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Transforming Education Summit: Halt the crisis, or risk failing an entire generation

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Photo: ADB

Just a few hours before the start of the crucial Transforming Education Summit, UN Children’s Fund UNICEF on Friday, warned that globally, only a third of 10-year-olds are estimated to be able to read and understand a simple written story. This shocking statistic represents a 50 per cent decrease from pre-pandemic estimates.

“Under resourced schools, underpaid and under-qualified teachers, over-crowded classrooms and archaic curricula are undermining our children’s ability to reach their full potential,” said Catherine Russell UNICEF Executive Director, in a press release.

Education is the future

“The trajectory of our education systems is, by definition, the trajectory of our future”, she added. “We need to reverse current trendlines or face the consequences of failing to educate an entire generation. Low levels of learning today mean less opportunity tomorrow.” 

Summit gets underway

The much-anticipated Transforming Education Summit begins at UN Headquarters in New York today, Friday, with a day of mobilization, led by the Secretary-General and his deputy, together with the President of the General Assembly.

Saturday has been billed as “solutions day”, led by UN deputy chief Amina Mohammed, and on Monday, UN chief António Guterres will introduce his vision statement, along with world leaders, in the General Assembly Hall, as the summit comes to a close.

Simmering crisis

During the COVID-19 pandemic, prolonged school closures and a lack of access to quality learning exposed and exacerbated a pre-existing learning crisis, that has left millions of schoolchildren without foundational numeracy and literacy skills.

To draw attention to the education crisis and the need to transform learning worldwide, UNICEF has created the ‘Learning Crisis Classroom’, a model classroom that represents the scale of children failing to learn critical foundational skills.

The installation will be displayed at the visitor’s entrance of United Nations Headquarters in New York between 16 and 26 September. The model will serve as a reminder to government officials, heads of state and everyday visitors of the urgent need for mass global investment in education.

Classroom divide

A third of the desks in the model classroom are made of wood and are fully functioning with an iconic UNICEF backpack placed on the school chair behind it.

This group is meant to represent the estimated one-third of 10-year-olds globally who are able to read and understand a simple written story.

The remaining two-thirds of desks are almost invisible and made of clear material to signify the 64 per cent of children estimated to be unable to read and understand a simple written story by age 10.

The invisible nature of these desks corresponds to the short term crisis at play, said UNICEF, but also signifies the scope of civic contributions that will be lost, if urgent action is not taken to give all students the tools to thrive.

Catching up

As leaders meet at the Transforming Education Summit, UNICEF is calling on governments to commit to reaching all children with quality education.

The agency further urges new effort and investment to re-enroll and retain all children in school, to increase access to remedial and catchup learning, to support teachers – and give them the tools they need – and to make sure that schools provide a safe and supportive environment so all children are ready to learn.

This scheme, promoted by UNICEF under the acronym ‘RAPID,’ represents efforts by the international community to take legitimate steps to promote better education and unlock the potential of millions of children.

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Lavrov: Russia had ‘no choice’ but to launch ‘special military operation’ in Ukraine

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Foreign Minister Sergey V. Lavrov of the Russian Federation addresses the general debate of the General Assembly’s seventy-seventh session. UN Photo/Cia Pak

Faced with the “inability” of Western countries to negotiate and the Ukrainian Government’s “war against its own people” in the east, Russia had “no choice” but to launch what the Government refers to as its special military operation, Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov told the UN General Assembly on Saturday.

The operation launched on 24 February had been carried out to protect Russians living in Ukraine’s Donetsk and Luhansk regions, and eliminate threats to Russian security, said Mr. Lavrov, that the EU and United States-led NATO military alliance had consistently created in the territory, since what he described as the “bloody coup” by the current “Kyiv regime”, in 2014.

“I am convinced that any sovereign, self-respecting State would do the same in our stead, which understands its responsibility to its own people.”

