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Weekly News Update February 22-26, 2021

Climate and Security - Security Council Debate, 23 February 2021

The high-level open debate on the theme of “Maintenance of international peace and security: Climate and security” will allow to discuss the role of the Security Council, Member States and the UN in addressing future threats to international peace and security posed by climate change, including through sustained and systematic consideration of related conflict risk, peacebuilding approaches and support for adaptation and resilience in climate-vulnerable settings. The Prime Minister of the United Kingdom H.E. Boris Johnson will chair the open VTC debate. Mr. António Guterres (Secretary-General of the United Nations), Nisreen Elsaim a Sudanese climate activist and Chair of UN Secretary General's Youth Advisory Group on Climate Change will address the meeting alongside other briefers.



United Nations Headquarters, New York

22 February 2021

MYANMAR: PRESIDENT CALLS FOR RETURN TO CIVILIAN RULE AS ASSEMBLY PREPARES FOR SPECIAL ENVOY BRIEFING The President said this morning that he remains deeply concerned by developments in Myanmar and saddened by the deaths of peaceful demonstrators. Human rights, freedoms and the rule of law should be upheld at all times, he added.

  • And he called for calm, restraint and a return to civilian rule in line with the outcome of the recent elections.

  • Also on Myanmar, the President will convene an informal meeting of the General Assembly this Friday, 26 February, to hear a briefing by the Special Envoy on Myanmar. This follows a request from a group of Member States and consultations with the Special Envoy.

  • This briefing is also pursuant to General Assembly resolution 75/238 on the situation of human rights of Rohingya Muslims and other minorities in Myanmar. That resolution “requests the Secretary-General … to provide all assistance necessary to enable the Special Envoy on Myanmar… to report to Member States every six months, or as warranted by the situation on the ground”.

PRESIDENT APPALLED BY ATTACK IN D.R. CONGO, EXPRESSES CONCERN FOR U.N. PERSONNEL The President said today that he was appalled to learn that the Italian Ambassador to the Democratic Republic of the Congo and colleagues were killed during a heinous attack while on their way to visit a World Food Programme (WFP) school.

  • Noting that WFP is the world’s largest humanitarian organization, he stressed that the perpetrators need to be brought to justice.

  • In response to a related question, the Spokesperson said the President had expressed his concerns many times about the safety, security, welfare and wellbeing of UN personnel throughout the world. From his first day, the President had repeatedly spoken about how, through his travels, he had met with UN personnel across the globe. He had seen firsthand how they worked as hard as they could – often under very difficult conditions – to better people’s lives.

  • In general, the President spoke out every time there was an unfortunate attack on UN colleagues, expressing his concern and condemning such attacks.

  • Asked whether the President would convene a meeting on the safety and security of UN personnel, the Spokesperson noted that any formal meeting of the General Assembly would require an initiative from Member States. But from his side, the President would continue to use his platform to speak out against any attacks on UN colleagues.

HUMAN RIGHTS ABUSERS TOO OFTEN NOT HELD TO ACCOUNT This morning, the President addressed by video message the opening of the 46th regular session of the Human Rights Council.

  • In his remarks, he said that, although human rights and fundamental freedoms are universal and inherent in every person, in practice they are not universally protected. And perpetrators of human rights abuses are too often not held to account.

  • He also said COVID-19 has provided a veil behind which more human rights abuses are being committed.

  • He added that the pandemic is not just a health crisis – but also a human rights one. And he said it was essential that all responses be centered around human rights. That includes ensuring vaccines for all.

  • The President also addressed the annual high-level panel discussion on human rights mainstreaming. The theme this year focuses on the fight against racism and discrimination.

  • He said, if we are to address longstanding forms of discrimination, we must listen to, and learn from, each other’s lived experiences. And we must recognize that privilege has arisen as a result of past injustices.

  • He said acknowledging past actions is the first step in adopting concrete measures towards reparatory justice. And if we are to create more equal, just and peaceful societies, we have no other choice.


  • The President delivered remarks to a virtual event organized by the Permanent Mission of Bangladesh to mark International Mother Language Day.

  • He said our collective diversity in language and culture points to the richness and complexity of our societies.

  • He stressed that we must support those who wish to speak their mother tongue.

PRESIDENT CALLS FOR ACTION ON ENVIRONMENT, AFRICA & VULNERABLE COUNTRIES This morning, the President addressed the high-level segment of the Fifth UN Environment Assembly by video message.

  • He said, “We have a fundamental and existential choice to make: continue down our current path, which involves pressing demands on a planet whose capacity cannot meet our needs as is; or we adjust our behaviours, however inconvenient that may be, to find some sort of harmony and balance with the world around us. And this is very much the time to act.”

