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Human Rights

Stop violence against women

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Ahead of the International Day for the Elimination of Violence against Women on 25 November, the European Commission and High Representative Federica Mogherini issued the following statement:

Violence against women and girls is violence against the whole humankind, and should have no place in Europe or elsewhere in the world. But we all know that despite our commitment, we are still far from winning this challenge.

Violence against women happens anywhere, there is no safe place, not even at home. On the contrary. Woman are targeted at home as well as in their workplace, in schools and universities, on the street, in displacement and migration, and increasingly online through cyber violence and hate speech.

The scale of the problem stays alarming: One in three women in Europe has experienced physical and/or sexual violence. Nearly all victims of trafficking for sexual exploitation within the EU are women and girls.

In developing countries, one in every three girls is married before reaching the age of 18. There are at least 200 million women and girls who have undergone female genital mutilation, which is still performed in around 30 countries.

It is our responsibility as the EU and international community, to keep our commitment to preventing, openly rejecting and condemning all acts of violence against women and girls.

It is our duty also to support and protect the victims by creating a safe environment for them to report the crimes committed against them.

The EU is committed to keep working tirelessly with our partners to strengthen legal frameworks and institutions, supporting development and education, improving services for survivors, addressing the root causes of violence, promoting women empowerment.

But ending violence against women and girls requires a firm commitment not only at institutional level. It requires a broad involvement of international organisations, of NGOs, of the civil society at large. And most of all of men.

So our goal stays clear: eliminate violence against women and girls. The EU will stay at the forefront of this international mobilisation to defend the rights of every woman and every girl to live free and safe. We do it for our future and for our present because women are the pillar of just, open, developed and democratic societies, and nothing should deprive them of the freedom to play their role freely and safely.”

The European Union has put substantial measures in place to end such violence, including:

  • The EU’s Victims’ Rights Directive ensures more and better rights for victims of crimes and specialised support for victims of sexual or gender–based violence.
  • The Commission is in the process of concluding the EU accession to the Istanbul Convention of the Council of Europe on preventing and combating violence against women and domestic violence.
  • The Rights, Equality and Citizenship Programme helps tackle violence against women and children through funding grassroots projects focusing on prevention of gender-based violence, supporting victims and women and girls at risk, training of professionals and capacity building of services.

The EU is also tackling violence against women outside of the EU:

  • Over the last two years, we have supported more than 1.5 million women and girls by providing services for protection and care related to female genital mutilation. Prevention efforts are having a positive impact: some 3,000 communities, representing 8.5 million people, have publicly announced that they are abandoning this practice.
  • On child marriage, the EU has undertaken a series of initiatives designed to change attitudes and practices regarding girls’ rights, reaching over 1.6 million people.

Background

Violence against women and girls is a widespread and devastating human rights violation that takes place across the globe. WHO estimates that one third of women and girls worldwide experience violence at some point in their lives. The numbers may only be the tip of the iceberg, as this type of violence remains largely unreported due to the silence, stigma and shame surrounding it. As a result, many perpetrators remain unpunished.

In addition to the initiatives mentioned, the EU has put in place the Victims’ Rights Directive, which ensures more and better rights to victims of all crimes. Under these rules, the most vulnerable victims such as victims of sexual violence, victims of gender–based violence and victims of violence in close relations, have access to specialised support services. Such support includes access to shelters for victims in need of a safe place and targeted and integrated support including trauma support and counselling. The European Commission is closely monitoring the implementation of this Directive in the Member States and has taken action against those Member States who have not fully or correctly transposed EU rules.

Furthermore, the EU recognises trafficking in human beings as violence against women and girls, and this dimension continues to be a focus of key actions in the context of the EU legal and policy framework, under the horizontal mandate of the EU anti-trafficking Coordinator (Overview 2012-2016 and 2017-2018).

Moreover, today, the European Institute for Gender Equality (EIGE) is publishing a new risk assessment guide for the police, to help law enforcement authorities and health sectors to better work together to prevent repeated acts of intimate partner violence and save lives.

