Women’s rights in the ECOWAS region: Experts and Ministers in charge of gender affairs are meeting to examine draft strategies to combat sexual and gender-based violence and sexual harassment

The ECOWAS Centre for Gender Development (ECGD) is organizing from 11 to 13 October 2021 in Dakar, Senegal, an Experts’ Meeting, followed by a meeting of ECOWAS Minis-ters in charge of Gender and Women’s Affairs on 15 October 2021. The meeting focuses on the draft ECOWAS Regional Strategy for Preventing and Responding to Sexual and Gender-Based Violence and on the ECOWAS Project on Sexual Harassment in Workplac-es and Educational Institutions.
West Africa, like other countries worldwide, is experiencing a recurrence of sexual and gen-der-based violence in both private and public spaces. There has been a dramatic escalation of gender-based violence, particularly sexual violence perpetrated against women and girls during the COVID-19 pandemic, when travel restrictions and lockdowns were implemented.
ECOWAS Member States have undoubtedly taken measures to address gender-based vio-lence by defending and supporting victims. However, the challenges remain enormous, particularly the culture of silence and the trivialization of gender-based violence, which favor the impunity of perpetrators. The ECOWAS Commission, through ECGD, has therefore decided to address the situation of sexual and gender-based violence in order to consoli-date the achievements of Member States.
Both meetings of Experts and ECOWAS Ministers in charge of Gender and Women’s Affairs aim at implementing the commitment made in January 2021 by the Heads of State and Government in the “Declaration on Zero Tolerance to Sexual and Gender-Based Violence and the Elimination of all Forms of Violence against Women and Girls at all times and under all circumstances in the ECOWAS region.” This aim is to be achieved through the definition of a regional strategy and action plan for preventing and controlling sexual and gender-based violence in the West African region. The Declaration urges the ECOWAS Commission to provide Member States with such documents to eliminate all forms of violence against women and girls in the region.
During these two meetings, participants will be asked to review and make concrete contri-butions to the draft Regional Strategy for Preventing of and Responding to Sexual and Gen-der-Based Violence and Eliminating of All Forms of Violence against Women and Girls; and the draft ECOWAS Policy on Sexual Harassment in Workplaces and Educational Institutions. They will then propose model policies on sexual harassment in workplaces and educational institutions; and make recommendations on activities that can be implemented at the regional, national and local levels for both programs.
These two meetings in Dakar should lead to stronger and appropriate strategies in ECOWAS Member States that can influence changes in social norms, behaviors, attitudes, policies, and laws conducive to zero tolerance to sexual and gender-based violence and the elimina-tion of all forms of violence against women and girls.
Participants in these two meetings include Ministers and Gender Experts from ECOWAS Member States, staff of the ECOWAS Centre for Gender Development, Technical Develop-ment Partners, Civil Society Organizations, specialists from the ECOWAS Commission’s Departments of Social Welfare and Gender, Education and Finance.

Source: ECOWAS

Minister of Foreign Affairs Nikos Dendias’ intervention at the Plenary Session of Parliament during the debate and voting on the Draft Law on the Ratification of the Greece-France Agreement

