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Jaishankar holds warm, comprehensive meeting with UN Secretary-General

India supports António Guterres for second term as Secretary General

By Deepak Arora

UNITED NATIONS, May 25: India’s External Affairs Minister, Dr S Jaishankar, had a warm and comprehensive meeting with UN Secretary-General António Guterres at the UN Headquarters here on Tuesday.

During the meeting, Dr Jaishankar said India values Secretary-General António Guterres's leadership of the United Nations, especially in these challenging times.

The Minister conveyed India’s support for António Guterres candidature for a second term as the Secretary General.

The two leaders discussed the Covid challenge, underlining the importance of finding urgent and effective global vaccine solutions critical to ramp up the vaccine supply chain to ensure greater production and fairer distribution, according to Minister Jaishankar.

At the daily noon briefing at the UN, the spokesman Stéphane Dujarric, said the Secretary General had a very good discussion with the visiting Indian Foreign Minister.

Stéphane said “they discussed COVID 19, the issue of vaccines and also a number of other peace and security issues in general.”

The Minister said he exchanged views on climate action with the Secretary General. “Greater resources are essential for larger ambitions. Financing will determine our seriousness and credibility,” added Dr Jaishankar.

Dr Jaishankar highlighted India's constructive role in the UN Security Council and conveyed priorities of our Presidency in August next.

He said “Maritime Security and Technology for Peacekeeping address the needs of the day.”

The Minister welcomed the Secretary General’s appreciation of India's Peacekeeping operations, including at Goma, DRC recently.

The two leaders also deliberated on regional challenges in India's neighbourhood. They also shared concerns about ensuring that the gains of the last two decades in Afghanistan were adequately protected.

The two leaders said countering terrorism and radicalisation remain priorities for the entire region. They also discussed recent developments in Myanmar.

Earlier, Minister Jaishankar held a “productive strategy session” with India’s Permanent Representative at the United Nations Ambassador T S Tirumurti, Deputy Permanent Representative Ambassador K Nagaraj Naidu and diplomats from the Permanent Mission of India to the UN in New York.

"A productive strategy session with @ambtstirumurti and our UN Team in New York @IndiaUNNewYork. Confident that India will continue to shape the big debates of our times," tweeted EAM Jaishankar.

Jaishankar arrived in New York on Sunday evening on his first visit to the US after India entered the UN Security Council as a non-permanent member in January this year.

Grateful to EAM @DrSJaishankar for guidance in focussing our efforts in @UN and in Security Council for 2021-22, Tirumurti tweeted.

From New York, Jaishankar will travel to Washington where he is expected to meet US Secretary of State Antony Blinken. A State Department spokesperson said Blinken and Jaishankar would discuss a wide range of issues, including COVID-19, efforts to strengthen Indo-Pacific cooperation through the Quad grouping, enhancing the UN and multilateral cooperation.

The Secretary looks forward to meeting Minister Jaishankar during his visit, and to discussing a broad range of issues, including COVID-19 relief, efforts to strengthen Indo-Pacific cooperation through the Quad, enhanced UN and multilateral cooperation, and a range of other shared regional security and economic priorities, the spokesperson said.

In addition to meeting his counterpart, Jaishankar is scheduled to meet US National Security Advisor Jake Sullivan, other senior officials of the Biden administration, influential lawmakers, think-tanks, leaders of the corporate sector and members of the Indian American community.

Neither the State Department nor the Ministry of External Affairs have announced the day and timing of the Jaishankar-Blinken meeting.

Blinken on Monday left for a quick trip to the Middle East as part of the efforts of the Biden administration’s peace process in the region.

UN chief calls for a global partnership to address COVID, climate change and achieve SDG’s

By Deepak Arora

António GuterresUNITED NATIONS, May 30: Speaking in a key international partnerships summit, António Guterres said that if governments embrace together the goals of phasing out coal, enhancing climate commitments, and investing in the Global Goals, there is an opportunity to rise to 'the biggest challenge of our lives'.

The world needs a global partnership to beat COVID-19, achieve the Sustainable Development Goals and address climate change, said the UN Secretary General in a video message for the opening day of the 2021 P4G summit in Seoul, Republic of Korea.

The Partnering for Green Growth and the Global Goals 2030 (P4G) event aims to boost market-based partnerships and rally high-level political and private sector action. It brings together Heads of State, CEOs, and civil society leaders around a shared action agenda to mobilize investments for tangible impact.

António Guterres expressed that although there are commitments to achieve net-zero emissions by 2050, there is “still much to do” to close the emissions gap and achieve the SDGs.

He reaffirmed his call to all main emitters to present new Nationally Determined Contributions, commit to net zero emissions by 2050, and, ‘most importantly', put in place policies and programs towards achieving that goal.

“Tackling climate change head-on will help protect the most vulnerable people from the next crisis while sustaining a job-rich recovery from the pandemic,” he said, reminding that the first priority right now is stopping plans for new coal plants and phase-out of coal use by 2040.

On that note, the Secretary General commended the Government of the Republic of Korea for announcing that it will stop all international coal finance and encouraged other government and private sector entities to do the same.

Guterres also expressed his concern about the 'finance and adaption gaps'. He said that developed countries have yet to deliver on the 100-billion-dollar annual commitment to climate action efforts and supporting vulnerable communities that are already suffering the consequences of global warming.

He also explained that one in three people globally are still not adequately covered by early warning systems, and women and girls, who make up 80 percent of those displaced by the climate emergency, are still often excluded from decisions to address the climate crisis.

“We urgently need a breakthrough on adaptation and resilience,” he added, asking all donor countries to significantly enhance their financial commitments.

In his message, the UN chief highlighted the importance of financing the ‘infrastructure of tomorrow’ by supporting developing countries in a just transition to sustainable energy and a circular economy while helping them to diversify their economies.

“In short, we need a global partnership for green, inclusive, sustainable development,” he underscored.

Guterres warned that there is no global partnership if some are left “struggling to survive” and said that this was true for COVID and the distribution of vaccines as well as the climate emergency.

“In this quest, the Republic of Korea is a leading partner,” he said, commending the government for its 2050 net-zero pledge and the Korean Green New Deal.

He stressed that if governments embrace the same goals, there will be an opportunity for a real partnership that will equip us to “rise to the biggest challenge of our lives."

UN chief underlines need to step up COVID-19 vaccine production, equitable distribution

By Deepak Arora

UNITED NATIONS, May 28: The world is far from achieving equitable distribution of COVID-19 vaccines, a tragedy that must be avoided at all costs, UN Secretary-General António Guterres said on Friday during an online conversation on fair access to these lifesaving treatments.

Participating in the Global Solutions Summit 2021, the UN chief stressed the need to defeat the virus through doubling the number of doses produced and ensuring their fair distribution among countries.

“It is absolutely essential to double the production of vaccines, and there are different mechanisms that are needed for that…but we absolutely must have an equitable distribution, and we are far from having it”, he said.

