Tag Archives: UN

As UN marks 75 years, let us work together to realize the opportunities in African unity

Ms. Fatima Kyari Mohammed is the Permanent Observer and Head of Mission of the African Union to the United Nations. She spoke to Africa Renewal about the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic, marking a milestone year in the fight for women’s rights and reflections on the African Union’s relationship with the UN in its 75th year. Here are the excerpts:

Ms. Fatima Kyari Mohammed is the Permanent Observer and Head of Mission of the African Union to the United Nations

Ms. Fatima Kyari Mohammed is the Permanent Observer and Head of Mission of the African Union to the United Nations

How is COVID-19 affecting Africa’s priorities such as the Sustainable Development Goals and Africa’s Agenda 2063?

As you are aware, Agendas 2030 and 2063 are very much aligned. Priority areas such as ending poverty and hunger, achieving food security and addressing some of the broader socio-economic challenges in health, education and employment, particularly for the most vulnerable, have been greatly impacted in ways that were not foreseen even a year ago. The pandemic has forced us to refocus our attention in some areas and re-allocate resources. COVID-19 has shown us how interconnected the world is. No individual, country or region is immune to this reality.

How has it impacted your work?

Just like everyone else, we have had to reorganize to ensure we are able to deliver on our commitments and our mandate. We shifted some priorities. It was important to understand the pandemic and its implications and try to overcome the hurdles that come with it.

Africa’s continent-wide response slowed the spread of the pandemic earlier this year. How can the countries better deal with this challenge?   

The advantage for Africa with the pandemic has been two-fold. First, drawing lessons from the Ebola outbreak, many African countries quickly put in place measures for curbing the spread of COVID-19 well ahead of time. Second, in terms of timing, the pandemic hit the continent at a time when many other regions were already going through the worst of it. So, we had ample time to learn from the experiences of others.

Currently, through the Africa Centres for Disease Control and Prevention, the African Union (AU) is supporting public health institutions across the continent through innovation and strategic partnerships.

We are coordinating and providing integrated solutions to our public health systems particularly where there is weak or inadequate infrastructure by offering training and equipment so that countries are better prepared to respond to future health emergencies and disasters.

How can Africa recover better from the pandemic?

The biggest blow for most African countries is that socio-economic gains have been hindered. The impact on economic development is devastating. Beyond the impact on health and education, economic stress on people is of major concern.

Countries should use this experience as an opportunity to rebuild better and stronger. The impact on jobs, businesses, and family incomes means that responses and strategies we put in place must focus on ways and means to support those hardest hit. We need smart investments and policies that can eradicate extreme poverty and provide access and equal opportunities for all.

The UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres is making a case for the bridging of inequality in a post-COVID-19 development order. How could the AU, including your office, help actualize the SG’s vision for the benefit of the continent?

Partnership between the AU and the UN is a top priority for us. The Chairperson of the AU Commission, Moussa Faki Mahamat, strongly supports the UN Secretary-General’s appeal for collective action against this scourge and for a global ceasefire. We can only contain the pandemic if we work together. The AU Observer Mission to the UN will continue to support the vision and the priorities of both institutions.

Several studies show that women are disproportionately affected by the COVID-19 pandemic. What is the role of women in the recovery process?

It is true that even before the pandemic hit, we advocated for women’s full participation in decision making. Economies are stronger and peace processes more successful with women’s active participation. Women can achieve success, from the lowest community level and up. I would encourage women to continue to speak up against injustices and for one another. This pandemic has increased incidences of gender-based violence, which should not be tolerated. If we truly want to make a change, we, men and women, must keep advocating, educating and exposing perpetrators of gender-based violence.

2020 is a milestone year for women—with Beijng+25, UNSC Resolution 1325+20, and 15 years since the Maputo Protocol entered into force—all of which challenge old stereotypes about the role of women in society. To what extent have African countries achieved progress in gender equality?

The progress made by Africa since the Beijing 4th Conference on Women in 1995 is commendable, but we still have a long way to go. We have strong, progressive, global and continental policies, strategies and action plans on women, peace and security. Yet women and girls continue to bear the brunt of conflicts in Africa. They are the victims of sexual violence and other forms of abuse and they are underrepresented in peace processes at the local, national and continental levels. The AU’s strategy on gender equality is aligned with the UNSC Resolution 1325 on women, peace, and security agenda.

However, implementation still remains a challenge, including the meaningful participation of women in peace and security activities. This milestone should revitalize the need for women’s voices to be heard in the peace and security agenda. There is no doubt that the AU’s partnership with women’s organizations across the continent is the vehicle for concrete actions.

The African Union’s Peace and Security Council recently adopted the Continental Framework on Youth, Peace and Security. How do you envisage the role of young people in the attainment of peace and security in Africa?