Minister of Foreign Affairs Nikos Dendias’ intervention at the Plenary Session of Parliament during the debate and voting of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs’ draft law: “Ratification of the Agreement between the Government of the Hellenic Republic and the Government of the French Republic on establishing a strategic partnership for defence and security cooperation”, October 7, 2021.
Thank you so much, Mr. Speaker, I will try to be brief. I will not follow the logic of making a full speech, because Prime Minister Kyriakos Mitsotakis spoke previously and analyzed the issues concerning the Agreement.
I would simply like to comment on certain remarks made by the main opposition party, both at the Standing Committee and the Plenary. I believe that these remarks, as I always want to be frank with you, have a main underlying reasoning.
Their main reasoning is a phobia, because the government is entering the second half of its term and consequently SYRIZA considers that it no longer has the time to remain consistent with the concept of reason.
It believes, therefore, that it can invent reasons or excuses to vote against government initiatives, even if these government initiatives were objectives pursued by SYRIZA when it was the governing party.
I start with the first ostensible reason for SYRIZA not to vote for the Agreement. It is that Article 2 of the Greek-French Agreement does not cover the issues concerning the Exclusive Economic Zone.
Both the Prime Minister and I asked, challenged if you may, all those who object to the Agreement on the basis of this reasoning, to submit or indicate even one article of any Agreement that has ever been signed internationally, concerning similar or analogous contractual commitment between two states.
The answer, of course, was a resounding silence.
However, since a simple challenge may not be clear to the wider Greek audience and because the average person must be justifiably convinced about the need for the country to have this Agreement, allow us, the majority, to be more diligent and, unlike you, bring and submit for the minutes what we asked you to submit.
I will therefore submit for the minutes immediately afterwards – there is no point in making this move now because of the protective glass – Article 42.7 of the European Union; Article 5 of the North Atlantic Treaty; but also a series of articles of other Agreements of great importance to the parties, which also involve issues related to the Law of the Sea.
I am referring to the Treaty between Japan and the USA, Article 5. I am referring to the Treaty between the USA and the Philippines. I am referring – and I will submit it for the minutes – to the Treaty between Australia, New Zealand and the USA.
I am referring, and I will submit for the minutes, to the Treaty between the USA and the Republic of Korea.
I am referring, and I will submit for the minutes, to the information document, which has been published, regarding AUKUS, the well-known agreement between the USA, the UK and Australia.
I also submit for the minutes Article 51 of the United Nations Charter, as it is also referenced in the relevant Agreement.
I also submit, so that you do not think that we are talking only about the Western world, the Collective Security Treaty of 1992 between Russia and the countries of the former Soviet bloc.
And finally, from what was once called the Third World, I submit the African Union Non-Aggression and Common Defense Pact.
So you realize, ladies and gentlemen, that what you are saying is hollow words.
Also, the attempt by the Leader of the major Opposition to debate by asking, supposedly, trick questions of the kind “what will you do if a ship sails there and what will they do if a vessel sails here” does not befit the standards of parliamentary debate.
And I have asked, during the debate at the Standing Committee, in case there are any thoughts for discussions of this kind, that these should take place during private briefings, as is proper and befits the seriousness of all of us.
Because we are not here to score political points, especially from this debate. It is obvious that the Prime Minister of the country should not and is not going to enter such a debate, it would be unacceptable. It would harm us, it would harm our allies, and it would harm our planning and our prospects.
I also take note of the point made by many speakers that they do not claim to be more patriotic than others in this room.
In this sense, I think we all realize that the Exclusive Economic Zone is an element of interest for the government majority and allow me to say that that the government majority – if there is a measure for the affection for the Exclusive Economic Zone – should demonstrate more affection, take more interest in it.
It is our signature under the two agreements on Exclusive Economic Zones the Hellenic Republic has at this moment. They were both concluded in the days of the Mitsotakis Government. The agreement with Albania was also concluded during the term of this Government.
So what are you implying? That we are indifferent to Exclusive Economic Zones? Or obviously not, since we are not less patriotic, as at last – and this is important – has been agreed in this room?
The second element which was debated as being a flaw in the Agreement – also in a way that is not correct, allow me to say, because I want to be frank – is the attempt to put fear in the hearts of Greek mothers, in the sense of, in layman’s terms, “what is the Mitsotakis Government planning? It is planning to send your children to fight in the Sahel”.
There was even mention of coffins of Greek soldiers, soldiers sent by the Mitsotakis Government to the Sahel to fight and sacrifice their lives for some imperialistic French interests somewhere in the depths of Africa.
Ladies and gentlemen, we can understand, within the context of the political game, your need to invent reasons or excuses to vote against the agreement. But do you have to reach such depths of petty political populism? Why?
This was not how the Government handled these issues. I told you, we have signed 106 bilateral agreements and 37 multilateral ones and we did not attempt to draw any gains from them.
The Leader of the major Opposition, in order to substantiate the reasoning I described to you in a somewhat colorful manner, invoked an answer of mine and of the Minister of Defence, Nikos Panagiotopoulos, who is present, regarding operations in the Sahel.
Since I have knowledge of the discussions that have taken place with France and I obviously have knowledge of the discussions that have taken place in the European Council, I searched for and I have the documents that SYRIZA has submitted for the minutes.
These documents, ladies and gentlemen, are supposed to be the evidence, beyond any doubt, that the Prime Minister made the commitment to President Macron that Greece will participate with combat troops in the armed component and will also participate in the operations in the Sahel, right? Otherwise it would make no sense to submit these documents.
So, I see the document that bears my signature. This document, which bears my signature, in the relative paragraph, states the following: “It is noted that Greece’s assistance to the armed forces of Mali, through its contribution to the multi-national Takuba Task Force, has been bilaterally requested by Mali through an official request made by the President. The response to the request as well as any possible participation is under consideration”.
