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UN calls for dialogue to ease tensions in Venezuela

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Jorge Arreaza, Minister for Foreign Affairs of the Bolivarian Republic of Venezuela, addresses the Security Council meeting on the situation in Venezuela. UN Photo/Manuel Elias

The top UN political official told the Security Council on Saturday that dialogue and cooperation were vital to ending the crisis in Venezuela, but during a contentious debate, Council members disagreed over the appropriate response to mass protests in the South American country and competing claims to the presidency.

“We must try to help bring about a political solution that will allow the country’s citizens to enjoy peace, prosperity and all their human rights,” Rosemary DiCarlo, the UN Under Secretary-General of Political and Peacebuilding Affairs, urged the Security Council as she briefed an urgent meeting of the 15-member body on Saturday morning.

The meeting was requested late last week by United States Secretary of State Mike Pompeo in the wake of days of political unrest in Venezuela, marked by popular protests that erupted on Wednesday after the leader of the opposition legislature, Juan Guaidó, declared himself interim president and called for fresh elections, a direct challenge to President Nicolás Maduro, who had been sworn in to a second term in office just two weeks earlier.

In a statement issued by his Spokesperson on Wednesday, UN Secretary-General António Guterres urged parties to “lower tensions” in Venezuela and called for all relevant actors to commit to inclusive and credible political dialogue. Concerned by reports of casualties during demonstrations and unrest in and around the capital, Caracas, the UN chief also called for a transparent and independent investigation of those incidents.

Today, Ms. DiCarlo described the situation in Venezuela as “dire”,  and as having both an economic and political dimension.

“The population is affected in a systemic way, nearly all 30 million Venezuelans are affected by hyperinflation and a collapse of real salaries; shortages of food, medicine and basic supplies; deterioration of health and education services; deterioration of basic infrastructure such as water, electricity, transport and urban services,” she told the Council.

Years of political strife boil over into street protests

Ms. DiCarlo went on to lay out the political landscape in the country since the parliamentary elections of December 2015, when the opposition won a large majority of seats in the National Assembly. Subsequently, the Supreme Court ruled that the Assembly was “in contempt” and that all its actions were “null and void”.

In 2017, a National Constituent Assembly was established through elections in which the opposition parties did not participate. The National Constituent Assembly took over key functions of the legislative branch and undertook a process of constitutional reform that remains inconclusive and is not recognized by the opposition parties.

Attempts to bring about political dialogue started as early as May 2016, through an initiative facilitated by three former presidents from the Dominican Republic, Panama and Spain, under the auspices of the Union of South American Nations (UNASUR).

“Despite some initial progress, no concrete agreements were reached through this initiative, which was suspended by the beginning of 2017,” she said, adding that attempts to resume and continue dialogue faltered in February 2018 over a disagreement was the electoral calendar and guarantees to ensure free, transparent and credible elections.

Subsequently, the Government went ahead with presidential elections in May 2018. President Nicolás Maduro was declared the winner over two other candidates. Most of the opposition did not participate in the elections or recognize the results. On 10 January, Nicolás Maduro was sworn in as President for a second six-year term.

On 23 January, large scale opposition protests culminated with Juan Guaidó, president of the opposition-led National Assembly, announcing that he did not recognize President Maduro or his Government.

“While the protests were largely peaceful, there were incidents of violence,” Ms. Dicarlo said, noting that according to the Office of the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights, (OHCHR), credible local sources have reported that at least 20 people have died in the unrest.  Many more have reportedly been reportedly injured and detained in violent incidents.

Call for a political solution

Recalling that the UN Secretary-General had offered his good offices to help resolve the crisis, Ms. DiCarlo stressed that the main concern is the well-being of the Venezuelan people and their ability to enjoy their full rights.

“The UN has been providing assistance, particularly in the areas of health and nutrition. And the Secretary-General had asked the International Organization for Migration (IOM) and the UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) to establish a mechanism to support Venezuelans leaving the country.”

