Bi-weekly press briefing - 08 September 2023
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49:22
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Press Conferences | FAO , HRC , UNHCR , UNICEF

Bi-weekly press briefing - 08 September 2023

PRESS BRIEFING BY THE UNITED NATIONS INFORMATION SERVICE

8 September 2023

 

Violence against Children in the Eastern Democratic Republic of the Congo Reaches Unprecedented Levels

Grant Leaity, Democratic Republic of the Congo Representative, United Nations Children's Fund (UNICEF), said violence against children in the eastern Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC) had reached unprecedented levels. There were few worse places, if any, to be a child. The country had the world’s highest number of United Nations-verified grave violations against children in armed conflict.

Over the past year, this upsurge in violence and conflict in the east had resulted in the worst displacement crisis in Africa, and one of the worst globally. More than 2.8 million children were bearing the brunt the of the crisis in the east. On a daily basis, children were being raped and killed. They were being abducted, recruited and used by armed groups – and the reports UNICEF had were only the tip of the iceberg. 

Mr. Leaity reported recently visiting a centre in North Kivu for children released from armed groups and meeting one-year-old twins. They were found abandoned in their village, desperately malnourished, and attached to an explosive belt. The expanding use of improvised explosive devices was just one of several recent, depraved trends.

In the first three months of 2023, in North Kivu alone, more than 38,000 cases of sexual- and gender-based violence were reported; a 37 per cent increase compared to the same period in 20221. In just one year, there had been 10,000 additional reports of sexual- and gender-based violence in North Kivu alone.

As well as unprecedented levels of violence, the lives of children in eastern Congo were threatened by epidemics and malnutrition. Around 1.2 million children under five in the east were facing the risk of acute malnutrition. Epidemic outbreaks were growing, with the DRC experiencing its worst cholera outbreak in more than five years and measles on the rise, with over 780,000 cases as of August. The world was looking away, failing the children of the DRC.

There was hope, but UNICEF needed help. It had the solutions to respond to all the humanitarian needs of children, provided it had the resources to do so. It had this year helped more than 30,000 children and their families access mental health counselling, and more than 500 children who had been released from armed groups to readjust to everyday life. It had supported in-patient care to thousands of malnourished children and helped more than 800,000 people get enough clean water for drinking and domestic needs. However, this remained palliative care.

To scale up its humanitarian response in eastern Democratic Republic of the Congo, UNICEF require 400 million United States dollars (USD). However, its appeal had only received one per cent additional funding since the emergency scale-up was announced in June this year, and it desperately required additional funding.

UNICEF also needed the political will to bring this conflict to an end. It called upon the Government of the DRC, African nations and the international community to work together to find a peaceful solution to this crisis – a solution that would allow millions of displaced families in eastern DRC to return to their homes.

In response to questions, Mr. Leaity said in the Grand Nord, North Kivu, there was a zone where the “Allied Democratic Forces” (ADF) armed group had increasingly been carrying out a series of bomb attacks. Recently, the Rwanda Defence Force (RDF) group had set up a strategic operational link with the Islamic State (ISIL). The practice of strapping of explosive devices showed that the group were bringing experts in to manufacture explosives locally.

The grave violations of human rights law in the region included recruitment of children by armed groups and killing and maiming of children. These practices were carried out by many of the armed groups present in the region.

The twin children mentioned were being used as booby traps. When the twins were found, they were only a few months old. UNICEF’s anti-mine partners had taken the devices off the children safely and rescued them. Any resistance from local communities was met with this form of extreme response from the armed groups. The parents and the rest of their family were killed in an RDF attack. The children were currently being taken care of by a child protection partner in a shelter, and authorities would work to reunite them with family members or place them in foster homes. The twins were in good shape and had fully recovered from malnutrition. The mental scars of this abuse would last longer than the physical scars. The militants likely intended to trigger the explosion against security forces.

