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Sri Lanka: The key role of young people in building peace and sustainable development

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Involvement of all sections of the society, in particular its young people, in bottom-up peace building approaches is vital to ensure sustainable social justice, United Nations Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon said at a youth event in Sri Lanka. “Why should young people be sent off to fight wars, but be prevented from building peace?” Mr. Ban said in his remarks at the event, which had the theme of “Reconciliation and Coexistence: Role of Youth.’

He added that the exclusion of young people from peacebuilding and reconciliation processes is “one of the most serious injustices” and that it has to be corrected.

The Secretary-General flagged that youth played a critical role in designing the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development, which was agreed and adopted by world leaders last year, along with the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), with the latter serving as a global plan for people, peace, prosperity and the planet.

“Many of the Goals focus on priority areas for young people: quality education, empowering women and girls, and ensuring decent work for all,” said Mr. Ban, calling on the young people “to lead the way.”

Referring to Sri Lanka as a major contributor to the youth agenda globally – such as with its hosting of the 2014 World Conference on Youth – the UN chief highlighted that, at the national level, it is important to continue to increase investment in the young women and men who make up one fifth of the country’s population.

“You are your country’s biggest asset. Sri Lanka’s future success depends on you,” he said.

Noting that many young people in the country were born and lived the early stages of their lives during conflict, terror and displacement and have had to suffer deprivations and injustice, Mr. Ban underscored that involvement in peacebuilding, reconciliation and post-conflict transformation provides an opportunity to emerge from trauma and play a part in creating a better future.

He introduced Thevuni Kavindi, whom he recently appointed to his Advisory Group on Youth, Peace and Security on International Youth Day this year, to the audience. He said that Ms. Kavindi, a 23-year-old Sri Lankan, is playing a leading role in the country’s youth movement which is working to unite young people from all ethnic and religious backgrounds across the country to promote reconciliation and lasting peace.

Asking them to take inspiration from Ms. Kavindi, the Secretary-General urged the country’s young people to “continue to prove that Sri Lanka is emerging from decades of adversity, suspicion and divisiveness. Please lead the way towards rebuilding, reconciliation and an appreciation of diversity in unity,” he concluded.

Earlier on Thursday, the UN chief met with the President of Sri Lanka, Maithripala Sirisena, to whom he pledged his continued support for Sri Lanka’s reform agenda, including for the reconciliation, transitional justice and peacebuilding processes.

“He expressed hope for increased momentum in these important areas. He also endorsed the comprehensive Peacebuilding Priority Plan,” Mr. Ban’s spokesperson said in a readout of the meeting.

He added that the Secretary-General was encouraged by President Sirisena’s leadership and commitment to stay the course and fulfil the aspirations of the Sri Lankan people in bringing lasting peace and prosperity for all. He also commended the Sri Lankan leader for his leadership on the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development and climate change, and welcomed the government’s initiatives to incorporate the Sustainable Development Goals into the national development framework.

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EU Politics

EU Parliament to host conference on abolishing the death penalty

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The opening ceremony of the 7th World Congress Against the Death Penalty will be held in the European Parliament in Brussels on 27 February.

The World Congress Against the Death Penalty, organised by ECPM (Together against the Death Penalty) from 26 February to 1 March, is the world’s leading abolitionist event, and brings together more than 1000 stakeholders from over 140 countries.

The official opening ceremony will take place in the European Parliament’s hemicycle on Wednesday 27 February at 10.00. It will gather MEPs, high-level guests including EU Foreign Policy Chief Federica Mogherini and Belgian Foreign Affairs Minister Didier Reynders, and various governmental and civil society representatives to reflect on positive efforts in the abolition movement and address what future work must be done to convince retentionist nations to abolish the death penalty.

The ceremony will also feature a panel of Ministers of Justice from non-abolitionist countries, as well as video messages from UN Secretary-General António Guterres, Robert Badinter, former Minister of Justice and a driving force behind the abolition of the death penalty in France in 1981, and Pope Francis.

An exhibition (The Great Witness of Abolition) and sculpture installation (Chaise LXB) will be displayed in the Menuhin Hall in the European Parliament’s Paul-Henri Spaak building from Monday 25 February to Friday 1 March.

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Energy News

Nepal Hosts First Regional Conference of Women in the Power Sector

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The first regional #WePOWER conference kicks off in Kathmandu, Nepal (photo: World Bank)

More than 250 engineers and energy-sector professionals represented their countries at the first regional conference of the Women in Power Sector Network in South Asia (WePOWER)–a forum to promote and diversify female practitioners’ opportunities in the power and energy sector. They included representatives from 60 participating institutions from local and international power utilities, energy sector organizations, and multilateral agencies.