This is the document you have submitted for the minutes as proof of our participation which has been decided and is well under way, and which will end up with the consignment of coffins from Mali to Greece.
And to conclude, if my colleague the Minister of Defence, Nikos Panagiotopoulos, who is present here, allows, I will make use of the document that bears his signature.
The Leader of the major Opposition has indeed quoted from this document. It reads: “Advise, assist and accompany at fight”, and this is supposedly the evidence for the role of Greek troops. The difference is that this does not concern Greek troops and when read it does not imply battle, let us be honest now, it does not say this.
But if you look at the first page you will find that this is the description of the operation, and not of the role of the Greek forces. Do you understand?
For heaven’s sake, why are we trying to incite fear? Why are we trying to put fear in the hearts of Greek mothers? After all, is the fear of elections so great that it makes us say such things?
And if you allow me, ladies and gentlemen, how did this come up now suddenly, out of the blue?
Mr. Speaker, I have been both rapporteur and parliamentary representative and I understand the need of any parliamentary representative to defend his absent party leader. I fully understand it.
We will submit the document for the minutes. Anyone can read it; it is exactly as I say.
In any case, SYRIZA appears suddenly to be up in arms with indignation – as if the Sahel issue were a distant imperialistic operation by France, which is gripped by illusions of imperial grandeur – ignoring, or pretending to ignore, that the Sahel is a permanent issue in all Council meetings of the EU and that it is commonplace in Europe that the Sahel is a major problem for the European Union and also that instability in the Sahel incentivizes not only migratory flows, but also terrorist attacks and constitutes an immense security challenge.
Indicatively, I provide the European Council conclusions of 2019 – Mr. Tsipras attended it, June 2019, Mr. Tsipras was present – also EU Foreign Affairs Council, February 18, 2019, on Security and Defense Policy, I quote: “it approved joint civil military concept of operations”.
Why is SYRIZA suddenly objecting? I asked the Permanent Representation of Greece to the EU whether there have ever been any objections from the part of Greece on any of these issues. No objection has been recorded, ever. Quite the opposite is true.
Therefore, why this sudden scaremongering?
Allow me to say something more. Please read the text of the Agreement, ladies and gentlemen of the SYRIZA party. Do not seek false excuses.
Please read Article 18, which is supposed to be the one that creates the problem, according to you. What does it say? Is there an obligation on the part of Greece to send forces at the Sahel? Is this what it says? Does this make you vote against the Agreement?
If you look it up, you will find that Article 18, I quote, – and I imagine that we shall all agree that this is the proper reading: “This cooperation between Greece and France may take the following forms”. It may.
It may, but when? Two conditions must be fulfilled. The first condition to go to the Sahel is to decide it, as long as it supports a common interest. That is, as long as the Greek Government – the current, the next, any Government –deems that it serves the national interest.
Consequently, Article 18 is also in no way linked to Article 2, regarding the provision of assistance. In other words, France is not telling us: if you do not send troops to the Sahel, we are not going to provide you with defence assistance. It does not say such thing. These are two separate things.
So, how do these two articles lead, the first one with regard to which you are asking for something that is an international innovation, because in realty what you are asking us to formulate is a defence clause for international waters. And the second one, a possible Greek-French cooperation provided it serves common interests.
What is your reasoning for not voting in favour of an Agreement that is unique in the post- World War II era, the only agreement of this kind that the French Republic has ever signed – excepting the agreement it has signed with Germany, for obvious historical reasons? But Germany is not threatened by anyone.
What is the criterion for saying: no, we do not need this, we do not want it?
In conclusion, – as I am not going to doubt your patriotism, I believe it exists – allow me to tell you the following, which is extremely unwelcome and is upping the ante. I am saying this because I heard various suggestions about the way to come to an understanding with Turkey.
During the debate in the Standing Committee, I had the opportunity to present a list with the Turkish contradictions, contradictions between what Turkey claims regarding international law and what it does on the ground, or rather at sea and air, to be precise.
Ladies and gentlemen, please do not lose sight of the fact that over the recent period, not to say over the last weeks, even days, Turkey has formulated another thought, which goes beyond all its inconceivable claims so far.
It claims that the demilitarization of the islands of the Eastern Aegean is a condition for the Greek national sovereignty on these islands. Meaning, to put it clearly, that if the islands are not demilitarized, they are not Greek.
Turkey even protested because a Greek Minister was photographed in one of these islands a few days ago.
In the face of this Turkey, when for the first time we are presented with, because, as I told you, we have purchased weapons systems before, we have purchased the Mirage F1 aircrafts, we have purchased the Combattante fast attack crafts, the MX30 tanks, and we have purchased the Mirage 2000 jet fighters. Never before did France accept to make an agreement – because I cannot imagine that Greece did not want to come to an understanding with France in order to have a defence agreement on this basis.
So, when in the face of this Turkey demonstrating this attitude, these intentions, this conduct, do you think that Greece can afford the luxury not to have an agreement with a nuclear superpower, the largest military power in Europe? Can it afford not to sign this Agreement?
And if you disagree with the procurement of the frigates – not with the weapon itself, because I have clearly understood that you consider it an excellent weapon, but with other aspects – the Minister, Mr. Panagiotopoulos, is here to provide explanations.
In any case, we do not ask you to vote in favour of the procurement of the frigates, because the Leader of the main Opposition party spoke for 16-17 minutes about the frigates and armament programs, not about the Agreement.
Ladies and gentlemen, let’s be honest, so that everyone has a clear conscience. The Mitsotakis Government deems that national responsibility leaves no scope for not voting in favour of this Agreement.
I therefore call on you, in the name of national unity, but also in the name of national necessity – which is obvious, one need not argue about this – to vote for it, vote in favour of it and from then on there will be time to discuss all the other domestic issues.
Thank you.

