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UN expert raises alarm about mass evictions in Delhi

By Deepak Arora

GENEVA, Sept 28: The UN Special Rapporteur on the right to adequate housing today raised concerns about the decision to evict up to 250,000 people living in shacks alongside railway tracks in Delhi, without any prior consultation with those affected.

On 31 August, the Supreme Court issued an eviction order for around 48,000 households living near the railway tracks in the capital, giving the occupants three months to leave. None of those affected appeared to have been consulted or heard by the Court beforehand, said Balakrishnan Rajagopal.

The independent expert also expressed concern that the Court had initially ruled that no one should be allowed to seek to overturn the eviction order.

“This amounts to a full-fledged denial of justice for the low income people living along the railway tracks,” said Rajagopal. “If this is maintained, India will squarely violate article 2.3 of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights containing the core human rights principle that everyone can seek judicial relief against any decision she or he considered arbitrary.”

The expert furthermore warned that any eviction into homelessness would be a serious violation of human rights and of India’s obligations under the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights.

Rajagopal welcomed a second ruling by the Supreme Court to temporarily halt the eviction order, but said that the four weeks provided would be insufficient to develop any reasonable rehabilitation or relocation plan meeting international law standards in consultation with such a large number of households.

To avoid community spread of the COVID-19 virus, he called on the Government to install a ban on all evictions during the pandemic under its National Disaster Management Act or its Epidemics Act.

“While the relocation of some residents living in very close proximity to a railway track may be needed to protect them from potential railway accidents, any such eviction would only be compatible with international human rights law after a relocation plan is developed in consultation with the affected households and after alternative land or housing is made available to them in proximity to their current place of residence,” said Rajagopal.

Such relocation should however only be considered after the pandemic has been brought under control, as undertaking it now would expose not only those living in the railway safety zone to additional health risks.

Rajagopal called on the Supreme Court to reconsider the case in light of India’s international human rights obligations, noting that the Court has a strong reputation of having delivered several landmark human rights decisions.

The Special Rapporteur has contacted the Indian Government to clarify the issues in question and requested that his concerns are shared with the Supreme Court of India.

Balakrishnan Rajagopal is the UN Special Rapporteur on adequate housing as a component of the right to an adequate standard of living, and on the right to non-discrimination in this context. He took up his mandate in May 2020. Rajagopal is a Professor of Law and Development at the Department of Urban Studies and Planning at MIT.

He is the founder of the Displacement Research and Action Network at MIT. He has conducted over 20 years of research on social movements and human rights advocacy around the world focusing in particular, on land and property rights, evictions and displacement. He has a law degree from University of Madras, India, a masters degree in law from the American University as well as an interdisciplinary doctorate in law from Harvard Law School.

He served as a human rights advisor to the World Commission on Dams, with the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights in Cambodia. He has published numerous books and scholarly articles, including research reports on evictions, displacement, human rights and housing.

The Special Rapporteurs are part of what is known as the Special Procedures of the Human Rights Council. Special Procedures, the largest body of independent experts in the UN Human Rights system, is the general name of the Council’s independent fact-finding and monitoring mechanisms that address either specific country situations or thematic issues in all parts of the world.

Special Procedures experts work on a voluntary basis; they are not UN staff and do not receive a salary for their work. They are independent from any government or organisation and serve in their individual capacity.

The World Is In Crisis, And Things Are About To Get Much Worse, Says Justin Trudeau At UN

UNITED NATIONS, Sept 26: Canada Prime Minister Justin Trudeau warned Friday that the current global order will be upended if leaders across the planet fail to come together to uphold human rights and tackle upcoming threats such as climate change.

Trudeau delivered the grave words in a prerecorded message to the United Nations General Assembly.

“The world is in crisis, and not just because of the last few months,” Trudeau said. “Not just because of COVID-19. But because of the last few decades. And because of us.”

Trudeau described the COVID-19 pandemic as a “wake-up call” and argued that organizations formed in the wake of two world wars — such as the International Monetary Fund and the World Bank — are no longer effective because of red tape and because countries repeatedly push their own interests.

“There are few consequences for countries that ignore international rules,” Trudeau said, alluding to incidents in nations such as Russia, China and Iran without specifically naming names.

“For regimes that think might makes right. Few consequences for places where opposition figures are being poisoned while cybertools and disinformation are being used to destabilize democracies. Few consequences when innocent citizens are arbitrarily detained and fundamental freedoms are repressed. When a plane of civilians is shot from the sky. When women’s rights are not treated as human rights. When no one has any rights at all.”

The prime minister argued that the world would soon face a “climate reckoning” and that the inability of nations to unite was a sign that the world was in “deadlock.”

“The international approach we relied on since the second half of the 20th century was built on an understanding that countries would work together,” Trudeau said. “But now the same countries are looking inward and are divided. We need to recognize where we are. The system is broken, and the world is in crisis. And things are about to get much worse unless we change.”

Modi calls for reforms at UN

UNITED NATIONS, Sept 26: Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi on Saturday expressed frustration at the pace of reform of the United Nations and its response to challenges such as terrorism and the Covid-19 pandemic, and questioned how long India would be kept away from a seat at the high table of the world body.

