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UN Security Council agrees 30-day ceasefire in Syria

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The United Nations Security Council voted unanimously on Saturday in favor of a 30-day cease-fire in Syria, and demanded immediate lifting of sieges on war-ravaged enclaves like eastern Ghouta, where,  Secretary-General António Guterres warned earlier this week, some 400,000 people are living “in hell on earth.”

The United Nations Security Council voted unanimously on Saturday in favor of a 30-day cease-fire in Syria, and demanded immediate lifting of sieges on war-ravaged east Ghouta, where, earlier this week, Secretary-General Antonio Guterres said some 400,000 people are living “in hell on earth.”

In addition to a 30-day nationwide ceasefire, the resolution demanded weekly aid convoys, medical evacuations and the immediate lifting of sieges, particularly eastern Ghouta.

The resolution affirmed that the cessation of hostilities will not apply to military operations against the so-called Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (also known as ISIL/Da’esh), Al Qaeda and Al Nusra Front.

Prior to the vote, Swedish Ambassador Olof Skoog, a co-drafter of the resolution along with Kuwait, called it a “resolute and urgent attempt to take action,” saying he counted “on each and every one of you to do the right thing,” adding the humanitarian convoys “are ready to go.”

“Our unanimous adoption of this resolution today, after long and arduous negotiations, reflects the keenness of the authors of the draft resolution, Kuwait and Sweden, to ensure consensus on this, said Ambassador Mansour Al-Otaibi of Kuwait, President of the Security Council, in announcing the results of the vote.

Secretary-General Antonio Guterres issued a statement welcoming the resolution’s adoption, stressing his expectation that “the resolution will be immediately implemented and sustained, particularly to ensure the immediate, safe, unimpeded and sustained delivery of humanitarian aid and services, the evacuation of the critically sick and wounded and the alleviation of the suffering of the Syrian people.”

“The UN stands ready to do its part,” the statement added.

Mr. Guterres reminded all parties of their “absolute obligation under international humanitarian and human rights law to protect civilians and civilian infrastructure at all times.”

“Similarly, efforts to combat terrorism do not supersede these obligations,” concluded the statement.

Africa Today

Rights experts call for end to violence against women in Tigray conflict

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photo: © UNICEF/Christine Nesbitt

Experts appointed by the UN Human Rights Council have called for urgent action to end violence against women and girls caught in the Tigray conflict in northern Ethiopia. 

In a statement issued on Friday, they expressed grave concern about the widespread sexual and gender-based violence attributed to Ethiopian, Eritrean, Tigray and Amhara forces, as well as allied militia. 

These incidents constitute some of the most egregious violations of human rights and humanitarian law, according to the experts. 

‘A deliberate strategy’ 

“They appear to have been used as part of a deliberate strategy to terrorize, degrade and humiliate the victims and the ethnic minority group that they belong to with acquiescence of the State and non-State actors’ parties to the conflict,” they said. 

“These brutal acts have devastating physical and psychological impacts on the victims, which are exacerbated by the lack of access to assistance, support and redress for survivors.” 

The UN continues to voice alarm over the war in Tigray, which began just over a year ago.  Last month, the UN Human Rights High Commissioner, Michelle Bachelet, noted that the conflict has been marked by “extreme brutality”

Cases under-reported 

The rights experts said although the exact prevalence of gender-based violence is unknown, estimates are shocking. 

From November 2020 through June of this year, some 2,204 survivors reported sexual violence to health facilities across the Tigray region.

Furthermore, one of the one-stop centres reported that the majority of victims, or 90 per cent, were underage girls, and estimated that visits have quadrupled since the conflict began.  

However, the experts said these figures are an underestimation of the true extent of gender-based violence being committed.  Cases are severely under-reported due to fear, stigma and inability to access health or support centres. 

“Despite the humanitarian situation, proper access to facilities is vital to ensure adequate care, for instance for women and girls at risk of developing life-threatening infections, or to allow for abortion for women and girls who become pregnant as a result of rape,” they stressed. 

Displaced women vulnerable 

The experts reported that the violence occurred in both rural and urban areas, in the victims’ homes or in places where they were sheltering.  

In some cases, women and girls were raped because of their perceived or actual political affiliation, to pressure them to reveal the whereabouts of their male relatives, or as acts of revenge. 

“Internally displaced women and girls in Ethiopia, and Eritrean refugee women and girls living in the Tigray region, have been particularly exposed to sexual violence. Eritrean women and girls, specifically, have been seriously affected by the conflict and doubly victimized,” the experts said.  

“In addition to the grave consequences of sexual violence, most victims have also been harmed in other ways by the conflict including by having close relatives killed.” 

Respect and protect 

The UN experts reminded parties to the conflict of their duty to respect and protect human rights, and to prevent violations in any territory under their control. 

They also urged the sides to implement recommendations contained in a joint report by the Ethiopian Human Rights Office and its UN counterpart. 

Those recommendations include taking immediate measures to protect women and girls from rape and other forms of gender-based violence, providing redress to victims, facilitating immediate access to health care, and ensuring independent and impartial investigation of all incidences of sexual violence. 

Role of UN experts 

The 14 experts who issued the statement receive their mandates from the UN Human Rights Council, which is based in Geneva. 

They monitor specific country situations or thematic issues, such as violence against women, discrimination against women and girls, and the rights of internally displaced persons. 

The experts are independent of the UN and serve in their individual capacity.  As such, they are not UN staff, nor are they paid by the Organization. 