“There are divergent visions of what the future should hold for Venezuela. But we must all be guided, however, by the pursuit of the well-being of the Venezuelan people, and work together so that their needs are fully met,” she said.

A divided Security Council

Ms. DiCarlo’s call for cooperation and dialogue was echoed by many of the Council’s 15 members during the contentious debate that followed her briefing, even as speakers for the United States and Russia sparred over the path to end the crisis.

The US State Department on Wednesday ordered the departure from Venezuela of some non-emergency employees, following a decision by the Trump administration, and several other nations, to recognize Mr. Guaidó as Venezuela’s rightful president.

President Maduro respoended by cutting diplomatic ties with the US.

Today, US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo called on the UN to recognize Mr. Guaidó as Venezuela’s interim president, and declared: “Now it is time for every other nation to pick a side. No more delays, no more games. Either you stand with the forces of freedom, or you’re in league with Maduro and his mayhem.”

But Russia’s UN Ambassador, Vassily Nebenzia, rejected that view saying the US was imposing its own “approaches and recipes” to resolve the problems on the ground in Venezuela. “This meeting is yet another attempt by the United States to affect regime change and [the Russian Federation] regrets that the UN Security Council has been drawn into such an unethical ploy.”

The two diplomats had faced off ahead of the meeting when the Council held a procedural vote on whether the session would even go forward, as ‘the situation in Venezuela’ is not an official item on the Council’s agenda.

But by a vote of nine in favour (Belgium, Dominican Republic, France, Germany, Kuwait, Peru, Poland, United Kingdom, United States) to four against (China, Equatorial Guinea, Russian Federation, South Africa), with two abstentions (Côte d’Ivoire, Indonesia), adopted the agenda item.

During the debate, French Ambassador Anne Gueguen said it was “entirely legitimate” that the Council considers the topic, as the crisis in Venezuela was spilling into neighbouring countries. France called for a political and negotiated solution to the crisis. “Mr. Maduro must understand that this is his last opportunity and he must take it,” she warned.

She said trhat if elections are not organized and held in eight days, France was ready, along with the European Union, to recognize Mr. Guaidó as the interim President.  She urged authorities to refrain from the use of force against democratically elected officials, members of civil society and peaceful protestors.

Jorge Arreaza, Venezuela’s Minister for Foreign Affairs, rejected what he saw as US attempts to interfere in his country’s affairs, as well as Mr. Guaidó’s presidential self-proclamation, which he deemed illegal.

He said the Trump administration was trying to build a physical wall on its border with Mexico, while also erecting an “ideological wall” and resurrecting Cold War strategies aimed at bringing misery to wider Latin America. Nonetheless, Caracas, he declared, would find its own way forward, without interference.  “No Power […] can dictate to my country its destiny or its future.”

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Partnering for Africa’s future: Exhibition on UNIDO-Japan cooperation

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photo: UNIDO

An exhibition highlighting cooperation between Japan and the United Nations Industrial Development Organization (UNIDO) for African industrial development has opened at the Vienna International Centre.

The exhibition showcases UNIDO and Japan cooperation on the Tokyo International Conference on African Development (TICAD) first held in October 1993, and on the implementation of the Third Industrial Development Decade for Africa (IDDA 3).

A series of panels address the Government of Japan’s efforts on human security in relation to an array of UNIDO projects benefitting the most vulnerable groups by fostering human security and post-crisis rehabilitation. Others show the UNIDO-Japan multi-dimensional approach to a transition towards a sustainable energy future by fostering sustainable energy solutions and developing climate resilient industries for Africa.

At the exhibition’s opening ceremony, the Deputy to the Director General of UNIDO, Hiroshi Kuniyoshi, said, “Japan and UNIDO are proud of a solid and trusted partnership to reduce poverty, and enhance inclusiveness while safeguarding the environment.”

