those people home. Responsible nations also must take further action. China was downgraded to Tier Three status in this year’s report in part because it has not taken serious steps to end its own complicity in trafficking – including forced laborers from North Korea that are located in China.

American consumers and businesses must also recognize they may have an unwitting connection to human trafficking. Supply chains creating many products that Americans enjoy may be utilizing forced labor. The State Department does engage with businesses to alert them to these situations so that they can take actions on their own to ensure that they are not in any way complicit.

Most tragically, human trafficking preys on the most vulnerable, young children, boys and girls, separating them from their families, often to be exploited, forced into prostitution or sex slavery.

The State Department’s 2017 Trafficking in Persons Report exposes human trafficking networks and holds their operators and their accomplices accountable.

The focus of this year’s report is governments’ responsibilities under the Palermo Protocol to criminalize human trafficking in all its forms and to prosecute offenders. We urge the 17 countries that are not a party to the international Protocol to Prevent, Suppress, and Punish Trafficking in Persons to reconsider their position and to join the other countries who have made that commitment.

The 2017 TIP Report also emphasizes governments must put forward tougher anti-corruption laws and enforce them, so that traffickers do not get a free pass for those who choose to turn a blind eye.

Importantly, nations must educate law enforcement partners on how to identify and respond to those who dishonorably wear the law enforcement uniform or the military uniform by allowing trafficking to flourish. The most devastating examples are police officers and those who we rely upon to protect us, that they become complicit through bribery, by actually working in brothels themselves, or obstructing investigations for their own profit. Complicity and corruption that allows human trafficking from law enforcement officials must end.

We know shutting down these networks is challenging. But these challenges cannot serve as an excuse for inaction.

The 2017 TIP Report also recognizes those governments making progress. We want to give them credit for what they are doing. Last year, governments reported more than 9,000 convictions of human-trafficking crimes worldwide, up from past years.

Just to mention a few highlights:

Last July, the president of Afghanistan ordered an investigation into institutionalized sexual abuse of children by police officers, including punishment for perpetrators. In January, a new law was enacted criminalizing bacha baazi, a practice that exploits boys for social and sexual entertainment. The government continues to investigate, prosecute, and convict traffickers – including complicit government officials.

In the Ukraine – a country that has been on the Watch List for years – the office of the prosecutor general issued directives to improve investigations of trafficking, and increased efforts to root out complicity, including convictions of police officers. A teacher at a government-run school, a government-run boarding school for orphans, has been arrested for trying to sell a child. And officials are now on notice that complicity in trafficking will be met with strict punishment.

In the Philippines, increased efforts to combat trafficking have led to the investigation of more than 500 trafficking cases and the arrest of 272 suspects – an 80 percent increase from 2015.

Given the scale of the problem, though, all of these countries, and many more, have much to do. But it is important to note their progress and encourage their continued commitment.

As with other forms of illicit crime, human trafficking is becoming more nuanced and more difficult to identify. Much of these activities are going underground and they’re going online.

The State Department is committed to continuing to develop with other U.S. agencies, as well as our partners abroad, new approaches to follow these activities wherever they go and to train law enforcement to help them improve their technologies to investigate and prosecute these crimes.

To that end, I am pleased to highlight a State Department initiative announced earlier this year.

The Program to End Modern Slavery will increase funding for prosecution, protection, and prevention efforts to reduce the occurrence of modern slavery wherever it is most prevalent. The program is the result of the important support of Congress, especially from Chairman Corker, and other leaders committed to bringing more people out from under what is a crime against basic human rights.

The Program to End Modern Slavery will fund transformational programs but also set about to raise commitments of $1.5 billion in support from other governments and private donors, while developing the capacity of foreign governments and civil society to work to end modern slavery in their own countries.

As we reflect on this year’s reports and the state of human trafficking the world over, we recognize those dedicated individuals who have committed their lives – and in some cases put their lives at risk – in pursuit of ending modern slavery. For many victims, theirs is the first face of hope they see after weeks or even years of fear and pain.