In a pre-recorded video address to the UN General Assembly, Modi listed the reasons why India deserved to be part of the world body’s decision-making structures, including its contributions to peacekeeping missions, its history as a non-colonising power, its green initiatives such as the International Solar Alliance, and its actions to ensure development and security in regions such as the Indo-Pacific.

Both Pakistan and China, with which India is currently engaged in a months-long border standoff, found no direct mention in Modi’s 20-minute speech. There was only an indirect reference to China when he noted India’s partnerships aren’t directed against someone, and that its development partnerships come without the mala fide intent of “making the partner country dependent or hapless”.

Modi focused largely on the need to reform the UN, saying today’s world and contemporary challenges are significantly different from those of the era when the body was created in 1945. “Therefore, the international community today is faced with a very important question: Whether the character of the institution, constituted in the prevailing circumstances of 1945, is relevant even today?” he asked.

“Reform in the responses, in the processes, in the character of the UN is the need of the hour...the people of India have been waiting for a long time for the completion of the reforms...Today, people of India are concerned whether this reform process will ever reach its logical conclusion,” he said.

He questioned “how long will India be kept out of the decision-making structures of the UN”, noting it is the world’s largest democracy with more than 18% of the global population.

While the UN has had several achievements in the past 75 years, there are several instances pointing to a “serious need for introspection”, such as wars, terror attacks and bloodshed. “Were the efforts of the UN sufficient during those times or are these efforts adequate even today?” he said.

Turning to the global pandemic, Modi questioned whether the UN’s response had been effective. “Where is the UN in this joint fight against the pandemic? Where is its effective response?” he said.

Modi cited historical and contemporary reasons to argue for a bigger role for India at the UN. He pointed to the country’s growing economic and strategic clout and the responsible role it has played in areas ranging from peacekeeping missions to helping other nations during the pandemic.

“When we were strong, we did not trouble the world, when we were weak, we did not become a burden on the world,” he said.

India’s philosophy of working for the interests of humankind, and not its own interests, has been the driving force of its policies such as “Neighbourhood First”, “Act East”, and “Security and Growth for All in the Region” (SAGAR), and its approach to the Indo-Pacific, he said.

Amid the pandemic, India’s pharmaceutical industry sent medicines to more than 150 countries. “As the largest vaccine producing country of the world, I want to give one more assurance to the global community today. India’s vaccine production and delivery capacity will be used to help all humanity in fighting this crisis,” Modi said.

India is moving ahead with phase III clinical trials within the country and its neighbourhood, it will help all countries improve their cold chain and storage capacities for the delivery of vaccines, and its initiative for self-reliance in the post-pandemic era will be a force multiplier for the global economy, he added.

Modi also highlighted his government’s domestic initiatives such as promoting women entrepreneurs, paid maternity leave, ensuring rights of transgender people, connecting 400 million people to the banking system, freeing 600 million people from open defecation, and providing access to free health care services to more than 500 million people.

Looking to India’s future role as a non-permanent member of the UN Security Council, Modi said the experience of the world’s largest democracy will be used for the benefit of the world. “India will always speak in support of peace, security and prosperity. India will not hesitate in raising its voice against the enemies of humanity, human race and human values – terrorism, smuggling of illegal weapons, drugs and money-laundering,” he said.

India’s candidature for permanent membership of an expanded and reformed Security Council has been backed by all the current permanent members of the council barring China. India recently called for text-based negotiations within a fixed time frame for UN reforms that would also ensure proper representation for African nations.

UK asks China to allow UN unfettered access to Xinjiang

GENEVA, Sept 25: The Boris Johnson government on Friday called on China to allow the United Nations unfettered access to Xinjiang following what it called “grave concerns about China’s policies against the Uighur Muslims” in the region.

Tariq Ahmad, foreign office minister for South Asia and the Commonwealth, said in a statement on China at the UN Human Rights Council that there is “compelling evidence of systemic human rights violations in Xinjiang”.

On Hong Kong, Ahmad described the UK’s deep concerns about the “direct threat” that Beijing’s new National Security Law allegedly represents to rights and freedoms in the Special Administrative Region, the foreign office said.

Ahmad said: “(Of) grave concern, in Xinjiang, there is compelling evidence – including from the Chinese authorities’ own documents – of systematic human rights violations. Culture and religion are severely restricted, and we have seen credible reports of forced labour and forced birth control. Staggeringly, up to 1.8 million people have been detained without trial”.

He added: “Across the country, we also remain seriously concerned about the pressure on media freedom…(We) call on China to uphold the rights and freedoms in the Joint Declaration, to respect the independence of the Hong Kong judiciary, allow unfettered access to Xinjiang and to release all those who are arbitrarily detained”.

Ahmad said Beijing’s imposition of the National Security Law amounts to a serious breach of the legally binding Sino-British Joint Declaration, allegedly violating Hong Kong’s high degree of autonomy and directly threatens rights and freedoms.

“The National Security Law is being implemented with the apparent intention to eliminate dissent. It allows prosecution of certain cases in mainland China, a jurisdiction where defendants are often held for long periods without charge or access to legal counsel, and where we have concerns about judicial independence, due process, and reports of torture”, he told the council.