“We have seen vaccine nationalism, hoarding of vaccines, many countries buying three or four times the volume of their population. And on the other hand, we see enormous difficulty in supplying vaccines to the Global South. And this is a tragedy that we need to avoid at all cost”.

Earlier this week, the head of the World Health Organization (WHO) described the ongoing vaccine crisis as “a scandalous inequity”. When asked his opinion about the situation, the Secretary-General responded, “it’s exactly that”.

Just 10 countries have received 75 per cent of all vaccines administered so far, he said, while 0.3 per cent have gone to lower-income nations, with the African continent receiving just one per cent.

The Secretary-General highlighted the risk inequity poses in the face of a virus that spreads and mutates, noting “this is a race against time".

He warned that either vaccination becomes much quicker and more equitable, and thus able to prevent "a possible dramatic mutation" that is immune to vaccines, or countries which have inoculated their populations “might discover that those vaccines will serve no purpose because the mutations in the Global South will undermine the vaccination campaign in the Global North.”

At the recent G20 Health Summit, vaccine producers committed to delivering one billion doses to poorer countries. While welcoming the development, the Secretary-General said it was far from enough.

Guterres stressed the need to fully fund and supply the global vaccine equity initiative, COVAX. He noted that one of its main manufacturers, the Serum Institute of India, has had to cut back supply due to the surge in cases in the country, while deliveries from other contractors have been later than expected.

He urged countries to channel their excess vaccines through COVAX, “instead of a geo-strategic competition, with several powerful countries giving vaccines to their friends, or trying to compete with each other to see who gains more influence, thanks to the vaccines”.

The Secretary-General also reiterated his proposal for a G20-led Task Force that would work with pharmaceutical companies, and other stakeholders, on providing vaccines for all people, everywhere.

India, 13 Other Countries Abstain from UNHRC Resolution on Gaza Violence, Majority Vote in Favour

GENEVA, May 28: India on Thursday abstained from voting on the United Nations Human Rights Council‘s resolution to open an international investigation into violations surrounding the latest Gaza violence, and the “systematic” abuses in Palestinian territories and Israel.

Besides India, 13 other members, including France, Italy, Nepal and Japan, abstained.

The resolution was nevertheless passed with 24 of the council’s 47 members voting in favour of the probe.

This is the council’s first-ever open-ended commission of inquiry (COI), the highest-level investigation that can be ordered by the council.

Countries that voted in favour include Pakistan, China, Bangladesh, Russia, Mexico and Sudan, while Germany, UK and Austria were among those who voted against it.

The independent investigation will have a broad mandate to look into all alleged violations, not just in Gaza and the occupied West Bank, but also in Israel during hostilities that were halted by a ceasefire on May 21.

Opening the session, UN rights chief Michelle Bachelet voiced particular concern about the “high level of civilian fatalities and injuries” from the attacks on Gaza, and warned the Israeli attacks on the enclave “may constitute war crimes”.

She also said Hamas’s “indiscriminate” firing of rockets at Israel was “a clear violation of international humanitarian law”.

Israel rejected the resolution adopted by the Geneva forum and said it would not cooperate. “Today’s shameful decision is yet another example of the UN Human Rights Council’s blatant anti-Israel obsession,” Israeli Prime Benjamin Netanyahu said in a statement accusing the forum of whitewashing “a genocidal terrorist organisation”.

The Palestinian foreign ministry saluted a move saying it “reflects the determination of the international community to move forward in the path of accountability, law enforcement, and protection of Palestinian human rights.”

The investigators, the text said, should probe “underlying root causes of recurrent tensions and instability, including systematic discrimination and repression based on group identity”.

The investigation should focus on establishing facts and gather evidence for legal proceedings, and should aim to identify perpetrators to ensure they are held accountable, it said.

It also urges countries to “refrain from transferring arms when they assess… that there is a clear risk that such arms might be used in the commission or facilitation of serious violations or abuses.”

UN salutes ‘dedication and bravery’ of peacekeepers; recognizes contributions of youth toward peace

By Deepak Arora

UNITED NATIONS, May 27: With a focus for this year’s International Day of UN Peacekeepers on youth, peace and security, the UN chief told a commemorative ceremony on Thursday that “peace cannot be achieved without the active participation of young people”.

“From CAR to DRC to Lebanon, our peacekeepers work with youth to reduce violence and sustain peace, including through Disarmament, Demobilization and Reintegration and Community violence reduction programmes”, Secretary-General António Guterres said.

And young peacekeepers bring new ideas, hope and energy to UN operations by effectively engaging with local populations, and contributing to improved overall performance and mandate delivery.

“We salute the dedication and bravery of all our peacekeepers – women and men, the young and the slightly older – and we remain grateful for their service and sacrifice”, underscored the UN chief. “They deserve our full support, and we must continue to work together to do all that we can to improve their safety and security and give them the tools to succeed”.

Celebrated annually on 29 May, Peacekeepers Day offers a chance to pay tribute to the invaluable contribution that uniformed and civilian personnel make to the work of the Organization and to honour those who have sacrificed their lives in the process.

Previously, the Secretary-General had lain a wreath at the Peacekeepers Memorial to honour the more than 4,000 women and men who since 1948 have lost their lives while serving under the blue flag.

Malicious acts, accidents and fatal illnesses – including COVID-19 – had all taken their toll on uniformed and civilian peacekeepers over the past year, he explained.

Offering his condolences to their families and friends, the UN chief said: “We are forever in their debt”.

“Their ultimate sacrifice will not be forgotten, and they will always be in our hearts”, he promised.

After a moment of silence, the UN chief conducted the traditional Dag Hammarskjöld Medal Ceremony, posthumously awarding the 129 blue helmets who lost their lives while serving under the UN flag last year and this January.

“The challenges and threats faced by our peacekeepers are immense”, he said. “They work hard every day to protect some of the world’s most vulnerable, while facing the dual threats of violence and a global pandemic”. 

Despite COVID-19, across all UN missions, peacekeepers have not only continued to “deliver their core tasks” but are also assisting national and community efforts to fight the virus.

“I am proud of the work they have done”, said Guterres.

2021 Military Gender Advocate of the Year Award winner Major Steplyne Nyaboga from Kenya.

Having recently completed her deployment with the UN-AU Mission in Darfur (UNAMID), which concluded last December, the UN chief awarded Major Steplyne Nyaboga of Kenya the Military Gender Advocate of the Year Award.

While serving in Darfur, Major Nyaboga witnessed countless women suffer during armed conflict, subject to displacement, sexual violence and political marginalization.

“Their voices were often not heard. They needed a champion. They found one in Major Nyaboga”, said the Secretary-General.

Across UNAMID, Major Nyaboga introduced new perspectives and increased awareness of crucial issues affecting women and children while also helping to strengthen engagement with local communities.

To protect displaced women in Zalingei, she promoted joint patrols along farmlands to enable them to tend to their fields in peace and also trained nearly 95 per cent of the mission’s military contingent on critical protection issues, including sexual and gender-based violence.

“Her enthusiastic hands-on approach made a profound difference for her colleagues and for the people of Darfur. Her efforts, commitment and passion represent an example for us all”, said the UN chief.