In his remarks, His Excellency Mitsuru Kitano, Permanent Representative of Japan to the International Organizations in Vienna, said, “It is our strong hope that this exhibition will spark discussions on the strengthening of Africa’s ownership and international partnership. Africa’s industrial development is our common goal, and common future.”

Over the last five years, Japan has provided US$13m to fund 18 projects in various African countries in the field of human security and the humanitarian-development nexus. In the area of renewable energy, two important projects are being funded with US$25m. Last year, to reinforce the UNIDO Secretariat’s capacity to focus on Africa and IDDA3, Japan made a new contribution of US$1.1m.

Her Excellency Vivian Okeke, Ambassador Extraordinary and Plenipotentiary, Permanent Representative of Nigeria to UNIDO, who represented the African Group of UNIDO member states, said, “I am happy that this exhibition highlights specific projects by Japan and UNIDO in Africa, especially in focus areas that are in line with the Sustainable Development Goals and Africa’s priorities, such as climate change, investment and technology, human security and post-conflict rehabilitation.”

UNIDO’s Kuniyoshi also remarked that “a hallmark of the UNIDO-Japan cooperation is the strong foreign direct investment component, the centrality of technology transfer and the very important presence of the Japanese private sector.” He mentioned the partnerships between Japanese companies and African partners, which have been supported by the UNIDO Investment and Technology Promotion Office (ITPO) in Tokyo.

Coinciding with the opening of the exhibition, the UNIDO ITPO Tokyo has organized a series of meetings at which Japanese technology providers will present their services to UNIDO staff.

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Vietnam needs to embrace “Doi Moi 4.0” to sustain high quality growth

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Vietnam should make a strategic shift towards a more productivity and innovation-based economy while making the most of the ongoing demographic dividend to sustain high quality growth over the next decade.

This is among the main recommendations from the joint report between the World Bank and the Vietnam Academy of Social Sciences on the new economic model to help Vietnam achieve high-quality growth for the 2021-30 period.

The report, which is being prepared with support from the Australian Government, proposes the Vietnam’s new economic model in 2021-2030 to center around three breakthroughs: innovation and entrepreneurship, human capital, and modern institutions.

This report will help begin an exciting new chapter in Vietnam’s economic growth story,” said His Excellency Craig Chittick, Australian Ambassador to Vietnam. “A chapter that embraces innovation, promotes bold reform, and helps Vietnam achieve its ambitious development goals.”

To avoid the middle-income traps, experts contend that Vietnam will have to maintain a growth rate in the range of 7 to 7.5% for the 2021-30 period, higher than the average rate of 6.3% of the last ten years.

 “We are living in the era of disruptive technologies that presents both challenges as well as opportunities – I would like to call it ‘Doi Moi 4.0’,” said Ousmane Dione, Country Director for The World Bank in Vietnam. “To mitigate these risks and seize the opportunities Vietnam needs to accelerate reforms that boost productivity and innovation as key drivers of growth in the coming decade including steps to remove bottlenecks for private sector investment, enhance public sector institutions and invest in 21st century skills of the workforce.”

The report finds that the labor-intensive, export-led growth model Vietnam pursued during 2011 – 2020 has increasingly become obsolete against the context of Industrial Revolution 4.0, maturing global value chains, premature deindustrialization, and rising role of services.

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Gender equality, justice in law and practice: Essential for sustainable development

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Young girls in Gumam primary school, Kassala state, Sudan. Photo: UNICEF/Sari Omer

Fundamentally linked to human development, gender justice requires ending inequality and redressing existing disparities between women and men, according to a high-level United Nations forum on the situation in Arab States.

Laws that promote gender equality “will help the Arab region move forward on the issue of justice and equality for women”, Jordan Ambassador to the UN Sima Bahous, told UN News after chairing the forum centered around the study with the same name: Gender and Law Justice, Evaluation of Laws Affecting Gender Equality in the Arab States.

Gender equality is achieved when both sexes enjoy the same rights and opportunities across society, including access to justice and to economic and social gains. The study stressed that sustainable development goals cannot be achieved without ensuring gender equality in law and practice.

