Three Truths to Address Sexual Exploitation, Abuse & Harassment in the UN

Civil Society, Featured, Gender, Gender Violence, Global, Headlines, Health, Human Rights, TerraViva United Nations

Opinion

The UN Secretariat building in New York City. Credit: UN Photo/Manuel Elías

NEW YORK, Nov 15 2022 (IPS) – The U.S. Government has recently published ‘Engagement Principles’ on Protection from Sexual Exploitation Abuse & Sexual Harassment within International Organizations’, and while any involvement from Member States is to be encouraged, these principles do not address the fundamental need for either deterrence or for accountability.


The concept of a “survivor-centred approach” – sadly – is an irrelevant sound bite to appease a political lobby. Post-incident care and support for the victim is not only admirable but very necessary but serves no deterrent purpose, and any bearing it might have on the prosecution of an offender will be indirect at best.

Nothing done for victims after an incident will prevent future victims being similarly assaulted.
One of the accepted tenets of criminology is that criminal activity is not discouraged by procedures, committees, working groups or focal points, nor is there any deterrent effect in increasing the penalty for anyone convicted of the offence; criminal activity is minimised by maximising the likelihood of the perpetrator being held accountable for their actions. The UN choses to ignore that, and will not acknowledge three basic truths the Member States must recognise:

FIRST: that any sexual assault is a serious criminal offence that should be prosecuted as such.

In the real world, where both a criminal case and a civil one arise from the same event; the civil case will be sisted to give priority to the more important criminal prosecution. The UN, however, does the opposite and insists that their administrative investigation take priority over the criminal investigation of the same incident.

As a result, even where a rape is reported in the UN, the chances of the perpetrator being successfully prosecuted in a criminal court is minimised to the point where the risk is insignificant.

SECOND: that while UN personnel require and deserve the protection of the 1946 Convention on Privileges & Immunities, that Convention does not grant immunity for sexual offences.

Abuse of the concept of immunity has greatly influenced the evolution of the UN culture into one of narcissistic entitlement, where sexual predators believe they can act with impunity.

Functional Immunity was afforded to UN staff members under the Convention which states, very clearly, in Section 18:

Officials of the United Nations shall : (a) be immune from legal process in respect of words spoken or written and all acts performed by them in their official capacity; (Emphasis added.)

Given that any sexual activity – whether consensual, contractual, or coerced – is not part of the “official duties” of any UN staff member; it is self-evident that no immunity can apply in the case of any sexual offence. If such an offence appears to have been committed; the host nation must therefore have jurisdiction over the matter.

The Convention was adopted to protect UN staff against harassment by a hostile government, and in those conditions, there will always be a risk that criminal charges might be fabricated. There is no doubt, therefore that the UN must take an interest in any accusations against staff members, but as soon as their preliminary enquiries establish reasonable grounds to believe that a sexual offence has been committed; the matter should be handed over to local law enforcement immediately – for them to proceed with a criminal investigation.

The Convention was never intended to protect offenders from the consequences of their own criminality. That is made clear in Section 20 which reads:

Privileges and immunities are granted to officials in the interests of the United Nations and not for the personal benefit of the individuals themselves. The Secretary-General shall have the right and the duty to waive the immunity of any official in any case where, in his opinion, the immunity would impede the course of justice and can be waived without prejudice to the interests of the United Nations.

If the Secretary-General can give an example of how the prosecution of a sexual predator could possibly “prejudice to the interests of the UN” – the world deserves an explanation.

The UN interprets the Convention to protect UN staff members from sexual offences even when no staff member is accused of any such thing, as was demonstrated in 2015 by the Organization’s response when French authorities sought to investigate allegations against French peacekeepers in the Central African Republic.

The Convention states in Section 21:

The United Nations shall cooperate at all times with the appropriate authorities of Members to facilitate the proper administration of justice, secure the observance of police regulations and prevent the occurrence of any abuse in connection with the privileges, immunities and facilities mentioned in this article.

That is a provision the Secretariat appears to ignore, because “immunity” was cited as the reason why UN staff members could not assist French investigators by introducing them to victims. The UN has never explained how that could be justified.

Immunity was created for the best of reasons, it has now become part of the problem.

THIRD: that ‘self-regulation’ by the UN has clearly been a failure; the Organization cannot properly investigate itself.

