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Journalists who ‘speak truth to power’ recognized with Nobel Peace Prize

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Dmitry Muratov (left) and Maria Messa were jointly award the 2021 Nobel Peace Prize. Euku via Wikimedia Commons/UNESCO

Two campaigning journalists were awarded the prestigious Nobel Peace Prize on Friday, which UN Secretary-General António Guterres said was recognition that a free press is “essential for peace, justice, sustainable development and human rights – and the cornerstone for building fair and impartial institutions”. 

From the Philippines, Maria Ressa, Chief Executive and cofounder of online news outlet Rappler, and Russia’s Dmitry Muratov, cofounder and editor-in-chief of Novaya Gazeta newspaper, were named as the 2021 laureates by Berit Reiss-Andersen, chair of the Norwegian Nobel committee.

No society can be free and fair without journalists who are able to investigate wrongdoing, bring information to citizens, hold leaders accountable and speak truth to power”, the UN chief said in his message congratulating this year’s winners.

Our greatest ally

Yet anti-media rhetoric and attacks against media workers continue to rise, observed the top UN official.  

“We are seeing growing violence and harassment against journalists, in person and online”, he said. “Women journalists are often subjected to particular abuse”.

At the same time, technology has transformed the ways in which information is received and shared – and regularly used to mislead public opinion or to fuel violence and hatred.  

Pointing out that “falsehoods trump facts” too often in the midst of the COVID-19 pandemic, Mr. Guterres stressed that “this cannot become the new normal”.  

“Free and independent journalism is our greatest ally in combating misinformation and disinformation”, underscored the UN chief.

“As we congratulate the award winners, let us reaffirm the right to press freedom, recognize the fundamental role of journalists and reinforce efforts at every level to support a free, independent and diverse media”.  

Hard-fought wins

For over three decades, Ms. Ressa has promoted press freedom, which at times, made her a target for attacks and abuse.

After publishing stories critical of Filipino President Rodrigo Duterte and his drugs war, the 58-year-old faced multiple criminal charges and investigations.

According to the UN cultural organization, UNESCO, Ms. Ressa has been arrested for “alleged crimes related to the exercise of her profession” and subject to a sustained campaign of gendered online abuse, threats and harassment, which at one point, resulted in her receiving an average of over 90 hateful messages an hour on Facebook.

The former lead investigative journalist for Asia at CNN and head of ABS-CBN News and Current Affairs, Ms. Ressa was also among a group of journalists named in 2018 as Time Magazine’s person of the year.

Honouring fallen colleagues

Dmitry Muratov’s newspaper is one of the few remaining in Russia to be highly critical of the ruling elite, particularly President Vladimir Putin.

It has reportedly been subjected to threats and harassment, including over its coverage of human rights abuses in Chechnya.

The award came a day after the 15th anniversary of the killing of Anna Politkovskaya, one of six murdered Novaya Gazeta reporters.

According to media reports, the 59-year-old laureate upheld: “We will continue to represent Russian journalism, which is now being suppressed”.

He was later quoted as dedicating the award to “those who died defending the right of people to freedom of speech” and went on to name Igor Domnikov, Yuri Shchekochikhin, Anna Stepanovna Politkovskaya, Nastya Baburova, Natasha Estemirov and Stas Markelov – each of them murdered going about their work – saying: “This is for them”.

Picking a winner

The prestigious award is accompanied by a gold medal and more than $1.4 million in prize money, from a bequest left by Swedish inventor Alfred Nobel, who died in 1895.

This year’s nominees included environmental activist Greta Thunberg, Belarusian human rights activist and Belarusian politician Sviatlana Tsikhanouskaya and jailed Russian opposition figure, Alexei Navalny.

The World Health Organization (WHO), UN-led equitable vaccine distribution initiative COVAX and Black Lives Matter were among the organizations nominated.

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Human Rights

UN: Paraguay violated indigenous rights

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An indigenous community in Paraguay wait to receive their COVID-19 vaccination. WHO/PAHO

Paraguay’s failure to prevent the toxic contamination of indigenous people’s traditional lands by commercial farming violates their rights and their sense of “home”, the UN Human Rights Committee said in a landmark ruling on Wednesday. 

The Committee, which is made up of 18 independent experts from across the world, monitors countries’ adherence to the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights.  

Lands represent ‘home’ 

The decision on Paraguay (in Spanish) marked the first time it has affirmed that for indigenous people, “home” should be understood in the context of their special relationship with their territories, including their livestock, crops and way of life.  

“For indigenous peoples, their lands represent their home, culture and community. Serious environmental damages have severe impacts on indigenous people’s family life, tradition, identity and even lead to the disappearance of their community. It dramatically harms the existence of the culture of the group as a whole,” said Committee member Hélène Tigroudja. 

The decision stems from a complaint filed more than a decade ago on behalf of some 201 Ava Guarani people of the Campo Agua’e indigenous community, located in Curuguaty district in eastern Paraguay. 

The area where they live is surrounded by large commercial farms which produce genetically modified soybeans through fumigation, a process which involves the use of banned pesticides. 

Traditional life affected 

Fumigation occurred continuously for more than 10 years and affected the indigenous community’s whole way of life, including killing livestock, contaminating waterways and harming people’s health. 

The damage also had severe intangible repercussions, according to the UN committee.  The disappearance of natural resources needed for hunting, fishing and foraging resulted in the loss of traditional knowledge.  For example, ceremonial baptisms no longer take place as necessary materials no longer exist. 

