Daily Archives: January 24, 2015

INTERVIEW: all parties want calm across Israeli-Lebanese border, says former UN envoy

22 January 2015 – While there are still outstanding issues and underlying tensions, all parties want to maintain calm across the so-called ‘Blue Line’ that separates Israel and Lebanon, according to a former United Nations official tasked with monitoring the issue.

Derek Plumbly, a former British diplomat with extensive Middle East experience, recently completed a three-year stint as the UN Special Coordinator for Lebanon. Among his most important responsibilities at the helm of the Beirut-based UN political office in Lebanon (UNSCOL) was helping to implement Security Council resolution 1701.

The resolution, which ended the 2006 war between Israel and the Lebanese group Hizbollah, calls for respI think there is a shared concern, frankly and it is very important to note this, on the part of all parties to sustain that calm across the Blue Line.ect for the Blue Line, the disarming of all militias in Lebanon, and an end to arms smuggling in the area. While UN peacekeepers patrol the south, UNSCOL’s small civilian team pursues the political dimensions of the resolution.

“Although we failed to secure progress on some of the more difficult outstanding issues, and there are unimplemented parts of the resolution, the calm has enabled the people in the south of Lebanon and on the other side of the Blue Line to pursue their normal lives,” said Mr. Plumbly.

“Obviously there are reasons for concern, partly because there are these outstanding issues and because there are still underlying tensions,” he added in an interview this week with Politically Speaking, the online magazine of the UN Department of Political Affairs (DPA).

Derek Plumbly in south Lebanon with parliamentarians in Bint Jbeil market (June 2012). Photo: Pasqual Gorriz

“But I think there is a shared concern, frankly and it is very important to note this, on the part of all parties to sustain that calm across the Blue Line.”

Mr. Plumbly, who was succeeded by Sigrid Kaag of the Netherlands, noted that it is part of the Special Coordinator’s role to try to ‘underline the benefits’ of the calm and to ensure that people remain committed to a secession of hostilities across the Blue Line and to maintaining the achievements of resolution 1701.

Among the greatest challenges UNSCOL has faced, he said, has been coping with the consequences of the ongoing conflict in neighbouring Syria. Lebanon’s Government has declared an official policy of ‘disassociation’ from the Syrian conflict. And under an agreement brokered in 2012 known as the Baabda Declaration, the leading political blocs have adopted the same commitment not to import the crisis into Lebanon.

Derek Plumbly meets Syrian refugee families at collective shelter in south Lebanon (April 2013). Photo: UNSCOL

However, Lebanon has felt the impact of the conflict in many ways. “In the shadow of the Syrian crisis, the threats to Lebanon have become more numerous,” said Mr. Plumbly, citing spill-over in the form of terrorism, polarization of the population due to differing views on what is happening in Syria, as well as the large refugee influx.

There are currently some 1.1 million Syrian refugees in Lebanon (equal to a quarter of the resident population), making it the country with the highest per capita concentration of refugees worldwide, and putting increasing pressure on a host community that is already stretched to the breaking point.

While the influx of a million refugees would be massive in any country, the UN refugee agency says that for Lebanon – ‘a small nation beset by internal difficulties’ – the impact is ‘staggering.’

Derek Plumbly discusses development projects with local authorities (December 2012). Photo: Pasqual Gorriz

Government formation and vacancies in top leadership posts have been recurring problems for the country, which has been without a president since last May.

Mr. Plumbly stressed the need for all parties to be flexible and to show a sense of urgency, adding that the vacancy in the presidency does have a negative impact.

“It’s a complex political situation with a lot of quite difficult challenges,” he stated, adding that this is why it is critical for the Special Coordinator to reach out to everyone and maintain contacts with all parties.

“There were no political players in Lebanon to whom we did not speak and that too on a very regular basis. And that, I think, is crucial.”

EU-Africa relations

The Cotonou Agreement 

One of the main frameworks for EU relations with Africa is the Cotonou Agreement, adopted in 2000 to replace the 1975 Lomé Convention for African, Caribbean and Pacific (ACP) countries. It is the most comprehensive partnership agreement between developing countries and the EU, covering the EU’s relations with 79 countries.

A comprehensive partnership, based on 3 pillars:

  • development cooperation
  • economic and trade cooperation
  • the political dimension

Its central objective is to reduce and eventually eradicate poverty, consistent with the objectives of sustainable development and the gradual integration of the ACP countries into the world economy. 
The EU supports programmes and initiatives benefiting multiple countries across the ACP group of countries. Specific regions within the ACP also benefit from programmes and initiatives to bring about further regional economic growth and development.

Funding for both purposes is from the European Development Fund.

Central Africa: UN agency delivers food to thousands of refugees on Nigeria-Chad border

23 January 2015 – With a “tense and highly volatile” situation in North-Eastern Nigeria at the Chadian Lac border, United Nations World Food Programme (WFP) announced today that it has begun distributing food to thousands of refugees who have recently been displaced by the region’s escalating violence and urged that it required some $11 million to continue to meet those needs.

Distribution of 159 tons of WFP rations started today in the border region in Baga Sola, and the agency is planning a first round of distributions for 10 days to more than 7,800 refugees from Ngouboua in Nigeria, of whom 4,103 are new arrivals, WFP spokesperson Elisabeth Byrs told reporters at a press conference in Geneva.

The situation in the Central Africa region has been deteriorating in recent months. Just last weekend, Boko Haram insurgents pillaged villages and abducted some 80 people in Cameroon in one of the group’s biggest kidnappings to take place outside of Nigeria. This sparked fears through-out region that the insurgents were gaining ground and expanding their attacks.

On Monday, Chad’s Government said it would deploy troops to Cameroon to help fight the armed group and keep the violence from spreading to other countries.

