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Implementing peace deal only path for stabilization in Mali

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UN peacekeepers return to their helicopter following a mission to the village of Sobane Da in the Mopti region of Mali.photo: MINUSMA/Harandane Dicko

Implementation of the 2015 peace agreement in Mali provides the only pathway for stabilization there, the head of UN peacekeeping told the Security Council on Wednesday. 

Jean-Pierre Lacroix updated ambassadors on developments in the West African country, where a UN operation, known by the French acronym MINUSMA, supports political processes and restoration of state authority against a backdrop of insecurity, intercommunal violence and increasing displacement. 

MINUSMA was established following fighting between Government forces and Tuareg rebels in January 2012, leading to the occupation of northern Mali by radical Islamists.   

The authorities and two separate armed group coalitions signed the peace deal three years later. 

“The rapid and thorough implementation of the peace agreement remains the only viable path for the stabilization of Mali.  It provides the framework for the required political and institutional reforms to restore and decentralize State authority, to build a Malian state that reflects the diversity and interests of all its citizens”, said Mr. Lacroix. 

“The peace agreement also provides for mechanisms to address the grievances of those Malians who feel excluded from the country’s political life and economic development and who see little hope for their future.” 

National dialogue concludes 

Despite slow starts and disagreements, both between and among the sides, the UN peacekeeping chief reported that progress has been achieved in Mali, such as the holding of an inclusive national dialogue which concluded in December. 

Foreign Minister Tiébilé Dramé characterized it as a milestone for his country.  

“The national dialogue was an important point in the life of the nation: a point at which a true national consensus was forged with lively solidarity,” he said, speaking via videoconference.  

“For his part, the President of Mali has taken the commitment of doing everything in his power to ensure that the resolutions and recommendations of the national dialogue, pursuant to current law, be implemented.”  

Regional plans 

Another step forward has been the disarming and subsequent integration of former combatants into the national defence and security forces. 

Mr. Lacroix said redeploying reconstituted army units to the north remains an “urgent priority”, with a first battalion expected in the region by the end of the month: an important step towards restoring state authority nation-wide. 

At the same time, the UN has increased its presence and activity in Mopti, located in central Mali, which has contributed to de-escalating intercommunal violence and massacres. 

However, this has meant diverting assets from the north, leading to what Mr. Lacroix described as “dangerous gaps” in some areas.  To address the challenge, MINUSMA will make some adaptations within its authorized troop strength. 

“The plan provides for the establishment of a Mobile Task Force, which will enhance the Mission’s ability to implement its mandate and protect civilians. It will make MINUSMA more agile, flexible and mobile with tailored units and enhanced capabilities, most importantly additional air mobility”, he explained, before calling on ambassadors for their support. 

Support for the Sahel  

Mr. Lacroix began his briefing by addressing the “alarming” deteriorating security situation not only in Mali but in the wider Sahel.   

Just last week alone, 89 soldiers from Niger were killed and 18 peacekeepers injured in two separate attacks. There has also been a rise in the use of improvised explosive devices (IEDs) against UN convoys. 

“Terrorism continues to feed into inter-communal violence in the centre of Mali,” he reported.  “There are now more displaced persons suffering from hunger in the Mopti region than there were in the past.” 

The United Nations supports the G5 Sahel regional body, which brings together Burkina Faso, Chad, Mali, Mauritania and Niger, all of which are experiencing rising extremist violence. 

French ambassador Nicolas de Rivière told the Council that following a recent summit held in his country, the G5 and its international partners have established a coalition for the Sahel. 

“The aim is to step up our support for countries of the G5 Sahel, but also beyond that to incentivize them to engage in reform: of course, security reform, but also governance and human rights reform,” he said. “With these conditions being met, we can eradicate terrorism.”  

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Nations must ‘act together, urgently and with solidarity’ to end crisis of food insecurity

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A mother feeds her child at home in Tshombe District, Madagascar, where nearly 55 per cent of the population is facing severe food insecurity. UNOCHA/Viviane Rakotoarivony

Hunger levels around the world are at “a new high”, the UN chief said on Wednesday, in a call to action to fight the current surge in global food insecurity.

