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Central Asia: European Union matches political commitment with further concrete support

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To underpin the European Union’s political commitment and kick-start the implementation of the new EU Central Asia Strategy, High Representative for Foreign Affairs and Security Policy/Vice-President of the European Commission, Federica Mogherini, at the EU-Central Asia Ministerial meeting in Bishkek, Kyrgyz Republic, today presented a set of EU funded regional programmes. These programmes will support the environment, climate action, sustainable consumption and production, energy, gender equality, counter-terrorism, and education. 

Coming on top of over €1 billion of bilateral and regional assistance for the period 2014-2020, these programmes, worth €72 million, will benefit all countries of the region – Kazakhstan, the Kyrgyz Republic, Tajikistan, Turkmenistan, Uzbekistan and Afghanistan.

“The positive regional dynamics in Central Asia and a demand for closer cooperation with the European Union presents a significant opportunity for a closer, stronger partnership”, said High Representative/Vice-President, Federica Mogherini. “Our new Strategy for the region will enable us to cooperate more closely with the countries of Central Asia in tackling the challenges they face: from sustainable development to economic diversification, strengthening civil society and human rights to providing expertise and financial support for reform processes. We are ready to build on the enormous momentum gained over the last five years, as a consistent and reliable partner, to foster resilience, prosperity and regional cooperation.”

Commissioner for International Cooperation and Development Neven Mimica added: “The EU’s contribution worth €72 million boosts our strong partnership with Central Asia, for the benefit of our citizens. Together with national governments, civil society and the private sector we will work to create opportunities and shared prosperity, while protecting our planet for future generations.”

The new programmes announced today cover:

Sustainable energy: The EU will invest €20 million in a new hydropower plant in Tajikistan, with additional support from Germany. This hydropower plant will create new opportunities for Tajikistan to meet increasing demand, and to export excess electricity to neighbouring countries, including to northern Afghanistan.

Economic empowerment: The EU will invest €2 million in the economic empowerment of women in the region. This project will be implemented together with Kazakhstan and Uzbekistan. It will provide Afghan women with the skills they need to participate in the economic development of Afghanistan, and contribute to closer peaceful ties with Central Asia. 

Education: The EU also launched a new €36 million programme in support of the education sector in Kyrgyzstan. This financing agreement will support Kyrgyzstan’s education development strategy, in order to better formulate, implement and monitor education policy. It will help to improve resource allocation, ensure equitable access across gender, ethnicity and linguistic background, and enhance the synergy between skills and labour market needs. 

Inclusive sustainable growth: The EU has extended the activities of the SWITCH Asia Programme, with an amount of €14 million. The programme will support sustainable consumption and production and promote inclusive sustainable growth. It aims to reduce poverty and contribute to economic prosperity in Central Asia.

In addition to those programmes announced today, several others are in preparation: 

Sustainable development: The EU is preparing a contribution in support of the initiative of the Government of Uzbekistan to establish the Multi-Partner Trust Fund for Human Security for the Aral Sea Region, under the auspices of the United Nations. The initiative will reduce vulnerability of the people living around the lake and advance sustainable development in the Aral Sea region. 

Intra-regional trade: The EU will launch an upgraded phase of the Border Management in Central Asia programme. With this new phase, the EU aims to increase security and facilitate intra-regional trade in Central Asia and Afghanistan through integrated border management. 

Health: The EU will furthermore launch the next phase of the Central Asia Drugs Action Programme. The goal is to work on integrated, balanced and evidence-based drug policies.

Counter-terrorism: New technical assistance to support law enforcement capacities and regional cooperation in countering terrorism.

Background 

The High Representative and the European Commission set out a vision for a renewed partnership with Central Asia in May 2019. This Joint Communication was endorsed by EU Foreign Ministers at the June Foreign Affairs Council. The new strategy comes at a key moment of fast-developing Euro-Asian connectivity, reform and opening up in some of the countries of Central Asia, and new momentum for regional cooperation.

The Strategy focuses the EU’s engagement on strengthening resilience and enhancing prosperity, as well as investing in regional cooperation in Central Asia.

EU cooperation with Central Asia amounts to over €1 billion, including both bilateral and regional assistance, for the period 2014-2020.