What most people fail to appreciate about the corruption in the UN is that it is almost always “procedurally correct” – which may mean the resulting administrative decision cannot be challenged before the UN Dispute Tribunal, it does not make the decision ethical or legitimate – but OIOS investigations will not pursue any such line of enquiry for fear of what it might reveal.

Complaints about malpractices, misconduct, bias or abuses of authority by investigators are common, but are routinely ignored – because there is no independent oversight of OIOS (Office of Internal Oversight Services) and the management of the office is tied up in the same network of mutually supportive patronage that is ingrained in the UN culture.

The OIOS “leadership” is widely believed to do the bidding of the USG/DMSPC in particular, legitimising the most patent retaliation – because the USG/DMSPC protects them from any accountability for their own shortcomings. The former Director of Investigations admitting that their primary objective was simply “to get the Americans off our backs” – for which, naturally, he was promoted.

As for sexual misconduct investigations; the term “survivor-centered approach” makes little sense. It is described as an innovative approach but in any sexual assault, the victim has always been the most important witness – so how exactly were these cases actually investigated in the past?

Post-incident care for the victim has no bearing on the burden of proof. Cases must be proved by established facts, and that requires diligent and competent investigators – not “investigators” promoted for their personal loyalty, or whose misconduct has routinely been overlooked for the same reason.

Gross incompetence by managers, rampant misconduct and corruption anywhere in the UN must be considered serious in its own right, but incompetence, misconduct and corruption in the investigative function is more serious because that facilitates the corruption everywhere else.

Einstein is said to have defined insanity as doing same thing over and over, and expecting a different result, but that has been the UN’s approach to investigating sexual misconduct for the last 20 years.

The solution clearly lies with someone capable of thinking differently – but within the UN culture; anyone who dares to think differently is a dangerous heretic who cannot be promoted.

Peter Gallo is a lawyer and former OIOS investigator, whose disagreements with the Organization began when OIOS sought to demand that as an investigator, he must “never ask questions just to satisfy his curiosity” – a bizarre instruction that the UN did not consider even unusual, despite the fact that no one was ever able to point out a single example of his ever having done so….He has written extensively on the UN’s failure to properly investigate misconduct, been quoted in the media, featured on television documentaries and twice testified before congressional committees on the subject.

IPS UN Bureau

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UN Needs a Sea Change in its Handling of Sexual Exploitation & Abuse (SEA)

Civil Society, Editors’ Choice, Featured, Gender, Gender Violence, Global, Headlines, Health, Human Rights

Opinion

An art exhibition in Juba, supported by the UN mission in South Sudan (UNMISS), seeks to educate people about gender and sexual based violence. Credit: UNMISS/Nektarios Markogiannis

NEW YORK, Nov 8 2022 (IPS) – Calling it “so disappointing and disheartening” in social media on 17 October, Dr. Rosie James, a British medical expert, announced that “I was sexually assaulted by a World Health Organization (WHO) staff tonight at the World Health Summit.”


WHO, as we all know, is a part of the UN system of entities. She went to emphasize that “This was not the first time in the global health sphere that this has occurred (for MANY of us).”

Dr. James further elaborated to our disdainful shame that “I want to make something clear. This is not just a WHO or UN issue. I and many others have experienced sexual abuse in medicine and field NGOs, for example. Workplaces need to be safe and supportive environments for all. And it will take each one of us to make that a reality.”

It is an embarrassment to the international community that she warned that “We must do better #Zero Tolerance; # MeToo; #Gender Equality.”

In 2021, an independent commission reported on cases concerning WHO personnel responding to the tenth Ebola virus epidemic in the Democratic Republic of the Congo. That was not enough of a warning bell for the WHO staff and its leadership. Now this.

To make the matter worse, CNN reported another shocking news about a UN employee getting a 15-year prison sentence by a US court for multiple sexual assaults, perpetrating “monstrous acts against multiple women over nearly two decades.”

During some years of that period. the staff worked for UNICEF, known for its longstanding, unblemished record of care and dedication for the world’s children.

These and many other such cases, particularly UN peacekeepers and other staff of UN peace operations encouraged the US government to announce on 26 October that it has established its engagement principles for use by all federal agencies engaging with the United Nations and other International Organizations on the prevention and response to incidents of sexual exploitation and abuse and sexual harassment.

These principles reflect the US government’s “commitment to increase U.S. engagement in a clear and consistent manner” and to “promote accountability and transparency “in response to such issues.

