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The Importance of Being Listed: Why Politics Threaten the Protection of Children in Armed Conflict

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The al-Shaymeh Education Complex for Girls after it was struck by missiles fired by the Saudi Arabia-led coalition, Hodeidah, 9 November 2015. Credit: Amnesty InternationalOpinion by Matthew Wells (washington dc)Tuesday, June 22, 2021Inter Press ServiceThe writer is Amnesty International’s Crisis Response Deputy Director – Thematic Issues

Beyond the public eye, there’s another challenge that devastates morale and undermines the protection of children in armed conflict: the politicization of a key UN process for holding accountable those responsible for grave violations.

In 2005, the UN Security Council established a Monitoring and Reporting Mechanism (MRM) to document grave violations against children in situations of armed conflict. It was a landmark achievement.

The documentation feeds into an annual report from the UN Secretary-General with an annexed list of perpetrators; it is meant to form the backbone of UN-led accountability efforts for militaries and armed groups alike, and to help prevent further violations against children.

The Security Council will discuss this year’s report on 28 June.

The report comes as conflict’s devastating impact on children – and the repercussions of inaction – has yet again been made apparent. At least 65 children were killed and a further 540 injured during the Israeli military’s bombardments in Gaza in May, according to UNICEF.

The Israeli military has never been among the report’s listed parties, despite years in which its incidents of killing and maiming were among the highest verified.

Meanwhile in Myanmar, the security forces have killed at least 58 children since the 1 February coup, according to the Assistance Association for Political Prisoners of Burma (AAPPB).

Last year, despite the MRM’s verification of more than 200 instances of the Myanmar military’s recruitment or use of children, the Secretary-General de-listed them for that violation, while continuing to list them for other violations, including killing and maiming.

This year saw the military re-listed for recruitment and use – the right result, as they never should have been removed in the first place, but more a reflection of the changed geopolitics post-coup than of a major surge in such abusive practices.

To be effective, the criteria for listing and de-listing perpetrators must be applied consistently. Instead, politics and power dynamics in the Security Council and Secretary-General’s office have at times replaced objectivity.

Earlier this year, a group of eminent experts published an independent review of listing decisions between 2010 and 2020. It found at least eight parties who were not listed despite verified responsibility for killing and maiming more than 100 children in a year.

Militaries are less likely to be listed than non-state armed groups even for similar numbers of verified violations, as the experts and civil society groups have noted, with discrepancies even in the same country situation. And de-listing decisions have flouted criteria established in 2010, which require a party to end such violations before removal from the list.

For example, in 2016, the Saudi Arabia-led coalition forces were initially listed for grave violations against children during the war in Yemen but were quickly removed by then-Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon. He publicly called out Saudi Arabia and others for effectively blackmailing the UN by threatening to pull funding from UN programmes.

The coalition forces were then listed for grave violations from 2017 to 2019, before UN Secretary-General António Guterres again de-listed them in 2020. They remain off the list this year, despite the MRM verifying their responsibility for 194 incidents of killing or maiming children.

Two children walk home from school in the neighbourhood of Dara’iya, Raqqa. January 21, 2019. Credit: Andrea DiCenzo/Panos via Amnesty International

A former UNICEF staffer put it succinctly in an interview with Amnesty International: “No-one wants to be the who lost a massive amount of money.”

Amnesty International recently carried out interviews with over 110 experts, including frontline actors reporting into the MRM in eight different conflict-affected countries. Their experiences further reveal the politicization’s sobering impact, with implications for which incidents even make it into the Secretary-General’s report.

When individuals and organizations feel their reports are ignored or that militaries and armed groups remain unlisted despite ample documentation, it understandably reduces their continued willingness to report to the MRM. In Myanmar, for example, several people said they felt defeated when the military was de-listed last year and wondered what their difficult documentation efforts had been for.

In Iraq, a humanitarian worker said they, as a group, resigned because of the politics around the process, noting that survivors, witnesses, and those involved in the documentation would put themselves at risk to provide information, only to see a politicized outcome.

Such concerns, recurrent among those we interviewed, are particularly damning as they come from people working at great risk to respond to violations. The MRM has achieved much in 15 years – documenting conflicts’ impact on children and putting pressure on perpetrators – precisely because of these frontline workers’ efforts.

The growing pressure from influential leaders and states undermines their work and the credibility of accountability efforts meant to respond to and prevent grave violations against children.

Among the frontline workers we spoke with across eight conflict situations, roughly half were national staff and more than two-thirds were women. This raises further questions about the power dynamics behind ignoring the findings of their reports.

