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Guterres: Grain deal ‘victory for diplomacy

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Positive momentum on the landmark Black Sea Grain Initiative to help vulnerable people access food reflects “a victory for diplomacy” for those caught in a cost-of-living crisis as well as for Ukraine’s hard-working farmers, UN Secretary-General António Guterres told reporters on Thursday in Lviv, Ukraine.

Speaking at a press conference alongside Presidents Volodymyr Zelenskyy and Recep Tayyip Erdoğan of Türkiye, he expressed gratitude for the opportunity to visit “again during such a difficult period”. 

Despite that the Black Sea Grain Initiative was signed a few weeks ago, the UN chief reiterated that “there is no solution to the global food crisis without ensuring full global access to Ukraine’s food products and Russian food and fertilizers”.  

Assistance en route

In less than one month, 21 ships have departed from Ukrainian ports and 15 vessels have left Istanbul for Ukraine to load up with grain and other food supplies, recapped Mr. Guterres.  

“As we speak, more than 560,000 metric tons of grain and other food produced by Ukrainian farmers is making its way to markets around the world,” he said, including the first UN-chartered vessel carrying Ukrainian wheat to people suffering in the Horn of Africa from the worst drought in decades. 

Meanwhile, signs have been emerging that global food markets are beginning to stabilize as wheat prices dropped by as much as eight per cent following the signing of the agreements and the FAO Food Price Index by nine per cent in July – the biggest decline since 2008. 

Although most food commodities are currently trading at prices below pre-war levels, they are still very high. 

“Let’s have no illusions – there is a long way to go before this will be translated into the daily life of people at their local bakery and in their markets,” spelled out the top UN official, reminding that “supply chains are still disrupted [and] energy and transportation costs remain unacceptably high”. 

Only the beginning

Noting the rarity and inherent fragility of the agreements, Mr. Guterres upheld that they must be “constantly nurtured”. 

As the Joint Coordination Center (JCC) continues to work professionally and in good faith to keep the food flowing, he appealed that those involved “overcome all obstacles in a spirit of compromise and permanently settle all difficulties”.   

“Getting food and fertilizer out of Ukraine and Russia in larger quantities is crucial to further calm commodity markets and lower prices”, and essential to providing relief to the most vulnerable”.

The UN chief underscored the urgency of reversing the turmoil in the global fertilizer market, which is currently threatening next season’s crops – including a world-wide staple, rice.

Meanwhile, the UN will continue in solidarity with the Ukrainian people and national partners to help provide humanitarian support to people in need “wherever it is required,” he said. 

“We will do our best to scale up our operations to face the difficult the coming winter”.

Problem of war

“The heart of the problem that brings us here remains the war,” reminded the Secretary-General, reiterating that the Russian invasion is “a violation of the territorial integrity of Ukraine” and of the UN Charter

The war has inflicted innumerous deaths, massive destruction, displacement, and dramatic violations of human rights, he stated, adding that in line with the Charter and international law, “people need peace”. 

Nuclear threat  

The top UN official expressed his grave concern over the unfolding situation in and around Europe’s largest nuclear power plant in Zaporizhzhia. 

“Common sense must prevail to avoid any actions that might endanger the physical integrity, safety or security of the nuclear plant,” he said, adding that the facility “must not be used as part of any military operation”. 

Mr. Guterres upheld the urgent need for an agreement to “reestablish Zaporizhhia as purely civilian infrastructure” and ensure the safety of the area. 

After making an assessment, with the agreement of both Russia and Ukraine, the UN Secretariat has determined that it can support the Organization’s nuclear overseer, IAEA, in conducting a mission to the Zaporizhzhia Nuclear Power Plant from Kyiv.  

The UN chief outlined that military equipment and personnel should be withdrawn from the plant, no other forces or equipment should be deployed there and the area must be demilitarized. 

“Any potential damage to Zaporizhzhia is suicide,” he underscored.  

POWs 

The Secretary-General also called attention to the investigation of an “unacceptable” incident in an Olenivka detention facility on 29 July when a mysterious explosion tore through a prison housing hundreds of Ukrainian detainees.

“All prisoners of war are protected under International Humanitarian Law,” he reminded, adding that the international Red Cross “must have access to them wherever they are kept”. 

Fact-Finding mission  

Against this backdrop, the UN chief decided to establish a fact-finding mission – the terms of reference of which were shared with Ukraine and Russia along with the make-up of the team, including his intention to appoint General Carlos dos Santos Cruz of Brazil to lead this mission.  

Obtaining the necessary assurances to guarantee secure access to Olenivka and any other relevant locations is currently underway. 

“To put it simply, a fact-finding mission must be free to find the facts. The team must be able to gather and analyze necessary information,” he stated. 

“Above all, that means safe, secure and unfettered access to people, places and evidence without any interference from anybody”. 

In closing, the Secretary-General assured President Zelenskyy of the UN’s support in promoting “human rights, international law and the cause of 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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