As a priority in its External Action, the European Commission is working on concluding the EU accession to the Council of Europe’s Convention on preventing and combatting violence against women and domestic violence, the first instrument in Europe to set legally binding standards to prevent violence against women and domestic violence, protect its victims and punish perpetrators. It is the obligation of the State to fully address this type of violence in all its forms and to take the necessary measures of prevention, protection and prosecution. In partnership with the United Nations, the EU launched the Spotlight Initiative, a global, multi-year initiative focused on eliminating all forms of violence against women and girls. With an unprecedented initial investment of €500 million, we are protecting and giving voice to those women and girls who have been silenced by their societies and now want to speak up. During 2017 and 2018, it is estimated that the EU allocated more than €62 million in humanitarian aid for the prevention of and response to sexual and gender-based violence worldwide under its protection and health programming.

Finally, the European Commission will be lighting up its headquarters in Brussels, the Berlaymont building, in orange on the night of Monday 25 November to show its support for combatting violence against women.

Human Rights

Human rights experts demand UAE provide ‘meaningful information’ on Sheikha Latifa

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United Nations independent human rights experts on Tuesday demanded that the United Arab Emirates provide “meaningful information” on the fate of Sheikha Latifa Mohammed Al Maktoum as well as assurances regarding her safety and well-being, “without delay”.

Sheikha Latifa, the daughter of the Emir of Dubai, and Prime Minister of the UAE, Mohammed bin Rashid Al Maktoum, was reportedly abducted while attempting to flee the country in 2018. In February, footage was released that reportedly showed her being deprived of her liberty against her will.

Independent rights experts, including the UN Special Rapporteur on violence against women voiced concern that since the February video, and subsequent official request for further information on her situation, “no concrete information has been provided by the authorities”.

“The statement issued by the Emirates authorities’ merely indicating that she was being ‘cared for at home’ is not sufficient at this stage”, they added.

The rights experts also said they were troubled by the allegations of human rights violations against Sheikha Latifa, and of the possible threat to her life.

Evidence of well-being ‘urgently required’

According to the information received, she continues to be deprived of liberty, with no access to the outside world, they added, noting that “her continued incommunicado detention can have harmful physical and psychological consequences and may amount to cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment”.

“Evidence of life and assurances regarding her well-being are urgently required”, the human rights experts urged, calling for independent verification of the conditions under which Sheikha Latifa is being held, and for her immediate release.

In addition to the Special Rapporteur on violence against women, the call was made by the members of the working groups on enforced or involuntary disappearances; and on discrimination against women and girls; as well as the Special Rapporteurs on torture and other cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment; and on extrajudicial, summary or arbitrary execution.

The Special Rapporteurs and Working Groups are part of what is known as the Special Procedures of the Human Rights Council. The experts work on a voluntary basis; they are not UN staff and do not receive a salary. They are independent from any government or organization and serve in their individual capacity. 

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Human Rights

Six reasons why a healthy environment should be a human right

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At least 155 states recognize their citizens have the right to live in a healthy environment, either through national legislation or international accords, like the Universal Declaration of Human Rights.

Despite those protections, the World Health Organization estimates that 23 per cent of all deaths are linked to “environmental risks” like air pollution, water contamination and chemical exposure.

Statistics like that are why the United Nations Human Rights Council recently passed a resolution reaffirming states’ obligations to protect human rights, including by taking stronger actions on environmental challenges.

Here are some of the ways that a compromised planet is now compromising the human right to health.

 1. The destruction of wild spaces facilitates the emergence of zoonotic diseases.

The alteration of land to create space for homes, farms and industries has put humans in increasing contact with wildlife and has created opportunities for pathogens to spill over from wild animals to people.

An estimated 60 per cent of human infections are of animal origin. And there are plenty of other viruses poised to jump from animals to humans. According to the Intergovernmental Science-Policy Platform on Biodiversity and Ecosystem Services, “as many as 1.7 million unidentified viruses of the type known to infect people are believed to still exist in mammals and waterfowl. Any one of these could be the next ‘Disease X’ – potentially even more disruptive and lethal than COVID-19.”

2. Air pollution reduces quality of health and lowers life expectancy.

Across the globe, nine in 10 people are breathing unclean air, harming their health and shortening their life span. Every year, about 7 million people die from diseases and infections related to air pollution, more than five times the number of people who perish in road traffic collisions.

Exposure to pollutants can also affect the brain, causing developmental delays, behavioural problems and even lower IQs in children. In older people, pollutants are associated with Alzheimer’s and Parkinson’s diseases.

