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Moratorium call on surveillance technology to end ‘free-for-all’ abuses

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Surveillance technology should be banned immediately until “effective” national or international controls are put in place to lessen its harmful impact, a UN-appointed independent rights expert said on Tuesday.

David Kaye, who’s the United Nations Special Rapporteur on freedom of opinion and expression, made the appeal as he prepared to present his latest report to the Human Rights Council in Geneva.

He highlighted that while States were largely responsible, companies appeared to be “operating without constraint” too, in a “free for all” private surveillance industry environment.

“Surveillance tools can interfere with human rights, from the right to privacy and freedom of expression to rights of association and assembly, religious belief, non-discrimination, and public participation,” the Special Rapporteur said in statement. “And yet they are not subject to any effective global or national control.”

Surveillance linked to detention, torture, extrajudicial killings

According to Mr. Kaye’s report, the surveillance of journalists, activists, opposition figures, critics and UN investigators can lead to arbitrary detention.

It has also been linked to torture and possibly to extrajudicial killings, the Special Rapporteur said, citing various ways that States and other actors monitor individuals who exercise their right to freedom of expression.

These include hacking computers, networks and mobile phones, using facial recognition surveillance and other sophisticated surveillance tools to shadow journalists, politicians, UN investigators and human rights advocates.

Among the Special Rapporteur’s recommendations is an appeal to States to adopt domestic safeguards to protect individuals from unlawful surveillance, in line with international human rights law.

In particular, Mr. Kaye calls for the development of publicly-owned mechanisms for the approval and oversight of surveillance technology.

In addition, countries should strengthen export controls and provide assurances of legal redress to victims.

“It is imperative that States limit the uses of such technologies to lawful ones only, subjected to the strictest sorts of oversight and authorisation,” he said. “And that States condition export of such technologies on the strictest human rights due diligence”.

Companies operate in ‘free-for-all’ snooping environment

Addressing the issue of corporate responsibility, Mr. Kaye insisted that companies should adhere to their human rights responsibilities, as they “appear to be operating without constraint”.

To remedy this, firms should disclose data transfers, conduct “rigorous” human rights impact assessments, and avoid transfers to States unable to guarantee compliance with human rights norms, the Special Rapporteur said.

“The private surveillance industry is a free for all,” Kaye noted, “an environment in which States and industry are collaborating in the spread of technology that is causing immediate and regular harm to individuals and organisations that are essential to democratic life – journalists, activists, opposition figures, lawyers, and others.

“It is time for governments and companies to recognise their responsibilities and impose rigorous requirements on this industry, with the goal of protecting human rights for all,” Mr. Kaye said.

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Human Rights

Eurobarometer: Protecting human rights tops citizens’ list of EU values

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This Eurobarometer survey, published on Tuesday, asked citizens, among several topics, which political issue the Parliament should deal with as a matter of priority.

Parliament’s autumn Eurobarometer survey traditionally asks citizens which political issue the European Parliament should deal with as a matter of priority. With regard to European values, a clear majority of citizens see protecting human rights worldwide (48%), freedom of speech (38%), gender equality (38%) and solidarity between EU member states (33%) as the main fundamental values to preserve in the European Union.

Although the ranking of priorities show a significant variation across individual member states, for the first time climate change tops the list of citizens’ priority issues. Nearly every third respondent (32%) wants Parliament to address combating climate change as its biggest priority. The fight against poverty and social exclusion (31%), combating terrorism (24%) as well as tackling unemployment (24%) follow in the average EU ranking of citizens’ priorities.

Over the course of the past year, mainly youth-led climate protests have mobilised millions of citizens in the EU and around the world. The 2019 Parlemeter data reflects this feeling of climate emergency, as an absolute majority of respondents (52%) consider climate change to currently be the most pressing environmental issue, followed by air pollution (35%), maritime pollution (31%), deforestation (28%) and the growing amount of waste (28%). In addition, nearly six out of ten Europeans believe that these youth-led protests contributed both at European and at national level to more political measures against climate change.