Secretary-General Guterres has just been given another five-year term; he must become bolder and more courageous in prioritizing human rights and calling out perpetrators, including on children and armed conflict.

Together with the Special Representative for Children and Armed Conflict, he should commit publicly to applying the same standard irrespective of perpetrator or context – producing a complete list based on evidence and objective criteria, something he has failed to do again this year.

Next year, he must follow the criteria laid out in 2010; the Saudi Arabia-led coalition and Israeli military, among others, will again prove a key test.

For their part, UN member states must demand a credible list. Why have teams on the ground put themselves in danger to document violations that get ignored?

Frontline workers need confidence that their work is part of a credible accountability process. To fulfill its potential, the Secretary-General’s report must follow the evidence, not a politics of power that shields certain perpetrators from scrutiny. Anything else makes a mockery of the system and undermines the protection of children.

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© Inter Press Service (2021) — All Rights ReservedOriginal source: Inter Press Service

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Digital Media on the Frontline: Supporting the Ones who Support the Rest

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Sarita Das found some solace in creativity on the Fuzia platform (handout Fuzia) by Fairuz Ahmed (new york)Tuesday, June 22, 2021Inter Press Service

Khan has not seen her family for more than six months, she said in an exclusive interview with Inter Press Service (IPS).

“I was working extra hours and saw death up close. It was nerve-wracking to see my patients at this stage. It has been over six months that I have not seen my family,” she says, recalling the impact of the disease on herself and the community she serves. “The only solace I had was to talk with my mother, who is 67, and with my nieces over Facetime.”

The COVID-19 pandemic altered the way we work, engage, and communicate. The crisis put communication at the front of all priorities and has made it imperative to have real-time information available. For most organisations – online or offline – efforts to keep people informed and engaged became the new “must-haves”.

Shraddha Varma, the co-founder of online platform Fuzia and a resident of Maharashtra, India, where the COVID-19 pandemic hit hardest, says the impact on frontline workers was the worst.

“The situation was already bad as we were recovering from the first wave of the coronavirus, but (then) it went out of control during the second wave. It had catastrophic effects on the world, especially with frontline workers,” Varma said. “They had to act as shields to keep us safe. Moreover, they faced isolation, stress and had to cope up with all the chaos surrounding them.”

Discussing how Fuzia, a global platform aimed at connecting humans in a non-judgmental space, supported frontline workers, Shraddha says the platform made a point of standing beside those who risked their lives each day.

“Fuzia was able to assist women frontline workers all over the world with creating events, information sessions, live connections, and we served them with a space to speak, learn and even vent. We wanted to have their backs and be there as a platform where they can engage and have some comfort.”

Khan says the isolation from family and community was devastating but being connected helped.

“I also used to speak with other doctors and learn about the latest updates on a few social media platform groups. Seeing people all around the world sharing their stories during the pandemic, I could connect and realign myself.”

A recent study by the International Labour Organisation (ILO) dealt with both frontline worker stress and the additional burden employees often felt working from home and splitting their roles between work and family.

Sarita Das found some solace in creativity on the Fuzia platform (handout Fuzia)

Frontline workers were most concerned about “increased workloads, longer working hours, and reduced rest periods”.

In addition, the study found “they may be worried about getting infected at work and passing the virus to family, friends, and others at work, in particular, if appropriate protective measures are not in place.”

For those working from home, there was a desperate need for support. The ILO study found that 41 percent of people who worked from home “considered themselves highly stressed, compared to 25 percent of those who worked on-site.”

Fuzia wasn’t alone in recognising the needs of workers, and big tech companies like Amazon and Facebook prioritised assisting and informing the frontline workers with updated news, data, safety protocols, vaccination information, and more.

For non-profit charitable organisations, Facebook launched Workplace for Good, helping organisations like Save the Children, It Gets Better, War Child and others. It also helped small to large organisations stay connected with their employees.

Amazon invested in supporting employees, customers, and communities during the pandemic, from enhancing safety measures to increasing paid time-off and helped to ensure that their employees and their communities have access to COVID-19 vaccinations and testing.

Amazon provided more than $2.5 billion in bonuses and incentives for teams globally in 2020 and established a $25 million relief fund for partners such as delivery drivers and seasonal associates facing financial hardship or quarantine.

Fuzia also recognised that many had lost jobs and collaborated with Wishes and Blessings, an NGO raising funds for their COVID relief project operating in seven states in India. The initiative was aimed at serving three meals a day to thousands of homeless and daily wage earners and providing nutritional aid to about 4000 at-risk families affected by the lockdown. The project was active in Assam, Delhi, Jharkhand, Tamil Nadu, West Bengal, Uttar Pradesh, and Uttarakhand.

