“Zambia has the potential to become a disability champion in the African region” – UN expert

“There are good opportunities to achieve the realisation of rights of persons with disabilities in Zambia,” today said United Nations Special Rapporteur Catalina Devandas, while urging the Government to fully implement a number of well-formulated and well-intended policies and strategies.
“Zambia has the potential to become a disability champion in the African region, provided that the Government makes it a priority to implement the policy and legal framework on disability,” Ms. Devandas said at the end of her first official visit* to the country to assess the level of enjoyment of the rights of persons with disabilities.

The UN expert highlighted numerous initiatives by the Zambian authorities to improve the protection framework for persons with disabilities, including the strengthening of the Zambia Agency for Persons with Disabilities, the production of a National Disability Survey, and the significant efforts undertaken to make its social protection framework inclusive of persons with disabilities.

In that regard, she encouraged the Government to continue advancing in the areas of accessibility, education, health, and employment, through the adoption of the necessary measures required to ensure the implementation and enforcement of the Persons with Disabilities Act and other relevant policies.

On the other hand, the Special Rapporteur also identified urgent challenges to be addressed, such as the stark disparities between rural and urban areas in relation to accessibility and availability of services. In addition, Ms. Devandas highlighted the situation of persons with albinism, who live in constant fear of being attacked and killed for their body parts, and urged the authorities to protect women and girls with disabilities, who are at heightened risk of sexual and gender-based violence.

The human rights expert also drew attention that the situation of persons with psychosocial or intellectual disabilities is of particular concern: “Deprivation of liberty on the basis of disability remains an accepted practice in Zambia,” she said pointing at the widespread assumption that persons with psychosocial or intellectual impairments have no legal capacity due to the lack of ‘mental capacities’.

During her stay, the Special Rapporteur visited the Chainama Hills Hospital in Lusaka and the psychiatric unit of the General Hospital in Ndola. “I was particularly appalled by the conditions of the psychiatric unit in Ndola, where persons with psychosocial disabilities are deprived of their liberty without their informed consent, are subjected to seclusion and forced treatment, including forced sterilization of women with disabilities,” she explained.

While she welcomed the efforts undertaken to draft a new Mental Health Bill, she urged the Government “to close the mental health settlements where persons with psychosocial disabilities are confined in remote areas of the country, and to invest instead in adequate and comprehensive community-based supports services.”

Other major challenges encountered by the independent expert are in the area of access to justice. “Complaints of abuse and discrimination by women and girls are mostly overlooked, and the majority of court buildings are inaccessible,” Ms. Devandas said. “Deaf persons are denied access to justice on equal basis with others, as sign language interpretation is not provided in courts.”

The UN Special Rapporteur visited the cities of Lusaka and Ndola, where she met with a variety of senior Government officials, and held discussions with persons with disabilities and their representative organizations, other civil society actors, the UN system, and international cooperation actors.

The UN Special Rapporteur will present a report to the Human Rights Council in 2017 on the main findings of her visit.

(*) Check the Special Rapporteur’s full end-of-mission statement: https://iconnect.ohchr.org/EN/NewsEvents/Pages/,DanaInfo=www.ohchr.org+DisplayNews.aspx?NewsID=19890&LangID=E

Distributed by APO (African Press Organization) on behalf of Office of the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR).

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South Sudan: Gunshot victims seek care after Ethiopian border violence

More than three dozen victims of violence have sought assistance at an International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC)-supported hospital in Maiwut. The health facility is now providing medical and surgical care to the wounded of recent attacks near Gambella, Ethiopia, where nearly 200 people were killed and more than 100 children abducted.

Many of the 39 men, women and children admitted to the hospital are suffering from gunshot injuries as a result of the mid-April clashes along the Ethiopian border.

“The team has been working nonstop to deal with the influx of patients,” said Chiyuki Yoshida, the ICRC hospital project manager in Maiwut. “Overcrowding is a challenge since the hospital also continues to receive people affected by severe malnutrition, malaria and violence occurring elsewhere in South Sudan.”

Maiwut hospital is located in the Upper Nile region about 20 kilometers from Gambella. It is the only medical facility in the region providing surgical and advanced health care to the nearly 80,000 people living there.

The ICRC currently supports seven medical and primary health care facilities in South Sudan. Since January this year our teams have performed more than 1,600 surgeries.

Distributed by APO (African Press Organization) on behalf of International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC).

