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CAR: UN rights office warns of ‘escalating violence’ ahead of Sunday poll

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UN peacekeepers patrol the town of Bambari in the Central African Republic. (file) MINUSCA/Hervé Serefio

Just days before elections in the Central African Republic (CAR), an uptick in armed violence is threatening the safety of civilians and their right to vote, according to the UN human rights office.  

“We are deeply alarmed by reports of escalating violence stoked by political grievances and hate speech, resulting in the forced displacement of civilians, including to neighbouring countries”, Liz Throssell, a Geneva-based spokesperson for the Office of the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR), said in statement on Wednesday. 

Instability in CAR dates back decades, and violence has displaced hundreds of thousands in the country, which despite immense natural mineral wealth, is one of the poorest in the world. 

Civilian protection ‘paramount’ 

With elections gearing up for 27 December, Ms. Throssell said that there have been “numerous reports of attacks against security forces, political candidates and election officials”.  

Reportedly, clashes between armed groups and security forces have taken place across a wide area, including neighbourhoods close to the capital, Bangui.  

“The UN Human Rights Office joins UN Secretary-General António Guterres in calling for all parties in the Central African Republic to put an end to the violence”, she said.  

The OHCHR spokesperson reminded all parties, “including security forces and armed groups, as well as international and foreign forces”, that “they are bound to respect international humanitarian law and human rights law as applicable”.  

“The protection of civilians is paramount”, she spelled out. 

The UN Deputy Special Representative and Humanitarian Coordinator for CAR, Denise Brown, pushed back on unfounded rumours that armed groups had been marching on the capital, in an interview with UN News on Monday. 

Path to peace 

The OHCHR official reminded the signatories to the political agreement of February 2019, which includes political actors and armed groups, to abide by their commitment to respect human rights and not resort to violence to resolve disputes.  

And she said that neighbouring countries, the African Union, and the Economic Community of Central African States (ECCAS) have “a central role to play” in ensuring a peaceful resolution of the pre-election crisis and contributing towards protecting the civilian population of CAR.   

Stamping out scaremongering  

Earlier this week, the G5, which includes the World Bank, European Union (EU), United States and Russia, called for the immediate and unconditional end to “coordinated offensives” on the part of armed groups and agitators, and scaremongering that is threatening the electoral process.  

They condemned all efforts to “force the country into a new political transition” in violation of the constitution and called on former President Francois Bozize and unnamed armed elements to ‘lay down their weapons immediately”.  

The group firmly condemned “all collusion between political actors and armed groups looking to create disorder and panic among the population” in a bid to deny them “their sovereign right to vote”. 

Vote will go on 

To date, more than 1.8 million citizens have registered to vote and voting cards have been distributed throughout the country ahead of Sunday’s poll, according to the G5. 

UN Special Representative Mankeur Ndiaye, who also heads the UN Multidimensional Integrated Stabilization Mission in the country (MINUSCA), reassured citizens over the weekend that UN peacekeepers would do their utmost to ensure the security of the electoral process and encouraged the people not to panic.  

The UN and its partners in the country have issued a strong message to armed groups and insist that the national poll will go ahead as planned.

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World Bank Supports Recovery and Resilience of Rwanda’s COVID-19-Affected Businesses

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The World Bank Group today approved $150 million from the International Development Association (IDA)* to help the Government of Rwanda increase access to finance and to support recovery and resilience of businesses affected by the COVID-19 pandemic.

The Access to Finance for Recovery and Resilience (AFIRR) Project also benefits from $25 million in IDA grants, as well as an additional $7.5 million grant from the Global Risk Financing Facility (GRiF), to help enhance business’ access to finance.

This project is an important contribution to the government’s post-COVID Economic Recovery Plan, promoting investment in priority growth sectors, supporting jobs and reinforcing Rwanda’s financial system’s crisis preparedness.” said Rolande Pryce, World Bank Country M anager. “The AFIRR project provides significant resources to help further capitalize the Economic Recovery Fund coupled with enhanced support programs to improve firms’ capacity and remove barriers to access to finance. It provides a suite of instruments that strengthen the existing recovery ecosystem ranging from financial instruments to adjustment mechanisms that include innovative risk mitigation solutions.”

The project will provide financing targeting affected businesses to facilitate refinancing of existing debt obligations, provide working capital, and support investments for business adaptation and growth through the provision of longer-term sources of finance. This will be complemented by risk sharing instruments, including a partial credit guarantee scheme and a bridge loan and insurance facility, to increase access to finance for underserved segments, such as micro, small and medium sized enterprises (MSMEs). In addition, the project will provide targeted technical assistance to firms, participating financial institutions, and government implementing agencies, to address existing constraints for increasing uptake of the Economic Recovery Fund.

Interventions under the project will help businesses to continue to operate and adapt to the post-COVID-19 environment. They will also provide a lifeline to firms in growth-potential sectors that find it difficult to access financing from financial institutions; this will contribute to preserving jobs and mitigating loss of otherwise productive firms that can help drive economic recovery” said Brice Gakombe, World Bank Financial Sector Specialist, and Task Team Leader of the project.

