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UN Updates: May 20, 2016

EgyptAir: The Secretary-General expressed deep sadness at the crash of EgyptAir’s flight MS804 yesterday. He sent his heartfelt condolences to the families of the victims and to the governments and peoples affected by this tragedy. He remains grateful to those who have joined the recovery operations for their quick response.

Afghan Cyclists: Today, the SG met two Afghan cyclists, Nader Shah Nangarhari and Firoz Khan – a father and son team, who started their cycling journey around the world in July 2015. Called the journey for peace and solidarity in Afghanistan, the tour, which started in Turkey, has taken them through Europe. They arrived in Washington, DC in March before heading to New York to meet the Secretary-General. They presented him with a message of peace from the people of Afghanistan.

SG Activity and Travel: This afternoon, the SG spoke at the closing session of the UN Permanent Forum on Indigenous Issues (UNPFII) as well as at a Vesak Day commemoration in the General Assembly Hall. The SG will be in Qatar tomorrow to attend the 16th Doha Forum. He will then travel to Turkey to open the World Humanitarian Summit (WHS) before heading to the Republic of Korea (ROK) for the Jeju Forum and Japan for the G-7 Summit. He will return to ROK to attend the 66th UN DPI-NGO Conference on May 30.  

Syria: A UN relief convoy has successfully delivered vital food, medicines and other aid to some 10,000 residents cut off in the Syrian farm town of East Harasta, who had been without power and running water for more than three years. The 29-truck convoy packed with items including cooking oil, flour, lentils, tarpaulins and cooking utensils this week reached residents of East Harasta, which is just 11 kilometers from Damascus. Local people have been able to survive by growing some fruit and vegetables since the siege began in early 2013, but have lacked most staples. Access to services including healthcare and education is limited.

Iran: The Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR) is appalled by the sentencing of a prominent Iranian anti-death penalty campaigner, Nargis Mohammadi, to 16 years’ imprisonment in charges that stem from her human rights work. Mohammadi is already in Evin Prison in Tehran, serving out a prison sentence for breaching the country’s national security laws. The UN Human Rights Office and other human rights mechanisms have long urged the Iranian authorities to release Mohammadi, but to no avail. Her sentencing is illustrative of an increasingly low tolerance for human rights advocacy in Iran. The Human Rights Office urges the Iranian authorities to ensure the immediate release of Mohammadi and all those detained for merely exercising their human rights.

Libya: The Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA) reported that more than 5,000 families are reported to have fled Da’esh control in Sirte. Many of them have gone to Bani Walid, Tobruk, Misrata and Tripoli. The UN, including the International Organization for Migration (IOM), the UN Children’s Fund (UNICEF) and the World Health Organization (WHO), are providing assistance to families in Bani Walid and Misrata, such basic household items, water and sanitation support, and emergency medical kits.

Sri Lanka: OCHA said that as May 20, nearly 428,000 people in 22 districts of Sri Lanka are reportedly affected by floods, landslides and heavy rain, according to Sri Lanka’s Ministry of Disaster Management. The UN continues to support the Government in its efforts to respond to the needs on the ground. International NGOs are organizing a joint rapid assessment in 11 districts starting tomorrow to obtain further information on the needs on the ground. OCHA is also helping to strengthen local UN coordination and assist agencies in joint resource mobilization efforts.

Adequate Housing: A new film, being released today by the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR), shows how adequate housing is not a luxury, but a right. The film focuses on the case of the Burgazi Roma family in Belgrade, who fled to the Serbian capital from Kosovo during the ethnic cleansing of the province in 1999. Last year, Burgazi and 60 other Roma families in Belgrade were faced with evictions for illegally building their homes. The film follows the saga of the Burgazi family until their unlikely legal victory when a Serbian court recognized the provisions of the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights, and halted the forced evictions until adequate housing is found.

Education for Refugee Children: A new policy paper, ‘No more excuses’, jointly released by UNESCO’s Global Education Monitoring (GEM) Report and the UN High Commission on Refugees (UNHCR) reveals that only 50% of refugee children are in primary school and 25% of refugee adolescents are in secondary school. The paper calls for countries and their humanitarian and development partners to ensure that those forcibly displaced are included in national education plans and to collect better data to monitor their education status and progress.

Mexico: OHCHR has said it is deeply concerned that almost two years after serious human rights violations in Tlatlaya in Mexico, including the alleged summary execution of at least 12 people, the case remained mired in impunity and victims continued to be denied their rights to justice and the truth. Seven military personnel have been arrested in connection with the case, but a judge dropped charges against four of them and in the past week, a court has freed the other three, deciding that there was insufficient evidence against them.

During his visit to Mexico in October last year, the High Commissioner Zeid Ra’ad Al Hussein had said the Tlatlaya case would be closely watched as a test of the authorities’ commitment to fighting impunity.

Ecuador: One month after the earthquake, the UN and its partners say that humanitarian needs in Ecuador persist. According to official figures, some 73,000 people have been displaced and are now living in organized shelters and camps, with host families, or in spontaneous sites. Over the past month the UN Refugee Agency (UNHCR), chartered two airlifts to provide immediate assistance to the most affected communities - tents, sleeping mats, kitchen sets and mosquito nets. In addition, UNHCR is working closely with local authorities to coordinate activities relating to child protection and fighting sexual and gender-based violence. UNHCR called on donors to urgently fund the Flash Appeal of $73 million which was launched on April 20. The appeal is currently funded at only 15%.

Disaster Analysis and Mapping: The World Food Programme (WFP) announced today that the Automated Disaster Analysis and Mapping system (ADAM) is being opened up to other organizations, in a move that can improve the collective humanitarian response on the ground. ADAM produces a “virtual dashboard” as soon as a disaster strikes, featuring details such as the magnitude of an earthquake, the number of people potentially affected, weather conditions and the WFP resources available in the area. This ensures greater reactivity; for example, in Ecuador last month, ADAM had sent out its dashboard within only 12 minutes of the earthquake.

Zika Virus: The World Health Organization (WHO) confirmed today that the Zika virus strain was imported from the Americas to Cabo Verde. Sequencing of the virus in Cabo Verde by Institut Pasteur in Dakar confirms that the Zika virus currently circulating in Cabo Verde is the same as the one circulating in the Americas - the Asian type- and was most likely imported from Brazil. This is the first time that the Zika strain responsible for the outbreaks linked to neurological disorders and microcephaly has been detected in Africa. The findings are of concern because it is further proof that the outbreak is spreading beyond South America and is on the doorstep of Africa. As a first step, WHO said that countries should heighten risk communication to pregnant women and promote protection steps to avoid mosquito bites as well as sexual transmission.

Yellow Fever: An Emergency Committee (EC) on yellow fever was convened yesterday by the Director-General of the World Health Organization (WHO) with the participation of Angola and the Democratic Republic of Congo, as affected States. The Committee decided that the urban yellow fever outbreak in the two countries is a serious public health event but not a public health emergency of international concern at this time. However, the situation warrants intensified national action and enhanced international support. The Committee calls for the acceleration of surveillance, mass vaccination, community mobilization and case management measures in Angola and the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC); it also reiterates the need to ensure the yellow fever vaccination of all travelers to and from Angola and the DRC.

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