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World Economic Forum on the MENA to Focus on Building New Platforms of Cooperation

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The World Economic Forum on the Middle East and North Africa will be held at the Dead Sea in Jordan on 6-7 April 2019 in partnership with the King Abdullah II Fund for Development (KAFD). This will be the 10th meeting in Jordan and 17th meeting in the region. The meeting will convene more than 1,000 government, business and civil society leaders from over 50 countries.

Under the theme “Building New Platforms of Cooperation”, the meeting will focus on four transformational imperatives: Shaping a new economic and social model for the region; environmental stewardship in the Arab world; finding common ground in a multiconceptual world; and the Fourth Industrial Revolution in the Arab world.

“The region is at a pivotal time of taking the bold decisions necessary to future-proof its societies and economies. At this meeting, we will hold several strategic dialogues, with particular attention on the relationship between the public, private and civic sectors, the impact of the Fourth Industrial Revolution on skills and jobs, and new initiatives to help resolve long-standing conflicts,” said Mirek Dusek, Deputy Head of Centre for Geopolitical and Regional Affairs and Member of the Executive Committee at the World Economic Forum.

For his part, Chairman of KAFD’s Board of Trustees Alaa Batayneh said, “Having Jordan host the World Economic Forum on the Middle East and North Africa for the 10th time reaffirms the importance of Jordan’s political and economic position within the region.” “The Forum offers an international platform to highlight the priorities and plans of Jordan and the region, in the fields of development, energy, technology applications, and natural resource management,” he added.

With the full support of the host country and presence of Their Majesties King Abdullah II bin Al Hussein, Queen Rania Al Abdullah and H.R.H. Crown Prince Al Hussein bin Abdullah II of the Hashemite Kingdom of Jordan, the meeting will bring together leaders from Gulf Cooperation Council countries, the Levant and North Africa, as well as key international stakeholders from East Africa, Europe and the United States.

The Co-Chairs of this year’s meeting are: Khalid Al Rumaihi, Chief Executive, Bahrain Economic Development Board, Bahrain; Thani Ahmed Al Zeyoudi, Minister of Climate Change and Environment of the United Arab Emirates; Rania A. Al-Mashat, Minister of Tourism of Egypt; Alain Bejjani, Chief Executive Officer, Majid Al Futtaim Holding, United Arab Emirates; Wafa Ben-Hassine, MENA Policy Counsel, Access Now, USA; Sumantra Chakrabarti, President, European Bank for Reconstruction and Development (EBRD), London; Tony F. Chan, President, King Abdullah University of Science and Technology (KAUST), Saudi Arabia; and Sigrid Kaag, Minister for Foreign Trade and Development Cooperation of the Netherlands.

Among the public figures taking part in the meeting are: Antonio Guterres, Secretary-General of the United Nations, New York; Muhammadu Buhari, President of Nigeria; Mahmoud Abbas, President of the Palestinian Nationality Authority and Chairman of the Executive Committee, Palestine Liberation Organization; Armen Sarkissian, President of Armenia; Emine Erdoğan, First Lady of Turkey; Abdullah Abdullah, Chief Executive of the Islamic Republic of Afghanistan; Khalid Al-Falih, Minister of Energy, Industry and Mineral Resources of Saudi Arabia; Omar Al Olama, Minister of State for Artificial Intelligence of the United Arab Emirates; Yusuf Bin Alawi Bin Abdullah, Minister of Foreign Affairs of Oman; Ghassan Hasbani, Deputy Prime Minister of Lebanon; and Khalid bin Ahmed Al Khalifa, Minister of Foreign Affairs of Bahrain.

For the second time, the World Economic Forum is partnering with the Bahrain Economic Development Board to bring 100 Arab start-ups to the meeting. The initiative aims to further integrate entrepreneurs into a national and regional dialogue on pressing challenges. More than 400 applicants representing 17 countries and spanning numerous sectors including finance, energy, health, environment, media and education applied. Among the selected start-ups are Careem (UAE) – also included in the 2017 selection – the region’s first “unicorn”, which was recently sold for $3.1 billion; Coded (Kuwait), the first coding boot camps for the Arab world; Proximie (Lebanon), a company that uses augmented reality for surgeons to contribute remotely to clinical procedures; and Wahed (UAE), the world’s first halal investment platform.

Representing young people, the World Economic Forum’s Global Shapers (aged between 20 and 30) and Young Global Leaders (under the age of 40), will take part in the discussions. Social Entrepreneurs

will also contribute to the dialogue on innovative local and regional action to address pressing problems.

The meeting will also focus on highlighting long-term approaches to responding to systemic issues. For example, the Humanitarian Investing Initiative, launched at the Forum’s Annual Meeting in Davos, will showcase innovative approaches to investing that respond to the long-term challenges of protracted humanitarian crises. Taking this long-term approach, other sessions will feature solution-based, forward-looking dialogues on issues of healthcare, energy, water, gender equality, the future of jobs, cybersecurity and more.

Building on the World Economic Forum’s long-standing position as a platform for peace and reconciliation, the meeting will also host dialogues with key decision-makers from the region, the United States, Europe and Asia on addressing geopolitical challenges in the region.

