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Ethiopia: UNHCR rushing aid to 20,000 refugees fleeing clashes

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UNHCR and partners move refugees to safety in the Benishangul Gumuz region in Ethiopia. © UNHCR/Adelina Gomez Monteagud

UNHCR, the UN refugee agency, and partners are rushing life-saving aid to more than 20,000 refugees after they fled clashes in Ethiopia’s Benishangul Gumuz region, bordering Sudan and South Sudan.

Fighting broke out on 18 January in the town of Tongo – reportedly between unidentified armed groups and federal forces – and the nearby camp hosting 10,300 refugees was looted and burned.

All humanitarian staff had to evacuate, and access to the area – including the two camps, Tongo and Gure-Shembola – remains impossible”, UNHCR spokesperson Boris Cheshirkov told journalists at a regular press briefing in Geneva.

Exhausted and displaced

Since last December, the situation has been very tense in the Benishangul Gumuz region, which hosts more than 70,000 Sudanese and South Sudanese refugees and over 500,000 internally displaced Ethiopians.

The 20,000 refugees who fled, made their way over long distances to three sites closer to the regional capital, Assosa, arriving exhausted and in need of assistance.

“UNHCR is working with the Ethiopian Government’s Refugee and Returnees Service and partners to provide the most urgent assistance to displaced refugees, including hot meals, clean water, and medical care”, said Mr. Cheshirkov.

Benishangul Gumuz regional authorities have shown solidarity with the incoming refugees, said UNHCR, and identified a new temporary site, which can accommodate up to 20,000 people.

UNHCR is working to install basic services including shelter, water points, and latrines and to begin relocating refugees to the site as soon as possible” the UN official said.

Mr. Cheshirkov added that UNHCR has also recorded the arrival of 70 Sudanese refugees, mostly women and children, who fled the camps and returned to Sudan’s Blue Nile State.

At the same time, UNHCR teams in Sudan, together with the Sudanese authorities and partners, are providing assistance to the returnees, and contingencies are being put in place in case of more arrivals.

Three other refugee camps in the Benishangul Gumuz region – Bambasi, Sherkole and Tsore ­– remain fully accessible and all services there are functioning.

Mr. Cheshirkov told journalists that the clashes in the region were unrelated to the conflict in Tigray and that refugees had been cohabiting in the same camps.

Continued assistance

In addition to refugee support, the Government, UNHCR and partners, have been aiding the region’s internally displaced, reaching over 100,000 people throughout last year – particularly women and children – with clothing, shelter, psychosocial help, and other emergency items.

To avoid further threats to civilian lives in the region, the UNHCR spokesperson underscored the need for an end to the conflict.

“UNHCR urges the protection of civilians, including refugees and those forcibly displaced”, he said.

Meanwhile, some refugees who had sought and enjoyed safety and were rebuilding their lives have again, have tragically lost everything.

Having only received nine per cent of the countrywide requirements of $35 million for the year, UNHCR’s Ethiopia operation is in urgent need of more resources to respond to this and other emergency needs.

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MoU between Armenian China-Eurasia Council and SIS of Renmin University of China

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On July 7, 2022, Memorandum of understanding was signed between China-Eurasia Council for Political and Strategic Research and the School of International Studies of Renmin University of China. The cooperation of the Parties within the framework of this Memorandum of Understanding will include the following directions: conducting joint conferences, seminars, courses, expert meetings and consultations, implementation of joint research projects and preparation of publications, exchange of academic information and publications.

During last years, China-Eurasia Council for Political and Strategic Research and School of International Studies of Renmin University of China have already established cooperation. Starting from 2019, researchers of both sides attend in academic conferences, courses and seminars, such as: “Eurasian Research on Modern China and Eurasia”, “RUC Area Studies Forum”, “Rethinking China’s Rise under the Governance of the CPC: Achievements, Initiatives and Prospects”, Rethinking China’s Foreign Policy” and book presentation, organized by each side.

