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Doctrines of rejection’ must be met with courage, commitment to solidarity and empathy

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Multilateralism is facing challenges just when it is most needed, senior United Nations officials told a UN Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) forum in Paris on Tuesday, calling for a “new humanism” to counter rising doctrines of withdrawal and rejection of others.

“If we want the next generation to be born into a better world, we only have one option. And that is strong multilateralism, with the United Nations system at its core,” the President of the UN General Assembly, Miroslav Lajčák told the Leaders’ Forum of the 39th UNESCO General Conference, which kicked off yesterday at the agency’s headquarters.

He said that cooperation between nations has brought tremendous benefit. In 2015, the international community achieved two important milestones, in the form of the Sustainable Development Goals and the Paris Agreement on climate change.

“If implemented, these agreements will protect the planet, and make it a better place to live for everyone,” he said.

Multilateralism has also had a major role in advancing peace, helping rally support for peace agreements.

Peoples come from diverse backgrounds. They hold different positions on the world’s most pressing issues. Their interests, at times, diverge. But convergence can be found – particularly when it comes to human dignity, peace, the protection of environment, and common humanity.

“If one body or country fails to respond, it could affect us all,” he said, adding that the United Nations must lead the charge and act as an honest broker, leveraging its neutrality and experience for meaningful dialogue.

Mr. Lajčák highlighted a critical role played by UNESCO in the multilateral system.

The agency has rallied actors from all over the world to protect our shared cultural heritage, while promoting cooperation for advances in education, science and technology.

Amidst the success of UNESCO’s work, he said: “I regret the decision of member states to withdraw from membership of UNESCO.”

Also addressing the forum, UNESCO Director-General Irina Bokova stressed the relevance of her agency’s ‘soft power’ to foster education, culture and knowledge to transform the world.

UNESCO was created in 1945 in the wake of a devastating war, with the aim of building “the defenses of peace” in the minds of men and women, since war begins in their minds.

“Today, when we see the rise of doctrines based on withdrawal and rejection of others, I believe we need the same courage and the same commitment towards peace, dialogue, solidarity and empathy,” she said. “This is what I have called a ‘new humanism.’”

She said that in these times of limits – limits of resources, limits of the planet – there is a need to invest in the potential of human ingenuity, in the power of innovation, quality education and scientific research, in the power of culture and dialogue.

“This is our ultimate renewable energy. And this is the raison d’être of UNESCO,” she said.

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Environment

Millions affected as devastating typhoon strikes Viet Nam

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An aerial photograph showing houses destroyed and submerged in flood waters caused by the typhoon in Le Thuy district, Quang Binh province, central Viet Nam. UNICEF/Pham/AFP-Services

A major typhoon has struck central Viet Nam, affecting millions of people – including about 2.5 million children – in a region already reeling from the effects of severe floods, according to UN agencies in the country. 

There are also reports that 174 people have died or are missing. 

Storm Molave, which made landfall at around 11 am local time on Wednesday, is one of the strongest storms to hit the southeast Asian nation in 20 years.

The resulting “extreme rainfall” could continue over the coming days, worsening the already precarious situation faced by many families, the UN Children’s Fund (UNICEF) said in a statement

 “For the affected populations, their homes remain severely damaged, their food stocks have been lost, they have no access to clean water for drinking, washing and cooking; and water and sanitation systems have been damaged,” said the agency. 

Evacuation centres flooded

Thousands have been moved to evacuation centres, which are themselves flooded, resulting in difficult health and hygiene conditions for the displaced people, primarily women, children and elderly. Health centres have also been damaged, leaving without to access basic health care services. 

“Added to this is the trauma of the violent storms and rushing waters, that for a population where many cannot swim, creates fear and impacts mental wellbeing,” UNICEF added. 

The storm has also damaged vital infrastructure, including electricity and roads, leaving many communities cut off from assistance and protection. 

Affected populations 

An estimated 7.7 million people live in the affected areas, including as many as 1.5 million who have been “directly affected”, the Office of the UN Resident Coordinator in Viet Nam said in a humanitarian  update late Wednesday. 

Of these, some 177,000 people considered vulnerable (poor or near-poor), should be prioritized for urgent humanitarian assistance, it added. 

Response 

According to the Resident Coordinator’s Office, UN agencies and partners are developing and will release a multi-sector response plan, within the coming days, to support emergency relief efforts. 

In the immediate term, UNICEF has mobilized to provide emergency water, nutrition, sanitation, education and protection support, it said in the statement. It is also coordinating with Government agencies and humanitarian actors to reach the most vulnerable and those most affected. 

The Vietnamese army has also deployed troops and vehicles for search and rescue missions. 

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Human Rights

Poland ‘slammed the door shut’ on legal and safe abortions

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A group of UN independent human rights experts have denounced a court ruling in Poland that bans abortions on the grounds of fatal or severe foetal impairment, effectively “slamming the door shut” on safe and legal pregnancy terminations.  

In a statement on Tuesday, the rights experts also called on the Polish authorities to safeguard the rights of men and women protesting against the ruling. 

Across the country, thousands have taken to the streets in protest over last Thursday’s ruling by the country’s Constitutional Court. 