This is the first time a Member State has publicly declared a set of “engagement principles” to work with the UN in an area of utmost importance which puts the UN’s credibility at stake.

More so, as it is announced by the largest contributor to the UN budget and a veto-wielding Member of the UN.

Substantively, there are many positive aspects of these principles in putting the UN on guard. But at the same time, if various Member States start announcing such “engagement principles” in various areas and issues and insist on pursuing those in the context of UN’s work, a chaotic situation is bound to emerge.

The UN has yet to make its position known on the US announcement which in effect is an expression of the latter’s frustration about the way the UN has been handling the sexual exploitation abuse cases in a rather lackadaisical manner over the years.

Its much-touted zero-tolerance and no-impunity policies have not improved the situation to the satisfaction of many well-wishers of the UN.

Zero-tolerance policy is applied by the UN system entities as if they are using a zebra-crossing on a street which does not have any traffic lights.

The non-governmental entity the Code Blue Campaign is the most articulate and persistent actor with regard to the sexual exploitation and abuse (SEA) issues and incidents in the UN system as a whole.

The Campaign, steered by Stephen Lewis and Paula Donovan as the co-founders, surely deserves the global community’s whole-hearted appreciation and highest commendation for its laudable work.

It has correctly emphasized that “… unjust UN policies and practices have, over decades, resulted in a culture of impunity for sexual “misconduct” ranging from breaches of UN rules to grave crimes. This represents a contravention of the UN Charter.”

The labyrinthine rules, regulations, procedures, channels of communication of the UN make the mockery of the due-process and timely justice. These have been taken advantage of by the perpetrators time and again.

As most of the SEA incidents happen at the field levels, nationalities and personal equations play a big role in delaying or denying justice.

The victim-centred approach of the UN in handling SEA cases has been manipulated by the perpetrators and their organizational colleagues to detract attention from their seriousness.

Not only the victims should get the utmost attention, so should be the abusers because upholding of the justice is also UN’s responsibility.

Also, UN watchers become curious whenever media publish such SEA related reports, the UN authorities invariably mentions the concerned staff is on leave or administrative leave. When these cases are in the public domain, the abusers are merrily enjoying the leave with full pay.

It is also known that during the leave the abusers have tried to settle the matter with the victims or their families with lucrative temptations. The leave has also been used to wipe off the evidence of the crime. These have happened in several cases with the full knowledge of the supervisors.

What a travesty of the victim-centred approach!

The head of the UN peace operations where the SEA cases take place should be asked by the Secretary-General to explain the occurrence as a part of his or her direct responsibility. Unless such drastic measures are taken the SEA would continue in the UN system.

Another unexpectable dimension of the victim-centred approach is that the abuser-peacekeepers are sent back home for dispensation of justice as per the agreement between the troops contributing countries (TCC) and the UN. Sending them home is one of the biggest reasons for the continuation of SEA in the peace operations.

The victim is not present in that kind varied national military justice situation and no evidence are available except UN-cleared reports to show or suppress the extent of abuse.

Again, a travesty of justice supported by the upholder of the global rule of law!

The UN Secretary-General would be well-advised to propose to the Security Council a change in the clause of the agreement that UN signs with the TCCs which incorporates for repatriation of abuser-peacekeepers to their home countries. If a TCC refuse to do so, the agreement would not be signed. Period.

A functional, quick-justice global tribunal should be set up with the mandate to try the peacekeepers as decided by the UN. If the International Criminal Court (ICC) can try heads state or government for crimes against humanity, why the UN peacekeepers cannot be tried for SEA?

That would be a true victim-centred approach!

Ambassador Anwarul K. Chowdhury is a former Under-Secretary-General and High Representative of the United Nations; former Ambassador of Bangladesh to the UN and President of the Security Council

IPS UN Bureau

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What Does it take to Build a Culture of Equality & Inclusion at the UN? Reflections from Inside a Change Process

Civil Society, Democracy, Featured, Gender, Global, Global Governance, Headlines, Human Rights, TerraViva United Nations, Women in Politics

Opinion

“The Quilt in the Making”. Credit: Claudia Steinau

GENEVA, Oct 28 2022 (IPS) – The organisational is personal. Every day since the two of us were asked back in 2020 to co-lead the process of culture transformation at UNAIDS, the United Nations organisation which drives global efforts to end AIDS, we have both felt at our very core how crucial it has been to get it right.


