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”.
Colombia: ‘Staggering number’ of human rights defenders killed in 2019
The UN human rights office, OHCHR, is “deeply troubled by the staggering number of human rights defenders killed in Colombia” last year, its spokesperson said on Tuesday.
“The single most targeted group was human rights defenders advocating on behalf of community-based and specific ethnic groups such as indigenous peoples and Afro-Colombians”, Marta Hurtado told reporters in Geneva, adding that the number of women human rights defenders killed increased “by almost 50 per cent in 2019 compared to 2018”.
According to OHCHR, 107 activists were killed last year. And staff in the country are still in the process of verifying 13 additional cases reported during 2019 which, if confirmed, would raise the annual total to 120 killings.
Attacks on human rights defenders during 2018 had already intensified, with 115 killings confirmed by the UN.
Vicious cycle of violence ‘must stop’
“This terrible trend is showing no let-up in 2020, with at least 10 human rights defenders already reportedly killed during the first 13 days of January”, Ms. Hurtado lamented.
The UN office renewed its call on the Government to “make a strenuous effort” to prevent attacks on those who are defending fundamental rights, investigate each case and prosecute those responsible, including those aiding and abetting the deadly attacks.
“The vicious and endemic cycle of violence and impunity must stop”, the spokesperson spelled out. “Victims and their families have a right to justice, truth and reparations”.
The vast majority of last year’s killings happened in rural areas, 98 per cent of which occurred in municipalities with black market economies, and where criminal groups or armed groups hold sway.
And around 86 per cent of the deaths took place in villages with a poverty rate above the national average.
Although more than half were recorded in the four provinces of Antioquia, Arauca, Cauca and Caquetá, 21 other provinces also saw fatalities.
While the figures reflect the gravity of the problem, Ms. Hurtado pointed out that “they conceal the structural causes that sustain violence against human rights defenders”.
“Any attack against human rights defenders is unacceptable and constitutes an assault against democracy, undermining participation and people’s access to their human rights”, she underscored.
There were a number of other contributing factors including the penetration of criminal groups and armed groups linked to illicit economies in areas vacated by FARC-EP rebels, and the favouring of a military response from the Government to control the violence.
In November 2016, the Secretary-General welcomed the signing of an historic UN-backed peace agreement between the Colombian Government and the FARC-EP group, ending an armed conflict that had been ongoing since 1964.
However, continuous challenges in implementing the peace agreement have also played a role in the violence, especially the dismantling of paramilitary linked-groups; the security situation in conflict-affected communities; land restitution, illicit crop substitution programmes and the fulfilment of victims’ rights.
While OHCHR has acknowledged some positive steps, such as a recent meeting of the National Commission on Security Guarantees convened by the Government early this month, to tackle this problem, the number of killings clearly shows much more needs to be done.
“We call on the authorities to redouble their efforts to ensure a free and secure environment for civic engagement and to increase the presence of civil State authorities in rural areas to provide basic services, such as health and education”, asserted Ms. Hurtado.
She concluded by stressing the need to urgently tackle disparities in the enjoyment of all rights, particularly economic, social and cultural rights – especially in rural areas, saying that “measures of a collective nature aimed at protecting geographical areas or communities must be further developed.”
Nearly 300,000 Syrians displaced from Idlib since mid-December
Amidst concern for the safety and protection of more than three million civilians in Syria’s last rebel-held enclave, the UN’s most senior humanitarian and political affairs officials briefed the Security Council on Syria behind closed doors on Friday.
Following the recent escalation of hostilities on the ground in the country’s northwest, Emergency Relief Coordinator Mark Lowcock and the Under-Secretary-General for Political Affairs, Rosemary DiCarlo, painted a dire picture of the deteriorating conditions.
“Nearly 300,000 people have been displaced from southern Idlib since 12 December, according to current estimates, with children and women being the most affected”, UN Deputy Spokesperson Farhan Haq told reporters in New York. “Over half of the displaced, at least 175,000, are children”.
He spelled out that the city of Ma’arrat An-Numan and its surrounding areas are reported to be “almost empty of civilians as families flee north to safety”.
The new displacements add to over 400,000 women, children and men who were displaced by hostilities between the end of April and early December, many of them multiple times.
