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20 years on from landmark Mine Ban Treaty, dangers on the rise to life and limb

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A United Nations Mine Action Service team team visits mine clearance site in Central Equatoria, South Sudan. Photo: UNMISS/JC McIlwaine

Twenty years after the Mine Ban Treaty was adopted, landmines continue to kill and injure on former battlefields, long after the guns have gone away. On Friday, the United Nations and partners commemorated the landmark treaty that has saved the lives of million and prevented millions more from suffering terrible injuries.

In welcoming its 20th anniversary, Secretary-General António Guterres stated that the Anti-Personnel Mine Ban Convention “has saved countless lives, stopped mutilation and injury and enabled the revitalization of livelihoods”.  

But landmines continue to be used as tools of war, causing more and more casualties, including the highest annual total of child victims recorded since 1999, according to the latest figures.

With the number of landmine victims rising, there is an urgent need for the international community to broaden the scope of prevention and mine risk education for vulnerable communities, internally displaced persons (IDPs) and refugees.

Opening a commemorative event at UN Headquarters in New York, UN refugees Goodwill Ambassador Emi Mahmoud – herself a former refugee from Sudan, who fled to Yemen before settling in the United States – read her poem entitled “Head over Heels”.

Having served as an advisor to the Iraqi Governing Council after regime change in 2003 and the Iraqi Transitional Council in 2004, Mohammed Hussein Mohammed Bahr AlUloom, Iraq’s UN Ambassador explained that his country has faced “some of the most extensive and complex explosive hazard contamination in the world”, including “landmines left over from Da’esh” terrorist fighters.

“The presence of explosive hazards continues to impede a safe voluntary and dignified return of nearly 1.4 million back to their homes”, he said.

Speaking at the subsequent panel discussion, Sergiy Prokhorov a UNICEF mine specialist in Ukraine, said “landmines are easy to plan, but extremely difficult to get rid of.

The Cambodian Ambassador, Sovann Ke, called the Treaty “one of the most important treaties in our history that has saved millions of lives.”

“As one of the most heavily contaminated landmine and unexploded remnants of war countries in the world, and one of the State parties”, he said “Cambodia is determined to put an end to the suffering and casualties caused by anti-personnel mines”.

“As of today, there are 931 civilian casualties, including 157 children”, he said, since the situation got “way worse” in April 2014, “when the conflict in the eastern part of Ukraine started.”

Zlatko Vezilic, the Interim Country Director of Norwegian People’s Aid in Cambodia, was a former Yugoslav army officer who lost his leg in Kosovo.

“I come from a country where I can see mine victims daily. Some of them are my close friends and neighbours. Not all of them have the opportunity to get sophisticated limbs, as I have” he sombrely told the room.

“Many struggle with regular life activities,” he continued explaining how they merely surviving with no hope for a better life. This often results in “family problems, PTSD [Post-traumatic stress disorder], stress and alcoholism.”

In the words of the Secretary-General: “The Treaty’s 20-year anniversary of entering into force provides an opportunity to renew attention to the weapons that long outlive the conflict and continue to shred lives”.

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Forum calls for stepped-up action to end child labour

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Participants at a forum held at the Centenary International Labour Conference  (ILC) called for stronger action to end child labour, and highlighted some of the challenges resulting from the major transformations occuring in the world of work.

In an emotional moment, youth advocate Molly Namirembe recalled how she and her sister worked on a tea plantation in Uganda when they were children, after their parents died. “We would work for 12 hours, sometimes on an empty stomach,” she recalled, tears running down her cheeks.

The thematic forum entitled Together for a brighter future without child labour  also focused on accelerating action towards SDG Target 8.7 that calls for “immediate and effective measures to eradicate forced labour, end modern slavery and human trafficking and secure the prohibition and elimination of the worst forms of child labour, including recruitment and use of child soldiers, and by 2025 end child labour in all its forms.”

“Ever since the creation of our Organization, the elimination of child labour has been a top priority,” said ILO Director-General Guy Ryder, adding that he expected the ILO would achieve soon the universal ratification of Convention 182 on the Worst Forms of Child Labour .

Kumaran Shanmugam Naidoo, Secretary-General, Amnesty International, called for a holistic approach “where we not only view the phenomenon of child labour but also the very systems that drive children to work at such a high cost.”

Juneia Martins Batista, Women’s Secretary, Single Confederation of Workers (CUT), Brazil, spoke of the need to improve the situation of women who make a living as domestic workers and rural workers. “The idea is that we can empower these adults, mostly women, to have a decent life. With decent work, we may be able to eliminate child labour.”

Assefa Bequele, Founder and former Executive Director, African Child Policy Forum, said: “The big question … is what needs to be done to initiate the kind of policy we need to narrow the gap between rhetoric and action and that would put children at the heart of public policy.”

Sue Longley, General-Secretary, International Union of Food, Agricultural, Hotel, Restaurant, Catering, Tobacco and Allied Workers’ Association, said, “The key question, the key accelerator will be addressing the fundamental power imbalance in rural areas – we really still do have feudal landlords and slavery.”