Accepting the award, Major Nyaboga said, “I am so elated that our efforts in serving humanity have impact and didn’t go unnoticed”.

Since 2016, the accolade has recognized an individual military peacekeeper who has promoted the principles of Security Council Resolution 1325 on Women, Peace, and Security in UN peace operations.

UN rights chief calls for inclusive peace process to end Palestine occupation

GENEVA, May 27: UN rights chief Michelle Bachelet called on Thursday for a “genuine and inclusive peace process” to end the Israeli occupation of Palestine and a repeat of recent deadly clashes that have been marked by possible war crimes by Israeli security forces.

In comments to the Human Rights Council in Geneva - which stopped short of supporting a call for an international probe into the escalation in the Occupied Palestinian Territory and Israel - Ms. Bachelet condemned indiscriminate rocket attacks by Gaza’s de facto authority Hamas, which claimed 10 lives in Israel, and strikes inside the enclave by Israeli Security Forces that left 242 dead.

The High Commissioner for Human Rights also welcomed the 21 May ceasefire but warned that it was only “a matter of time” until the next flare-up, unless the root causes of this latest escalation were addressed.

Addressing the issue of possible war crimes, Ms. Bachelet reminded the Council’s 47 Member States that Israeli airstrikes in densely populated areas had “resulted in a high level of civilian fatalities and injuries as well as the widespread destruction of civilian infrastructure”.

Such attacks may constitute war crimes ‘if found to be indiscriminate and disproportionate in their impact on civilians and civilian objects”, the High Commissioner explained via video link to the Geneva-based forum, meeting in special session at the request of Pakistan on behalf of the Organization of Islamic Cooperation.

The “heavy rocket barrage towards Israel” by Hamas and other armed groups also constituted “a clear violation of international humanitarian law”, Ms. Bachelet said.

Also addressing the Council, the Special Rapporteur on the situation of human rights in the Palestinian territories occupied since 1967, Michael Lynk, repeated his call for the latest escalation – the most serious since 2014 - to be investigated by the International Criminal Court.

Describing Gaza as “the world’s largest open-air prison”, Lynk added that the enclave was nothing more than a “tiny sliver of land, holding more than two million people under occupation, cut off from the outside world by a comprehensive and illegal air, sea and land blockade”.

Israel alone had the authority to determine “who and what enters and leaves the (Gaza) Strip”, insisted the Special Rapporteur, who is independent of the UN and answers to the 47 Member States of the Human Rights Council.

“When intensive violence revisits the Palestinians in Gaza, as it regularly does, there is no escape. That this medieval restriction on basic freedoms has gone on for 14 years, and counting, is a harrowing stain on our humanity.”

Israel would not end its occupation “without decisive international action” that is grounded in the framework of rights, the independent rights expert continued.

He insisted that Israel’s “occupation has become as entrenched and as sustainable as it has because the international community has never imposed a meaningful cost on Israel for acting as an acquisitive and defiant occupying power”.

Highlighting the human cost of the recent escalation, the Special Rapporteur pointed to the killing of Dr Ayman Abu Alouf, head of internal medicine at Al-Shifa Hospital, Gaza’s largest medical centre.

“He was killed last week by an Israeli missile strike on his apartment building along with 12 members of his extended family, including his parents, his wife, and his 17-year-old son and 13-year-old daughter”, said Lynk.

“Dr. Abu Alouf was also in charge of the hospital’s response to the COVID-19 pandemic, which has ravaged Gaza during the past several months. The valiant but badly under-equipped health care staff that he has left behind have vowed to redouble their efforts to fight the pandemic in his memory.”

Outside Gaza, the rights expert also noted how occupied East Jerusalem had also witnessed intense confrontations between Palestinians and Israelis over access to Al Aqsa Mosque to pray, during the last days of the holy month of Ramadan.

There had also been “a sustained campaign” by Israeli settler organizations to continue to evict Palestinian families from their homes in Silwan and Sheikh Jarrah, which Mr. Lynk described as the “ember” that started the latest violence.

Echoing the High Commissioner’s concerns over violence in the occupied West Bank, the Special Rapporteur also noted that demonstrations since 10 May at events in Gaza and in East Jerusalem had led to 27 Palestinians being killed by Israeli security forces and 6,800 injured.

“The 2.7 million Palestinians on the West Bank live in 167 fragmented islands of land, separated from the world and each other by Israeli checkpoints, walls, settlements and settler-only roads,” said Lynk. “Their collective future is being devoured before their eyes by the 240 Israeli settlements expanding on their lands.”

Defending its actions, Israel’s delegation justified attacks on Gaza, claiming that more than 4,400 rockets had been fired “at Israeli civilians” by Hamas over a 10-day period beginning 10 May.

Step up global plan for COVID-19 vaccines, UN chief says in message to World Health Assembly

By Deepak Arora

António GuterresGENEVA, May 24: The COVID-19 pandemic “must be a turning point”, UN Secretary-General António Guterres said on Monday, urging countries to take bold decisions now to both end the crisis and build a safe and healthy future for all.

In a video message to the World Health Assembly, the decision-making body of UN agency WHO, Guterres warned against the dangers of “a two-speed global response”, a concern he has frequently expressed.

“Sadly, unless we act now, we face a situation in which rich countries vaccinate the majority of their people and open their economies, while the virus continues to cause deep suffering by circling and mutating in the poorest countries,” he said.

“Further spikes and surges could claim hundreds of thousands of lives, and slow the global economic recovery,” he added.

The UN chief called for coordinated action in three areas that will pave the way to recovery and a sustainable future for people and the planet, starting with solidarity to stop the virus.

“World leaders must urgently step up with a global plan for equitable access to COVID-19 vaccines, tests and treatments,” he said, emphasizing the need to fully fund established mechanisms for equitable vaccine distribution.

Adding that “we are at war with a virus”, Guterres reiterated his appeal for G20 nations to establish a Task Force “able to deal with the pharmaceutical companies and other key stakeholders.” The goal would be to at least double vaccine manufacturing capacity through means such as voluntary licenses and technology transfers.

For his second point, Guterres focused on boosting primary health care and universal health coverage.

“COVID-19 cannot be seen in isolation from the fundamental problems with our health systems: inequality, underfunding; complacency, neglect. With the right primary health care systems in place, we will recover more quickly from this pandemic, and prevent the next before it takes hold,” he said.

But while robust health systems are a start, they are not enough, he added, and countries must prepare for the next global health emergency.

The Secretary-General underlined support for the recommendations made by the Independent Panel for Pandemic Preparedness, which this month called for overhauling the current warning systems.

He said high-level political commitment is needed to transform the existing system, and that the World Health Organization (WHO) must be at the centre of global preparedness. The agency also must have adequate resources and be fully empowered to do its job.

Tedros Adhanom GhebreyesusIn his address to the Assembly, WHO chief Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus reported that there have been more COVID-19 cases so far this year than in the whole of 2020.

