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Mali violence threatens country’s survival

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The UN peacekeeping mission in Mali, MINUSMA, has supported peace and reconciliation efforts in the country. MINUSMA/Harandane Dicko

Rapidly spreading violence in Mali is threatening the State’s very survival, the UN independent expert on the human rights situation in the country said on Friday. 

At the end of an 11-day official visit, Alioune Tine recounted stories of increasing extrajudicial executions, civilian kidnappings and gang rapes, saying that the “serious and continuing deterioration of the security situation has exceeded a critical threshold”. 

“A weakened and powerless State is having difficulty assuming its proper role of protecting civilian populations in the face of armed groups that are swarming throughout the country”, he said.

‘Leap of faith’ 

The UN expert said that some Malians expressed serious doubts about the political will of the authorities to guarantee the security of civilians, especially in the regions most affected by conflict. 

“This absolutely must change”, stressed Mr. Tine, underscoring the need for a “national leap of faith and an unwavering commitment” by the authorities, along with the active support of their partners to “restore the authority of the State and ensure the protection of civilian populations”. 

Deteriorating security 

He expressed grave concern over the failure of State security institutions, which have resulted in all-out attacks on civilians by armed extremists such as Jama’at Nusrat al-Islam wal Muslimin, the Islamic State in the Greater Sahara, and others consolidating their control over areas in the north and centre of the country.  

Moreover, these groups are also expanding into southern regions, while communal violence is increasing in central Mali. 

Civilians in Gao, Menaka and Timbuktu in the north; Bandiagara, Douentza, Mopti, and Segou in the centre; and Koutiala, San, and Sikasso in the south have suffered basic human rights violations, and lost their lives. 

As the deteriorating respect for human rights is taking place in a context of widespread impunity for the perpetrators, the UN expert pushed the authorities to give this “troubling issue…top priority”.  

Lack of protection 

Between 1 April and 30 June, the UN Stabilization Mission in Mali (MINUSMA), documented at least 43 extrajudicial, summary or arbitrary executions committed by the Malian Defense and Security Forces. 

“It is disturbing that civilian populations are also suffering violence from the Malian defense and security forces that are supposed to protect them”, stated the UN expert.  

And 258 rights abuses were conducted by militias and armed groups during the first seven months of this year, which equal 88 per cent of the total number of reported incidents in all of 2020. 

Kidnappings and violence  

Abductions are also up dramatically, with 435 documented in just the first six months of this year – five times as many as in all of 2019. 

While the perpetrators are primarily community-based armed groups and militias in central Mali, abductions have also been carried out by other armed groups.   

Gang rapes and other violence against women is also surging, as are attacks on so-called slaves, an issue the independent expert highlighted last month. 

Confronting authorities 

Mr. Tine said he has raised his concerns with the Malian Government: “I, therefore, invite the Malian authorities to live up to their commitments”, he said. “This will help to reassure and restore the confidence in State institutions by the civilian population and many interlocutors”.  

The UN expert also met with high-level officials, including the Prime Minister and Foreign Minister.

‘Unlawful’ detention 

Mali has experienced two military coups over the past year, which have clouded efforts to restore an elected democratic government.  Transitional authorities have pledged to respect a calendar which calls for elections next February.  

“I was able to meet with former President Bah N’Daw and former Prime Minister Moctar Ouane who are still under house arrest”, he said and discussed with the Malian authorities “the unlawful nature of this situation and the need to end it as soon as possible”.  

“We have taken note of the concrete steps taken by the Malian authorities towards their imminent release”, he added. 

Investigation 

Turning to the death of the detainee who attempted to assassinate Colonel Assimi Goïta, President of the Transition, the UN expert asked the authorities to open a “thorough, rapid and impartial investigation in accordance with Mali’s relevant international human rights obligations”.

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South Sudan ‘determined to never go back to war’

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Rebecca Nyandeng De Mabior, Vice-President of the Republic of South Sudan, addresses the general debate of the UN General Assembly’s 76th session. UN Photo/Cia Pak

South Sudan is “ready to turn a new page” towards greater peace, development and prosperity, Vice-President Rebecca Nyandeng de Mabior said in her speech in the UN General Assembly on Friday. 

