United Nations

Geopolitics: The driving seat of globalization

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The following article is based on the speech made by the author as the UNCTAD Secretary-General Rebeca Grynspan at the opening of the organization’s 13th Debt Management Conference.

We meet in a context of cascading crises, cascading inequalities, and chronic instability. Covid, climate change and the cost-of-living crisis are all increasing poverty and hunger at an alarming speed.

Geopolitics, not economics, is now in the driving seat of globalization.

Funding gaps for SDG investments in developing countries are increasing, and debt burdens are becoming unbearable for many countries of the Global South.

All of these issues will be tackled in this conference, including asking ourselves if we are in a systemic debt crisis, are there enough developing countries today in that distress to allow us to say that the current situation, it is a systemic debt crisis?

Well, the answer depends on the lens you choose.

Through a traditionalist lens, the risk of a systemic debt crisis may appear to be low. Developing countries, excluding China, have a government debt stock of $11.5 trillion at the end of 2021. Countries that are currently classified under the IMF as having unsustainable or distressed debt represent roughly 13 per cent of this amount. Debt distress is therefore largely contained in several highly vulnerable countries, with relatively, until now, small amounts of debt as a share of the total. Most of these countries are low-income countries, although we know that they are middle-income countries that are also suffering debt distress.

So as a result, many may be saying that the possibility of feedback loops and therefore systemic risks remain according to these traditional lenses limited. By limited, I mean for the markets it is limited for them, but not limited for the countries that are in debt distress that are going through high suffering, suffering that has been measured in a decade of loss progress, like we know very well in my region, in Latin America, where we talk about the lost decade because of the debt distress in the eighties and it took us two decades to recover the levels of social indicators that we had before the debt distress.

And we know already that we have two decades in many countries that have been lost in progress seen before COVID-19, before the climate change burden, and before the crisis of the high cost of living. So, this traditional lens could be challenged.

We at UNCTAD prefer the developmental approach that in our research we put centre to our analysis and if you do that the answer is very different. Our key point of departure is to analyze how developing countries can achieve structural transformation together with the SDGs within the bounds of the external and public debt sustainability requirements.

Our guiding principle here is that debts are unsustainable if the only way to pay for them is to compromise sustainable development, using this approach. What we see is that the combination of rising debt levels and the tightening of global financial conditions has already caused a dramatic and systematic reduction of the policy space available for developing countries. In the current context, achieving debt sustainability under the traditional approach is inconsistent with the mobilization of resources required by the 2030 agenda and the Paris Agreement.

Thus, the issue today is not whether enough countries will cease to pay their creditors in the short run, the issue today is that almost all developing countries have been left to face an impossible tradeoff in a context marred by a pandemic, geopolitical instability, and climate distress.

Three sets of figures help to illustrate this point. First, public debt levels.

Government debt levels as a share of GDP have increased in over 100 developing countries between 2019 and 2020. Excluding China, this increase is equivalent to almost $2 trillion.

These are resources that will have to be paid back by governments in developing countries to their creditors in coming years due to two systemic shocks because we are talking about between 2019 and 2021. So, this has not happened because of the bad behavior of one country. This has happened because of systemic shocks that have hit many countries at the same time because there have been global shocks.

Second, debt servicing requirements, higher debt burdens, in combination with rising borrowing costs, are placing an enormous strain on public budget around the world. Fitch Ratings estimates that if the medium increase in rated sovereigns since 2009 were fully reflected in the interest payments governments would pay an additional $1.1 trillion on the global debt stock in 2023. To place these figures in context, $1.1 trillion represents almost four times the annual estimated investment requirements for climate adaptation and mitigation in developing countries, according to the IFCCC.

Third, the impact of the currency composition on debt, on public budgets in the context of an ever-stronger US dollar.

The IMF estimates that 70 per cent of all the debts in emerging countries and 85 per cent of the debt in low-income countries is in foreign currency.

Since governments in the global south spend in local currency and borrow in foreign currency, this structure leaves public budgets highly exposed to large and unexpected currency depreciations. This year, at least 88 countries experienced a depreciation against the US dollar as of the end of November. In 31 of these countries, the depreciation has been greater than 10 per cent. The Currency Exchange Fund estimates that for most countries in Africa such a depreciation increases debt service requirements by the equivalent of public health spending in the continent.

We have also talked about this with respect to the food insecurity crisis, because, as you know, the crisis in the global market has gone down. But because of the strength of the dollar, domestic prices are still going up, precisely because of the strength of the dollar in the food markets and also because of the depreciation that the countries are suffering because of that. So, the magnitude of these figures shows the systemic nature of the problem we are facing, and systemic problems demand systemic solutions.

At UNCTAD our focus is centered around promoting multilateral solutions in the areas of obviously, policy, capacity-building, debt transparency and debt crisis resolution and relief.

On capacity building, UNCTAD is committed to providing support to countries through our debt management and financial analysis program, what we call DMFAS, one of our most successful technical assistance initiatives. DMFAS offers countries a set of proven solutions for managing debt and producing reliable Data for policymaking purposes. Since its establishment over four decades, DMFAS has supported those 116 institutions in 75 countries. Today 61 countries are using DMFAS software to manage their public debt daily of which nearly three quarters are either low or lower-middle-income countries.

Regarding debt transparency, UNCTAD supports the establishment of a publicly accessible registry of debt data for developing countries following the UNCTAD Principles on Responsible Sovereign Borrowing and Lending. This registry would allow the integration of debt data by both lenders and borrowers at the level of specific transactions. Transparency would strengthen debt management, reduce the risk of debt distress, and improve access to financing.

Finally, UNCTAD aims to create a multilateral legal framework for debt restructuring and relief to facilitate timely and orderly debt crisis resolution with the involvement of all creditors building on the G20 common framework.

