Category: Human Rights

Pope Francis condems discrimination and prejudice against Roma people in Slovakia.

One highlight of Pope Francis’ visit to Slovakia was Tuesday’s meeting with the Roma community in Kosice during which he called for their integration.

Judgement and prejudice only increase distances, hostility and sharp words are not helpful

Marginalizing others accomplishes nothing

Segregating ourselves and other people eventually leads to anger.” 

Pope Francis used these words to condemn the discrimination that the Roma people face, stressing: “the path to peaceful coexistence is integration.”  

Pointing to what Jesus said, “Do not judge”, Pope Francis lamented the gossip or rumours we pass or the prejudices, judgements and labels we tag others with, but consider ourselves justified.

“In this way,” he said, “we disfigure by our words the beauty of the children of God, who are our brothers and sisters“. 

“We cannot reduce the reality of others to fit our own pre-packaged ideas; people cannot be pigeonholed.” 

Our knowledge and appreciation of others must be grounded in our acknowledgement that each of them possesses the inviolable beauty of a son or daughter of God, a reflection of the Creator’s image, according Vatican News.

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World Health Organization to G20 Health Ministers: “meet COVID-19 pledges”.

The head of the World Health Organization told the G20 Health Ministers in Rome on Sunday “that despite hopes that by now the pandemic would be under control the opposite is true”.

Director-General of the World Health Organization (WHO) Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus pointed out that “many countries continue to face steep increases in cases and deaths”, despite that more than five billion vaccines have been administered globally.

“But almost 75 per cent of those doses have been administered in just 10 countries”, he explained.

He added that at 2 per centAfrica has the lowest vaccination coverage, this is unacceptable”.

The World Health Organizations global targets are to support every country to vaccinate at least 10 per cent of its population by the end of the month, at least 40 per cent by the end of the year, and 70 per cent by the middle of next year

We can still reach these targets, but only with the commitment and support of G20 countries”, Tedros stated

As the largest producers, consumers and donors of COVID-19 vaccines, he upheld that they hold the key to achieving vaccine equity and ending the pandemic.

“We can never allow a pandemic on this scale to happen again.

 And we can never allow an injustice like this to happen again”, spelled out the WHO chief, according UN News.

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UN rights chief tells Member States: Afghanistan women’s rights are ‘red line’.

UN rights chief Michelle Bachelet led calls on Tuesday for Afghanistan’s new Taliban leaders to respect the rights of all Afghans and warned that the treatment of women and girls is a “fundamental red line” that should not be crossed.

Speaking at the opening of an emergency session at the UN Human Rights Council in Geneva, a little over a week since the Taliban swept to power, Ms. Bachelet reminded UN Member States of credible reports of violations of international humanitarian law against civilians in areas under their control.

These reports, she said, make it especially important that the Human Rights Council work in unison to prevent further abuses, and that Member States establish a dedicated mechanism to monitor the fast-evolving situation in Afghanistan and, in particular, the Taliban’s implementation of its promises. 

Ms. Bachelet added that “a fundamental red line will be the Taliban’s treatment of women and girls, and respect for their rights to liberty, freedom of movement, education, self-expression and employment, guided by international human rights norms.

In particular, ensuring access to quality secondary education for girls will be an essential indicator of commitment to human rights”, according UN News.

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Police arrests more than 50 people at Extinction Rebellion protests in London.

Environmental activists took to the streets of central London for Extinction Rebellion’s fifth mass protest, targeting the “root cause” of the climate and nature crises.

Protesters blocked roads in central London, including around Trafalgar Square, as they demanded the government immediately end investment in fossil fuels.

Activists also set up a large pink structure at the junction of Long Acre and Upper St Martin’s Lane with the words “come to the table” written across it to highlight the right everyone has to have a say in how to tackle the crisis.

The group has planned two weeks of action in the capital of England.

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United Nations: ‘Widespread and systematic’ violence linked to clashes over gold in DR Congo.

Rival armed groups in the Democratic Republic of the Congo are carrying out horrific sexual attacks against women and girls, the UN Refugee Agency (UNHCR) warned on Friday.

The alert was prompted by what UNHCR has called “widespread and systematic” sexual abuse in Tanganyika province, where thousands of people have been internally displaced this year, often many times.

“Some women and girls have been abducted and used as sex slaves by armed group members”, spokesperson Shabia Mantoo told journalists in Geneva.