“Almost 18 months into the defining health crisis of our age, the world remains in a very dangerous situation,” he said. “On current trends, the number of deaths will overtake last year’s total within the next three weeks.”

Regardless of vaccinate rates, “no country should assume it is out of the woods,” he added. And although none of the COVID-19 variants has significantly undermined current vaccines, the virus is constantly changing.

Tedros said every country can do more, including in increasing surveillance and testing, protecting health workers, and fighting against misinformation. They can also implement national vaccine programmes, and donate excess doses to the global solidarity initiative, COVAX.

He described the ongoing vaccine crisis as “a scandalous inequity that is perpetuating the pandemic” as most doses, or 75 per cent, have been administered in just 10 countries.

“There is no diplomatic way to say it: a small group of countries that make and buy the majority of the world’s vaccines control the fate of the rest of the world.”

COVAX has shipped roughly 72 million doses to some 125 developing nations, but those vaccines represent barely one per cent of their combined populations.

Tedros pushed for countries to vaccinate at least 10 per cent of the global population by September, with a drive to reach 30 per cent by December.

“Sprinting to our September goal means we must vaccinate 250 million more people in low- and middle-income countries in just four months, including all health workers and the most at-risk groups as the first priority,” he said.

The WHO Director General also highlighted a proposal by the International Monetary Fund (IMF) to vaccinate 40 per cent of the world’s people by the end of the year, and 60 per cent by 2022. Discussions are underway on how to make these goals achievable.

Tedros also welcomed countries’ commitment to donate doses, including announcements made by G20 nations at their health summit last Friday.

“But to achieve the goals for September and the end of the year, we need hundreds of millions more doses, we need them to go through COVAX, and we need them to start moving in early June,” he said.

Tedros urged vaccine manufacturers to ensure countries can quickly share their doses through COVAX. They should also give the mechanism first right of refusal on new volume of vaccines, or to commit 50 per cent of their volumes to COVAX this year.

“And we need every country that receives vaccines to use them as quickly as possible. No dose can lay idle, or worse, be thrown away,” he said.

“The bottom line is that we need a lot more doses, we need them fast, and we must leave no stone unturned to get them.”

Both the Secretary-General and the WHO chief dedicated parts of their speeches to pay tribute to the world’s health workers.

Tedros opened his remarks with stories of some of these professionals, who “have stood in the breach between life and death.”

WHO estimates around 115,000 health and care workers have also died while working to save lives and serve others.

“Health and care workers do heroic things, but they are not superheroes. They are humans like the rest of us,” Tedros said, noting that many feel frustrated, helpless and unprotected in the pandemic.

“We owe them so much, and yet globally health and care workers often lack the protection, the equipment, the training, the decent pay, the safe working conditions and the respect they deserve."

UN chief welcomes Gaza ceasefire announcement between Israel and Hamas

By Deepak Arora

António GuterresUNITED NATIONS, May 21: The UN chief has welcomed the ceasefire declared between Israel and Palestinian militant group Hamas, following 11 days of rocket and air attacks, which have left more than 240 reportedly dead and thousands injured, the majority in the occupied Palestinian enclave of Gaza.

Secretary-General António Guterres made a statement to reporters at UN Headquarters in New York, a few minutes before the negotiated ceasefire was due to take effect.

He calls on both sides to observe the ceasefire.

“I commend Egypt and Qatar for the efforts carried out, in close coordination with the UN, to help restore calm to Gaza and Israel”, the UN chief added, calling on all sides to observe the ceasefire.

Guterres said it was essential for the wider international community to work with the UN, to develop “an integrated, robust package of support for a swift, sustainable reconstruction and recovery, that supports the Palestinian people and strengthens their institutions.”

He stressed that leaders in Israel and Palestine had a responsibility “beyond the restoration of calm, to start a serious dialogue to address the root causes of the conflict.”

He described Gaza as an “integral part of the future Palestinian State” saying no effort should be spared to bring about “real national reconciliation that ends the division.” Hamas has controlled the enclave since winning elections in 2006 and driving out the rival Fatah faction, which holds power in the West Bank.

Guterres underscored the UN’s “deep commitment” to working with Israelis and Palestinians, and with all international and regional partners, including through the Middle East Quartet, “to return to the path of meaningful negotiations to end the occupation and allow for the realization of a two-State solution on the basis of the 1967 lines, UN resolutions, international law and mutual agreements.”

Asked what he thought the next step should be, the Secretary-General said that stabilizing the ceasefire was the immediate priority.

Ceasefire can’t hide scale of destruction in Gaza, warns UN

By Deepak Arora

GAZA, May 21: The humanitarian community has welcomed the ceasefire agreed in the Occupied Palestinian Territory and Israel but warned that the destruction in Gaza will take years, if not decades, to fix.

Speaking from Gaza, Matthias Schmale from the UN relief agency for Palestinians UNRWA, said that there was no “going back to normal” in the enclave, after more than 10 days of rocket fire and airstrike exchanges between the warring parties that have killed more than 250 people and injured thousands.

“Going back to normal life means having to watch very carefully where we are going; unexploded devices, we know that at least one school, one of our 278 schools, where we have established two deeply buried bombs, and we have alerted the Israeli authorities”, he said. “Obviously we cannot just rush back into our buildings and schools, we have to make sure they’re safe.”

The senior UNRWA official also noted that the Kerem Shalom crossing was due to open for several hours on Friday but that for the duration of the clashes, it had not been possible to get people out for medical treatment, or aid reinforcements in.

Schmale noted that UNRWA staff who are mainly residents of the region said that the violence had been “worse in intensity and terror than 2014”, before echoing the UN Secretary-General’s call for a meaningful political process to resolve the grievances of both Palestinians and Israelis.

“Normality here also means 50 per cent employed and rising...I’m convinced after being here two and a half years that we will be back in war unless underlying causes are not addressed; and from a Gaza perspective that means giving people and especially young people a dignified perspective of a dignified life”, he said.

“If you have your own money and take home your own money to buy food instead of depending on handouts from the UN”, the top UN official added, “you’re less likely to run into groupings like Hamas”.

The UN Children’s Fund, UNICEF, delivered 18 containers of aid on Friday following the resumption of relative calm in the Gaza Strip, through the Kerem Shalom crossing, to support children and families in need.

Among the items delivered were first-aid kits, blood supply bags and solution, fire extinguishers, antibiotics and other infection-control kits, together with 10,000 doses of the Sinopharm COVID-19 vaccine.

“We are extremely thankful that a ceasefire agreement in the Gaza strip came into effect at 2am this morning, because the human toll there has been huge”, said Lucia Elmi, UNICEF Special Representative in Palestine. “This will allow families to have much-needed respite and allow for the delivery of much-needed humanitarian assistance and personnel to the Gaza Strip”, she added.

UN rights experts call for ICC probe

UN human rights experts on Friday called on all parties to the conflict in Gaza and Israel to respect the ceasefire, and urged an investigation by the International Criminal Court (ICC) into the attacks on civilian populations and other “gross violations of human rights”, according to a statement released through the UN rights office (OHCHR).