Despite the adoption of the framework you referred to, we are still at the very beginning of this journey. Today’s youth—the largest generation of young people in history—are marginalized, excluded, exploited and easily drawn into conflict. Many young people, especially young women, lack resources and opportunities to realize their potential and participate in political, peace and security processes. Instead, they are vulnerable, especially during conflicts.

The framework itself reinforces the call for action on youth, peace and security in Africa. Its adoption is a recognition that young people are Africa’s greatest asset. It helps expand possibilities for active youth involvement in decision-making processes as well as planning and programming.

The UN is supporting the AU’s campaign on ‘Silencing the Guns in Africa by 2020.’ What does it mean for Africa when the guns are silent and how is your office working with the international community to achieve this goal?

Let me put the question into context: The Silencing the Guns (STGs) in Africa initiative was a pledge by African leaders in May 2013 to end all wars on the continent by 2020. As you know, STGs is a critical element of Africa’s Agenda 2063, and the AU Peace and Security Council later adopted a Master Roadmap of Practical Steps to silence the guns by 2020. The roadmap emphasizes structural interventions in several areas such as socio-economic development, youth and women’s empowerment, employment, education, climate change and governance.

We are working with partners to shift the narrative and ensure sustainable peace on the continent. But we still have a lot of work to do in carrying the international community along. Silencing the guns in Africa means being able to develop and move forward and build a peaceful and prosperous continent for our people.

As the UN turns 75, how critical has the organization been to Africa’s peace, security and development?

The partnership between the AU and UN in peace and security is very relevant.  The two organizations work together in many areas. We have annual consultations, a joint taskforce, we go on joint field visits and carry out mediation efforts. We also cooperate on electoral matters and governance, as well as the protection of human rights, among others.

Africa continues to make a case for more representation on the UN Security Council (UNSC). What is the strongest argument for such a case?

As you are aware, Africa has a common position on the UNSC reform. Africa has consistently made the case for representation in the “Permanent” category of the Council. Also, there is a need for more African representation in the “non-Permanent” category in order to achieve true and meaningful reform of the UN Security Council. Equitable geographical representation in line with the principles, objectives and ideals of the UN Charter can only lead to a fairer and more equitable world.

At any one time, there are three African states holding non-Permanent seats in the UN Security Council, the so-called A3. What would you say are the three top achievements of the A3 in recent times in advancing Africa’s agenda?

First, there has been stronger coordination among the members, particularly in the last couple of years. This has helped in championing Africa’s common positions, interests and concerns on issues of peace and security that are on the UN Security Council’s agenda.

Second, we have now established annual meetings between AUPSC [African Union Peace and Security Council] and the UNSC. It demonstrates a commitment by the two councils to work together on matters of peace and security in Africa. The A3 ensures effective consultations.

Third, the A3 has helped create opportunities for alliances with other member of the UNSC, ensuring that they support our global cause for world peace.

The African Continental Free Trade Area (AfCFTA) is touted as Africa’s next big thing. Why should Africans be hopeful?

The objective of the AfCFTA is to leverage the opportunity of a huge population of approximately 1.3 billion people and an estimated combined GDP of $3.4 trillion by creating a single market for goods and services, facilitating free movement of goods and people, accelerating investments and potentially establishing a Customs Union.

The AfCFTA could lift 30 million people out of extreme poverty by 2035. So, why should African not be hopeful? The AfCFTA is our ambition for collective progress and development. Of course, there are policies and regulatory measures that need to be in place, but some of these are already being put in place in countries and the sub-regions.

What message of hope do you have for Africans during this trying period?

As we mark the 75th year of the UN, we must reflect on the COVID-19 pandemic and work together in combating it and cooperating for sustainable recovery. As I said earlier, the pandemic has exposed many gaps, but it has also reinforced the fact that we live in an interconnected world. As Africans, we must recognize the potential and opportunities in African unity and work together.

We are all part of humankind. We cannot ignore the fact that the world is hurting. Collective action, mutual respect, and regard for international rules and norms are crucial if we must achieve our common objectives.  In short, multilateralism matters.

Article first appeared in Africa Renewal on 29 September 2020.

Learning begins at home with play

By The United Nations Resident Coordinator to Zambia, Dr Coumba Mar Gadio

For those of us with school age children, the COVID-19 pandemic has reminded us of the amazing and skilful work done by teachers. Many of my colleagues and a huge number of people in Zambia have had to combine day jobs with looking after children and trying to help them learn, even away from school. It’s certainly been a challenge.

Dr. Coumba Mar Gadio .

But this leads me to a wider point. Even before we’d ever heard of the coronavirus disease; mothers, fathers and other caregivers were always children’s first “teachers”. That’s because children are learning and developing even while in the womb, and the first three years of life are the period in life where unrepeated levels of brain development take place. Recent advances in neuroscience provide new evidence about a baby’s brain development during this time: We now know that in their earliest years, babies’ brains form new connections at an astounding rate – more than 1 million every single second – a pace never again repeated.

