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Black Sea grain exports deal ‘a beacon of hope’ amid Ukraine war

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Secretary-General António Guterres (left) and President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan at the signing ceremony of Black Sea Grain Initiative in Istanbul, Türkiye. UNIC Ankara/Levent Kulu

An “unprecedented agreement” on the resumption of Ukrainian grain exports via the Black Sea amid the ongoing war is “a beacon of hope” in a world that desperately needs it, UN Secretary-General António Guterres said at the signing ceremony in Istanbul, Türkiye, on Friday. 

The UN plan, which also paves the way for Russian food and fertilizer to reach global markets, will help to stabilize spiralling food prices worldwide and stave off famine, affecting millions.  

Russian and Ukrainian Ministers signed the Black Sea Grain Initiative, facing each other at opposite ends of the table, while the Secretary-General and Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan sat in the centre. 

Hope and relief 

“Today, there is a beacon on the Black Sea,” the UN chief said, speaking prior to the signing. “A beacon of hope – a beacon of possibility – a beacon of relief — in a world that needs it more than ever.” 

Mr. Guterres thanked President Erdogan and his government for facilitating the talks that led to the deal.  

He commended the Russian and Ukrainian representatives for putting aside their differences in the common interests of humanity. 

“The question has not been what is good for one side or the other,” he said. “The focus has been on what matters most for the people of our world.  And let there be no doubt – this is an agreement for the world.” 

Ukraine is among the world’s leading grain exporters, supplying more than 45 million tonnes annually to the global market, according to the UN Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO).  

The Russian invasion, which began on 24 February, has sparked record food and fuel prices, as well as supply chain issues, with mountains of grain stocks stuck in silos. 

In addition to stabilizing global food prices, the agreement “will bring relief for developing countries on the edge of bankruptcy and the most vulnerable people on the edge of famine,” said Mr. Guterres. 

“Since the war started, I have been highlighting that there is no solution to the global food crisis without ensuring full global access to Ukraine’s food products and Russian food and fertilizer.” 

A long road 

The initiative specifically allows for significant volumes of commercial food exports from three key Ukrainian ports in the Black Sea – Odessa, Chernomorsk and Yuzhny.  

The Secretary-General also announced the establishment of a Joint Coordination Centre to monitor implementation.  It will be hosted in Istanbul and will include representatives from Ukraine, Russia and Türkiye.

Inspection teams will monitor the onloading of grain at the three ports. Ukrainian pilot vessels will guide the ships through the Black Sea, which is mined, after which they will head out through the Bosphorus Strait along an agreed corridor.

Ships going into the ports also will be inspected.

Mr. Guterres acknowledged “the long road” and weeks of around-the clock negotiations leading up to the landmark agreement.  

In April, the Secretary-General met with Russian President Vladimir Putin and with Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy to propose a plan. The UN has been “working every day since”, he said.

Two UN Task Forces were established in parallel on the talks – one focused on the shipment of Ukrainian grain through the Black Sea, which was led by UN humanitarian affairs chief Martin Griffiths, and the other on facilitating access of Russian food and fertilizers, headed by Rebecca Grynspan, Secretary-General of the UN trade and development body, UNCTAD

Beacon for peace 

Mr. Guterres pledged the UN’s full commitment to the agreement, and urged all sides to do the same. 

“This is an unprecedented agreement between two parties engaged in bloody conflict. But that conflict continues,” he said, noting that people are dying every day as the fighting rages.  

“The beacon of hope on the Black Sea is shining bright today, thanks to the collective efforts of so many. In these trying and turbulent times for the region and our globe, let that beacon guide the way towards easing human suffering and securing peace.”  

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Fight against human trafficking must be strengthened in Ethiopia

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A group of internally displaced people due to the Tigray conflict gather in a site in Ethiopia's Afar region, Ethiopia. © UNHCR/Alessandro Pasta

Throughout Ethiopia’s Tigray, Afar and Amhar regions, women and girls are becoming increasingly vulnerable to abduction and sex trafficking as they flee ongoing armed conflict, a group of UN-appointed independent human rights experts warned on Monday.

The protracted conflict in the three northern regions have heightened risks of trafficking for sexual exploitation as a form of sexual violence in conflict, the experts said in a statement.

“We are alarmed by reports of refugee and internally displaced women and girls in the Tigray, Afar, and Amhara regions being abducted while attempting to move to safer places,” they said.

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“We are concerned at the risks of trafficking, in particular for purposes of sexual exploitation, including sexual slavery.” 

Women and children in crosshairs

Amidst abductions and displacement, the UN experts raised serious concerns over Eritrean refugee women and children being at particular risk of sex trafficking.

“Urgent action is needed to prevent trafficking, especially for purposes of sexual exploitation, and to ensure assistance and protection of all victims, without discrimination on grounds of race or ethnicity, nationality, disability, age or gender,” they said.  

Meanwhile, the hundreds of children who have been separated from their families, especially in the Tigray region, are particularly vulnerable, warned the independent experts.

“The continuing lack of humanitarian access to the region is a major concern,” the experts continued, urging immediate national, bilateral and multilateral measures to prevent all forms of trafficking of children and to ensure their protection.

Identifying victims

They added that sufficient measures were not being taken to identify victims of trafficking, or support their recovery in ways that fully takes account of the extreme trauma being suffered.