The 2017 TIP Report Heroes will be recognized formally in just a few minutes, but I want to thank them and express my own admiration for their courage, leadership, sacrifice, and devotion to ending human trafficking. (Applause.)

As we honor these heroes, we remember that everyone – everyone – has a role to play. Governments, NGOs, the private sector, survivors, and, most of all, the American people all must continue to work together to make human trafficking end in the 21st century.

And now please join me in welcoming an advocate for ending human trafficking, and someone who is doing a great deal to raise the profile of this issue, Advisor to the President of the United States, Ms. Ivanka Trump. (Applause.)

MS TRUMP: Thank you, Secretary Tillerson, for the warm welcome and for representing the United States with such incredible distinction. It is an honor to join you, Ambassador Coppedge, and the entire State Department team here today, who works tirelessly to remove the ugly stain on civilization that is human trafficking. We are grateful for your continued dedication. Also here with us is Senator Corker. Senator, I want to thank you for your unwavering commitment to this critical issue. (Applause.)

It is an honor to be here today at the release of this year’s Trafficking in Persons Report and to recognize this year’s heroes. Their remarkable work inspires action. Thank you for affording us the opportunity to learn from your impressive examples.

Human trafficking is a pervasive human rights issue affecting millions, no matter their gender, age, or nationality. It is often a profoundly secret crime. One of the greatest challenges is to merely identify those trapped in modern slavery. Even conservative estimates conclude that some 20 million people around the world, including right here in the United States, are trapped in human trafficking situations, terrible circumstances of exploitation, including so many young girls and boys who are victims of unthinkable tragedy of child sex trafficking.

The stories of those we honor today demonstrate why combating this crime here in the United States, as well as around the globe, is in both our moral and our strategic interest. As Secretary Tillerson noted earlier, ending human trafficking is a major foreign policy priority for the Trump administration. Over the past several months, the White House has hosted round tables and listening sessions with victims, with NGOs, members of Congress, and others to determine steps we can take to better execute a strategy to finally end human trafficking. The President signed an executive order designed to strengthen the enforcement of federal law with regards to transnational criminal organizations, including traffickers. Further, he has taken steps to ensure that the Department of Homeland Security personnel are properly trained to combat child trafficking at points of entry into the United States.

This year’s report emphasizes the responsibility all governments have to prosecute human traffickers. It also provides an opportunity for countries to see how others are fighting human trafficking and to adopt the most effective strategies and tactics, while renewing their own resolve in this struggle.

On a personal level, as a mother, this is much more than a policy priority. It is a clarion call to action in defense of the vulnerable, the abused, and the exploited. Last month, while in Rome, I had an opportunity to talk firsthand with human trafficking survivors. They told me their harrowing stories, how they were trapped in this ugly, dark web, how they survived, how they escaped, and how they are very slowly reconstructing their lives.

Here in the United States, we have our own Advisory Council on Human Trafficking, comprised exclusively of survivors. We cannot meaningfully address this pervasive issue without the brave voice of survivors at the table. They can help us understand what they experienced and they will play a leading role in solving this pressing crisis.

These survivors are not only victims; they are heroes. So are the courageous crusaders who have committed themselves to fight human trafficking wherever it exists. As part of the 2017 TIP Report, the State Department recognizes individuals who have been tireless in their efforts to combat human trafficking. Today, we honor a police officer, whose efforts led to the identification of 350 children forced into labor; a union leader, who protects workers in the fishing industry; a judge, who played a critical role in drafting her country’s first anti-trafficking legislation; a journalist, who shines a light on forced labor; a faith leader, who works to protect vulnerable migrants; a sociologist, whose groundbreaking research considers the structural challenges affecting vulnerable populations; an advocate, who founded an NGO to care for child sex trafficking victims; and a survivor, the first in her country to win civil damages in a sex trafficking case. Each of these heroes is a source of inspiration. They all have different backgrounds but are united in this shared cause. We celebrate and we stand with each of you. (Applause.)