According to the experts, with the court verdict, Poland has “effectively slammed the door shut” on legal abortion for women in the country. It is estimated that currently 98 per cent of all legal abortions in the country are performed on the grounds of severe and irreversible impairment of the foetus. 

“Poland has decided to sacrifice women’s human right to safe and legal health services for termination of pregnancy, on account of protection of the right to life of the unborn, in violation of its international human rights obligations,” they said. 

‘Devastating consequences’ for women and girls 

The ruling will have “devastating consequences for women and adolescent girls” in need of such terminations, especially those who are socio-economically disadvantaged and migrant women who are undocumented, who do not have the the means to go abroad for abortion services, they said. 

Before the ruling, Poland had already one of Europe’s most restrictive abortion laws, made even more restrictive in practice with serious barriers and stigma, according to the rights experts.

Termination of pregnancy was permitted in three circumstances only: risk to the life or health of the pregnant woman; severe and irreversible impairment of the foetus; or pregnancy as a result of a prohibited act. 

Decision ‘clearly against’ human rights standards 

The experts highlighted that international human rights mechanisms have clearly recognized women’s right to abortion in cases of fatal foetal impairment and that States have to provide for termination of pregnancy in such cases as the lack of access constitutes, inter alia, a violation of the right to be free from inhuman treatment. 

As a State Party to the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (since 1977) and the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against Women (since 1980), Poland has legal obligation to uphold these international human rights standards, stressed the experts.  

International human rights mechanisms recognize women’s right to access safe and legal abortion as necessary for the protection of women’s dignity and equality and implicit in the right to equality, right to private life, right to be free from inhuman treatment and the right to the highest attainable standards, they said, adding that the decision of the Constitution Court “clearly goes against these standards.” 

“It cannot be justified by invoking the protection of the right to life, as the right to life and all other human rights under international human rights law are accorded to those who have been born,” the experts said. 

“Those who believe that personhood commences at the time of conception have the freedom to act in accordance with their beliefs but not to impose their beliefs on others through the legal system.” 

‘Politicization’ leads to discrimination 

The rights experts also pointed out that the “instrumentalization” and “politicization” of women’s bodies and health leads to discrimination against them, particularly in relation to their right to access health services and the resulting preventable ill health, including maternal mortality and morbidity. 

The experts voicing their concern included the Special Rapporteurs on violence against women; the right to physical and mental health; and cultural rights, as well as the members of the Working Group on discrimination against women and girls

The Special Rapporteurs, Independent Experts, and Working Groups are part of what is known as the Special Procedures of the Human Rights Council. The experts work on a voluntary basis; they are not UN staff and do not receive a salary. They are independent from any government or organization and serve in their individual capacity.   

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Environment

2020 Climate Action Award winners shine ray of hope

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Cycling avenues aim to shift urban infrastructure to sustainable, zero-emission transport. Image: C40 Cities Finance Facility

In a year that has cast darkness upon many, the 2020 UN Global Climate Action Awards, announced on Tuesday, shone a light on the positive action that many across the globe are taking, to combat climate change.

While COVID-19 is the world’s most clear and present danger, climate change is a menace that threatens all future generations, according to the head of the UN climate change convention.

“The last eight months have been a nightmare for many throughout the world”, said UN Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) Executive Secretary, Patricia Espinosa, pointing out that the pandemic has “altered lives, economies and the nature of business on every continent—from the largest cities to the smallest villages”. 

And while it is “the most urgent threat facing humanity today”, she quickly added, “we cannot forget that climate change is the biggest threat facing humanity over the long term.”

Building sustainably

The UNFCCC chief attested that the convergence of these two crises has “opened a window of opportunity to build forward – to build cities and communities that are safe, healthy, green and sustainable”. 

“Nothing exemplifies this better than the efforts of our 2020 award-winning activities to address climate change”, she upheld.

This year’s award-winning projects demonstrate leadership on climate change by nations, businesses, investors, cities, regions and civil society as a whole. 

They range from the Caribbean’s only carbon-neutral hotel, to the world’s inaugural green bonds platform and the first all-women solar team in Lebanon.

Secretary-General António Guterres congratulated the winners, saying that they “provide tangible proof that climate action is under way around the world”.

“It is exciting to see these climate solutions, which reinforce my call for decisive leadership on climate change by Governments, businesses and cities, and for a green recovery from the COVID-19 pandemic”, stated the UN chief. “Let us keep pressing ahead to build a more sustainable and equitable future for all”.

Spearheading momentum

As Governments work toward implementing the Paris Climate Change Agreement and the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), the awards are part of a wider effort to mobilize climate action and ambition. 

They also set the stage for two upcoming climate change events. The Race To Zero Dialogues, from 9 to19 November, will serve as critical input to the UNFCCC Climate Dialogues to advance work governing the rules of the Paris Agreement, which runs from 23 November to 4 December.

The UN Global Climate Action Awards are spearheaded by the Momentum for Change initiative at UN Climate Change and each project presents an innovative solution that both addresses climate change and helps drive progress on other SDGs. 

“It is crucial we celebrate all actors who are leading the way,” said Gabrielle Ginér, Chair of the Advisory Panel

“The recipients of the UN Global Climate Action Awards send a strong political signal to all nations – and through their leadership and creativity, we see essential change”. The 2020 winning activities, selected by an international Advisory Panel, can be found here

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