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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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Human Rights

ILO calls on Belarus President to respect workers’ rights and freedoms amid protests

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The Director-General of the International Labour Organization, Guy Ryder, has called on the President of Belarus, Alexander Lukashenko, to prevent human rights violations and “ensure full respect for workers’ rights and freedoms” during the wave of protests that have swept the country in recent weeks. 

In his letter to the Belarus President, Ryder urged President Lukashenko to release and drop charges against six trade unionists who have been detained by the authorities after participating in peaceful protests and industrial action.

He reminded the President that it is the responsibility of the Government to ensure a climate free from violence, threats or pressure against peacefully protesting workers and that any such allegations should be rapidly and independently investigated.

“I must urge you to do all in your power to prevent the occurrence of human rights violations and ensure full respect for workers’ rights and freedoms,” Ryder’s letter said.

He expressed his deep concern at reports coming out of Belarus on the arrest, detention, imprisonment and mistreatment of workers’ leaders.

‘No one should be deprived of their freedom or be subject to penal sanctions for the mere fact of organizing or participating in a peaceful strike or protest,’ Ryder wrote.

The letter recalls that the ILO has been working with the Belarus government, and the national workers’ and employers’ organizations, for 16 years, helping to address issues raised by an ILO Commission of Inquiry in 2004  which was set up following serious infringements of trade union rights and freedoms in the country.

Ryder notes that while there has been some progress on these issues, “the Commission’s recommendations are far from being fully implemented.”

The intervention by the ILO Director-General follows a request made by the International Trade Union Confederation (ITUC).

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Switzerland: Draft anti-terrorism law sets ‘dangerous precedent’

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A proposed new anti-terrorism law in Switzerland could set a dangerous precedent for the suppression of political dissent worldwide, a group of five independent UN human rights experts warned on Friday. 

The draft legislation, currently before the Swiss Parliament, expands the definition of terrorism and no longer requires the prospect of any crime at all, they said, in a plea for a last-minute reversal by legislators. 

‘Expansive’ definition of terrorism 

Citing international standards, the experts defined terrorism as the intimidation or coercion of populations or governments through violence that causes death or serious injury, or the taking of hostages. 

Under the bill, “terrorist activity” may encompass even lawful acts aimed at influencing or modifying the constitutional order, such as legitimate activities of journalists, civil society and political activists. 

“Expanding the definition of terrorism to any non-violent campaign involving the spreading of fear goes far beyond current Swiss domestic law and violates international standards”, said the experts, all of whom were appointed by the UN Human Rights Council

“This excessively expansive definition sets a dangerous precedent and risks serving as a model for authoritarian governments seeking to suppress political dissent including through torture and other cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment.” 

Other sections of the draft law have also raised concerns, such as those giving the federal police extensive authority to designate “potential terrorists” and to decide preventive measures against them.  

Expertise declined 

The rights experts had earlier written to the Swiss authorities, expressing their concerns about the incompatibility of the bill with human rights and international best practices in counter-terrorism.  However, no changes were implemented. 

 “While we recognize the serious security risks posed by terrorism, we very much regret that the Swiss authorities have declined this opportunity to benefit from our technical assistance and expertise on how to combine effective preventive measures with respect for human rights”, they said. 

 The experts called on Swiss parliamentarians to keep in mind their country’s traditionally strong commitment to human rights, urging them to reject a law which “is bound to become a serious stain on Switzerland’s otherwise strong human rights legacy.” 

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Burkina Faso: Over 535,000 children under five ‘acutely’ malnourished

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Members of family, who fled conflict, at their shelter in the Pissila camp for internally displaced persons in Burkina Faso. WFP/Marwa Awad

New data from UN Children’s Fund (UNICEF) has revealed worsening nutritional situation for children in Burkina Faso, with more than 535,000 children under the age of five suffering from acute malnutrition – an unprecedented level. 

Among them, some 156,500 children are “severely” malnourished, leaving them nine times more likely to die than well-nourished children, according to UNICEF

“The aggravating factors causing the nutritional situation of children to deteriorate are primarily linked to the displacement of populations due to insecurity, reduced access to livelihoods and reduced access to health care and nutrition,” said James Mugaju, UNICEF Deputy Representative in Burkina Faso.  

“The coronavirus pandemic has had a brutal impact on households and their ability to provide for the basic needs of their children. Children are paying the highest price, facing a triple crisis: security, health and food,” he added. 

Burkina Faso, a landlocked country in west Africa, has over one million internally displaced persons – 60 per cent of whom are children, and 3.3 million suffer from acute food insecurity.  

Worst affected regions 

According to the survey, the town of Gorom-Gorom in the Sahel region and the Barsalogho site for internally displaced persons in the Centre-Nord region are worst affected, where children under five suffering from global acute malnutrition recorded 18.4 per cent and 16.1 per cent, respectively. The figures exceed the World Health Organization (WHO) emergency threshold of 15 per cent.  

Equally alarming is the situation in Dori, Gorgadji, Bourzanga and Fada N’Gourma communes, all of which have a high prevalence of global acute malnutrition, ranging from 12.5 per cent to 13.6 per cent. Children in the Barsalogho, Kongoussi, Ouahigouya, Kaya and Matiacoali communes also have concerning prevalence rates of acute malnutrition, ranging from 8.6 per cent to 9.6 per cent.  

Areas where children are particularly affected by acute malnutrition are also those with the highest number of acutely food-insecure families, said UNICEF, calling for intensified efforts to ensure the continuity of nutrition services to provide an integrated package of prevention and treatment of malnutrition to reach the children in urgent need. 

“This is essential because good nutrition for children, from their first days and months, protects them from disease and infection, and helps them to recover when they fall ill,” said Mr. Mugaju.  

UNICEF response 

UNICEF and its partners have stepped up their response. Community health workers have been mobilized to travel to the most remote areas to screen and treat malnourished children at the community level, where they also provide advice on the best feeding practices for infants and young children, including in emergency situations.  

The UN agency is also supporting health authorities and is strengthening efforts to procure and deliver therapeutic foods, such as milk and ready-to-use therapeutic foods, to treat acute malnutrition. More than 52,600 cartons or about 737 tonnes of therapeutic food have been delivered to healthcare facilities and 51,685 children with severe acute malnutrition have been treated since January 2020. 

UNICEF Deputy Representative James Mugaju highlighted the importance of working together to support children.  

“Well-nourished girls and boys ensure good physical and cognitive development, which will give them equal opportunities to grow up fulfilled and reach their full potential,” he said. 

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