Hoping for a turning point in 2018
by Jan Egeland
Secretary General, Norwegian Refugee Council
“We haven’t seen this kind of displacement of people since the Second World War. I hope we will have a turning point in 2018, but that will only happen if we pull together,” says Jan Egeland in this end-of-year interview.
Q: Looking back at the last 12 months, can you describe the state of aid in 2017?
A: 2017 was a year like no else in the sense that we did fantastic things on the assistance front. Remember that in 2016 we were predicting enormous famines in many countries: in Somalia, in South Sudan, in Yemen and elsewhere. In most of these places we averted famine, we reached millions and millions of people. That is a great achievement for our field colleagues. But we were not able to protect people in 2017. So we have this enormous trend now in international aid work: we are able to assist more people in more hard to reach places than ever before, but we are not able to even to protect the most vulnerable women, children and the wounded. Not even hospitals are safe. I think that is the priority for 2018 and beyond: we need to protect people more so that they are not displaced in the first place.
Q: Where have we failed to protect?
A: The besieged areas in Syria were places where people really were dying because of the lack of assistance. We were not able to get medical relief. We were not even able to get in food convoys in many of these besieged areas. Elsewhere in the country, there was a lot of assistance but not protection against armed men willing to go to any extent to fight, even if it cost the life of civilians around them. In Yemen, we saw a manmade catastrophe develop by the day. Why on earth would we want to create famine-like conditions through a boycott? And even worse, this is a boycott of Yemen done by a Saudi-led military coalition, supported by many of our very generous donors. The US, the UK and others help us with funding to provide assistance but then they are condoning something which is actually a lack of protection.
Q: What crises are you most concerned about next year?
A: I hope that the big war is over in Syria. It has displaced some 12 million Syrians and it was – still is – a terrible war. It can end in 2018. It is the year where we hope for political agreements, political solutions and possibilities of return. Syrians want to return but most them feel it is unsafe to return, it’s too early to make conditions possible and ripe for return.
And then I’d like to also mention the Democratic Republic of the Congo and the Central African Republic. It’s back as a tremendous epicentre of displacement and suffering. Many thought that DR Congo was better than ten years ago, when we saw genocide-like conditions there, next to Rwanda, where we had a huge genocide. And I fear, when we make up the book for 2018, it may be up there on the top again in terms of internal displacement.
Q: What will be the biggest challenges facing the humanitarian community next year?
A: The biggest challenge we will have is to keep up funding for tens of millions that are in great need. We are accumulating displacement. It is a testament of two things. Number one, we are not solving conflicts, displacement is continuing and countries are back to displacement and conflict. DR Congo is an example of that. We are also not helping people return, resettle or integrate. Too many people are in limbo, in hopelessness for too long. That should change in 2018. But I fear that we will have too little resources for a way out of misery and displacement.
Q: The humanitarian system has been described as broken. How can it be more effective?
A: I think the humanitarian system, in many ways, is more effective than many believe in terms of providing assistance. Mortality is down, morbidity is down, disease control has improved, emergency education reaches more people, emergency shelter is better. We are losing fewer lives than we did when I started many years back with humanitarian work.
The problem is we are not preventing suffering. We are not able to prevent people from being displaced. We save their lives once they have been displaced. So we need to be better in preventing suffering and in finding long term solutions.
Q: What can ordinary people do to help?
A: Ordinary people like you and me can do a lot, really. We have to voice more solidarity with refugees, with victims of war. Why are there not more public opinions saying “let this country, my country, be a safe haven for more people”. Why is it that Uganda and Bangladesh, two poor countries, are the most generous in receiving refugees? The top P5 in the Security Council – the US, Russia, China, the UK and France – all took fewer refugees than Sweden took, and they took a fraction of what Uganda took in 2016 and in 2017.
We should act for more humanity within our nations and we should also act for higher investment in preventing suffering elsewhere. Aid budgets are a fraction of they should be. Most countries give 0.2 per cent of their gross national income in foreign assistance. It is really nothing compared to the needs.
Q: Yemen looks on track to face famine in 2018. What needs to be done to resolve this conflict and prevent mass starvation?
