Author Archives: UN News Centre - Top Stories

‘Stand up against intolerance and eliminate discrimination,’ says UN chief Guterres

21 March 2017 – Against the backdrop of rising discrimination and violence against those perceived as different, United Nations Secretary-General António Guterres today urged the world to stand up against intolerance and build communities that recognize diversity not as a source of weakness, but a source of strength and richness.

“In a time of upheaval and change, it is easy to paint vulnerable communities as the cause of problems […] people are being targeted because of their race, nationality, ethnicity, religion or sexual orientation,” warned Mr. Guterres at an event at the UN General Assembly commemorating the International Day for the Elimination of Racial Discrimination.

Highlighting the particular plight of migrants as well as those, especially women and girls, from minority communities who are often targeted as “scapegoats” and experience racial profiling by authorities, the UN chief underscored the collective responsibility “to do better” and to protect human rights of all.

“We all have a role to play […] after all, racial discrimination destabilizes societies, undermines democracies and erodes the legitimacy of governments,” he said. “By acting together to end discrimination, we can lift humanity as a whole.”

In his remarks, the Secretary-General also reminded that international law requires States to take effective actions to prevent and eliminate discrimination on all grounds and in all fields of civil, economic, political, social and cultural life.

RELATED: In Geneva, UN urges upholding human rights amid rising populism and extremism

“They must be vigilant and respond immediately and appropriately, including by prohibiting incitement to racial, national and religious hatred and ending racial profiling,” he said, making a specific call on politicians and leaders to speak up and counter hateful speech.

“Let us stand up against intolerance and eliminate discrimination,” he noted, “Let us join forces in our global campaign – Together for Respect, Safety and Dignity for all.”

Marked on 21 March, the International Day commemorates the killing of 69 unarmed protestors in 1960 in Sharpeville, South Africa, who were staging a peaceful protest against the discriminatory pass laws of the racist apartheid regime.

Assembly honours memory of late Russian Ambassador Churkin
Also today at the General Assembly, UN chief Guterres paid a tribute to Ambassador Vitaly Churkin, the Permanent Representative of Russia to the United Nations who passed away last month, a day before his 65th birthday.

“Ambassador Churkin was truly one-of-a-kind – an outstanding diplomat, a man of many talents and interests, and a human being whose friendship touched many of us here in this hall today,” said Mr. Guterres in his message, offering his condolences to the late Ambassador’s wife, son and family as well as to the people and Government of Russia.

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UN agency voices concern about forced return of Nigerian refugees from Cameroon

21 March 2017 – The United Nations refugee agency today expressed concern that forced returns of refugees from Cameroon’s far north region to crisis-gripped north-eastern Nigeria are continuing despite the recent signing of a tripartite agreement aimed at ensuring the voluntary nature of returns.

So far this year, Cameroon has forcefully returned over 2,600 refugees back to Nigerian border villages against their will, according to the Office of the UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR).

“UNHCR is particularly concerned as these forced returns have continued unabated after the governments of Nigeria and Cameroon signed a tripartite agreement with UNHCR in Yaoundé on 2 March,” UNHCR Spokesperson Babar Baloch told reporters at the UN’s Geneva Office.

The forced return of asylum-seekers and refugees is known as refoulement, or forced return, and constitutes a serious violation of the 1951 Refugee Convention and the 1969 OAU Convention, both of which Cameroon has ratified.

While acknowledging the generosity of its Government and local communities that host over 85,000 Nigerian refugees, UNHCR calls on Cameroon to honour to its obligations under international and regional refugee protection instruments, as well as Cameroonian law.

Insecurity persists in parts of north-eastern Nigeria, and access to basic services remains limited. Most returning refugees find themselves in situations of internal displacement upon return and are unable to return to their places of origin.

Inside Nigeria, UNHCR teams have heard and documented accounts about Cameroonian troops returning refugees against their will – without allowing them time to collect their belongings.

Amid the chaos, some families were separated and some women were forced to leave their young children behind in Cameroon, including a child less than three years old.

While recognizing the legitimate national security concerns of the Cameroon Government, UNHCR reminds authorities that refugees are themselves fleeing violence and attacks from Boko Haram and that their access to asylum and protection must be ensured.

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Warming earth threatens to release huge amounts of carbon – UN agency

21 March 2017 – Rising temperatures could release massive amounts of carbon trapped in the Earth’s soil, the United Nations agricultural agency today reported, warning that soil management could make or break climate change response efforts.

Plants and organic residues take in carbon and then sequester it into soil, creating a vast reservoir of carbon. But when soil is disturbed or degraded, trapped carbon and other greenhouse gases resulting from decay are re-released back into the atmosphere, the UN Food and Agricultural Organization (FAO) explained in a press release.

&#8220This means that the Earth’s soil carbon reservoir could either release massive amounts of greenhouse gases into the atmosphere, or sequester more of them, depending on the management decisions we make going forward,&#8221 according to the report, Soil Organic Carbon: The Hidden Potential.

The report is being presented today at the start of the Global Symposium on Soil Organic Carbon, in Rome.

Speaking at the event, the FAO Director-General Jose Graziano da Silva said that beyond its role as carbon sinks, healthy soils are the foundation for global food security.

