IAEA chief outlines five principles to avert nuclear ‘catastrophe’ in Ukraine — Global Issues

Delivering his latest update, IAEA Director General Rafael Mariano Grossi reported that the situation at the Zaporizhzhya Nuclear Power Plant (ZNPP) – the largest in Europe – remains extremely fragile and dangerous.

Military operations continue in the region “and may well increase very considerably in the near future,” he warned.

Rolling the dice

The Zaporizhzhya plant has come under fire during the war. It has lost off-site power seven times and had to rely on emergency diesel generators – “the last line of defence against a nuclear accident,” he said.

“We are fortunate that a nuclear accident has not yet happened,” Mr. Grossi told ambassadors.

“As I said at the IAEA Board of Governors last March – we are rolling a dice and if this continues then one day, our luck will run out. So, we must all do everything in our power to minimize the chance that it does.”

Rafael Mariano Grossi, Director General of the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA), briefs members of the UN Security Council on protecting the Zaporizhzhia nuclear power plant in Ukraine.

UN Photo/Eskinder Debebe

Rafael Mariano Grossi, Director General of the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA), briefs members of the UN Security Council on protecting the Zaporizhzhia nuclear power plant in Ukraine.

A specific request

Mr. Grossi recalled that the Ukraine crisis marks the first time in history that a war is being fought amid the facilities of a major nuclear power programme. He said several of the country’s five nuclear plants and other facilities have come under direct shelling, and all nuclear plants have lost off-site power at some point.

The IAEA has maintained a presence at the Zaporizhzhya Nuclear Power Plant since September. The site was occupied by Russian forces in the early days of the conflict, with a “significantly reduced” Ukrainian staff carrying out operations.

Throughout the conflict, the IAEA chief has repeatedly promoted seven indispensable pillars for nuclear safety and security, which include maintaining the physical integrity of facilities and ensuring secure off-site power supply.

“The time has come to be more specific as to what is required. We must prevent a dangerous release of radioactive material,” he said.

Five concrete principles

Following extensive consultations, including with the sides, Mr. Grossi developed five concrete principles essential for averting “a catastrophic incident” at the Zaporizhzhya plant.

“There should be no attack of any kind from or against the plant, in particular targeting the reactors, spent fuel storage, other critical infrastructure, or personnel,” he said, outlining the first point.

The nuclear plant also should not be used as storage or a base for heavy weapons, such as multiple rocket launchers, or military personnel that could be used for an attack emanating from it.

Off-site power to the plant should not be put at risk, and all efforts should be made to ensure it always remains available and secure, he said.

Furthermore, all structures, systems and components essential to the safe and secure operation of the plant should be protected from attacks or sabotage. Finally, no action should be taken that undermines the principles.

“Let me say something very clearly: These principles are to no one’s detriment and to everyone’s benefit. Avoiding a nuclear accident is possible. Abiding by the IAEA’s five principles is the way to start,” said Mr. Grossi.

Principles are aligned: Russia

Russian Ambassador Vasily Nebenzya said his country has made every effort to prevent threats to the safety of the Zaporizhzhya plant, which he attributed to Ukraine and its “Western backers”.

“The shellings carried out by Ukraine of the power plant are absolutely unacceptable, and Mr. Grossi’s proposals to ensure the security of the Zaporizhzhya Nuclear Power Plant are in line with the measures that we’ve already been implementing for a long time, in accordance with decisions taken at the national level,” he said.

He added that no attacks were ever carried out from the territory of the plant. Additionally, heavy weapons or munitions were never placed there, nor are there any military personnel present who could be used to carry out an attack.

“In the current conditions, Russia intends to take all possible measures to strengthen the safety and security of the power plant in accordance with our national legislation and our obligations under relevant international legal instruments to which our country is a party,” he said.

Withdraw from the plant: Ukraine

Ukrainian Ambassador Sergiy Kyslytsya also addressed the Council.

He said Russia continues to use the nuclear plant for military purposes and has deployed roughly 500 military personnel and 50 units of heavy weaponry there, as well as equipment, munitions and explosives.