So as we mark the release of this year’s report, let us remember the victims saved from the unimaginable horrors of human trafficking. Let us recommit ourselves to finding those still in the shadows of exploitation. And let us celebrate the heroes who continue to shine a light on the darkness of human trafficking.

Now please join me in welcoming the great Ambassador Susan Coppedge, as she reads the citations. Thank you for your incredible work. (Applause.)

AMBASSADOR COPPEDGE: Thank you, Mrs. Trump, for those heartfelt words. We look forward to continuing our partnership with the White House. I would like to ask each TIP Report hero to stand up when I call out his or her name and country and join us to receive their award.

First, from Argentina, Alika Kinan. (Applause.) In recognition of her extraordinary courage in pursuing justice against her traffickers, her selfless efforts to assist the government in prosecuting and preventing human trafficking cases by sharing her experiences and knowledge, and her tenacity in advocating for greater protections for vulnerable groups and victims of trafficking in Argentina. They wouldn’t let me read, they were clapping too loud, so – (laughter) – thank you.

Next, from Brazil, Leonardo Sakamoto. (Applause.) In recognition of his unwavering resolve to find and expose instances of forced labor, his commitment to raising awareness among vulnerable communities and within the private sector, and his vital role in ensuring progress in government efforts to prevent human trafficking in Brazil. (Applause.)

And Sister Vanaja Jasphine from Cameroon. (Applause.) In recognition of her unrelenting efforts to combat modern slavery, her groundbreaking work in identifying a key migration trend to prevent trafficking of Cameroonians in the Middle East, and her dedication to ensuring survivors have legal support and access to comprehensive reintegration assistance. (Applause.)

And from Hungary, Viktoria Sebhelyi. (Applause.) In recognition of her groundbreaking academic contributions to reveal the prevalence of child sex trafficking in Hungary, her ability to bring together government and civil society organizations to improve victim identification and services, and her dedication to increasing awareness and understanding of human trafficking. (Applause.)

From Morocco, Judge Amina Oufroukhi. (Applause.) In recognition of her leadership as a driving force behind Morocco’s comprehensive new anti-trafficking law, her perseverance in developing a victim-centered implementation plan, and her steadfast commitment to training judicial and law enforcement officials likely to come into contact with victims of human trafficking. (Applause.)

And from Taiwan, Allison Lee. (Applause.) In recognition of her unwavering advocacy on behalf of foreign fishermen on Taiwan-flagged vessels, her central role in forming the first labor union composed of and led by foreign workers, and her courage in demanding stronger protections for vulnerable workers through sustained engagement with authorities and the public. (Applause.)

And from Thailand, Boom Mosby. (Applause.) In recognition of her steadfast commitment to combat child sex trafficking in Thailand, her dedication to enhancing comprehensive care for victims, and her persistent engagement with government officials, social workers, and service providers to further protect and reintegrate survivors of human trafficking back into their communities. (Applause.)

And from India, Mr. Mahesh Muralidhar Bhagwat. We are sorry that Mr. Bhagwat was unable to join us today, but would like to recognize him for his dynamic leadership in combatting modern slavery in India, his vital role in elevating human trafficking as a government priority, and his innovative approach to investigating cases and dismantling trafficking operations. (Applause.)

Now, I am pleased to introduce TIP Report hero, Boom Mosby, the founder and director of the HUG Project in Thailand. Ms. Mosby is a passionate advocate for child victims of sexual abuse in Thailand, and has been instrumental in the advancement of a victim-centered approach in Thai anti-trafficking efforts. (Applause.)

MS MOSBY: Thank you. Secretary Tillerson, it is a great honor to be standing here today on behalf of a 2017 TIP Hero and especially on behalf of human trafficking’s – human – human trafficking victims around the world. (Applause.)