The experts pointed to the forced evictions of Palestinian families living in Sheikh Jarrah and Silwan, in Occupied East Jerusalem, as the spark that set off a full-blown war.

They said that at least 222 people, including 63 children, were killed in Gaza and 12 people died in Israel as a result of the fighting.

More than 450 buildings in the Gaza Strip were completely destroyed or damaged by missiles, the statement continued. Among them were six hospitals, nine healthcare centres and a water desalination plant, supplying around 250,000 Palestinians with clean drinking water, as well as a tower which housed media outlets including the Al Jazeera network, and Associated Press (AP).

“Owing to the vast asymmetry of power, the victims of this conflict are disproportionately Palestinians in Gaza, of whom over 74,000 have been forcibly displaced and made homeless, mostly women and children”, the experts said.

“The conflict has led to a new wave of unprecedented mass destruction of civilian homes and infrastructure, including electrical grids in Gaza, and indiscriminate or deliberate missile attacks on civilians and residential areas in Israel and Gaza, that violate not only international human rights standards, but amount as well to crimes under international law for which there is individual and State responsibility”, the experts continued.

The experts said that all “indiscriminate or deliberate bombardment of civilians and towers housing civilians, media organizations and refugee camps in Gaza and Israel are war crimes that are, prima facie, not justified by the requirements of proportionality and necessity under international law. All parties who engage in such attacks must bear individual and State responsibility as appropriate.”

Gaza children living in ‘hell on earth’, UN chief says, urging immediate end to fighting

By Deepak Arora

António GuterresUNITED NATIONS, May 20: The past ten days have witnessed a “dangerous and horrific” surge in deadly violence in the Occupied Palestinian Territory (OPT), particularly Gaza, and in Israel, the UN chief told the General Assembly on Thursday.

“If there is a hell on earth, it is the lives of children in Gaza”, Secretary-General António Guterres said, expressing deep shock at the continued air and artillery bombardment by the Israeli Defence Forces in Gaza that has so far claimed the lives of more than 200 Palestinians, including 60 children, and injured thousands more.

He also called “unacceptable”, the indiscriminate rocket fire towards Israel by Hamas – which controls the enclave - and other militant groups that has resulted in at least 12 deaths.

Appealing to all parties to “cease hostilities”, the UN chief underscored: “The fighting must stop immediately”.

He painted a grim picture of damaged civilian infrastructure in Gaza, closed crossings, power shortages affecting water supplies, hundreds of buildings and homes destroyed, hospitals impaired and thousands of Palestinians homeless.

“The fighting has…forced over fifty thousand people to leave their homes and seek shelter in UNRWA (the UN relief agency for Palestine refugees) schools, mosques, and other places with little access to water, food, hygiene or health services”, lamented the top UN official.

He said he was “deeply distressed” by damage to UN facilities, upholding that “humanitarian installations” are “inviolable”, including during armed conflict.

Guterres said he was working on releasing cash from the Central Emergency Response Fund (CERF), and the UN’s relief chief intends to release $14 million from the Humanitarian Fund for the Occupied Palestinian Territories.

“Access for humanitarian goods is paramount. Attacks by militant groups on areas surrounding crossing points are unacceptable”, added the Secretary-General.

He also stressed that “rapid and unhindered access for humanitarian aid” must be allowed into Gaza.

Rules of war preserve “first and foremost” the protection of civilians, said Guterres, urging Israel to abide by those governing armed conflict and to “exercise maximum restraint” in its military operations.

He also appealed to Hamas and other militant groups to stop indiscriminately launching rockets into Israeli’s civilian population – a clear violation of international humanitarian law.

“There is no justification…for the abdication by the parties to the conflict of their obligations”, said the UN chief. 

Concerned over violent clashes between Israeli security forces and Palestinians across the occupied West Bank, Guterres urged Israel to “cease demolitions and evictions” in the OPT, including East Jerusalem.

“All settlement activities...are illegal under international law”, he reminded, and also stressed that the status quo at Holy Sites must be “upheld and respected”.

The UN chief warned that if the violence spreads beyond Israel and the OPT, it could create an environment “ripe for exploitation by radicals and extremists”, which should be prevented “at all costs”.

He told the Ambassadors that he and other UN officials are undertaking “extensive diplomatic efforts within the region” to encourage all sides to halt the violence.

Guterres called on the international community to do everything in its power to enable the parties to “step back from the brink” and on the parties themselves to allow mediation efforts to intensify to “bring the fighting to an end”.

Reminding that today’s “horrific events” must be viewed in the context of “decades of military occupation, political deadlock, grievances and hopelessness, and a failure to address the core issues at the heart of the conflict”, the UN chief called a revitalized peace process “the only route to a just and lasting solution”.

The Secretary-General encouraged the parties to replace “anger and disillusionment with hope for a future in which both Palestinians and Israelis live side by side, in peace and security”.

Step away from the brink: Assembly President

General Assembly President Volkan Bozkir echoed the calls for an immediate ceasefire in Gaza urging the parties to “step away from the brink”.

When it comes to Israel and Palestine we are clearly failing -- Assembly President

Noting that the “Question of Palestine” is the longest standing issue on the UN peace and security agenda, he said that the occupation, compounded by political impasse and lack of negotiations, is “the main underlying source of instability and perpetuation of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict”.

To move forward, he reminded that the UN’s institutional record prescribes a swift return to negotiations with the goal of ending the occupation; addressing all status issues, including that of Jerusalem; and achieving two independent, sovereign, viable States: “Israel and Palestine, living side-by-side in peace, security and mutual recognition”.

Bozkir called for the Security Council to speak with “a unified voice”.

“The Security Council must shoulder its responsibilities and overcome yet again its paralysis on the longest-standing item”, he spelled out, warning that its inaction hinders, the UN’s “ability and credibility” on other peace and security matters.

While commemorating the Organization's 75th anniversary, Member States had recommitted to upholding international peace and security.

“Yet when it comes to Israel and Palestine we are clearly failing”, said the Assembly President. “I call on both sides and the international community to take real steps to stop the vicious cycle of violence and to end the occupation. To defend human rights”.

UN agency says 60,000 displaced in Gaza

By Deepak Arora

UNITED NATIONS, May 18: The international community must do “all it can” to de-escalate the violence in Gaza and Israel which has left hundreds dead and injured, said the UN’s political affairs chief on Tuesday, calling on all those involved in the fighting to allow for the “intensification of mediation efforts”, which can also help stem a growing humanitarian crisis in the Gaza Strip.

Rosemary DiCarlo was addressing a meeting of the UN Forum on the Question of Palestine, and noted that the UN has been “actively involved” in mediation so far, and said the fighting involving extremist group Hamas and Israeli forces, which has claimed the lives of more than 200 civilians on both sides, including children, was a “tragic reminder” of the need to find a resolution to end conflict between Palestinians and Israelis, “once and for all.”

“In the absence of such a process, we are – regrettably – bound to witness more episodes of tensions and desperation. People on both sides deserve much more than that”, said Ms. DiCarlo.

