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UN mourns death of former Secretary-General Kofi Annan, ‘a guiding force for good’

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Kofi Annan was the seventh Secretary-General of the United Nations. In this photo from 2003, he is addressing reporters at Headquarters. UN Photo/Evan Schneider

The United Nations is mourning the death of former Secretary-General Kofi Annan, who passed away peacefully after a short illness, according to a statement published on his official Twitter account on Saturday. The renowned Ghanain diplomat was 80 years old.

The current UN chief, Antonio Guterres hailed him as “a guiding force for good” and a “proud son of Africa who became a global champion for peace and all humanity.”

“Like so many, I was proud to call Kofi Annan a good friend and mentor. I was deeply honoured by his trust in selecting me to serve as UN High Commissioner for Refugees under his leadership. He remained someone I could always turn to for counsel and wisdom — and I know I was not alone,” Mr. Guterres said in a statement.

“He provided people everywhere with a space for dialogue, a place for problem-solving and a path to a better world.  In these turbulent and trying times, he never stopped working to give life to the values of the United Nations Charter. His legacy will remain a true inspiration for all us.”

Kofi Annan was born in Kamasi, Ghana, on 8 April 1938.

He joined the UN system in 1962 as an administrative and budget officer with the World Health Organization in Geneva, rising through the ranks to hold senior-level posts in areas such as budget and finance, and peacekeeping.

He served as UN Secretary-General for two consecutive five-year terms, beginning in January 1997.

Mr. Annan joined the UN system in 1962 as an administrative and budget officer with the World Health Organization (WHO) in Geneva, rising to hold senior-level posts in areas such as budget and finance, and peacekeeping.

As Mr. Guterres noted: “In many ways, Kofi Annan was the United Nations. He rose through the ranks to lead the organization into the new millennium with matchless dignity and determination.”

From his beginnings in Geneva, Mr. Annan held UN posts in places such as Ethiopia, Egypt, the former Yugoslavia and at Headquarters in New York.

Following Iraq’s invasion of Kuwait in 1990, he was tasked with facilitating the repatriation of more than 900 international staff as well as the release of Western hostages.

He later led the first UN team negotiating with Iraq on the sale of oil to fund purchases of humanitarian aid.

Immediately prior to his appointment as Secretary-General in January 1997, Mr. Annan headed the UN Department of Peacekeeping Operations during a period which saw an unprecedented growth in the Organization’s field presence.

His first major initiative as UN chief was a plan for UN reform, presented to Member States in July 1997.

Mr. Annan used his office to advocate for human rights, the rule of law, development and Africa, and he worked to bring the UN closer to people worldwide by forging ties with civil society, the private sector and other partners.

As Secretary-General, he also galvanized global action to fight HIV/AIDS and combat terrorism.

Mr. Annan and the United Nations jointly were awarded the Nobel Peace Prize in 2001.

In his farewell statement to the UN General Assembly in December 2006, Kofi Annan expressed emotion over leaving what he called “this mountain with its bracing winds and global views.”

Although the job had been difficult and challenging, he admitted that it was also “thrillingly rewarding” at times.

“And while I look forward to resting my shoulder from those stubborn rocks in the next phase of my life, I know I shall miss the mountain,” he said.

However, Mr. Annan did not rest, taking on the role of UN Special Envoy for Syria in the wake of the conflict which began in March 2011.

He also chaired an Advisory Commission established by Myanmar in 2016 to improve the welfare of all people in Rakhine state, home to the minority Rohingya community.

His homeland, Ghana, established an international peacekeeping training centre that bears his name, which was commissioned in 2004.

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Scourge of slavery still claims 40 million victims worldwide

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Incidents of modern-day slavery are “only likely to increase” as a result of some of biggest challenges facing the world today, a UN expert outlined in a report for the Human Rights Council in Geneva on Monday.

The Special Rapporteur on contemporary forms of slavery, Urmila Bhoola, explained that over 40 million people are enslaved around the world, a quarter of them children. Due to problems of environmental degradation, migration and shifting demographics, the scourge of modern-day slavery is expected to grow.

Over 60 percent of those in forced labour work in the private sector, Ms. Bhoola said, with women and girls disproportionately affected. Of the female victims involved in forced labour, 98 percent have experienced sexual violence.

Global estimates from the International Labour Organization (ILO) indicate that 24.9 million people are in forced labour situations worldwide, and 15.4 million live in forced marriages.

This sort of trend, “must serve as a wakeup call,” Ms. Bhoola said, highlighting that the astounding statistics come four years after States committed to the UN’s Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), with relevant targets 5.2 and 8.7 aimed at stamping out trafficking, ending violence against women, and eradicating modern slavery.

The problem is exacerbated by the pressing climate conflict of our time. “In wake of climate change, people may lose their livelihoods, young people who don’t have access to decent work may migrate through unsafe channels and changes in the world of work, such as automation, may push already vulnerable people out of their jobs,” all of which could increase people’s vulnerability to slavery, the expert explained.

Even for those who escape, life for survivors is often difficult. Investigations by the NGO Human Rights Watch, highlight how even victims who manage to extricate themselves, can return home to the same desperate circumstances that made them vulnerable to begin with, but now facing stigma or blame.

Beyond these tragic realities for individuals, “slavery leads to increased public health costs, productivity losses, negative environmental externalities and lost income,” Ms. Bhoola added, urging for States and business to “act now.”

 “We cannot afford to stand by while more and people are driven into forced labour, servile marriage or child labour,” she said.  