In the brain-building process, neural connections are shaped by both genes (nature) and life experiences (nurture). This combination of nature and nurture establishes the foundation of a child’s future. Yet too many children are still missing out on the ‘eat, play, and love’ their brains need to develop. Put simply, we don’t care for children’s brains the way we care for their bodies.

Globally there are an estimated 15.5 million 3-4-year-olds with whom an adult does not engage in any cognitive or socio-emotional caregiving activities, such as reading books, telling stories, singing songs or playing with the child. This all goes to show why parenting is the most important job in the world. Parents and caregivers combine the roles of provider, protector, and yes, teacher.

Around the world, parents and care givers often still make the distinction between ‘learning’ and ‘play’ as if they are very different things. And yet the science is very clear: play helps children become collaborative, creative and curious – essential abilities for life and work in the 21st century.

To underline this point, in June one of our United Nations agencies, the United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF), supported the Government of Zambia to launch a new parenting campaign entitled ‘I play, I learn, I thrive’, with the backing of the LEGO Foundation. With government ministries and NGO partners working on early childhood development, we want to get the word out there that stimulation and play are incredibly beneficial to our children, boosting children’s cognitive, physical, social, creative and emotional development.

Many people in Zambia, particularly our forefathers, knew many of these things already. That’s why the campaign is highlighting local proverbs including ‘Imiti ikula empanga’ (Bemba), ‘Ng’ombe ni matole’ (Nyanja) and ‘Mabiya afwida kumubumbi’ (Tonga) that highlight the importance of investing in the early years of our children.

Children are intrinsically motivated to play, which makes it fertile ground for learning and developing new skills. During play, children can take charge, making choices about what they do and how. Play can be a highly social activity, allowing for opportunities to learn from and about others. Thus, play can provide many opportunities for learning.

As adults, there’s no shame in getting involved. We can create a safe environment for play, and also join in with simple games, baby talk, singing, cuddling, tickling and other such things.

So, let’s spread the word about play, and let’s dedicate time to interacting with our children. And if we want to give them the best start in life, let’s give them the nutrition, protection and stimulation that they need to have healthy and powerful brains. Because when children play, they learn, and they thrive.

The Secretary General- Video Message Marking The 75th Anniversary of The Adoption Of The Charter Of The United Nations

Opening remarks by António Guterres, Secretary-General of the United Nations, on the commemoration of the signing of the Charter of the United Nations – General Assembly.

“I send my warmest greetings to “we the peoples”.

Those first three words of our founding Charter, adopted 75 years ago today, give the United Nations its vision and its mission.

We exist to serve people — and we work as one for the benefit of all.

The Charter was adopted as the Second World War was in its final months and winding down.

We mark the anniversary of that milestone as global pressures are spiraling up.

The Charter brought rules and hope to a world in ruins.

It remains our touchstone for a world mired in a pandemic, torn by discrimination, endangered by climate change and scarred by poverty, inequality and war.

Agreement on the Charter closed one era and opened another.

Gone were the genocidal Nazi regime and their allies; in came the prospect of human rights.

Out went the rampant nationalism and precarious balance of power that produced two catastrophic world wars; in came the promise of collective security and the peaceful resolution of disputes.

And where an earlier attempt at international organization dissolved, the new United Nations started life on firmer ground built on norms and the lessons of hard experience.

The post-war multilateral arrangements have compiled a solid record of service – saving millions of lives, advancing the human condition and fulfilling its cardinal task of preventing World War Three.

But there have been painful setbacks.

And today’s realities are as forbidding as ever.

COVID-19 has touched everyone, everywhere – precisely the kind of global challenge for which the United Nations was founded.

At the same time, people continue to lose trust in political establishments. Today’s marches against racism were preceded by widespread protests against inequality, discrimination, corruption and lack of opportunities all over the world – grievances that still need to be addressed, including with a renewed social contract.

Meanwhile, other fundamental fragilities have only grown: the climate crisis, environmental degradation, cyberattacks, nuclear proliferation, a pushback on human rights and the risk of another pandemic. It is not difficult to imagine a new virus transmitted as easily as COVID-19 but as deadly as Ebola.

The delegates in San Francisco in 1945, having themselves lived through a global pandemic, depression and war, seized their opportunity to plant the seeds of something better and new.

Today, we must do the same.

To achieve that watershed moment, we need to reimagine multilateralism, give it teeth to function as the founders intended, and ensure that effective global governance is a reality when it is needed.

We must also bring others to the table in an inclusive and networked multilateralism, since governments are only part of today’s political realities. Civil society, cities, the private sector and young people are essential voices in shaping the world we want.