Six in ten Europeans (59%) in favour of their country’s EU membership

With nearly six in ten Europeans (59%) in favour of their country’s EU membership, citizens’ support for the European Union remains high for the third year in a row, says the European Parliament’s autumn Eurobarometer survey. Conducted in October 2019, results also show an increased level of satisfaction with the way democracy works in the European Union: 52% (+3 pp) of Europeans share this feeling, indicating that the recent European elections and increased voter turnout contributed positively to this.

European citizens would like to see the European Parliament playing a stronger role, with 58% of respondents calling for a more influential Parliament in the future. This is an increase of 7 percentage points since spring 2019 and the highest result for this indicator since 2007.

Large majority wants more information on the EU

Last, but not least, the 2019 Parlemeter offers valuable insight into which kind of EU-related information European citizens would be interested in – and how they might be more engaged with EU policy making. In total, three-quarters of Europeans (77%) would like to receive more information on the activities of the European institutions. The concrete consequences of EU legislation at local, regional and national level as well as the activities of the European Parliament and its Members are among the areas most relevant for citizens.

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Partnerships key to taking landlocked countries out of poverty

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The challenges faced by landlocked developing countries (LLDCs), some of the poorest in the world, can be overcome through more effective partnerships, UN Secretary-General António Guterres declared on Thursday, at a conference held at UN Headquarters in New York.

The Midterm Review of the 10-year Vienna Programme of Action For Landlocked Countries, is an opportunity for the international community to renew commitments made, to lifting LLDCs out of poverty.

Challenges they face include underdeveloped forms of connectivity, from roads to railways and internet infrastructure, a lack of access to sea ports, and poor integration into global and regional markets.

Cooperation amongst the countries concerned is therefore crucial, said the UN chief: “We need the right policy mix; increased investment, reliable transit infrastructure, efficient customs operations and improved access and use of technology”.

The international community should support landlocked countries, he said, in building up their private sectors, enhancing the business environment, and strengthening statistical systems, because policies must be based on data.

‘Headway in key areas’

The UN chief pointed to “headway in some key areas”. These include higher GDP in many of the countries; and progress on indicators related to health, education, energy, gender equality and ICT (Information and Communication Technology).

Transport connectivity is improving, noted Mr. Guterres, with transit and economic corridors developing. Examples of growing economic links include the African Continental Free Trade Agreement, and the World Trade Organization Trade Facilitation Agreement, which provide opportunities for landlocked countries to link up to external markets and global value chains.

Since the Vienna Programme was adopted in 2014, LLDCs are now benefiting from modest increases in development aid from governments, as well as increased aid for trade and cooperation between developing countries.

Struggling ‘in the shadows of historical injustices’

Muhammad-Bande, the President of the General Assembly, in his speech to the conference.

Ramped-up action is sorely needed if the international community is to change the “grim picture” of the current situation for LLDCs, many of which “continue to struggle in the shadows of historical injustices”, he said, going on to list some of the severe problems these countries face.

Economic growth in the landlocked developing countries has declined in the last five years, one third live in extreme poverty, and the average ranking for LLDCs in the United Nations Development Program (UNDP’s) Human Development Index lags behind the world average by 20 per cent.

Undernourishment in landlocked developing countries reached a rate of 23.2 per cent in 2016, and food insecurity affects 51.6 per cent of their population, a problem that is compounded by the effects of climate change. In addition, 40 per cent of the population of these nations do not have access to electricity.

Deal for landlocked countries a ‘testament to multilateralism’: GA President

Mr. Muhammad-Bande described the Political Declaration due to be adopted at the Midterm Review of the Vienna Programme as “a testament to multilateralism”, and a “roadmap by which we can align the objectives of the Programme with the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs)” and, in particular, Sustainable Development Goal 1, which calls for the eradication of poverty.

The General Assembly President outlined the types of action that can support the sustainable development of landlocked developing countries.

Some government programmes and grassroots anti-corruption movements have used digital technology to tackle illicit financial flows; financing for micro, small and medium-sized enterprises needs to be strengthened; economic governance and business regulation should be improved; and technical support should be provided, for infrastructure and transport development projects.