I would like to tell you about one of those victims: a girl I will call Jane. She was the first trafficking victim I worked with. Six years ago, Jane was exploited in sex trafficking when she was only 13 years old. Like millions of other men, women, and children around the world, she found herself trapped in the darkness of modern day slavery through manipulation and false promises. Jane’s traffickers used the seduction of money to lured her into their control. In hindsight, Jane would say that she took a wrong turn and made mistake, but the truth is she is a victim.

No matter how much recovery Jane experiences, the physical and emotional scars will mark her for a lifetime. That is why human trafficking, whether for labor or for sex, is not only a crimes against an individual; it is a crimes against human dignity. But thanks to the devoted people like the heroes in this room, freedom is possible. Jane will tell you that the key ingredients to her recovery have been patience and unconditional love. What she needs from us is to stand with her at her worst. Today, Jane is about to finish high school and is determined to continue her education in social work and make a difference in the lives of other victims like her.

Success story like Jane’s could not happen without collaboration. One example of this is the Thailand Internet Crimes Against Children Task Force. TICAC represents a new model of cooperation between law enforcement and NGOs. We are putting aside personal agendas and bringing together dedicated and passionate individuals to accomplish our common goals. Our focus is on a victim-centered approach: always asking what is in the best interest of the child. The victim is always our highest priority.

Today, we are receiving the title of hero, but in fact, we do not possess any supernatural powers. (Laughter.) We are here because of the hard work and team work of many heroes. In the end, when facing the evil of human trafficking, we are all confronted with a choice: Do nothing or do something.

When looking at this choice, I am reminded of our past king, the late His Majesty King Rama IX, who died less than a year ago. As Thailand long-reigning monarch, he was often referred to as the “father of our nation.” He truly looked at the Thai people as his children, having compassion for their suffering and working hard to improve their lives. Today, I call upon the government, leadership, and ordinary citizens of every country to follow the late Thai king’s example and look after their people as their children.

Thank you. (Applause.)

AMBASSADOR COPPEDGE: Thank you, Ms. Mosby. We are so grateful for the work that you do, and we’re truly inspired by all of our heroes here today. I also want to thank our colleagues in the Bureau of Education and Cultural Affairs for sponsoring the heroes’ visit to the United States. After they leave here today, the heroes will be traveling to Boston and Miami to meet with anti-trafficking organizations, exchange ideas, and share promising practices.

I have spent my career working on this issue. First, as a federal prosecutor, and now, leading the TIP office in the Department of State. In both roles, I have witnessed the aftermath of human cruelty and greed really at its very worst – individuals, both children and adults, forced into unimaginable suffering. And yet I always say to work in this field you have to have hope, and I have hope – hope that is inspired by the incredible people I have met along the way: survivors, NGO leaders, dedicated law enforcement and government officials, experts and everyday community members who refuse to let this issue be ignored. The fight against human trafficking is a struggle that unites us all, and with determination, optimism, and collaboration, we can end modern slavery.

In her remarks, Ms. Mosby noted that we are all confronted with a choice: Do nothing or do something. Everyone in this room who is working in this arena and those around the world who are fighting trafficking are doing something. But to the rest of the world, I echo Ms. Mosby’s call to action. When it comes to human trafficking, everyone has a role to play and an obligation to act. We must choose to do something to end modern slavery.

Thank you all so much for coming today. (Applause.)

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Taking the fight against Boko Haram to the airwaves

Isolation helps propagate radicalisation, so providing information and giving an empowering voice to civilians helps reduce it. That’s the idea behind a radio station broadcasting across a vast region in West Africa devastated by the Boko Haram insurgency.

As the “on-air” lamp flashes in the sound-proofed studio, presenter Fatima Ibrahim Mu’azzam puts on her headphones.

“Good morning and welcome to Dandal Kura Radio International,” she says in the local Kanuri language. “It’s a beautiful morning in Maiduguri and I’m excited to bring you your favourite phone-in programme, Kuttunumgulle,” she adds, using the Kanuri phrase for “listeners’ complaints”.