Just over a week ago, the Inter-Agency Standing Committee’s Emergency Directors had visited the region to assess the situation. On the basis of the very difficult funding environment across all agencies, the presidential elections planned for 20 December this year, and the plan for an accelerated withdrawal of the United Nations Organization Stabilization Mission in the Democratic Republic of the Congo (MONUSCO), UNICEF was confident that the Committee would maintain its System-Wide Scale-Up for activities in the Democratic Republic of the Congo. 

The RDF was receiving support from a neighbouring country and had scaled up its activities. There was no effective protection of civilians from these attacks. UNICEF was very concerned about what would happen during the election period and as MONUSCO departed in the next 12 months.

In the last 12 months, around 2,000 schools had been closed in eastern Democratic Republic of the Congo as a result of the conflict. Some schools had been directly attacked, looted and destroyed, but a greater number were being used as shelter by internally displaced persons. Teachers themselves were amongst the displaced, and doctors and medical personnel had also been displaced in the areas controlled by the March 23 Movement (M23) and the ADF. Around 30 per cent of hospitals were operational in the conflict zones.

UNICEF needed resources to support access to water and other basic needs. Internally displaced persons were living in desperate conditions, sleeping directly on volcanic rock. There needed to be a more serious engagement from African States to address the situation. The region was full of vital mineral resources and hosted the world’s second-largest forest. There was currently an acceptance of this unacceptable situation. There needed to be political solutions to achieve peace in eastern Democratic Republic of the Congo.

School-Aged Refugee Children from Ukraine Missing Out on Formal Education

William Spindler for United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) said as the new school year commenced across Europe, UNHCR, the United Nations Refugee Agency, was warning that refugee children and youth from Ukraine were now facing their third year of disrupted education, following the full-scale invasion in February 2022. 

In a new Education Policy Brief released today, titled “Education on Hold”, UNHCR reported that while 30 to 50 per cent of some 5.9 million Ukrainian refugees across Europe were children, only about half were enrolled in schools in host countries for the 2022-2023 academic year.

According to the report’s findings, factors contributing to low enrolment rates for refugee children included administrative, legal and language barriers; a lack of information on available education options; a hesitancy among parents to enrol their children in host countries as they hoped to return home soon to Ukraine; and uncertainty about eventual reintegration into the Ukrainian education system.

Another major obstacle was the lack of capacity of schools in host countries. With an unprecedented number of refugee children arriving in the months following the war, many schools in countries of asylum simply did not have the physical space or number of teachers required to respond and accommodate new arrivals.

UNHCR was concerned that unless urgent action was taken, hundreds of thousands of Ukrainian refugee children would continue to miss out on education this year.

With the ongoing full-scale war in Ukraine, major efforts were required to avoid long-term damage to children’s learning, potential and prospects. Disruption to education continued to be a major issue, with some five million people internally displaced, and schools, among other critical civilian infrastructure, destroyed. 

To ensure the inclusion of refugee children in national education systems in host countries across Europe, UNHCR’s Education Policy Brief outlined a number of key recommendations to governments to reduce barriers and foster learning, as well as recommendations for refugee parents, and answered key questions on the reintegration of children into the Ukrainian education system once they were able to return home.

UNHCR worked closely with UNICEF, which coordinated the education response of humanitarian partners in Ukraine and neighbouring countries.

Read the full press release on the policy brief here.

UNHCR Education Report 2023 - Unlocking Potential: The Right to Education and Opportunity

Mr. Spindler also noted that more than half of the world’s 14.8 million school-aged refugee children were currently missing out on formal education, risking their future prosperity and the attainment of global development goals, according to a new report by UNHCR.

The 2023 UNHCR Refugee Education Report drew on data from over 70 refugee-hosting countries to provide the clearest picture yet of the state of education among refugees globally. It revealed that by the end of 2022, the number of school-aged refugees jumped nearly 50 per cent from 10 million a year earlier, driven mostly by the full-scale invasion of Ukraine.