“To ensure sustainable development for generations to come we must work together now”, said Mr. Muhammad-Bande. “Our actions must be guided by the spirit of cooperation and solidarity”.

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Vienna Discussion Forum 2019 on ending violence against women

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The first Vienna Discussion Forum, a platform to discuss and call for action on gender equality within the context of the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), addressed gender-based violence from the perspective of the respective mandates of the United Nations Industrial Development Organization (UNIDO) and the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC), namely women’s economic empowerment (SDGs 8 and 9), and crime prevention, criminal justice responses (SDG 16). The Forum, which marked the International Day for the Elimination of Violence against Women (25 November), was organized by UNIDO and the UNODC, together with the representatives of Finland, Norway and Sweden.

It is clear that we need to develop comprehensive approaches to address violence against women. Crime prevention and criminal justice responses and women’s economic empowerment can complement each other in this endeavour,” said UNIDO Director General LI Yong. “We work together with governments, the private sector and civil society to develop gender-responsive and inclusive industrial policies. We aim to promote enabling working environments that allow for women to thrive both professionally and personally.”

The Executive Director of UNODC, Yury Fedotov and H.E. Thomas Blomqvist, Minister for Nordic Cooperation and Equality of Finland, joined the Director General in opening the event. Fedotov underscored that “gender-based violence stops women and girls from exercising their human rights and fundamental freedoms. It hinders achievement of all of the Sustainable Development Goals – not only Goal Five on gender equality – and holds back humanity from fulfilling our potential”.

Minister Blomqvist reminded the audience that the Beijing Declaration and Platform for Action were adopted almost 25 years ago”, but while “considerable progress has been made, we still have a long way to go”.

The opening remarks were rounded off by H.E. Lourdes Victoria Kruse, Permanent Representative of the Dominican Republic to the United Nations in Vienna, who recounted the story of the Mirabal sisters, three Dominican political activists whose assassination on 25 November 1960 is remembered as the International Day for the Elimination of Violence against Women.

The Vienna Discussion Forum revolved around a morning panel discussion related to UNODC’s mandate, discussing crime prevention and criminal justice responses to violence against women, and a UNIDO-led afternoon panel discussion on women’s economic empowerment and the resilience that increased economic opportunity can foster against violence and abuse.

Moderated by Monica Carco, the Chief of UNIDO’s Rural Entrepreneurship, Job Creation and Human Security Division, the afternoon panel united Laura Capobianco, Global Advisor on Safe Public Spaces at UN Women, Beatrice Gakuba, Executive Director of AWAN-Africa, Sami Nevala, Policy Coordinator for Statistics at the European Union Agency for Fundamental Rights, and Haya Sheikh Yasin, CEO of Quick Packaging Company, a member of the Palestine Businesswomen Association.

The discussion concluded that women’s economic and social empowerment is among the strategies that are effective in preventing violence against women. However, to ensure empowerment is not met with backlash, the creation of economic opportunities for women should be accompanied by i.e. community-based interventions and the development of policies and institutions that address the multiple forms of structural discrimination that still exist; while the occurrence of violence against women is independent of development status, this is especially important in specific regional contexts, such as those of extreme poverty, conflict or displacement. Panellists called on the international community to take action by urging for more solidarity and concerted and intersectional responses by governments, civil society and international organizations to violence against women. Panellists also highlighted education as a transformative measure to allow women to economically emancipate themselves and counter detrimental social norms, such as child marriage. Finally, the importance of engaging men in the discussion around gender-based violence, was raised.

As organizers, the Director General of UNIDO, the Executive Director of UNODC and the Permanent Representatives of Finland, Norway and Sweden came together as five International Gender Champions in organizing the Vienna Discussion Forum. The outcome will feed into the review process of the 25th anniversary of the Beijing Declaration and Platform for Action. It is envisioned that the Vienna Discussion Forum will be turned into an annual platform to address gender equality in the context of the Sustainable Development Goals.

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