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UN: India should ‘unlock’ freedom curbs in disputed Kashmir

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Children attend class in open at a government middle school, Rajouri district, Jammu and Kashmir, India. UNICEF/Syed Altaf Ahmad

The people of Indian-administered Kashmir continue to be deprived of numerous basic freedoms, the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights said on Tuesday, before urging the Indian authorities “to unlock the situation”.

The appeal over the territory – which both India and Pakistan claim as sovereign – follows months of escalating tensions linked to earlier suicide attacks and the Indian Government’s decision in August to revoke majority-Muslim Kashmir’s special status, which for decades had allowed it partial autonomy.

At the time of the Indian Government decision, five UN-appointed independent rights experts warned that it had led to tighter central Government control, restrictions on peaceful protests and a communications blackout.

Curfew ‘still in place in large parts’ of Kashmir valley

In Geneva on Tuesday, spokesperson for the High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR), Rupert Colville acknowledged that an “undeclared curfew” had been lifted from much of Jammu and Ladakh regions within a few days.

But he noted that it was reportedly still in place “in large parts of the Kashmir Valley, preventing the free movement of people, as well as hampering their ability to exercise their right to peaceful assembly and restricting their rights to health, education and freedom of religion and belief.”   

Highlighting several allegations of excessive use of force against protesters that involved the use of “pellet-firing shotguns, tear gas and rubber bullets”, Mr. Colville said that there had also been unconfirmed reports of “at least six civilian killings and scores of serious injuries”, in separate incidents since the Indian Government declaration on 5 August across Jammu and Kashmir.

The Office of the High Commissioner had also received reports that armed groups in Indian-administered Kashmir have threatened some residents trying to work or go to school, the OHCHR spokesperson said.

In addition, “at least another six people have been killed and over a dozen injured in alleged attacks by armed group members, since 5 August”.

Web access blocked, politicians detained

And although restrictions on landline telephones were eventually lifted, and a state-run telecom company allowed to resume partial mobile phone services, all internet services remain blocked in the Kashmir valley, Mr. Colville insisted.

In line with the Indian Government’s decision to revoke Jammu and Kashmir’s partial self-rule, two separate federally-administered Union Territories are to be created this Thursday, the OHCHR Spokesperson explained, adding that “hundreds of political and civil society leaders” had been detained “on a preventative basis”.

While some political workers have reportedly been released, most senior leaders – especially those from the Kashmir Valley – remain in detention, he said.

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Human Rights

WEF Launches Coalition to Tackle Racism in the Workplace

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The World Economic Forum has today launched the Partnering for Racial Justice in Business initiative, which will see a coalition of organizations commit to building equitable and just workplaces for professionals with under-represented racial and ethnic identities.

The Partnering for Racial Justice in Business initiative has been designed to operationalize and coordinate commitments to eradicate racism in the workplace and set new global standards for racial equity in business. It also provides a platform for businesses to collectively advocate for inclusive policy change.

What action looks like

Three steps are required to join the initiative:

  • Racial and ethnic equity must be placed on the board’s agenda
  • Companies must make at least one commitment towards racial and ethnic justice in their organizations
  • Companies must put a long-term strategy in place towards becoming an anti-racist organization

Examples of business commitments towards racial and ethnic justice range from allocating financial and human resources to racial justice work, setting representation goals for all seniority levels, and establishing mentorship programmes for racially and ethnically diverse employees.

One of the initiative’s starting points will be Black inclusion and addressing anti-Blackness. A broad-brush approach to racism fails to grasp its effects on different under-represented groups. Anti-Black racism is historically one of the most pervasive forms of racism. As such, a targeted and specific approach to tackle it in the workplace is required. As the initiative evolves, it will seek to increase the visibility of racially and ethnically diverse leaders throughout industries, and expand its focus to include additional racial and ethnic groups.

“With just 1% of Fortune 500 companies led by Black chief executives, the need to tackle racial under-representation in business is urgent and obvious. To design racially and ethnically just workplaces, companies must confront racism at a systemic level, addressing not just the structural and social mechanics of their own organizations, but also the role they play in their communities and the economy at large. The Partnering for Racial Justice in Business initiative provides an effective platform for businesses to take individual and collective action towards racially and ethnically just workplaces,” said Saadia Zahidi, Managing Director at the World Economic Forum.