WFP was able to able to respond to the first wave of 6,250 refugees within 48 hours of their arrival, with an emergency ration of two days, Ms. Byrs said. There are currently more than 13,000 refugees in North-Eastern Nigeria at the Lake Chad border, according to the latest statistics from the UN refugee agency (UNHCR).

Ms. Byrs today expressed concern over the impact this refugee migration will have host communities. Prior to the crisis, the November 2014 emergency food security assessment showed that areas within the Lac Region were food insecure. At that time, 32 per cent of the population was found to be food insecure while the global acute malnutrition rates were above 15 per cent, above the World Health Organization (WHO) ‘critical’ threshold.

There has also been an impact on trade flow. Chad had previously exported cattle to Nigeria through the Lac Region and most of this trade had been recently affected by the crisis. The income of livestock keepers in the region has also been affected. Maize farmers who exported their grains to Nigeria are affected as well. The decrease of trade also has had a negative impact on Kanem and Bar El Ghazal‘s regions, which had the highest level of food insecurity in Chad.

She added that many of the refugees were currently located in several hard to reach small islands on Lake Chad. In the coming weeks, the Government and humanitarian partners plan to relocate them on a voluntary basis to areas where they can be reached.

UN human rights office urges probe into excessive use of force in DR Congo protests

23 January 2015 – The Office of the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR) today expressed alarm at the apparent excessive use of force by security officers against demonstrators in Democratic Republic of the Congo cities Kinshasa and Goma, and called for “a thorough and independent investigation” into the matter.

“We urge the Government to promptly conduct a thorough and independent investigation into any excessive use of force by law enforcement officials – and in particular the reported use of live ammunition against protestors,” OHCHR spokesperson Rupert Colville told reporters in Geneva today.

“Any use of force during demonstrations must be exceptional and, when used, must be proportional and strictly necessary,” Mr. Colville said. “The intentional lethal use of firearms may only be made when strictly unavoidable in order to protect life.”

“We also call on the protestors to refrain from any acts of violence or vandalism,” he said.

Also today, the team of International Envoys for the Great Lakes Region of Africa expressed their deep concern about recent violence in the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC), where more than 13 people have reportedly been killed and more than 30 injured in the context of several days of anti-Government demonstrations in the capital Kinshasa, and Goma in the eastern part of the country.

The protests, which began on 19 January against the passing of an electoral bill in the lower house of the legislature, had also resulted in the detention of more than 300 individuals across the Democratic Republic of the Congo including prominent members of the opposition and civil society representatives,” Mr. Colville said.

“The electoral bill is now before the Senate and there are fears that its passage may escalate the situation and result in more violence,” he warned.

The team of envoys called on the DRC Government to exercise restraint, condemned any use of force against peaceful, unarmed demonstrators and arbitrary arrests, and noted that all citizens, including demonstrators and their leaders, have a responsibility to pursue political objectives by non-violent means in conformity with relevant national laws.

They also encouraged the Government, the opposition, as well as civil society to avail themselves of the good offices of the UN in facilitating an inclusive and transparent dialogue between all stakeholders as per provisions of relevant Security Council resolutions.

The team of envoys are comprised of: UN Special Envoy for the Great Lakes Said Djinnit; UN Special Representative for the DRC Martin Kobler; African Union Special Representative for the Great Lakes Boubacar Diarra; European Union Senior Coordinator for the Great Lakes Koen Vervaeke; United States’ Special l Envoy for the Great Lakes and the DRC Russell D. Feingold; and Belgium’s Special Envoy for the Great Lakes Frank de Coninck.

The OHCHR also said that State authorities have restricted Internet and mobile text messaging services for more than three days now, not only disrupting communication between individuals but also creating disruption in the conduct of economic activities, like banking.

“We also call on the authorities to promptly release all those who have been detained for exercising their right to peaceful assembly, for expression of their views, for their affiliation with the opposition or for disagreeing with the amendments to the electoral bill,” Mr. Colville said.

“The right to vote in genuine, periodic elections is a fundamental human right enshrined in the Universal Declaration on Human Rights and International Covenant on Civil and Political rights,” he added.

UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon yesterday urged maximum restraint on all sides and flagged the readiness of his Special Representative in the DRC, Martin Kobler, to use his good offices to help narrow the gap between the main actors involved.

Mr. Kobler later tweeted that “the freedom of opinion is the basic pillar of democracy. It has to be guaranteed while at the same time handled with responsibility.”

Flood victims in Malawi in urgenst need of foor, other relief aid, UN warns

23 January 2015 – The United Nations World Food Programme (WFP) announced today that it has begun distributing high-energy biscuits in Malawi following the devastating flooding that displaced more than 100,000 people and reportedly killed at least 50 others in recent weeks.

Some 77 metric tons of biscuits – enough to feed 77,000 people – were airlifted into the Southern Africa country from the UN Humanitarian Response Depot in Dubai earlier this week, according to a WFP press release, which added that this ready-to-eat food would be prioritized for the most vulnerable people, particularly youths.

Among the poorest countries on earth, Malawi has one of the highest rates of stunting among children.

Meanwhile, the latest figures from the country’s Government-led food security cluster indicate that some 370,000 people currently require urgent food and other relief assistance due to the flooding.

The UN agency explained that reaching the worst-affected areas with such assistance had become “extremely difficult” as many roads and bridges had been damaged or washed away.

Within days of the President of Malawi declaring a disaster in 15 of the country’s 28 districts, WFP began to deliver maize, beans, oil and super-cereal – a fortified corn blend – from in-country stocks to those displaced in Chikwawa district of Malawi on Saturday. However, the agency has stressed that the stocks will need to be replaced once the crisis is over.

In addition, the WFP warned that $18 million in urgent funding is still required in order for it to be able to continue its assistance to Malawi’s flood victims.