Source: Ministry of Foreign Affairs of the Hellenic Republic

Access to mental health and psychosocial support services remains unequal for children and adolescents in Africa, alert UNICEF & WHO

BRAZZAVILLE/NAIROBI/DAKAR– At least one in seven children in sub-Saharan Africa experiences significant psychological hardship. As the world marks World Mental Health Day, UNICEF and WHO shine a light on the need for increased investment and access to mental health prevention and response services on the continent.

Children and adolescents are always at risk of developing mental health problems, especially vulnerable children facing poverty, discrimination and violence. The lack of access to basic social, health and education services, combined with wide-reaching structural inequalities, are all known to be aggravating risks for mental ill-health.

The effects of climate change, compounded by high rates of HIV infection, adolescent pregnancies and humanitarian emergencies, are also ongoing threats for the mental wellbeing of children and adolescents in Africa. Research shows that 50 per cent of mental health conditions start by age 14 and 75 per cent by the mid 20s.

“Addressing child and adolescent mental health in Africa is urgent. Over the years, millions of young people have been exposed to challenges most adults would find very difficult to cope with, often having to deal with the psychological impacts on their own. Our systems are still failing them,” said Mohamed M. Fall, UNICEF Regional Director for Eastern and Southern Africa.

In order to respond to this growing crisis, UNICEF and the WHO committed to a 10-year Joint Programme on Mental Health and Psychosocial Well-being and Development of Children and Adolescents in Africa. Signed in 2020, this decade-long collaborative effort is working with local Governments to strengthen mental health and psychosocial support systems for children, adolescents and their caregivers. This would also help bring mental health into national preparedness efforts and take away any stigma that might come with mental health issues.

