UN High Commissioner for Human Rights Zeid Ra’ad Al Hussein highlights current major human rights issues in more than 40 countries around the world in an address at the UN Human Rights Council in Geneva, 8 March 2017

UN High Commissioner for Human Rights Zeid Ra’ad Al Hussein highlights current major human rights issues in more than 40 countries around the world in an address at the UN Human Rights Council in Geneva, 8 March 2017

Distinguished President of the Human Rights Council, Excellencies, Colleagues and Friends,

“We the peoples, determined to reaffirm faith… in the equal rights of men and women” – taken from the Preamble of the UN Charter. Today we celebrate the courage and strength of women’s movements, all over the world, in pursuit of equality. The rights to education, to work, to the vote – above all, to make their own decisions. Their achievements have been momentous, and the movement is an extraordinary one, as was demonstrated by the marches of the 21st of January. I salute their efforts, especially given the scale of challenges women still face around the world, which I have addressed in a statement I have issued for International Women’s Day. I trust all delegations will give it close attention.

Mr President,

I would like to begin my statement by highlighting a number of countries where, despite very different human rights situations, I am happy to commend certain trends.

In The Gambia, I applaud the principled actions of members of ECOWAS in supporting a peaceful conclusion to the Presidential election in December, at a time when so many other world leaders seem determined to remain in power at any cost. After years of repression of civil society, opposition parties and the media, incoming President Adama Barrow has publicly committed to upholding human rights in a broad range of reforms, including his decision for Gambia to remain a party to the International Criminal Court and his commitment to establish a Truth and Reconciliation Commission.


In Uzbekistan, after years of pervasive human rights violations, and under incoming President Mirziyoyev, a series of laws have been drafted and approved in line with recommendations by UN human rights mechanisms. Most recently, in October, a decree on judicial and legal reform laid out conditions for fair trial, due process and judicial independence. Implementation of these laws will be the key to ensuring positive developments for all the people of the country. Among other prisoners who have been released, Muhammad Bekjanov, one of the world’s longest-jailed journalists, was freed two weeks ago after 18 years in prison, many spent in solitary confinement.


I commend Tunisia’s continued efforts to place human rights at the centre of its transition and its exemplary cooperation with my Country Office. Particularly noteworthy is the government’s commitment to draft and push forward progressive laws on racial discrimination and on violence against women, which will mark an important improvement in access to justice for many victims. In a very challenging security situation, Tunisia’s willingness to integrate human rights into counter-terrorism operations demonstrates that the effective cooperation of member states with my Office – including when responding to security threats – is not only possible but beneficial to all.


And in Greece two weeks ago, President Pavlopoulos visited a refugee centre and told children from Iraq, Syria and Afghanistan, “We welcome you. You are a part of us, and you will stay here as long as necessary, until the nightmare of war is over.” In a continent of great wealth which appears determined to return large numbers of migrants, even to conditions which may be very dangerous, that statement – which expresses what should be universal, basic compassion – is all the more remarkable for coming from a country which is suffering economic hardship.


Mr President,


This past year has witnessed considerable bloodshed at the hands of extremist and terrorist groups, and I take this opportunity to once again strongly condemn all such violence, in every instance.


My statement today will not detail the human rights situations in Afghanistan, Colombia, Cyprus, Guatemala, Guinea, Honduras, Libya, Sri Lanka, Syria, Ukraine or Yemen, since the Council will receive specific briefings from my Office during this session and in the High-Level Panel on Syria next week.


As you are aware, my Office has faced difficulty obtaining access to a number of regions. In September, I raised this issue with the Council, highlighting among others Ethiopia, Syria, Turkey’s south-east region, Venezuela, and both sides of the Line of Control, in India-Administered Jammu and Kashmir, and Pakistan-Administered Kashmir. In several areas where we have received indications of severe violations, and where access continues to be refused, my Office has begun remote monitoring, and fact-finding missions to neighbouring countries – reports which we intend to make public, and I will report on this further in June.


Mr President,


Last month I issued a very disturbing report on the alarming scale and severity of operations by the Myanmar security forces against Rohingya men, women and children in Rakhine State. These operations began in October, after a reported attack by armed assailants on three border guard facilities. Myanmar denied access to my Office, so our report stemmed from a mission by my Office to Bangladesh – where some 73,000 Rohingya refugees have fled. It found material evidence and corroborated eyewitness accounts of mass killings, including babies, children and elderly people unable to flee, and the burning of entire villages; shooting; massive detention; systematic rape and sexual violence; and deliberate destruction of food and sources of food. It appears that what has been termed by the security forces a “counter-insurgency operation” is in reality aimed at expelling the Rohingya population from Myanmar altogether,  as the Special Rapporteur has said.


The severity of the reported violations, against a backdrop of severe and longstanding persecution, appears to me to amount to possible commission of crimes against humanity, which warrants the attention of the International Criminal Court. I therefore urge the Council, at minimum, to establish a Commission of Inquiry into the violence against the Rohingya, particularly during security operations since 9 October 2016. I reiterate our standing request to open an OHCHR office in the country.


In the Philippines, over 7000 people have reportedly been killed since the anti-drug campaign was launched by the President last July. I am gravely concerned about this. Statements by the President have appeared to encourage the extrajudicial killings of people suspected of involvement in the drug trade – including his own admission that he personally engaged in killing suspected criminals while Mayor of Davao. This dangerous path may lead to deepening violence, and I call for a prompt, independent and credible investigation into all killings.


The recent arrest of long-standing human rights defender Senator Leila de Lima, who has pursued investigations into extrajudicial killings, gives rise to concerns that people who seek justice will be prosecuted – perhaps even persecuted. Plans for a law to lower the minimum age of criminal responsibility to nine years old also demonstrate stark disregard for the State’s obligations under international law.


In Cambodia, the pre-electoral period has featured a host of charges and threats against members of opposition parties and people exercising freedom of expression. Amendments to the Law on Political Parties, which were recently passed by Parliament without public consultation, permit indefinite de facto suspension of parties without due process, and fall far below human rights standards for freedom of association. The arbitrary pre-trial detention of human rights defenders from the Cambodia Human Rights and Development Association, ADHOC, has now surpassed 10 months, with no trial in sight. Recent crackdowns on drug users and traffickers, and continued roundups of people living or working on the streets, have meant thousands of people are now detained in inadequate conditions, many without benefit of due process. I stress that credible elections must be grounded in guarantees that courts will be independent and impartial, and that the freedoms of expression, peaceful assembly and association will be protected.


