#UN; #Myanmar; #HumanRights; #OHHCR; #HatefulSpeech; #MinorityCommunities
UN/Myanmar, Oct 27 (Canadian-Media): The UN human rights office (OHCHR) voiced “serious concerns” on Tuesday over the situation in Myanmar – including rights violations and proliferation of hateful speech against minority communities – as the country prepares for general elections next month.
Women and children from a local community at a health centre in Sittwe, in Myanmar's northern Rakhine state. (file photo) Image credit: UNICEF/Nyan Zay Htet
Minority groups, including the Rohingya Muslim community and ethnic Rakhine population, have been disproportionately affected, said a senior OHCHR spokesperson in Geneva.
“While the elections represent an important milestone in Myanmar's democratic transition, the civic space is still marred by continuing restrictions of the freedoms of opinion, expression and access to information, and the use of language that could amount to incitement to discrimination, hostility and violence”, said Ravina Shamdasani at the regular media briefing in Geneva.
She also voiced concern over Government and military leadership’s intolerance towards opposing views or criticism of its policies and actions, in the run up to voting.
Over the past two months, dozens of student activists have been charged – and four of them sentenced to over six years’ imprisonment – under various laws after they called for an end to the conflicts in the northern Rakhine and Chin provinces and for reinstatement of mobile internet services in those areas, as well as for the release of other detained student activists.
“We urge the Government to drop charges against all those facing legal action for exercising their right to freedom of expression – a right that is particularly precious in a pre-electoral context,” said Ms. Shamdasani.
The elections are scheduled to be held on 8 November.
Muslim minorities ‘largely excluded’ from citizenship Myanmar’s discriminatory citizenship and electoral laws confer different rights to different classes of citizens, most clearly affecting Muslim minorities who are largely excluded from any citizenship rights, according to the UN rights office.
There has also been significant disenfranchisement resulting from the Union Election Commission’s announcement on 16 October, that elections would not be taking place in 56 townships, including in Rakhine province.
“The Commission did not provide public justification for its decision – which curtails the right to political participation in areas with ethnic minority populations in a discriminatory fashion”, added Ms. Shamdasani.
She noted that an internet shutdown effectively remains in place in eight townships in Rakhine and Chin provinces, severely limiting the ability of residents to receive and deliver reliable information, including on COVID-19 and polling procedures.
“Blanket internet shutdowns may be counterproductive and contravene international law,” said Ms. Shamdasani.
‘Unrelenting proliferation of hateful speech’ The spokesperson also voiced deep concerns over “unrelenting proliferation” of hateful speech against Muslims on the Facebook social media platform. Facebook has made an effort to identify and remove such content, she added.
“We call on the Government of Myanmar to take action in line with the Presidential Directive 3/2020 of April this year to denounce such hateful language publicly and to promote tolerance, non-discrimination and pluralism in speech by public officials and electoral candidates”, said the OHCHR spokesperson.
#UN; #GenderViolence; #femaleGenitalMutilation; #Kenya; #HelpLine
UN, Oct 19 (Canadian-Media): Around four million girls worldwide suffer female genital mutilation every year. Although it is forbidden in Kenya, COVID-19 has led some families to revive the traditional practice, and a UN-supported phone helpline for victims of gender-based violence in the country has seen a big rise in calls since the pandemic hit.
Kenyan market vendors practice social distancing to prevent the spread of COVID-19.
Image credit: World Bank/Sambrian Mbaabu
Somewhere in Kenya, an early morning in July: A woman organizes a once-in-a-lifetime “ceremony” for her 11-year-old niece: The girl’s genitals will be cut off as part of her cultural transition into adulthood.
All schools in the country have been closed for months. No classmate will notice the girl’s absence, no teacher will be aware and report the case to the police. The school community cannot protect the girl now.
During the ceremony, the fresh wound starts bleeding heavily. The procedure was performed by a local “cutter,” and there is no anaesthesia and no painkillers. The bleeding doesn’t stop, and, eventually, the family has no choice but to take the girl to the nearest hospital.