India targets Pakistan at UN body over counter-terrorism record

NEW DELHI, Sept 25: India on Tuesday mounted a sharp attack on Pakistan during a virtual meeting of the UN Office of Counter-Terrorism, accusing it of sheltering and supporting terrorists and pushing a false narrative on the situation in Jammu and Kashmir.

Mahaveer Singhvi, joint secretary (counter-terrorism) in the external affairs ministry who led the Indian delegation for the webinar organised by the UN body, pointed out the meeting was being held on a day when the Indian embassy in Kabul was attacked by a Pakistan-backed terror group 12 years ago and Indians and Afghans were killed.

“It is very unfortunate that a country which perpetrated terrorist attacks in Mumbai (2008), Pathankot (2016), Uri and Pulwama is now preaching to the world community,” Singhvi said in his intervention during the meeting with the theme “The global scourge of terrorism: Assessment of high risk threats and trends including the rise of violent extremism and hate speech in a pandemic environment”.

“While the world is coming together to battle the pandemic, it is unfortunate that Pakistan, a state which sponsors cross-border terrorism, continues to use every opportunity to peddle false narratives and make baseless, malicious and egregious allegations against India and interfere in our internal affairs,” he said, adding that the statement by Pakistan’s representative at the meeting was part of this pattern.

Singhvi added, “Even as Pakistan provides shelter and support to terrorists, it continues to peddle a false and motivated narrative on the situation in the union territory of Jammu and Kashmir. It is seeking to portray its military, financial [and] logistical support to cross-border terrorism against India as a freedom struggle. It is also peddling misinformation about India’s domestic legislation and policies.”

The webinar was part of the UN body’s virtual counter-terrorism week, and Singhvi pointed out that terrorists have made innumerable attempts to infiltrate India “from their safe abodes across the border to carry out attacks and have even used unmanned aerial systems to smuggle weapons across our borders”.

At the global level, terrorists have tried to exploit financial and emotional distress caused by the pandemic, and used the increased presence of people online and on social media to disseminate misinformation through hate speech, fake news and doctored videos, he said. Another disturbing trend is the collection of funds by proscribed terror groups ostensibly for charitable activities but which would be used to finance terror, he said.

Singhvi described Pakistan’s statement claiming credit for eliminating al-Qaeda as “ludicrous” and said the group’s founder, Osama Bin Laden, was recently glorified as a “martyr” by Pakistan Prime Minister Imran Khan in Parliament. “This is a chilling reminder of the patronage that international terrorists receive in Pakistan,” he said.

Khan had publicly acknowledged the presence of up to 40,000 terrorists in Pakistan and the Analytical Support and Sanctions Monitoring Team of the UN Security Council had reported that about 6,500 Pakistani terrorists from Lashkar-e-Taiba (LeT) and Jaish-e-Mohammed (JeM) are operating in Afghanistan, he said.

“Pakistan’s role as epicentre of terrorism has been well documented by numerous international organisations including UN and FATF. Unlike Pakistan, India does not make any distinction between terrorists and invariably condemns terror attacks anywhere in the world, including the one in Karachi, referred to by Pakistan’s representative in his statement,” Singhvi said.

The Indian official also criticised human rights violations in Balochistan, Kyber-Pakhtunkhwa and Pakistan-occupied Kashmir and the discrimination against religious and cultural minorities.

G4 countries call for urgent steps for reform of UN and Security Council

NEW DELHI, Sept 23: The G4 countries – Brazil, India, Japan and Germany – on Wednesday expressed disappointment at attempts to derail reforms of the United Nations and called for text-based negotiations within a fixed timeframe to revamp the world body.

The foreign ministers of the four countries, during a virtual meeting during the 75th session of the UN General Assembly, highlighted the urgency of reforming the world body and updating its main decision-making bodies to better reflect contemporary realities.

The move is in line with India’s position on the reforms of the UN, including the expansion of the permanent and non-permanent membership of the Security Council, its main decision-making organ.

The foreign ministers – Brazil’s Ernesto Araújo, India’s S Jaishankar, Japan’s Motegi Toshimitsu and Germany’s minister of state in the federal foreign office, Niels Annen, who represented foreign minister Heiko Maas, said the declaration adopted by all heads of state and government on the 75th anniversary of the UN reaffirmed the “common resolve to finally take decisive steps towards the early and comprehensive reform of the Security Council”.

Jaishankar tweeted that the G4 ministers had “called for a decisive push for UNSC reforms during #UN75”. He said there was a “unanimous call for text-based negotiations in a fixed timeframe” and India’s approach to the UN is guided by reformed multilateralism.

In a joint statement, the G4 ministers noted that the declaration said the “world of today is very different from what it was when the United Nations was created 75 years ago. There are more countries, more people, more challenges but also more solutions. Our working methods need to keep pace and adapt.”

“In keeping with this call, G4 Ministers highlighted the urgency of reforming the United Nations and updating its main decision-making bodies, in order to better reflect contemporary realities,” the joint statement said.

The ministers also “expressed disappointment at attempts to derail this process and committed to addressing the issue in a meaningful way and with increased urgency at this 75th anniversary of the UN”.

