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Map of the Day: The Central African Republic’s Airport IDPs

When the crisis in the Central African Republic became acute this fall, thousands, then tens of thousands, then hundreds of thousands fled to area around the international airport in Bangui for relative safety.  French and African Union Peacekeepers set up a base there, and many residents clearly felt that living out in the open under tarps and tents was safer than staying at home.

The UN’s Satellite imagery office, UNOSAT,  just released this image which shows the scale of the IDP camp at the Bangui airport. There are now 232,000 IDPs in Bangui, most of whom are huddled around the airport.

 

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Top of the Morning: The Syrian War’s Devastating Toll on Children

Top stories from DAWNS Digest

Report Cites Devastating Toll of War on Syria Children

The report from Save the Children is timed to coincide with the third anniversary of the war. “Syria’s shattered health system is forcing health workers to engage in brutal medical practices and a series of epidemics have left millions of children exposed to a plethora of deadly diseases, Save the Children says in a new report. The report, “A Devastating Toll: the Impact of Three Years of War on the Health of Syria’s Children”, sheds light on a broken health system and its consequences: children not just dying from violent means but from diseases that would previously either have been treatable or prevented.” (Save the Children http://bit.ly/1gcDWLn)

Scores of African Migrants Drown Off Coast of Yemen

Yemen is a common destination for Somali and Eritrean migrants. “Forty-two illegal African migrants drowned when their boat overturned off Yemen’s southern coast late on Sunday, the defence ministry reported. The boat smuggling dozens of African migrants “overturned off the coast of Beer Ali,” in the southern Shabwa province, the ministry said in a brief statement on its news website 26sep.net. A Yemeni naval patrol in the Arabian Sea saved at least 30 others who were taken to a refugee camp in the town of Mayfaa, it said.” (AFP http://yhoo.it/1h59rF0)

 

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Hillary Clinton Honors International Women’s Day at the UN

The theme for this year’s International Women’s Day (IWD) is “Equality for Women is Progress for All” and a panel of speakers was on hand today here at UN Headquarters to commemorate the event.  Ban Ki Moon, General Assembly President John Ashe, UN Women executive Director Phumzile Mlambo-Ngucke, and former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton.

The speeches all marked achievements in gender equality and conveyed a sense of urgency for more progress, but the most inspiring words came from the women on the panel as they ushered in the upcoming 58th session of the Commission on the Status of Women here at the UN.

Panel moderator Isha Sesay of CNN, introduced Clinton to the loudest applause of the day by quoting a speech the former First Lady gave nearly 20 years ago in Beijing at the Fourth World Conference of Women.  (It is hard to forget those famous words, “let it be that human rights are women’s rights and women’s rights are human rights, once and for all.”)

Clinton kept fighting for that message through her years as Secretary of State. Today Clinton noted, “women, girls, and the cause of gender equality have to be at the heart of any development agenda.” And in a recognition of correlation between economic growth and increased opportunity for women, she added: “it’s not just the right thing to do, but also the smart thing to do.”  Her words today were not political in tone and perhaps even more passionate than when she was in public office as she noted that gender equality and women’s empowerment “remains the great unfinished business of the 20th century.”  Her assessment was spot on when you look at the progress, and lack thereof, on the Millennium Development Goals.

The amiable Director Mlambo-Ngucka began with “Happy Women’s Day! It’s a celebration, no need to be so serious.”  This is her first IWD as Director of UN Women and it was one of the first times she hints that she may have gone to the Deputy Secretary General Jan Eliasson school of diplomacy.  As Eliasson has called for human rights to be part of every effort at the UN, so Mlambo-Ngucka today called for gender equality to also be included.  What seems like an obvious and almost absurd stance to request to most of us is something Mlambo-Ngucka has to actively push for during her tenure.  She noted that if the world continues at current pace, girls in sub-Saharan Africa would only receive full acess to primary education in the year 2086.   Expressing her frustration in a ‘velvet hammer’ manner, she noted that it was time “for a big leap forward in 21st century, not baby steps.  We’ve done baby steps.”  It was the kind of strong language usually only heard in tense Security Council sessions here but it was a welcome change for those fighting for gender equality.

The women’s words were encouraging in this continued struggle, but it would make the efforts that much more powerful to have prominent male leaders harnessing the same tone and call for progress, especially when there is hard data that proves gender inequality could solve daunting levels of poverty and conflict.  The diplomatic community may not be quite there yet, but Mlambo-Ngucke and Clinton are two wonderful leaders to have in this fight.

