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Philippines drug campaign directive seen as ‘permission to kill’

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Housing in Tondo, Manila, Philippines. (file) Danilo Pinzon/World Bank

A campaign to eradicate illegal drugs in the Philippines that began in 2016 has led to the killing of at least 8,600 people but the real figure could be three times that number, the UN human rights office, OHCHR, said on Thursday. In a report citing “near-impunity” for the killings, which have continued along with other alleged abuses during the COVID-19 pandemic, the UN office noted that the High Commissioner for Human Rights stood ready to assist “credible efforts towards accountability”, both nationally and internationally.

“The Philippines faces major challenges – structural poverty, inequality, armed conflict, frequent natural disasters, and now the COVID-19 crisis”, Michelle Bachelet said in a statement, adding that it was “vital the Government’s responses be grounded in human-rights approaches…Unfortunately, the report has documented deep-seated impunity for serious human rights violations, and victims have been deprived of justice for the killings of their loved ones. Their testimonies are heartbreaking.”

‘Neutralization’ of suspects

According to the report – mandated by the Human Rights Council in Geneva in 2019 amid widespread international concern – police forces received a “command circular” containing terminology referring to the “negation” and “neutralization” of drug suspects, echoing pledges made by President Rodrigo Duterte.

“This ominous-sounding language was never really defined in this command circular, but this language, coupled with verbal encouragement at the highest level of government for police to kill drug suspects, may have been interpreted as permission to kill”, co-author Ravina Shamdasani said.

She noted that raids on private households were routinely carried out without warrants, while police reports where alleged drug suspects had been killed, shared “very similar

language”, raising the question whether they had been completed “pro forma”, rather than describing operations as they really happened.

Self-defence in question

Ms. Shamdasani also highlighted police claims of “self-defence” after it was found that officers “repeatedly recovered guns bearing the same serial numbers from different victims in different locations”, suggesting some victims were unarmed at the time of their killing.

Arrests of suspected drug offenders have also contributed to a 534 per cent prison congestion rate – among the highest in the world, the UN report noted.

Anti-terror law ‘makes things much worse’

The report also warned that proposed new anti-terror legislation grants even more sweeping powers to security services.

Among Government proposals are extensions to the length of time individuals can be held for questioning without warrant, from three days to potentially more than three weeks.

“This new proposed anti-terrorism law makes it much worse,” Ms. Shamdasani insisted. “There is much more discretion given to the authorities in their designation of individuals and organisations as terrorists, there is really not the opportunity for individuals to present their case (and) there’s no explicit provision, mandating a hearing.”

These concerns come amid a backdrop of “the vilification of dissent”, the UN official continued, along with attacks against those critical of the authorities that the report insists are “increasingly institutionalized and normalized in ways that will be very difficult to reverse”.

Civil society victims

According to OHCHR, between 2015 and 2019, at least 248 human rights defenders, legal professionals, journalists and trade unionists, have been killed in relation to their work in the Philippines.

Highlighting reports of death threats and the harassment of human rights defenders, Ms. Shamdasani explained that this included posters “that are plastered across, for example, Negros Island, where human rights defenders are called terrorists. They are ‘red tagged’ and they’re equated with the terrorist wing, the armed wing of the Communist Party…In

many of these posters, human rights defenders who were depicted were subsequently killed.”

Successive administrations had placed “an overarching focus on public order and national security” at the expense of human rights, Ms. Shamdasani said, suggesting that current Government policy represented a “continuum” of previous administrations.

“Of course, preventing and countering of violent extremism is important and tackling the impact of illicit drugs and crime is very important,” she explained, “but it is essential that this be done in line with the international human rights obligations of the State, in line with the due process rights of individuals, otherwise you are trying to resolve one issue by perpetrating massive human rights violations.”

COVID lockdown enforcement

The arrival of the new coronavirus had not caused a change in Government security policy, the report noted, with killings confirmed of drug suspects and human rights defenders in the first four months of the year.