The Government of China has stated its intention to play a leadership role in this Council. Thus far China has performed remarkably in lifting hundreds of millions of its people out of poverty in the past 30 years, and in investing in universal health care, quality education and protection of the elderly. China’s stated commitment to the rule of law is also welcome, especially when it is consistent with international human rights standards. This should include respect for the role of human rights defenders. I deplore the intimidation and detention of lawyers and activists who seek the good of their community and nation. I am also disturbed by cases of restrictions on cultural and religious rights, particularly in Xinjiang and Tibet, and I will continue to reach out to China for an effective dialogue on important human rights issues.


I continue to be profoundly alarmed by incoming reports of extremely severe violations being suffered by the people of the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea. This urgently needs to change. I look forward to studying the report of the Group of Independent Experts. I also welcome the DPRK’s accession to the Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities, and hope it leads to deeper engagement with the mechanisms.


Turning to Iran, I deplore the Government’s restrictions on freedom of religion and belief, and the harmful practice of child marriage, which remains legal and pervasive throughout the country. I note, following engagement with the Government, the recent halt of imminent executions of two juveniles, but at least 80 remain on death row. The majority of death sentences are for drug-related offences, which do not meet the threshold of “most serious crimes”. In the past two months, 116 executions have reportedly taken place, and in 2016 over 530 people were reportedly put to death.


Currently, over 80 percent of Member States have ceased putting people to death, either formally or with informal moratoria. Iran is among the four countries responsible for almost 90 percent of the executions carried out around the world; the others are China – where the number of executions is reportedly in the thousands every year; Saudi Arabia; and Pakistan – which in December 2014 stripped back the moratorium previously established, and resumed capital punishment. Bahrain, The Gambia, Indonesia, Jordan and Kuwait have also recently retreated from formal or informal commitments to moratoria on the death penalty. I deeply regret these retrograde trends, and also the stated intention of the Maldives, Papua New Guinea, Turkey and – as we saw yesterday – the Philippines to reinstate capital punishment. On the other hand, Togo, the Dominican Republic and São Tomé and Principe have all ratified and acceded to the Second Optional Protocol of the ICCPR.


Mr President,


In Turkey, bombs and other shocking terrorist attacks against civilians continue to claim lives, which I condemn, and I fully understand the authorities are operating in a challenging environment in many respects. However, I am concerned measures taken under the state of emergency appear to target criticism, not terrorism. The fact that tens of thousands of people have been dismissed, arrested, detained or prosecuted following the attempted coup – including numerous democratically elected representatives, judges and journalists – raises serious alarm about due process guarantees being met. It will be particularly crucial for the credibility of April’s referendum on amending the Constitution that space for open debate, free of intimidation, be guaranteed.


The human rights situation in south-east Turkey remains deeply troubling. Without access to the area, the remote monitoring procedure engaged by my Office has established credible indications of hundreds of deaths, suggesting disproportionate security measures in response to violent attacks. A report detailing this and other indications of serious violations will be released soon.


While recognising the heroic efforts by many actors in the Mediterranean to save lives at sea, I am very concerned at increasing calls within the European Union to establish extraterritorial processing centres or camps in North Africa and elsewhere, and to engage external actors in migration issues, with little regard for human rights. For example, migrants apprehended at sea by the Libyan Coast Guard or similar agencies may be put at risk of further violence. I reiterate the importance of abiding by the principle that people must not be sent back to countries where they may face torture, persecution or threats to their life. Many ordinary people in Europe have welcomed and supported migrants, but political leaders increasingly demonstrate a chilling indifference to their fate. I am particularly disturbed by lurid public narratives which appear deliberately aimed at stirring up public fear and panic, by depicting these vulnerable people as criminal invading hordes.


Last week Hungary’s Prime Minister reportedly declared that “ethnic homogeneity” is key for economic success. No society is homogenous, least of all in Central Europe, and these toxic notions of so-called ethnic purity hark back to an era in which many people suffered atrociously, Hungarians included. Yesterday, the Hungarian Parliament passed a bill requiring all migrants to be transported to an area outside the country’s border fence. All asylum-seekers would be held in detention in this same area for the entire duration of the country’s asylum procedure, which falls far short of international norms. As is also the case in Poland, the Hungarian Government has continued to undermine civil society and judges, and increase government influence over the media. In both countries, legislative changes have curbed the independence of Constitutional Courts.


In other EU Member States, including the United Kingdom and France, judicial institutions traditionally accorded wide respect have been subjected to deep criticism, and in some cases abuse. I am concerned about a future trend in this direction which may compromise their independent functioning.


Turning to the Russian Federation, I am concerned the Federal Law on Combatting Extremist Activity may have been arbitrarily used to curb freedom of expression, including political dissent, as well as freedom of religion, due to a vague and open-ended definition of extremist activity. Harsher penalties for offenses related to extremism have also been introduced. This may have a chilling effect on the functioning of civil society at large. I continue to urge the repeal of the “foreign agents” law, which is damaging to the activities of civil society and, I believe, to society as a whole. I also deplore last month’s legislation to decriminalise violence within the family if it results in “minor harm “. Domestic violence is no different from other forms of violence in requiring appropriate responses from the criminal justice system.


Mr President,


I deplore the violence and destruction in South Sudan, where famine is spreading. As the First Vice President reminded me last week, the country was born out of a desire for human rights – but with people from more tribes, across an increasingly wider swathe of the country, becoming affected by atrocities and engaging in the conflict, that idea has been betrayed. The opposing forces – including the national army – have repeatedly engaged in alleged war crimes, including killings, rape and sexual violence, extortion, disappearances, pillage, and the burning of houses. It is essential to establish adequate accountability for these crimes. I am concerned about heavy-handed repression of freedom of expression, arbitrary arrests, and detention without trial, without access by UNMISS. Threats were issued against civil society representatives who met with the Security Council mission in our Juba premises last September.


My Office recently reported a number of severe human rights violations in the Kasais and Lomani provinces of the Democratic Republic of the Congo. I commend the swift action taken by the Government to begin processes of investigation and accountability in some of the alleged killings attributed to soldiers, and offer the assistance of my Office. In light of recurrent reports of grave violations and the recent discovery of three more mass graves, I urge the Council establish a Commission of Inquiry to look into these allegations. My Office will be closely watching judicial developments in regard to actions by security forces which led to the deaths of more than 100 people in September and December. There has been no meaningful progress in the context of the political agreement of 31 December which resulted from the commendable mediation efforts of the National Council of Bishops.