Jacqueline Mugo, Executive Director, Federation of Kenya Employers, stressed the need “to address the root causes and systemic issues. These are poverty, informality and the lack of educational opportunities for young people.”

Tanzila Narbaeva, Deputy Prime Minister of Uzbekistan, said: “To ratify a child labour convention is only half of the job: what is needed is to change the mindset of people and their perception of the child labour phenomenon.”

Phyllis Kong Wai Yue, Human Rights and Responsible Sourcing Specialist at chocolate maker Ferrero, said, “It is in business’ interest to demand stronger policies for protecting children, as well as the enforcement of labour laws.”

The forum was followed by a music event providing testimony to children and young people’s role combating child labour.

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UN: Understanding of LGBT realities ‘non-existent’ in most countries

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Policymakers in most parts of the world are taking decisions in the dark when it comes to sexual orientation and gender identity, an independent UN human rights expert said on Wednesday. 

In a statement issued ahead of presenting his latest report to the Human Rights Council later this month, Victor Madrigal-Borloz urged States to collect more data in an effort to understand the root causes of violence which is often routinely directed towards Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual and Transgender (LGBT) people in societies across the world. 

“States must adequately address this scourge through public policy, access to justice, law reform or administrative actions,” said Mr. Madrigal-Borloz. “In most contexts, policymakers are taking decisions in the dark, left only with personal preconceptions and prejudices.” 

Clear information about the realities as lived by most LGBT people are at best, little understood, “incomplete and fragmented”, said the UN Independent Expert on Protection against violence and discrimination based on sexual orientation and gender identity, “but in most countries it is simply non-existent”. 

 “My findings show that barriers created by criminalization, pathologization, demonization and stigmatization, hinder accurate estimates regarding the world population” which is affected, he said. “Maintaining such a level of ignorance without seeking appropriate evidence is tantamount to criminal negligence.”  

 The expert said that data collection efforts are already underway in many parts of the world and have supported assessments of the situation of LGBT persons in various areas of life, including their relative safety, well-being, health, education and employment.  

“However, many other areas still lack data and remain unexplored, for example, the concerns of ageing LGBT people and intersections with disability, racism and xenophobia”, he noted, adding that where States criminalize certain forms of sexual orientation and gender identity and expression, fully effective data collection is impossible: “I have received multiple accounts of data being used for surveillance, harassment, entrapment, arrest and persecution by government officials in such contexts”, he added. 

The rapporteur called on States to “design and implement comprehensive data collection procedures to assess the type, prevalence, trends and patters of violence and discrimination against LGBT persons. When doing so, States should always respect the overriding ‘do no harm’ principle and follow a human rights-based approach to prevent the misuse of collected data,” concluded the expert. 

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Women’s Rights: Between East and West, the Case of Azerbaijan

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Photo: UNESCO/ Bruno Zanobia

This year marks the centenary of the granting of the right to vote to women in Azerbaijan, the first country of the Muslim East to grant this right. To celebrate this occasion, the France-Azerbaijan Friendship Group organized an event entitled “Women’s Rights: Between East and West, the Case of Azerbaijan”, which took place at the French National Assembly on 7 June.

As part of the celebration, UNESCO’s Director for Gender Equality, Ms Saniye Gülser Corat, was invited to speak at the round table entitled, “La réussite au féminin”, which was moderated by Ms Fawzia Zouari, writer and journalist. The speakers included Mr Jean-Louis Gouraud, writer and journalist; Ms Charlotte Payen, Secretary-General, French-Azerbaijani University; Ms Leyla Taghizadé, co-founder of Social Innovation Lab; and Ms Anne Lauvergeon, CEO of Anne Lauvergeon Partners (ALP).

During her speech, Ms Corat recalled the important role of education in promoting gender equality. She highlighted the importance of gender inequalities in the scientific world. Across the world, 30% of science researchers and 21% of executives in technology companies are women. In developed countries, 26% of the overall STEM workforce are women. In addition, when it comes to the Nobel Prize in physics, chemistry or medicine, only 17 women have been awarded since Marie Curie in 1903 – compared to 572 men.

Ms Corat explained that UNESCO works to address inequalities wherever there are, particularly within new technologies. She announced that UNESCO recently launched the report I’d blush if I could with funding from the Government of Germany. This publication stresses the growing gender gap in frontier technologies such as artificial intelligence, and the troubling repercussions this is likely to have on future generations.

She concluded her speech with a message of hope: “We want girls and women, in Azerbaijan and across the world, to move full steam ahead towards a career in the discipline of their choices, unrestrained by gendered perceptions of different fields. Put simply, girls and women must have the opportunity to develop the skills that will enable them to thrive in today’s world and to participate equally in creating the world of tomorrow”.

At the end of the event, Ms Corat gave interviews to two different media outlets from Azerbaijan that were present in the room, namely Report News Agency and Azerbaijan State News Agency (AZERTAC).

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