The initiative originates from the World Economic Forum’s New Economy and Society Platform, which is focused on building prosperous, inclusive and just economies and societies. In addition to its work on economic growth, revival and transformation, work, wages and job creation, and education, skills and learning, the Platform takes an integrated and holistic approach to diversity, equity, inclusion and social justice, and aims to tackle exclusion, bias and discrimination related to race, gender, ability, sexual orientation and all other forms of human diversity. It produces data, standards and insights, such as the Global Gender Gap Report and the Diversity, Equity and Inclusion 4.0 Toolkit, and drives or supports action initiatives, such as the Community of Chief Diversity and Inclusion Officers, The Valuable 500 – Closing the Disability Inclusion Gap, Hardwiring Gender Parity in the Future of Work, Closing the Gender Gap Country Accelerators, Partnership for Global LGBTI Equality and the Global Future Council on Equity and Social Justice.

Founding members

The founding members of the initiative are: A.P. Møller-Maersk, AlixPartners, AstraZeneca, Bank of America, BlackRock, Bloomberg, Boston Consulting Group, Bridgewater Associates, Centene, Cisco Systems, Cognizant, Dentsu International, Deutsche Bank, EY, Facebook, Google, H&M Group, Henry Schein, HP, Infosys, Ingka Group (IKEA), Jacobs Engineering Group, Jefferson Health, Johnson & Johnson, Kaiser Permanente, Kearney, LinkedIn, ManpowerGroup, Mastercard, Mayo Clinic, McKinsey & Company, Microsoft, Nestlé, PayPal, PepsiCo, Procter & Gamble, PwC, Salesforce, SAP, Standard Chartered Bank, Tata Consultancy Services, The Coca-Cola Company, Depository Trust & Clearing (DTCC), Thermo Fisher Scientific, Uber Technologies, Unilever, UPS and Willis Towers Watson.

“This initiative is an important step in helping accountable business leaders do more to change the foundational systems that interfere with achieving equity. Kaiser Permanente is taking bold actions within our organization to evolve and advance our equity, diversity and inclusion strategy, and we look forward to being part of this coalition, both to help its work and learn from others.” — Greg A. Adams, Chairman and Chief Executive Officer, Kaiser Permanente

“At IKEA, we side with the many, and we believe that a better every day is also an equal every day. We are committed to create a fair and equal workplace for everyone, no matter their ethnicity, race or nationality. We see three main reasons: It is about fairness, it’s about reflecting the diversity of our customer base to meet the dreams and needs of our customers in better ways. And finally, it opens up more and new opportunities to attract and recruit the best talents. By working together with the Forum and other businesses we hope to accelerate the pace and scale of change to create more fair and just workplaces and society.” — Jesper Brodin, Chief Executive Officer, Ingka Group (IKEA)

“The new global standards established by Partnering for Racial Justice in Business come at a time of heightened global focus on racial injustice, underscored by a pandemic that has disproportionately affected Black and Latino communities in the United States, along with other marginalized communities worldwide. We believe companies – critical enablers of wealth creation and professional mobility – must play a leading role in building a more equitable future for all. And as an organization that exists to create economic opportunity for the entire global workforce, we are honoured to join this initiative.” — Rosanna Durruthy, Global Head of Diversity, Inclusion, and Belonging, LinkedIn

“At P&G, we aspire to create a company and a world where equality and inclusion are achievable for all people. For us, this starts with ensuring equitable and inclusive workplaces, and drives the actions we take with our brands and business partners and throughout communities around the world. The Forum’s Partnering for Racial Justice in Business initiative will help foster cross-sector collaboration towards this aspiration and enable P&G and many companies to accelerate progress faster than any of us could do alone, and we’re proud to lend our support.” — Shelly McNamara, Chief Equality and Inclusion Officer, Procter & Gamble

“In order to have an economy that works for everyone, we all have an obligation to address the inequalities that have existed for too long; that includes systemic racism. At Mastercard, we believe that our success comes by ensuring decency, well-being and inclusion are part of everything we do. Bringing together groups like this creates the potential for greater impact, accelerating our ability to learn from one another and deliver action at scale.” — Michael Miebach, Chief Executive Officer, Mastercard