Investment in mental health remains extremely low in Africa, with government expenditure at less than one US dollar per capita. We simply cannot afford to let millions of children needing care go without help,” said Dr Matshidiso Moeti, WHO Regional Director for Africa. “It is time to make a difference and ensure that children grow into adulthood free of the potentially lifelong and devastating impacts of unaddressed mental health challenges.”

COVID-19 has further shone a spotlight on global inequalities, including mental health care. The well documented statistics regarding vaccine availability in Africa compared to high income contexts is a stark reminder.

Children in Africa have been exposed to even greater threats with school closures, increased exposure to armed conflicts, and lack of opportunities to play and socialize with their peers. The long-term lockdowns have reportedly increased early marriage, teenage pregnancies and sexual and domestic violence towards children – especially girls.

Despite this high burden, availability and quality of mental health services for children and adolescents in Africa are greatly lacking. Even in countries where specialised child and adolescent clinical psychologists and psychiatrists exist, on average there is only 1 per 4 million population, with health and social care professionals skilled in mental health often concentrated in larger cities, unreachable by most of the population at risk.

Preventive measures remain key, most notably promoting healthy lifestyles including exercise and good nutrition, and protection against harmful practices and violence, including strengthening skills in communication and conflict resolution.

Updated and costed child and adolescent policies on mental health do not exist in many of the countries in Africa. Out of 39 countries that responded to the Mental Health ATLAS 2019, 11 countries indicated they had stand-alone Child and Adolescent Mental Health Policies and/or Strategies. Nine countries out of the 39 that responded indicated they had in-patient services for children and adolescents, while 12 indicated they had out-patient services for children and adolescents. Only 5 out of 39 countries that responded had Community-based Child and Adolescent Mental Health

The most recent data indicates that on average, African Ministries of Health allocate about 90 US cents per capita to mental health, up from 10 US cents from the 2016 report. This is often allocated to large psychiatrict institutions, in the bigger cities with only about 15 per cent getting to the primary and the community health levels.

“COVID and the response measures have created an environment on uncertainty, isolation and anxiety. The number of children targeted for mental health and psychosocial support across West and Central Africa since the pre-Covid period has almost doubled (87 per cent) from just below 1.1 million in 2019 to almost 2 million in 2021. Sadly, these estimates are probably only part of the real need. Long-term investments for child and adolescent mental health care in Africa is needed to turn recent donor support into sustainable services,” said Marie-Pierre Poirier, UNICEF Regional Director for West and Central Africa.

“We urge member states and regional bodies to prioritise and commit to further investing in the mental health of children and young people across Africa. This is an essential part of our care for children,” she added.

Investing in child and mental health in Africa now will literally pay off in the future. The latest UNICEF State of the World’s Children Report reveals that school-based interventions addressing anxiety, depression and suicide provide a return on investment of US$21.5 for every US$1 over 80 years. According to the report, the biggest results were in lower-middle-income countries, with a return of US$88.7 on every dollar invested.

Source: World Health Organization

Rival Combatants Sign Deal On Removal Of Foreign Fighters In Libya

The rival sides in the Libyan conflict signed an initial deal on the pullout of foreign fighters and mercenaries from the war-torn country, UN mediators said.

The UN mission said on October 9 that a 10-member joint military commission, with five representatives from each side, signed a “gradual and balanced” withdrawal deal at the end of three-day talks facilitated by the UN in Geneva.

The UN special envoy for Libya, Jan Kubis, said the deal “responds to the overwhelming demand of the Libyan people and creates a positive momentum that should be built upon to move forward towards a stable and democratic stage.”

Libya has been in chaos and conflict since a NATO-backed uprising a decade ago ousted longtime dictator Muammar Qaddafi, sparking rival eastern and western-based administrations, each supported by various outsiders and armed groups.

The country had been split between the UN-backed Government of National Accord (GNA) in Tripoli, also backed by Turkey and Qatar, and an eastern-based administration backed by strongman Khalifa Haftar, whose international backers are Russia, Egypt, and the United Arab Emirates.