Participation in this framework should be incentivized through the provision of debt relief link to a debt sustainability assessment that incorporates long-term financing needs, including for the achievement of the SDGs and the Paris Climate Agreement.

At the same time, we are proposing to the G20 in the UN Presidency an independent review of the G20 debt agenda, which can boost the promising but stalled discussions around the Debt Service Suspension Initiative and the Common Framework for their treatment.

Your Excellencies, distinguished delegates,

We are at a systemic debt crisis that has become unsustainable because they have become too onerous and have compromised our sustainable development. Debt cannot and must not become an obstacle for achieving the 2030 agenda and the climate transition the world desperately needs.

These three days will be instrumental in providing solutions to our pressing problems, and I therefore wish you productive, engaging and above all, impactful sessions ahead.

A lot depends on these policy solutions to have a systemic intervention, to have systemic integrated policy options for these crises will be key to avoiding decades of lost progress in many developing countries.

The global human rights system is a common heritage of humankind: UN

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Extraordinary progress has been made to secure the rights of all persons since the adoption of the Universal Declaration on Human Rights, UN experts said today, as the world marks the beginning of a year celebrating the 75th anniversary of the declaration. On the occasion of Human Rights Day 2022, the Special Procedures of the UN Human Rights Council issued the following joint statement:

This Human Rights Day, 10 December 2022, marks the beginning of a year celebrating the 75th anniversary of the adoption of the Universal Declaration on Human Rights. Since then, extraordinary progress has been made in relation to the rights of all persons and root causes for systemic violations on human rights have been given visibility and addressed by a vigorous global human rights system that is a common heritage of humankind, a heritage that should unite us, not divide us.

These significant achievements should not lead us to underestimate remaining and emerging challenges, which include but are not limited to discrimination, the erosion of democracy, climate crisis and armed conflict and protracted war. We, the Special Rapporteurs, Independent Experts and Working Groups that comprise the Special Procedures of the United Nations Human Rights Council, restate our determination to address these challenges by putting human rights squarely at the centre of our response.

Next year will bring crucial moments and opportunities to jointly solidify our vision for the future of human rights and multilateralism, reinvigorating the immense hope that led to the creation of the human rights system 75 years ago. For these opportunities not to be missed, we urge everyone, State and non-State actors alike, to embrace, support, and sustain multilateralism and its institutions to further human rights, peace, security and development.

We are committed to using the next year for thoughtful and ambitious considerations on our role, and the role of the international community, to shape a next 75 years of furtherance of human rights for all persons. We should put our ambition high and focus on, building and realising a transformative human rights system that will underpin the next 75 years of global history. We also reaffirm our commitment to a multilateralism that is built on the principles of non-discrimination, participation, empowerment and accountability. As the UN has embarked on key processes to shape its future, especially the one leading to its Summit for the Future, we call on all to join us in this endeavour.

Human rights should be our common language to build trust between the UN and the people we serve.

We Provide a Neutral Unbiased Assessment – UNCTAD

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“We provide a neutral unbiased assessment of trends, challenges and opportunities,” Dr Jan Hoffmann who is the Chief of Trade Logistics Branch, Division on Technology and Logistics at the United Nations Conference on Trade and Development (UNCTAD) said in an interview with news.slpa.lk, an exclusive maritime news and views portal run by the Communication and Public Relations Division of Sri Lanka Ports Authority. The interview mainly focused on the just released, annual UNCTAD Review of Maritime Transport, co-authored by Dr Hoffmann.

Previously, Jan spent six years with the United Nations Economic Commission for Latin America and the Caribbean (ECLAC) in Santiago de Chile, and two years with the International Maritime Organization (IMO) in London and Santiago. Studied in Germany, United Kingdom, and Spain, Dr. Hoffmann holds a doctorate degree in Economics from the University of Hamburg.

Excerpts of the interview;

Question (Q):  The world is slowly but steadily overcoming the challenges of the pandemic. But the consequences are still disrupting the global supply chain. Do you see any difference in consequences on Global Supply Chain by this pandemic from what human civilization faced previously?

Answer (A): What was new and different in this crisis, compared to earlier crises which were more about financial and economic growth issues, is that we had a problem on the supply side. Intermodal transport networks were clocked up, ships spent 20% longer in port than pre-covid, and processes that were not paperless slowed down due to the need for social distancing. In that sense, I’d say we had a unique, new type of crisis.

On the positive side, as your question also points to “consequences” and thus the future, we have seen many reforms in digitalization and investment in more agile and paperless procedures.

Now, for the future, I hope that we can “lock in the progress made during lockdown” as regards this modernization achieved in response to the pandemic.

Q: Global population hits all-time higher, 8 billion, last week. This big number is telling us the need for more resilience Global Supply Chains. Tell us the importance of collective responsibility and inclusiveness between ports, shipping lines, and regulatory bodies.

A: Without shipping, the world could not feed 8 billion people, nor provide the necessary fuel and medicine for all of us. While the population grew, seaborne trade grew even faster, reaching 11 billion tons. That’s almost 1.4 tons of cargo per year for each one of us, and twice as much as 50 years ago, when it was about 0.7 tons per person. 

As much as ports and shipping are important for our trade, there is a responsibility for humanity for future generations. We need to ensure that those of us who benefit from the maritime transport services today, ultimately also pay for the negative externalities, notably pollution and green-house-gas emissions. We need a mechanism where a price on pollution and emissions can be used to pay for investments in the energy transition, and also to compensate and help those most vulnerable countries that were not the culprits of climate change. Many of these most vulnerable countries may now also be most negatively affected by climate change, and by measures to mitigate climate change.