She noted that the scenes of communal violence inside Israel itself, were also “unprecedented”, saying continued escalation there would have “devastating consequences” for all in the region.

If the nine days of spiralling violence so far continues, “humanitarian needs are bound to rise considerably, particularly in Gaza, where the situation was already desperate”, she added.

More than 220 people have now died in Gaza and the West Bank since violence erupted last week with Israel, where the toll has risen to 10 dead, UN humanitarians said earlier on Tuesday, in a call for greater access to the Occupied Palestinian Territory and an end to hostilities.

“Up until noon yesterday, in the Gaza Strip, Palestinian fatalities stood at 200 at that point. In the West Bank, Palestinian fatalities stood at 20”, said Jens Laerke from the Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA), at a briefing in Geneva.

“There are combined in the West Bank and Gaza Strip more than 6,000 injured. In Israel, the casualty count tragically as well, as of yesterday, stood at 10 total deaths and nearly 800 injured…due to Palestinian rocket attacks from highly populated civilian neighbourhoods into civilian populations centres in Israel.”

Nearly 60,000 people have also had to leave or flee their homes in Gaza, the OCHA spokesperson said, with 47,000 now sheltering in UN Relief and Works Agency (UNWRA) schools.

The development comes as the World Food Programme (WFP) also warned on Tuesday that the crisis has pushed an estimated additional 160,000 people in Gaza into food insecurity.

As of Monday, 132 buildings including 621 housing and commercial units have been destroyed in Gaza, according to the Ministry of Public Works and Housing. An additional 316 housing units have been severely damaged and rendered uninhabitable, Mr. Laerke noted.

Health care professionals and medical facilities are also in danger, according to the World Health Organization (WHO).

“In the Gaza Strip, 19 health facilities have been damaged including destruction of the Hala Al-Shawa primary healthcare clinic”, said WHO spokesperson Dr. Margaret Harris.

“In the West Bank, 41 health workers have been injured and 21 health vehicles damaged. The severe damage to the roads and infrastructure makes access to many of the hospitals very, very difficult.”

Dr. Harris added that there was also a drastic lack of medicines and materials in the Gaza Strip, with less than one month’s supply, while physical distancing to prevent COVID-19 transmission was “almost impossible”, amid ongoing destruction.

In addition, concerns have continued to mount over the deteriorating situation for Gaza residents, where power is only available for six to eight hours per day, owing to damaged feeder lines and networks.

This has disrupted the provision of healthcare and other basic services, including water, hygiene, and sanitation.

Against this backdrop, OCHA welcomed the opening of the Kerem Shalom crossing into Gaza for essential humanitarian supplies nine days into the crisis.

The transit point in southern Gaza was closed eight days ago, along with the Erez crossing in the north of Gaza, OCHA said in a statement on Monday.

“We very much welcome the Israeli authorities’ opening of Kerem Shalom crossing for essential humanitarian supplies, nine days into the crisis. It is critical that the Erez crossing is also opened for the entry and exit of critical humanitarian staff,” said Laerke.

“In days to come, humanitarian access into and out of Gaza for staff and goods must be sustained and appropriate measures taken to ensure safe movements within Gaza,” the OCHA spokesperson added.

UN Secretary-General calls for immediate end to Israeli-Palestine violence

By Deepak Arora

António GuterresUNITED NATIONS, May 16: The current “senseless” cycle of violence in the Middle East must end now, UN Secretary-General António Guterres said in an address to the Security Council on Sunday morning.

Describing the hostilities as “utterly appalling”, the Secretary-General warned that hopes of coexistence and peace between Palestinians and Israelis are being pushed even farther to the horizon.

“Fighting must stop. It must stop immediately,” he said. “Rockets and mortars on one side and aerial and artillery bombardments on the other must stop. I appeal to all parties to heed this call.”

The virtual Council meeting, which was attended by several Foreign Ministers as well as ambassadors, was held amid the most serious escalation in Gaza and Israel in years. Clashes have also broken out across the occupied West Bank, including East Jerusalem.

The Secretary-General feared the violence could have devastating far-reaching consequences.

“The fighting risks dragging Israelis and Palestinians into a spiral of violence with devastating consequences for both communities and for the entire region,” he said.

“It has the potential to unleash an uncontainable security and humanitarian crisis and to further foster extremism, not only in the Occupied Palestinian Territory and Israel, but in the region as a whole, potentially creating a new locus of dangerous instability,” he said.

The UN chief stressed that the only way forward is to return to negotiations towards a two-State solution, but the fighting is making this goal even more challenging.

He reiterated UN commitment to working with the Israelis and Palestinians, and with international and regional partners, to realize a lasting and just peace.

“This senseless cycle of bloodshed, terror and destruction must stop immediately,” he said.

Tor Wennesland, UN Special Coordinator for the Middle East Peace Process, outlined the human cost of the deadly escalation between the Israeli Defence Forces (IDF) and Palestinian armed groups in Gaza. Preliminary figures show some 181 Palestinians and nine Israelis have been killed, while health authorities in Gaza report 1,200 people have been injured.

The UN envoy added that the humanitarian and security situation in the densely packed Gaza Strip grows increasingly dire by the day.

The embattled health system is already overwhelmed by chronic shortages of medicine and equipment, and now the COVID-19 pandemic. Additionally, over 34,000 people have been displaced, and more than 40 schools operated by UN agency UNRWA are now serving as shelters.

“As a result of the military operations, seven factories, 40 schools and at least four hospitals sustained complete or partial damage,” he said.

“At least 18 buildings, including four high-rise towers, including one hosting international media outlets, have been destroyed and over 350 buildings damaged. According to the IDF, these buildings contained Hamas military installations.”

Echoing the Secretary-General’s call for immediate de-escalation, Mr Wennesland said the UN is working tirelessly on all sides to restore calm.

“Israelis and Palestinians have a legitimate right to safety and security. The violence we are witnessing now is unacceptable and unjustifiable.”

India opposes Hamas rocket action against Israel, supports Palestine

UNITED NATIONS, May 16: In a nuanced statement on the Middle-East situation, India has opposed “indiscriminate rocket firing” by Hamas from Gaza to target civilian population in Israel while supporting the Palestinian cause and its commitment to the two-state solution.

While the UN Security Council could not issue a statement on the escalating situation after what Chinese foreign minister Wang Yi called a “block by one country”, the US is coming under pressure to reconsider its position on the Israel-Hamas conflict.

The Indian statement issued by UN Permanent Representative on May 16 has used the word “retaliatory strikes” by Israel to Hamas action. The words have been carefully inserted as India itself has been a victim of cross-border terrorism emanating from Pakistan. The fact is that India lost one of its nationals Soumya Santhosh from Kerala is the indiscriminate rocket firing by the Sunni militant group. "We reiterate our strong condemnation of all acts of violence, provocation, incitement and destruction," the Indian statement said.