The mission of UNAIDS is vital to ensuring the health and human rights of every person. Staff and partners need to be confident of a supportive and empowering culture that will enable their work.

A 2018 Report by an Independent Expert Panel had shone a light on what were important organisational shortcomings, leading to a comprehensive set of changes in leadership, systems and crucially, culture.

As the Culture Transformation process has got underway, the COVID-19 pandemic has brought unprecedented shifts in work, and a resurgence of global protests, including from the Black Lives Matter movement and for women’s rights, have a generated an inspirational momentum for action to tackle intersectional injustice.

Reflecting almost three years of UNAIDS culture transformation work, what stands out in particular for the two of us is how the “outer work” has required so much “inner work”. We have needed to be, and to help others be, our full selves, and to acknowledge what we don’t yet know of each other’s experiences.

The process has deepened our appreciation of how our differences, both personally and professionally, are a key strength, enabling each situation, each process, to be seen from a combination of unique angles, and how equality is crucial in enabling all these to be brought forth.

Creating safe spaces for our colleagues to speak about their lived experiences was transformative. We asked ourselves and those around us tough and tender questions. We had colleagues tell us they felt heard for the first time. Brave conversations helped colleagues to connect and to advance the tangible changes that matter most to them.

We understood the need for a common reference framework for all of us at UNAIDS. This has led to a first set of feminist principles that guide our way forward.

Through the process, it became ever more clear to both of us that culture transformation begins at the personal level. As a Malawian woman of African-Asian heritage, living and working in Latin America at this time, intersecting identities and multiple cultural heritage became for Mumtaz the centre of personal reflections.

In leading conversations on decolonizing the HIV Response, Mumtaz’s own colonization was calling for attention. For Juliane, too, this has been powerful journey: as someone who has experienced sexual assault in the workplace, this work is deeply personal, driven by a determination to build safe workplaces for everyone, including by addressing inequalities and unhealthy power balances. Our intersectional feminist approach has brought our experiences to our work.

But this work has also highlighted that whilst the organisational is personal, so too the personal is often dependent on the organisational. Engaging with intersectional feminist principles at the personal level was not enough.

That is why we were proud to help UNAIDS become the UN entity to put intersectional feminist principles at the core of its being. It is why vital work continues to integrate those principles into policies and practices to advance a workplace culture in which every individual can flourish.

As we have helped build a movement for change across six regions, engaged in conversation with more than 500 colleagues, and supported some 25 diverse teams in their own journey, we have recognised the centrality of the institutional level.

Cultural transformation is a long and challenging process that requires the tenacity and creativity of many. To weave the stories and aspirations of so many of the champions for change together while preserving their uniqueness, we have borrowed the quilt symbol that is iconic in the AIDS response.

As the change process evolves, new tiles will be added, others might fade or need repairing. But the work is not done. It is a ‘quilt in the making’ – individual and collective work, one tile at a time.

Mumtaz Mia and Juliane Drews have led UNAIDS Culture Transformation since May 2020.

Mumtaz is a Public Health expert with two decades of experience working to end AIDS. Juliane is a change management expert with 15 years of experience in developing inclusive and just organizations in which staff in all their diversity thrive.

The link to UNAIDS Culture Transformation here.

IPS UN Bureau

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Public Development Banks Can’t Drag Their Feet When It Comes to Building a Sustainable Future

Civil Society, Climate Action, COVID-19, Democracy, Development & Aid, Economy & Trade, Environment, Gender, Global, Headlines, Human Rights, Inequality, Sustainability, TerraViva United Nations

Opinion

Civil society organisations at the Finance in Common Summit. Credit: Noel Emmanuel Zako

ABIDJAN, Ivory Coast , Oct 21 2022 (IPS) – A coalition of civil society organisations is demanding public development banks (PDBs) to take radical and innovative steps to tackle human rights violations and environmental destruction. No project funded by PDBs should come at the expenses of vulnerable groups, the environment and collective liberties, but should instead embody the voices of communities, democratic values and environmental justice.


The demands, part of a collective statement signed by more than 50 civil society organisations, come as over 450 PDBs gather in Abidjan, Ivory Coast, from October 19th, for a third international summit, dubbed Finance in Common.