Let me clarify this latter point: If we reduce emissions from shipping, the costs of shipping will go up a little bit (less than the costs of inaction), but these additional maritime transport costs will be particularly bad for small island developing States and other vulnerable economies. So, we need to help them find other ways to reduce their transport and trade costs, in addition to helping them adapt to climate change.

Q: All sets to launch this year, Review of Maritime Transports, a key recurrent publication prepared by the UNCTAD secretariat since 1968. Why should all industry stakeholders study this review?

A: We are effectively very proud of this publication. We write it ourselves, i.e. UNCTAD staff and not external consultants. We provide a neutral unbiased assessment of trends, challenges and opportunities.

I would also like to highlight that our Review is part of a broader “package”, which includes regularly updated statistics (http://stats.unctad.org/maritime) as well as 230 country profiles, where you can look up key data and trends for every economy of the world. See for example the maritime country profile for Sri Lanka here: https://unctadstat.unctad.org/CountryProfile/MaritimeProfile/en-GB/144/index.html

Q: How do you get real-time data and what are the challenges you faced?

A: We benefit from a wide range of partnerships with data providers, who are all duly acknowledged and sourced in the Review.

We do face challenges of obtaining reliable data from member countries. This process is slow and not always reliable.

But we are lucky that every ship in the world has a unique number – a so-called IMO number – and must continuously report its position. Thus, by looking at data about individual ships, we can see where they are built, owned, registered (i.e. their flag), their journeys and port calls. Combining this information with other data sets about prices, trade and freight costs, we have an increasingly comprehensive and reliable picture about the “supply chain” of maritime transport, from building to scrapping, and the participation of different countries in this supply chain.

Q: Beginning of the report is giving us a kind of frightening statement; “maritime trade recovered in 2021, but in 2022 faces a complex operating environment fraught with risk and uncertainty.” Does it mean there is no light at end of the tunnel?  What are you suggesting to overcome this uncertainty and mitigate the risk?

A: In fact, the brunt of the covid-induced supply chain crisis is largely over. Container freight rates are going down. But then we also have the war in Ukraine, which had led to a surge in grain transport costs earlier this year, which is now softened thanks to the Grain Initiative. For the transport of oil and gas, however, shipping costs are now surging, because more cargo has to be carried over longer distances.

And all this is but a precursor to the medium- and long-term challenge of decarbonizing shipping. Here, we do not know what will be the future energy mix for shipping, what will be the price of GHG emissions, and what will be the global regulations. We do highlight the need for a predictable multilateral framework, so as to avoid that investors delay investments in ports, ships, and energy distribution. Such delays could lead to future shortages of maritime transport supply capacity. Such a shortage – we have seen during the 2020-22 supply chain crisis – can lead to very high surges in shipping costs. 

Investments in resilient and sustainable maritime transport systems take time. We need forward-looking investments in reforms and infrastructure from the public sector, and the private sector needs to know under what conditions and prices and regulations port and shipping services will be provided in the future.

Q: The report revealed that “between 2020 and 2021, total emissions from the world fleet increased by 4.7 per cent, with most of the increases coming from container ships, dry bulk and general cargo vessels.” This is alarming. What would you recommend to stakeholders and other relevant parties?

A: The increase of emissions has been less than the increase in the fleet. So, on a positive side, we also report that efficiency has improved, i.e. we have fewer emissions per ton-mile. But then there is another “but”: An important part of this improvement is not due to real technological progress, but rather due to economies of scale and lower speeds. There are some really interesting novel data charts in the report in Chapter 4.

As regards global initiatives towards reductions of emissions, these are led by the IMO – the International Maritime Organization. We at UNCTAD work closely with the IMO in support of this endeavor. For example, we have undertaken a comprehensive impact assessment of what specific short-term measures to reduce green-house-gas emissions would mean for trade costs, trade, and economic development. This assessment helped the IMO membership to advance with decisions in this direction.

Progress is being made also on specific green corridors, and some “first movers” area advancing with investments in ships running on different alternative fuels.

Some stakeholders are – in my view – still too reluctant to take the necessary steps toward more ambitious goals at the IMO. They are afraid of the additional maritime transport costs this might imply. Now, if we see how a shortage of maritime transport supply capacity during the recent supply chain crisis led to significantly higher freight costs, I believe we need to avoid that investments in new port and shipping capacity is delayd. Put differently, the costs of inaction can be higher than the costs of the measures that we need to take to reduce emissions from shipping.

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Climate Change and The Fossil Fuel Paradox

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“We are on a highway to climate hell with our foot still on the accelerator” ~ Antonio Guterres, Secretary General of the United Nations

The Secretary-General made the above statement at his opening speech at the 27th Conference of the Parties (COP/27) of the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) which opened on 7 November in Egypt and was attended by 110 heads of State. He went on to say “ It is the defining issue of our age.  It is the central challenge of our century.  It is unacceptable, outrageous, and self-defeating to put it on the back burner.  Indeed, many of today’s conflicts are linked with growing climate chaos”.  

This has all been said before at preceding COPs. Only, the rhetoric was stronger this time, perhaps delivered in the hope that it would shock a  quiescent world out of its slumber of ineptitude and feckless insouciance. The Secretary-General called for “a historic Pact between developed and emerging economies – a Climate Solidarity Pact.  A Pact in which all countries make an extra effort to reduce emissions this decade in line with the 1.5-degree goal.  A Pact in which wealthier countries and International Financial Institutions provide financial and technical assistance to help emerging economies speed their own renewable energy transition.   A Pact to end dependence on fossil fuels and the building of new coal plants – phasing out coal in OECD countries by 2030 and everywhere else by 2040”.

All this is old hat, regurgitated over the years albeit now presented in a new format.  Hundreds of billions of dollars have been promised by the developed countries to the developing countries as assistance to face the impending disaster which is threatening their ecosystems, food supplies and their very existence as nations on this planet. That promise has not yet been delivered, but Ibrahim Pam, Climate Expert and Head of the Green Climate Fund expressed enthusiasm at COP/27  that “ there is heavy support for the creation of the Climate Change Support Fund, especially for developing Countries”.