“The violations that we document in the report are very much ongoing”, said Ms. Shamdasani. “The killing and the campaign against illegal drugs are not over, even in the context of the COVID pandemic.”

Attacks against human rights defenders and raids on the houses of civil society activists have continued, the OHCHR official added, along with the filing of sedition charges against political opponents and the criminalisation of dissent on social media.

“There are also concerns about the use of force in the enforcement of quarantine”, she said. “We’ve seen worrying reports of people being humiliated, there was one report of young people being held in dog cages in the sun” for breaking curfew.

The OHCHR report is based on 893 written submissions, with substantial input from the Government of the Philippines, analysis of legislation, police reports, court documents, videos, photos and other open source material, as well as interviews with victims and witnesses.

It is due to be discussed at the next UN Human Rights Council session. 

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Global collaboration is key to recovery and achieving the SDGs

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The COVID-19 pandemic has stalled the advancement of the sustainable development goals (SDGs). It is creating many challenges, yet also it unveils opportunities to build back better. In this context, inclusive and sustainable industrial development, which is at the core of SDG9, is expected to play a critical role in overcoming the crisis and setting countries back on the path of economic development.

The achievement of the SDGs in a post-COVID-19 world will require a holistic approach, including strong commitments towards the promotion of structural changes across all sectors of society. In this context, the United Nations Industrial Development Organization (UNIDO) and the United Nations Sustainable Development Solutions Network (SDSN) jointly organized a virtual event that addressed how the pandemic is impacting the SDGs, specifically SDG 9, and the Agenda 2030 

UNIDO’s Director General, LI Yong, opened up the event by emphasizing how Agenda 2030 is and still should be the roadmap to recovery. He also touched on the importance of achieving SDG9 to create a more sustainable industrial future and the need for reliable statistics and data, including UNIDO’s Industrial Analytics Platform and SDSN’s new data platform, SDGs Today. Li stated, “We must seize the opportunity to use the disruptive impact of the pandemic on the global economy to seek collaborative solutions to drive the 2030 Agenda.”

Gerhard Küntzle, Permanent Representative of Germany to the UN in Vienna, stated, “It is crystal clear that we must make the next ten years a decade of action and aim to mainstream evidence-based policymaking in the development agenda.”

SDSN President, Jeffrey Sachs, highlighted the need for global collaboration, and how the world should turn toward six transformation pathways to achieve the SDGs amidst the pandemic. Sachs specifically highlighted the need for the first transformation relating to education, gender and inequality, and the sixth transformation relating to a Digital Revolution for Sustainable Development.

“No child can have a future without education,” Sachs said, noting how access to the tools for free digital education for children is achievable with the right global collaboration.

Lastly, Sachs highlighted the need for decarbonizing industry: “Renewable energy is our theme and we must get to zero.” 

As Ethiopia has undergone an industrial revolution from agricultural to manufacturing, the next speaker, Arkebe Oqubay, Minister and Special Advisor to the Prime Minister of Ethiopia, discussed lessons learned for the world to apply to achieve progress toward the SDGs. Oqubay highlighted three lessons: 1) Leadership and policymaking will need to be redefined in the new environment; 2) A commitment to green and carbon-neutral industrialization is vital; 3) Smart technologies will enable the wider application and use of green industries.

Last but not least, Professor Oqubay noted that global collaboration has become the foundation for averting global threats and maximizing opportunities.

Ann Rosenberg, co-founder of SDG Ambition UNGC, provided aprivate sector perspective and echoed Oqubay’s insights that all companies need to redefine production lines and industries. She said, “The hope from larger companies is that these smaller businesses and entrepreneurs will come up with new, redefined ways of doing things…There is a collective responsibility for everyone to help.”

Rosenberg stated that it is up to countries to figure out how to collaborate and how to access technology, so that all companies can advance industrially and toward the SDGs. Moreover, Rosenberg highlighted the need for tools to know where we are, so we know how we can close the gap to achieve the SDGs.