The COVID-19 pandemic and climate emergency, coupled with human rights violations and increasing risks for activists worldwide, is bringing the need to change current practices into even sharper focus. While public development banks may drag their feet on addressing intersecting and structural inequalities, civil society organisations are taking actions aimed at creating dignified livelihoods by embedding development with concrete affirmative measures towards climate, social, gender, and racial justice.

PDBs cannot be reluctant to act. They need to hit the target when it comes to supporting the transformation of economies and financial systems towards sustainability and addressing the most pressing needs of citizens worldwide – from food systems to increasing support for a just transition towards truly sustainable energy sources. PDBs must recognise that public services are the foundation of fair and just societies, rather than encouraging their privatisation and keep austerity narratives alive.

9 out of 10 people live in countries where civic freedoms are severely restricted, and with an environmental activist killed every two days on average over the past decade, development banks have an obligation to recognize and incorporate human rights in their plans and actions, following a “do not harm” duty.

Civil society organisations at the Finance in Common Summit. Credit: Noel Emmanuel Zako

Communities cannot be left out of the door. They need to be given the space to play the rightful role of driving forces in the answers to today’s global challenges, without them PDBs will move backwards rather than forward – and this means more environmental degradation, less democratic participation, and to put it bluntly an even greater crisis than the one we are facing today. And nobody needs that.

The recommendations in the collective civil society statement emerge from a three-year process of engagement and exchange, involving civil society networks in an effort to shape PDBs policies and projects. You can find some of their words and messages below.

As the call for accountability grows, the Finance in Common summits are an opportunity for PDBs to show moral leadership and help remedy the lack of long-term collaborations with civil society, communities and indigenous groups, threatening to curtail development narratives and practices.

Here’s the messages from civil society organisations from around the globe directed at public development banks.

Oluseyi Oyebisi, Executive Director of Nigeria Network of NGOs (NNNGO) the Nigerian national network of 3,700 NGOs said: “The Sahara and Sahel countries especially have been facing the most serious security crisis in their history linked with climate change, social justice and inequalities in the region. Marked by strong economic (lack of opportunities especially for young people), social (limitation of equitable access to basic social services) and climatic vulnerabilities, the region has some of the lowest human development indicators in the world – even before the covid pandemic. Access to affected populations is limited in some localities due to three main factors: the security situation, the poor state of infrastructures and difficult geographic conditions. PDBs must prioritise civil society organisations and Communities initiatives supporting state programs of decentralization, security sector reforms and reconciliation. This will help reduce the vulnerability of populations and prevent violent extremism.”

Mavalow Christelle Kalhoule, Forus Chair and President of Spong, the NGO network of Burkina Faso said: “Development projects shape our world; from the ways we navigate our cities to how rural landscapes are being transformed. Ultimately, they impact the ways we interact with one another, with plants and animals, with other countries and with the food on our plates. The decisions taken by public development banks are therefore existential. Such responsibility comes with an even greater one to include communities directly concerned by development projects, those whose air, water and everyday lives are affected for generations to come. For this to happen, public development banks must reinforce their long-term efforts to create dialogue with civil society organisations, social movements and indigenous communities in order to fortify the democratic principles of their work. We encourage them to listen, to ask and to cooperate in innovative ways so that development stays true to its original definition of progress and positive change; a collective, participative and fair process and a word which has a meaning not for a few, but for all.”

Tity Agbahey, Africa Regional Coordinator, Coalition for human rights in development said: “Many in civil society have expressed concerns about Finance in Common as a space run by elites, that fails to be truly inclusive. It is a space where the mainstream top-down approach to development, instead of being challenged, is further reinforced. Once again, the leaders of the public development banks gathered at this Summit will be taking decisions on key issues without listening to those most affected by their projects and the real development experts: local communities, human rights defenders, Indigenous Peoples, feminist groups, civil society. They will speak about “sustainability”, while ignoring the protests against austerity policies and rising debt. They will speak about “human rights”, while ignoring those denouncing human rights violations in the context of their projects. They will speak about “green and just transition”, while continuing to support projects that contribute to climate change.”