It is also worth to mention that on April 8, 2022, both sides jointly organized “First Armenia and China Forum” dedicated to 30th Anniversary of the Establishment of Diplomatic Relations. Researchers of both sides are among co-authors of China and Eurasia: Rethinking Cooperation and Contradictions in the Era of Changing World Order book, published by Routledge in 2021.

Memorandum of understanding on cooperation between organizations was signed by Dr. Mher Sahakyan, the founding head of the China-Eurasia Council for Political and Strategic Research and  Professor Yang Guangbin, the dean of  Director of School of International Studies.

Dr. Mher Sahakyan emphasized the importance of this Memorandum of Understanding. He said that this agreement will provide an added impetus to bust further cooperation and implementation of academic diplomacy between both institutions. He thanked Dr. Yuntian Zheng and Professor Yang Guangbin for cooperation and support.

Professor Yang Guangbin mentioned that, congratulations on the Memorandum of Understanding between China-Eurasia Council for Political and Strategic Research and School of International Studies in Renmin University of China. Renmin University of China, which has been fostering large numbers of outstanding talents, is the first-class research base on international issues and political sciences in China. We genuinely hope to expand the academic and cultural communication between China and Armenia and enhance the relative research on this base to promote the relationship between the two countries.

Dr. Yuntian Zheng mentioned that, the Memorandum of Understanding, which is signed under the background of the 30th anniversary of the establishment of Sino-Armenian diplomatic relations, truly represents the friendship between Chinese and Armenian people. In this changing era, Belt and Road Initiative is becoming more significant in Eurasia. The scholars should be responsible for contributing to promote the relative studies. As one of the best schools in area studies, School of International Studies in Renmin University of China will make more efforts on cooperating with Armenian think tanks and universities in the future.

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In Afghanistan, women take their lives out of desperation

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Seven-year-old Ayesha is the sole survivor of her family after a devastating earthquake struck the central region of Afghanistan and destroyed her home. © UNICEF/Ali Nazari

The situation for women is so desperate in Afghanistan that they are committing suicide at a rate of one or two every day, the Human Rights Council has heard.

It comes as the top UN rights forum in Geneva agreed to Member States’ request for a rare Urgent Debate on the issue this Friday.

Addressing the Council, Fawzia Koofi, former deputy speaker of the Afghan Parliament, said lack of opportunity and ailing mental health, was taking a terrible toll: “Every day there is at least one or two women who commit suicide for the lack of opportunity, for the mental health, for the pressure they receive.

“The fact that girls as young as nine years old are being sold, not only because of economic pressure, but because of the fact that there is no hope for them, for their family, it is not normal.”

Bachelet highlights ‘progressive exclusion’

Echoing widespread international concern for ordinary Afghans, UN human rights chief Michelle Bachelet condemned the massive unemployment of women, the restrictions placed on the way they dress, and their access on basic services.

Women-owned and operated businesses have been shut down, Ms. Bachelet added, saying that 1.2 million girls no longer have access to secondary education, in line with a decision by the de facto authorities who took power in August 2021.

“The de facto authorities I met with during my visit in March this year, said they would honour their human rights obligations as far as [being] in line with Sharia law.

“Yet despite these assurances, we are witnessing the progressive exclusion of women and girls from the public sphere and their institutionalised, systematic oppression”.

Ms. Bachelet encouraged the re-establishment of an independent mechanism to receive complaints from the public and protect victims of gender-based violence.

“Beyond being right, it is also a matter of practical necessity”, said the High Commissioner. “Amid the economic crisis, women’s contribution to economic activity is indispensable, which itself requires access to education, and freedom of movement and from violence”.

Women made ‘invisible’

Also speaking at the Human Rights Council, its Special Rapporteur for Human Rights in Afghanistan, Richard Bennett, described a chilling attempt by the Taliban to make women “invisible, by excluding them almost entirely from society”.]

As an example of the de facto authorities’ intentions to impose “absolute gender discrimination”, the independent rights expert also noted that women are now represented by men at Kabul’s Loya Jirga, or grand assembly of religious scholars and elders.