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The UN’s Ambitious Target for Ensuring Children are Not Soldiers

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The UN system set a fairly ambitious goal for itself today: ensure that in 24 months from now,  no government in the world uses children as soldiers. This should not be a difficult task, nor should it even be necessary. Yet there are some eight governments around the world who still recruit and use child soldiers: Afghanistan, Chad, South Sudan, Myanmar, Somalia and the Democratic Republic of the Congo have signed an “action plan” with the UN to end their use of child soldiers. Yemen and Sudan have not, but are “in dialogue” with the UN.

There are, of course, non-government forces that use child soldiers. But in the fight against using child soldiers, getting them out of national militaries is low hanging fruit.

For more on this issue, see my on-stage discussion with United Nations Special Representative of the Secretary-General for Children and Armed Conflict Leila Zerrougui – Sethe UN Special Representative for Children and Armed Conflict and Grace Akallo, a former child soldier and activist.

 

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Top of the Morning: “Mercenary Army” Causing Havoc in Darfur

Top stories from DAWNS Digest

“Mercenary Army” Causing Massive Havoc in Darfur

A 6,000 strong force is looting, burning villages and stretching an already fragile aid system to capacity. The African Union-United Nations peacekeeping mission in Darfur (UNAMID) said it had reports of villages burned, looting and civilian casualties. The official SUNA news agency reported that the RSF ‘work to protect the citizens and their properties from the rebel forces.’ RSF are ‘almost like a mercenary army’, said Magdi El Gizouli, a fellow at the Rift Valley Institute. He said the unit includes many ex-members of Darfur’s rebel movements but has been run by former South Darfur government security adviser Mohammed Hamdan Dalgo.”  (AFP  http://yhoo.it/1dvi9NJ)

A First: WHO Issues Guidelines on Contraceptives and Human Rights

For International Women’s Day (on March 8) the WHO issued new guidelines saying women’s human rights must be respected when they seek contraception. Dr. Marleen Temmerman is an obstetrician and director of the WHO’s Department of Reproductive Health and Research. ‘It’s the first time that there is a guidance from the WHO where human rights is actually in the title – and not only in the title, but also in the content of the guidelines. We have guidelines for contraceptive use from the medical perspective looking at what is safe – what are the medical eligibility criteria – what [are] the contraindications and so on. But now we have worked towards ensuring human rights in the contraceptive guidelines,” she said.(VOA http://bit.ly/P5BH2X)

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“The resources we have are entirely insufficient” — CAR’s Epitaph

“The resources we have are entirely insufficient.” — Antonio Guterres, the UN High Commissioner for Refugees briefing the Security Council today on the crisis in the Central African Republic.

Top officials from the UN, including the head of UN Peacekeeping, the top humanitarian official and the High Commissioner for Refugees briefed the Security Council today on the crisis in the Central African Republic.  They shared a common message: the UN does not have the financial resources it needs to do its job and serve the people of CAR.

So far, donors have only committed about one-sixth of the UN’s $552 humanitarian appeal for CAR.  Funding for the current African Union-led peacekeeping mission is about $100 million short.

They also carried the common message that the security situation needs to be addressed first and foremost. Valerie Amos, the UN Humanitarian coordinator, said agencies could not reliably use a land route from the Cameroon to Bangui because the road was insecure. The problem is, flying in relief items is about eight times more expensive. She described how armed groups were changing the demographics of CAR by effectively forcing whole populations to leave the country or face violence.

When the security situation improves, the UN’s humanitarian and development agencies can effectively provide for the basic needs of displaced people and help rebuild state institutions and the economy. Without security, none of that is possible.

Providing security should not be prohibitively costly. Earlier this week Ban Ki Moon recommended a relatively large peacekeeping mission of 13,500 to supplant the 6,000 African Union peacekeepers already on the ground. This is a step in the right direction, but one that needs at least $800 million to sustain for a year.

It’s not that donors can’t commit the relatively modest resources to stabilize CAR. It’s that CAR is a low priority. Compare this to Ukraine. In just a few days, Kiev secured billions financial pledges from the United States and Europe. But CAR is a landlocked country in the middle of Africa. It’s geopolitical and strategic value to the world’s major donor countries is basically nil, so the funding is very slow to materialize.

Guterres’ lament to the Security Council may well become CAR’s epitaph. Everyone knows what is required to stem the crisis, but countries have not yet been willing to pony up the funds to get the job done.

 

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