“We reiterate that by illegally occupying ZNPP and making it an element of its military strategy, Russia has violated all key international principles of nuclear safety and security and the vast majority of its obligations under international treaties,” he said.

Mr. Kyslytsya recommended that the IAEA principles should also include withdrawal of Russian troops and personnel illegally present at the plant, guarantees of uninterrupted power supply to the facility, and a humanitarian corridor to ensure the safe and orderly rotation of staff.

‘Unprecedented level of repression’ must end, say UN rights experts — Global Issues

“The practice of incommunicado detention of members of the political opposition and prominent figures sentenced to lengthy prison terms for voicing dissent increased in 2023,” the 18 Special Rapporteurs and Human Rights Council-appointed Working Group rights’ experts said.

In their statement released by UN rights office OHCHR, they reported that according to the Viasna Human Rights Centre, 1,511 people have been detained on politically motivated charges since widespread protests swept the country in 2020, following the disputed presidential poll in August, which saw millions take to the streets.

Average of 17 arrests daily

The centre has also documented an average of 17 arbitrary arrests and detentions a day.

While Belarusian prisons are notorious for substandard conditions, civil society organisations continue to document the systematic discriminatory placement of persons detained on politically motivated grounds in even harsher conditions than the general prison population, the experts said.

“This arbitrary practice appears to have a systemic character,” the experts said.

The harsh conditions of detention have reportedly had a negative impact on the physical and mental health of the detainees, including dissident video blogger Siarhei Tsikhanouski, activist and campaign strategist Maria Kalesnikava, banker and opposition leader, Viktar Barbaryka, and senior opposition figure and lawyer, Maksim Znak, whose cases have been documented by the experts.

The prisoners were reportedly denied access to timely and appropriate medical examinations and treatment, adequate legal representation and also prevented from contacting their families.

Strategic punishment

“Incommunicado detention – with a risk of enforced disappearance – is indicative of a strategy to punish political opponents and hide evidence of their ill-treatment and torture by law enforcement and prison authorities,” the independent experts said.

They deplored the lack of independent, impartial and thorough investigations into these allegations of inhuman treatment and other human rights violations, as well as the failure to provide effective remedies to detainees and their families.

Demand compliance

“The unprecedented level of repression must stop,” the experts said. “The international community must demand that Belarus comply with its international human rights obligations to ensure truth, justice and reparation for victims of human rights violations.”

Independent human rights experts are appointed by the UN Human Rights Council, in Geneva, under its Special Procedures.

They are mandated to monitor and report on specific thematic issues or country situations. They are not UN staff and do not receive a salary for their work.

Racism which scars societies, must be stamped out, forum for people of African descent hears — Global Issues

“Racism and xenophobia continue to spoil our communities, like scars that spoil the fabric of society. The hatred and violence they engender persist, demanding our collective efforts to eradicate racial violence in all its forms,” he told the second session of the Permanent Forum on People of African Descent.

Transforming injustice

Mr. Kőrösi said overcoming this requires recognizing our shared humanity, as the “unacknowledged legacies” of slavery and segregation persist today through

oppressive and racially violent prison systems, inequalities in access to healthcare, and exclusion from the workforce.

“We must do away with these inhumane and shameful inheritances, and we must do it now,” he said, speaking in the General Assembly Hall. “I firmly believe that by reflecting on these painful legacies, we can truly transform the injustices of the past into the freedoms of the future.”

Act with urgency

The Permanent Forum was established in 2021 by the General Assembly, following years of deliberations, and in line with the International Decade for People of African Descent, which runs through 2024.

The body will contribute to advancing a UN declaration on the promotion and full respect of the rights of people of African descent, the theme of the current session.

Its establishment crystalized international commitment to accelerate along the path towards full equality and justice for people of African descent everywhere, UN Secretary-General António Guterressaid in a video message to the gathering.

He called for recognizing and repairing longstanding wrongs stemming from centuries of slavery and colonialism.