  • The President also spoke at the high-level opening session of the Africa Review meeting, held in preparation of the Fifth United Nations Conference on the Least Developed Countries (LDC5).

  • In his remarks, he noted that, while all Member States have been adversely affected by COVID-19, the most vulnerable countries face the greatest risk of losing a generation of hard-won development gains. We cannot let that happen, he said.

GENERAL ASSEMBLY TO MEET TOMORROW ON UKRAINE Tomorrow morning, the General Assembly plenary will hold a debate on the situation in the temporarily occupied territories of Ukraine.

  • This has been an annual debate since the General Assembly’s 73rd session.


22 organisations urge UN resolution ensuring human rights and justice in Sri Lanka

(Geneva) 22 February 2021 — The UN Human Rights Council must take immediate and concrete action to prevent impunity for past abuses and address the deteriorating human rights situation in Sri Lanka, said a coalition of 22 organisations today. Highlighting recent recommendations of the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights, an open letter from human rights non-governmental organisations and academic centers and clinics urges the Human Rights Council to enhance monitoring of the situation in Sri Lanka, establish an independent mechanism to collect and preserve evidence of past and ongoing violations, and prioritise support to civil society and victims. The Human Rights Council opens its 46th session today.

Ongoing impunity for serious human rights violations, including allegations of war crimes and crimes against humanity, committed over the course of a decades-long war has created a crisis of accountability in Sri Lanka. The toll on civilians, who have suffered serious violations and abuses, including extrajudicial killings, enforced disappearances, arbitrary detention, torture, and sexual violence, has been enormous with the High Commissioner noting how “the failure to deal with the past continues to have devastating effects on tens of thousands of survivors.” UN bodies have documented Sri Lanka’s persistent failures to protect human rights and a pattern of obstructing investigations, rewarding human rights abusers, and targeting government critics. It is essential that the Human Rights Council pass a resolution with concrete action as a signal to the Government of Sri Lanka that continuing impunity and abuses are not acceptable, and to affirm that the United Nations is committed to securing justice for survivors.

Read the letter here.

The 22 organisations that signed the letter: Asian Forum for Human Rights and Development (FORUM ASIA); Center for Justice and Accountability (CJA); Centre for Policy Alternatives (CPA); Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ); International Coalition for the Responsibility to Protect (ICRtoP); International Commission of Jurists (ICJ); International Federation for Human Rights (FIDH); International Human Rights Clinic at Harvard Law School; International Movement Against All Forms of Discrimination and Racism (IMADR); International Service for Human Rights (ISHR); European Center for Constitutional and Human Rights (ECCHR); Franciscans International; Freedom from Torture; Free Press Unlimited; Human Rights Watch (HRW); People for Equality and Relief in Lanka (PEARL); REDRESS; Reporters without Borders (RSF); Sri Lanka Campaign; University Network for Human Rights; World Federalist Movement/Institute for Global Policy (WFM/IGP); and World Organization Against Torture (OMCT).

Press Contacts:

International Federation for Human Rights (FIDH): Eva Canan +33648059157

Center for Justice & Accountability: Nushin Sarkarati

Harvard Law School International Human Rights Clinic: Dana Walters


UN Secretary-General’s briefing to Security Council on “Addressing Climate-Related Security Risks to International Peace and Security Through Mitigations and Resilience Building”

Tuesday, 23 February, 8:30 A.M. EST THE SECRETARY-GENERAL

Mr. President,


I thank the British Presidency for convening this debate, and for your invitation to brief on a subject of grave concern.

The climate emergency is the defining issue of our time.

The last decade was the hottest in human history. Carbon dioxide levels are at record highs, and wildfires, cyclones, floods, and droughts are the new normal. These shocks not only damage the environment on which we depend; they also weaken our political, economic and social systems.

The science is clear: we need to limit the global temperature increase to 1.5 degrees by the end of the century.

And our duty is even clearer: we need to protect the people and communities that are being hit by climate disruption.

We must step up preparations for the escalating implications of the climate crisis for international peace and security.

Mr. President,

Climate disruption is a crisis amplifier and multiplier.

Where climate change dries up rivers, reduces harvests, destroys critical infrastructure, and displaces communities, it exacerbates the risks of instability and conflict.

A study by the Stockholm International Peace Research Institute found that eight of the ten countries hosting the largest multilateral peace operations in 2018 were in areas highly exposed to climate change.

The impacts of this crisis are greatest where fragility and conflicts have weakened coping mechanisms; where people depend on natural capital like forests and fish stocks for their livelihoods; and where women – who bear the greatest burden of the climate emergency – do not enjoy equal rights.

In Afghanistan, for example, where 40 percent of the workforce is engaged in farming, reduced harvests push people into poverty and food insecurity, leaving them susceptible to recruitment by criminal gangs and armed groups.