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Environment

Landmark decision gives legal teeth to protect environmental defenders

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A 46-strong group of countries across the wider European region has agreed to establish a new legally binding mechanism that would protect environmental defenders, the UN Economic Commission for Europe (UNECE) said on Friday.

“I remain deeply concerned by the targeting of environmental activists”, said Secretary-General Antonio Guterres, welcoming the rapid response mechanism as “an important contribution to help advance my Call to Action for Human Rights”. 

The agreement will delegate setting up the new mechanism to the United Nations, or another international body.

As the first ever internationally-agreed tool to safeguard environmental defenders, it marks an important step in upholding the universal right to a clean, healthy and sustainable environment – as recognized by the Human Rights Council earlier this month

“Twenty years ago, the Aarhus Convention entered into force, bridging the gap between human and environmental rights.

Today, as the devastating effects of climate change continue to ravage the world, the Convention’s core purpose – of allowing people to protect their wellbeing and that of future generations – has never been more critical”, spelled out the UN chief. 

A protective eye

The agreement to establish the mechanism was adopted on Thursday by the Meeting of the Parties to the Convention on Access to Information, Public Participation in Decision-Making and Access to Justice in Environmental Matters, known as the Aarhus Convention. 

“This landmark decision is a clear signal to environmental defenders that they will not be left unprotected”, said UNECE chief Olga Algayerova.

“It demonstrates a new level of commitment to upholding the public’s rights under the Aarhus Convention, as well as Parties’ willingness to respond effectively to grave and real-time challenges seen in the Convention’s implementation on the ground”.   

Vital defence

Whether it is groups protesting the construction of a dangerous dam or individuals speaking out against harmful agricultural practices in their local community, these activists are vital to environmental preservation across the globe, said the UNECE.

The Aarhus Convention ensures that those exercising their rights in conformity with the provisions of the Convention shall not be penalized, persecuted or harassed in any way for their involvement.

As such, the mechanism will establish a Special Rapporteur – or independent rights expert – who will quickly respond to alleged violations and take measures to protect those experiencing or under imminent threat of penalization, persecution, or harassment for seeking to exercise their rights under the Convention.  

As time is of the essence to buttress the safety of environmental defenders, any member of the public, secretariat or Party to the Aarhus Convention, will be able to submit a confidential complaint to the Special Rapporteur, even before other legal remedies have been exhausted.   

Defenders targeted

Although it is crucial for environmental defenders to confidently exercise their rights, cases have been reported in which instead, they face being fired, heavy fines, criminalization, detention, violence, and even death. 

Moreover, incidents of harassment and violence against environmental defenders are far from uncommon

A report to the Human Rights Council by Mary Lawlor, Special Rapporteur on the situation of human rights defenders, found that one-in-two human rights defenders who were killed in 2019 had been working with communities around issues of land, environment, impacts of business activities, poverty and rights of indigenous peoples, Afrodescendants and other minorities.  

Since January 2017, among the Parties to the Aarhus Convention, incidents of persecution, penalization and harassment of environmental defenders have been reported in 16 countries

In contrast to current existing initiatives, which mainly rely on applying political pressure through the media, the Aarhus Convention’s rapid response mechanism will be built on a binding legal framework, giving it much greater powers to act.

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Environment

Plastic pollution on course to double by 2030

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Plastic pollution in oceans and other bodies of water continues to grow sharply and could more than double by 2030, according to an assessment released on Thursday by the UN Environment Programme (UNEP). 

The report highlights dire consequences for health, the economy, biodiversity and the climate. It also says a drastic reduction in unnecessary, avoidable and problematic plastic, is crucial to addressing the global pollution crisis overall.  

To help reduce plastic waste at the needed scale, it proposes an accelerated transition from fossil fuels to renewable energies, the removal of subsidies and a shift towards more circular approaches towards reduction. 

Titled From Pollution to Solution: a global assessment of marine litter and plastic pollution, the report shows that there is a growing threat, across all ecosystems, from source to sea. 

Solutions to hand 

But it also shows that there is the know-how to reverse the mounting crisis, provided the political will is there, and urgent action is taken. 

The document is being released 10 days ahead of the start of the crucial UN Climate Conference, COP26, stressing that plastics are a climate problem as well.  

For example, in 2015, greenhouse gas emissions from plastics were 1.7 gigatonnes of CO2 equivalent; by 2050, they’re projected to increase to approximately 6.5 gigatonnes. That number represents 15 per cent of the whole global carbon budget – the​​ amount of greenhouse gas that can be emitted, while still keeping warming within the Paris Agreement goals. 

Recycling not enough 

Addressing solutions to the problem, the authors pour cold water on the chances of recycling our way out of the plastic pollution crisis. 

They also warn against damaging alternatives, such as bio-based or biodegradable plastics, which currently pose a threat similar to conventional plastics. 

The report looks at critical market failures, such as the low price of virgin fossil fuel feedstocks (any renewable biological material that can be used directly as a fuel) compared to recycled materials, disjointed efforts in informal and formal plastic waste management, and the lack of consensus on global solutions. 