‘Horrific violence’

The UNHCR spokesperson explained that in just the past two weeks, humanitarian partners in the Kongolo and Mbulula health zones, have recorded 243 incidents of rape, 48 of which involved minors, in 12 different villages.

Noting that the actual figures are thought to be even higher, as reporting of gender-based violence remains taboo in most communities, she said that amounted to an average of 17 reported attacks per day.

“Our staff have heard horrific testimonies of extreme violence”.

In addition to the huge physical and psychological trauma from being raped, survivors of sexual violence can face stigma and possible exclusion from their families.  

While the UN agency remains committed to helping the survivors, ongoing violence and the need to travel long distances for care at medical centres are hampering its work.

To protect civilians, especially women and girls, UNHCR is calling on the authorities to urgently scale up security in the so-called “triangle of death” – an area bordering several localities between Tanganyika, Maniema, and South Kivu Provinces.

The move would also allow humanitarian access as well as for investigations to be launched and perpetrators to be brought to justice.

“Humanitarian and protection needs are growing and UNHCR is seeking further financial support”, Ms. Mantoo said, informing the journalists that only 36 per cent of the $205 million required for DRC operation has been received, according UN News.

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UN: call for urgent action following ‘alarming’ 80 per cent rise in sexual violence in Somalia.

An “alarming” 80 per cent increase in sexual violence in Somalia, as documented in two recent reports by the Secretary-General Antonio Guterres, has been described as “appalling” by two UN Special Representatives.

“We urge all parties to the conflict in Somalia to immediately cease these violations”, the Special Representative for Children and Armed Conflict, Virginia Gamba, and the Special Representative on Sexual Violence in Conflict, Pramila Patten said in a statement. 

The reports (the Report of the Secretary-General on Children and Armed Conflict and the Report of the Secretary-General on Sexual Violence in Conflict.) documented that in 2020, 400 civilians, primarily girls, were victims of rape and other forms of sexual violence.

This represented an almost 80 per cent increase compared to 2019.

More than 100 cases of sexual violence against girls were verified by the UN in the first quarter of 2021.

Perpetrators often exploited the vulnerability of displaced girls, targeting them when they left camps to perform domestic chores, the reports noted. 

The report linked sexual violence to the prevailing conditions of insecurity in Somalia.

This was marked by political tensions in the run-up to national elections, inter-communal clashes related to land-based disputes, and a surge in extremist militant group Al-Shabaab’s activities, which intensified during the COVID-19 pandemic.

In addition to the temporary suspension of security and judicial services, the pandemic also disrupted access to education and services for survivors.

Cases of sexual violence ​​attributed to Al-Shabaab has doubled, the report found, describing how the Islamist militant group continues to use sexual violence and forced marriage to dominate areas under their de facto control.

Violations carried out by clan militia has also almost tripled over the past year. These have been linked to a proliferation of small arms and light weapons.

In the vast majority of cases, the culprits remain unidentified, which perpetuates the cycle of impunity.

The two senior UN experts also expressed serious concern that over 15 per cent of all cases of sexual violence verified, were attributed to the government security forces.

Both the Somali National Army and the Somali Police Force, as well as regional forces, committed acts of rape and other forms of sexual violence against women and children, according UN News.

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United Nations chief: action as COVID leaves ‘many millions’ more vulnerable in human trafficking.

United Nations Secretary-General António Guterres on Thursday urged UN Member States to take action against human trafficking, where a third of all victims are children.

Highlighting how the COVID pandemic has pushed as many as 124 million more people into extreme poverty, the UN chief insisted that “many millions” have been left vulnerable to the scourge.

Half of victims in low-income countries are children, Mr. Guterres noted, just ahead of the World Day Against Trafficking in Persons, adding that most are trafficked for forced labour. 

“Criminals everywhere are using technology to identify, control and exploit vulnerable people,” the UN chief said, adding that children are increasingly targeted through online platforms for sexual exploitation, forced marriage and other forms of abuse.

“Rather than being protected and assisted without discrimination as children at risk, child victims of trafficking are treated as irregular migrants or subjected to criminal prosecutions, and have their age and credibility questioned,” said UN-appointed expert on human trafficking, Siobhán Mullally.