&#8220Soils with high organic carbon content are likely to be more fertile and productive, better able to purify water, and help to increase the resilience of livelihoods to the impacts of climate change,&#8221 Mr. da Silva said.

Improving the health of the planet’s soils and boosting their organic carbon content is critical to achieving several of the international development goals established by the Sustainable Development Goals, including those related to eradicating hunger and malnutrition, he added.

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Poetry gives us hope to scale and climb ‘cloudy summits of our time’ – UN cultural agency

21 March 2017 – Poetry gives us hope, the United Nations cultural agency today said, lauding verse’s ability to shake us from everyday life and remind us of the surrounding beauty and the resilience of the shared human spirit.

In her message for World Poetry Day, UN Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UESCO) Director-General Irina Bokova quoted from Henry Wadsworth Longfellow:

We have not wings, we cannot soar;

But we have feet to scale and climb

By slow degrees, by more and more,

The cloudy summits of our time.

&#8220As old as language itself, poetry remains more vital than ever, in a time of turbulence, as a source of hope, as a way to share what it means to live in this world,&#8221 Ms. Bokova said.

&#8220By celebrating poetry today, we celebrate our ability to join together, in a spirit of solidarity, to scale and climb ‘the cloudy summits of our time’,&#8221 she noted, in reference to Mr. Longfellow’s poem.

UNESCO proclaimed 21 March as World Poetry Day in 1999, calling poetry a &#8220a social need&#8221 which anchors people to their roots.

One of the main objectives of the Day is to support linguistic diversity through poetic expression and to offer endangered languages the opportunity to be heard within their communities.

UNESCO’s Representative List of the Intangible Cultural Heritage of Humanity includes dozens of forms of oral expression and poetry, from the Tsiattista poetic duelling of Cyprus, the Ca trù sung poetry of Viet Nam and Al-Taghrooda to the traditional Bedouin chanted poetry of Oman and the United Arab Emirates.

World Poetry Day also celebrates poetry’s power to aid peace. UNESCO’s new Goodwill Ambassador for Artistic Freedom and Creativity, Deeyah Khan, has said, all art, including poetry, &#8220has the extraordinary capacity to express resistance and rebellion, protest and hope.&#8221

In her message today, the Director-General said that the spirit of solidarity created by poetry is essential to reaching the goals set by the international community to fight inequality, poverty and climate change.

&#8220We need this to take forward the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development, to implement the Paris Climate Agreement, to ensure no woman or man is left behind,&#8221 said Ms. Bokova.

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Deteriorating security situation in DR Congo ‘a source of major concern,’ warns UN envoy

21 March 2017 – The United Nations envoy for the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC) today stressed the need for both the Government and the opposition groups there to show the same level of commitment and compromise which led to the signing on 31 December of an agreement on the electoral process, while also citing the UN peacekeeping mission’s readiness to adapt to the deteriorating security situation.

&#8220The primary responsibility for the implementation of the Agreement rests with its signatories,&#8221 the Secretary-General’s Special Representative for DRC, Maman Sidikou, told the Security Council in a briefing.

Under the agreement, President Joseph Kabila would stay in office until elections are held by the end of 2017. During this period, a ‘National Council for Overseeing the Electoral Agreement and Process (CNSAP)’ would be set up, and a new prime minister named from opposition ranks.

However, some discord has delayed the implementation of the agreement, and the death of opposition leader Étienne Tshisekedi, who was to head the CNSAP, had had a significant impact on the political process.

Mr. Sidikou said that the situation seems to have evolved in the right direction over the last few days, with negotiations on the “Special Arrangement” resuming, and the Presidents of the two Houses of Parliament called for an irreversible and credible electoral process and expressed their support.

Significant progress has been made in updating the electoral roll. To date, more than 19 million voters have been enrolled and the enrollment process is about to begin in the two remaining enrollment areas, said Mr. Sidikou, who is also the head of the UN Organization Stabilization Mission in the Democratic Republic of the Congo (MONUSCO).

MONUSCO’s logistical and technical support for the enrollment process will be completed by the end of this month, and if authorized by the Security Council, MONUSCO is prepared to provide technical and logistical support for the electoral process, which would go beyond updating the electoral roll.

VIDEO: Concerns over deteriorating security in the DRC in briefing to the Security Council

On the security front, Mr. Sidikou said that violence and threats to civilians are no longer concentrated in the eastern DRC, noting that community-based violence and inter-ethnic clashes have spread from areas already affected by armed conflict, such as the Kivus, to Tanganyika, the three Kasai provinces, Lomami and Kongo Central.

The Secretary-General has set out a package of measures aimed at enhancing the ability of the MONUSCO Force to support the achievement of the Mission’s strategic objectives in the current challenging security context through the adoption of a more mobile, flexible and agile posture. He has recommended the deployment of two additional formed police units (FPUs) to help the Congolese authorities address the potential threat of electoral and politically motivated violence in key urban centers where there is no FPU presence.

Mr. Sidikou said that MONUSCO has already undertaken adjustments to its posture and operations, and that the Mission will continue to make such adjustments as may be required in the months ahead.

&#8220MONUSCO will continue to provide support for the implementation of the Agreement, while supporting efforts to address the mounting threats faced by the civilian population during the transition period,&#8221 he concluded.

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