While India has opposed Hamas action, it has stuck to its traditional line of direct dialogue between Israeli and Palestinian authorities as well as remaining committed to the two state solution. “Immediate de-escalation is the need of the hour, so as to arrest any further slide towards the brink. We urge both sides to show extreme restraint, desist from actions that exacerbate tensions, and refrain from attempts to unilaterally change the existing status quo, including in East Jerusalem and its neighbourhood,” the statement said.

It is understood that friends of Israel have privately told Tel Aviv to exercise full restraint or else it will further alienate itself from the global community.

The Indian position is carefully articulated in the statement as New Delhi has close ties with both Israel and the Arab world and supports the Palestinian cause. The Hamas action against Israel from Gaza further complicates the issue as the Sunni group has few supporters in the PLO, whose leader Mahmoud Abbas is the president of the State of Palestine and Palestine National Authority.

António Guterres, Putin discuss importance of multilateralism

MOSCOW, May 13: UN Secretary-General António Guterres and Russian President Vladimir Putin have discussed the importance of renewed commitment to multilateralism during talks held on Thursday.

Mr Guterres is in Moscow, at the invitation of the Russian Government, where he is meeting with senior officials.

The UN chief and President Putin met virtually, according to a readout of their meeting.

The two leaders discussed the importance of renewed commitment to multilateralism, solidarity and cooperation in order for the international community to address the challenges of the COVID-19 pandemic and climate change.

Their talks also covered a number of international and regional peace, security and humanitarian issues and the need to resolve conflicts through political dialogue, mutual respect and understanding.

The Secretary-General thanked President Putin for the hospitality of the Russian Government and people, and for the continued commitment of the Russian Federation in support of the United Nations.

Guterres expressed the interest of the UN to deepen its cooperation with the Russian Federation in the three pillars of the Organization’s work – Peace and Security, Sustainable Development, including Climate Change and Biodiversity, and Human Rights.

Also on Thursday, Guterres received an honorific doctorate from Moscow State Institute of International Relations, which he accepted on behalf of the UN.

Addressing professors and students, the Secretary-General recalled that the university’s Model UN programme was named in tribute to the late diplomat Vitaly Churkin, a former Russian Permanent Representative to the UN in New York, who died in 2017.

Guterres spoke of common challenges facing countries, including the pandemic, and ways to tackle them.

While he underlined the need to ensure all people, everywhere, are vaccinated, the Secretary-General noted that despite the work of the global solidarity initiative COVAX, many low-income nations “have yet to receive a single dose.”

He stressed that “COVID-19 vaccines must be seen as a global public good.”

The Secretary-General travelled to the Russian capital on Wednesday. During his first day in the country, he met with Foreign Minister, Sergei Lavrov. The visit is scheduled to conclude on Friday.

India’s new COVID-19 wave is spreading like ‘wildfire’, warns UN Children’s Fund

NEW DELHI, May 7: A new wave of COVID-19 infections is spreading like “wildfire” across India, leaving many youngsters destitute, the UN Children’s Fund UNICEF said on Friday.

In the last 24 hours, India registered 3,915 coronavirus deaths and 414,188 cases “which is the highest daily case count recorded by any country in the history of COVID-19 pandemic”, said Yasmin Ali Haque, UNICEF Representative in India.

“UNICEF is of course very concerned about this deadly daily surge in new cases”, she added. “This wave is almost four times the size of the first wave and the virus is spreading much faster. On average, there were more than four new cases every second and more than two deaths every minute in the last 24 hours.”

The UN official noted that health facilities have been overwhelmed by COVID-19 patients, amid reports that pregnant women have struggled to find the support they need to give birth.

“With 27 million births and 30 million pregnancies every year, life-saving services to help women give birth are critical in India” Ms. Ali Haque said. “What is happening in India should raise alarm bells for all of us. The pandemic is far from over. COVID-19 cases are rising at an alarming rate across South Asia, especially in Nepal, Sri Lanka and the Maldives.”

Very low levels of vaccination in most South Asian countries - less than 10 per cent in India, Sri Lanka and Nepal – were also adding to concerns of the virus spiralling even further, the UNICEF representative noted.

UNICEF is also concerned that the COVID-19 surge has also led to “dire consequences” for a greater number of children than during the first wave of infections, with access to essential health, social, protection and education services constrained.

“Children are facing mental health issues and are at greater risk of violence, as lockdowns shut them off from their vital support networks”, Ms. Ali Haque said.

Although there is no indication that the proportion of children getting infected is any different to the first wave, “the numbers are far greater”, she insisted. “We’re seeing the virus entering a household; it just takes one member of the household to be affected and it seems to spread like wildfire throughout the family.”

This has been accompanied by a likely spike in illegal adoption pleas on internet platforms by families desperate to find homes for orphaned relatives, prompting fears of child exploitation, the UN official said.

Authorities were “beginning to pick up on numbers” of vulnerable children, the UNICEF official continued, in a call to promote family tracing and speedier help for destitute families.

“When we see that children are being orphaned and we do see that there is a lot of trafficking of children which is reported, children go missing, those systems are beginning to pick up on numbers”, she said.

There is a greater alertness around any family seeing that children (that) have been affected get reported…While there isn’t enough data yet, we can see that illegal adoption pleas have surfaced on social media, making these orphans vulnerable to trafficking and abuse.”

Blinken asks UN SC to stop those who violate international law

UNITED NATIONS, May 7: U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken took a veiled swipe at Russia and China on Friday during a U.N. Security Council meeting chaired by his Chinese counterpart Wang Yi, warning that the actions of some big powers portrays impunity to others.

The meeting on multilateralism, convened by China as council president for May, comes amid a U.N. battle for influence between the world's two biggest economies as President Joe Biden seeks to reassert traditional U.S. leadership - reversing former President Donald Trump's favored unilateral approach - in the face of a more assertive Beijing.

Blinken stressed the need for countries to uphold international commitments, focus on human rights and respect for the principle of sovereign equality.

"When U.N. member states – particularly permanent members of the Security Council – flout these rules and block attempts to hold accountable those who violate international law, it sends the message that others can break those rules with impunity," he said.

Russia, China, the United States, France and Britain are the permanent, veto-wielding powers of the 15-member council.

The United States has accused China of genocide by repressing Uighur Muslims in detention centers in its Xinjiang region. China denies accusations of abuse and says it is trying to stamp out extremism.

"Asserting domestic jurisdiction doesn't give any state a blank check to enslave, torture, disappear, ethnically cleanse their people, or violate their human rights in any other way," Blinken said.

While Blinken did not name Russia or China, Russia's Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov bluntly criticized a U.S. plan to hold a summit on global democracy as "creating a new special interests club on an openly ideologized basis" that "could further exacerbate international tension and draw dividing lines in a world which needs a unifying agenda now more than ever."

Moscow and Washington have long differed over a range of issues, but ties have slumped further after Biden said he believed President Vladimir Putin was "a killer". Washington has also imposed sanctions over accusations Moscow interfered in the 2020 U.S. election, cyber hacking and "bullying" Ukraine.

China and Russia were both critical of unilateral sanctions with Wang describing them as "illegitimate".

Blinken, Wang and Lavrov did agree the world needed to work together to address climate change and the COVID-19 pandemic.