The shift to the virtual world or work resulted in burnout among employees. An article published last year in Microsoft Stories Asia documented the increased burnout as workers struggled to find a work-life balance.

The decrease in work and personal life boundaries added stress. On average, close to one-third of workers in the Asia Pacific cited increased rates of burnout. Surveying over 6,000 information and frontline workers across eight countries globally, including Australia, Japan, India, and Singapore, the study found that Singapore and India were the top two countries where workers complained of burnout.

Sarita Das, a Fuzia user, says the site helped her during the pandemic.

“Communicating with other Fuziaites really helped me get out of my head. There was so much bad news circulating online that it increased my anxiety levels,” she said, finding the creative element in the site most soothing.

“I found a way to relieve my stress and joined the Fuzia Talent events. I found painting a much better distraction than browsing online. It requires focus, stops you from obsessively checking the news and gives you a sense of accomplishment as you paint your own creation.”

This article is a sponsored feature.

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© Inter Press Service (2021) — All Rights ReservedOriginal source: Inter Press Service

Article: globalissues.org

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Link between education and well-being never clearer, UN pushes for ‘health-promoting’ schools

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Tuesday, June 22, 2021UN News

There has been increased stress, anxiety and other mental health issues, while an estimated 365 million primary school students have gone without school meals, according to the World Health Organization (WHO) and the UN specialized agency handling education issues, UNESCO.  

Based on a set of eight global benchmarks, Global Standards for Health-promoting Schools, calls for all classrooms to promote life skills, cognitive and socioemotional skills and healthy lifestyles for learners.   

WHO and @UNESCO urge countries to make every school a health-promoting school, following the Global Standards for Health-promoting Schools that aim to ensure all schools promote life skills, cognitive & socioemotional skills & healthy lifestyles.https://t.co/qnMB3EprR8

— World Health Organization (WHO) (@WHO)

June 22, 2021

“These newly launched global standards are designed to create schools that nurture education and health, and that equip students with the knowledge and skills for their future health and well-being, employability and life prospects”, said WHO Director-General Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus.  

Linking schools and health 

Clear evidence shows that comprehensive health and nutrition programmes in schools, have significant impacts among students.  

“Schools play a vital role in the well-being of students, families and their communities, and the link between education and health has never been more evident”, Tedros added. 

The new standards, which will be piloted in Botswana, Egypt, Ethiopia, Kenya and Paraguay, contribute to WHO’s target of making one billion people healthier by 2023 and the global Education 2030 Agenda coordinated by UNESCO.  

“Education and health are interdependent basic human rights for all, at the core of any human right, and essential to social and economic development”, said UNESCO Director General, Audrey Azouley.   

Making the case 

School health and nutrition interventions in low-income areas where impediments such as parasitic worms or anemia are prevalent, can lead to 2.5 years of additional schooling, according to the UN agencies. 

Moreover, malaria prevention interventions can result in a 62 per cent reduction in absenteeism; nutritious school meals upped enrolment rates by nine per cent, and attendance by eight per cent on average; and free screening and eyeglasses have raised the probability of students passing standardized reading and math tests by five per cent.  

And promoting handwashing has cut gastrointestinal and respiratory illnesses between 21 and 61 per cent in low income countries, resulting in fewer absentees.  

“A school that is not health-promoting is no longer justifiable and acceptable”, said Ms. Azouley.   

Promote health in schools 

Comprehensive sex education encourages healthier behaviour, promotes sexual and reproductive health and rights, and improves outcomes such as a reduction in HIV infection and adolescent pregnancies, WHO and UNESCO said. 

A school that is not health-promoting is no longer justifiable and acceptable — UNESCO chief

By enhancing water and sanitation (WASH) services and supplies in school, as well as educating on menstrual hygiene, girls can maintain themselves with dignity and may even miss less school while menstruating. 

“I call for all of us to affirm our commitment and role, to make every school a health-promoting school”, underscored the UNESCO chief. 

Upping the standards 

The Health Promoting Schools approach was introduced by WHO, UNESCO and the UN Children’s Fund (UNICEF) in 1995 and adopted in over 90 countries and territories.   

However, only a small number of countries have implemented it at scale, and even fewer have effectively adapted their education systems to include health promotion. 

© UN News (2021) — All Rights ReservedOriginal source: UN News

Original Post: globalissues.org

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Time running out to prevent ‘worst case scenario’ arising in Afghanistan

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Tuesday, June 22, 2021UN News

From politics to security, the peace process to the economy, Deborah Lyons, Special Representative and Head of the UN Assistance Mission in Afghanistan (UNAMA), said the “possible slide toward dire scenarios is undeniable”. 