They also said the expansion of the Security Council in both categories “will be indispensable to make this body more representative, legitimate and effective, enhancing therefore its capacity to deal with the complex challenges the world faces today on questions of international peace and security”.

The ministers insisted that only the reform of the Security Council will stop the body “from becoming obsolete”.

Broader membership of the Security Council, “with increased and enhanced representation of countries with the capacity and willingness to contribute to the maintenance of international peace and security, including from Africa, will allow it to preserve its credibility and create the political backing needed for the peaceful resolution of today’s international crises”, the joint statement said.

The G4 countries have backed each other’s candidature for permanent membership of an expanded Security Council. Except for China, all the other P5 countries – the US, the UK, France and Russia – have also offered unstinted support for India’s membership of the Security Council.

The G4 ministers also expressed concern at the lack of “any meaningful movement forward in the Intergovernmental Negotiations (IGN) on Security Council reform and expressed their concern that – after two sessions in February and March – the IGN was adjourned due to Covid-19 and no further meetings were held”.

They said these negotiations lack the “necessary openness and transparency” and are constrained by flawed working methods. They further said they were convinced the “time has come to leave behind debates based solely on general statements, without substantive text based negotiations actually taking place in an intergovernmental setting”.

Modi calls UN reforms to meet today’s challenges

By Deepak Arora

UNITED NATIONS, Sept 22: While much has been achieved in the last 75 years, Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi said the original Mission of the United Nations remains unfulfilled. He said there was need for reform of the United Nations itself.

Addressing the the High-Level meeting of the United Nations General Assembly to mark 75 years of the global body, Modi said “We cannot fight today’s challenges with outdated structures. Without comprehensive reforms, the UN faces a crisis of confidence. For today’s inter-connected world, we need a reformed multilateralism: That reflects today’s realities; Gives voice to the all stakeholders; Addresses contemporary challenges; and Focuses on human welfare.

Speaking through a video message, the Indian Prime Minister said seventy-five years ago an institution was created for the entire world for the first time in human history and a new hope arose from the horrors of war. He added being a founding signatory of the UN Charter, India was part of that noble vision which reflected India’s own philosophy of ‘Vasudhaiva Kutumbakam’ - which sees all creation as a family.

Paying tributes to those who advanced the cause of peace and development including the UN peacekeeping Missions, Modi said our world today is a better place because of the United Nations.

About the UN declaration adopted today, the Prime Minister said while much has been achieved, the original Mission remains unfulfilled. And the far-reaching declaration that we are adopting today acknowledges that work still needs to be done: in preventing conflict, in ensuring development, in addressing climate change, in reducing inequalities, and in leveraging digital technologies. The declaration also acknowledges the need for reform of the United Nations itself.

The Prime Minister said without comprehensive reforms, the UN faces a crisis of confidence and today’s challenges cannot be fought with outdated structures. He added that for today’s interconnected world, we need a reformed multilateralism: that reflects today’s realities; gives voice to all stakeholders; addresses contemporary challenges; and focuses on human welfare.

India looks forward to working with all other nations towards this end, he said in conclusion.

Trump asks UN to hold China accountable for unleashing Covid-19 plague onto world

UNITED NATIONS, Sept 22: US president Donald Trump on Tuesday renewed his attack on China accusing it of spreading the coronavirus disease (Covid-19) in the world. He urged the United Nations to hold it accountable for “unleashing this plague onto the world.”

Addressing the UN’s first virtual meeting of world leaders, Trump accused the Chinese government and the World Health Organization (WHO) of making a false declaration that there was no evidence of human to human transmission of Sars-Cov-2, the virus that causes the deadly infection. He also said that the WHO is virtually controlled by China.

“As we pursue a bright future, we must hold accountable the nation which unleashed this plague onto the world - China,” Trump said at the 75th UNGA debate.

The US president said that in the earliest days of the outbreak, China locked down travel domestically while it continued to allow flights to leave the country and infect the rest of the world.

“China condemned my travel ban on their country, even as they cancelled domestic flights and locked citizens in their homes,” he added.

Trump again used the term “China virus” that has so far infected 31,365,633 people across the world and claimed over 965,000 lives so far.

Don’t want to fight hot or cold war with any country: Xi Jinping

UNITED NATIONS, Sept 22: Chinese President Xi Jinping during his speech at the United Nations General Assembly on Tuesday assured the countries that China has no intention to fight a cold war or a hot one with any country.

Defending his country, Xi said, “China has no intention to fight either cold war or a hot one with any country.” The leader also warned nations against the dangers of ‘clash of civilizations’.

At the virtual meeting of world leaders, Xi urged the countries to not “politicise the fight against Covid-19”.

Xi Jinping said that China will make Covid-19 vaccines available as global public good. He also said that several Covid-19 vaccines developed by China are already in phase three clinical trials.

He said that vaccines will be provided to developing countries on priority basis.

World should say no to unilateralism and protectionism, world trade organisation should be cornerstone of global trade, Xi said.

Any attempt to politicize Covid-19 pandemic should be rejected, Xi urged.

He said world should follow the guidance of science in combating Covid-19 virus.

He said it was natural for countries to have differences but should address them through dialogue.

Xi said world should give leading role to World Head Organisation (WHO) in international response to beat coronavirus pandemic. " We should enhance solidarity over coronavirus."