Stop flow of deadly weapons to Myanmar military now, urges UN rights expert

By Deepak Arora

NEW YORK, May 7: The United Nations independent human rights expert on Myanmar on Friday called on countries that have not yet done so, to impose arms embargo on the country urgently, to stop the “massacre” of citizens across the country.

Tom Andrews, UN Special Rapporteur on the human rights situation in the southeast Asian nation, underscored in a statement, the need to stop the flow of weapons and so called dual-use weapons technology into the hands of forces under the command of the military junta, describing it as “literally a matter of life and death.”

“There is no time to lose … I urge governments who support cutting the flow of weapons to a brutal military junta to consider immediately establishing their own arms embargo against Myanmar while simultaneously encouraging UN Security Council action.”

Andrews also said that bilateral arms embargoes should encompass both weapons and dual-use technology, including surveillance equipment.

“Together, they will represent an important step forward to literally taking guns out of the hands of those killing innocent men, women and children.”

The Special Rapporteur also applauded a call by over 200 civil society organizations to bring the arms embargo issue to the attention of the 15-member Security Council.

He is currently updating a list of States that have established arms embargoes against Myanmar, Andrews added, noting that he intended to publish an updated list next month. The independent expert’s report to the Human Rights Council in March identified that nations that had already established arms embargoes.

Into its fourth month, the political turmoil – marked by near daily pro-democracy protests and a brutal crackdown by security forces – has reportedly claimed at least 750 lives and wounded countless more.

There are also serious concerns over the continuing impact of the crisis, with the UN Development Programme (UNDP) warning of an economic collapse, and the UN human rights chief cautioning that Myanmar could spiral into a “full-blown conflict” similar to the implosion of Syria over the past decade, if the bloodshed does not stop.

Meanwhile, the UN refugee agency (UNHCR) has said that it is pre-positioning key relief items and personal protective equipment (PPE) in Thailand, which could potentially be provided to those fleeing violence in Myanmar.

According to a bulletin issued earlier this week, about 2,300 people crossed from Myanmar into Thailand on 27 April due to increased fighting and they are currently hosted in safe zones, managed by the Thai Army.

“UNHCR has advocated for access to the population and offered support to the Thai Government’s efforts to respond to further displacement from Myanmar and address refugees’ protection needs”, it said.

As of 31 December 2020, there are about 92,000 Myanmar refugees in Thailand, who fled previous waves of displacement, in nine temporary shelters, according to UNHCR.

Similarly, the agency estimates that between 4,000 to 6,000 refugees from Myanmar have entered into the Indian states of Mizoram and Manipur since March, where local charities and individuals have provided life-saving assistance those arriving.

“Some 190 have moved onward to New Delhi, where UNHCR is assessing their needs and has begun registering and providing them with basic assistance”, the agency added, noting that it has offered its support to the Indian Government in protection, and humanitarian coordination and response to new arrivals from Myanmar.

UN chief pledges to keep ‘memories alive’ of those who died in service during 2020

By Deepak Arora

UNITED NATIONS, May 6: The United Nations paused on Thursday to honour 336 personnel who lost their lives in the line of duty in 2020: the highest number ever in a single year.

The memorial ceremony, held online, paid tribute to civilian and uniformed staff who died because of malicious acts, natural disasters and other incidents.

Due to the COVID-19 pandemic and its wider impacts, including on healthcare access, the number also included colleagues who passed from the disease or other illness.

“The year 2020 was like no other in the history of the United Nations”, Secretary-General António Guterres said.

“The world faced a merciless pandemic that continues to sow tremendous suffering. Millions of families lost loved ones. The UN family was no different.”

The Secretary-General called for a moment of silence to remember the fallen colleagues, whose names were read out loud during the ceremony.

Representing more than 80 nations, they literally came from every corner of the globe, and reflected the diversity and richness of experience of the UN.

“They devoted their careers to advancing the vision and the values of the United Nations - securing peace, promoting sustainable development, advancing human rights”, Guterres said.

Patricia Nemeth, President of the UN Staff Union, added that those who made “the ultimate sacrifice” for the Organization “did so in an effort to defend the freedoms of the most vulnerable, and provide for them the most basic needs that we all enjoy.”

The personnel who died in 2020 will never be forgotten, the Secretary-General said. He also underlined UN commitment to continue reviewing and improving practices related to staff safety and care.

“They embodied the essence of multilateralism -- people around the globe joining forces to build a better world. In their name, we pledge to continue that work”, he said.

"As we honour our dear colleagues, let us keep their memories alive through our work to build a life of dignity and hope for all.”

World heading into ‘very, very dark period’, WHO warns as India breaks COVID death record

GENEVA, May 5: The majority of the world is heading into a “very, very dark period” of the coronavirus crisis, a World Health Organization (WHO) leader has said.

Nearly 18 months into the global pandemic, infections across the world are now “accelerating faster than ever”, Dr David Nabarro warned.

It comes as India suffered the deadliest seven-day period of the pandemic so far, with a daily average of 3,571 deaths in the week up to Tuesday. The previous highest was seen in the US on 14 January, with a seven-day average of 3,432 deaths.

Dr Nabarro, the WHO’s COVID-19 special envoy, told BBC Radio 4’s World At One programme that the pandemic is at a “fearsome” stage.

He said: “There are a few countries that are able to demonstrate that they’ve got much lower levels of disease and they’re actually feeling that they’re recovering.

“The majority of the world is heading into a very, very dark period.

“The reason why it’s particularly dark is that now we don’t have the full data, because more and more the pandemic is spreading in places where testing is not available, so the numbers that we have we know are a major underestimate.

“It’s bigger than ever, it’s fiercer than ever and it’s causing more distress than ever – this is a bad phase.”

He added that the “evolving” virus was going to be “building up and surging in many different parts of the world”.

While the UK is well past the worst of its crisis, with tens of millions of people vaccinated and its governments planning to reopen society in the summer, other countries have suffered explosions in infections.

India is one. On Tuesday alone, more than 380,000 new cases were recorded, though the actual number will be far higher due to testing limitations.

There were also 3,780 deaths. Again, the actual number is likely to be much higher amid reports many deaths have not been registered by the authorities.

The reopening of society, as well as religious gatherings and election rallies, have been blamed for the massive spike in cases.

In Europe, Cyprus saw a massive spike in cases last month. On April 24, the seven-day average surpassed 1,000 infections per million people, though that has since dropped to 603 per million, which is the fifth highest in the world.

Meanwhile, Dr Nabarro urged world leaders to look at vaccine distribution as a “world issue”.

He said: "From my perspective, what you do with a scarce preventive action like a vaccine is that you give it to the people who need it the most, you give it to the people who are most at risk and you have to look at the issue as a world issue.”

The UK government, given the success of its rollout so far in protecting the most vulnerable people, has been asked if it will provide extra vaccines to India amid its crisis.

So far, this has been ruled out – with Boris Johnson’s spokesman saying last week there are no surplus doses – though life-saving equipment including 1,200 ventilators has been sent.





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