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Human Rights

‘Bodyright’ campaign launched, to end rise in gender-based violence online

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Portrait of a teenage girl on her laptop sporting the 'bodyright' logo. UNFPA/Alys Tomlinson

Corporate logos and Intellectual Property (IP) receive “greater protection online than we do as human beings”, the UN’s women’s health agency that works to end gender-based violence, UNFPA, said on Thursday, launching a new bodyright campaign to help shield bodies and minds from cyber violence. 

“It’s time for technology companies and policymakers to take digital violence seriously”, said UNFPA Executive Director Natalia Kanem -“right now”.  

The bodyright campaign highlights that corporate logos and copyrighted IP are more highly valued and better protected online than images of human bodies, which are often uploaded to the Internet without consent, and used maliciously.  

The ⓑ symbol – which can be added to any image directly via Instagram stories using stickers, or by downloading it from the webpage – aims to hold policymakers, companies, and individuals to account while simultaneously driving the message that women, girls, racial and ethnic minorities, the LGBTQ+ community, and other marginalized groups are valued and will not be violated online. 

The new frontier 

Relentless, borderless and often anonymous, Dr. Kanem called the online world “the new frontier for gender-based violence”. 

And the reality is that people do not own their bodies online

From cyberstalking and hate speech, to so-called doxxing (publishing private or identifying information about an individual) and the non-consensual use of images and video, such as deepfakes (whereby a person in an existing image is replaced with someone else’s) – online violence is rife.  

Many countries lack laws which make online violence illegal, leaving anyone trying to remove exploitative images of themselves with few legal rights, and a long process for those who try to enforce those rights which do exist. 

Human rights infringement 

When someone infringes on music or film copyright, digital platforms remove the content immediately.  

Governments have passed laws making copyright infringement illegal and digital platforms have devised ways to identify and prevent unauthorized use of copyrighted material.  

These same protections and repercussions must also extend to individuals and their photos, says UNFPA.  

The bodyright campaign 

From London and of Ghanaian and Nigerian heritage, award winning poet and spoken-word artist Rakaya Fetuga, has authored and performed poetry for the campaign that communicates the impact of online violence and the novel concept of bodyright

And to advocate for action from Governments, policymakers, tech companies and social media platforms, UNFPA has launched a Global Citizen-hosted petition, that demands tangible action to end digital violence and abuse. 

16 Days of Activism  

The bodyright initiative is part of the wider 16 Days of Activism against Violence Against Women campaign, which runs until 10 December.  

UNFPA has also launched “The Virtual Is Real” website, which features stories of victims and survivors of digital violence from around the world, alongside innovative work done by UNFPA to address this human rights violation.  

According to the Economist Intelligence Unit, 85 per cent of women with access to the internet reported witnessing online violence against other women, and 38 per cent have experienced it personally.  

Moreover, some 65 per cent of women surveyed have experienced cyber-harassment, hate speech and defamation, while 57 per cent have experienced video and image-based abuse and ‘astroturfing’, where damaging content is shared concurrently across platforms. 

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Finance

GCC returns to growth amid high oil prices and strong responses to COVID-19

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Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) economies are expected to return to an aggregate growth rate of 2.6% in 2021, according to the latest issue of the World Bank Gulf Economic Update (GEU), “Seizing the Opportunity for a Sustainable Recovery.” The six-member GCC is composed of the United Arab Emirates, Saudi Arabia, Qatar, Oman, Kuwait, and Bahrain.

Their robust recovery, which is due to stronger oil prices and the growth of non-oil sectors, will accelerate into 2022 as OPEC+-mandated oil production cuts are phased out and higher oil prices improve business sentiment and attract additional investment. These favorable oil market conditions have shrunk fiscal and external imbalances as export earnings recover. However, the outlook in the medium-term is subject to risks from slower global recovery, renewed coronavirus outbreaks, and oil sector volatility.

The World Bank’s latest GEU report focuses on addressing the wage bill in the GCC—the amount of government spending devoted to the salaries and benefits of state employees. Well-paid, public sector jobs are part of the region’s social contract, as well the free health care, education, social security benefits, and subsidized housing and utilities which citizens are often also offered.

“With high population growth and limited options in the private sector, the wage bill has become unsustainable in some GCC countries, as it is a large part of government spending and of the economy overall,” said Issam Abousleiman, World Bank Regional Director for the GCC. “Given their improved fiscal situation, this is an opportune time for GCC governments to accelerate their reforms agenda and reach the goals they set for themselves.”

According to the report, the average GCC wage bill over the past two decades has exceeded the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) average, except in Qatar and the UAE. Many GCC countries have public sectors that are well within OECD norms size-wise, in terms of the numbers of employees. However, public servants are paid a wage premium of between 50–100%, which results in a high wage bill relative to the countries’ total spending and GDP.

Despite the oil price crash, spending on the wage bill and the numbers of people employed in the public sector have both risen inexorably upwards. Kuwait’s 2022 budget allocated KWD 12.6bn (about US$42bn) for salaries and benefits, or 55% of its total expenditure. Other countries in the GCC are in a similar position: Oman’s wage bill has doubled in the past decade despite efforts to cap its growth. Saudi Arabia’s allowances for civil servants rose from SAR 44bn in 2016 to SAR 148bn in 2019 and now form more than a third of the government’s total wage bill.

These high wage bills are adding excessive pressure to GCC budgets, especially in countries with fewer resources and limited fiscal buffers. In consequence, most are either introducing or expanding their tax bases, trimming back benefits, and exploring early retirement options for some staff. Rather than providing a prescriptive solution in their report, World Bank economists highlight some of the options adopted by other countries and suggest GCC countries reach consensus among stakeholders before moving forward.

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