Sri Lanka is in the midst of the worst socio-economic crisis in its history, and the once robust health-care system is nearing collapse, with patients at risk from power shortages, a lack of medicines, and equipment shortages.
When Ruchika found out she was pregnant with her second child, in October 2021, she could not have imagined that she would find herself, hours before delivering her baby, in a crowded distribution queue, pleading for fuel to get to the hospital.
“The majority of the crowd was sympathetic,” Ruchika recalled. “The authorities allowed me to buy the fuel I needed after examining my medical documents to confirm my story, but there were still a few who were shouting at us.”
Pregnant women in Sri Lanka find themselves in a world that was unimaginable just a few months ago. The crisis is critically undermining sexual and reproductive health services, including maternal health care and access to contraception, and services to prevent and respond to gender-based violence have also been compromised.
Patients asked to supply medical equipment
Ruchika made it to the hospital the day after her harrowing wait for fuel, just in time to deliver her baby. But fuel was not her only concern.
Two months before her due date, Ruchika heard that women were being asked to supply gloves, blades and other basic materials needed for safe childbirth when they visited the state hospital to deliver. “The hospital had run out and had no way to replenish their stocks,” Ruchika recalled.
She was terrified. “I immediately called my doctor and asked about the availability of materials and if I needed to make preparations as well. ‘We have the material for now,’ is what he told me,” she said. “But he couldn’t give me any assurances about what the situation would be in two months for my delivery. I was worried about how bad things would get so I asked my doctor twice if my baby could be delivered safely even if it was two months early.”
The doctor refused, citing risks to the baby’s health. “He assured me that as long as I got to the hospital in time he would make sure we were both healthy – but even that was such a struggle.”
She ended up not only worried about her own access to fuel, but also that of the hospital staff. “The week before my delivery, my husband asked about my doctor’s fuel status because we’d heard so many stories of doctors and nurses not being able to report to work because of the fuel crisis,” she said.
Appeal for funds
Ruchika’s family continues to struggle. When her four-and-a-half-year-old daughter got sick, they had to go to six pharmacies to find the nebulizer she needed. And weeks after giving birth, Ruchika is well past the date she was due to get her stitches removed. She is waiting for her doctor to let her know when she can come in. Right now, the doctor is required to save the limited fuel he has to travel only when one of his other patients goes into active labour.
“The current economic crisis has far-reaching consequences for women and girls’ health, rights and dignity,” said Dr. Natalia Kanem, Executive Director of the UN sexual and reproductive health agency, UNFPA. “Right now, our priority is to respond to their unique needs and safeguard their access to life-saving healthcare services and support.”
An estimated 215,000 Sri Lankan women are currently pregnant, according to data from the Sri Lankan Ministry of Health, including 11,000 adolescent girls, and around 145,000 women will deliver in the next six months.
UNFPA is appealing for $10.7 million to urgently meet the sexual and reproductive health needs, and protection needs, of women and girls in Sri Lanka. This funding would go towards life-saving medicines, equipment and supplies, including supplies for the clinical management of rape and services for domestic violence survivors.
It would also supply 10,000 delivery, maternity and dignity kits and provide more than 37,000 women with cash voucher assistance for reproductive health services, expand services for violence survivors, and support 1,250 midwives.
Still, with infrastructure and transportation challenges, childbirth could remain a life-threatening prospect for those unable to access skilled medical care.
Fight against human trafficking must be strengthened in Ethiopia
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.
“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.
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.
35 years of Cultural Routes: Safeguarding European Values, Heritage, and Dialogue
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:
- Promoting European Values and Intercultural Dialogue;
- Safeguarding Heritage in Times of Crisis;
- 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.
Little progress combating systemic racism against people of African descent
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.
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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