There is no gainsaying that in this Anthropocene, climate change is the most serious natural disaster we are facing and that, as agreed in the Paris Agreement of 2015, the world has to limit global warming to well below 2, preferably to 1.5 degrees Celsius, compared to pre-industrial levels.  Furthermore, one has to agree that the scientific community has approached this issue with vigour and dexterity.  However, what strikes one in this confederacy of pomp and circumstance is the diversity of opinion and approach.  China and India – two of the biggest users of coal – have given every indication that they intend to keep using coal, let alone reduce their use. Of the big polluters, only Britain and Australia have presented new climate targets. The United States and China have not submitted anything, while the European Union is working on a redefinition of the National Voluntary Contributions to reflect the additional cuts that will result from plans against the energy crisis and to release Russia’s gas.

There is also a paradox in the call for a Solidarity Pact to “end dependence on fossil fuels and the building of new coal plants – phasing out coal in OECD countries by 2030 and everywhere else by 2040.  This raises questions such as: do the advantages and benefits brought to bear by the use of fossil fuels as sources of energy outweigh the damage caused by fossil fuels? what would a world without fossil fuels look like in terms of overall living standards and sustenance of humankind? Alex Epstein – an energy expert and founder of the Center for Industrial Progress – in his book The Moral Case for Fossil Fuels, while claiming that the use of fossil fuel would grow in the future and that fossil fuel use would only be of benefit to the flourishing of humanity far outweighing its negative effects, including negative climate impacts, asserts that fossil fuels provide low-cost, reliable energy that would serve a world which would exponentially need more energy progressively, and be of tremendous use to the billions who do not use energy at present.  Furthermore, low-cost fossil fuels would be needed to power machines which are only increasing in output to cope with the growing existential demands of the world population and to combat climate change, more importantly, fossil fuels would play a role in the technology that would be the impetus for human ingenuity to control vacillations of the climate.  These claims are further buttressed by the anticipated results of the arguments pro-fossil fuels – that instead of destroying the world, the use of fossil fuels would make the world a far better place, where billions could be rescued from poverty, giving them a higher quality of life and safety from the hazards wrought by climate change.

In his second book Fossil Future: Why Global Human Flourishing Requires More Oil, Coal, and Natural Gas – Not Less Epstein argues that the rapid elimination of fossil fuel usage, if fully applied would cause “apocalyptic” effects, making people impoverished in a dangerous and miserable world. As food for thought, Epstein goes on to say that, although we should take climate change seriously, the use of fossil fuels per se should not be subject to a moral obligation to eliminate it, saying that historically, there have been instances where the justification by experts of such evils as slavery, racism and eugenics have been since rejected by society as morally reprehensible.   

Whichever way the wind blows at COP/27, one thing is clear: States should put their money where their mouth is and commit, as the Secretary General of the United Nations has said,  to a collaborative solidarity pact towards financing and implementing a global mechanism that would enable the world to reach the target of the Paris Agreement. Whatever pompous, pedantic and pretentious speeches are made, the COP should accept that the system so far has not worked despite pledges, promises and mechanisms. The United Nations Environment Programme Emissions Gap Report 2022 Closing the Window says: “Countries’ new and updated nationally determined contributions (NDCs) submitted since COP 26 reduce projected global greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions in 2030 by only 0.5 gigatons of CO2 equivalent (GtCO2e), compared with emissions projections based on mitigation pledges at the time of COP 26. Countries are off track to achieve even the globally highly insufficient NDCs”.

The concern of the world is that there will be serious adverse effects on the world if the global temperature goes above 1.5 c of pre-industrial levels during this century.  Scientists have opined that if this target is achieved the climate change problem will at least be alleviated. However, the problem with the climate change solutions offered so far is that, although the aim of the Paris Agreement of 2015 – which was entered into by States under the auspices of the UNFCCC and which entered into force on 4 November 2016, is to achieve not more than  2 c  above pre-industrial levels this century and most desirably bring it down to 1.5 c – nothing much has been done to implement a concrete global plan to achieve this target.  This makes the characteristics of the Agreement – which are that it is universal and legally binding, fair and differentiated, and sustainable and dynamic – open to question.

Why Not Climate Meet in Egypt Discuss Population Control?

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The Glasgow Climate Meet   (COP 26) took place in 2021 with much fanfare with leaders of almost all countries pledging to reduce and eliminate global emissions as early as possible, to prevent global warming and prevent a climate crisis.  The Glasgow Meet ended with high hope that the world climate crisis would be overcome sooner or later and hopefully sooner than later.

Now, Egypt Climate Meet (COP 27) is in progress with the concerns about global climate being not less than what was there at Glasgow Climate Meet.  The ground reality is that practically nothing has been done in a significant way to improve the global climate scenario  in the last year and on the other hand, it has only further deteriorated  due to various man-made reasons and conflicts

The world is already feeling the global climate crisis, as global warming continues to take place with unpredictable climate changes and monsoon conditions. There is huge anxiety in the world today, as no one is able to predict the monsoon conditions and heat levels in the different months with any reasonable level of accuracy. 

 The situation is so desperate now that U N Secretary General at the COP 27 summit in Egypt said that the planet is fast approaching tipping points and the climate crisis is approaching an irreversible level.  He went on to say with a sense of helplessness that the world is facing a stark choice and all countries now have to work together and he 1declared that the world has to choose between   ” survive or perish”  conditions.