Pravin Raj Aryal, Joint Secretary at the Ministry of Energy, Water Resources and Irrigation in Nepal, opened the two-day conference. “Energy access and infrastructure development are critical elements in South Asia’s regional development strategy. However, women’s opportunities to contribute to the energy sector are limited, with a visible lack of gender diversity in technical and senior management positions,” he said.

He added that initiatives such as WePOWER would help nurture partnerships among women professionals, leading to an increase in their engagement across the sector. The conference was organized by the World Bank, with support from the Energy Sector Management Assistance Program (ESMAP), Asian Development Bank (ADB), Australian AID and Australia Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade (DFAT).

It drew senior and junior professionals and engineering students from Afghanistan, Bangladesh, Bhutan, India, Maldives, Nepal, Pakistan, and Sri Lanka. Besides panel discussions on the viability of jobs, skills, and opportunities in the sector, the conference also had a special interactive session for secondary school girl students to encourage them to find their footing in the fields of Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics (STEM) education.

“WePOWER aims to support greater participation of women in energy projects and utilities, and promote normative change regarding women in STEM education,” said Idah Z. Pswarayi-Riddihough, World Bank Country Director for Maldives, Nepal, and Sri Lanka.  “This initiative also fits the broader work of the World Bank, aimed at removing constraints for more and better jobs as part of our Gender Strategy.”

Caren Grown, World Bank Senior Director of the Gender Group, added: “Women’s low participation in the sector is a constraint to gender equality and equality of opportunities. It is imperative for men and women to have access to good quality jobs, and events like WePOWER reinforce this need.”

Peter Budd, Australian Ambassador to Nepal, opened the second day of the WePOWER conference and said, “Forums such as WePOWER are and will continue to be an important mechanism for deliberation on low carbon gender integrated pathways that meet the growth needs of the countries in the region.”

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Human Rights

Discover the new Right to education handbook

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photo: UNESCO

Education is a fundamental human right of every woman, man and child. However, millions are still deprived of educational opportunities every day, many as a result of social, cultural and economic factors.

UNESCO and the Right to Education Initiative (RTE) recently released the Right to education handbook, a key tool for those seeking to understand and advance that right. It is also an important reference for people working towards achieving Sustainable Development Goal 4 by offering guidance on how to leverage legal commitment to the right to education. 

Why is this handbook important?

The aim of this handbook is to make sure that everyone enjoys their right to education. Its objective is not to present the right to education as an abstract, conceptual, or purely legal concept, but rather to be action-oriented. It provides practical guidance on how to implement and monitor the right to education along with recommendations to overcome persistent barriers. It seeks to do this by:

  • Increasing awareness and knowledge of the right to education. This includes the normative angle of the right to education, states’ legal obligations, the various sources of law, what states must do to implement it, how to monitor it, and how to increase accountability.
  • Providing a summary of current debates and issues regarding education and what human rights law says about them, including on forced migration, education in emergencies, the privatization of education, and the challenge of reaching the most marginalized.
  • Providing an overview of the UN landscape and its mechanisms, including a clear understanding of the role of UNESCO and more generally the United Nations, as well as all relevant actors in education, particularly civil society.  

Who should use this handbook?

The handbook was developed to assist all stakeholders who have a crucial role to play in the promotion and implementation of the right to education. This includes:

  • State officials, to ensure that education policies and practices are better aligned with human rights.
  • Civil servants, policy-makers, ministers, and the ministry of education staff, officials working in ministries and departments of justice, development, finance, and statistics, as well as National Human Rights Institutions.
  • Parliamentarians, their researchers and members of staff will find this handbook useful in evaluating and formulating education, human rights, and development legislation, and in implementing international human rights commitments to national law.
  • Judges, magistrates, clerks, and lawyers and other judicial officials can use the material to explain the legal obligations of the state and how to apply them.
  • Civil society including NGOs, development organizations, academics, researchers, teachers and journalists will benefit from this handbook as it includes guidance on how to incorporate the right to education in programmatic, research, and advocacy work.

Those who work for inter-governmental organizations, including at key UN agencies, will find this handbook useful in carrying out the mandate of their organizations. Private actors, multilateral and bilateral donors, and investors can use this handbook to ensure their involvement complies with human rights and that they understand and can apply their specific responsibilities.

How to use this handbook?

The handbook was designed to be accessible. Each chapter starts with the key questions addressed in the chapter and ends with a short summary consisting of key points and ‘ask yourself’ questions, designed to make the reader think deeper about issues raised in the chapter or to encourage people find out more about the situation in their own country.

For more than 70 years, UNESCO has been defending and advancing the right to education, which lies at the heart of its mandate. It recently ran a digital campaign on the #RightToEducation to mark the 70th anniversary of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights.

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