Such measures contravene Afghanistan’s obligations under numerous human rights treaties to which it is a State party, Mr. Bennett insisted before adding that the situation for women “massively diminish(ed) women’s lives, deliberately attack women and girls’ autonomy, freedom and dignity, and create a culture of impunity for domestic violence, child marriage and sale and trafficking of girls, to name but a few of the consequences”.

Promises broken

Despite public assurances from the Taliban to respect women and girls’ rights, they are reinstituting step by step the discrimination against women and girls. Said Ms. Koofi, a former member of the peace negotiation team with the Taliban said that the fundamentalists “obviously have not kept their promises of what they were telling us during the negotiations, in terms of their respect for Islamic rights for women”.

Ms. Koofi added that “in fact, what they do is in contradiction to Islam. Our beautiful religion starts with reading. But today, Taliban under the name of the same religion, deprive 55 percent of the society from going to school”.

Afghanistan’s response

For Nasir Andisha, Ambassador and Permanent Representative of Afghanistan to the UN in Geneva, “the situation of women and girls in Afghanistan demands nothing less than a robust monitoring mechanism to collect, consolidate, and analyse evidence of violations, to document and verify information, to identify those responsible to promote accountability and remedies for victims, and to make recommendations for effective prevention for future violations”.

A draft resolution on the situation of women and girls in Afghanistan is being negotiated at the Human Rights Council and will be considered on 7 July.

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Safer roads, a global development challenge for all

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Every 24 seconds someone is killed in traffic, making safety on the world’s roads a global development challenge for all societies, especially for the most vulnerable, a senior UN official has said, ahead of the first ever High-level General Assembly Meeting on Improving Road Safety. 

Nneka Henry, who heads the United Nations Road Safety Fund (UNRSF) Secretariat, noted that 500 children die in crashes every day, and that of the older population, women are 17 times more likely to be killed during a car crash than men, even when wearing seatbelts. 

Challenge for all 

Despite these statistics, road safety is not just a challenge for women or for young people. It is “for each and every one of us who walk, ride, cycle or drive on our roads,” Ms. Henry told Diedra Sealey, a young diplomat in the President of the General Assembly’s HOPE Fellowship programme. 

The interview took place ahead of the High-level Meeting of the General Assembly on Improving Road Safety, which gets underway at UN Headquarters in New York on Thursday and Friday, organized by the President of the General Assembly, Abdulla Shahid, and the World Health Organization (WHO).  

Coinciding with the meeting, is the UN Road Safety Fund pledging conference. The Fund was established in 2018 with a vision to “to build a world where roads are safe for every road user, everywhere.” It specially finances projects in low- and middle- income countries, where some 93 per cent of road deaths and injuries take place. 

“I am here in New York to remind all 193 Member States of their commitment to the Fund’s mandate and success,” Ms. Henry said.  

Those successes include the announcement that as of 1 July, all vehicles imported in East Africa need to be below the Euro 4/IV emission standard and no more than eight years old. 

The Fund has been working with the Economic Community of West African States’ 15 members, to harmonize vehicle standard resolutions.  

Major benefits 

“This will have major air quality and road safety benefits,” Ms. Henry said about the latest announcement.  

Some of the other achievements by the Fund include legislation in Azerbaijan to help emergency post-crash response, help to increase enforcement of the speed limits and other road traffic rules in Brazil and Jordan, as well as improving data collection in Cote d’Ivoire and Senegal, and training urban planners on making safer school zones in Paraguay.  

Vision for the future 

As part of the High-level meeting this week, UN Member States will adopt a political declaration, to lay out a “vision for the future of mobility as one that promotes health and well-being, protects the environment, and benefits all people,” according to a press release. 

The interconnected targets are part of the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) that show how road safety is also integrated into the SDGs, from allowing safer access to education, to allowing people access to groceries and reducing carbon emissions into the atmosphere. 

Halving traffic deaths and injuries by 2030 is a target under the third SDG, on good health and well-being. 

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