So far, globally, the highlight of the discussion on the climate crisis is that the use of fossil fuels like crude oil, and coal should be drastically reduced and completely eliminated in the course of time.  Further, the goal should be to replace fossil fuels like coal, and crude oil for use as energy sources or as feedstock with eco-friendly sources such as renewable energy  ( wind and solar) use of hydrogen and so on.  While scientists are feverishly working to develop eco-friendly technologies to substitute fossil fuels, it appears that the world still has a long way to go.

In such circumstances, the statement of the UAE President that his country will keep producing fossil fuel as long as there is a market for it in the world is very significant. UAE President has been honest enough to confess that he has no plans to reduce the production of fossil fuel and the ball is clearly in the court of consumers of fossil fuel rather than that of the producers. What is particularly curious is that the next year’s edition of the climate summit is scheduled to be hosted by UAE.

Obviously, the demand reduction for fossil fuels is a sure way of reducing the consumption of fossil fuels in the world which will improve the climate conditions. One way of reducing the consumption of fossil fuel is to develop alternative eco-friendly energy sources, on which development work is underway.

However, one should not ignore the fact that the higher demand for fossil fuel and energy sources is happening due to the steady growth in the world population. With more mouths to feed and more people demanding a greater share of the world’s resources, obviously, the demand for fossil fuel as an energy source cannot come down.

It is surprising that in all the climate meetings that have taken place around the world in the past; no one appears to have spoken about reducing population growth, particularly in developing and underdeveloped countries, to solve the climate issue.  While developed countries like the USA, EU, and Japan are keeping the population under check, in countries like India, population growth still remains high with India likely to emerge as the most populated country in the world soon.

While the developed countries have a nearly stable population, the industries and production centres in developed countries which have high technology strength are producing more and more to meet the increasing demand in developing countries, where demand is growing due to population growth and at the same time economic development.

 In several of the climate meet in the past, steps have been taken to provide financial support and incentives to work towards ozone depletion etc. In the same way, perhaps, it would be appropriate to give some incentives to developing and underdeveloped countries to reduce population growth.

It is high time to recognize that countries with high population growth are also significant contributors to the global climate crisis.

Bangladesh: Promoting “culture of peace” through UN peacekeeping

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The establishment and maintenance of stability through cooperation was the key motivation behind the UN’s founding in 1945. The primary objective of the UN is to “maintain international peace and security, and in pursuit of such ends, to take effective collective measures for the prevention and removal of threats to the peace and for the suppression of acts of aggression or other breaches of the peace and to bring about by peaceful means and in compliance with the principles of justice and international law, adjustment or settlement of international disputes or situations which might lead to a breach of the peace.” As a part of a global peace movement, the UN Peacekeeping Operations (UNPKO) were established in 1948 to settle international conflicts. The first mission was to send UN Army investigators to the Middle East to observe the agreement between Israel and its Arab neighbors. In recent years, the UN peacekeeping operation has changed to reflect the dynamic nature of international conflicts and the global political landscape. The UN peacekeeping role was specifically extended after the Cold War.

South Asian countries send a sizable contingent of soldiers to peacekeeping operations. Peacekeeping operations are one area of international activity where the region’s united efforts have had a positive effect. Bangladesh has assumed a leadership position in the UN’s peacekeeping mission and is well-versed in the history of such missions. Bangladesh is one of the UN’s most significant and trustworthy partners thanks to its ongoing commitment, adherence to the organization’s regulations, and prompt adaptation measures. It has stayed committed to acting as an accountable UNPKO stakeholder despite the changing nature of the world’s security environment. Instead of concentrating only on peacemaking and peacebuilding, modern peacekeeping aims to ensure social protection in both pre- and post-conflict environments and to seal harmonious connections. After intrastate warfare ended and armed conflict began, peacekeeping now has a variety of responsibilities that go beyond its core duties. One of the main goals of UN peacekeeping missions may be to increase state efficiency and reduce state fragility. As a result, the current batch of troops may significantly affect the UN forces’ ability to operate.

Despite challenging topographical, meteorological, and other unfavorable conditions, Bangladeshi forces are completing the job with the utmost integrity, dedication, and professionalism. Bangladesh has been actively taking part in peacekeeping operations all over the world for the past three decades, and it has been essential to maintaining world peace and stability. In 1988, Bangladesh participated for the first time in both the United Nations Iran-Iraq Military Observer Group (UNIIMOG) in Iraq and the United Nations Transition Assistance Group (UNTAG) in Namibia. In addition to multiple successful operations in Somalia, Sierra Leone, and the Democratic Republic of the Congo, Bangladeshi troops ensured that rebels in Liberia and the Ivory Coast (Côte d’Ivoire) gave up and laid down their arms. The country also closely monitored the elections in Mozambique, the Congo, Sierra Leone, Liberia, the Ivory Coast, and other African countries. Since 1988, Bangladesh has sent almost 175,000 soldiers, including more than 1,800 women, on 54 peacekeeping operations to 40 different countries on five continents. Presently, around 7,000 military and police are participating in ten distinct tasks. The majority of Bangladesh’s peacekeepers are stationed in Africa. The nations and names of the missions where Bangladeshi personnel are presently stationed are included in the following table.

When they first joined the UN Transitional Authority in Cambodia in 1993, a detachment of 1,002 soldiers was headed by the 3rd East Bengal Regiment, an infantry regiment from the Bangladesh Army. The operation in Cambodia was a huge endeavor for Bangladesh, and the military of that nation contributed a sizable detachment to the peacekeeping effort. The Bangladeshi military participated in DDR efforts in Kosovo, Timor-Leste, Sierra Leone, and Liberia as well as demining operations in South Sudan. They have also helped Juba have access to water, sanitation, basic education, jobs, and other means of livelihood. In response to the growing threat presented by improvised explosive devices, Bangladesh’s Engineer Centre and School of Military Engineering and Ordnance Centre and School has started providing specialized training on counter-IED (IED). All peacekeeping units getting ready for deployment to Mali receive specialized training from these two institutes. Bangladesh was one of the first countries to adopt the 2016-introduced Peacekeeping Capability Readiness System. It has accelerated its deployment by contributing troops to the UN mission in Mali. Bangladesh is dedicated to upholding its reputation in order to bring about world peace. The most casualties occurred during three large ambushes against Bangladeshi contingents in 2017 and 2018. Eight valiant Bangladeshi warriors gave their lives in these three ambushes, inflicting serious injuries on 10 more troops.