Like those who drafted the Charter, we must look without illusion at today’s injustices, their roots and the suffering they engender.

Yet there is also much to encourage us and drive us onward:

The heroism and solidarity of the pandemic response;

The global embrace of the Sustainable Development Goals;

The millions of young activists and global citizens pushing to advance equality, climate action, a green economy — and to take control of their destiny.

I am inspired by so much that has been built and achieved across 75 years.

I pay tribute to the service and sacrifice of thousands of United Nations peacekeepers, staff and others who, across the world and across the years, gave their lives while advancing the causes and values of the United Nations.

The Charter’s vision stands the test of time and its values will continue to carry us forward.

Now is the time to persevere, press ahead, pursue our goals, show responsibility for our world, and take care of each other.

It is up to us to rise to the test of this pivotal moment for our future.

Thank you”

 

 

Op-Ed On the Black Lives Matter Protests and other Mass Demonstrations against Systemic Racism and Police Brutality

Joint reflexions by United Nations Senior African Officials (*)

 A desperate yearning for a long-departed mother. Reaching deep from the bowels of fragile humanity. Grasping for breath. Begging for mercy. The entire world heard the tragic cry. The family of nations saw his face pounded against the harsh tarmac. Unbearable pain in broad daylight. A neck buckling under the knee and weight of history. A gentle giant, desperately clinging to life. Yearning to breathe free. Till his last breath.

As senior African leaders in the United Nations, the last few weeks of protests at the killing of George Floyd in the hands of police, have left us all outraged at the injustice of racism that continues to be pervasive in our host country and across the world.

Not enough can ever be said about the deep trauma and inter-generational suffering that has resulted from the racial injustice perpetrated through centuries, particularly against people of African descent. To merely condemn expressions and acts of racism is not enough.

We must go beyond and do more.

United Nations Secretary-General António Guterres stated that “we need to raise our voices against all expressions of racism and instances of racist behaviour”. Following the killing of Mr. George Floyd, the cry ‘Black Lives Matter’ resounding across the United States and throughout the world is more than a slogan. In fact, they do not only matter, they are quintessential to the fulfillment of our common human dignity.

Now is the time to move from words to deeds.

We owe it to George Floyd and to all victims of racial discrimination and police brutality to dismantle racist institutions. As leaders in the multilateral system, we believe it is incumbent upon us to speak for those whose voices have been silenced, and advocate for effective responses that would contribute to fight systemic racism, a global scourge that has been perpetuated over centuries.

The shocking killing of George Floyd is rooted in a wider and intractable set of issues that will not disappear if we ignore them. It is time for the United Nations to step up and act decisively to help end systemic racism against people of African descent and other minority groups “in  promoting and encouraging respect for human rights and for fundamental freedoms for all, without distinction as to race, sex, language, or religion” as stipulated in Article 1 of the UN Charter.  Indeed, the foundation of the United Nations is the conviction that all human beings are equal and entitled to live without fear of persecution.

It was at the height of the civil rights movement in the United States and during the emergence of post-colonial independent African nations joining the United Nations, that the International Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Racial Discrimination (ICERD) came into force in 1969.

This was a pivotal time in history. The collapse of apartheid in South Africa, driven in part by the United Nations, was one of the Organization’s proudest achievements.

The human rights and dignity of black people in Africa as well as across the African diaspora resonated as a powerful signal to future generations, that the United Nations would neither turn a blind eye on racial discrimination nor tolerate injustice and bigotry  under the cover of unjust laws.  In this new era, the United Nations must in the same vein use its influence to once again remind us of the unfinished business of eradicating racism and urge the community of nations to remove the stain of racism on humanity.

We welcome the initiatives by the Secretary-General to strengthen the global anti-racism discourse, which would address systemic racism at all levels, as well as its impact wherever it exists, including in the United Nations Organization itself.

If we are to lead, we must do so by example. To initiate and sustain real change, we also must have an honest assessment of how we uphold the UN Charter within our institution.

Our expression of solidarity is well in keeping with our responsibilities and obligations as international civil servants to stand up and speak out against oppression. As leaders we share the core beliefs and the values and principles enshrined in the Charter of the United Nations that do not leave us the option to keep silent.

We commit to harnessing our expertise, leadership and mandates to address the root causes and structural changes that must be implemented if we are to bring an end to racism.

Almost 500 years after the revolting Transatlantic trade of Africans began, we have arrived at a critical point in the arc of the moral universe as we approach in 2024 the end of the International Decade for People of African Descent, a mere four years away. Let us use our collective voice to fulfill the aspirations of our communities that the United Nations will wield its moral power as an institution to effect global change. Let us use our voice to contribute towards the realization of Africa’s own transformative vision contained in Agenda 2063 which is consistent with the world’s Agenda 2030.