“We must act with greater urgency to rid our societies of the scourge of racism, and ensure the full political, economic and social inclusion of people of African descent as equal citizens, without discrimination,” he said.

A problem everywhere

The fact that racism knows no borders was made clear by Brazil’s President Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva, who highlighted the constant abuse heaped on Brazilian footballer Vinícius Júnior, who plays for Spanish club Real Madrid.

“The lesson we can draw from these unforgivable episodes is that Vini Jr, a 22-year-old, is capable of standing up to hostile crowds, there is no doubt that we can and must do more to interrupt this dehumanizing circuit of violence,” he said in a video message.

Brazil’s Minister of Racial Equality, Anielle Franco, took to the podium to reinforce President Lula’s call for renewing the International Decade for People of African Descent, with a focus on memory, reparations and justice

“Peace, democracy, international security, the fight against inequalities and the guarantee of human rights will only coexist when centuries of systemic racism – which is characterized by dehumanization, subjugation, trauma, the erasure of our culture and psychological violence – are repaired,” she said, drawing applause from the room.

Musicians perform at the opening of the Second Session of the Permanent Forum on People of African Descent.

UN Photo/Loey Felipe

Musicians perform at the opening of the Second Session of the Permanent Forum on People of African Descent.

Tribute to activists

More than a thousand people are taking part in the Forum, which concludes on Friday. The UN High Commissioner for Human Rights, Volker Türk, paid tribute to the large number of activists and civil society representatives in their ranks.

“Many of you have been vital to the continuing efforts of global anti-racism movements, including protests in 2020 that, among other things, helped to expedite the establishment of the Permanent Forum on People of African Descent,” he said in a video message.

Mr. Türk noted that for far too long, racial discrimination has been treated as a social issue, instead of a severe human rights violation.

“It is urgent that we both hold individuals accountable for acts of racism and racial discrimination, and also consider more profoundly the role of structures and systems of discrimination and oppression that replicate and nurture racial hierarchies,” he said.

Fresh diplomatic gains must match action on the ground in Syria to end war — Global Issues

“It is vital that the recent diplomatic moves are matched with real action,” said Geir Pedersen, the UN Secretary-General’s Special Envoy for Syria, briefing the Security Council on recent political and humanitarian developments.

A range of diplomatic initiatives have quickened the pace towards finding solutions on, among other things, continuing a direct dialogue with the Government of Syria, including such concerns raised in Security Council resolution 2254 as territorial integrity, and working towards national reconciliation.

In the last month, Moscow hosted a meeting of the foreign ministers of Iran, Russia, Syria, and Türkiye, and Amman held a meeting with counterparts from Egypt, Iraq, Jordan, Saudi Arabia, and Syria.

The League of Arab States adopted related resolutions in Cairo, and an Arab Ministerial Liaison Committee was established to continue the direct dialogue with the Syrian Government. During the same period, the President of Syria participated in the Arab League Summit in Jeddah.

Danger of status quo

“Common attention to these themes and points [of discussions] could present a real opportunity to move forward,” he said, but, he said in his discussions with key ministers involved in seeking a diplomatic solution, he has “made clear that I appreciate the dangers of the status quo both for the Syrian people and for regional and other actors, who want to curb instability”.

If substantive issues begin to be addressed, even if incrementally, this “new dynamic” could create “much-needed momentum”, he said, anticipating his continued engagement with Syrian parties, the Arab, Astana, and Western players, and the Security Council.

“Even minimal progress” in implementing resolution 2254 “will require the confidence and resources of many different players, and serious action”, he said.

Against this backdrop, he said the Syrian people continue to suffer on a massive scale. Syrian refugees had voiced their desire to return, but in 2023, only a small fraction indicated their wish to return in the coming year. Lack of livelhood opportunities, a fragile security situation, and fears of arbitrary detention were among the top reasons why, he said.

As such, confidence-building measures and the political process must be a focus, and “if the Syrian Government were to start to address in a more systematic manner the protection concerns of the displaced working closely with the UN, and if donors were to help the UN to do more to address the concerns all Syrians have about livelihoods”, the reality on the ground could change for all Syrians, bringing about a safer and calmer environment across the country.