A brigade-sized force was able to be sent to Freetown, Sierra Leone as a result of Bangladesh’s prompt provision of more troops in response to the UN’s request and in compliance with the mission’s increased mandate. Bangladeshi soldiers continued to serve in places like the Democratic Republic of the Congo by frequently keeping an eye on villages to maintain security. Missions by Bangladeshi contingents in Darfur, Cyprus, the Central African Republic, and the Democratic Republic of the Congo were completed successfully. Former peacekeepers and observers claim that the UN hired the majority of Bangladeshi soldiers for peacekeeping operations worldwide over the previous three decades because of their neutrality, professionalism, and quick responsiveness during the deployment. In addition to their competence, former members of the military forces and the police claimed that Bangladeshi peacekeepers’ high moral standing while serving in UN missions also assisted the country in sending out more troops. In 2011, 2014, 2015, 2021, and 2022, Bangladesh was the country that supplied the most troops.

In November 2019, Bangladesh Police received the Best Police Unit Award for its dedication to UN Peacekeeping missions. The Nyala Super Camp in South Darfur, Sudan, was secured by the Bangladesh Formed Police Unit (FPU) 11, which received praise for its outstanding efforts in boosting the capabilities of the police force. In 2021, some 110 Bangladesh Navy servicemen who took part in the UN mission to uphold stability in Beirut, Lebanon, were awarded the Peacekeeping Medal. Rear Admiral Andreas Mugge, the Maritime Task Force (MTF) Commander of the UN Interim Force in Lebanon, presented the medal to the officers and crew of the Bangladesh Navy destroyer “Sangram” in recognition of their contributions to peacekeeping operations. Since the Navy was sent to Lebanon 11 years ago, its personnel have performed their responsibilities with the utmost integrity, commitment, and efficacy. The Navy’s proud participation has strengthened Bangladesh’s status and image overseas. Additionally, Bangladesh was warmly commended this year by the US Embassy in Dhaka for their contributions to UN peacekeeping missions. When Ahmad Tejan Kabbah, the former president of Sierra Leone, paid a visit to Bangladesh in 2003, he expressed his appreciation for Bangladesh’s significant help to Sierra Leone as a result of the performance of the nation’s peacekeepers in Africa. Ivorians frequently called Bangladeshi soldiers “munami,” which is Ivorian for “my friend.” Additionally, the UN awarded medals to about 861 members of the Bangladesh Armed Forces, including 19 women, who were serving with the UN peacekeeping force in South Sudan (UNMISS) in 2020 for their unwavering efforts to ensure the safety of civilians.

The UN peacekeeping deployment is a significant illustration of internationalism and world collaboration. It has been proven to be one of the best strategies for promoting and upholding global peace and stability. The “Blue Helmet” now stands for global cooperation and collective leadership for world peace. Bangladesh eventually joined the “Blue Helmet” family with pride due to its enormous commitment to UN peacekeeping efforts over time. The nation of Bangladesh has reached unprecedented heights as a result of its participation, service, and sacrifice in UN peacekeeping missions for world peace. Bangladesh has been building its reputation in the UN for more than three decades thanks to its diligence and commitment. As a global peacekeeper and advocate, Bangladesh may be regarded as exceptional and exemplary. Bangladeshi peacekeepers have served in Africa’s arid regions and continue to do so. They have made a significant contribution in a variety of fields as security personnel, medical professionals, engineers, trainers, and advisors while dealing with numerous security threats, difficulties, and challenges. Around the world, threats are currently taking on new dimensions, which is likely to jeopardize world peace. Radicalization, environmental concerns, enormous human migration, the growth of right-wing extreme nationalism, catastrophic catastrophes, trade conflicts, etc. are some of the primary security dangers of the new millennium. The UN may react to the fresh challenges and change its emphasis to take into account the developing nature of the dispute and the evolving role of PKO. If Bangladesh is to keep up with the rate of global development and manage difficult disagreements, it may need to make progress.

UN HR Boss writes to Musk on Twitter

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UN High Commissioner for Human Rights Volker Türk on Saturday issued an open letter to Elon Musk, Chief Executive Officer at Twitter, urging him to “ensure human rights are central to the management of Twitter” under Musk’s leadership. The letter follows reports of the sacking of Twitter’s entire human rights team and all but two of the ethical AI team – not “an encouraging start,” said Türk.

“Twitter is part of a global revolution that has transformed how we communicate. But I write with concern and apprehension about our digital public square and Twitter’s role in it,” Türk stated in the letter.

“Like all companies, Twitter needs to understand the harms associated with its platform and take steps to address them. Respect for our shared human rights should set the guardrails for the platform’s use and evolution.”

“In short, I urge you to ensure human rights are central to the management of Twitter under your leadership,” the High Commissioner said.