Ambassador Martha Lungu Mwitumwa, Permanent Representative of Zambia to UNIDO and to the United Nations and other international organizations in Geneva, remarked on the need for more concentrated efforts towards achieving the SDGs, “With the crisis upon us, it will be far more difficult for Least Developed Countries and other low-income countries to achieve SDG 9. In this Decade of Action, we – as Ambassadors in Geneva – have a crucial role to play, in advocating the importance of industry and innovation, in mobilizing more resources towards it, and in fostering partnerships for leveraging trade, investment and technology to achieve that goal. And, as representatives of our countries to key UN institutions, we can foster greater UN coherence in these matters.”

It was clear that all panellists agreed that global collaboration is imperative to take the world through the recovery from COVID-19. Once out of recovery, panellists stressed how the focus should be on embracing the new, digital world to further three key initiatives: to bring access to education for all, to build sustainable industrialization, and to reach net-zero emissions.

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Make the Reskilling Revolution a Priority in the Recovery

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“There has been a lot of talk during the last few years, but very, very limited action” on education, reskilling and upskilling efforts, said Alain Dehaze, Chief Executive Officer, Adecco Group, Switzerland, in a session on Transforming Education, Skills and Lifelong Learning at the World Economic Forum’s Jobs Reset Summit today. “Efforts must include a range of stakeholders “because reskilling, upskilling and training are not [just] an individual question or a business questions or a governmental question.”

The Palestinian National Authority has launched a novel effort aimed at “the rehabilitation of university graduates” through entrepreneurship, said Mohammad Ibrahim Shtayyeh, Prime Minister of the Palestinian National Authority. Many graduates end up unemployed because their degrees did not provide them with marketable skills. “We are teaching them to become computer coders, and we have introduced other vocational training courses,” he said. “Students must stop relying on a job with the private sector or a job with the government. I want them to be self-employed.”

“I’m so glad to hear that we have a national leader who really recognizes that entrepreneurship education is a priority, and it’s something which can be taught,” said Asheesh Advani, President and Chief Executive Officer, JA Worldwide, USA.

Lynda Gratton, Professor of Management Practice, London Business School, United Kingdom, agreed, adding that efforts to accelerate advances in education, training, reskilling and upskilling must be a multistakeholder effort, and inclusive: “Otherwise, in 10 years’ time, we won’t have the right people sitting in the right jobs.” She noted that such efforts should “leverage technology” and that new credentials need to be established and recognized for the attainment of emerging skills.

Inclusion should extend beyond diversity “to include young boys and girls growing up across the world,” said Mariéme Jamme, Founder and Chief Executive Officer, iamtheCODE, United Kingdom. “The starting point is actually to make sure their human rights are respected” and then giving them the tools they will need in the workplace.

“With today’s kids, the thing they want to learn most … are things like coding and computer science,” said Hadi Partovi, Founder and Chief Executive Officer, Code.org, USA. “Computer science and entrepreneurship are not only the skills that students need the most, but also the things they want the most.”

With regard to credentials, Advani noted that they are partnering with employers to recognize a new micro-credential, encouraging young people to add it to their online jobs profile, and working with governments to get access to schools.

Advani also noted that “Even after doing an entrepreneurship programme, [students] don’t become entrepreneurs. Soft skills, communication skills and adaptability skills become so important in the job market, knowing that young people are going to have potentially seven careers” during their lifetime.

Among the initiatives launched at the summit, government officials in Turkey today announced the launch of a Closing the Skills Gap Accelerator, joining 10 countries through the Forum platform in applying a similar framework to rapidly upskilling their workforce.

“Rapid technological progress, globalization and now COVID-19 are revolutionizing how we work. There will be a new set of skills needed to adapt and prosper. As policy-makers, we are obliged to ensure a smooth and equal transition that works for all. I trust that the Accelerator Network will further enhance real sector collaboration among nations. Turkey is ready to capture the opportunities of the new normal with its favourable demographics, flexible and skilled workforce,” said Mustafa Varank, Minister of Industry and Technology of Turkey.