A decade after gaining independence from Sudan, the country remains “on a path of nation-building” and is working to implement a 2018 revitalized peace deal which led to the formation of a unity government last year.

 “I want to assure our friends and partners that we are determined to never go back to war,” said Ms. De Mabior.

“We must replace the destruction of war with the productive use of our vast natural resources and national assets for the good of our people.”

Prioritize nation-building

The Vice-President recalled that when South Sudan became independent, the international community pledged to build capacity in nation-building, establishing a UN mission in the country, UNMISS, to support this process.

“However, after the outbreak of the war, that vision was abandoned, and priority was placed on protecting civilians and providing humanitarian assistance. As a result, support for capacity building of the State was terminated,” she said.

Ms. De Mabior stressed that supporting a State’s ability to govern responsibly and effectively is essential.  It is also necessary to guard against what she called “the unintended consequences of dependency on humanitarian assistance.”

Given improvements in peace and security, she said it was now time to transition from emergency towards sustainable development.

“It is a painful and shameful situation for a country endowed with vast fertile land to be regarded as poor,” she added.  

“We must ensure peace and security in the country and double our efforts to support our people who want to return, and are returning, to their areas of origin, for them to participate fully in nation-building and contribute to building food security in the country.”

Support youth and women

South Sudan is also “a youthful country”, and the Vice-President called for continued efforts to develop the skills of its youth and women “to provide an alternative to picking up the gun again and engaging in destructive behavior.”

Encouraging developments have included joint efforts by the national security forces and their UNMISS counterparts to promote rural peace and security, while the Government is set to unveil a national youth service programme.

“To fulfill the vision of our liberation struggle, we must use our oil revenues to fuel economic growth through investment in agriculture,” she said.  

“We will invest in infrastructure to connect our rural communities to the markets. We need the public and private sectors, including foreign investors, to join hands in turning South Sudan’s potential wealth into a reality.”

Glass ‘half-empty’

Ms. De Mabior reported progress in implementing aspects of the Revitalized Peace Agreement, particularly in the creation of state and national bodies and public financial management reforms

However, “the glass remains half-empty” in implementing a permanent ceasefire and transitional security arrangements, she said, noting the urgency for a unified army.

“The security sector reform is the most challenging part of the Agreement as it contains elements at the center of the violent conflicts in the country,” she said, calling for continued dialogue.

“Building sustainable peace requires inclusivity, collective investment, determination, diligence, and patience.”

Meanwhile, relations with Sudan have also improved, though outstanding issues remain over the oil-rich Abyei border area.

Ms. De Mabior stressed her country is determined to learn from the past.

 “We must make the Revitalized Peace Agreement succeed, and we can only do that with the support of our regional and international partners. Simply stated, South Sudan desires and is ready to turn a new page,” she said.

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Niger to Improve Women and Girl’s Access to Nutrition and Health Services

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The Nigerien government will be able to provide its population with better health coverage with financing approved today by the World Bank. This 15-year multiphase program will use innovative and comprehensive nutrition and health interventions to improve health system efficiency, equity, and sustainability, as well as boost girls’ and women’s empowerment.

Niger’s health system faces immense challenges. Despite progress in recent years, the country has a high under-five mortality rate of 77 deaths per 1,000 live births in 2020 and stunting continues to have devastating effects on the long-term development of Niger’s human capital. Lack of qualified health professionals, particularly doctors, nurses, and medical assistants, has an impact on overall public health. In addition, more than 75% of girls are married before the age of 18, and 30% marry before the age of 15.

Improving health and nutrition outcomes, as well as empowering girls and women to accelerate the demographic transition will require a transformational commitment over the long term,” says Joelle Dehasse, World Bank Country Manager for Niger. “The World Bank is strongly committed to build human capital and improve the lives of the poorest in a fragile context. Refugees and host communities, who use health care services in the targeted areas, will also benefit from these improved basic services.”