In Burundi, I am concerned that the democratic space has now been virtually extinguished. Grave human rights violations and abuses by security forces and the Imbonerakure militia continue to be reported, including increasing allegations of enforced disappearances, torture and mass arbitrary arrests. The recent decision to free up to 2,500 detainees is a positive sign, but hundreds of people remain in jail because of their real or perceived opposition to the Government. Following the release of the report by the UN Independent Investigation on Burundi in September 2016, the Government of Burundi suspended its cooperation with my Office in Burundi pending ongoing review of our MOU.

I am deeply troubled by the serious deterioration of the human rights situation in the northern and central regions of Mali, including Mopti and Segou. Extremist groups continue their brutal oppression, including targeted killings and summary executions, sexual violence, and attacks on schools, forcing thousands of people to flee the area. It is essential that counter-terrorism operations conducted by all national and international forces be carried out in accordance with international human rights law and international humanitarian law. Whenever such operations violate human rights, they weaken their support base in the population – and this can only strengthen the extremist groups. Rising attacks against humanitarian convoys and representatives of national and international organisations are also deeply worrying, as they may deprive these regions of essential services. There is a serious need to ensure accountability for these and other human rights violations committed in the area.


Mr President.


In the Occupied Palestinian Territory, after half a century of Israeli occupation, with the degradation of another people which it brings, the accumulation of despair is widespread. Pervasive discrimination deprives Palestinians of their basic rights. I have repeatedly called for an end to the prolonged detention without trial of large numbers of detainees. Despite Security Council resolution 2334, the Israeli government has authorised over 5500 new settlement units in the Occupied Palestinian Territory since the beginning of the year. Last month the Knesset passed a law “legalising” under Israeli law outposts built on land owned by Palestinians. This amounts to the confiscation of private property, and contravenes international law. Israel’s blockade of Gaza, which amounts to collective punishment, continues to deprive people of access to even basic goods and services. And while I repeat my alarm over unguided rockets sporadically fired by Palestinian armed groups from populated areas toward civilian areas in Israel – which are violations of international humanitarian law – I am similarly concerned that Israeli responses often do not meet the principles of distinction, proportionality, and precaution. Such policies cannot lay the ground for the peace and security which all Israelis, and all Palestinians, have a right to expect.


In the State of Palestine, my Office is also concerned that both the Palestinian Authority and the authorities in Gaza have increased use of administrative and arbitrary detention, with increasing allegations of torture and ill-treatment in both the West Bank and Gaza against political opponents, journalists and activists. In Gaza, courts continue to pronounce death sentences, and executions are carried out in violation of Palestinian policy. You will receive a more comprehensive briefing later during this session.

The conflict in Iraq continues to cause large numbers of civilian casualties and deaths. My Office and UNAMI receive daily reports of ISIL atrocities against civilians, including against people attempting to flee from areas under ISIL control. In areas retaken by Government forces from ISIL, at least 20 mass grave sites have been identified since October 2016 and in light of the grave crimes committed in Iraq, including war crimes and crimes against humanity, I urge that all such evidence of potential violations be collected and documented. With regards to the operations conducted in Mosul, the Iraqi Government is making efforts to adhere to the principles of international humanitarian law. I urge the Government to continue to monitor the conduct of Iraqi security forces. It is also essential that the Government amend the Criminal Code to ensure domestic courts have jurisdiction over international crimes. I further encourage extensive dialogue within and between communities to rebuild mutual trust and support national reconciliation. My Office is eager to assist the Government to build national justice institutions which can meet the very challenging issues it faces, including the need to re-establish law enforcement and rule of law in areas recaptured from ISIL.  

In Egypt, civil society, human rights defenders, journalists and media professionals are being methodically silenced by arrests, prosecutions, travel bans, closure orders and severely punitive financial measures. I particularly regret the recent compulsory closure of a centre renowned for its care for victims and survivors of torture and violence. The escalation of violence against military and civilian targets in the Sinai by armed groups affiliated with ISIS, and clashes with security forces, have resulted in hundreds of civilian casualties, and have sparked a worrying displacement from the area. My Office has received reports of alleged enforced disappearances, and torture and ill-treatment of detainees. I urge the authorities to recognise that, as in all countries facing security challenges and violent extremism, depriving people of their rights will not make the State safer, but more unstable.


In Bahrain, the Government has imposed increasing restrictions on civil society and political groups since June 2016, including intimidation, arrests and interrogations, travel bans and closure orders. I repeat that this repression will not eliminate people’s grievances; it will increase them. I am deeply concerned over the increasing levels of human rights violations in the Kingdom. I call on the Government of Bahrain to undertake concrete confidence building measures, including allowing my Office and Special Procedures mandate holders to swiftly conduct visits.


Mr President,


I am increasingly concerned about the extreme polarisation in Venezuela, with continued restrictions on the freedoms of movement, association, expression and peaceful protest. I am also disturbed by the lack of independence of rule of law and national human rights institutions. My Office continues to receive reports of arbitrary detention and intimidation of opposition leaders, and I repeat my calls for the release of all political detainees, many of whom we believe were detained arbitrarily. As the economic and social crisis in Venezuela deepens, we have received reports of a marked increase in Venezuelans arriving in neighbouring countries, and I urge authorities to ensure appropriate support. Shortages of medicine and food across the country, and spiralling prices, are severely affecting economic and social rights. I welcome mediation efforts by the Vatican, and encourage further respect of human rights as a common ground for resuming political dialogue.


In the United States of America, I am concerned by the new Administration’s handling of a number of human rights issues. Greater and more consistent leadership is needed to address the recent surge in discrimination, anti-Semitism, and violence against ethnic and religious minorities. Vilification of entire groups such as Mexicans and Muslims, and false claims that migrants commit more crimes than US citizens, are harmful and fuel xenophobic abuses. I am dismayed at attempts by the President to intimidate or undermine journalists and judges. I am also concerned about new immigration policies that ban admission of people from six predominantly Muslim countries for 90 days, as well as policies which greatly expand the number of migrants at immediate risk of deportation – without regard for years spent in the US or family roots. These threaten to vastly increase use of detention, including of children. Expedited deportations could amount to collective expulsions and refoulement, in breach of international law, if undertaken without due process guarantees, including individual assessment. I am especially disturbed by the potential impact of these changes on children, who face being detained, or may see their families torn apart.