A: Three things have to happen in Yemen in 2018. The blockade, the embargo, the sanctions that are not allowing in supplies, not even food – they have to be lifted. Those who have influence on the Saudi-led coalition have to make it be lifted. Secondly, we need a political process, UN-led peace talks. The Houthi, a regime in Sana’a, and the rebels or the opposition fighters, they have to sit down at the negotiation table. Saudi Arabia has to enable that and not sabotage that.
And then, finally we have to have access as humanitarians to all over the country. We have too many access restrictions now, which means that some 20 million Yemenis are vulnerable and seven million are at risk of famine. I hope we can prevent a famine in 2018, like was largely averted in 2017
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The inseparability of peace, security, development and human rights
by United Nations Special Rapporteurs
10 December 2017
On this day in 1948, the United Nations General Assembly adopted the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. Its timing so close after the end of World War II was no coincidence. Rather, it reflected the conviction that human dignity is at the heart of our societies and that respect for human rights is essential to the prevention of conflict and the promotion of human development.
Sadly, the international community has often fallen short of its commitment to human rights. Several crises have shaken humanity in the last 70 years. Conflicts, poverty, corruption, inequality, violence, discrimination, exclusion and climate change continuously wreak havoc on individuals and societies throughout the world. Too often human rights are ignored when addressing these crises and solutions have rarely been sustainable or satisfactory for all concerned.
Too often, governments fail to address the underlying human rights grievances that cause war and impede sustainable development. Too often, governments respond to these crises by restricting fundamental freedoms and the space for civil society – measures that only compound the crisis.
At a time when the world faces old and new challenges with far-reaching consequences, when human rights and the foundations of the human rights protection system are under serious threats, we, the independent Special Rapporteurs and Working Groups that comprise the Special Procedures of the United Nations Human Rights Council take this occasion to emphasize the centrality of respect for social, economic, cultural, civil and political rights of individuals and all peoples in the pursuit of peace, security and sustainable development.
Our starting point is recognition of the three pillars upon which the United Nations is built: peace and security, development, and human rights. There is no hierarchy among them, but often, they have been put in competition. Some regimes have suggested that individual rights must take a back seat to security and development.
Others have argued that prioritising accountability and remedy for human rights violations can be an impediment to peace. Many states have chosen to pursue the false notion that in the fight against terrorism, we must sacrifice rights to achieve security.
For much of its history, the UN has focused its efforts in the realm of peace and security on keeping and enforcing peace in the world’s hotspots. These efforts have met with varying degrees of success.
More recently, member States have recognized the wisdom of efforts to prevent conflict, rather than merely to end it; to build the conditions for peace and security, rather than merely to keep and enforce it; and to focus development on sustainability, rather than simply on growth. International financial institutions as well as businesses should also put human rights at the centre of their policies.
We welcome the UN’s new and increased focus on conflict prevention and peacebuilding. Likewise, we welcome the focus on sustainability of development, rather than development, per se. We will remain vigilant about how this shift increases respect for human rights in the quest for peace, security and human development.
We salute the role that civil society actors can play in this context and call on all concerned, in particular the UN and States to preserve and enhance the space for engagement and cooperation with civil society actors.
The Universal Declaration of Human Rights began the modern era of international legal protections for the rights of individuals. Today, a growing web of international human rights treaties and mechanisms obligates States to respect, protect and fulfil human rights of all people, without discrimination.
We call upon the international community to continue its exploration of means and methods to prevent human rights violations that so often impede sustainable development and trigger conflict. Whether it is done through the efforts of the UN Secretariat, the Security Council or other mechanisms of the international community, Special Procedures mandate holders stand ready to make their contribution to help forge a common vision that human rights are the fertile ground on which fair, peaceful and democratic societies can be built.
* “Special procedures” is the general name of the independent fact-finding and monitoring mechanisms of the United Nations Human Rights Council that address either specific country situations or thematic human rights issues in all parts of the world. Currently, there are 44 thematic mandates and 12 mandates related to countries and territories, with 80 active mandate holders. The Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights provides these mechanisms with support for the fulfilment of their mandates.
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