During a ministerial meeting on global hunger taking pace at UN Headquarters in New York, Secretary-General António Guterres said the number of severely food insecure people had doubled in just two years – from 135 million pre-pandemic to 276 million today, with more than half a million experiencing famine conditions – an increase of more than 500 per cent since 2016.

“These frightening figures are inextricably linked with conflict, as both cause, and effect,” he said. “If we do not feed people, we feed conflict”.

Hunger triggers

The climate emergency is another driver of global hunger he added, pointing out that 1.7 billion people have been affected by extreme weather and climate-related disasters over the past decade.

Moreover, the COVID-induced economic shock has compounded food insecurity by reducing incomes and disrupting supply chains, leading to an uneven economic recovery. Access to financial markets has been restricted, with some developing States now on the brink of debt default.

“Now the war in Ukraine is amplifying and accelerating all these factors: climate change, COVID-19, and inequality,” Mr. Guterres said.

Ukraine war’s repercussions

Between them, Ukraine and Russia produce almost a third of the world’s wheat and barley and half of its sunflower oil. Russia and Belarus are the world’s number two and three producers of potash, a key ingredient of fertilizer.

The war threatens to tip “tens of millions of people over the edge into food insecurity, followed by malnutrition, mass hunger and famine, in a crisis that could last for years,” warned the UN chief.

“In the past year, global food prices have risen by nearly one-third, fertilizer by more than half, and oil prices by almost two-thirds”.

Devastating societies

Meanwhile, most developing countries lack the fiscal space to cushion the blow of these huge increases with many unable to borrow because markets are closed to them.

“If high fertilizer prices continue, today’s crisis in grain and cooking oil could affect many other foods including rice, impacting billions of people in Asia and the Americas,” he detailed.

Additionally, children are threatened by a lifetime of stunting; millions of women and children will become malnourished; girls will be pulled from school and forced to work or get married; and families will embark on dangerous journeys across continents, just to survive.

High rates of hunger have a devastating impact on individuals, families, and societies,” spelled out the UN chief.

‘Five urgent steps’

However, if we act together, there is enough food for everyone, he said adding that “ending hunger is within our reach”.

The Secretary-General then outlined five urgent steps to solve the short-term crisis and prevent long-term damage, beginning with reducing market pressure by increasing food supplies – with no restrictions on exports and surpluses available to those most in need.

“But let’s be clear: there is no effective solution to the food crisis without reintegrating Ukraine’s food production, as well as the food and fertilizer produced by Russia and Belarus, into world markets, despite the war”.

Secondly, social protection systems must cover all in need with food, cash; and water, sanitation, nutrition, and livelihood support must be provided.

Fourth, governments must bolster agricultural production and invest in resilient food systems that protect smallholder food producers.

And finally, humanitarian operations must be fully funded to prevent famine and reduce hunger.

Act in solidarity

In closing, the UN chief said that the Global Crisis Response Group on food, energy and finance is tracking the impact of the crisis on vulnerable people, identifying and pushing for solutions.

“The food crisis has no respect for borders, and no country can overcome it alone,” he said.

“Our only chance of lifting millions of people out of hunger is to act together, urgently and with solidarity”.  

‘Goodwill’ needed

US Secretary of State Antony Blinken chaired the meeting in which foreign ministers from approximately 30 regionally diverse countries discussed steps to address global food security, nutrition, and resilience.

Describing the current situation as the “greatest global food insecurity crisis of our time,” Mr. Blinken attributed the emergency to conflict, drought and natural disasters – made worse by Russia’s war on Ukraine.

Although hopeful, he said that “there is still a way to go” and that “the complex security, economic and financial implications require goodwill on all sides”.

To address the global crisis, US Secretary announced $215 million in humanitarian aid.

Urgent to open ports

World Food Programme (WFP) chief David Beasley drew attention to a world “too fragile” from years of conflict, pandemic and climate threats.

He also noted that current funding deficits could impede food access by as many as four million people.

Additionally, the top WFP official pointed out that a “failure to open the ports” in and beyond Ukraine will force people to the brink of starvation.

Although the “silos are full,” blockades and other impediments are rendering them inaccessible, Mr. Beasley said, urging governments to “step up” now”.

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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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