“The failure to provide accountability for these serious human rights violations and grave crimes creates a climate of impunity, allows trafficking in persons to persist and perpetrators to go free,” underscored the six UN experts.

They urged all relevant stakeholders to ensure that victims of trafficking can adequately access medical assistance, including sexual and reproductive healthcare services and psychological support.

The experts said they had made their concerns known to both the Governments of Ethiopia and neighbouring Eritrea.

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35 years of Cultural Routes: Safeguarding European Values, Heritage, and Dialogue

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A Europe rich in history, heritage, dialogue and values: the Council of Europe Cultural Routes’ programme celebrates its 35th anniversary, on the occasion of the 11th Advisory Forum in Minoa Palace Hotel, Chania, Crete (Greece) on 5-7 October, with a special event to highlight the relevance of Cultural Routes for the promotion of cultural diversity, intercultural dialogue and sustainable tourism.

The Forum is organised by the Enlarged Partial Agreement on Cultural Routes of the Council of Europe and the European Institute of Cultural Routes, in co-operation with the Hellenic Ministry of Culture and Sports, the Hellenic Ministry of Tourism, the Greek National Tourism Organization, the Region of Crete, the Municipality of Chania, the Chamber of Industry and Commerce of Chania, and the Historic Cafes Route. The 2022 edition will be the opportunity to underline the growing relevance of the Cultural Routes methodology and practices in promoting Europe’s shared cultural heritage while fostering viable local development.

Deputy Secretary General Bjørn Berge will participate in the high-level dialogue, together with Minister of Culture and Sports of Greece Lina Mendoni, Minister of Tourism of Greece Vassilis Kikilias, Parliamentary Assembly (PACE) Vice-President and Chairperson of the Greek Delegation Dora Bakoyannis and Chair of the Statutory Committee of Cultural Routes Ambassador Patrick Engelberg (Luxembourg). 

Over three days of workshops and interactive debates, three main general sessions will be explored:

  1. Promoting European Values and Intercultural Dialogue;
  2. Safeguarding Heritage in Times of Crisis;
  3. Fostering Creative Industries, Cultural Tourism, Innovative Technologies for Sustainable Communities.

The Forum will discuss trends and challenges in relation to Cultural Routes, providing a platform for sharing experiences, reviewing progress, analysing professional practices, launching new initiatives and developing partnerships across Europe and beyond. Participants range from managers among the 48 cultural routes to representatives of national ministries, International Organisations, academics, experts and tourism professionals.

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Little progress combating systemic racism against people of African descent

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More than two years since the murder of George Floyd by a police officer in the United States sparked the global Black Lives Matter movement, there’s been only “piecemeal progress” in addressing systemic racism, the UN human rights office (OHCHR) said on Friday, in a new report.While more people have been made aware of systemic racism and concrete steps have been taken in some countries, the Acting High Commissioner for Human Rights called on States to demonstrate greater political will to accelerate action.

“There have been some initiatives in different countries to address racism, but for the most part they are piecemeal. They fall short of the comprehensive evidence-based approaches needed to dismantle the entrenched structural, institutional and societal racism that has existed for centuries, and continues to inflict deep harm today,” said Nada Al-Nashif, who will present the report to the UN Human Rights Council on Monday.

Triggering change

The report describes international, national and local initiatives that have been taken, towards ending the scourge of racism.

These include an Executive Order from the White House on advancing effective, accountable policing and criminal justice practices in federal law enforcement agencies; an Anti-Racism Data Act in British Columbia, Canada; measures to evaluate ethnic profiling by police in Sweden; and census data collection to self-identify people of African descent in Argentina.

The European Commission has issued guidance on collecting and using data based on racial or ethnic origin; formal apologies issued, memorialization, revisiting public spaces, and research, to assess links to enslavement and colonialism in several countries.

‘Barometer for success’

The report notes that poor outcomes continue for people of African descent in many countries, notably in accessing health and adequate food, education, social protection, and justice – while poverty, enforced disappearance and violence continues.

It highlights “continuing…allegations of discriminatory treatment, unlawful deportations, excessive use of force, and deaths of African migrants and migrants of African descent by law enforcement officials”

The barometer for success must be positive change in the lived experiences of people of African descent,” continued Ms. Al-Nashif.

“States need to listen to people of African descent, meaningfully involve them and take genuine steps to act upon their concerns.”

Higher death rates

Where available, recent data still points to disproportionately high death rates faced by people of African descent, at the hands of law enforcement, in different countries.

“Families of African descent continued to report the immense challenges, barriers and protracted processes they faced in their pursuit of truth and justice for the deaths of their relatives”, the report says.

It details seven cases of police-related deaths of people of African descent, namely George Floyd and Breonna Taylor (US); Adama Traoré (France); Luana Barbosa dos Reis Santos and João Pedro Matos Pinto (Brazil); Kevin Clarke (UK) and Janner [Hanner] García Palomino (Colombia).

While noting some progress towards accountability in a few of these emblematic cases, “unfortunately, not a single case has yet been brought to a full conclusion, with those families still seeking truth, justice and guarantees of non-repetition, and the prosecution and sanction of all those responsible,” the report says.

Ms. Al-Nashif called on States to “redouble efforts to ensure accountability and redress wherever deaths of Africans and people of African descent have occurred in the context of law enforcement, and take measures to confront legacies that perpetuate and sustain systemic racism”.

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