Warning of recent reports on the further increase in poverty, he said the cumulative effects of war, drug trafficking, the war in Ukraine, and other drivers, are real concerns.

Currently, violence continues to cause civilian deaths at a time when humanitarian needs “have never been higher”, he said, underlining an urgent need to establish a national ceasefire.

Geir Pedersen (on screen), Special Envoy of the Secretary-General for Syria, briefs members of the UN Security Council on the situation in  Syria.

UN Photo/Eskinder Debebe

Geir Pedersen (on screen), Special Envoy of the Secretary-General for Syria, briefs members of the UN Security Council on the situation in Syria.

Syria must remain ‘a global priority’

Ghada Eltahir Mudawi, Deputy Director of the Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA), said Syrians need the support of the international community now more than at any time in the past 12 years.

“The humanitarian crisis in Syria must remain a global priority,” she said, outlining the current landscape, where after a dozen years of conflict, “the vast majority of the Syrian population continues to face daily challenges to meet the most basic food, health, and shelter needs.

A staggering 15.3 million people require humanitarian assistance throughout the country, representing nearly 70 per cent of Syria’s population. For the first time in the history of the crisis, people across every sub-district in Syria are experiencing some degree of humanitarian stress, she said, adding that the earthquakes earlier this year compounded this already bleak humanitarian situation, with more than 330,000 people remaining displaced, and thousands more without access to basic services and livelihoods.

Ghada Eltahir Mudawi, Deputy Director of the Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA), briefs the Security Council meeting on the situation in Syria.

UN Photo/Eskinder Debebe

Ghada Eltahir Mudawi, Deputy Director of the Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA), briefs the Security Council meeting on the situation in Syria.

‘Matter of life and death’

While the UN and partners continue large-scale efforts to respond to the most urgent humanitarian needs, continued support from donors and this Council will be crucial to address ongoing essential needs, she said, noting that the preliminary Syria Earthquake Recovery Needs Assessment has estimated almost $9 billion in damage and losses, and $14.8 billion in recovery needs over the next three-year period.

A 12-month extension of the Security Council’s authorization of the cross-border mechanism is indispensable, she stressed.

“It is a matter of life and death for millions of people in northwest Syria,” she cautioned.

“The situation in Syria is too fragile, the needs are too great and too many lives are at stake not to ensure sustained humanitarian access via every possible modality, including cross-border and cross-line missions,” she added.

Calling for greater solidarity and urgently increased humanitarian funding to save lives and prevent further suffering, she said that while efforts continue to achieve a lasting political solution, “we must ensure that the urgent needs of women, men and children of Syria – life-saving aid and early recovery – are prioritized and adequately resourced.”

“They are counting on your support to stay the course,” she said.

In other business

In other business this morning, the Security Council considered two draft resolutions, unanimously adopting one that renewed the UN mission in Iraq, UNAMI.

By a vote of 10 in favour, with 5 abstentions (China, Gabon, Ghana, Mozambique, Russia), the Council also adopted a draft resolution renewing the South Sudan sanctions regime, with some members expressing concerns that the measures would have a negative socioeconomic impact on the South Sudanese people.

For more details on the this and other meetings occurring throughout the UN system, visit our dedicated UN Meetings Coverage page.

Nearly half of Haiti going hungry, new food security report warns — Global Issues

The latest integrated food security phase classification (IPC) analysis, reported on Sunday that of the total number of affected people, 1.8 million are in an emergency-level phase of need.

This means that households face large food consumption gaps resulting in high acute malnutrition and excess mortality, or are forced to adopt negative coping mechanisms to cover food needs, such as selling off assets or eating seeds instead of planting them, increasing their vulnerability, according to the Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO), one of the report’s global partners.

With 75 per cent of Haiti’s population living in rural areas, urgent measures are needed to save lives and quickly restore the agricultural livelihoods of vulnerable farmers, FAO warned.