“By halting such ceremonies, children are denied a rite crucial to strengthening their cultural identity,” the Committee said.  “Most alarmingly, the indigenous community structure is being eroded and disintegrated as families are forced to leave their land.” 

Toxic exposure 

The indigenous community brought the case to the Human Rights Committee after a lengthy and unsatisfactory administrative and judicial process in Paraguay’s courts. 

“More than 12 years after the victims filed their criminal complaint regarding the fumigation with toxic agrochemicals, to which they have continued to be exposed throughout this period, the investigations have not progressed in any meaningful way and the State party has not justified the delay,” the Committee said in its decision. 

Recommendations, reparations 

Members found Paraguay did not adequately monitor the fumigation and failed to prevent contamination, adding “this failure in its duty to provide protection made it possible for the large-scale, illegal fumigation to continue for many years, destroying all components of the indigenous people’s family life and home.”  

The Committee recommended that Paraguay complete the criminal and administrative proceedings against all parties responsible and make full reparation to the victims. 

The authorities are also urged to take all necessary measures, in close consultation with the indigenous community, to repair the environmental damage, and to work to prevent similar violations from occurring in the future. 

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Human Rights

Girlpower from Tajikistan to Costa Rica, helps narrow gender gap online

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The UN says, globally, 17 percent more men and boys have access to the internet compared to women and girls. ITU/R. Farrell

A marked global gender gap in terms of internet use continues to grow, but from Syria to Costa Rica, girls are increasingly pushing back to try and narrow the gap. 

The gender gap for online users has widened from 11 per cent in 2013 to 17 per cent in 2019, and in the world’s least developed countries, it reaches 43 per cent.

This year, to mark International Day of the Girl Child, taking place on Monday, the UN is showing how the pandemic has accelerated the use of digital platforms, but also highlighting girls’ different realities when it comes to getting online.

Below, you can read stories from across the UN, featuring how five girls, from five different countries, are using technology to build a better future. 

‘Our responsibility’ 

In his message for the day, the UN Secretary-General noted that these girls and all the others “are part of a digital generation.” 

“It is our responsibility to join with them in all their diversity, amplify their power and solutions as digital change-makers, and address the obstacles they face in the digital space”, he said.

The path to girls’ digital equality is steep. In more than two thirds of all countries, girls make up only 15 per cent of graduates in science, technology, engineering and maths, known by the acronym, STEM. 

In middle and higher-income countries, only 14 per cent of girls who were top performers in science or mathematics expected to work in science and engineering, compared to 26 per cent of top-performing boys. 

“Girls have equal ability and immense potential in these fields, and when we empower them, everyone benefits,” Mr. Guterres said.  

He recalled seeing this long before he began his political career, when he was a teacher in Lisbon, Portugal, and “witnessed the power of education to uplift individuals and communities.” 

“That experience has guided my vision for gender equality in education ever since”, he explained. “Investments in closing the digital gender divide yield huge dividends for all.” 

Tied to this, the UN has a new platform, called Generation Equality Action Coalition on Technology and Innovation, where governments, civil society, the private sector and young leaders, are coming together to support girls’ digital access, skills and creativity.  

“The United Nations is committed to working with girls so that this generation, whoever they are and whatever their circumstances, can fulfil their potential”, Mr. Guterres assured. 

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Human Rights

Yemen’s future recovery hangs in balance

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An eighteen-month -baby, who has lost an eye due to disease, is treated at a hospital in Sana’a, Yemen. © UNICEF/Areej Alghabri

Ongoing conflict and violence across Yemen continue to impact heavily on the country’s people who desperately need the fighting to end, so that they can rebuild their lives, the UN’s senior humanitarian official in the country said on Monday. 

“I’ve seen the destruction of schools, of factories, of roads and bridges; I’ve seen the destruction of power systems so what made Yemen work seven years ago in many cases no longer exists”, said David Gressly, UN Resident and Humanitarian Coordinator in Yemen.  

Speaking in Geneva after a weekend that saw a car bomb at Aden airport reportedly leave 25 people dead and 110 injured, the veteran aid worker warned about arecent escalation of fighting in the oil-rich northern province of Marib.  

Fighting cuts access 

“This is now adding to additional displacement in that area, a place where we already have over a million people displaced”, he said. “And secondly, we have enclaves where fighting is continuing where we’re not able to provide support”. 

Longstanding concerns over potential famine in the country prompted a UN-led appeal for $3.6 billion in funding in March that has raised nearly $2.1 billion to date.  

An additional $500-$600 million was also pledged during the recent UN General Assembly, Mr. Gressly added, noting that although the international response has been higher than for other emergencies, “it’s been particularly focused – and we understand why – on the food security and nutrition side, for most immediate lifesaving response”. 

Fragile 

This has left the situation inside Yemen “very fragile and if that’s not sustained, if we’re not getting the new pledges on time…in 2022, we will revert back to where we were in March”, Mr. Gressly insisted. 

He explained that people needed more than emergency care: “Health, education, water, access and support to IDPs (internally displaced people) and livelihood support; those are almost all funded below 20 per cent, and so while the lifesaving is important, we can’t, we cannot afford to ignore the rest”. 

Civil service need support 

Critical to Yemen’s recovery is support for the country’s civil servants, many of whom have not been paid in many months, amid conflict between the internationally backed government of Abd Rabbo Mansour Hadi and Houthi opposition forces, who occupy much of the north of the country.  

Mr. Gressly stressed the importance of finding ways to support these civil servants as they are key to the country’s recovery – and the UN’s aid programmes. Without them, “the whole humanitarian response” risks becoming more expensive”, he said. 

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