“As a global organization that runs with purpose, we will only have done our jobs if we create opportunities for every employee to flourish and for social justice to prevail. We must understand the role we play, the things we can do better, and the actions we can take to ensure equality for all. Let our work together be a shining example of the change we are advocating.” — Judith Williams, Head of People Sustainability and Chief Diversity and Inclusion Officer, SAP

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Human Rights

Over 1.9 billion people in Asia-Pacific unable to afford a healthy diet

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A child is tested for malnutrition at a UNICEF-supported health clinic in Bangladesh. According a UN report, malnutrition among young children and infants remains a pervasive problem in South Asia. UNICEF/Siegfried Modola

The economic impact of the coronavirus pandemic and surging food prices are keeping almost two billion people in Asia and the Pacific from healthy diets, United Nations agencies said on Wednesday.

According to the 2020 Regional Overview of Food Security and Nutrition, the region’s poor have been worst affected, forced to choose cheaper and less nutritious foods. The report is jointly produced by the Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO), the UN Children’s Fund (UNICEF), the World Food Programme (WFP) and the World Health Organization (WHO). 

“The outbreak of COVID-19 and a lack of decent work opportunities in many parts of the region, alongside significant uncertainty of food systems and markets, has led to a worsening of inequality, as poorer families with dwindling incomes further alter their diets to choose cheaper, less nutritious foods,” the agencies said

“Due to higher prices for fruits, vegetables and dairy products, it has become nearly impossible for poor people in Asia and the Pacific to achieve healthy diets, the affordability of which is critical to ensure food security and nutrition for all – and for mothers and children in particular.” 

As a result, progress is also slowing on improving nutrition, a key target for the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs). As of 2019, over 350 million people in the region are estimated to have been undernourished, with an about 74.5 million children under five stunted (too short for their age) and 31.5 million suffering from wasting (too thin for height). 

‘Impact most severe in first 1,000 days’ 

The UN agencies went on to note that while nutrition is vitally important throughout a person’s life, the impact of a poor diet is most severe in the first 1,000 days, from pregnancy to when a child reaches the age of two. 
“Young children, especially when they start eating their ‘first foods’ at six months, have high nutritional requirements to grow well and every bite counts,” they said. 

The agencies called for an integrated systems approach – bringing together food, water and sanitation, health, social protection and education systems – to address underlying factors and achieve healthy diets for all mothers and children. 

‘Changing face of malnutrition’ 

They also highlighted the “changing face” of malnutrition, with highly processed and inexpensive foods, readily available throughout Asia and the Pacific. Often packed with sugar and unhealthy fats, such food items lack the vitamins and minerals required for growth and development and also increase the risk of obesity, diabetes and cardiovascular disease. 

The report urged governments to invest more in nutrition and food safety to promote healthy diets, as well as regulate sales and marketing of food for consumers, especially children. It also highlighted the need for action within the private sector, given the sector’s important role in the food system and its value chains for achieving healthy diets. 

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Human Rights

Israel: ‘Halt and reverse’ new settlement construction

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A little boy stands on the remains of his family's demolished home in the West Bank. (File) UNRWA/Lara Jonasdottir

Israel’s decision to advance plans for some 800 new settlement units, most of which are located deep inside the occupied West Bank, has sparked the concern of UN Secretary-General António Guterres. 

In a statement issued on Monday by his spokesperson, Stephane Dujarric, the UN chief urged the Israeli Government to “halt and reverse such decisions”, calling them “a major obstacle to the achievement of the two-State solution, and a just, lasting and comprehensive peace”. 

‘No legal validity’ 

Mr. Guterres reiterated that Israel’s establishing of settlements in the Palestinian territory occupied since 1967, including East Jerusalem, “has no legal validity and constitutes a flagrant violation under international law”. 

“Settlement expansion increases the risk of confrontation, further undermines the right of the Palestinian people to self-determination, and further erodes the possibility of ending the occupation and establishing a contiguous and viable sovereign Palestinian State, based on the pre-1967 lines”, he said. 

Pushing forward 

Israel has given the green light to 780 new homes in West Bank settlements on Sunday in a move widely seen as being influenced by the imminent transfer of power in the United States. 

Breaking with decades of US diplomacy, outgoing President Donald Trump, in 2019 unilaterally declared that the settlements no longer breached international law. 

Against that backdrop, Israel has been increasing construction and either approved or made plans for more than 12,000 homes in 2020, according to news reports.

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