Looking forward, the UN expert highlighted that for youth approaching working age, the situation is more dire – “By 2030, some 85 percent of the more than 25 million young people entering the labour force globally will be in developing and emerging countries,” she noted. “Their perspectives to access jobs offering decent work will determine their level of vulnerability to exploitation, including slavery.”

To prepare for this, “it is imperative” anti-slavery efforts are “systematic, scientific, strategic, sustainable, survivor-informed, and smart” she maintained.

Current efforts to end slavery are falling short and States and businesses “must take more decisive action to end slavery,” Ms. Bhoola concluded. This must be done “by committing more resources to this effort and by adopting and implementing public policies which address contemporary forms of slavery effectively.”

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UN: Kashmir communications shutdown a ‘collective punishment’ that must be reversed

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End the crackdown on freedom of expression, was the strong call to the Government by India from five United Nations independent rights expert on Thursday.

India and Pakistan both claim Kashmir as its sovereign territory.

Since the Indian Government’s 5 August announcement revoking Kashmir’s special status, tighter central Government control has resulted with access to information and peaceful protests quashed.

Reports have described a near total communications blackout in Jammu and Kashmir since the evening of 4 August, with internet access, mobile phone networks, and cable and Kashmiri television channels cut off.

The experts expressed concern that the measures, imposed after the Indian Parliament revoked the Constitutionally-mandated status of the state of Jammu and Kashmir, would exacerbate tensions in the region.

“The shutdown of the internet and telecommunication networks, without justification from the Government, are inconsistent with the fundamental norms of necessity and proportionality,” the experts said in a statement.

“The blackout is a form of collective punishment of the people of Jammu and Kashmir, without even a pretext of a precipitating offence.”

The Government has also imposed a curfew across Jammu and Kashmir, with massive numbers of troops brought in to enforce movement and peaceful assembly restrictions, particularly in the Kashmir Valley.

“We remind the Indian authorities that the restrictions imposed by the Indian Government are intrinsically disproportionate, because they preclude considerations of the specific circumstances of each proposed assembly,” the experts stated.

At the same time, information received suggests an increase in the arrest of political figures, journalists, human rights defenders, protesters and others.

The experts expressed deep concern over reports that security forces were conducting night raids on private homes leading to the arrests of young people.

“Such detentions could constitute serious human rights violations,” the experts spelled out. “The allegations must be thoroughly investigated by the authorities, and, if confirmed, those responsible must be held accountable”.

Moreover, they are “gravely concerned” over allegations that “the whereabouts of some of those detained is not known”, heightening the risk of enforced disappearances, “which may proliferate against the backdrop of mass arrests and restricted access to the internet and other communications networks”.

The independent experts also raised the alarm over excessive force against protesters, including the use of live ammunition, which could amount to violations of the right to life.

“India has the responsibility to use the minimum force necessary when policing protests,” the experts concluded. “This means that the use of deadly force is a measure permissible only as last resort and to protect life.”

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Steps taken to end Saudi ‘guardianship’ system for women, ‘encouraging’ start

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Women attending an event organized by Saudi Arabia at the UN in Rome, Italy. (2019) ©FAO/Alessandra Benedetti

Allowing Saudi women to apply for passports and travel without their guardians’ permission is “an encouraging move” towards the “complete abolition of the ‘guardianship’ system,” independent United Nations rights experts said on Thursday, but more action is needed to fully dismantle these restrictions.

“Any progress will remain very frail unless accompanied by wider reforms and by measures to ensure that rights are reflected and enshrined in the constitution of the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia and not solely through royal decrees,” the six experts said in a joint statement.

Saudi Arabia loosened some social restrictions on women in 2017. And now, by Royal decree, Saudi women will be able to apply for passports. Those over 21 will be allowed to travel independently – without permission from their so-called guardians – by the end of this month.

According to news reports, while human rights advocates have welcomed the move, they have also noted that women still require the permission of a male relative to marry, or leave women’s shelters, and some rights activists remain on trial or in detention for campaigning to change the system.

“We should not forget that these positive developments are the result of years of relentless advocacy and effort of many human rights and women’s rights defenders in Saudi Arabia”, underscored the independent UN experts, calling “for their immediate release”.

Men thwarting progress

Women “continue to face numerous restrictions” under a guardianship system that “negates their fundamental human rights and their dignity as autonomous human beings”, according to the experts.

Giving men arbitrary authority over their female relatives results in discrimination against women.

“It severely impairs women’s equal participation and decision-making in political, economic and social affairs and the enjoyment of their human rights including the rights to freedom of movement, education, work, access to justice, privacy and family life,” they stressed.

The Special Rapporteur on Privacy, Joseph Cannataci, expressed his grave concern over the technological tools and apps that extend male guardians’ control over women through the digital sphere.

“I am particularly concerned about the use of the Absher mobile phone app that allows male ‘guardians’ to monitor, restrict and control women’s whereabouts and freedom of movement in ways that are incompatible with their human right to privacy,” he said. “I expect that this type of functionality will be immediately abolished in order to be compliant with both the spirit and the letter of the new law.”

While acknowledging this welcoming initiative, the experts urged the government to fulfil without any further delay its pledge to fully abolish the male ‘guardianship’ system as promised at the UN Human Rights Council in March 2019.

The UN experts are Joseph Cannataci, the first Special Rapporteur on the right to privacy and the UN Working Group on discrimination against women and girls, comprised of Meskerem Geset Techane, Elizabeth Broderick, Ivana Radačić, Alda Facio and Melissa Upreti.

UN independent experts are appointed by the Geneva-based UN Human Rights Council to examine and report back on a specific human rights theme or a country situation. The positions are honorary, and the experts are not UN staff, nor are they paid for their work.

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