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Migration: Commission and Greece agree joint plan for a new reception centre in Lesvos

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photo: IOM/Amanda Nero

Today, the Commission agreed a detailed plan with Greek authorities and EU agencies to establish a new, up-to-standard reception centre on the island of Lesvos by early September 2021. This is a key step towards resolving the situation after the fires that destroyed the Moria camp in September. It is the result of the work of the European Taskforce set up at that time. The memorandum signed today sets out the respective responsibilities and areas of cooperation between the Commission, the Greek authorities and EU agencies. Today’s agreement comes in addition to €121 million in EU funding granted to Greece last month for the construction of 3 smaller reception centres on the islands of Samos, Kos, and Leros, also to be completed by September 2021.

Commission President Ursula von der Leyen said: “With our agreement today, Europe and Greece are working hand in hand for the people on the islands. We will bring decent conditions to migrants and refugees who arrive, as well as supporting the communities on the Greek islands. It is also about fast and fair procedures, so the centres are what they should be – only a temporary stop before either return or integration. Managing migration is a European challenge and today we are putting European solidarity into practice.”

Commissioner for Home Affairs Ylva Johansson said: “This is about people and their basic right to feel safe. This agreement is an important step towards a sustainable solution in Lesvos and in making sure that a situation like Moria can never happen again. It is also an important step in changing how we approach migration management and it paves the way for bringing into practice the guiding principles of the new Pact on Migration and Asylum.”

A durable solution for Lesvos

In September, the Commission announced a European Taskforce to address the emergency situation in Lesvos, based on the principles of the New Pact on Migration and Asylum. Today’s agreement sets out the following areas of cooperation between the Commission, the Greek authorities and EU agencies:

  • Development and construction of a reception centre designed to provide adequate conditions and to operate with swift, fair and effective procedures. The centre will have a living area with containers, a specific area for newly arrived people to help them through the first days, medical containers for immediate health care, recreational spaces for sports, playgrounds and prefabricated houses for formal and non-formal education. Common kitchens will allow to prepare food and shops will serve basic needs. Special rooms will be set up for people with disabilities.
  • Improved management of arrivals with full reception and identification procedures including health and security screening in a specifically set up area.
  • Seamless asylum and return procedures and integration measures to ensure that nobody is left in protracted uncertainty. Assisted voluntary return and reintegration programmes will be promoted for people who do not have the right to stay in the EU, but a detention area will also be established in the multi-purpose centres to support effective return. People in need of international protection will be better supported to start their integration process.
  • Reception conditions in line with EU law taking into account international standards and best practices, notably with regard to health, security, sanitation, food, information provision and counselling, clothing and non-food items, and common areas. A gender-based and child-rights approach will be followed taking into account the needs of families and children (both accompanied and unaccompanied) while ensuring that vulnerabilities are adequately identified and addressed.
  • Adequate staff training, capacity and planning, including risk assessment and contingency planning, to ensure the smooth operation of the new centre.

Background

The memorandum of understanding is one of a number of actions supported by the Commission to address the emergency situation following the fires in the Moria camp, in particular its former residents who found themselves without shelter. 12,362 people in the Moria camp were immediately affected. Today, 7,200 men, women and children are hosted in a temporary site.

The Commission announced a dedicated Taskforce to improve the situation on the island in a durable way. The Taskforce helps provide overall guidance to develop a solution to the situation in Lesvos.

Since its creation, the Taskforce operates at the temporary site to help improve conditions for the people accommodated there. The Taskforce works in close collaboration with EU Agencies and international organisations on the ground. Regular Steering Committees monitor the progress of ongoing work. The Taskforce has also been focusing on identifying and preparing an appropriate site for the new reception facilities together with the Greek authorities and relevant stakeholders.

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Human Rights

Torture, killings, lawlessness, still blight Burundi’s rights record

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A man carries water close to Bujumbura in Burundi. © UNICEF/Karel Prinsloo

The people of Burundi continue to endure serious human rights violations including possible crimes against humanity, the majority committed by those with links to the ruling party, UN-appointed independent investigators said on Thursday.

Despite a pledge by President Evariste Ndayishimiye to address the situation in the country after years of violent repression, crimes including arbitrary detention and execution, torture and intimidation, have not stopped, according to the UN Commission of Inquiry on Burundi.

“Not only have grave human rights violations continued to occur, but in some respects the situation has deteriorated”, since President Ndayishimiye’s took office in June last year, Commission chair Doudou Diene told journalists in Geneva.

These abuses happened against a backdrop of “multiple armed attacks” by opponents of the Government since August 2020, Mr. Diene explained.

“While seeking persons allegedly involved in the armed attacks or collaborating with rebel groups, the security forces targeted mainly members from the main opposition party, the National Congress for Liberty (CNL), former members of the Tutsi-dominated Burundian Armed Forces (ex-FAB), returnees and some of their family members. Some were executed, others disappeared or were tortured while detained arbitrarily.”

Dire situation

The Commission noted that although the level of political violence in the Great Lakes nation decreased immediately after the 2020 elections – and with the country appearing to be “on the road to normalization” – the human rights situation remains “dire”.

The national poll was held after the death of President Pierre Nkurunziza, whose decision to stand for a controversial third term in 2015 sparked major protests and mass displacement, and ultimately the establishment of the Commission of Inquiry by the Human Rights Council, in 2016.

The political climate today is “highly intolerant of dissent”, the Commissioners maintained in their fifth and final report to the Human Rights Council, highlighting how members of opposition parties – notably the CNL – have been targeted, in particular since June 2021.