After a news bulletin, which includes updates from the Presidential Committee on the Northeast Initiative (PCNI), the phone-in segment of the show starts.

“My name is Mallam Ahmad and I’m calling from Dalori camp in Maiduguri, home to more than 18,000 who fled Boko Haram attacks,” the first caller says, in the Hausa language.

“Good morning Ahmad. We’re happy to hear from you. What’s up for us today?” asks Mu’azzam, effortlessly mixing between the two languages.

“Please help us tell the government that our girls and women are being raped,” says Ahmad, his voice heavy with anger. “This has to stop because we’ve suffered a lot.”

“I’m sorry about that, Ahmad,” responds Mu’azzam. “We will try to bring the issue to the government so they can act fast to stop the rape.”

The next caller, Bashir from Yobe State, says internally displaced people like him are suffering.

“We don’t get the food, and things like clothes, tents and blankets, allocated to us… This is corruption and it’s not fair at all. We want the government to set up a committee to consider the diversion of food and other relief materials.”

Mu’azzam assures Bashir the government will be urged to address this.

Other callers complain about the rising cost of living in Maiduguri, the capital of Borno State and birthplace of Boko Haram, and several others say they can’t afford to continue staying away from their villages.

Pressing need

Since the Boko Haram insurgency erupted seven years ago, some 20,000 people have been killed and almost 1.9 million internally displaced, the largest portion of them to Maiduguri. Some 5.2 million of northeastern Nigeria’s 5.8 million people are food insecure, largely as a result of the insurgency.

Dandal Kura, which receives funding from the United States and the UK but remains independent editorially, broadcasts six hours of programming every day, reaching a potential audience of millions, not only in northeastern Nigeria, but also in neighbouring Chad, Cameroon, and Niger – all countries where Boko Haram is also active.

“This phone–in programme gives IDPs and people affected by the conflict a loud and clear voice,” explained Mu’azzam in an interview with IRIN.

The station also provides information about the government’s counter-insurgency operations, as well as about facilities such as medical centres, farm irrigation, sports, human rights, and entertainment.

“Information is key to countering insurgency and that is why we begin some programmes with a news bulletin which tries to inform people about activities of the PCNI, the body responsible for the coordination of humanitarian response and recovery in the region,” Mu’azzam added.

Although it appears to be paying off to some extent, the Nigerian government’s response to Boko Haram has been predominantly military, with little investment in civilian outreach or counter-radicalisation.

It is precisely that gap that Dandal Kura, whose mission is to promote “peace, development and prosperity” across the Lake Chad Region, aims to fill.

“Military solutions alone cannot win this war,” said the station’s managing director, Faruk Dalhatu. “Boko Haram used to control the narrative in the entire region, but with Dandal Kura you can certainly reach the people on the fringes of Borno, Chad, Cameroon and Nigeria who were bereft of local news in the past.”

The importance of language

For Mu’azzam, the government’s lack of attention to the Kanuri language has created a platform for Boko Haram’s message to thrive. “During conflict, people need information and when there is none they can easily begin to feel isolated and abandoned,” she explained.

David Smith, Dandal Kura’s Canadian project director, noted: “There are roughly ten million Kanuri speakers in the four countries bordering Lake Chad.

“Creating a radio service that provides a cross-border platform creates an opportunity for all Kanuri to come up with home-grown solutions to the crisis, [which] is generally more sustainable than one imposed from outside,” he added.

In a region with very low rates of literacy, radio is an ideal medium.

“The ability to talk to people in their mother tongue, and take their questions and comments in Kanuri is a way of showing respect,” said Smith, who has previously worked on radio projects in Somalia, the Democratic Republic of Congo, and Central African Republic.