Comlan Julien AGBESSI, Regional Coordinator of the Network of National NGO Platforms of West Africa (REPAOC), a regional coalition of 15 national civil society platforms said: “Regardless of how they are perceived by the public authorities in the various countries, non-governmental organisations (NGOs) contribute to covering the aspects and spaces not reached or insufficiently reached by national development programmes. Despite the undeniable impact of their actions on the living conditions of populations, NGOs remain the poor cousins of donor funding, apart from the support of certain philanthropic or charitable organisations. In such a context of scarce funding opportunities, aggravated by the health crisis due to COVID-19 and the subsequent economic crisis, Pooled Finance, which is in fact a paradigm shift, appears to be a lifeline for CSOs. This is why REPAOC welcomes the commitments made by both the Public Development Banks and the Multilateral Development Banks to directly support CSO projects and programmes in the same way as they usually do with governments and the private sector. Through the partnership agreements that we hope and pray for between CSOs and banks, the latter can be assured that the actions that will be envisaged for the benefit of rural and urban communities will certainly reach them with the guarantees of accountability that their new CSO partners offer”.

Frank Vanaerschot, Director of Counter Balance, said: “As one of this year’s organisers of the Finance in Common Summit, the EIB will brag about the billions it invests in development. The truth is the bank will be pushing the EU’s own commercial interests and promoting the use of public money for development in the Global South to guarantee profits for private investors. Reducing inequalities will be second-place at best. The EIB is also co-hosting the summit despite systemic human rights violations in projects it finances from Nepal to Kenya. Instead, the EIB and other public banks should work to empower local communities by investing in the public services needed for human rights to be respected, such as publicly owned and governed healthcare and education – not on putting corporate profits above all else.”

Stephanie Amoako, Senior Policy Associate at Accountability Counsel said: “PDBs must be accountable to the communities impacted by their projects. All PDBs need to have an effective accountability mechanism to address concerns with projects and should commit to preventing and fully remediating any harm to communities”.

Jyotsna Mohan Singh, Regional Coordinator, Asia Development Alliance said: “PDBs should have a normative core; they should start with the rights framework. This means grounding all safeguards into all the various rights frameworks that already exist. There are rights instruments for indigenous people, the elderly, women, youth, and people living with disability. They are part and parcel of a whole host of both global conventions and regional conventions. Their approach should be grounded in those rights, then it will be on a very firm footing.

Asian governments need to support, implement, and apply strict environmental laws and regulations for all PDBs projects. The first step is to disseminate public information and conduct open and effective environmental impact assessments for all these projects, as well as strategic environmental assessments for infrastructure and cross-border projects.”

IPS UN Bureau

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Activists Call Out 11 Muslim Member States to Repeal Death Penalty for Blasphemy

Civil Society, Crime & Justice, Featured, Global, Headlines, Human Rights, IPS UN: Inside the Glasshouse, Religion, TerraViva United Nations

Opinion

Organization of Islamic Cooperation (OIC) headquartered in Jeddah, Saudi Arabia

LOS ANGELES / WASHINGTON DC, Oct 21 2022 (IPS) – Eleven out of 57 members of the Organization of Islamic Cooperation (OIC) still sanction the death penalty for blasphemy and apostasy, silencing their citizens and emboldening violence by non-state actors.


For the past 70 years, Article 18 of the United Nations Declaration of Human Rights has condemned capital punishment for religious offenses, a global standard shared during our recent visit to the UN headquarters in New York.

As a prelude to the UN General Assembly (UNGA) high-level meetings in mid-September, we led the International Religious Freedom (IRF) Roundtable Campaign to Eliminate Blasphemy and Apostasy Laws, urging UN members to stand in strong support during two paramount resolutions calling for an end to the death penalty and extrajudicial killings.

We urge the insertion of language codifying the death penalty never being imposed as a sanction for non-violent conduct such as blasphemy and apostasy. The effort produced an encouraging response by Nigerian third committee officials who renewed their commitment to freedom of religion or belief by supporting embedded language in both the moratorium on the death penalty and a resolution on renouncing the death penalty for extrajudicial killings.

In the days that followed our visit, the world has witnessed the outrage of human rights activists and concerned global citizens with the death of Masha Amini, an Iranian Muslim woman who was arrested and subsequently died in the custody of Iranian morality police for a violation of the Islamic Republic of Iran’s compulsory hijab mandate.

Brutal cases like these will only cease when government officials in Iran, and other egregious human rights violators, listen to the cries of their people and uphold globally recognized human rights declarations. These include statutes supporting international religious freedom or belief, and the repeal of apostasy and blasphemy laws.

When most countries around the world and the majority of Muslim nations are taking concrete steps to abolish capital punishment for perceived religious offenses such as blasphemy and apostasy, some refuse to modernize their legislation, thus branding themselves as the worst violators of internationally recognized basic human rights.