He said Covid-19 will not be the last global crisis, so we must join hands.

China will strengthen its Paris climate pledge by adopting more vigorous policies and measures, he said.

At the first virtual meet of UNGA, China pledged to achieve CO2 emissions peak before 2030, carbon neutrality before 2060.

In ths 75th anniversary year we face our own 1945 moment, says UN Chief António Guterres

By Deepak Arora

UNITED NATIONS, Sept 16: In this 75th anniversary year, UN Secretary General António Guterres has reiterated his call for global ceasefire and urged the international community to come together to defeat the virus.

Addressing a press conference here ahead of the UN General Assembly (UNGA) High Level Week, the UN Chief said "we face our own 1945 moment. We must meet that moment. We must show unity like never before to overcome today’s emergency, get the world moving and working and prospering again, and uphold the vision of the Charter."

He said that our anniversary surveys reveal "people are thinking big – about transforming the global economy, accelerating the transition to zero carbon, ensuring universal health coverage, ending racial injustice and ensuring that decision-making is more open and inclusive. And people are also expressing an intense yearning for international cooperation and global solidarity – and rejecting go-it-alone nationalist approaches and divisive populist appeals."

"Now is the time to respond to these aspirations and to realize these aims," he added.

In this context, UN Chief António Guterres said "we face our own 1945 moment. We must meet that moment."

He said COVID-19 pandemic continues to top a long list of global concerns as it has brought “the grimmest of milestones” upon us.

While the outbreak remains out of control, he noted that soon one million lives will be “lost to the virus”.

Recognizing that many pin their hopes on a vaccine, António Guterres said, “let’s be clear: there is no panacea in a pandemic”.

“A vaccine alone cannot solve this crisis, certainly not in the near term”, stressed the world’s top diplomat. “We need to massively expand new and existing tools that can respond to new cases and provide vital treatment to suppress transmission and save lives, especially over the next 12 months”.

He emphasized that because the virus “respects no borders”, a vaccine must be seen as “a global public good”, affordable and available to all, but it requires “a quantum leap in funding”.

Moreover, people must be willing to be vaccinated, but a proliferation of misinformation on vaccines is fueling vaccine-hesitancy, and igniting wild conspiracy theories, noted the UN chief.

He spoke of “alarming reports” that large populations in various countries are reluctant, or outright refusing, to take a new coronavirus vaccine.

“In the face of this lethal disease, we must do our utmost to halt deadly misinformation”, affirmed the Secretary-General.

Guterres called for a global ceasefire back in March, recognizing the coronavirus as “the number one global security threat in our world today”.

The UN chief recapped that “hopeful new steps toward peace” have been taken, from Afghanistan to Sudan, and a slowdown in fighting in Syria, Libya, Ukraine and elsewhere, had created an opportunity for diplomacy.

In Yemen, “we are pressing for a ceasefire” he said, and even though “distrust is deep” across these and other crises, “we must persevere”.

“We must seize every opening in the weeks ahead and make a new collective push for peace”, upheld the Secretary-General.

The UN chief then turned to other global fragilities.

“Even before the pandemic, the world was far off course in efforts to achieve the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) and losing the battle against climate change”, he said.

Guterres recalled that the northern hemisphere was just coming out of the hottest summer on record and that greenhouse gas concentrations in 2020 had reached “new record highs”.

“The world is burning”, he told the journalists.

However, Guterres maintained that the post-pandemic phase offered an opportunity to “get on track and tame the flames”, but that “it must be green” – aligned with the SDGs and the Paris Climate Agreement.

Effective multilateralism, gender equality and the voices of youth must also be part of recovery efforts.

He said that on Monday, Member States would adopt a declaration marking the UN’s 75th anniversary – committing to “a reinvigorated multilateralism”.

Global solidarity is required to transform the global economy, transition to zero carbon, ensure universal health coverage, move towards a universal basic income, and shift to more open and inclusive decision-making, the UN chief maintained.

And it rejects “go-it-alone nationalist approaches and divisive populist appeals”, he asserted.

India wins three elections to key UN bodies

UNITED NATIONS, Sept 15: India has scored a hat-trick of election wins at the United Nations ahead of the General Assembly’s 75th session, which will be held virtually due to Covid-19 pandemic.

India beat China to win a four-year term on the UN’s Commission on the Status of Women (CWS), a prestigious wing of the world body’s Economic and Social Council (ECOSOC).

India also won a seat each, through endorsements, to two other ECOSOC bodies — the Committee for Programme and Coordination (CPC) and the Commission on Population and Development (CPD).

Terms will begin 2021 when India will also start its two-year stint on the UN Security Council as a non-permanent member.

“India wins seat in prestigious #ECOSOC body!” T S Tirumurti, India’s permanent representative to the UN, announced in a tweet on Monday.

“India elected Member of Commission on Status of Women #CSW. It’s a ringing endorsement of our commitment to promote gender equality and women’s empowerment in all our endeavours.”

Elections to the two other bodies were announced in a follow-up tweet by the K Nagaraj Naidu, the deputy permanent representative, on Tuesday. “India gets elected to three #ECOSOC bodies,” he wrote.