It’s a point not lost on Boko Haram, whose leader, Abubuakar Shekau, is Kanuri, and whose own multimedia messaging, in the Kanuri language, has capitalised on the perceived marginalisation and economic deprivation of people in the northeast. Boko Haram even tried to get in on the radio game itself last year, but its fledgling FM station, set up on the Nigerian-Cameroon border, were blocked by the National Broadcasting Commission.

“Language is more than a means of communication. It is also culture, emotion, and an integral part of a person’s dignity,” Smith added. “Kanuri speakers have been divided by colonial borders and reduced to a minority in each of their respective countries. Although divided, they share the pain and burden of attacks by Boko Haram and other hostile elements.”

A wide network

Dandal Kura – which means “big meeting place” in Kanuri – has 30 correspondents dotted around its coverage areas in four countries. Launched in Kano State in February 2015, it relocated to Maiduguri early last year as relative peace and security began to return to the city.

“We need a radio station that will take up the fight to sensitise young people who are hoodwinked into joining the sect to fight,” said Mustapha Ali Busuguma, a lawyer based in Maiduguri. “It is very important because most of the fighters do not have the option of hearing other interpretations of the Koran, so they are stuck with whatever Shekau says.”

Keen listener Garba Ibrahim, a security guard in Maiduguri said the station “helps us understand the Boko Haram insurgency and gives us information about things happening in other places like Chad, Niger, and northern Cameroon.”

“Maiduguri without a radio station like Dandal Kura would be like total darkness. Dandal Kura is a fearless radio station that speaks the truth and broadcasts facts that might annoy some powerful people. It does not praise people blindly like most public radio stations do,” he added.

As well as the news and phone-in shows, the radio station also broadcasts tips on how to identify suicide bombers and produces dramas penned by local writers, some of which feature former members of Boko Haram and their families.

It also helps reunite families separated during the conflict.

“We have linked about nine families this year,” Dalhatu said. “We hope to get more connected back soon.”

Other programmes provide information about psychological counselling, while traditional leaders as well as Muslim and Christian clerics are given airtime to counter Boko Haram’s extreme ideology.

“This format seems to be extremely attractive to young people and, if you ask me, it is a more effective way to stimulate behaviour change,” said Mu’azzam. “In the end, it dissuades potential recruits from joining their ranks.”

Risky business

The station’s bold stance has incurred the wrath of Boko Haram. Last September, a man who identified himself as a rebel commander phoned the station and condemned the reporting of an attack.

And in March, Shekau himself released a video statement in which he said: “That radio station called Dandal Kura with those prostitutes you parade as your female workers, may Allah curse all of you.”

Staff seem to take the hostility in their stride, and there have been no overt threats.

“This job has always carried along with it an element of risk. It is not the safest job because every day when you come to work you say or write something that somebody doesn’t like,” said Dalhatu.

“When Shekau spoke about us, it brought an additional dimension to the risk because of the group’s ruthlessness. I was very worried about the Fatimas of this station: we have about 15 young women whom we invited, groomed, and showed that they could start up a career in journalism,” he said, adding that Boko Haram’s reaction itself demonstrates that the station is having an impact.

The insurgency has lost much of the territory it used to control, but it remains a major security threat: a 10pm to 6am curfew is still enforced in Maiduguri, and attacks continue to take place in remote areas of Borno, northern Adamawa and eastern Yobe states. On the evening of 7 June, the fiercest gun battle locals had seen in many years broke out in Polo, on the outskirts of Maiduguri.

“People need information in moments like this,” said Mu’azzam. “And Dandal Kura fills that information gap by telling people what to do and where not to go.”

It took the military more than two hours to contain the attack, but a subsequent blast at Muna garage, another area close to the city and just next to an IDP camp, claimed at least 10 lives, according to police.

Building on Dandal Kura’s success, Dalhatu and his team are planning to set up a network of new community radio stations across the Lake Chad region that will broadcast in FM, which offers much better sound quality that shortwave. The sky is the limit.

lu/am/ag

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