This staunch obsession with upholding persecutory laws and implementing the harshest of punishments, violates religious freedoms – the right to life and the right to freedom of religion or belief. This misinterpretation of scripture is an abuse of Islam, tarnishing the image of Muslims around the world and a disregard to Gods mercy, a belief that transcends faith orientation.

The multidisciplinary and multifaith delegation from the International Religious Freedom (IRF) Campaign urged UN members, including: Luxemburg, Canada, and Sri Lanka, to raise their voices loudly in favor of embedded international religious freedom language in two resolutions which will come up for a vote during the UNGA in November.

Penholders Australia and Costa Rica are calling for a moratorium on the death penalty which is only supported by the IRF Campaign with the addition of specific language ensuring the death penalty never be imposed for non-violent conduct such as apostasy or blasphemy.

Likewise, Finland, as penholder for the UNGA resolution on extrajudicial executions, is being asked by global advocates to add language on freedom of religion or belief, emphasizing the necessity for States to take effective measures to repeal laws currently allowing the death penalty for religious offences, such as criminalization of conversion and expression of religion or belief as a preventative measure.

Article 18 of the United Nations Declaration of Human Rights is clear – everyone has the right to freedom of religion or belief. Yet, 11 States today maintain the death penalty for apostasy and blasphemy. We raise the voices of the voiceless, such as Pakistani woman Aneeqa Ateeq who was sentenced to death for blasphemy in January 2022 after being manipulated into a religious debate online by a man who she romantically refused.

Also, an 83-year-old Somali man, Hassan Tohow Fidow, who was sentenced to death for blasphemy by an al-Shabaab militant court and subsequently horrifically executed by firing squad; and a 22-year-old Nigerian Islamic gospel singer Yahaya Sharif-Aminu who was sentenced to death for blasphemy because one of his songs allegedly praised an Imam higher than the Prophet.

As an outcome of our UN advocacy, we pray that the 11 Muslim member states—Afghanistan, Brunei, Iran, Maldives, Mauritania, Nigeria, Pakistan, Qatar, Saudi Arabia, Somalia, and Yemen– join in the common-sense repeal of the death penalty for blasphemy and apostasy as a great step toward becoming civilized nations.

The majority of OIC member nations who do not sanction the death penalty for religious offenses should be regarded as examples of modernity and humanity and their path to restore and uphold basic human rights should be replicated.

The Qur’an says, “There shall be no compulsion in religion; the right way has become distinct from the wrong way.” (Qur’an 2:256). Likewise, we read passages like 18:26:, “And say, ‘The truth is from your Lord. Whoever wills – let him believe. And whoever wills – let him disbelieve,” and “whoever among you renounces their own faith and dies a disbeliever, their deeds will become void in this life and in the Hereafter (Qur’an 2:217).”

The holy book, which serves as a moral compass for the laws in OIC member nations, upholds the right to freedom of religion or belief which has been recognized by the OIC majority.

As has been recently witnessed in Iran, when civil society activates around globally recognized human rights, the world takes note. The OIC asserts its purpose “to preserve and promote the foundational Islamic values of peace, compassion, tolerance, equality, justice and human dignity” and “to promote human rights and fundamental freedoms, good governance, rule of law, democracy, and accountability”.

To that end, with the passage of both critical UN resolutions, OIC members will face the controversial and politically sensitive task of calling out other OIC colleagues who continue to violate human rights by imposing the death sentence upon individuals for exercising their right to freedom of thought, conscience, and religion.

We assert that it is a societal problem as much as it is a reflection of the deficiency of democratic values and principles.

Embedding international religious freedom language in both resolutions calling for the repeal of the death penalty will be strengthened with the strong support of the 46 OIC nations and other human rights champion nations in the days ahead.

We are encouraged by Saudi Arabian scholar, Dr. Mohammad Al-Issa of the Muslim World Alliance, who travels the world sharing the unanimously approved Charter of Makkah – a document affirming differences among people and beliefs as part of God’s will and wisdom.

Our collective voice must be unwavering in its call and commitment to repeal the death penalty for blasphemy and apostasy as a primary step towards upholding theologies of love and compassion, building toward human flourishing.