Refugee enrolment in education varied dramatically by education level in reporting countries, with 38 per cent enrolled in pre-primary level, 65 per cent in primary, 41 per cent in secondary, and just six per cent in tertiary. In all but the lowest-income states, the difference between enrolment rates among refugees and non-refugees was stark, with far fewer refugees attending school, showing how lack of access stimies opportunity.

With 20 per cent of refugees living in the world’s 46 least-developed countries and more than three-quarters living in low- and middle-income countries, the costs of educating forcibly displaced children fell disproportionately on the poorest.

The report highlighted examples of refugee learners from Afghanistan, Iraq and South Sudan, who had overcome obstacles, seized opportunities and excelled. It also took a deep dive into the educational situation for school-aged refugees in the Americas and from Ukraine. And it proposes important steps that donors, civil society, other partners, and refugee-hosting States could take together to support refugee education.

The full press release on the 2022 Refugee Education Report is here.

Rolando Gómez, Chief of the Press and External Relations Section at the United Nations Information Service (UNIS) in Geneva, said tomorrow was the International Day to Protect Education from Attack.  In his message for the day, United Nations Secretary-General António Guterres said, “On this day, we shine a light on a startling truth: 224 million children and young people are in urgent need of educational support — including 72 million who are out-of-school altogether — because of crises like armed conflict.”

“Attacks on students, teachers, educational personnel and schools are becoming all-too-common, cruelly disrupting young learners’ education and inflicting untold psychological and physical damage that can last a lifetime,” he said.

He called on “all countries to ensure the protection of schools, children and teachers at all times.”

Monthly Update on Global Food Commodity Prices

Upali Galketi Aratchilage, Senior Economist, Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO), said this was a slightly better report on food commodity prices than in previous months. Following a slight rebound in July, the FAO Food Price Index (FFPI) dropped in August by 2.1 per cent, standing 24 per cent below the peak it reached in March 2022.  The decline in the FFPI in August reflected price drops across nearly all food commodities except rice and sugar.

As for rice, prices rose by nearly 10 per cent month-on-month to reach a 15-year nominal high, reflecting India’s ban on Indica white rice exports, which coincided with seasonally tight export availabilities ahead of new crop harvests in several leading exporting countries. India’s export ban had some secondary impacts, including stock holdings and renegotiation of sales agreements. It also created some market uncertainty.

Sugar prices increased slightly, triggered by heightened concerns over the impact of the El Niño weather phenomenon, below-average rains, and drier conditions on production prospects in leading exporting countries, especially India and Thailand. In Brazil, the sugarcane harvest continued despite heavy rains disrupting field operations in some states, limiting the price increase. The depreciation of the Brazilian real and lower ethanol prices also weighed on sugar prices.

International wheat prices fell amid higher seasonal availability from several leading exporters, while international coarse grain prices fell by 3.4 per cent amid ample global supplies of maize from a record harvest in Brazil and the start of the harvest in the United States.

Vegetable oil prices fell after a short-lived increase in July, mostly due to increased global supplies or potential for improvements to crop conditions, together with subdued global demand in some cases, such as palm oil.

International dairy and meat prices also fell, primarily due to a slow-down in imports by China, although volumes remained high, together with abundant supplies from leading exporters.

In most countries, although international food prices had been falling over the last few months, domestic prices of basic foods remained above their year-earlier levels, with significant variations across regions. Conflicts, adverse weather, high prices of agricultural inputs, distribution costs and currency weaknesses continued to keep basic food prices high. 

Recent food price developments highlighted the vulnerability of global food markets and food security to changes to food trade policy and weather impacts. 

Announcements

Pascal Sim for the United Nations Human Rights Council said the 54th regular session of the United Nations Human Rights Council would begin this coming Monday, 11 September at 10 a.m. in room 20 of the Palais des Nations in Geneva.