India, Afghanistan and China were in the fray for the two seats to the CWS from the Asia-Pacific group. With all 54 members of the Economic and Social Council voting, Afghanistan and India were elected with 39 and 38 votes respectively. China ended with 27, one short of the cut-off tally of 28.

Others who also went through were Argentina, Austria, Dominican Republic, Israel, Latvia, Nigeria, Turkey and Zambia.

The CWS is the principal global intergovernmental body exclusively dedicated to the promotion of gender equality and the empowerment of women. It was established in June 1946 as a functional commission of the Economic and Social Council.

The CPC is the main subsidiary organ of the ECOSOC and the UN’s General Assembly for planning, programming and coordination. The CPD describes itself as a functional commission that assists ECOSOC in the implementation of the Programme of Action of the International Conference on Population and Development.

The General Assembly started its historic session on Tuesday, but the general debates, which are scheduled to start on September 22, will be held virtually because of the Covid-19 pandemic.

New York, where the UN is headquartered, was the hardest hit city anywhere in the world, though things are far better now.

Leaders of member states will address the assembly through pre-recorded videos, which will be presented at the debate by their respective delegations. Other meetings of the world body will follow the same format.

Historic Afghan talks present ‘major opportunity’ for peace: UN Chief António Guterres

By Deepak Arora

UNITED NATIONS, Sept 12: The first ever direct talks between Afghan Government representatives and the Taliban which began on Saturday, present “a major opportunity” to finally realise the “long-held aspirations” of the people, for a peaceful future, the UN chief has said.

In a special video message released as the historic negotiations got underway in Doha, António Guterres thanked the Qatari hosts for facilitating, and said the “consistent calls for an end to violence” by Afghans themselves, and the chance to develop the country after silencing the guns, “underpin today’s inaugural meeting.”

“Afghans themselves must determine the content and nature of the negotiations”, added the UN chief. “An inclusive peace process, in which women, youth and victims of conflict are meaningfully represented, offers the best hope of a sustainable solution.”

The country has seen four decades of conflict, with thousands killed, but up until now, there have never been face-to-face talks between the militant group which controlled the country before being toppled by a US-led coalition in 2001, and the democratically-elected Afghan Government.

Saturday’s first meeting comes in the wake of a security agreement inked between the United States and Taliban representatives in February, which paved the way. Continued near-record violence and satisfying the complex preconditions, including prisoner exchanges, had jeopardized the talks throughout recent weeks.

Stressing the importance of women’s involvement, Guterres said all parties “must do their part to ensure that women participate in a variety of roles, and that the peace process reflects the experiences and expertise of Afghan women in all their diversity.”

He said the two temporary ceasefires that took place earlier in the year, offered an encouraging sign, but with negotiations now underway, “I urge the redoubling of efforts to protect civilians and to deescalate the conflict, in order to save lives and to create a conducive environment for the talks.

“It is my hope that progress toward peace can lead to the return of millions of Afghans displaced internally and across borders, to their homes in a safe, dignified and orderly manner.”

The UN chief said it was crucial that all Afghan leaders together with the international community, “do everything possible to make peace a reality. Please be assured of the readiness of the United Nations to support the process of intra-Afghan peace negotiations, and the sustainable development of the country."

In a statement issued on Friday, the head of the UN assistance mission in Afghanistan (UNAMA), Deborah Lyons, said the people had suffered “for far too long”.

“The UN joins the country’s brave and resilient people in urging all Afghan leaders and negotiators to seize this historic opportunity to end the fighting and usher in a new era of peace and prosperity.”

She said the negotiators now have a “unique opportunity to save the lives of many of their compatriots and to lift the country out of poverty and misery.”

“We wish them every success and the United Nations will be there to support them, as required.

Ms. Lyons stressed that “an immediate and unconditional reduction in violence would create a more conducive environment for constructive talks”, noting that “with continuing health and economic challenges posed by COVID-19, poverty and natural disasters, a humanitarian pause to the fighting would enable critical humanitarian support to reach the many millions requiring assistance across all areas of the country, as well as provide an opening for Afghans to start to rebuild their lives and livelihoods and give their children hope.”

Build a better future with blue skies for all, UN urges, marking first International Day of Clean Air

UNITED NATIONS, Sept 7: The first International Day of Clean Air for blue skies is being commemorated around the world, on Monday, following the recognition by the United Nations General Assembly of the importance of clean air for the health and day-to-day lives of people.

In a message, UN Secretary-General António Guterres highlighted the dangers posed by air pollution and urged greater efforts to address it.

“Air pollution contributes to heart disease, strokes, lung cancer and other respiratory diseases; [it] also threatens the economy, food security and the environment,” he said.

“As we recover from the coronavirus pandemic, the world needs to pay far greater attention to air pollution, which also increases the risks associated with COVID-19,” he added.

Globally, nine out of every ten people breathe unclean air, and air pollution causes an estimated seven million premature deaths every year, predominantly in low- and middle-income countries.

This year, while the lockdowns associated with the global pandemic led to dramatic falls in emissions – providing a glimpse of cleaner air in many cities – emissions are already rising again, in some places surpassing pre-COVID levels.

“We need dramatic and systemic change. Reinforced environmental standards, policies and laws that prevent emissions of air pollutants are needed more than ever,” stressed Guterres.