Across West Africa and the Sahel, more than 50 million people depend on rearing livestock for survival. Changes in grazing patterns have contributed to growing violence and conflict between pastoralists and farmers.

In Darfur, low rainfall and recurrent droughts are increasing food insecurity and competition for resources. The consequences are particularly devastating for women and girls, who are forced to walk farther to collect water, putting them at greater risk of sexual and gender-based violence.

Vulnerability to climate risks is also correlated with income inequality.

In other words, the poorest suffer most.

Unless we protect those most exposed and susceptible to climate-related impacts, we can expect them to become even more marginalized, and their grievances to be reinforced.

High levels of inequality can weaken social cohesion and lead to discrimination, scapegoating, rising tensions and unrest, increasing the risk of conflict.

Those who are already being left behind will be left even farther behind.

Climate disruption is already driving displacement across the world.

In some small island nations in the Pacific, entire communities have been forced to relocate, with terrible implications for their livelihoods, culture and heritage.

The forced movement of larger numbers of people around the world will clearly increase the potential for conflict and insecurity.

When I was High Commissioner for Refugees, I spent time with people who had been uprooted by the impact of climate change, in the Horn of Africa, Darfur, the Sahel and elsewhere.

Listening to their stories, I understood the deep suffering and trauma of families forced to abandon homes and land that had been theirs for generations.

Mr. President,

Much more needs to be done to address the specific risks the climate crisis poses to peace and security.

I see four priority areas.

First, we need a greater focus on prevention through strong, ambitious climate action.

We must get the world on track to achieve the goals of the Paris Agreement and avoid climate catastrophe.

We must create a truly global coalition to commit to net-zero emissions by the middle of the century.

And we must mobilize a decade of transformation through a successful COP26 in Glasgow. That requires all Member States to present, well before November, ambitious Nationally Determined Contributions with targets that will allow us to cut global emissions by 45 percent by 2030 from 2010 levels.

We are also asking all companies, cities and financial institutions to prepare concrete and credible decarbonization plans.

We still have a long way to go, and we look to the major emitters to lead by example in the coming months. This is a credibility test of their commitment to people and planet.

It is the only way we will keep the 1.5-degree goal within reach.

Second, we need immediate actions to protect countries, communities and people from increasingly frequent and severe climate impacts.

We need a breakthrough on adaptation and resilience, which means dramatically raising the level of investments.

All donors and multilateral and national Development Banks must increase the share of adaptation and resilience finance to at least 50 per cent of their climate finance support. And we must make these funds accessible to those on the frontlines of the climate crisis.

Developed countries must keep their pledge of channeling $100 billion annually to the Global South. They have already missed the deadline of 2020.

We need to scale up early warning systems and early action on climate-related crises, from droughts and storms to the emergence of zoonotic diseases.

We also need stronger social protection to support those impacted.

These actions must start now, with transformative policies as we emerge from the pandemic.

Economic and financial systems must incorporate climate risk into financial analysis, so that it is captured in business models and investment decisions.

We must invest in renewable energy and green infrastructure.

In short, we must close the finance gap by increasing support to the countries and communities that are suffering the worst impacts of the climate crisis.

That support must reach women and girls, who bear the brunt of the climate crisis; and constitute eighty percent of those displaced by climate change.

Third, we need to embrace a concept of security that puts people at its centre.

The COVID-19 pandemic has shown the devastation that so-called non-traditional security threats can cause, on a global scale.

Preventing and addressing the poverty, food insecurity and displacement caused by climate disruption contributes to sustaining peace and reducing the risk of conflict.

The Nobel Committee recognized this when it awarded the Nobel Peace Prize to the World Food Programme last year.

Respect for human rights, particularly women’s rights, the rule of law, inclusion and diversity, are fundamental to solving the climate crisis and creating more peaceful and stable societies.

The 2030 Agenda and the Sustainable Development Goals are the global blueprint for action.

Mr. President,

Fourth, we need to deepen partnerships across and beyond the United Nations system.

We must leverage and build on the strengths of different stakeholders, including this Council, the Peacebuilding Commission, international financial institutions, regional organizations, civil society, the private sector, academia and others.

The Climate Security Mechanism, which brings together the Department of Political and Peacebuilding Affairs, the United Nations Development Programme and the United Nations Environment Programme, is a blueprint for such collaboration within the United Nations System.

Mr. President,

As we work to deliver these goals, the United Nations is striving to lead by example by making sure our own operations take full account of the climate crisis.

We are working to ensure that our mediation strategies, analysis and reporting, including to this Council, consistently reflect climate risks.