Over that same period, the UN human rights office (OHCHR) recorded over 1,330 civilian deaths.
“Winter conditions are exacerbating the dire humanitarian situation”, said Mr. Haq. “Families are fleeing in torrential rain and temperatures at night are close to freezing”.
Moreover, the rain and cold are leaving those who had moved further north in an even worse situation, with many reported to be living in camps, unfinished or partially destroyed buildings, in tents, under trees and in the open.
Humanitarian agencies have provided emergency food and cash to over 180,000 of the newly displaced, according to the deputy spokesperson.
He also flagged that additional ready-to-eat rations for more than half a million people, for up to five days, had already been pre-positioned in anticipation of further displacement.
Situation deteriorating daily
At the media stakeout before the Council met, French Ambassador Nicolas de Rivière told reporters that the United Kingdom and France called for the session to “take stock on where we are”.
“The situation in Idlib is deteriorating day after day”, he said.
“We formally condemn indiscriminate bombing by the regime and its allies”, such as civilian facilities that include a school and hospitals, and “it should stop”, underscored the French Ambassador.
He also called for the preservation of humanitarian access in both the northeast and northwest of the country.
UN: Israel/Palestine war crimes probe ‘momentous step forward’
An independent UN human rights expert hailed on Tuesday, the International Criminal Court’s (ICC) decision to consider a formal criminal investigation into allegations of war crimes in Palestine as a “momentous step forward in the quest for accountability” in the five-decade-long Israeli occupation.
“Accountability has, until now, been largely missing in action throughout the 52-year-old occupation,” said Michael Lynk, the Special Rapporteur for the situation of human rights in the Palestinian territory occupied since 1967.
On 20 December, ICC Prosecutor Fatou Bensouda announced that she was “satisfied that there is a reasonable basis to proceed with an investigation into the situation in Palestine”.
Mr. Lynk maintained that although the international community has adopted hundreds of UN resolutions condemning various features of “Israel’s entrenched occupation of the Palestinian territory…rarely has it ever combined criticism with consequences for Israel”.
“Now, the possibility of accountability is finally on the horizon”, the UN expert said.
Ms. Bensouda has spent the past five years reviewing the initial evidence as part of a preliminary investigation in the 2014 war on Gaza, the IsraeIi settlements and, more recently, the killing and wounding of Palestinian demonstrators near the Gaza frontier.
The ICC prosecutor said that before initiating a formal investigation, she would ask for a ruling by the Pre-Trial Chamber to confirm that the territory over which the Court may exercise its jurisdiction comprises the West Bank, including East Jerusalem, and Gaza.
“In a world that proclaims its devotion to human rights and a rules-based international order, it is vital that the international community defend the decision of the ICC Prosecutor to advance her investigation and to seek a favourable ruling from the Pre-Trial Chamber on the issue of territorial jurisdiction,” said the Special Rapporteur.
“International law must be the basis for seeking justice for the victims of war crimes in this interminable conflict, and the international community must resolutely support the laws and the institutions that it has created and nurtured.”
‘Justice delayed is justice denied’
The UN expert noted that the Prosecutor also intended to investigate whether members of Hamas and other Palestinian armed groups had committed war crimes in the period since June 2014.
“If the evidence gathered by the ICC Prosecutor leads her to make findings against these organizations, then her efforts must also be supported,” he continued, adding that the Rome Statute is meant to be applied “dispassionately”, as “the only way to build the necessary political and popular support for its mission.”
Addressing the long-standing concern about how slowly the wheels of justice have turned in this matter, Mr. Lynk urged that the Pre-Trial Chamber present and resolve territorial jurisdiction issue as expeditiously as possible.
“Justice delayed is justice denied”, he spelled out.
“Should the allegations of war crimes then proceed to the formal investigation stage, every effort must be made to advance the work of the Prosecutor’s office in a reasonably speedy manner consistent with legal fairness, so that the many victims of this conflict can realistically hope that justice might yet prevail within their lifetimes”, concluded the UN Special Rapporteur.
Special Rapporteurs and independent experts are appointed by the Geneva-based UN Human Rights Council to examine and report back on a specific human rights theme or a country situation. The positions are honorary and the experts are not UN staff, nor are they paid for their work.
Mr. Lynk was designated in 2016.
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