Across many parts of Central and Latin America, people engaged in defending land rights and the environment from extractive industries and development projects face acute danger, including murder and violent attacks. Among them are numerous leaders of indigenous communities, whose civil, political, economic, social and cultural rights continue to be widely abused throughout the region, despite adoption of the American Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples last year. No development projects should be financed without extensive public deliberation and consultation with the directly affected communities that is free from intimidation.


Widespread criminal violence in the region, compounded by shortcomings in the judicial system, and in security operations, have severe and deadly impact in prison administration. In Brazil, gang violence killed more than 100 detainees in a two-week period this January. In Haiti, more than 40 detainees died in the past two months as a result of poor health-care and nutrition. Combatting severe overcrowding and parallel systems of governance within prisons are among key human rights recommendations that need to be urgently addressed.


Mr President,


2017 may be a pivotal year in many respects. Will the vicious attacks by terrorist groups thrust governments deeper into security-heavy responses, further heightening the likelihood of abuses, at the expense of human rights? And will the populists continue to reap the rewards of stoked-up fear and disillusionment?  Together with other authoritarian-minded leaders, will they tip the international system over the edge?  Or will there be enough people who realise clearly and deeply what is at stake – who see the entire rights-based system is under attack – and reverse the centrifugal forces which threaten to break apart international and regional institutions? Will they strengthen the centripetal forces the 2030 Agenda so desperately needs, to put an end to extreme poverty and benefit all societies?


The work in this Council, on this stage, or through the UN, can only be meaningful if it reflects accurately the space beyond it, and then changes those conditions for the better. And out there, 2017 will begin to answer for us the question, so simple, and yet filled with such power and consequence: will we continue to work together to improve the lot of all? Or do we, for various narrower reasons, begin to take leave of the multilateral approach? The question would then seem to be, Mr. President: are we all together – or do we fall together?


I thank you very much.


ENDS


For more information and
media requests, please contact Rupert Colville (+41 22 917 9767 / rcolville@ohchr.org) or Ravina Shamdasani (+41 22 917 9169 / rshamdasani@ohchr.org)

The Secretary-General – Written message on International Women’s Day

The Secretary-General

Written message on International Women’s Day

New York, 8 March 2017

Women’s rights are human rights. But in these troubled times, as our world becomes more unpredictable and chaotic, the rights of women and girls are being reduced, restricted and reversed.

Empowering women and girls is the only way to protect their rights and make sure they can realize their full potential.

Historic imbalances in power relations between men and women, exacerbated by growing inequalities within and between societies and countries, are leading to greater discrimination against women and girls. Around the world, tradition, cultural values and religion are being misused to curtail women’s rights, to entrench sexism and defend misogynistic practices.

Women’s legal rights, which have never been equal to men’s on any continent, are being eroded further. Women’s rights over their own bodies are questioned and undermined.  Women are routinely targeted for intimidation and harassment in cyberspace and in real life. In the worst cases, extremists and terrorists build their ideologies around the subjugation of women and girls and single them out for sexual and gender-based violence, forced marriage and virtual enslavement.

Despite some improvements, leadership positions across the board are still held by men, and the economic gender gap is widening, thanks to outdated attitudes and entrenched male chauvinism. We must change this, by empowering women at all levels, enabling their voices to be heard and giving them control over their own lives and over the future of our world.

Denying the rights of women and girls is not only wrong in itself; it has a serious social and economic impact that holds us all back. Gender equality has a transformative effect that is essential to fully functioning communities, societies and economies.

Women’s access to education and health services has benefits for their families and communities that extend to future generations. An extra year in school can add up to 25 per cent to a girl’s future income.

When women participate fully in the labour force, it creates opportunities and generates growth. Closing the gender gap in employment could add $12 trillion to global GDP by 2025. Increasing the proportion of women in public institutions makes them more representative, increases innovation, improves decision-making and benefits whole societies.

Gender equality is central to the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development, the global plan agreed by leaders of all countries to meet the challenges we face. Sustainable Development Goal 5 calls specifically for gender equality and the empowerment of all women and girls, and this is central to the achievement of all the 17 SDGs.

I am committed to increasing women’s participation in our peace and security work. Women negotiators increase the chances of sustainable peace, and women peacekeepers decrease the chances of sexual exploitation and abuse.

Within the UN, I am establishing a clear road map with benchmarks to achieve gender parity across the system, so that our Organization truly represents the people we serve.  Previous targets have not been met. Now we must move from ambition to action.

On International Women’s Day, let us all pledge to do everything we can to overcome entrenched prejudice, support engagement and activism, and promote gender equality and women’s empowerment.

Opium cultivation in Shan State Myanmar is concentrated in areas with poor security, says UNODC

Opium cultivation in Shan State Myanmar is concentrated in areas with poor security, says UNODC

Yangon (Myanmar), 3 March 2017 – Stable governance and good security conditions have a considerable impact on the decision of farmers to cultivate opium poppy, according to a report released today by the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC) at the National Reconciliation and Peace Centre (NRPC). The report titled “Evidence for Enhancing Resilience to Opium Poppy Cultivation in Shan State – Implications for Alternative Development, Peace and Stability” is the first of its kind dedicated to Shan State, highlighting reasons farmers engage in the opium economy, as well as some implications for Myanmar’s ongoing peace process.  

A total of 591 villages in 39 opium poppy growing townships in Shan State were surveyed for the report, and the findings show that while many factors affect farmers’ decisions regarding whether or not to cultivate opium poppy – including the condition of infrastructure and access to markets for other goods – governance and security considerations are significant factors. On average, fewer opium poppy villages are in areas under government control (76 per cent) than non-opium poppy villages (88 per cent). At the same time, more opium producing villages have the perception of being “unsafe” or “very unsafe” (11 per cent) than in non-opium poppy villages (2 per cent).

The governance and security connection is also found in other parts of the world where illicit crops are cultivated on a large scale, and where isolation, and ethnic and other conflicts impact public safety, the economy and opportunity. In this respect, the ongoing peace process may over time bring improvements to governance and security, which can have a tangible impact on local communities and reduce the need to engage in opium poppy cultivation.

“The connection of conflict and poppy cultivation means that interventions will need to take into account mitigation or resolution. Depending on the context, this may mean that strategies and programmes to help households and communities move away from the opium economy may also need to address some causes and consequences of conflict,” said Mr. Jeremy Douglas, UNODC Regional Representative, Southeast Asia and the Pacific. “This is particularly relevant for the ongoing peace process and cease-fire commitment to stop drug production and trafficking in the conflict areas of Shan State where the majority of opium cultivation takes place”.