Dr. Christine M. Sequenzia, MDiv is co-chair IRF Campaign to Eliminate Blasphemy and Apostasy Laws; Soraya M. Deen, Esq. is lawyer, community organizer, founder, Muslim Women Speakers, and co-chair International Religious Freedom (IRF) Women’s Working Group

IPS UN Bureau

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Developing Countries Battle Climate Change, While the Wealthy Make Frozen Pledges: Will COP27 Usher a New Era?

Biodiversity, Climate Action, Climate Change, Conferences, Environment, Featured, Global, Headlines, TerraViva United Nations

Climate Change

Climate change is predicted to put pressure on the Nile Valley and Delta, where about 95% of Egypt's population resides. Credit: Hisham Allam/IPS

Climate change is predicted to put pressure on the Nile Valley and Delta, where about 95% of Egypt’s population resides. Credit: Hisham Allam/IPS

Cairo, Oct 20 2022 (IPS) – The countdown to the UN Climate Summit COP27, which will take place in Sharm el-Sheikh, Egypt, from November 6 to November 18, has begun.

This summit has drawn the attention of world leaders, high-ranking United Nations officials, and thousands of environmental activists worldwide.


The COP27 summit is an annual gathering of 197 countries to discuss climate change and what each country is doing to limit the impact of human activity on the climate.

About 90 heads of state have confirmed their attendance at the COP27 in Sharm El-Sheikh, according to the special representative of the Egyptian presidency.

Amr Abdel-Aziz, Director of Mitigation at Egypt’s Ministry of Environment, noted that the central theme for COP27 is implementation.

“We hope to demonstrate what that looks like in terms of mitigation and adaptation. If the summit can address the topic of implementation in all of its discussions, it will be a sign of its success,” Abdel-Aziz said.

The primary objective of COP27 is to achieve positive results in terms of emissions reduction; on the agenda is also a discussion of financing losses and damage.

“We also intend to advance the agenda to double climate adaptation financing by 2025 and reach an agreement on the unfulfilled $100 billion financial pledge from developed countries,” Abdel-Aziz told IPS.

The overarching goal is to strike a balance between all parties’ interests. The mitigation program, for example, is primarily driven by developed countries and small island developing states, which are currently experiencing severe climate change impacts.

On the other hand, emerging markets are principally accountable for adjustments, losses, and damages.

“Our goal is to achieve a balanced result that meets all of these goals and objectives,” he continued

“We wanted to cover as much of Egypt’s total emissions as possible,” Abdel-Aziz explains, “So we focused on three sectors: energy, oil and gas, and transportation. We also chose the industries that are most likely to reduce emissions.”

Abdel-Aziz says he is optimistic about meeting the goals, especially in the transport sector, which could even exceed the goals as there has been significant progress including in the area of “transportation electrification and other forms of sustainable mobility.”

The summit’s top priorities are to achieve the Paris Agreement’s goals and progress in the fight against climate change. According to scientific research, limiting global warming to 1.5°C by 2030 requires cutting emissions in half.

“Climate finance must be available for this to occur,” COY 17 Programme Leader Hossam Imam told IPS.

COY17 is an annual event organized by YOUNGO, the Official Youth Constituency of the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC). This year’s event will take place on the sidelines of the 27th Party Summit in Sharm El-Sheikh, Egypt (COP27).

Imam will collaborate with 1,500 young people from 140 countries to draft the youth statement, which will be delivered to the presidency of the Climate Summit and discussed by high-ranking officials.

“The impact of climate change on indigenous peoples and coastal city dwellers who face flooding is one of the most pressing issues to be addressed in COY 17,” Imam said.

Environmental activist Ahmed Fathy told IPS that the most significant obstacle to developing countries achieving their climate goals is a “lack of adequate and adequate financing from developed countries. And, despite years of neglect, adaptation financing remains a top priority for developing countries. Without it, developing countries cannot combat and mitigate the effects of climate change.”

The Nile Valley and Delta, where about 95% of Egypt’s population resides, make up only 4% of the country’s natural area. Climate change is predicted to put pressure on these areas, particularly the Nile, and the region could experience more frequent droughts.

“Egypt is also one of the few nations that actually struggle with water scarcity,” Fathy added.

“Since the world faces several economic issues in addition to the energy crisis, we expect that the conference will produce workable proposals,” said Fathy, the founder of the ‘Youth Love Egypt Association,’ involved in organizing the COY17 conference and the promotion of the COP27. “We expect the summit to produce a workable charter and to be COP for actions rather than COP for pledges.”

IPS UN Bureau Report