‘Throwing a fit’

Mr. Lavrov accused the West of “throwing a fit” over this weekend’s referenda being conducted in the Donbas and other Russian-controlled areas on becoming a part of the Russian Federation, countering that people there were simply following an order from Kyiv, to “get out and to go to Russia”.

The Russian Foreign Minister said the crises surrounding the war were growing, and the international situation was rapidly deteriorating, but instead of having an honest dialogue and searching for compromise, the West was “undermining confidence in international institutions” and encouraging negative tendencies within the United Nations as well.

He said the United States was trying to turn the whole world into its “backyard”, and together with its partners, punishing dissenters from its world view, through what he called “illegal unilateral sanctions” which violate the UN Charter, and hurt poor citizens in poorer countries, targeting their medicines, vaccines and food imports.

‘Provocations’

Attempts by the US to impose dividing lines, telling nations “you’re either with us or against us”, meant that instead of “honest dialogue” there was instead “disinformation, crude staging, and provocations”.

He praised the UN Secretary-General for mobilizing efforts to overcome the global food and energy crisis fuelled by the war but blamed the West for economic mismanagement in the pandemic, claiming that sanctions against his country amounted to an “economic war against Russia.”

He praised the Black Sea Grain Initiative to free up food and fertilizer from Ukraine, and Russia, to alleviate price inflation and supply, but said the poorest countries were still not benefitting, and again criticized the US and EU for not fully removing “obstacles” to Russian exports he said were trapped in European ports.

‘Russophobia’ claim

Mr. Lavrov told the Assembly that there was now a “crusade by the West against the objectionables”, with NATO seeing Russia as simply a threat to its domination of the region and beyond.

Furthermore, Russophobia, he said, had reached unprecedented proportions, with Western powers making no secret of their ambition to militarily defeat Russia, and try to “destroy and fracture Russia…What they want to do is to remove from the global map, a geopolitical entity, which has become all too independent.”

He warned countries beyond Europe and North America, that the Western alliance, in an effort to impose its will, was seeking to expand influence and hegemony further into Asia, South America, and Africa, and ended his remarks by quoting the hugely influential and charismatic second UN Secretary-General, Dag Hammarskjöld:

Save humanity from hell

“The UN wasn’t created to take mankind to paradise, but rather to save humanity from hell. These are very topical words. They call upon us, to understand our individual and collective responsibility for creating conditions for a peaceful and harmonious development for our future generations, and everyone needs to show political will for that.”

Ending his speech on a conciliatory note, and a nod to a brighter future for multilateralism, he said he was convinced that the stability of the world order could be ensured, by returning to “the origins of UN diplomacy”, based on the key principle of “sovereign equality of States”.

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War crimes have been committed in Ukraine conflict

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Dozens of bodies near the cemetery in Bucha. Photo By Rodrigo Abd. Image source: war.ukraine.ua

Almost seven months to the day since Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, UN-appointed independent human rights investigators said that war crimes have indeed been committed in the conflict.

The finding came in the first report by the Independent International Commission of Inquiry on Ukraine, which was set up in March this year, at the request of Human Rights Council Member States.

Much of the Commission’s work focused on investigations in the regions of Kyiv, Chernihiv, Kharkiv, and Sumy, where allegations of the most serious rights violations were made against Russian, or Russian-backed forces, early in the war.

Thorough investigation

Commission chairperson Erik Møse said that investigators visited 27 towns and settlements and interviewed more than 150 victims and witnesses. They also inspected “sites of destruction, graves, places of detention and torture”, as well as remnants of weapons.

Based on the evidence gathered so far during the Commission’s existence, we found out after having carried out the investigations in these four areas just mentioned, we found that war crimes have been committed in Ukraine,” he told journalists in Geneva.

That conclusion is in line with findings published earlier this year by the UN Human Rights Monitoring Mission in Ukraine (HRMMU).

