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Guterres raises alarm over ‘backsliding’ of democracy worldwide

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On the 15th anniversary of the International Day of Democracy, commemorated on Thursday, the UN chief observed that “across the world, democracy is backsliding”.

“Civic space is shrinking. Distrust and disinformation are growing. And polarization is undermining democratic institutions,” Secretary-General António Guterres said in his video message marking the day

Raise the alarm

He said that “now is the time” to raise the alarm, and “reaffirm that democracy, development, and human rights are interdependent and mutually reinforcing”.

“Now is the time to stand up for the democratic principles of equality, inclusion, and solidarity”.

The UN chief said it was important to stand with those who strive to secure the rule of law and promote full participation in decision-making.

Media focus

Mr. Guterres drew attention to this year’s focus, which is on free, independent, and pluralistic media, which he described as the “cornerstone of democratic societies”.

He warned that from verbal assault to online surveillance and legal harassment, attempts to silence journalists are “growing more brazen by the day” – especially against women journalists.

As media workers face censorship, detention, physical violence, and even killings – often with impunity – the UN chief reminded that “such dark paths inevitably lead to instability, injustice and worse”.

Without a free press, democracy cannot survive. Without freedom of expression, there is no freedom,” underscored the Secretary-General, urging the world to join forces “to secure freedom and protect the rights of all people, everywhere”.

Waning press freedom

According to the UN Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO), over the past five years, 85 per cent of the world’s population has experienced a decline in press freedom.

The UN agency elaborated that in attempts to hamper their work, media globally are increasingly facing attacks, online and offline.

They are being targeted with increasing detention; the use of defamation laws; cybersecurity or hate speech laws to curb online expression; and growing surveillance technologies.

The COVID-19 crisis has also shown how it has become more critical than ever for media to gather and evaluate facts and fight disinformation. Equally critical is ensuring online safety and security.

Unite and protect

Women journalists are particularly impacted. UNESCO and the International Center for Journalists found that 73 per cent of 714 women journalists from 125 countries have reported experiencing online violence in the course of their work.

Moreover, attempts to silence journalists are growing more brazen by the day and they often pay the ultimate price.

From 2016 to the end of 2021, UNESCO recorded the killings of 455 journalists, who either died for their work or while on the job.

“On this International Day of Democracy, we are celebrating more than a simple principle of political organization: We are celebrating an ideal whose foundations are “the dignity, equality and mutual respect” of people – the very foundations of the Constitution of UNESCO,” said Director-General Audrey Azoulay.

Spreading the word

Meanwhile, others in the UN family took to Twitter to throw their weight behind the day by promoting its importance.

UN Women, the entity for gender equality and women’s empowerment, encouraged women to “participate in political processes and to support their aspirations for freedom, equality, autonomy and self-determination”.

UN humanitarian coordination office, OCHA, used the day to “thank journalists who play an essential role for democracy,” while stressing the need to “fight mis- and disinformation and protect the press, including those covering conflicts and humanitarian crises, who are increasingly targeted with threats and violence”.

The UN human rights office, OHCHR, said simply: “Protecting press freedom protects democracy”.

Elections

Democracy is a core UN value, which the Organization supports by promoting human rights, development, and peace and security.

Under-Secretary-General for Political and Peacebuilding Affairs Rosemary DiCarlo explains her role as UN focal point for electoral assistance, a key aspect of democracy. 

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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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