The UN Human Rights Chief set out six fundamental principles from a human rights perspective that need to be front and centre in the management of Twitter:

  1. Protect free speech across the globe: Türk urged Twitter to stand up for the rights to privacy and free expression to the fullest extent possible, under relevant laws, and to transparently report on Government requests that would infringe those rights.
  2. Free speech is not a free pass: Viral spread of harmful disinformation, like that seen during the Covid-19 pandemic in relation to vaccines, results in real world harms. Twitter has a responsibility to avoid amplifying content that results in harm to other people’s rights.
  3. There is no place for hatred that incites discrimination, hostility or violence on Twitter: Spread of hate speech on social media has had horrific consequences for thousands. Twitter’s content moderation policies should continue to bar such hatred on the platform. Every effort needs to be made to remove such content promptly. Human rights law is clear: freedom of expression stops at hatred that incites discrimination, hostility or violence.
  4. Transparency is key: Research is essential to understand better the impact of social media on our societies. Maintain access to Twitter’s data through its open application programming interfaces (APIs).
  5. Protect privacy: Free speech depends on effective protection of privacy. It is vital that Twitter refrain from invasive user tracking and amassing related data and that it resist, to the fullest extent possible under applicable laws, unjustified requests from governments for user data.
  6. Languages and contextual expertise are not optional: Twitter’s responsibilities to maintain a rights-respecting and safe platform apply not just to English-language content, but globally.

UN Women and Japan support Sri Lankan women entrepreneurs

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“My husband’s income has drastically reduced because of the country’s situation. Our entire family now depends on me”, says K. Vanitha, who runs a tailoring business in Ampara, Sri Lanka. As cost of living increases and purchasing power declines rapidly, like Vanitha, many women entrepreneurs are shouldering heavy burdens and struggling with the continuity of their businesses.

UN Women with support from the Government of Japan, provided equipment and productive assets worth LKR 50.4million (approx. USD 140,000) to help women entrepreneurs hit hardest by Sri Lanka’s economic downturn. On 26th October 2022, Ambassador MIZUKOSHI of Japan handed over some of the equipment, such as sewing machines and flour grinding machines to the women entrepreneurs supported at the distribution ceremony held in Colombo. Besides them, 384 women from the Districts of Ampara, Monaragala and Vavuniya received assistance.

The in-kind assistance provided is part of UN Women’s 3-year project on ‘Implementation of the Women, Peace and Security Agenda in Sri Lanka’ funded by the Government of Japan.

Speaking at the event in Colombo, Hon. Geetha Samanmalee Kumarasinghe, State Minister of Women and Child Affairs said: “This project has also developed the skills of more than 100 officers at the Divisional Secretariat level, who will in turn work to empower and build resilience of other women and ensure gender equality is integrated within Sri Lankan society”. 

Speaking on the need to place women and girls at the centre of relief and recovery efforts, H.E. MIZUKOSHI Hideaki, Ambassador of Japan to Sri Lanka noted that; “It is imperative to involve women and girls who comprise more than half of the country’s population in order to achieve inclusive development. Through our longstanding partnership with UN Women and Sri Lanka, Japan is committed to advancing gender equality and women’s empowerment in-line with the 2030 Agenda for sustainable development”.

As part of the project, close to 800 women have received capacity building trainings on business and entrepreneurship conducted by UN Women and Chrysalis.

“Investing in women’s economic empowerment is at the heart of UN Women’s mandate. The entrepreneurs supported through this project are receiving one-to-one business coaching and mentoring from other established enterprises to help implement their business strategies and ensure continuity, growth and diversification of their ventures”, said Esther Hoole, Officer in Charge at UN Women Sri Lanka.

The participants, including Vanitha, that qualified for in-kind assistance, “developed business plans that were reviewed by an independent panel including local government officials, sectoral technical officers and external stakeholders to assess feasibility and awarding of the requested assistance”, said Ashika Gunasena, CEO of Chrysalis. The enterprises range across several sectors including crop cultivation, agri-business, garments, livestock rearing, food manufacturing, spice grinding, small groceries, value addition to coconut and palmyrah value chains amongst others.

Vanitha who received a sewing machine for her tailoring business said; “Since prices of ready-made garments have gone up, more people are beginning to buy fabric for stitching. This will help me expand my business and future investments”.

Esther Hoole, OIC, UN Women Sri Lanka and Ashika Gunasena, CEO, Chrysalis handing over certificates to entrepreneurs receiving in-kind assistance. [ Photo: UN Women]

Women in Sri Lanka call for stronger measures to protect their rights

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Women leaders from four provinces in Sri Lanka have urged local government authorities to strengthen efforts to protect women, who have been affected by the country’s economic, political and COVID-19 crises this year.

From March to September, UN Women hosted a series of Multi-party Dialogues on Women, Peace and Security in nine districts to identify and discuss solutions to challenges faced by women there. Close to 200 people including  women leaders participated in the sessions, representing the North Central, Uva, Western and Sabaragamuwa Provinces.

Participants raised concerns about issues including a shortage of safe houses, lack of awareness about available services and weak referral systems for survivors of violence.

“Over the last few months, complaints on violence against women have drastically increased, and most of the time, these women have no place to go,” said one dialogue participant, a women’s development officer from the Ministry of Women and Child Development and Social Empowerment.

Another participant, a district coordinator from Gampaha District in Western province, said: “Because of the economic crisis, many garment factories are closing. Some women have worked in these factories for 20-plus years. On top of that, they are burdened with taking care of their families. As a result, they are unable to find new jobs.”

Ramaaya Salgado, Country Focal Point of UN Women Sri Lanka, said the multi-party dialogues aimed to gather a variety of stakeholders including women leaders, public sector officials, civil society organizations, youth leaders and the media “to collectively promote gender equality and women’s empowerment, and to ensure that there is no rollback of gains made over the years”.

In each of the dialogues, participants developed district-level “workplans” in which they recommended that the local authorities:

  • Strengthen coordination between front-line government officials and civil society organizations to implement initiatives, on women, peace and security
  • Allocate budgets and other provisions to establish safe houses for women in each district
  • Carry out campaigns to educate rural women about public services such as legal aid and counseling for survivors of violence
  • Provide gender-sensitivity trainings for police and other law enforcement officers

During the dialogue sessions, the participants also received training on the principles of women, peace and security, which calls for increased participation of women at all levels of decision-making and for ensuring that women and girls are not left behind in relief and recovery efforts.