Africa is the cradle of humanity and the forerunner of human civilizations. Africa as a continent must play a definitive role if the world is to achieve sustainable development and peace. That was the dream of the founders of the Organization of African Unity, that was also the strong belief of prominent leaders such as Kwame Nkrumah and eminent intellectuals such as Cheikh Anta Diop.

Let us never forget the words of President Nelson Mandela: “To deny people their human rights is to challenge their very humanity.”

Let us ever bear in mind the admonition of civil rights leader Fannie Lou Hamer:

“Nobody’s free until everybody’s free”, who was echoed by Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.,

“Injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere”.  

Their words were later embodied into the rainbow of the diverse nation of South Africa, as spelled by the peacemaker Archbishop Desmond Tutu when he stated that “Black liberation is an absolutely indispensable prerequisite to white liberation – nobody will be free until we all are free.”

(*) All signatories listed below are senior UN officials who hold the rank of Under Secretary General. They signed this Op Ed in their personal capacity:

Tedros ADHANOM GHEBREYESUS

Mahamat Saleh ANNADIF

Zainab BANGURA

Winnie BYANYIMA

Mohamed Ibn CHAMBAS

Adama DIENG

François Lounceny FALL

Bience GAWANAS

Gilbert HOUNGBO

Bishar A. HUSSEIN

Natalia KANEM

Mukhisa KITUYI

Jeremiah Nyamane MAMABOLO

Phumzile MLAMBO-NGCUKA

Mankeur NDIAYE

Parfait ONANGA-ANYANGA

Moussa D. OUMAROU

Pramila PATTEN

Vera SONGWE

Hanna TETTEH

Ibrahim THIAW

Leila ZERROUGUI

The Secretary General- Global Appeal to Address and Counter COVID-19-Related Hate Speech

COVID-19 does not care who we are, where we live, what we believe or about any other distinction. We need every ounce of solidarity to tackle it together. Yet the pandemic continues to unleash a tsunami of hate and xenophobia, scapegoating and scare-mongering.

Anti-foreigner sentiment has surged online and in the streets. Anti-Semitic conspiracy theories have spread, and COVID-19-related anti-Muslim attacks have occurred. Migrants and refugees have been vilified as a source of the virus — and then denied access to medical treatment. With older persons among the most vulnerable, contemptible memes have emerged suggesting they are also the most expendable. And journalists, whistleblowers, health professionals, aid workers and human rights defenders are being targeted simply for doing their jobs.

We must act now to strengthen the immunity of our societies against the virus of hate. That’s why I’m appealing today for an all-out effort to end hate speech globally.

I call on political leaders to show solidarity with all members of their societies and build and reinforce social cohesion.

I call on educational institutions to focus on digital literacy at a time when billions of young people are online – and when extremists are seeking to prey on captive and potentially despairing audiences.

I call on the media, especially social media companies, to do much more to flag and, in line with international human rights law, remove racist, misogynist and other harmful content.

I call on civil society to strengthen outreach to vulnerable people, and religious actors to serve as models of mutual respect.

And I ask everyone, everywhere, to stand up against hate, treat each other with dignity and take every opportunity to spread kindness.

Last year, I launched the United Nations Strategy and Plan of Action on Hate Speech to enhance United Nations efforts against this scourge. As we combat this pandemic, we have a duty to protect people, end stigma and prevent violence.

Let’s defeat hate speech – and COVID-19 – together.

COVID-19: A double burden for women in conflict areas, on the frontline

By: 

NJOKI KINYANJUI

Since COVID-19 broke out in December 2019, it has continued to spread across the globe unabated, with countries at different phases along the curve

Public health emergencies worldwide, such as the COVID-19 pandemic and its devastating impacts, affect women and men differently, but take a disproportionate toll on women.

Even more so in conflict-affected countries and post-conflict contexts, where the existing gender inequalities and exclusion of women from all decision-making, including on peace and security issues, are severely deepened.

In these contexts, women are often on the periphery of the community’s solutions, especially peace and political solutions; and have limited access to critical information and decision-making power on social, economic, health, protection and justice outcomes.

Yet, with all these challenges, women remain on the frontline agitating for meaningful and full political participation and in other socio-economic arenas, including in health.

It is therefore very positive that the Secretary-General António Guterres’ call for a global ceasefire to enable COVID-19 responses in fragile and crisis settings has been endorsed by many Member States, regional organizations and civil society groups including women’s organizations.

There is already documented evidence on the rise of violence against women, particularly domestic violence. In his recent message on Gender Based Violence and COVID-19, Mr. Guterres notes that “over the past weeks as economic and social pressures and fear have grown, we have seen a horrifying global surge in domestic violence” and issued a rallying call to end violence against women in their homes.