Instead, the assessment calls for the immediate reduction in plastic production and consumption, and encourages a transformation across the whole value chain. 

It also asks for investments in far more robust and effective monitoring systems to identify the sources, scale and fate of plastic. Ultimately, a shift to circular approaches and more alternatives are necessary.  

Making the case for change 

For the Executive Director of UNEP, Inger Andersen, this assessment “provides the strongest scientific argument to date for the urgency to act, and for collective action to protect and restore our oceans, from source to sea.” 

She said that a major concern is what happens with breakdown products, such as microplastics and chemical additives, which are known to be toxic and hazardous to human and wildlife health and ecosystems. 

“The speed at which ocean plastic pollution is capturing public attention is encouraging. It is vital that we use this momentum to focus on the opportunities for a clean, healthy and resilient ocean”, Ms. Andersen argued.  

Growing problem 

Currently, plastic accounts for 85 per cent of all marine litter. 

By 2040, it will nearly triple, adding 23-37 million metric tons of waste into the ocean per year. This means about 50kg of plastic per meter of coastline. 

Because of this, all marine life, from plankton and shellfish; to birds, turtles and mammals; faces the grave risk of toxification, behavioral disorder, starvation and suffocation. 

The human body is similarly vulnerable. Plastics are ingested through seafood, drinks and even common salt. They also penetrate the skin and are inhaled when suspended in the air. 

In water sources, this type of pollution can cause hormonal changes, developmental disorders, reproductive abnormalities and even cancer. 

Economy 

According to the report, there are also significant consequences for the global economy. 

Globally, when accounting for impacts on tourism, fisheries and aquaculture, together with the price of projects such as clean-ups, the costs were estimated to be six to 19 billion dollars per year, during 2018. 

By 2040, there could be a $100 billion annual financial risk for businesses if governments require them to cover waste management costs. It can also lead to a rise in illegal domestic and international waste disposal. 

The report will inform discussions at the UN Environment Assembly in 2022, where countries will come together to decide a way forward for more global cooperation. 

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Human Rights

No safe harbour: lifting the lid on a misunderstood trafficking crime

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photo © UNICEF/Noorani

The crime of harbouring, in which victims of human trafficking are accommodated or forced to stay in a specific location, is not universally understood by courts around the world. A new UN study aims to address that issue, and improve protection for victims.

A journey of exploitation

Harbouring is one of five actions that constitute an ‘act’ in the internationally recognised definition of human trafficking, and is often used by prosecutors and judges for convictions of this crime.

The act can take place before and during exploitation, or between periods of abuse, encompassing a wide variety of settings, including brothels, private homes, factories, farms, or fishing vessels.

These locations can be dangerous, inhumane and unsanitary, and cn be controlled by criminals involved in the trafficking network.  

In another case, victims who had been brought from Thailand to Australia were harboured during transit and at the place of exploitation: while being transported the victims were accommodated in hotels and accompanied by minders.

Once they were received by the offenders, the victims were either accommodated in the brothel where they were forced to work, or alternatively stayed at the offenders’ house, and were transported to and from the brothel each day.

Trafficking victims can also be subjected to harbouring once they arrive at the place of exploitation. In a case from the Dominican Republic, the offenders, a married couple, recruited a Chinese national to work in their business.

They promised to pay her and provide her with food. Instead, she was not paid, forced into domestic servitude and subjected to abuse.

A misunderstood concept

However, a new publication from the UN Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC) has found that there is neither a uniform understanding of the act of harbouring, nor a consistent approach to this concept during court proceedings.

“Harbouring is one of the most frequent acts when committing human trafficking, but the concept is not interpreted in the same way throughout the world,” says Martin Hemmi, the UNODC expert who led the study. 

“Some countries require the victims to be concealed or moved between locations for harbouring to be considered as an act of human trafficking. Others stipulate a minimum amount of time for the harbouring process,” adds Mr. Hemmi. “It is important to fully understand the concept to get justice for victims of this crime.”

The language barrier

Further findings show there are different meanings of the word ‘harbouring’ in the various language versions of the UN Trafficking in Persons Protocol,  which is the world’s primary legal instrument to combat this crime.

In French and Arabic, the word used for harbouring has a positive connotation in the sense of hosting, while in English, Chinese and Russian, it can be perceived as having a negative meaning in the sense of hiding or concealing.

“Due to these discrepancies, the same conduct is considered human trafficking in one country but not necessarily in another,” says Mr. Hemmi.  

“This has wide consequences. For the perpetrator, it can have an effect on the sentence. For the victim, it has an impact on rights and protection measures. For the courts, it can hamper requests for legal assistance and international cooperation.” 

Wherever and however it occurs, harbouring with the intent of exploitation is an act of human trafficking and a violation of the victim’s rights and dignity, says Martin Hemmi.  

“We hope that our new study will be used by investigators, prosecutors and judges to lead to a better understanding of this terrible crime and support measures to effectively protect victims and punish traffickers,” he concludes.

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