It documented unlawful killings – including summary executions of civilians – in more than 30 settlements in Kyiv, Chernihiv, Kharkiv and Sumy regions, by Russian armed forces while they controlled these areas in late February and March.

Brutal executions

Other key findings from the report include the surprisingly “large number of executions” in 16 towns and settlements, where “common elements” of the crimes included “visible signs of executions on bodies, such as hands tied behind backs, gunshot wounds to the head, and slit throats”.

The report, delivered to the Human Rights Council earlier on Friday, also documented how explosive weapons had been used by the Russian Federation forces, “without distinguishing between civilians and combatants in populated areas”.

“We were struck by a large number of executions and other violations by Russian forces, and the Commission received consistent accounts of torture and ill-treatment.”

Sexual violence, including against children

Horrific allegations of sexual violence against Ukrainian communities – including children – were also found to be based in fact.

“The Commission investigated cases of sexual gender-based violence. It documented cases in which some Russian Federation soldiers made such crime,” said Commissioner Jasminka Džumhur.

Ukrainian forces were also responsible for human rights violations, said Commissioner Pablo de Greiff: “We have found two instances of ill-treatment of Russian Federation soldiers by Ukrainian soldiers, and we mentioned this in our statement. We have found obviously significantly larger numbers of instances that amount to war crimes on the part of the Russian Federation.”

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Ireland: Rights experts call for redress for 50 years of systemic racism in childcare institutions

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UN-appointed independent human rights experts on Friday called on Irish authorities to provide adequate redress for victims of racial discrimination and system racism in Irish childcare institutions, stretching over more than 50 years.

Citing information received, 10 experts issued a joint statement saying that systemic racism in childcare institutions between the 1940s and 1990s, has “resulted in the higher institutionalization rate of children of African and Irish descent”.

During their prolonged time there, children were exposed to heightened risk of corporal punishment, sexual, physical and verbal abuse, with lifelong consequences, including infringing their right to enjoy the highest standard of physical and mental health. Some of them were also subjected to vaccine trials.

Exchanging letters

Despite welcoming the Irish Government’s Action Plan to provide tangible benefits for survivors and former residents of mother and baby and county home institutions, the experts sent them a letter containing their allegations of racial discrimination in April.

In it, they raised the alarm that children of African and Irish descent were “subjected to differential treatment because of their race, colour and/or descent, leading to further violations of their human rights”.

In response, the Irish Government referred to the official State apology offered on 13 January 2021 in which the country recognized the “additional impact which a lack of knowledge and understanding had on the treatment and outcomes of mothers and children with different racial and cultural heritage”.

It continued, acknowledging that such “discriminatory attitudes exacerbated the shame and stigma felt by some of our most vulnerable citizens, especially where opportunities for non-institutional placement of children were restricted by an unjust belief that they were unsuitable for placement with families”.

Stolen childhoods

Although the State apology is an important element of the restorative justice process, the experts said it was “not enough”.

Because of the systemic racial discrimination that prevailed in the childcare institutions at the time, the experts underscored that they had, in effect, had their “childhood stolen” from them.

“We are seriously concerned over the severe and continuing effects that racial discrimination and systematic racism have had on the lives of the adults who are currently seeking redress,” the statement read.

Restorative justice

Under international law, States have an obligation to ensure accountability for past human rights violations and provide full reparation to the victims, when these violations still have an impact.

The independent experts called on the Irish Government to “take further action to provide those who were subjected to differential treatment in childcare institutions with effective remedies”.

A future scheme to address rights violations, “must recognize and provide redress for all the human rights violations perpetrated against children during the entire duration of their stay in Irish institutions, including mother and baby homes, industrial schools, reformatories, Magdalen Laundries and analogous institutions, as well as life-long impacts”, the statement continued.

In conclusion, they noted that a proposed “Bill Payment Scheme” provides an avenue of redress “for the harms caused due to racial discrimination and systemic racism to which children of African and Irish descent were subjected”.

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