Imbonerakure impunity

Many security officers and others linked to the ruling party, the CNDD-FDD, continued to go unpunished for their crimes, they added, pointing to agents of the National Intelligence Service (SNR), police officers – including from the Mobile Rapid Intervention Groups (GMIR) – and the Imbonerakure youth-league, whose brutality has been documented in previous Commission of Inquiry reports.

Individuals belonging to these groups are “the main perpetrators of those violations, some of which could amount to crimes against humanity”, the Commission of Inquiry report said. “They continue to enjoy widespread impunity for their actions, as has been the case since 2015.”

Justice reforms lacking

Highlighting the lack of promised structural reforms to promote accountability in the country, Commissioner Françoise Hampson said that the “rule of law in Burundi continues to erode, despite the stated intention of President Ndayishimiye to restore it”.

In common with the Commission’s previous findings, Ms. Hampson noted how testimonies gathered for its latest report pointed to an organized campaign “against those elements of the civilian population that were seen as or thought to be hostile to the government in power” – a potential crime against humanity. “Some of the violations that this year’s report detail, seem to be a continuation of that policy,” she added.

In Burundi, the judicial system could not be relied upon “to curb or remedy human rights violations”, Ms. Hampson continued, warning that the newly elected Government “has only been strengthening its control over the judiciary”.

For the past five years, the Commission of Inquiry on Burundi has documented, monitored and reported alleged human rights violations in Burundi.

It has conducted more than 1,770 interviews, including remotely, in the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC), Rwanda, Tanzania, Uganda, as well as Burundi.

The Commission is scheduled to present its report to the Human Rights Council on 23 September, 2021.

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Human Rights

COVID crises highlight strengths of democratic systems

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The UN Secretary-General, on Wednesday, urged the world to “learn from the lessons of the past 18 months, to strengthen democratic resilience in the face of future crises.” 

In his message for the International Day of Democracy, António Guterres explained in the wake of COVID-19, this meant identifying good governance practices that can counter all kinds of emergencies, whether public health, environmental or financial. 

“It means addressing the egregious global injustices laid bare by the crisis, from pervasive gender inequalities and inadequate health systems to unequal access to vaccines, education, the internet and online services,” he said.  

For the UN chief, along with the human toll carried by those most deprived, “these persistent historical inequalities are themselves threats to democracy.” 

Participation of all 

The Secretary-General argues that strengthening democracy also means embracing participation in decision-making, including peaceful protests, and giving a voice to people and communities that have traditionally been excluded. 

“The silencing of women, religious and ethnic minorities, indigenous communities, people with disabilities, human rights defenders and journalists is an impediment to creating healthy societies,” Mr. Guterres said. 

For him, “democracy simply cannot survive, let alone flourish, in the absence of civic space.” 

Emergency powers 

In his message, António Guterres also stresses the importance of phasing out emergency powers and legal measures by governments, which in some cases have become repressive and contravene human rights law.  

He explains that some States and security sector institutions rely on emergency powers because they offer shortcuts, but cautions that, with time, “such powers can seep into legal frameworks and become permanent, undermining the rule of law and consuming the fundamental freedoms and human rights that serve as a bedrock for democracy.” 

At the height of the COVID-19 pandemic, the Secretary-General warned that “every crisis poses a threat to democracy, because the rights of the people, in particular those most vulnerable, are all too quickly ignored.” 

It is for that reason that protection of rights in times of crisis is a key element of his Call to Action for Human Rights, issued in February of last year. 

As the world starts to look beyond the pandemic, Mr. Guterres called on the international community to “commit to safeguarding the principles of equality, participation and solidarity”, so that it can better weather the storm of future crises.

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Human Rights

Gender equality ‘champion’ Sima Sami Bahous to lead UN Women

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UN Secretary-General António Guterres today announced the appointment of Sima Sami Bahous of Jordan as Executive Director of UN-Women. UN Photo/Manuel Elías

Secretary-General António Guterres described Sima Sami Bahous of Jordan, as “a champion for women and girls”, announcing on Monday her appointment to lead the UN’s gender equality and empowerment entity, UN Women. 

The UN chief said she would also champion gender equality and youth empowerment, as well as being a “keen advocate for quality education, poverty alleviation and inclusive governance”. 

Ms. Bahous brings to the job more than 35 years of leadership experience at the grassroots, national, regional and international level. 

She has expertise in advancing women’s empowerment and rights, addressing discrimination and violence, and promoting sustainable socio-economic development, in line with the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) the UN chief said in a statement

The news came following consultations with Member States and the Executive Board of UN Women

Rich experience 

Most recently, Ms. Bahous served as Jordan’s UN ambassador in New York.   

Prior to that, she was the Assistant Administrator and Director of the Regional Bureau for Arab States at the UN Development Programme (UNDP) from 2012 to 2016 and Assistant Secretary-General and Head of the Social Development Sector at the League of Arab States, from 2008 to 2012. 

The new UN Women chief has also served in two ministerial posts in Jordan as President of the Higher Media Council from 2005 to 2008 and as Adviser to King Abdullah II from 2003 to 2005.   

She has also worked for UN Children’s Fund UNICEF, and with a number of UN and civil society organizations, as well as teaching development and communication studies at different universities in her native Jordan.  

She is fluent in Arabic and English, and proficient in French. 

Tribute to outgoing head 

The UN chief said he was “deeply grateful” to outgoing Executive Director Phumzile Mlambo-Ngcuka of South Africa, for the “commitment and dedicated service” she exhibited as head of UN Women. 

He also extended his appreciation to the UN Special Representative on Sexual Violence in Conflict, Pramila Patten, who will continue to serve as Acting Executive Director until Ms. Bahous is in post. 

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