UN Women organized the first phase of the multi-party dialogues between 2018 and 2022 in 16 districts across five provinces in the country which focused on strengthening women’s leadership and decision-making role within the peace and security landscape. The current phase of dialogues covered the country’s remaining four provinces and took place in the districts of Anuradhapura, Badulla, Colombo, Gampaha, Kalutara, Kegalle, Monaragala, Polonnaruwa and Ratnapura.

The dialogues are part of UN Women’s three-year programme on supporting the implementation of the Women, Peace and Security Agenda in Sri Lanka which is funded by the Government of Japan.

GTF welcomes the passing of Resolution on Sri Lanka

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The Global Tamil Forum (GTF) welcomes the passing of Resolution 51/L1/Rev1 with minimal opposition among the member countries of the UNHRC on 6 October 2022. It is particularly pleasing that several countries who would have traditionally voted against such a resolution recognised the criticality of the Sri Lankan situation and decided to abstain. For the thousands of victims of serious human rights abuses in Sri Lanka, who have been denied justice for more than a decade, UNHRC continues to offer hope, even if the process of seeking justice is painstakingly slow and arduous.

The process towards this important outcome commenced with the comprehensive report of the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights, which was highly critical of Sri Lanka’s failure to address wartime accountability; entrenched impunity for human rights violations; economic crimes; endemic corruption; and the application of draconian security laws to crackdown peaceful protests. The High Commissioner’s recommendations were ably converted into Resolution 51/L1/Rev1 by the core group of countries – in effect, a balancing act of highly concerning developments in Sri Lanka and challenging geopolitical reality.

GTF would like to express its gratitude to all progressive forces that made this outcome possible – the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR), the core group of countries led by the UK, countries that voted for or co-sponsored the resolution, the human rights organisations who championed the cause, and more importantly, the victims of human rights abuses in Sri Lanka who despite the long time elapsed and the risks involved, continue to provide inspiration by bravely fighting for accountability.

Resolution 51/L1/Rev1 recognises Sri Lanka’s total failure in addressing wartime accountability. It has extended and reinforced the capacity of the OHCHR to collect, consolidate, analyse and preserve information and evidence, and develop strategies for future accountability processes. Such options could include extraterritorial and universal jurisdiction as well as targeted sanctions against those credibly implicated in serious human rights abuses.

The resolution acknowledges the lack of freedoms and marginalisation endured by the Tamil and Muslim communities and calls for the government to fulfil its commitment to the devolution of political authority, specifically to ensure that all provincial councils, including the northern and eastern provincial councils, are able to operate effectively in accordance with the 13th Amendment to the Constitution.

The resolution also underscores how unaccountable governance, deepening militarisation and impunity for human rights violations eventually led to the unprecedented economic crisis in Sri Lanka and calls on the government to address the crisis, including by investigating and prosecuting corruption committed by present and former public officials, and offers assistance with the investigation into economic crimes.

Furthermore, Resolution 51/L1/Rev1 notes the heavy handed approach adopted by the government against protesters calling for change, such as declaring multiple state of emergencies and continuing with detentions under the Prevention of Terrorism Act. It calls on the government to protect civil society actors and human rights defenders while emphasizing the positive contribution peaceful protests can make towards the effectiveness of democratic processes.

Notwithstanding India’s abstention, we are pleased with its strong statement in support of the Tamil people for equality, justice, dignity and peace. India noted inadequate progress in implementing the 13th Amendment to the Constitution and called for meaningful devolution and early elections for the Provincial Councils. GTF hopes India’s actions of goodwill – both the unprecedented assistance during the economic crisis and abstention at UNHRC – could be leveraged to protect and promote the legitimate political and economic aspirations of Tamils.

Resolution 51/L1/Rev1 which aims to address many legacies and emerging human rights and economic issues is timely. Its success depends entirely on the insistence and persistence of the international community in ensuring its full implementation. In this context, it is important to highlight the sense of frustration engulfing many victims and their families with no sense of accountability and justice even after 8 UNHRC resolutions and, 13 years of waiting.

Sri Lanka’s response to the resolution presented by Foreign Minister Ali Sabry – who insisted on exclusive domestic mechanism to address wartime atrocities despite the country’s inability to take a single meaningful initiative for 13 years – is thoroughly disappointing. Rejecting any external involvement in investigating the economic crimes – despite overwhelming evidence that such crimes partly contributed to the economic crisis, he trivialised the efforts put in by many countries for Resolution 51/L1/Rev1, alleging it caters for their domestic politics and regional differences only.

For Minister Ali Sabry, there was no sense of irony when invoking an outdated concept of sovereignty as an all-encompassing protective shield while the country is totally dependent on international assistance to overcome its deep economic crisis. Perhaps therein lies a pathway to make a meaningful transformation in Sri Lanka. Knowing Sri Lanka’s track record with past UNHRC resolutions, it makes complete sense to link the progress on implementing the key aspects of Resolution 51/L1/Rev1 to the financial packages provided by the international community.

Unlike previous years when the outcome at the UNHRC was eagerly sought mainly by the Tamil community, the interests and expectations this year were much more widespread. The ruthless treatment meted out to those protested against the government, and the authoritarian and militarised trajectory the country is increasingly adopting, has brought a new awareness about human rights and their universality among all citizens of the country.

GTF believes this convergence of concerns, fears and apprehensions offer hope for all the people of Sri Lanka to come together as equal citizens and communities. Such progress is possible only when all communities stop living a lie based on denial and come to terms with the truth based on evidence. The UNHRC resolution just passed provides a useful framework to work towards such an outcome in unity.

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