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‘We cannot rest’ until child labour is eliminated

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A woman watches children working at a stone quarry, Zambia. (file) IRIN/M. Deghati

Countries taking part in the 5th Global Conference on the Elimination of Child Labour this week in South Africa, are being urged to do more to end child labour by 2025.

The strong call for urgent action at the conference taking place in Durban, aims to combat an uptick in the numbers of children being forced into work.

Latest figures indicate that 160 million children  – almost one in ten worldwide – are still being affected. Furthermore, numbers are on the rise, with the pandemic threating to reverse years of progress, as child labour becomes a bigger scourge in particular among the vulnerable five to 11-year-old age group.

Make a difference

Speaking at the start of a week of hybrid format discussions, South African President Cyril Ramaphosa called on delegates to commit to taking “far-reaching actions” to make a difference in the lives of children.

“We are here because we share a common conviction that child labour in all its facets is an enemy. Child labour is an enemy of our children’s development and an enemy of progress.

“No civilization, no country and no economy can consider itself to be at the forefront of progress if its success and riches have been built on the backs of children.”

Mr. Ramaphosa’s call was echoed by Guy Ryder, Director-General of the International Labour Organization (ILO), who underlined that “child labour is a violation of a basic human right, and our goal must be that every child, everywhere is free from it. We cannot rest until that happens.”

According to the ILO, global progress against child labour has stalled for the first time in 2020, after two decades of moving in the right direction. In addition, the COVID-19 crisis is likely to have pushed millions more children into the workforce.

First in Africa

This is the first time the Global Conference on the Elimination of Child Labour is being held in Africa, a region where child labour numbers are highest, and progress has been slowest, ILO notes.

According to recent data, most child labour on the continent – some 70 per cent – is in the agricultural sector, often in settings where children are working alongside other family members.

The conference builds on four previous Global Conferences, held in Buenos Aires (2017), Brasilia (2013), The Hague (2010), and Oslo (1997), which raised awareness of the issue, assessed progress, mobilized resources, and established a strategic direction for the global movement against child labour.

Call for action

With the 2025 UN Sustainable Development Goals  deadline for the elimination of child labour looming, many speakers outlined the urgent need to recover the progress that had been made in many regions, prior to the COVID-19 pandemic.
The Conference is expected to conclude with a formal Call to Action that will outline concrete commitments to scale up action to eliminate child labour.

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Israel: UN rights chief calls for end to ‘culture of impunity’

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The funeral of Shirin Abu Akleh in Jerusalem. Photo: Maisa Abu Ghazaleh

Investigations must be held into the actions of the Israeli security forces, UN High Commissioner for Human Rights Michelle Bachelet said on Saturday, calling for accountability and an end to impunity.

Her appeal comes in the wake of the killing of Al Jazeera correspondent Shireen Abu Akleh, who was fatally shot on Wednesday while covering an Israeli raid in Jenin, West Bank.

The veteran Palestinian-American journalist was buried in East Jerusalem on Friday and huge crowds turned out for her funeral.

‘Shocking’ use of force

The High Commissioner issued a statement saying she was following “with deep distress” the events in the occupied West Bank, including East Jerusalem.

“Footage of Israeli police attacking mourners at the funeral procession of journalist Shireen Abu Akleh in East Jerusalem on Friday 13 May was shocking. Reports indicate that at least 33 people were injured,” she said.

Ms. Bachelet said the Israeli use of force, which was being filmed and broadcast live,  appeared to be unnecessary and must be promptly and transparently investigated.

“There must be accountability for the terrible killing not just of Shireen Abu Akleh but for all the killings and serious injuries in the occupied Palestinian territory,” she said.

Call for investigations

The UN rights chief reported that 48 Palestinians have been killed by Israeli security forces so far this year.

The latest death occurred on Saturday when a young man called Walid al-Sharif, succumbed to injuries sustained during clashes last month at the Al Aqsa Mosque compound in Jerusalem.

“As I have called for many times before, there must be appropriate investigations into the actions of Israeli security forces,” said Ms. Bachelet. 

“Anyone found responsible should be held to account with penal and disciplinary sanctions commensurate to the gravity of the violation. This culture of impunity must end now.”