On 14 March, on the margins of the 63rd session of the Commission on the Status of Women (CSW), the UN Development Programme (UNDP), the Economic and Social Commission for West Asia (ESCWA), Population Fund (UNFPA) and the Women’s Fund (UNIFEM) organized the conference, which discussed discrimination and criminal, personal status and labour laws across 18 Arab countries.  

“Human development means expanding opportunities for women and men to improve their lives and education, and create better opportunities”, Ms. Bahous explained.  

Room in Arab region for women’s equality

Gender justice relies on accountability and equality.  

Salma Al-Nemes, Secretary General of the Jordanian National Committee for Women, spoke about the forum’s importance, saying that it aims to “emphasize that there is still room in the Arab region to achieve women’s equality.”  

She stressed that problems can only be solved if they are recognized, and that countries can benefit “from the experiences of the Arab and Islamic countries that have achieved equality and build on this by adapting it to national reality.”  

Because national and local contexts differ, Ms. Al-Nemes acknowledged that “we must examine how to meet these challenges in an appropriate context so that we can achieve equality not only in legislation, but in practice as well”. 

For her part, Naziha el Obaidi, Minister of Women, Family, Childhood and the Elderly of Tunisia, told UN News about her Government’s decree that “when considering the appointment of a senior official in the country, four biographies of candidates, two for women and one for men, should be submitted.” 

Also in Tunisia, the law of ‘horizontal equinoxes and vertical equinoxes’ states that if an electoral list is headed by a woman, a man must hold the second position, and vice versa. Ms. el Obaidi credited this with women’s participation nearly 48 per cent of municipalities, noting that this law will also be implemented in the legislative elections. 

Honour crimes

Because gender-based violence is a major barrier to gender justice, Gender justice and the law closely examines its various forms, including sexual, physical and psychological and economic violence, assessing laws and policies that affect gender equality and protect against gender-based violence.

For example, the penalties for committing so-called honour crimes – which include murder, wounding and beating – vary, depending on the country.

In Algeria, Bahrain, Morocco, Qatar, Syria and Yemen a sentence can be reduced if a “spouse” is caught in an act of adultery.

Whereas in Djibouti and Sudan there are no specific provisions identified in the Penal Code to reduce penalties for these crimes.

Leniency for perpetrators of honour crimes against women in Saudi Arabia is not codified in the law, so men are sentenced at the court’s discretion.

Meanwhile, the Penal Code in Egypt spells out that if a husband kills his wife committing adultery, he and the man with whom she was with would receive reduced penalty not to exceed three years in prison.

Should “a person” kill a wife, daughter or sister, or her sexual partner, in the sudden heat of rage after finding her in a sexual act in Somalia, the penal code requires a reduced sentence.

If a man kills his wife or one of his female relatives while engaging in the act of adultery in Iraq, he would be incarcerated for no more than three years. In Libya the sentence would not exceed eight years.

At the same time, some countries repealed reduced sentences for honour crimes, such as Lebanon in 2011, Oman in 2001 and Tunisia in 1993.

While the penal code in Jordan was amended in 2017 to prevent reduced penalties for honour crimes, the original mitigated penalties for murdering a spouse caught in the act of adultery has yet to be removed. Similarly, mitigation of penalties for honour crimes in the Occupied Palestinian Territories were repealed in 2011 in the West Bank and 2018 in Gaza, however, the Government there has not applied the reforms. 

Honour crimes are just one of the topics addressed in the study. Violence manifest itself in many ways, including rape, sexual harassment, child and forced marriage, female genital mutilation/cutting and other harmful traditional practices – all of which the study covers.  

It is worth mentioning that the UN Commission on the Status of Women is responsible for developing global policies to promote gender equality and women’s empowerment. The annual session, which drew to a close on 22 March, provides an opportunity to review progress and identify difficulties, challenges and policy formulation. 

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