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Removing deadly mines means ‘new horizons and hope’, clears a path to SDGs

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The path towards achieving the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development must be “clear of landmines, explosive remnants of war and improvised explosive devices (IEDs)”, the United Nations Secretary-General said on Thursday, International Mine Awareness Day

“All people have the right to live in security, and not fear their next step”, António Guterres spelled out in his message, lauding mine action, which “clears paths and creates safe ground on which homes can be built or rebuilt” and “changes mindsets so that people know how to protect themselves”.

Moreover, the UN chief described it as “giving people and communities new horizons and hope”.

For more than 20 years, the United Nations has helped States free themselves from the threat of mines, explosive remnants of war and improvised explosive devices.

This year, the Organization has launched “Safe Ground”, a new strategy and campaign to “ensure that no one, no State, and no war zone is left behind”.

The campaign links mine action, sport and the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) by showing how clearing minefields, brings communities together and raises awareness about mine victims, and survivors of armed conflict.

“With this global campaign, our aim is to turn minefields into playing fields, and to raise resources for victims and survivors of armed conflict”, Mr. Guterres asserted.

The Secretary-General called on all States to “provide political and financial support for mine action” and urged all that have not yet acceded to the Anti-Personnel Mine Ban Convention, the Convention on Certain Conventional Weapons and associated Protocols, and the Convention on Cluster Munitions, to “do so without delay”.

“For prevention, protection, and lasting peace, universalization of these treaties is essential and strict compliance with International Humanitarian Law is a must”, he stated.

He paid tribute to the UN Mine Action Service (UNMAS) and to the “women and men who show extraordinary bravery in advancing this vital work, literally step-by-step”.  

“On this International Day for Mine Awareness, let us reaffirm our commitment to eradicating the horrendous damage caused by landmines and assisting those who have been harmed by their use”, concluded the Secretary-General.  

In the field

Painfully aware of the mine risks in Syria, the UN office there said in a statement that “providing explosive hazard risk education, clearance, and victim assistance is one of the main humanitarian priorities in the country”.

They do this through awareness raising, survey and clearance, and by addressing the needs of survivors and those affected.

The Senior UNMAS Programme Manager in South Sudan, another key nation for their work, said this week that demining “is doable” in that country.

“We are into the endgame now, and we need support to see this one through”, Richard Boulter elaborated. “It is a three to five-year problem, and then this goes away.”

He continued, saying that “if the powers that be don’t want to see a particular area cleared of dangers, there are still other places where we can go to work…when peace comes to town – when sanity comes to town – we can go back and do our job there.”

Seeing is believing

In marking the Day, “Safe Ground” events have been held around the world, such as a football tournament in Gaza and road races in Iraq, Lebanon and Colombia.

In New York, a hands-on workshop allowed ordinary people to participate in mock-demining activities.

One of the “guys in the bomb suits”, UNMAS Threat Mitigation Advisor Will Meurer. walked UN News through a de-mining demonstration, explaining that “mine awareness is a very large component in improvised explosive devices (IEDs), which so many people now have to deal with”.

He exhibited IEDs that, once used by “the good guys”, have been repurposed with explosives and attached to drones for targeting; others that are “victim operated”, which buried in the ground, are set off when stepped on or driven over; and those on a timer or detonated on command, suicide vests fell into this category.

Mr. Meurer underscored that IEDs are increasingly impacting the UN across all its mission areas – from humanitarian responses to development.

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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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