Women on the frontline

It is well recognized that globally, women predominantly carry the burden of providing primary healthcare,. About 70 per cent of global health workers are women and emerging statistics show that health workers are increasingly getting infected by COVID-19.

Women are also employed in the service industries and the informal sector, which are amongst those hardest-hit by the measures to reduce COVID-19 transmission. They are also paid less and are most often the ones doing unpaid care work.

Women’s networks and organizations are key partners in UN peacekeeping. They provide innovative community approaches to resolve conflicts, and wage peace and reconciliation. It is these same networks that are critical vehicles for women’s participation in COVID-19 decision-making, prevention and responses and elevated advocacy for the global ceasefire call. This is particularly critical at the local level, where COVID-19 prevention and response measures are anchored in community engagement, participation and sharing the right information.

UN Under-Secretary-General for Peace Operations Jean-Pierre Lacroix recently emphasized that peacekeepers, both women and men, are playing a key role in providing credible information along with their protection and conflict resolution work, in partnership with national authorities in fragile environments further strained by the pandemic.

As 2020 marks the 20th anniversary of the Security Council Resolution 1325 on Women, Peace and Security, the multiple impacts of the COVID-19 pandemic and the inequalities it lays bare are a stark reminder of how women can lead to turn the tide, as actors and decision-makers at all levels, in the health sector, but also more broadly on peace and political processes in their respective countries.

It is a time to come together and use the momentum created by the endorsement of the global ceasefire call, to protect women, safeguard the gains towards the fulfillment of their rights and lead as protectors of peace.

 

Ms. Kinyanjui is the Chief of Gender Unit and Senior Gender Adviser, UN Department of Peace Operations

For more information on COVID-19, visit www.un.org/coronavirus

Africa Renewal

 

UN Peacekeepers Must Stay the Course

April 23, 2020

by Atul Khare and Jean-Pierre Lacroix

United Nations peace operations promote stability and security in some of the world’s most dangerous and fragile places. Before the COVID-19 pandemic, overstretched UN peacekeepers—civilian, military,  and police—were a thin blue line helping to protect civilians, support peace agreements and contain conflicts in hot spots and war zones across the globe.

If—or more likely when—the COVID-19 virus further spreads in countries already weakened by war and poverty, it will not only threaten the lives of the thousands, but could also tip the balance from tenuous peace back to conflict and despair. Communities recovering from conflict often live right at the survival line, every day facing poverty and the lack of basic health services. For these societies, the stakes could not be higher and the importance of UN assistance has never been greater.

To extend the global fight against COVID-19 to areas struggling to emerge from conflict, we need to continue sustaining and promoting peace and stability. Together with our partners, UN peacekeeping missions are working to achieve four objectives: (1) supporting local efforts to fight the spread of the novel coronavirus, (2) keeping UN personnel safe and ensure they receive the best available care by enhancing medical testing and treatment capabilities, (3) ensuring that peacekeepers are able to continue their work without spreading the virus by practicing social distancing and other mitigation measures, and (4) advancing their difficult mandates to support peace and contain conflict even as COVID–19 spreads.

As UN Secretary-General António Guterres recently told the Security Council, this pandemic could potentially lead to an increase in social unrest, a lapse in state authority and even violence that would greatly undermine our collective capabilities to fight the virus. For countries that have a handful of ventilators for millions of people, the possibility that one in 1,000 could contract COVID-19 and 15 percent of those could need care in an intensive care unit, is staggering. The brutal statistics of COVID-19 do not just reflect a global health crisis—they signal a fundamental threat to the maintenance of international peace and security.

We are committed to ensuring that our UN peace operations do everything they can to be an integral part of the solution to the pandemic. From the Central African Republic to Lebanon, from Somalia to Mali, our personnel continue to deliver. They are doing so bravely and with dedication, staying on the front lines even as they worry about family back home, even as air links and supply lines are stretched by the global response to COVID-19, even as cases are appearing in host countries.

The strength of our peacekeeping partnerships—whether other UN actors, NGOs, or regional organizations like the African Union (AU)—has never been more important. Despite the increasing demands on our peacekeepers to deliver their mandates, we must recognize that our partners also face the risks of this pandemic. Our peacekeeping missions offer a medical infrastructure that can support all UN personnel at risk of the virus while they continue their work. Protecting ourselves is key to being able to protect others.

We are also doing everything we can to keep our supply chains resilient. Our logistics experts have developed a business continuity plan for life-support needs, while ensuring the planning, provision, and delivery of goods and services critical for the implementation of peace mandates. Personal Protective Equipment is being made available in all our missions; we are supplying our own respiratory ventilators and ensuring that the capacity of intensive care units and supplies is sufficient to ensure that we do not strain already stretched local resources. We are also strengthening medical evacuation capabilities in close collaboration with our partners and UN member states. Strict social distancing measures are in place, and missions are reducing our “footprint” by lowering population density among uniformed personnel and civilian staff.