Addressing climate change can also cut back air pollution.

“Limiting global warming to 1.5 degrees will help reduce air pollution, death and disease,” said the Secretary-General, calling on countries to end subsidies for fossil fuels as well as to use post-COVID recovery packages to support the transition to healthy and sustainable jobs.

“I call on governments still providing finance for fossil fuel-related projects in developing countries to shift that support towards clean energy and sustainable transport.”

“At the international level,” he added, “countries need to cooperate to help each other transition to clean technologies.”

The International Day of Clean Air for blue skies, to be commemorated on 7 September annually, was established in 2019 by the UN General Assembly, which recognized the importance of clean air and the impact of air pollution on human health and ecosystems, in particular its disproportionate affect on women, children and older persons.

The resolution emphasized “the need to strengthen international cooperation at the global, regional and subregional levels in various areas related to improving air quality, including the collection and utilization of data, joint research and development, and the sharing of best practices.”

The International Day aims to raise awareness clean air is important for health, productivity, the economy and the environment; demonstrate the close link of air quality to other environmental and developmental challenges such as climate change; promote solutions that improve air quality by sharing actionable knowledge best practices, innovations, and success stories; and bring together diverse actors for concerted national, regional and international approaches for effective air quality management.

Around the world, UN agencies, governments, civil society organizations and NGOs organized several events – many virtual due to the coronavirus pandemic – to commemorate the International Day and spur action. These include discussions and webinars, musical performances, documentary screenings, exhibitions, and donating plants and trees.

Individuals too can play a part: by cycling to work, not burning trash (it causes air pollution), and pressuring local authorities to improve green spaces in cities, everyone can contribute to making the air cleaner and skies bluer.

Generations of progress for women and girls could be lost to COVID pandemic: UN chief

By Deepak Arora

UNITED NATIONS, Aug 31: Highlighting the disproportionate and devastating socio-economic impact of COVID-19 on women and girls globally, The UN chief António Guterres called on Monday for a major push to prevent “years, even generations” worth of progress on women’s empowerment, from being lost to the pandemic.

In an address to a virtual town hall with young women from civil society organizations, the Secretary-General said that the global pandemic has already reversed decades of limited and fragile progress on gender equality and women’s rights.

“Without a concerned response, we risk losing a generation or more of gains”, he cautioned.

Guterres underscored the vital role played by women, as healthcare workers, essential staff, teachers and carers, helping millions globally – both within and outside their homes.

However, few are recognized due to persisting inequalities and biases. At the same time, many women working in the informal sector have been thrown into financial insecurity, without regular income or effective social safety nets.

“The pandemic has exposed the extent of its impact on physical and mental health, education and labour force participation”, said Guterres, amid disturbing reports from around the world of skyrocketing gender-based violence, “as many women are effectively confined with their abusers, while resources and support services are redirected”.

“In short, the pandemic is exposing and exacerbating the considerable hurdles women face in achieving their rights and fulfilling their potential”, he said.

Monday’s town hall meeting is a regular fixture on the UN calendar, but generally organized on the side-lines of the annual session of the Commission on the Status of Women. This year, however, it was postponed due to the pandemic and held virtually, with thousands of women activists and defenders of women’s rights participating remotely.

The Secretary-General underlined that his main objective during the town hall was to listen, not talk, and he encouraged participants to ask questions and share their opinions.

Martha, an activist from Poland, spoke of the rise of populism and nationalism in Europe which is putting democracy and human rights at risk. She wondered how to address this challenge, especially amid a global crisis.

Like the UN chief, Nina from Georgia agreed that women’s work is undervalued, and that the pandemic has placed additional responsibilities on them.

“While we are trying to unpack what a pandemic has caused, I think it is important for us to once again understand the invisible barriers that women are facing for their economic empowerment,” she said.

Some participants submitted written questions which were read out by Phumzile Mlambo-Ngcuka, head of UN Women, the UN agency which promotes gender equality globally.

Issues raised covered the rise in teenage pregnancy during the pandemic, protection of human rights defenders, support for people with disabilities, and the need to fight racism.

“We are delighted that women across the world have this opportunity to speak to the UN Secretary-General at this time about their issues and concerns, and to hear from him”, said Ms. Mlambo-Ngcuka, who served as the event’s moderator.

“Civil society and the women’s movements are unflinching partners in the drive to name and tackle the inequalities that have grown under COVID-19, and to put women at the centre of recovery.”

In his remarks, the UN chief recalled the UN’s policy brief issued in April, which urged governments to put women and girls – their inclusion, representation, rights, and protection – at the centre of all efforts to tackle and recover from COVID-19.

The first phase, Guterres said, was for nations to take a “holistic view” of the pandemic’s health impact.

“All women have a right to quality, affordable sexual and reproductive health services. Governments have a responsibility to make sure women and girls can access these services, even during a crisis”, he said, calling for health systems that meet the needs and realities of all – including women and girls.

“This means prioritizing and funding primary health care and Universal Health Coverage,” added the Secretary-General, while also prioritizing protection of women from gender-based violence in national COVID-19 plans.

Equally important is putting money into the hands of women working in both formal and informal economies, the UN chief continued.