Security Council condemnation

The killing of Ms. Abu Akleh has sent shockwaves across the globe, and UN officials have been among those calling for an investigation.

The journalist was shot even though she wore a vest that identified her as a member of the press corps. Her producer also was wounded.

The UN Security Council issued a statement on Friday strongly condemning her killing, reiterating that journalists should be protected as civilians.

The Council also called for an immediate, thorough, transparent, and fair and impartial investigation into her killing, and stressed the need to ensure accountability.  

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World Bank to support Education Recovery Strategy in Brazil

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The World Bank Board of Directors approved today the US$250 million Recovering Learning Losses From COVID-19 pandemic in Brazil project. The program will support the Brazilian strategy to promote learning recovery and address school dropout rates related to the health emergency crisis, by implementing innovative programs and systems to strengthen education management in primary and lower secondary schools in the North and Northeast region of the country.

“The COVID-19 pandemic inflicted unprecedent challenges to global education. A systematic recovery strategy will allow Brazil not only to revert learning losses related to the pandemic, but also to promote solid and sustained improvement in education,” says the Ministry of Education Victor Godoy Veiga.

Brazil had one of the longest school closures in the region due to the pandemic. According to Brazilian Ministry of Education, public schools remained closed for 287.4 days on average (or about 9.5 months) while private schools closed for 247.7 days (about 8 months), representing a 40-day public-private difference. The North and Northeast regions registered an even longer period of school closure, with the state of Bahia registering the longest school closure (366.4 days on average), followed by Roraima (349.4 days), Rio Grande do Norte (336.5 days), Acre (332.7 days) and Amapá (332.4 days).

Despite efforts to promote online classes, connectivity barriers both in schools and in students’ homes impaired learning, especially in the North and Northeast regions of Brazil. According to the 2020 School Census, only 60 percent of public schools in Brazil have internet. This situation is even more serious in North and Northeastern Brazil, where internet connectivity is only available in 48.5 percent of public schools (broadband in only 39 percent).

The proposed Operation aims to reduce regional gaps by supporting innovative online and face-to-face programs. Some key initiatives include: (i) the implementation of National and State Observatories of School Dropouts (OSD); (ii) an Early Warning System (SAP), to help identifying students at high risk of dropping out; Personalized Tutoring for Teachers and Socioemotional Initiative (SIS), to rebuild students’ socioemotional skills and to incentivize them to learn effectively.

Once back in school, the challenge is to make students (re)learn effectively. In this aspect, the program has two lines of action: face-to-face approaches by offering  Personalized Tutoring (APA) Program to small groups of students with similar learning gaps; and structured group discussions in SIS to mitigate the impacts of the pandemic on student socioemotional skills. The second line of action focuses on hybrid strategies and education systems to recover learning losses, by providing internet connectivity to schools, access to internet for vulnerable students under the law 14,172 and to take to inner municipalities the Creativity and Innovation Labs, facilities in which teachers and principals will be trained to use technology in the classrooms and to master the foundational teaching skills needed to help students recover learning losses.

The project will also offer support to two innovative educational systems: The Education Solution Ecosystem, that aims to offer an array of education tools to public schools, including adaptive learning platforms; and  the Integrated Education Management Platform, that focuses on integrating the education management system from the Ministry of Education. By strengthening hybrid learning models, training teachers to use technology and consolidating education systems, the project expects to build resilience to future pandemics and natural disasters that may disrupt learning and teaching.

“The world is facing a silent crisis in education. Urgent action is necessary. By supporting this comprehensive and innovative learning recovery program, the World Bank strongly believe that Brazil will become a role model for countries in the region on how to fight against learning crisis”, says World Bank Director for Brazil, Paloma Anós Casero.

Outcomes supported by the program include:

  • Creation of National and State Observatories of School Dropouts (OSD).
  • Implementation of an Early Warning System (SAP).
  • Implementation of an Education and Family Program.
  • Implementation of a Personalized Tutoring (APA) Program.
  • Implementation of Socioemotional Initiative (SIS).

This loan from the International Bank for Reconstruction and Development (IBRD) to the Ministry of Education is guaranteed by the Federative Republic of Brazil and has a final maturity of 34.5  years, with a 5 years grace period.

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