While our missions must protect themselves from COVID-19, they continue to reach out to local communities, protecting civilians and assisting host governments to contain the virus. Radio Okapi, the UN’s radio station in the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC), has launched a nation-wide, multilingual campaign to inform the local population about COVID-19, focusing on dispelling rumors and countering misinformation.

In Darfur, our operation is raising awareness among vulnerable groups on the importance of precautionary measures to control the spread of COVID-19, including in camps for internally displaced persons in the north and central parts of the state, where the risks of infections spreading is heightened. In Cyprus, our mission is working with women’s organizations to support those suffering from domestic violence during the quarantine.

At the same time, blue helmets continue to carry out their pre-COVID-19 tasks: protecting civilians, supporting political processes, and helping to build government capacity. In the DRC, peacekeepers recently helped free 38 civilians, including women and children, who had been abducted by an armed group in the country’s east, as they helped the national army to repel an attack. In Mali, two weeks ago, when the government decided it was important to press ahead with legislative elections, our mission provided critical logistical and operational support and helped secure polling stations on election day. In Somalia, the UN has been supporting AU soldiers and the government to develop their own COVID-19 preparedness and response plans, while working to ensure that terrorist groups do not seize the opportunity to strike while attention is focused on the pandemic. The struggle against COVID-19 may be a “second front” for the peacekeepers, but both battles continue.

Last week, the UN secretary-general decided to suspend the rotation of all our troops and police until June 30th. Such measures will keep our blue helmets on the ground, where they are needed most, and will help protect and reassure communities and UN colleagues alike by postponing the movement of thousands of personnel to and from home countries and transit points. This is a decision not taken lightly given the remoteness, hardship, and dangers often faced by peacekeepers. Staying in the field is a sacrifice for personnel who expected to return home after an arduous tour of duty. We are grateful that the countries that provide these police and military personnel have agreed to this measure so that our peace operations can maintain their operations, keeping the peace while minimizing the risk of COVID-19 contagion. We are doing everything possible to support our brave women and men, so they can keep themselves and their host communities safe.

As the UN secretary-general said when he called for a global ceasefire, there should only be one fight in the world today: our shared battle against COVID-19. For UN peacekeeping, this includes our unwavering commitment to the health and safety of our personnel and the people we serve. This is why UN peacekeepers must continue their important work. And it is why, now, more than ever, they need our full support.

Atul Khare is the Under-Secretary-General of the UN Department of Operational Support. Jean-Pierre Lacroix is the Under-Secretary-General of the UN Department of Peace Operations.

Picture credit: In Kananga, DRC, MONUSCO policewomen organized an awareness campaign against COVID-19 on April 18, 2020 in four markets in the city, in collaboration with the provincial Ministry of Gender, the town hall and the National Police.(MONUSCO/Twitter)

COVID-19: We Will Come Through This Together

by António Guterres

The upheaval caused by the coronavirus – COVID-19 — is all around us.  And I know many are anxious, worried and confused.  That’s absolutely natural.

UNSG Antonio Guterres

We are facing a health threat unlike any other in our lifetimes.

Meanwhile, the virus is spreading, the danger is growing, and our health systems, economies and day-to-day lives are being severely tested.

The most vulnerable are the most affected—particularly our elderly and those with pre-existing medical conditions, those without access to reliable health care, and those in poverty or living on the edge.

The social and economic fallout from the combination of the pandemic and slowing economies will affect most of us for some months.

But the spread of the virus will peak.  Our economies will recover.

Until then, we must act together to slow the spread of the virus and look after each other.

This is a time for prudence, not panic. Science, not stigma.  Facts, not fear.

Even though the situation has been classified as a pandemic, it is one we can control. We can slow down transmissions, prevent infections and save lives.  But that will take unprecedented personal, national and international action.

COVID-19 is our common enemy.  We must declare war on this virus.  That means countries have a responsibility to gear up, step up and scale up.

How?  By implementing effective containment strategies; by activating and enhancing emergency response systems; by dramatically increasing testing capacity and care for patients; by readying hospitals, ensuring they have the space, supplies and needed personnel; and by developing life-saving medical interventions.

All of us have a responsibility, too — to follow medical advice and take simple, practical steps recommended by health authorities.

In addition to being a public health crisis, the virus is infecting the global economy.

Financial markets have been hard hit by the uncertainty.  Global supply chains have been disrupted.  Investment and consumer demand have plunged — with a real and rising risk of a global recession.

United Nations economists estimate that the virus could cost the global economy at least $1 trillion this year – and perhaps far more.