‘I don’t want to see people suffering’
A few hours later, a telephone rings in an office in Nairobi. The phone is connected to the number 1195, the national helpline for gender-based violence. One of the girl’s relatives has called in to report the incident anonymously — she does not want to be considered as a family troublemaker.
“What we want is justice for these girls,” says “Steve,” one of 31 staff in the call centre. (Counsellors interviewed for this article use pseudonyms to protect their anonymity.) After receiving the call, Steve and his colleagues respond immediately. The police are dispatched to search for the mother and aunt, and a safe home is arranged for the girl once she is released from the hospital.
The helpline is staffed 24 hours a day by trained counsellors who stay on the line with callers until help arrives, whether in the form of the police, an ambulance, a village elder, a child protection officer. Counsellors arrange for health care, security, and legal aid. They also spend long hours on the phone, giving psychosocial support to callers in need.
Female genital mutilation or FGM is just one of the reasons people call the hotline. Others include assault, rape, child neglect and defilement, child marriage. The list goes on. “So many cases go unreported,” Steve says. Asked why he works at the call centre, he says simply, “I don’t want to see people suffering”.
Some calls will break your heart
COVID-19 has aggravated the situation: “Women have been violated like never before,” says Fanis Lisiagali, who heads the 1195 helpline. “We’ve seen women committing suicide, we have heard of women being killed. Both men and women are seriously depressed.”
Indeed, the number of cases handled by the hotline rose from 86 in February to over 1,100 in June of this year. Cases dropped in July, but the total number of calls is four times higher than during the same period last year.
Not all of the callers are women. Around one third of the callers who report psychological violence from their spouses and families are men, saying they have been harassed or abused for failing to provide for the family.
Sitting at their desks, a half-dozen tele-counsellors are equipped with masks and gloves and are separated by acrylic glass walls. Aside from Swahili and English, they speak other local languages, from Kikuyu to Luhya to Kalenjin; the aim is for callers from everywhere in Kenya to have someone to talk to.
“You find that psychological problems come up during things people go through every day,” says another counsellor, “June.” In 2009 she became a caregiver with another organization for sexually abused girls and, five years later, she joined the helpline staff.
Some calls will break the heart of even the most experienced counsellor, says June. Earlier this year, she took a call from an 18-year-old woman who had been cast out by her father and then endured an abusive marriage. When she became pregnant and gave birth, her husband rejected her, claiming the baby was crying too much and that it couldn’t possibly be his. Having been disowned for a second time, the woman’s desperation became unbearable. She threw the baby into a pit latrine and ran away. The girl walked into a rescue centre and called the GBV helpline.
“At first the girl was too shocked to speak. When she finally opened up, what I heard made me completely numb,” says June. She sent the caller to a psychiatrist and his attestation prevented her from being imprisoned. June is still in contact with the young woman, and is helping her build a future. “My job gives me an opportunity to give back to society,” she says. “I cannot always help, but sometimes I have a chance to help in a little way.”
A beacon of hope
The helpline is a beacon especially now during the pandemic. Many rescue centres have to turn away survivors of gender-based violence, as they do not have the resources necessary to quarantine new arrivals for COVID-19.
The helpline was established in 2010 by an organization called Healthcare Assistance Kenya, with the support of UN Women, which is still the NGO’s main partner. It is now also supported by UNFPA, the UN Population Fund.
“COVID-19 exacerbates the already horrifying levels of sexual and gender-based violence in Kenya,” says Anna Mutavati, UN Women Country Representative. “But the helpline is saving lives. While services like 1195 are fundamental, we need to tackle society’s underlying causes that perpetuate these gross human rights violations and wider gender inequality.”
During the COVID-19 crisis, the helpline has proven its worth and needs to be strengthened, says Healthcare Assistance Kenya director Fanis Lisiagali. “In the coming years,” she says, “I would like to see the helpline known to all communities in all counties throughout Kenya, so that anybody who needs it has a place to turn to".