“In today’s world where information and technology are changing rapidly, technology has gained a great momentum to become the new normal of our daily life with the pandemic process. This rapid momentum has made it inevitable to integrate new skills into our lives. This skills change will take place with a qualified education and, in this context, everyone from public institutions to non-governmental organizations has a great duty. I believe that the Closing the Skills Gap Accelerator Programme will play a role in strengthening cooperation in the new normal process and triggering the power of learning together,” said Ziya Selçuk, Minister of Education of Turkey.

“By adopting an industry-oriented workforce transformation approach and seizing the demographic window of opportunity, the Ministry of Family, Labour and Social Services strives to prepare Turkey to meet the future labour market needs and challenges. With a view to leaving no one behind, we will improve the use of technology, ensure more productive and safer workplaces for emerging new types of work, and improve the digital skills of our workers within the perspective of tripartite dialogue,” said Zehra Zümrüt Selçuk, Minister of Family, Labour and Social Services of Turkey.

In January 2020, the World Economic Forum launched the Reskilling Revolution, a multistakeholder initiative aiming to provide better education, new skills and better work to 1 billion people around the world by 2030. It serves as a platform for connecting and coordinating initiatives within specific countries, industries, organizations and schools. In the past months, it has supported stakeholders in adjusting their efforts to the new context of the pandemic and promoted rapid exchange of best practices between initiatives. We invite leaders and organizations to contribute to the platform.

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Step up action to achieve COVID-19 ceasefire- Guterres

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Since the onset of COVID-19 pandemic, UNIFIL and its peacekeeping troops have maintained their daily operational activities along the Blue Line in South Lebanon. UNIFIL

The UN’s 75th anniversary this Saturday, which falls as countries continue to battle the COVID-19 pandemic, is an opportunity to accelerate action to achieve a global ceasefire during the crisis, Secretary-General António Guterres has said. 

The UN chief initially issued the appeal for combatants to lay down their arms shortly after the pandemic was declared in March. 

“In our world today, we have one common enemy: COVID-19”, said Mr. Guterres in his message for UN Day on 24 October. 

“Now is the time for a stepped-up push for peace to achieve a global ceasefire.  The clock is ticking.” 

UN mission ‘more critical than ever’ 

UN Day marks the anniversary of the entry into force in 1945 of the UN Charter, the Organization’s founding document. 

The treaty outlines the UN’s goals of promoting human dignity, protecting human rights and saving humanity from conflict. 

That founding mission “is more critical than ever”, said the Secretary-General. 

Also crucial is the need to “make peace with our planet”, he added, stating “We must mobilize the whole world to reach carbon neutrality – net zero emissions of greenhouse gasses by 2050.” 

Europe turns UN blue 

Despite the constraints imposed by the global pandemic, countries are celebrating the UN’s historic birthday. 

More than 180 iconic buildings across Europe will be lit up in blue, the Organization’s official colour: from monuments to museums, to bridges and beyond. 

The initiative is a symbolic attempt to unite people worldwide, and to promote peace, sustainable development and human rights. 

As the Secretary-General stated, more must be done to end poverty, inequality, hunger and hatred, and to combat discrimination based on race, religion, gender or any other distinction. 

He drew attention to the situation of women and girls, as the pandemic has led to “a horrific rise” in gender-based violence. 

A blueprint for better recovery 

The UN chief also underlined the need to “build on progress”, pointing to the global collaboration currently underway to develop a safe, affordable and accessible COVID-19 vaccine. 

This banner year has also seen the start of a Decade of Action to achieve the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) and their promise of a better future for all people and the planet. 

For Mr. Guterres, the 17 SDGs provide an inspiring blueprint for recovering better after the pandemic. 

Solidarity and a shared vision 

Although the world faces colossal challenges, the UN chief was adamant that they can be overcome through global solidarity and cooperation, saying: “That’s what the United Nations is all about.”  

Mr. Guterres asked people everywhere to unite on this UN anniversary. 

“Together, let us uphold the enduring values of the United Nations Charter”, he declared.  “Let us build on our advances across the decades. Let us realize our shared vision of a better world for all.”

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