No country can do it alone. More than ever, governments must cooperate to revitalize economies, expand public investment, boost trade, and ensure targeted support for the people and communities most affected by the disease or more vulnerable to the negative economic impacts – including women who often shoulder a disproportionate burden of care work.

A pandemic drives home the essential interconnectedness of our human family.  Preventing the further spread of COVID-19 is a shared responsibility for us all.

The United Nations – including the World Health Organization — is fully mobilized.

As part of our human family, we are working 24/7 with governments, providing international guidance, helping the world take on this threat.

We are in this together – and we will get through this, together.

António Guterres is Secretary-General of the United Nations.

Mulungushi University Joins the Commemoration of the 1994 Genocide Against the Tutsi in Rwanda

By Racheal Nambeya, Team Assistant, UNIC Lusaka

As part of the commemoration of the 25thAnniversary of the 1994 Genocide Against the Tutsi in

UN Resident Coordinator a.i and Food and Agriculture Organization Country Representative, Dr. George Okech, responds to a question by a student during the event. Photo: UNIC/Lusaka/2019/Mukonka

UN Resident Coordinator a.i and Food and Agriculture Organization Country Representative, Dr. George Okech. Photo: UNIC/Lsk/2019/Mukonka

Rwanda, UNIC Lusaka organized an educational outreach activity on 17 April 2019 at which the UN Zambia Resident Coordinator, a.i. George Okech made a presentation to over 160 students at Mulungushi University in Kabwe district. The event was organised by UNIC in partnership with a student group, the International Relations Association of Mulungushi University Students (IRAMUS).

The presentation focused on events that led to the genocide in which more than 800,000 people, mostly Tutsis but also moderate Hutus, Twa and others who were opposed to the genocide were systematically killed in 100 days, effects of the genocide, how genocide can be avoided, lessons learnt and the role of the United Nations in preventing such mass killings of people.

Speaking during the event, Mulungushi University Acting Vice-Chancellor Dr. Judith Lungu called for a need by humanity to learn from past mistakes in order to build a better future.

Mulungushi University students follow the presentation on the Rwanda Genocide. Photo: UNIC/Lusaka/2019/Mukonka

Mulungushi University students follow the presentation on the Rwanda Genocide. Photo: UNIC/Lsk/2019/Mukonka

“As Mulungushi University, we pay homage to the people who endured that abominable cruelty during the genocide. Only by looking at the past can we strive to avoid the mistakes made. “Students should always strive to encourage the spirit of ‘Ubuntu’ among each other and set high ethical standards for themselves for now and the future generations to come,” she said.

And Dr. Okech who is also Food and Agriculture Organisation (FAO) Country Representative emphasized on the vital role that youths play in fostering peace and respect for diversity.

“As we commemorate, let us all pledge to work together to build a harmonious future for all people, everywhere and further preserve peace through co-existence among tribal groupings, tolerance, respect for human rights,” he said.

During the event, students also watched a short film documentary titled ‘Kwibuka’ after which they interacted with Dr Okech in a very participatory and though-provoking question and answer session through which issues around the genocide in Rwanda and UN  role were clarified.

Moving a vote of thanks, Natasha Mapulanga a 4thyear student of International Relations, thanked the UN for engaging with students on issues of peace and noted the critical role that

Dignitaries pose for a group photo with students after the event. Photo: UNIC/Lusaka/2019/Nonde

Dignitaries pose for a group photo with students after the event. Photo: UNIC/Lsk/2019/Nonde

the UN has played in ensuring international peace and security since its founding in 1945.

Every year, the United Nations organizes, through its Outreach programme on the Rwanda Genocide, outreach activities to honour those who were murdered and reflect on the suffering of those who survived. The Outreach Programme on the Rwanda Genocide and the United Nations is an information and educational outreach programme run by the UN Department of Global Communications.

The UN Secretary Generals Message- International Day of Remembrance of the Victims of Slavery and the Transatlantic Slave Trade

The transatlantic slave trade was one of history’s most appalling manifestations of human barbarity.

The UN Secretary-General Mr. António Guterres

The UN Secretary-General Mr. António Guterres

We must never forget the crimes and impacts, in Africa and beyond, across the centuries.

The United Nations Remember Slavery Programme helps to ensure that the lessons are learned and heeded today. Enslaved people struggled against a legal system they knew was wrong.

On many occasions, they sacrificed their lives in the hope of freedom. We need to tell the stories of those who stood up against their oppressors, and recognize their righteous resistance.

On this International Day of Remembrance, we pay homage to the millions of African men, women and children who were denied their humanity and forced to endure such abominable cruelty.

We honour them by standing up against ongoing forms of slavery, by raising awareness of the dangers of racism in our time, and by ensuring justice and equal opportunities for all people of African descent today.

Thank you.

Link to video message