#UN; #HumanRights; #Covid19Crisis; #Equality
UN, Oct 13 (Canadian-Media): In reviewing, assessing and acknowledging the effects of the Transatlantic Slave Trade, enslavement and colonialism, the groundbreaking Durban World Conference of 2001, represented a “milestone” in the common fight against racism, xenophobia and related intolerance, the UN human rights chief said on Monday.
Promised a job in a pharmacy, this 21-year-old migrant woman was tricked into prostitution after leaving Nigeria to pursue a better life. Image credit: © UNICEF/Ashley Gilbertson
High Commissioner for Human Rights, Michelle Bachelet said that in examining “the legacy of some of the most appalling chapters in human history”, the historic conference in South Africa, and resulting declaration inspired by the host nation’s struggle against Apartheid, is a work in progress, she reminded the Intergovernmental Working Group on the declaration’s Programme of Action.
Durban was the first UN Conference to address the historical roots of contemporary racism and acknowledge slavery and the slave trade, as crimes against humanity.
‘A long way to go’
Recent months, however, have been a reminder that “there is still a long way to go for human rights to be equally enjoyed by all”, flagged the UN rights chief, naming COVID-19 a “stark” example of a recent obstacle.
Ms. Bachelet noted that the pandemic has taken more than a million lives, prompting the deepest economic recession since the Second World War. She said more than 100 million people may be pushed into extreme poverty, the first global rise since 1998.
“As we have seen since the beginning of this crisis, while the virus itself does not discriminate, its impacts certainly do”, she attested, painting a picture of those whose voices are silenced and interests rarely served, as being worst affected by COVID-19, through health or socio-economic repercussions.
Systemic discrimination Among them are the indigenous, people of African descent and those belonging to national or ethnic, religious and linguistic minorities, whose rights have been denied by systemic racial discrimination.
Ms. Bachelet emphasized that those suffering racial discrimination, more often work in the informal sector, many living in poverty and at risk of losing their jobs, with no social protection.
“Yet again, those facing racial discrimination are most often the ones with fewer conditions to study at their homes, fewer digital skills and limited or no access to the Internet. Some may even never return to school”.
Still, despite overwhelming evidence, a lack of disaggregated data on how the COVID-19 pandemic has been affecting victims of racial discrimination are underestimating – or even denying – disparities and human rights violations. MW
Scapegoating migrants The pandemic has also revealed the additional vulnerability of migrants, refugees, asylum seekers and Stateless people, Ms. Bachelet pointed out.
We have seen a rise in discriminatory and xenophobic attitudes -- UN human rights chief
Without State protections and with serious restrictions on their rights, many are harassed, arbitrarily arrested and face mass deportation.
“We have seen a rise in discriminatory and xenophobic attitudes affecting Asians and people of Asian descent, which often lead to violence”, Ms. Bachelet underscored. “Even before the pandemic, we were witnessing a worldwide increase in negative stereotypes against certain groups”.
Migrants and other racially discriminated groups are often the scapegoats for problems, particularly in relation to housing and employment shortages, according to the High Commissioner.
Women facing ‘excessive burden’ The crisis is disproportionately impacting women as well, particularly those already facing gender, race and ethnic discrimination.
“They are subject to an excessive burden of unpaid work, increased poverty, job insecurity and limited access to public services”, the UN rights chief said. “Women have also been on the frontlines of response to the health crisis and are more exposed to infection”.
Greater equality is “an ethical obligation…a pre-requisite for overcoming these crises and a requirement to recover from COVID-19 and build back better”, she upheld.
#UN; #HumanRights; #UNPeace; #UNAMI;
UN, Oct 13 (Canadian-Media): The UN’s work in promoting dialogue between Arabic and Kurdish groups in Iraq is just one example of how human rights personnel are playing a critical role at the Organization’s peace operations around the world.