In addition to providing financing, the AFIRR project will bolster the capacity of key government and private sector stakeholders on the technical aspects of the financing and risk-sharing instruments, as well as disaster risk financing principles. As women were hardest hit by the COVID-19 (coronavirus) pandemic, the project focuses on increasing the share of women-inclusive enterprises able to access financing under the liquidity and financing facility and through targeted training to address gender specific constraints for MSMEs as well as improve outreach in underserved segments.

The AFIRR project will be co-financed in the amount of $100 million by the Asian Infrastructure Investment Bank (AIIB), of which Rwanda is a non-regional member. It is AIIB’s first investment in Rwanda.

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Sierra Leone Receives World Bank Support to Strengthen Education Service Delivery

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Sierra Leone will receive $6.85 million in additional financing to support the COVID-19 education response in the country. Funded by the Global Partnership for Education (GPE) under the Free Education Project, the financing will support activities to ensure school safety and strengthen education service delivery including continuous distance education and accelerated learning. It will also support sustaining effective Government operations, planning, and policies during and after the COVID-19 crisis.

“As an alternate board member of the GPE Board, Sierra Leone continues to play a leading role in the Partnership to implement programs that promote accessible quality education for all,” said Hon. David Sengeh, Minister of Basic and Senior Secondary Education for Sierra Leone. “In the COVID-19 era, we need to think outside the box to ensure that widening inequities do not further push our most vulnerable populations backward. That is the focus of this additional financing. Even as the Ebola Viral Disease has been recently recorded in the sub-region, we will be able to use the same interventions for continuous learning should the disease ever return to Sierra Leone.”

The financing, which was approved by the World Bank Board of Executive Director on February 5 and became effective on May 26, 2021, is aligned with the Government’s education priorities and strategies, including those outlined in the COVID-19 Education Emergency Response Plan and the World Bank’s Country Partnership Framework for Sierra Leone, specifically with its emphasis on the importance of investing in human development.

There is an implementation partnership arrangement with an NGO Consortium led by Save the Children, partnering with Handicap International (operating under the name Humanity and Inclusion), Plan International Sierra Leone, Concern Worldwide, Foundation for Rural and Urban Transformation, Focus 1000, and Street Child of Sierra Leone. This partnership will help the Government deliver activities rapidly, focusing more on community engagement, and reaching the most marginalized and deprived groups.

“This additional financing will help the Government to cover the costs associated with expanded activities relating to the COVID-19 response as well as enhancing the impact of the Free Education Project in responding to the challenges in the education sector,” said Gayle Martin, World Bank Country Manager for Sierra Leone. “The funding will also help address commitment toward achieving a more inclusive approach to education, increasing the retention of girls and improving the learning environment for children with disabilities.”

The Free Education Project is financed by a $66 million grant, with $50 million from the World Bank and $16 million from development partners. It will help to address key challenges in the education sector. It will contribute to achieving the Government’s larger strategic objectives in the sector while supporting analytical and advisory services associated with monitoring and evaluation, technical assistance, and research and studies.

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Mozambique: Violence continues in Cabo Delgado, as agencies respond to growing needs

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A woman and her baby who fled their home in northern Mozambique in November 2020 are now living in a camp for displaced people. © UNHCR/Juliana Ghazi

Civilians continue to flee armed conflict and insecurity in northern Mozambique, more than two months after militants attacked the coastal city of Palma, located in Cabo Delgado province, UN agencies reported on Friday. 

The UN refugee agency, UNHCR, reports that some 70,000 people have fled the city since 24 March, bringing overall displacement to nearly 800,000. 

People have been escaping daily for districts further south, or to neighbouring Tanzania. Thousands more are reported to be stranded in areas around Palma, with restricted humanitarian access. 

Shots fired, houses burned 

“Those fleeing have told UNHCR staff that the situation in Palma remains very unstable, with regular gunfire at night and torching of houses”, Spokesperson Babar Baloch said during a briefing in Geneva. 

UNHCR and partners recently assisted people living in dire conditions in remote areas around Palma, distributing relief items to some 10,000 who have been displaced. 

The agency continues to advocate for internally displaced people to receive protection and assistance, and for those seeking safety in Tanzania, to access asylum. 

Forced back into danger 

Mozambican authorities report that many people attempting to cross the river, which marks the border between the two countries, have been forcibly returned.  More than 9,600 have been pushed back since January, with 900 removals occurring over a two-day period this week. 

“UNHCR reiterates its call for those fleeing the conflict to have access to territory and asylum, and, in particular, for the principle of non-refoulement (no forced return) to be respected”, said Mr. Baloch. “Refugees must not be forced back into danger.” 

‘A children’s crisis’ 

The UN Children’s Fund, UNICEF, said needs are enormous in Cabo Delgado, located in a region that has barely recovered from a deadly cyclone in 2019.  

In the wake of the attack in Palma, some 2,000 children have no idea of the whereabouts of their parents, or even if they are alive, agency Spokesperson James Elder told journalists

“What is happening in Cabo Delgado is a children’s crisis – an emergency on top of an emergency – a deadly cocktail from the impacts of climate change, conflict and COVID-19”, he said. 

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