“Villages not engaged in opium poppy cultivation typically have better access to government services and perceptions of safety and security,” said Pol. Brigadier General Kyaw Win, Joint Secretary of Central Committee for Drug Abuse Control (CCDAC). “Opium poppy cultivation often happens in villages that are isolated and that cannot get other products to market. We need to expand our work with development partners like UNODC to scale-up sustainable alternative development programmes to reach more communities.”

The report also confirms the importance of opium poppy to the economy of Shan State. About 1 in 10 households in the villages surveyed are directly involved in opium poppy cultivation, with many depending on money earned from poppy for food and basic essentials.

“The report really illustrates the complexity of the challenge”, said Mr. Douglas. “In addition to considering the political and security dimension, well thought out development responses will need to be supported to ensure the move towards alternative livelihoods and the legal economy is sustainable.”

The issue of land title is also significant as farmers that own land were found to be less involved in opium poppy cultivation.  

The report helps establish a unique evidence base to understand the needs of opium poppy and non-opium poppy villages in Shan and Myanmar, and it is expected that it will help as a foundation for national plans and development programmes.

“Further field work is needed to understand what is happening and why, and how we can progress towards sustainable development outside the illegal economy”, said Mr. Troels Vester, UNODC Country Manager in Myanmar. He added, “the data from our village surveys can be used as powerful evidence for analysis, but is also being used as the basis for programmes we are in discussions with the government about scaling up, and can be helpful for other development partners as they consider how to help the country.”

__________________________________

For further information, please contact:

Mr. Chandu Bhandari
Regional Adviser
UNODC Regional Office for Southeast Asia and the Pacific
chandu.bhandari@unodc.org
Tel: +66 96 602 8361

Ms. Jacqueline Pee Gyaw
UNODC Myanmar
jacqueline.peegyaw@unodc.org
Tel: (+95-1) 9666903, 9660556, 9660538, 9660398 ext: 215

End of Mission Statement by Special Rapporteur on the situation of human rights in Myanmar

End of Mission Statement by Special Rapporteur on the situation of human rights in Myanmar
Dhaka, 24 February 2017

I would like to first thank the Government of Bangladesh for allowing me to undertake a visit to the country, particularly to Cox’s Bazar. I had initially hoped to undertake this mission immediately after my last visit to Myanmar in January but for various reasons, it had to be delayed until now. As such, findings from this visit have not been included in the written report being presented to the Human Rights Council as I had to complete that report prior to this visit. I will raise key points from this visit during my oral presentation to the Human Rights Council on 13 March.

As I highlighted in my statement at the end of my last visit to Myanmar, reprisals were a major concern for me. While I did have the opportunity to meet and talk to Rohingya villagers in my visit to the north of Rakhine State in January, I was mindful of the possible retaliation against those speaking with me in Myanmar.  Therefore, it was important for me to seek the opportunity to meet the Rohingya population who fled to Bangladesh from the post 9 October violence.

I would like to thank specifically the Bangladesh Ministry of Foreign Affairs, and the International Organization for Migration as well as the Office of the United Nations Resident Coordinator in Bangladesh for their assistance and support in facilitating my visit. My deep appreciation also goes to the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees as well as other international and local actors on the ground for their support and cooperation.

I must acknowledge and pay tribute to the generosity and compassion of the host communities in Cox’s Bazar in providing shelter and sharing their personal – in many cases limited – resources to help the Rohingya population who fled from Myanmar in fear. Most of all, I am grateful and humbled by the resilience and strength shown by the members of the Rohingya population whom I met in Cox’s Bazar. I met several groups of Rohingya women and men, and their children including one with a disability, from several of the villages most affected by the security operations which ensued after the attacks against the Myanmar Border Guard Police facilities on 9 October 2016.

Hearing personal accounts of what they endured before making the difficult decision to cross into Bangladesh helped to complete the picture. And I am saddened to report that what I heard during my visit to Bangladesh was worse than I had anticipated. The magnitude of violence that these families witnessed and experienced was far more extensive than I had originally speculated.

Previously I had expressed my incredulity over the official reasons given for the burning down of houses. I refused to accept Government arguments that the Rohingya people were willing to burn down their own houses to be without a home and potentially displaced for five years or more, like those in Sittwe, for the sake of propaganda or in the hope that international actors would help build them better houses when the Government has hindered these actors from fully discharging their respective mandates, including in the delivery of food and provision of medical assistance.
This visit, I am unable to believe that women with very young children or who were heavily pregnant would have made the journey across from Myanmar into Bangladesh without very compelling reasons. To go without the guarantees and familiarity of their own homes as well as support of familial and social networks under such circumstances can only mean an enormous upheaval in their lives.

There was not a single account I heard which was not harrowing. I was especially affected by a mother who repeatedly expressed regret for mistakenly thinking that her son had been brought out from their burning house. She heard him screaming for her and managed to save his life but burn scars have been seared onto him – scars which I saw with my own eyes. One woman lost sight in both eyes due to the fire caused by the security forces personnel and had to rely on the help of others to be able to flee to Bangladesh in search of refuge. Destitute and having recently lost the use of her eyes, she fears what the future may hold for her.

A boy with a hearing impairment was desperately making gestures to tell me how both his parents died in front of him, first beaten, stamped on, and then shot to death. One man who had hidden himself when news spread that the security forces were arbitrarily arresting male villagers was left guilt-ridden for his mistaken belief that the women left behind would be spared from harm. His wife, who was seven-months’ pregnant, had been at his sister-in-law’s home as the latter was giving birth. When the security forces were unable to find male members of the village, they apparently raided all the houses looking for them. Seven members from that family were fatally shot including his wife, sister-in-law and a four-year old girl. Fortunately, the newborn survived.

I heard allegation after allegation of horrific events like these – slitting of throats, indiscriminate shootings, setting alight houses with people tied up inside and throwing very young children into the fire, as well as gang rapes and other sexual violence.

When men, young and old, broke down and cried in front of me, I could feel that the terrible things that had happened to them, had broken their spirit, and shattered their hope in the world.

Yet in spite of what they experienced, over and again I heard that what they want is to be accepted as Rohingya, to be able to go back to their home country, to be treated equally, to be treated as human beings. There are some who said they want justice, and when I probed what they meant by justice, most said they want their homes returned to them and to be able to live in peace. One said, “I want justice for those who were murdered and raped; I want those who murdered and raped brought to justice.”