UN human rights investigators accompanied by peacekeepers from the UN mission in Mali, MINUSMA, meet villagers in central Mali after their homes were attacked in February 2019. Image credit: MINUSMA/Marco Dormino
The case is included in a report launched on Monday that documents the contribution of human rights components in the field towards supporting political processes, building sustainable peace, and preventing or countering violent conflict.
“The findings of the study do demonstrate, and bring concrete examples on this, how the work of the human rights components improve the effectiveness and the performance of UN field missions”, said Ilze Brands Kehris, UN Assistant Secretary-General for Human Rights.
The report Going Further Together is in line with a call to action made earlier this year by UN Secretary-General António Guterres in which he underlined how human rights “must permeate everything we do”.
Building trust, supporting dialogue The Iraqi case study highlighted confidence-building measures undertaken by the UN mission in the country, UNAMI, in the disputed city of Kirkuk, from 2010 to 2012.
UNAMI identified priorities for political engagement, including the treatment of detainees on both sides.
“The ability of the human rights component to conduct thorough and impartial detainee reviews was critical to building trust between the parties, and this helped in turn to create the political space for further dialogue and mediation”, said Ms. Kehris.
The report is based on interviews with senior UN officials, civilian and uniformed personnel serving under the UN flag, civil society members, and representatives from governments of the countries hosting UN peacekeeping and political operations.
At a virtual press conference for the launch, several UN officials shared observations from their years in the field.
Human rights as ‘enabler’ for change François Grignon, a former deputy representative at the UN’s mission in the Democratic Republic of the Congo, MONUSCO, described human rights components as an “anchor”. He said officers provide solid reporting that facilitates engagement and puts human dignity at the centre of political processes.
The work of human rights colleagues also serves as a “barometer”, he added. Mr. Grignon cited the example of South Sudan, where massive violations continue to take place despite a peace process. He said the UN can thus engage the parties “because we have the human rights work, backing us up”.
That human rights work is also an enabler for governance changes and reforms, he continued.
“And this is really, really important because in the end, that is what we also are trying to achieve”, said Mr. Grignon. “We are trying to put back these States on their feet, but feet that will be rooted in the rule of law and accountability and end of impunity.”
While Mr. Grignon presented “the ideal scenario where everything is aligned”, another senior official, Bintou Keita, underscored the need for leaders in the field to “speak up” on behalf of the people the UN works to protect.
This includes during conversations around difficult issues, whether with national authorities, implementing partners or civil society groups.
“We have the accountability and responsibility for, first and foremost, the host country”, said Ms. Keita, Assistant Secretary-General for Africa in the UN’s political and peace departments.
“And that means that the work that we are doing in terms of investigation, reporting, public communication or public report, all of this has to be seen in a way which is that one day, that particular country’s State governance structure is aimed at the elements of enjoyment of all rights by their citizens.”
Going Further Together also contains lessons learned from the field. It further identifies ways human rights components can make an even greater contribution, including by engaging on the broader strategic objectives of UN missions.
#UN; #HumanRights; #InclusiveSociety; #Covid19Impact; #RightsOfOlderPersons
United Nations, Oct 1 (Canadian-Media): Amidst the COVID-19 pandemic, the world is reckoning with the disproportionate and severe impact that the virus has wrought on the “health…rights and well being” of older persons, the UN chief has said, marking the international day highlighting their issues.
“Older people must be a priority in our efforts to overcome COVID 19”, Secretary-General António Guterres said in his message for the 30th anniversary of the International Day of Older Persons, celebrated annually on 1 October.
He shone a light on the need to examine how the pandemic might change how we address age and ageing in our societies, stressing that more opportunities and increased access to health, pensions and social protection for older persons were “crucial”.
In releasing his policy guidance on making the lives of older persons better, back in May, the top UN official pointed out the overall coronavirus fatality rate is higher for them. Because of this greater impact, he maintained that policy interventions must be targeted towards raising more awareness of their special needs.
Caring for others
This year’s observance falls as the world is also marking the International Year of the Nurse and Midwife, which Mr. Guterres pointed out, “highlights the vital role of health and social workers, such as nurses and midwives”, responding to the pandemic.