In South Sudan, for example, an awareness of the impact of climate change helped our peacekeeping operation to mediate a local agreement on cattle management.

In Yemen, the Peacebuilding Fund supported efforts to restore and strengthen local water governance structures, reducing intercommunal tensions.

We are also reducing the United Nations’ environmental footprint, including through the increased use of renewable energy.

Mr. President,

The climate crisis is the multilateral challenge of our age.

It is already impacting every area of human activity.

Solving it requires coordination and cooperation on a scale we have never seen before.

The engagement of all multilateral bodies, including this Council, can play an important role in facing this challenge.

I urge Council members to use their influence during this pivotal year to ensure the success of COP26, and to mobilize others, including international financial institutions and the private sector, to do their part.

Prime Minister Johnson, I guarantee the full support of the United Nations for the British presidency of COP26, together with the Italian co-hosts, to make 2021 a make-it-or-break-it year for collective action against the climate emergency.

Thank you.

For UN media inquiries, please contact:

Dan Shepard:

Matthew Coghlan:


WFP Statement

23 February 2021


ROME – The United Nations World Food Programme (WFP) has the following updates on the facts surrounding the tragic security incident in the east of the Democratic Republic of Congo on 22 February:

  • The security incident involved a group of seven people travelling in two World Food Programme (WFP) vehicles on the road from Goma to Rutshuru in the east of the Democratic Republic of Congo where they were planning to visit a WFP school feeding programme.

  • The group comprised five employees of the World Food Programme who were accompanying the Italian Ambassador to DRC and his security escort.

  • The group left Goma at approximately 09:00 am, local time.

  • At approximately 10:15 am, local time, the two vehicles were stopped by an armed group and all passengers were forced to disembark from the cars. The WFP driver of one of the vehicles, Mustapha Milambo was killed at this time.

  • The remaining six passengers were then forced into the surrounding bush at gunpoint where there was an exchange of fire.

  • During the exchange of fire, the Italian Ambassador, Luca Attanasio and his security escort, Vittorio Iacovacci, were mortally injured and subsequently died.

  • The four other passengers in the group - all WFP staff – are safe and accounted for. They include WFP Deputy Country Director in DRC, Rocco Leone, WFP School Feeding Programme Assistant, Fidele Zabandora, WFP Security Officer, Mansour Rwagaza, and WFP Driver, Claude Mukata.

  • The United Nations Department for Safety and Security (UNDSS) will be leading a detailed review of the incident.


Statement by Ambassador Mariangela Zappia, Permanent Representative of Italy to the United Nations, at the General Assembly Informal Meeting to hear the briefing of the Secretary General, Antonio Guterres, on “Call to Action for Human Rights"

Thank you very much Mr. President of the General Assembly,

Mr. Secretary-General,

I align myself with the statement delivered by the Representative of the European Union, and I would like to add a few remarks in my national capacity.

Mr. Secretary-General, your call to action was a timely initiative that Italy, as an active member of the Human Rights Councilhad the privilege to welcome since the very beginning. We support it in its entirety, firmly believing that all human rights are universal, indivisible, interrelated, interdependent and mutually reinforcing.

We are aware that the progress achieved must never be taken for granted. It is constantly under attack and needs to be nurtured every day.

While hitting the most vulnerable and marginalized people, the COVID-19 pandemic has brought to the fore some instances that demand our attention more than ever: the right to health, which includes ensuring fair and equitable access to COVID-19 vaccines to people in all countries, and the right to a clean, safe, healthy and sustainable environment. The need to devote our attention to the global challenges characterizing the world we are living in became all the more evident during the past year, showing that the scope and the effectiveness of our action in promoting and protecting human rights should be universal: a global interconnection of the economy and of the digital information, as well as global environmental disasters and health fragility, characterize the world we are living in.

Full Statement at


Ambassador Dmitry Polyanskiy's press briefing on 24 February, 2021


Supermodel Natalia Vodianova Named UNFPA Goodwill Ambassador- UN Sexual & Reproductive Health Agency

Supermodel, philanthropist and impact investor, Natalia Vodianova was today appointed as Goodwill Ambassador for UNFPA, the United Nations sexual and reproductive health agency, to empower women and girls by tackling the stigma and taboos that surround their bodies and health and lead to pervasive discrimination and exclusion.

Over the past three years, Vodianova and UNFPA have hosted a series of global events together under the “Let’s Talk” banner to dismantle taboos and advance women’s health and gender equality. These events have inspired action from governments, civil society and the private sector to create an environment in which women and girls can live free from shame, exclusion and discrimination. Change-makers, policy-shapers and influencers from sectors including fashion, politics, sports, civil society, technology and media have gathered in Turkey, Kenya, Switzerland, Belarus and India to raise the standard for women’s health around the world.



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