Libya’s split came to the forefront in 2019, when Haftar launched an offensive to take Tripoli from armed militias loosely allied with the UN-supported but weak government in the country’s capital.

The presence of foreign fighters and mercenaries has been a major issue seen as an obstacle to free and fair elections, scheduled for December in the North African country.

In August, a journalistic investigation brought new insights into the “key” role of a Russian military contractor in the Libyan civil war, including links to war crimes and the Russian military.

The content of a Samsung tablet left behind by an unidentified member of the Vagner Group after the contractor’s fighters retreated from areas south of Tripoli in spring 2020 include frontline maps in Russian, the BBC said on August 11.

Vagner Group is believed to have indirect ties to Russia’s political elite and to be controlled by Yevgeny Prigozhin, a close associate of Russian President Vladimir Putin.

Both Prigozhin and Russian authorities have denied any involvement with Vagner.

Meanwhile, Turkey has sent Syrian rebel fighters to back the internationally recognized Tripoli government.

A UN official in December estimated there have been at least 20,000 foreign fighters and mercenaries in Libya over recent years, including Russians, Syrians, Sudanese, and Chadians.

The UN said the newly agreed plan, along with an implementation mechanism, would be “the cornerstone for the gradual, balanced, and sequenced process of withdrawal” of the mercenaries and foreign forces.

Kubis, the UN special envoy, called the accord “another breakthrough achievement.”

He said the deal is a step toward the “holding of free, credible, and transparent national elections on December 24, with results accepted by all.”

The accord also calls for deployment of UN observers to monitor the cease-fire before the implementation of a withdrawal plan for foreign combatants.

A UN-brokered roadmap has set both parliamentary and presidential elections for December 24, although it remains unclear if opposition from eastern-based forces will interfere with those plans.

Copyright (c) 2015. RFE/RL, Inc. Reprinted with the permission of Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty, 1201 Connecticut Ave NW, Ste 400, Washington DC 20036.

Implementation of the Peace, Security and Cooperation Framework for the Democratic Republic of the Congo and the Region – Report of the Secretary-General (S/2021/836)

I. Introduction

1. The present report is submitted pursuant to Security Council resolution 2556 (2020), in which the Council requested me to report to it every six months on the implementation of the commitments under the Peace, Security and Cooperation Framework for the Democratic Republic of the Congo and the Region and its linkages with the broader security situation in the region. It provides an overview of peace and security developments in the Great Lakes region since the issuance of the previous report (S/2021/306) and covers the period from 16 March to 15 September 2021.

II. Major developments

A. Spread and implications of the coronavirus disease pandemic

2. The coronavirus disease (COVID-19) pandemic continued to adversely affect the Great Lakes region. According to the World Health Organization (WHO), the signatory countries of the Peace, Security and Cooperation Framework had reported a total of 3,702,375 confirmed cases and 103,465 fatalities as at 14 September. In July, the United Republic of Tanzania resumed reporting of COVID-19 cases in the country, which had been suspended since May 2020. Several countries experienced another wave of the pandemic, leading to renewed containment measures, including partial lockdowns, although borders were mostly kept open. Meanwhile, vaccine shortages, among other factors, continued to limit the administration of vacc ines in the region. As at 14 September, WHO reported that a total of 27,032,479 vaccine doses had been administered in 12 of the 13 signatory countries, amounting to an estimated 6 per cent of the total population in the region.

3. The socioeconomic impact of the pandemic remained a cause for concern. While the economies of the signatory States of the Peace, Security and Cooperation Framework were expected to rebound in 2021, per capita incomes are, according to the International Monetary Fund (IMF), unlikely to return to pre-pandemic levels before 2025. The slow roll-out of vaccinations in many countries, which is partly attributable to high costs, could further undermine economic growth, with IMF estimating that broad coverage is not expected before the end of 2023. In addition, the number of people living in extreme poverty is expected to increase in a context of rising food prices, high unemployment rates and mounting debt.

Source: UN Security Council