“The relentless spirit of the Afghans and their incredible resilience is being severely tested”, she said, reminding that what happens there is “of global consequence”, and the Security Council needed to be fully aware of the gravity of the situation.  

“There is only one acceptable direction for Afghanistan – away from the battlefield and back to the negotiating table,” UN envoy @DeborahLyonsUN told Security Council today on the situation in #Afghanistan. Full remarks here: https://t.co/O8Vz4jGBoJpic.twitter.com/3atYEMdVgx

— UNAMA News (@UNAMAnews)

June 22, 2021

Unfolding reality 

She described the mid-April announcement, led by the United States, of troop withdrawal after two decades of war as a “seismic tremor” for the country, which had happened unexpectedly fast.  

The decision to pull out was part of the February 2020 agreement between the US and the Taliban to create space for peace among Afghans, instead, “actions on the battlefield have been far greater than progress at the negotiating table”, she added. 

She told ambassadors that the public and the diplomatic community in Kabul have been “alarmed at the lack of political unity”, which must be addressed or risk contributing to further Taliban territorial advances.  

Taliban advance 

Through its intensified military campaign, the Taliban has taken more than 50 of Afghanistan’s 370 districts since the beginning of May. 

“Most districts that have been taken surround provincial capitals, suggesting that the Taliban are positioning themselves to try and take these capitals once foreign forces are fully withdrawn”, warned the Special Representative, calling it “a tragic course of action” that would lead to “increased and prolonged violence” and threaten to destroy much of what has been built and hard won over the past 20 years.  

However, she noted that any efforts to install a militarily imposed Government in Kabul would “go against the will of the Afghan people and against the stated positions of the regional countries and the broader international community”. 

Multiple crises 

Meanwhile, nearly one-third of Afghans face emergency levels of food insecurity, as drought worsens, and internal displacements increases. 

“The World Bank has estimated that as a result of the conflict, and the severe third wave of COVID, the drought, the weakened social fabric, and other factors, Afghanistan’s poverty rate could rise from 50 per cent to more than 70 per cent”, warned Ms. Lyons.  

Yet, despite highlighting the importance of international humanitarian aid, recent contributions toward the 2021 appeal for $1.3 billion, remains only 30 per cent funded. 

Civilian casualties 

In the first quarter of the year, civilian casualties increased by 29 per cent compared to that of last year, the UNAMA chief said, noting that women casualties increased by 37 per cent and children by 23 per cent. 

“Parties must immediately…implement civilian protection measures”, she stressed. 

And preserving women’s rights remains “a paramount concern” that must not be used as “a bargaining chip at the negotiating table”, added Ms. Lyons. 

“Human rights are not negotiable”, she underscored, calling on the international community and regional countries to “reiterate the importance of these rights in the peace negotiations”. 

The relentless spirit of the Afghans and their incredible resilience is being severely tested — UN Special Representative

Ticking clock 

The UN official said there was barely time left “to prevent a worse-case scenario from materializing”, pointing to the reality that “increased conflict in Afghanistan means increased insecurity for many other countries, near and far”. 

“A fragmented conflict creates a more permissive environment for terrorist groups to recruit, finance, plan and conduct operations with a global reach”, she attested, adding that one of UNAMA’s key objectives is to “continue to work with all partners”. 

Any future Government will need international engagement and support, she said, upholding that this is “not the time to weaken our resolve or, worse, to contribute even inadvertently to the ongoing signals of despair”. 

“There is only one acceptable direction for Afghanistan…away from the battlefield and back to the negotiating table”, concluded the UNAMA chief. 

Corruption 

Ghada Fathy Ismail Waly, Executive Director, UN Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC) briefed ambassadors on cooperative agreements between her agency and UNAMA, including anti-corruption measures.   

Recalling the political declaration from the General Assembly’s discussion on corruption, she highlighted UNODC’s cross-border efforts to combat drug-related crimes and preserve Afghan’s “hard won gains.” 

Ms. Waly also drew attention to alliances between criminal and terrorist elements pointing out that they have yielded the world’s highest levels of casualties from terror attacks.   

Drug crops 

Noting that the pandemic had not impacted large poppy harvests to fuel the world’s supply of heroin, Ms. Waly linked the low prices to the degree with which the “illicit economy threatens peace.”    

She urged that “evidence-based prevention and treatment” for narcotics be made a priority and called better guidance for Afghan police “imperative”. 

Against this backdrop, the UNODC chief stressed the need for prompt action in the countryside to help limit production.

Click here to watch the meeting in its entirety.

© UN News (2021) — All Rights ReservedOriginal source: UN News

Source: globalissues.org

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