Against the backdrop that women constitute the majority of these professionals – many of whom are older persons – he upheld that “the people who devote their lives to our care, and to the care of older persons, mothers and children…deserve far greater support”.
Elderly potential He said it was important to make concerted efforts across the designated Decade of Healthy Ageing 2020 2030, to improve the lives of older persons, their families and communities.
“The potential of older persons is a powerful basis for sustainable development”, he flagged. “More than ever, we must listen to their voices, suggestions and ideas to build more inclusive and age friendly societies”.
Meanwhile, Claudia Mahler, the UN independent expert on the enjoyment of all human rights by older persons, flagged that the COVID-19 pandemic has magnified existing violations of elderly rights.
“Existing inequalities that older persons face in terms of access to health, employment and livelihood are exacerbated”, she said, and yet, “they are chronically invisible”.
Ms. Mahler said that information about older persons is “at best fragmented, at worst, non-existent” in most countries, which is why it’s imperative to shed light on structural and systematic ways in which they are being left behind.
“Data is a prerequisite for informed and successful public policy making” to close existing gaps, highlight older persons’ contributions to society, illustrate their diversity and change perceptions of later life – “especially for it to be more than an inevitable stage of deficit and decline”, she said.
Prioritize older people
The independent UN expert also called for older persons to be prioritized throughout the recovery phase of COVID-19 and beyond.
“It is essential to ensure the income security of older persons, in particular older women”, she said, highlighting that “universal old age pensions and adequate entitlement levels” are necessary for “inclusive long-term recovery”.
Moreover, socioeconomic relief measures and safety nets must be adopted immediately.
In the absence of a dedicated internationally-agreed legal framework, Ms. Mahler spelled out: “We must ensure that responses to this crisis specifically identify and prioritize older persons…during the pandemic response and recovery phases”.
#UN; #UNHCR; #UNOCHA; #Migrants; #Coronavirus
United Nations, Oct 1 (Canadian-Media): Governments should immediately address the inhumane conditions in detention faced by migrant workers who are also being blamed for spreading the coronavirus, a UN panel of independent rights experts said on Thursday.
Migrants at a detention centre in the city of Zawiya, Libya. Image credit:
Photo: Mathieu Galtier/IRIN
'Left to die’
Citing reports of ill-treatment and torture “every single day in detention camps”, the UN Committee on Migrant Workers raised the alarm over facilities in Gulf countries, including Saudi Arabia and Yemen, and in North African countries, including Libya.
"Migrants, mostly from African and South Asian countries, are regularly scapegoated for the spread of the coronavirus”, the panel said in a statement.
It also highlighted allegations that inmates do not receive medical treatment and that “some are even left to die".
The panel further described as “shocking” video footage published last month showing thousands of African migrant workers locked in cramped and unhygienic camps in Saudi Arabia, with raw sewage spilling across the floor.
As the devastating health and economic effects of ongoing COVID-19 pandemic continue, the rights committee explained that migrant workers were more at risk than ever.
They “have no access to clean water, sanity and health care (and are) far more vulnerable than local residents", the Committee said, in a call for the international community to take action.
Help them get home
The independent experts also called on authorities to ensure that those being held can have an orderly, safe and dignified return to their home countries.
Amid the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic, the Committee stressed: "It is more important than ever that human rights violations perpetrated against migrants must immediately stop."
It also underlined the Joint Guidance Note on the Impacts of the COVID-19 Pandemic on the Human Rights of Migrants.
"We urge the Governments of host and transit countries to strictly protect the human rights of all migrants and to cooperate without delay with the countries of origin to ensure an orderly, safe and dignified return of stranded migrants into their home countries."
The committee monitors States parties’ adherence to the International Convention on the Protection of the Rights of All Migrant Workers and Members of Their Families.
It’s made up of 14 members who are independent human rights experts drawn from around the world, who serve in their personal capacity. The Committee’s concluding observations are an independent assessment of States’ compliance with their human rights obligations, under the treaty.