Ms. Mullally joined the call for action, stating that “racism, xenophobia and gender-based discrimination are putting the human rights of trafficking victims at risk and enabling those who carry out the illegal trade to continue with impunity.

“Instead of being identified as victims of a serious human rights violation, victims are being arrested, detained, denied assistance and protection and even forcibly returned to countries of origin because of racial profiling and discrimination at border crossings and in criminal justice systems.”

The Special Rapporteur urged all actors involved, including the private sector, to combat racism and xenophobia in law enforcement, at borders, education systems, in work places, in child protection systems, and in humanitarian and peace operations.

She noted that when gender discrimination is added to racism and xenophobia, victims suffer even more: “Actions to combat trafficking must move beyond harmful stereotypes of ‘ideal victims’ that leave many victims and survivors without the protection and assistance they are entitled to”.

Prevention measures are also limited by racist stereotyping and xenophobia and lead to failures of identification, according to the special rapporteur.

“Too often the testimonies of victims are questioned and the harms and trauma they have endured are denied.

Failure to identify victims of trafficking lead to forced returns, arrest, detention and prosecution, family separation, and refusals of consular assistance, rather than protection and assistance.” 

UN Secretary General António Guterres urged governments to take urgent steps to strengthen prevention, support victims and bring perpetrators to justice.

This includes implementation of the United Nations Convention against Transnational Organized Crime and its Protocol to Prevent, Suppress and Punish Trafficking in Persons.

Ms. Mullally also reminded countries that they have obligations in international human rights law to eliminate direct, indirect and structural discrimination, and that Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination Against Women (CEDAW) General Recommendation No.

38 of last year reiterates the obligation of States to ensure its application to all victims without exception.

“Unless states take effective action to combat discrimination, racism and xenophobia, traffickers will continue to target minority communities, indigenous peoples, stateless persons, migrants and refugees, with impunity,” she warned according UN News.

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Conflict, climate change, COVID, pushes more people into hunger.

Global hunger levels have skyrocketed because of conflict, climate change and the economic impact of COVID-19; and one in five children around the world is stunted, UN agencies warned on Monday. 

New data that represents the first comprehensive global assessment of food insecurity carried out since the coronavirus pandemic began, indicates that the number of people affected by chronic hunger in 2020, rose by more than in the previous five years combined. 

Reversing this situation will likely take years if not decades, maintained the World Food Programme (WFP), Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO), the International Fund for Agricultural Development (IFAD), World Health Organization (WHO) and UN Children’s Fund, UNICEF

Global hunger

Food system reform call 

“The pandemic continues to expose weaknesses in our food systems, which threaten the lives and livelihoods of people around the world,” the heads of those UN agencies wrote in this year’s report.

It notes that around a tenth of the global population – between 720 million people and 811 million – were undernourished last year. 

Some 418 million of that number were in Asia and 282 million were in Africa. 

Globally, 2.4 billion people did not have access to sufficiently nutritious food in 2020 – an increase of nearly 320 million people in one year.  

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UN chief Antonio Guterres: “Ensure reproductive health rights for all on World Population Day”.

In his message for World Population Day according UN News, observed on Sunday, the UN chief called for closing gaps in access to sexual and reproductive health services which the crisis has created.

Erosion of women’s reproductive rights has been one of the fallouts from the COVID-19 pandemic, UN Secretary-General António Guterres has said.

The pandemic “continues to upend our world, reaching one grim milestone after another,” said Mr. Guterres. 

World Population Day

Last week, the global death toll due to COVID-19 officially surpassed four million.

“In addition to the millions of lives tragically lost, there has been a less visible toll:  a shocking rise in domestic violence as women were forced into isolation with their abusers; empty maternity wards as women postponed motherhood; and unintended pregnancies due to curtailed access to contraceptive services,” said the UN Secretary-General.

The UN estimates that the pandemic will push some 47 million women and girls into extreme poverty. Additionally, many girls now out of school may never return to the classroom.

“In every corner of the world, we are seeing a reversal of hard-won gains and an erosion of women’s reproductive rights, choices and agency. With the onset of the pandemic, resources for sexual and reproductive health services were diverted,” the UN Secretary-General said.

“These gaps in access to health rights are unacceptable. Women cannot be alone in this fight,” he added.

“As we mark World Population Day, let us pledge to ensure the reproductive health rights of everyone, everywhere.”

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