In my report to the Human Rights Council which I will present in March, and which should be available online in the next two weeks, I highlight – in addition to the alleged human rights violations occurring within the context of the security operations that followed the 9 October attacks – how the Government of Myanmar appears to have taken, and continues to take, actions which discriminate against the Rohingya and make their lives even more difficult.

They instructed the Rohingya people to dismantle their own homes arguing that the structures had been built without permission; yet did not offer any alternative housing or forms of redress nor the opportunity to challenge such orders. They made the Rohingya villagers remove the fencing around their homes arguing security reasons, causing women particularly to feel more vulnerable as bathing facilities are normally hidden behind these fences.

It appears that the regular conduct of the household list survey was moved up from the period of the year it is normally done, possibly to hold it at a time they knew many Rohingya people, who had fled the country in fear, would not be at home during the survey. Reportedly, in several cases when a Rohingya resident has been found not to be at home, s/he has been struck off the list which also means losing the only remaining legal link to Myanmar for many of the Rohingya people in northern Rakhine.

Currently, a citizenship verification exercise under the discriminatory 1982 Citizenship Law is underway; and despite the understanding that the process should be a voluntary one, I have reports of the Rohingya people being forced to apply for the National Verification Cards; as otherwise, they are not allowed to receive food assistance, to move from one point to another within a restricted and demarcated area, to fish for their livelihood, or to carry out work as a national staff member of an international organization.

In the meantime, a strict curfew (albeit of a recently shortened duration) is still applied in the areas that the majority of the Rohingya live; their freedom of movement is restricted; they have limited access to their rights to education, healthcare, and livelihoods. They continue to be kept segregated from the Rakhine community in many areas while anti-Muslim sentiments and rhetoric are left mostly unchecked by the authorities and in some instances emboldened.

After decades of systematic and institutionalized discrimination, and long-standing persecution, no one should be surprised that some could turn to radical measures. More so after the general Rohingya population is collectively punished through the security forces’ operations for the actions potentially committed by a small fraction of the population.

It is a tragic irony that after implementing policies, laws and rules that discriminate and persecute this population, giving the pretext for some extreme elements to attack the security forces, more cruel actions are taken against this population generally in the name of national security and protection of state sovereignty. In other words, the 9 October attacks appear to have given the security forces the perfect cover to amplify and accelerate actions they had previously carried out through policies, rules and laws – with the apparent objective of expelling the Rohingya population from Myanmar altogether.

After almost five months, the Government finally announced the withdrawal of the military presence in the north of Rakhine State. Only after months of having been cautioned and warned by the international community of the increasing number of serious allegations of human rights violations occurring in these areas consequent to the security operations. And only after months of the Government defending their position with few reservations, denying and dismissing these allegations as fabrications.

Yet a video was circulated in late December and early January of Myanmar Police Force personnel beating up those rounded up for questioning. Even then, the authorities claimed this was an isolated event which I still doubt very much. Now it seems an investigation has been opened into several cases of custodial deaths. I had in fact raised such cases during my visit to Myanmar and the response which was given – that the deaths were related to their pre-existing medical conditions – appears now to be called into question. And despite the Myanmar Government’s announcement that the security operations have ceased in northern Rakhine, I am informed that there is still heavy presence of military there.

I have also received allegations of reprisals related to the interaction of the Rohingya villagers with either the foreign delegations, the UN/diplomatic mission and journalists, or the Government appointed commissions. One male villager told me how he tried to approach the UN/diplomatic mission and was stopped and detained by the military, and only released after a member of that delegation asked that he and others detained alongside him be released. He nonetheless fled Myanmar fearing he would be blacklisted.

In another instance, a female villager reportedly fled Myanmar after being pursued by the authorities after informing visiting journalists that she had been raped. In yet another case, someone who responded to questions posed by the military investigating team was instead apparently accused of being a suspected attacker. In fear of being arrested, this person also fled. Generally, I also heard how the military would warn villagers against coming out or approaching visiting dignitaries.

I was made aware during my visit to Bangladesh of how there had been previous phases of large numbers of the Rohingya population fleeing Myanmar, and that there are about 33,000 registered Rohingya refugees from the ‘91-92’ phase who are located in two registered camps, in Nayapara and Kutupalong. In addition to these registered refugees, there are reportedly about 300-500,000 undocumented Rohingya people of which tens of thousands are located in two makeshift settlements in Leda and Kutupalong. I have also visited Balukhali where temporary shelters have started to emerge and where many so-called new arrivals reportedly have tended to gravitate towards. As had been previously reported, about 70,000 more Rohingya appear to have crossed into Bangladesh since the 9 October attacks.

I understand that the Government of Bangladesh has concerns about creating conditions that may become a “pull factor” and that its position has always been for the Myanmar Government to take responsibility for the Rohingya population. I agree that the root causes of the situation of the Rohingya population lie with the Government of Myanmar. And, for these new groups of undocumented Rohingya to arrive in such a large number over a brief period of time in recent months and in dire circumstances – many with just the clothes on their backs, bearing violence-related injuries – this clearly indicates a “push factor” at hand.

I appreciate that this new caseload has caused additional stress and burden on the existing system in Bangladesh already providing humanitarian assistance to the earlier registered and undocumented Rohingya population in Bangladesh. The Bangladesh Government’s extension of humanitarian assistance to the recent arrivals should also be commended.

However, I am compelled to advocate on behalf of the Rohingya that I met and whose homes and living quarters I visited in Balukhali, Leda, Nayapara and Kutupalong for the Government of Bangladesh to take greater efforts to improve their living conditions and for the international community to support such efforts.

More can, should and must be done to end the continued suffering of the Rohingya population. In particular, I urge for the Government of Myanmar to immediately cease the discrimination that the community continues to face in the country, to act to prevent any further serious rights violations and to conduct prompt, thorough, independent and impartial investigations into those already alleged to have occurred. We all owe it to those I have met and their fellow community members to do everything in our power to ensure this is done and to give the Rohingya people reason to hope again.

Annex – List of Meetings

Government Officials

  • Minister for Foreign Affairs, Foreign Secretary, and MOFA Director-Generals for United Nations, International Organizations and South-East Asia
  • Home Secretary
  • Cox’s Bazar Deputy Commissioner
  • Cox’s Bazar Refugee Relief and Repatriation Commissioner

Others

  • UN, INGOs & NGOs providing support and assistance in Cox’s Bazar
  • Representatives of the diplomatic community

Camps & Settlements visited

  • Balukhali
  • Leda makeshift settlement
  • Nayapara refugee camp
  • Kutupalong refugee camp and makeshift settlement

– See more here:.