Support market gardening

For example, investing $125 in a market-gardening seed package can generate 20 times its value in the production of vegetables, enabling families to have access to food and generate income through the sale of part of the product obtained, according to the agency.

Under the 2023 Humanitarian Response Plan, FAO is appealing for $61.7 million to assist 700,000 people to improve their access to food. Activities will focus on the provision of such agricultural inputs as seeds and fertilizer to increase staple food and vegetable production during the 2023 spring and winter seasons as well as to protect livestock assets, through the provision of poultry and goats alongside vaccines and veterinary treatment.

Hunger ‘hotspots’

Acute food insecurity is set to increase in magnitude and severity in 18 hunger “hotspots” around the world, according to a new FAO and World Food Programme (WFP) report published on Monday.

The report found that many hotspots are facing growing hunger and highlights the worrying multiplier effect that simultaneous and overlapping shocks are having on acute food insecurity. Conflict, climate extremes, and economic shocks continue to drive more and more communities into crisis.

The report warned that Burkina Faso and Mali, Sudan, and Haiti have been elevated to the highest concern levels.

“All hotspots at the highest level have communities facing or projected to face starvation, or are at risk of sliding towards catastrophic conditions, given they have already emergency levels of food insecurity and are facing severe aggravating factors,” WFP said.

“These hotspots require the most urgent attention,” the report warns.

Learn more about what the UN is doing to help the people of Haiti here.

WMO makes urgent call to action over melting cryosphere — Global Issues

WMO warned on Tuesday that glaciers and ice sheet melt in Greenland and Antarctica accounts for some 50 per cent of sea level rise, which is accelerating, with disastrous impacts on small island developing states (SIDS) and densely populated coastal areas.

Glacier melt

The average thickness of the world’s glaciers has plummeted by almost 30 metres since 1970.

“The cryosphere issue is a hot topic not just for the Arctic and Antarctic, but it is a global issue,” said WMO Secretary-General Petteri Taalas.

The irreversible changes in the global cryosphere will affect well over a billion people who rely on water from snow and glacier melt, WMO said.

‘Sleeping giant’ of carbon emissions

The agency also called melting Arctic permafrost a “sleeping giant” of greenhouse gases, as it stores twice as much carbon as there is in the atmosphere today.

WMO said it has made this burning issue one of its top priorities and called for better predictions and intensified research, data exchange and investment.

Sea level rise, ice and glaciers are among the climate indicators monitored by WMO and the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC). The WMO State of the Global Climate 2022 report highlighted the shocking extent of change.

So-called “reference glaciers” which WMO is monitoring in the long-term, experienced an average thickness change of over −1.3 metres between October 2021 and October 2022. This loss is much larger than the average of the last decade, the agency said.

Alpine record

The European Alps smashed records for glacier melt, exacerbated by a winter of little snow: in Switzerland, six per cent of the glacier ice volume was lost between 2021 and 2022 – and one third between 2001 and 2022.

The Greenland Ice Sheet ended with a negative total mass balance for the 26th year in a row.

Sea ice in Antarctica dropped to 1.92 million km2 on February 25, last year – the lowest level on record and almost one million km2 below the long-term mean – measured from 1991 to 2020.

Arctic sea ice in September at the end of the summer melt tied for the 11th lowest monthly minimum ice extent in the satellite record.

The rate of global mean sea level rise has doubled between the first decade of the satellite record, said WMO.

Girls Redrawing the Future of Artificial Intelligence — Global Issues

  • Opinion by Diana Gutierrez (united nations)
  • Inter Press Service

Digital technologies have permeated virtually every essential aspect of our lives. From the news we hear first thing in the morning, to school homework and connecting with our friends and family.

In just a matter of days after its launch Chat GPT had more than one million visitors and now is attracting close to 100 million users monthly. A few weeks ago, a group of industry leaders wrote an open letter to put a temporary halt to AI development for at least six months. They argue that AI technologies should be deployed under strict regulatory frameworks, be public and verifiable, just as medicines and vaccines are developed and released.

Undoubtedly AI and machine learning are a double edged-sword.