3. Biodiversity loss compromises the nutritional value of food.

In the last 50 years alone, human diets have become 37 per cent more similar, with just 12 crops and five animal species providing 75 per cent of the world’s energy intake. Today, nearly one in three people suffer from some form of malnutrition and much of the world’s population is affected by diet-related diseases, such as heart disease, diabetes and cancer.

 4. Biodiversity loss also reduces the scope and efficacy of medicines.

Natural products comprise a large portion of existing pharmaceuticals and have been particularly important in the area of cancer therapy. But estimates suggest that 15,000 medicinal plant species are at risk of extinction and that the Earth loses at least one potential major drug every two years.

 5. Pollution is threatening billions worldwide.

Many health issues spring from pollution and the idea that waste can be thrown “away” when, in fact, much of it remains in ecosystems, affecting both environmental and human health.

Water contaminated by waste, untreated sewage, agricultural runoff and industrial discharge puts 1.8 billion people at risk of contracting cholera, dysentery, typhoid and polio. Methylmercury – a substance found in everyday products that contaminate fish – can have toxic effects on the nervous, digestive and immune systems when consumed by humans. And a growing body of evidence suggests that there is a cause for concern about the impact of microplastics on marine life and the food web.

As well, every year, 25 million people suffer from acute pesticide poisoning. And glyphosate – the world’s most widely-used herbicide– is associated with non-Hodgkin lymphoma and other cancers.

Even medicines can have a negative impact as they infiltrate ecosystems. A 2017 UNEP report found that antibiotics have become less effective as medicine because of their widespread use in promoting livestock growth. About 700,000 people die of resistant infections every year.

 6. Climate change introduces additional risks to health and safety.

The last decade was the hottest in human history and we are already experiencing the impacts of climate change, with wildfires, floods and hurricanes becoming regular events that threaten lives, livelihoods and food security. Climate change also affects the survival of microbes, facilitating the spread of viruses. According to an article published by the Intergovernmental Science-Policy Platform on Biodiversity and Ecosystem Services, “pandemics are likely to happen more frequently, spread more rapidly, have greater economic impact and kill more people.”

UNEP

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Human Rights

Migrants left stranded and without assistance by COVID-19 lockdowns

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At least 30,000 migrants are stranded at borders in West Africa according to the UN. IOM/Monica Chiriac

Travel restrictions during the COVID pandemic have been particularly hard on refugees and migrants who move out of necessity, stranding millions from home, the UN migration agency, IOM, said on Thursday. 

According to the International Organization for Migration (IOM), the first year of the pandemic saw more than 111,000 travel restrictions and border closures around the world at their peak in December.  

These measures “have thwarted many people’s ability to pursue migration as a tool to escape conflict, economic collapse, environmental disaster and other crises”, IOM maintained. 

In mid-July, nearly three million people were stranded, sometimes without access to consular assistance, nor the means to meet their basic needs.  

In Panama, the UN agency said that thousands were cut off in the jungle while attempting to travel north to the United States; in Lebanon, migrant workers were affected significantly by the August 2020 explosion in Beirut and the subsequent surge of COVID-19 cases. 

Business as usual 

Border closures also prevented displaced people from seeking refuge, IOM maintained, but not business travellers, who “have continued to move fairly freely”, including through agreed ‘green lanes’, such as the one between Singapore and Malaysia.  

By contrast, those who moved out of necessity – such as migrant workers and refugees – have had to absorb expensive quarantine and self-isolation costs, IOM said, noting that in the first half of 2020, asylum applications fell by one-third, compared to the same period a year earlier.  

Unequal restrictions 

As the COVID crisis continues, this distinction between those who can move and those who cannot, will likely become even more pronounced, IOM said, “between those with the resources and opportunities to move freely, and those whose movement is severely restricted by COVID-19-related or pre-existing travel and visa restrictions and limited resources”. 

This inequality is even more likely if travel is allowed for anyone who has been vaccinated or tested negative for COVID-19, or for those with access to digital health records – an impossibility for many migrants. 

Health risks 

Frontier lockdowns also reduced options for those living in overcrowded camps with high coronavirus infection rates in Bangladesh and Greece, IOM’s report indicated.  

In South America, meanwhile, many displaced Venezuelans in Colombia, Peru, Chile, Ecuador and Brazil, lost their livelihoods and some have sought to return home – including by enlisting the services of smugglers. 

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