MEDIA ADVISORY – Cox’s Bazar: UN Special Rapporteur on Myanmar to visit Bangladesh – 20 to 23 February

Cox’s Bazar: UN Special Rapporteur on Myanmar to visit Bangladesh – 20 to 23 February



GENEVA (17 February) – The United Nations Special Rapporteur on the situation of human rights in Myanmar, Yanghee Lee, will undertake a visit to Bangladesh from 20 to 23 February to visit various locations in Cox’s Bazar, where the population who had fled from Myanmar since 9 October 2016 are residing temporarily in makeshift shelters.


“The announcement that the military security operations in the north of Rakhine has ceased is welcomed. However, we cannot forget the numerous allegations of grave human rights violations recorded by the team deployed by the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights to Cox’s Bazar last month,” Ms. Lee said recalling the 3 February
OHCHR’s flash report based on the testimonies of over 200 individuals.

The human rights expert, who plans to visit Cox’s Bazar and related areas, will focus on the situation of the specific population from Myanmar who had crossed into Bangladesh in the past 4-5 months and the events which have led to their crossing over into the country
.

“Having access to these affected communities would help give me a better understanding of their human rights situation in Myanmar,” she said.


Following her three-day visit to Bangladesh, the human rights expert will issue an
end of mission statement and share her findings when she presents a new report to the UN Human Rights Council on 13 March 2017. The report will be posted online.

ENDS


Professor Yanghee Lee (Republic of Korea) was appointed by the UN Human Rights Council in 2014 as the
Special Rapporteur on situation of human rights in Myanmar. She is independent from any government or organization and serves in her individual capacity. Ms. Lee is currently serving as the Chairperson of the Coordinating Committee of Special Procedures of the Human Rights Council. Ms. Lee served as member and chairperson of the UN Committee on the Rights of the Child (2003-2011). She is currently a professor at Sungkyunwan University, Seoul, and serves on the Advisory Committee of the National Human Rights Commission of Korea. Ms. Lee is the founding President of International Child Rights Center.

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. Special Procedures mandate-holders are independent human rights experts appointed by the Human Rights Council to address either specific country situations or thematic issues in all parts of the world. They are not UN staff and are independent from any government or organization. They serve in their individual capacity and do not receive a salary for their work.

UN Human Rights, country page:
Myanmar.

For more information and
media requests, please contact Ms. Azwa Petra (+41 22 928 9103 / apetra@ohchr.org) 

For
media inquiries related to other UN independent experts: 
Xabier Celaya, OHCHR Media Unit (+ 41 22 917 9383 /
xcelaya@ohchr.org)

You can access this media advisory online


Tag and share – Twitter:
@UNHumanRights and Facebook: unitednationshumanrights 

GGGI and Myanmar to partner on national green growth

NAY PYI TAW, MYANMAR February 9, 2017 – The Ministry of Natural Resources and Environment (MONREC) in Myanmar and the Global Green Growth Institute (GGGI) today signed a Memorandum of Understanding (MoU) to promote and facilitate collaboration on programs, research and joint activities that advance green growth in Myanmar.

The opening up of Myanmar’s economy in recent years has accelerated growth –  the World Bank projects the country’s medium term GDP growth at an average of 8.2 percent per year. However, this growth relies heavily on natural resources such as energy, forests, minerals and agriculture for exports and industries, which makes it essential that the growth pattern is environmentally sustainable.

H.E. U Khin Maung Yi, Permanent Secretary, Natural Resources and Environment said, “Myanmar is at a juncture in its development. We are welcoming foreign investment and stimulating SMEs. We see rapid urban development and industrialization. This will affect natural resources. It is crucial that we safeguard a green, sustainable development pathway. Therefore, we are glad to be signing a six-year agreement with GGGI today. “

The MOU signing took place in the capital Nay Pyi Taw during the Green Growth Potential Assessment (GGPA) workshop. The GGPA is a diagnostic tool which is used to identify areas where green growth has the highest potential of supporting the economic development of Myanmar. The exercise aims to select priorities for cooperation between GGGI and the government of Myanmar for the next five years.

“Myanmar has the potential to establish the foundations for strong, low-carbon economy that is sustainable in the use of natural resources, and resilient to climate change,” said Dr. Frank Rijsberman, Director-General of GGGI. “GGGI is committed to partnering with the government to identify green growth opportunities and leverage green investment.”

GGGI’s first project in Myanmar will focus on supporting the government in setting up a monitoring, reporting and verification (MRV) system for its Nationally Determined Contribution (NDC). This will allow the Government of Myanmar to monitor progress against the commitment it made as part of the Paris Agreement in 2015 to mitigate and adapt to climate change.

About the Global Green Growth Institute (GGGI)

Based in Seoul, GGGI is an intergovernmental organization founded to support and promote green growth. The organization partners with countries to help them build economies that grow strongly, are more efficient and sustainable in the use of natural resources, less carbon intensive, and more resilient to climate change. GGGI works with countries around the world, building their capacity and working collaboratively on green growth policies that can impact the lives of millions. To learn more about GGGI, see http://www.gggi.org and visit us on Facebook and Twitter.


The release has been posted on the GGGI website here.

Applications for 2017 fellowship programme for journalists sponsored by Dag Hammarskjöld Fund for Journalists

DAG HAMMARSKJÖLD FUND FOR JOURNALISTS
132 East 43rd Street, No. 457
New York, NY  10017
917-577-4568 │www.unjournalismfellowship.org

PRESS RELEASE

United Nations, New York.  The Dag Hammarskjöld Fund for Journalists is now accepting applications from professional journalists from developing countries for its 2017 fellowship program. The application deadline is March 20, 2017.

The fellowships are available to radio, television, print and web journalists, age 25 to 35, from developing countries who are interested in coming to New York to report on international affairs during the 72nd session of the United Nations General Assembly.  The fellowships will begin in early September and extend to late November and will include the cost of travel and accommodations in New York, as well as a per diem allowance.

The fellowship program is open to journalists who are native to one of the developing countries in Africa, Asia, and Latin America/the Caribbean and are currently working for media organizations. Applicants must demonstrate an interest in and commitment to international affairs and to conveying a better understanding of the United Nations to their readers and audiences.  They must also have approval from their media organizations to spend up to three months in New York to report from the United Nations.

In an effort to rotate recipient countries, the Fund will not consider journalist applications for 2017 from nations selected in 2016:  Argentina, Indonesia, Iran and Tajikistan.  Journalists from these countries may apply in 2018.