The first phase of the MPA, the Niger – Improving women’s and girls’ access to improved health and nutrition services (Lafia-Iyali) project aims to increase the utilization of reproductive, maternal, newborn, child and adolescent health and nutrition services and improve key behaviors known to improve health and nutrition outcomes, as well as girls’ and women´s agency in Zinder and Maradi region. Specifically, the project will increase the coverage, utilization and quality of the integrated package of services, as well as the continuity of  services to address under-five child mortality, maternal mortality and sexual and reproductive health. It will support demand for health and nutrition services to promote key behaviors for increased demand. About 6,500,000 people, including refugees, and IDPs will benefit from the project by 2026.

The total financing for the project’s first phase is $125 million. This includes a $25 million grant from the Global Financing Facility (GFF), a global partnership hosted at the World Bank that supports country-led efforts to prioritize investments in the health, nutrition and well-being of women, children and adolescents while building more resilient and inclusive health systems. The project aligns with Niger’s investment case, supported by the GFF, to accelerate health and nutrition outcomes for women, children and adolescents.

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Africa faces 470 million COVID-19 vaccine shortfall this year

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The Republic of Congo received just over 300,000 doses of the COVID vaccines through the COVAX Facility in August 2021. © UNICEF/Aimable Twiringiyima

Africa needs around 470 million doses to accomplish the global of fully vaccinating 40 per cent of its population by the end of the year, the World Health Organization (WHO) said on Thursday.  

The international COVAX initiative aimed at guaranteeing global access to the vaccines, recently announced that it was being forced to slash planned deliveries to Africa, by around 150 million doses this year.  

The scheme is now expected to deliver 470 million doses through the end of December. These will be enough to protect just 17 per cent of the continent, far below the 40 per cent target. 

To reach the end-year target, that 470 million figure needs to double, even if all planned shipments via COVAX and the African Union are delivered. 

Export bans, vaccine hoarding 

WHO Regional Director for Africa, Matshidiso Moeti, said that “export bans and vaccine hoarding have a chokehold on vaccine supplies to Africa.” 

“As long as rich countries lock COVAX out of the market, Africa will miss its vaccination goals. The huge gap in vaccine equity is not closing anywhere near fast enough. It is time for vaccine manufacturing countries to open the gates and help protect those facing the greatest risk,” Ms. Moeti said.  

Besides export bans, challenges in boosting production and delays in approvals have constrained deliveries. COVAX has called for donor countries to share their supply schedules to give more clarity on deliveries. 

The initiative has also called for countries with enough doses, to give up their place in the queue. Manufacturers must deliver in line with their prior commitments, and countries that are well-advanced must expand and accelerate donations. 

About 95 million more doses are set to arrive in Africa via COVAX throughout September, which will be the largest shipment the continent has taken on board for any month so far. Just 50 million people, or 3.6 per cent of its population, has been inoculated to date. 

Only around 2 per cent of the nearly 6 billion doses administered globally have gone to Africans. The European Union and the United Kingdom have vaccinated over 60 per cent of their populations and high-income countries have administered 48 times more doses per person, than low-income nations.  

Variants risk 

“The staggering inequity and severe lag in shipments of vaccines threatens to turn areas in Africa with low vaccination rates into breeding grounds for vaccine-resistant variants. This could end up sending the whole world back to square one,” warned Ms. Moeti. 

WHO is ramping up support to African countries to identify and address gaps in their COVID-19 vaccine rollouts. 

The agency has assisted 15 countries in conducting intra-action reviews and offered recommendations for improvements. The reviews have shown that vaccine supply security and uncertainty around deliveries has been a major impediment.  

With over 300 staff in place across Africa supporting the COVID-19 response, WHO is deploying experts and producing support plans in specific areas, including securing staff, financing, strengthening supply chains and logistics and boosting demand for vaccines.  

Case summary 

As of 14 September, there were 8.06 million COVID-19 cases recorded in Africa and while the third wave wanes, there were nearly 125,000 new cases in the week ending on 12 September. 

This represents a 27 per cent drop from the previous week, but weekly new cases are still at about the peak of the first wave, and 19 countries continue to report high or fast-rising case numbers. 

Deaths fell by 19 per cent across Africa, to 2,531 reported in the week to September 12th. The highly transmissible Delta variant has been found in 31 African countries. 

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