The session would open with an oral update of UN High Commissioner for Human Rights Volker Turk, in which he would address a wide range of human rights issues around the world. A general debate on the High Commissioner’s oral update would take place on Tuesday and Wednesday.

Immediately after the High Commissioner’s oral update, the Council would hear from Nicholas Koumjian, the Head of the International Investigative Mechanism for Myanmar, who would present its fifth annual report of the Mechanism. The report, which was released and presented to the press by Mr. Koumjian last month, noted “a dramatic increase in the number of incidents bearing the hallmarks of serious international crimes in Myanmar since the military coup in February 2021”. The report is available on the Mechanism’s website.

Also, on the first day of the Council, Deputy High Commissioner for Human Rights Nada al-Nashif would present the OHCHR report on Sri Lanka. The report, which was published on Wednesday, underlined that accountability was central to Sri Lanka’s future. The report would be available on the Human Rights Council 54th session page.

And in the afternoon, there would be an oral update from Richard Bennett, the Special Rapporteur on the human rights situation on Afghanistan. The interactive dialogue with Mr. Bennett was scheduled to continue on Tuesday morning, 12 September at 10 a.m.

View the latest updates on the programme of work of the 54th session here: https://hrc54session.sched.com.

The Human Rights Council would also provide the latest updates on the 54th session on its social media platforms. The hashtag to use and follow on social media over the next five weeks was #HRC54.

Rolando Gómez, Chief of the Press and External Relations Section at the United Nations Information Service (UNIS) in Geneva, said the United Nations Secretary-General António Guterres was currently in New Delhi, where he would attend the G-20 Summit. Today at 2:45 p.m., he was scheduled to hold a press conference. Mr. Guterres had yesterday attended the ASEAN Summit in Jakarta. Mr. Guterres had spoken at the Summit and met with various dignitaries on the side-lines, the readouts of which had been distributed to journalists.

Mr. Gómez said that on the run up to the SDG Summit, the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) would launch its SDG Insights report next Tuesday, 12 September 12. The report digs into development policy data from 95 developing countries, investigating where these countries stood and what had worked regarding implementation of the Sustainable Development Goals despite tight fiscal constraints and lack of investments. UNDP could share the analysis with journalists under embargo. The press release was under strict embargo until Tuesday at 6 a.m.

The Committee on the Rights of the Child, which opened this week its 94th session (4-22 September, Palais Wilson), was reviewing today the report of Andorra.

The Committee on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities was closing today at 5 p.m. its 29th session, at the end of which it would issue its concluding observations on the reports of Malawi, Andorra, Mongolia, Austria, Israel, Mauritania, Germany and Paraguay, and on the follow-up of inquiries concerning Hungary and the United Kingdom.

The Committee on Enforced Disappearances would open next Monday, 11 September, its 25th session (11-29 September), during which it would review the reports of Mauritania, Mexico, the Netherlands and Nigeria.

The date of the next public plenary meeting of the Conference on Disarmament would be announced later. Its session closed next Friday, 15 September.

On Tuesday, 12 September at 1 p.m., the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights’ Independent International Commission of Inquiry on the Syrian Arab Republic would hold a press conference to launch its latest report. Speaking would be Paulo Pinheiro, Chair of the Commission, and Commissioners Hanny Megally and Lynn Welchman.

The Security Council would hold discussion on Ukraine today at 4 p.m.

ANNOUNCEMENTS

  • HRC - Pascal Sim 

        - Human Rights Council update 

  • UNIS on behalf of UNDP

 

TOPICS

  • UNICEF - James Elder (PR) with Grant Leaity, UNICEF’s Representative in the Democratic Republic of the Congo

        - How violence against children in the eastern Democratic Republic of the Congo has reached unprecedented levels

  • UNHCR - William Spindler

        - Education on Hold: Almost half of school-aged refugee children from Ukraine missing out on formal education

  • FAO - Upali Galketi Aratchilage, FAO Senior Economist

        - Monthly update on global food commodity prices (FAO Food Price Index)


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