Four journalists are selected each year after a review of all applications. The journalists who are awarded fellowships are given the incomparable opportunity to observe international diplomatic deliberations at the United Nations, to make professional contacts that will serve them for years to come, to interact with seasoned journalists from around the world, and to gain a broader perspective and understanding of matters of global concern.  Many past fellows have risen to prominence in their professional and countries. The program is not intended to provide basic skills training to journalists; all participants are media professionals.

Full fellowship eligibility criteria and documentation requirements as well as the fellowship application form can be found on the Fund’s web site at www.unjournalismfellowship.org

Questions about the program, eligibility and application process can be directed by email to fellowship2017@unjournalismfellowship.org.

_______________________________

IF YOU REQUIRE A PDF OR OTHER ELECTRONIC VERSION OF THIS MESSAGE, PLEASE WRITE TO fellowship2017@unjournalismfellowship.org OR CALL 917-577-4568.

Statement by Adama Dieng, United Nations Special Adviser on the Prevention of Genocide following OHCHR’s report on the situation in northern Rakhine State, Myanmar

(New York, 6 February 2017)

The United Nations Special Adviser on the Prevention of Genocide, Adama Dieng, stated that he was shocked and alarmed to read the accounts of serious human rights violations being committed against Muslim Rohingya in northern Rakhine State by Myanmar’s security forces, as set out in the report published on 3 February by the United Nations Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR). According to the findings of the report, human rights violations committed by the security forces include mass gang-rape, extra judicial killings – including of babies and young children – brutal beatings and disappearances. These attacks have taken place in the context of an escalation of violence in northern Rakhine State since border security posts were attacked by armed assailants in early October 2016.

There have been allegations that security forces were committing serious human rights violations against the civilian population of northern Rakhine State from the very beginning of the recent escalation of violence. “I and many others have been urging the authorities to conduct an independent and impartial investigation into these allegations. The investigation conducted by OHCHR gives further credibility to those accounts and describes a level of dehumanization and cruelty that is revolting, and unacceptable. This must stop right now!”

The Special Adviser welcomed the Government’s commitment to investigate the matter immediately. The commission previously appointed by the Government to investigate allegations of human rights violations in norther Rakhine state, which was led by Vice-President U Myint Swe, reported just a few weeks ago that it had found no evidence, or insufficient evidence, of any wrongdoing by Government forces.

“I am concerned that the Government Commission, which had unhindered access to the location of the incidents, found nothing to substantiate the claims, while OHCHR, which was not given access to the area, found an overwhelming number of testimonies and other forms of evidence through interviews with refugees who had fled to a neighbouring country” stated the Special Adviser. “The existing Commission is not a credible option to undertake the new investigation. I urge that any investigation be conducted by a truly independent and impartial body that includes international observers. If the Government wants the international community and regional actors to believe in their willingness to resolve the matter, they must act responsibly and demonstrate their sincerity.”

According to the Special Adviser, “There is no more time to wait. All of this is happening against the background of very deeply rooted and long-standing discriminatory practices and policies against the Rohingya Muslims and a failure to put in place conditions that would support peaceful coexistence among the different communities in Rakhine State. If people are being persecuted based on their identity and killed, tortured, raped and forcibly transferred in a widespread or systematic manner, this could amount to crimes against humanity, and in fact be the precursor of other egregious international crimes. The Government has a responsibility to protect its populations against these atrocious and punishable acts.”

* *** *

For media queries please contact:
Claudia Diaz, Office on Genocide Prevention and the Responsibility to Protect
http://www.un.org/en/preventgenocide/adviser/
Phone: +1 917-367-2061; Email: diazc@un.org

A Continent of Hope

By António Guterres

Far too often, the world views Africa through the prism of problems.  When I look to Africa, I see a continent of hope, promise and vast potential.

I am committed to building on those strengths and establishing a higher platform of cooperation between the United Nations and the leaders and people of Africa.  This is essential to advancing inclusive and sustainable development and deepening cooperation for peace and security.

That is the message I carried to the recent African Union Summit in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia — my first major mission as United Nations Secretary-General.

Above all, I came in a spirit of profound solidarity and respect.  I am convinced that the world has much to gain from African wisdom, ideas and solutions.

I also brought with me a deep sense of gratitude.  Africa provides the majority of United Nations peacekeepers around the world.  African nations are among the world’s largest and most generous hosts of refugees.  Africa includes some of the world’s fastest growing economies.

The recent resolution of the political crisis in the Gambia once again demonstrated the power of African leadership and unity to overcome governance challenges and uphold democracy, human rights and the rule of law.

I left the Summit more convinced than ever that all of humanity will benefit by listening, learning and working with the people of Africa.

We have the plans in place to build a better future.  The international community has entered the second year of implementing the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development, an all-out effort to tackle global poverty, inequality, instability and injustice.  Africa has adopted its own complementary and ambitious plan: Agenda 2063.

For the people of Africa to fully benefit from these important efforts, these two agendas need to be strategically aligned.

It starts with prevention.  Our world needs to move from managing crises to preventing them in the first place.  We need to break the cycle of responding too late and too little.

Most of today’s conflicts are internal, triggered by competition for power and resources, inequality, marginalization and sectarian divides.  Often, they are inflamed by violent extremism or provide the fuel for it.

The United Nations is committed to working hand-in-hand with partners wherever conflict or the threat of conflict endangers stability and well-being.

But prevention goes far beyond focusing solely on conflict.  The best means of prevention and the surest path to durable peace is inclusive and sustainable development.

We can speed progress by doing more to provide opportunities and hope to young people.  More than three out of five Africans are under 35 years of age.  Making the most of this tremendous asset means more investment in education, training, decent work, and engaging young people in shaping their future.

We must also do our utmost to empower women so they can play a full role in sustainable development and sustainable peace.  I am pleased that the African Union has consistently placed a special focus on gender equality and women’s empowerment.

I have seen it again and again:  When we empower women, we empower the world.

I travelled to Africa as a partner, friend and committed advocate for changing the narrative about this diverse and vital continent.  Crises represent at best a partial view.  But from a higher platform of cooperation, we can see the whole picture – one that spotlights the enormous potential and remarkable success stories in every corner of the African continent.

With that perspective, I have no doubt we can win the battle for sustainable and inclusive development which are also the best weapons to prevent conflict and suffering, allowing Africa to shine even more vibrantly and inspire the world.


 António Guterres is Secretary-General of the United Nations