On the one hand, these technologies can help combat climate change. Agronovate in Nigeria designed a smart storage device which keeps fruits and vegetables fresh. In Morocco, Atlan Space is using AI to pilot drones collecting data and conducting surveillance missions to track environmental crimes. While in the Sahel region herders are using AI and satellite data to feed livestock with a pastoral surveillance system.

AI is also fighting the backlash against gender equality.

UNDP is using AI-based algorithms in Uruguay, the Philippines, Uganda and Colombia, to track social media, monitor gender hate speech and send signals to governments and civil society organizations.

It’s to protect women’s rights defenders, women politicians and women journalists who are increasingly experiencing cyberbullying and other forms of digital violence including doxing, trolling and flaming.

But AI has also a dark side that can deepen inequalities and cause harm, most notably for women. Women are increasingly exposed and entrapped by AI that produces deep fakes or digital images and audio that are artificially altered or manipulated by AI and deep learning to make someone do or say something they did not actually do or say.

Consequences can be devastating. In early March hundreds of sexual deepfake ads flooded Facebook and Instagram using Emma Watson’s face, a British actor and women’s rights advocate.

It is undeniable that gender biases are reproduced by AI technologies whose algorithms are trained by biased programmers shaped by discriminatory social norms, and this can have adverse results for example when women apply to credits that are awarded with AI-based credit scoring applications, or when they apply to a job that is typically done by men.

For better or for worse AI will shape the future of our world and we have not only to harness its power, but also to make sure we protect the furthest behind from potential adverse effects.

Here are some clues to achieve it.

First, we need robust legislative and regulatory frameworks capable of holding big tech companies accountable.

Second, tech companies need to further commit to addressing hate speech and gendered violence and keeping their platforms safe for everyone. Globally, 38 percent of women – that is close to one in four – have experienced online violence. The statistics are appalling and big tech companies, including Google, Amazon, Apple, Meta and Microsoft, need to be more responsible and accountable.

Third, the design of digital products including AI-based algorithms and the way they are trained must be gender equal by design and be guided by digital ethics principles. Technologies should be designed with users and address privacy and security, ensuring all people, but especially women and gender-based marginalized populations to be protected in digital spaces.

And fourth, we need more diversity in the tech industry. Big technology companies are making slow, but steady progress in increasing women’s participation not only across the career ladder, but also in technical roles. Large global technology firms, on average, reached nearly 33 percent overall female representation in their workforces and 25 percent in technical roles in 2022. Still a long way to go.

Digital innovation can be truly a game changer in our modern world and there’s so much female potential and talent out there to flip the script. Young innovators are already helping to redraw the future of AI with solutions that are addressing today’s most pressing problems.

UNDP firmly believes that women tech founders’ tailored support, dedicated acceleration programmes and increased access to capital is needed now more than ever. So we’re supporting thousands of women across the globe with flagship programmes such as the Arab Women Innovators Programme or the BOOST Women Innovators Programme in Europe and Central Asia.

Look at some of the most amazing stories of young women innovators supported by UNDP that are spearheading the field of AI for good.

Samar Hamdy (Egypt), co-founder of DevisionX and developer of Tuba.ai, a platform to label, train data and deploy AI-based applications with zero code; Mariam Torosyan (Armenia), CEO and founder of SafeYou, a mobile application designed to reduce gender-based violence through safety and community functions; Sara Saeed (Pakistan) CEO and co-founder of Sehat Kahani, a telehealth platform that connects a network of predominantly female health professionals to patients using a telemedicine application that allows real time and instant chat/audio/video doctor consultation, e-diagnostics, e-pharmacy, and health counselling; or Salua García (Colombia), co-founder of Symplifica, a tech startup with a mobile app that facilitates the formalization of domestic workers.

Let’s keep supporting girls in ICT, those young innovators that are redrawing the future of AI and bringing digital equality closer.

Diana Gutierrez is Manager UNDP Global Programme on Business for Gender Equality and Global Lead of Gender & Digital.

Source UNDP

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