“Cash transfers, credits and loans should be targeted at women, to mitigate the immediate impact of job losses and increased caring responsibilities”, he said.

Governments should expand social safety nets and recognize the value of invisible and unpaid care work, as they inject stimulus funds to get their economies back to work.

Doing so will address vulnerabilities women experience, ensure women’s central role in economic life, and in the long term, contribute to sustainable development and more inclusive and resilient economies, explained Guterres.

He highlighted that the pandemic has demonstrated “what we all know”, that millennia of patriarchy have resulted in a male-dominated world with a male-dominated culture that damages everyone – women, men, girls and boys.

“It is clear that we cannot go back to the failed policies that have resulted in the fragility we see around us – in healthcare systems, in social protection, in access to justice. This is the time to rebuild more equal, inclusive, and resilient societies. Our roadmap is the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development”, the UN chief declared.

“We need to take the opportunity of an economic reset to ensure the rights to life, dignity, and security for everyone.”

Alongside governments, the private sector, academic institutions and civil society, should be fully engaged in recovering better, Guterres said.

He called for protecting and expanding the civic space so that civil society organizations can play their full part.

“We must also emerge from this crisis with women’s equal leadership and representation,” added the UN chief.

He went on to recognize women leaders, officials and health workers for their empathy, compassion, communication and evidence-based decision-making, fighting the ravages of the coronavirus.

“Their actions are showing the value of inclusivity. It stands to reason: doubling the resources, capacity and expertise we put into decision-making benefits everyone”, the UN chief said, calling for gender parity and bringing more women into leadership positions.

The Secretary-General noted that 2020 contains several important landmarks. It is the twenty-fifth anniversary of the Beijing Declaration; the twentieth anniversary of Security Council Resolution 1325 on Women, Peace and Security; and the first year of the Decade of Action on the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) – key achievements in gender equality and women’s empowerment.

In that vein, he reinforced his determination to advance women’s priorities and to ensure their equal rights and participation in the peace and security agenda, on climate change, on building inclusive economies, and on reducing and eliminating the digital divide so that women have an equal role in designing technologies of the future.

Negotiations should not be held hostage: India, 3 others on UNSC reform

UNITED NATIONS, Sept 1: India has joined hands with Brazil, Germany and Japan to call for expediting the process for reforming the UN Security Council, with the four countries saying that inter-governmental negotiations on the issue have dragged on for more than a decade without substantial progress.

The four countries, also known as G4, outlined their position in a common letter submitted to the President of the UN General Assembly, Tijjani Muhammad-Bande, on Monday. They demanded action for transforming the UN Security Council in line with “Common African Position”, and said negotiations shouldn’t be held “hostage, procedurally and substantially, by those who do not wish to bring about reform”.

India’s letter, submitted by the deputy permanent representative to the UN, K Nagaraj Naidu, referred to the draft decision regarding roll-over of the inter-governmental negotiations on equitable representation and increase in the membership of the Security Council, and said this process “must capture clearly the tangible progress” made in two meetings held earlier this year.

The letter said clear progress was made in the negotiations this year with member states backing the “Common African Position” as laid down in the Ezulwini Consensus and Sirte Declaration, and the “urgent need for transparency and application of the General Assembly’s rules of procedure to the inter-governmental negotiations”.

The Ezulwini Consensus and Sirte Declaration, containing the common African position on reform of the UN Security Council, were developed by a committee on UN reform established by the African Union Summit in 2005.

“The growing support for the Common African Position has, in fact, been reinforced not in one but multiple forums, and from multiple groups,” the letter said. The concept was also backed by the Non-Aligned Movement, comprising 120 states, in October 2019 and by G4 in a foreign ministers’ joint statement in September 2019.

“Consequently, it is only correct and fair that the growing support expressed for the Common African Position in the two meetings of the [inter-governmental negotiations] earlier this year are captured in the body of the roll-over decision. Otherwise, we will be in the danger of endorsing an incorrect perspective of this year’s work and give an impression that nothing has transpired,” the letter said.

The letter also emphasised the need to redress the “historical injustice against Africa” and to “ensure better African representation in a reformed Security Council in line with the Common African Position”.

India and the three other countries also expressed their concerns about the inter-governmental negotiations since 2009, saying “there has been practically no progress in the discussions”.

“Even the discussions are dubbed as informal and the UNGA rules of procedure do not apply. In eleven years, the situation has not changed. There has been no attempt to capture the discussions in a single consolidated text for negotiations,” the letter said.

“In fact, the [inter-governmental negotiations] process has become a convenient smokescreen to hide behind for those who do not wish to see any reform in the Security Council. Consequently, there is a need to ensure that the process is not held hostage, procedurally and substantially, by those who do not wish to bring about reform in the Security Council,” it further said.

“If this happens, and there are indications that this is already happening, those who demand reform will be forced to look for other ways to achieve the same end outside the [inter-governmental negotiations] process,” it added.

The letter also noted UN Secretary General Antonio Guterres’ call on July 18 for reform of the Security Council. It quoted him as saying, “The nations that came out on top more than seven decades ago have refused to contemplate the reforms needed to change power relations in international institutions...Inequality starts at the top: in global institutions.”

 

 

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