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Media announcement/ 27th AU summit

The theme of the Summit is: “2016: African Year of Human Rights with particular focus on the Rights of Women”

Specific dates for the meetings of the different AU organs and decision-making bodies during the Summit will be as follows:

Sunday 10 to Tuesday 12 July 2016: Thirty second (32nd ) Ordinary Session of the Permanent Representatives Committee (PRC)

Wednesday 13 to Friday 15 July 2016: Twenty ninth (29th ) Ordinary Session of the Executive Council

Sunday 17 to Monday 18 July 2016: Twenty Seventh (27th) Ordinary Session of the Assembly of the Heads of State and Government of the African Union.

Journalists interested in covering the upcoming AU Summit should register through the following link: http://au.int/en/summit/27/accreditation

Journalists are invited to cover all the public sessions opened to the media.

A detail programme of the public events will be made available as soon as possible.

More information with regard to media accreditation and coverage of the Summit is provided on the 27th AU Summit web link:

http://au.int/en/summit/27

Distributed by APO (African Press Organization) on behalf of African Union Commission (AUC).

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AUC Chairperson condolences message on the death of Papa Wemba

The Chairperson of the African Union Commission (AUC), Dr. Nkosazana Dlamini Zuma, has extended her heartfelt condolences and conveyed her sympathies to the friends, fans and family of the African musician of Congolese origin, Papa Wemba, who died while performing at a concert in Abidjan, Côte d’Ivoire, on Saturday, 24 April 2016.

“The passing of Papa Wemba is a tragic loss, not only for the people of the Democratice Republic of Congo, but for Africa as a whole and the world in general”, Dr. Dlamini Zuma said. “His music served both as a cultural tool for bringing Africa’s diverse populations together, but also, crucially, to project an African voice, into the global scheme. His talent and spirit will be greatly missed”, she added.

With a career spanning over four decades and resulting in numerous national and international accolades, Papa Wemba, born Jules Shungu Wembadio Pene Kikumba in Kinshasa, Democratic Republic of Congo, is a legend and icon in African music. Known also as Africa’s King of Rhumba Rock, Papa Wemba’s original sounds have roused and inspired many across the African continent, Europe and beyond.

Papa Wemba’s unique voice to contribute to a more positive narrative about Africa – beyond war, famine and poverty – and his music has been a tool for the promotion of African integration through arts and culture. He stood for, and advocated for a self-reliant Africa.

In the spirit of giving his best to Africa, the King of Rhumba Rock was one of the artists that came to Addis Ababa, Ethiopia, when we were celebrating 50th anniversary of our continental organization OAU/AU, in May 2013.

Papa Wemba may be gone, but his music will stay with us forever.

Distributed by APO (African Press Organization) on behalf of African Union Commission (AUC).

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Experts call for development of continental qualification frameworks for enhancing skills portability and quality of training across Africa

The Department of Human Resources, Sciences and Technology (HRST) convened an Expert’s Workshop on Skills Portability and the Development of a Continental Qualification Framework on 26th April, 2016, to review the expert report on Skills Portability at Regional Economic Communities (RECs) and Continental Levels. The workshop focused on qualification frameworks and quality of skills development programmes in formal, informal and non-formal systems and across countries in a bid to harmonize the systems.

To alleviate skills imbalances across sectors and regions in Africa and promote employability of African youth, the Joint Labour Migration Programme (JLMP) of AU-ILO-IOM-ECA-UNDP developed initiative titled “Skills recognition for better labour mobility in Africa.” This is in line with the Skills revolution called for by Agenda 2063, as well as the Migration Policy Framework for Africa, the African Common Position on Migration and Development and the Joint AU-EU Declaration on Migration and Development.The Continental Qualification Framework will enable recognition of credentials that will facilitate transferability of knowledge, skills and expertise across the continent and globally.

During the opening of the workshop, the Head of Education and Acting Head of the Youth, HRST, Dr. Beatrice Njenga emphasised that ‘resolving the problem of skills shortages will require particular focus on innovation, as well as the development of talent and entrepreneurship to enable youth benefit from and contribute to opportunities that would offer decent incomes and prosperity.’ She underscored that the issue of Skills Development on the continent perfectly resonates with the imperative to develop Africa’s youth into a major resource for achieving Africa’s integration, peace and prosperity for ‘the Africa we want.’ For that matter, she said that education and training have to be closely linked with sectoral development programmes especially in agriculture, infrastructure and energy, trade and industry; and desired values of democracy, good governance and peace also need to be taken into account in curriculum development. She called for private sector to be involved in ensuring alignment and relevance.

Dr. Beatrice Njenga laid out the expectations of the deliberations, namely a road map on the way forward in the development and implementation of a Continental Qualifications Framework. Accordingly, she underlined that this will be the time to learn from what obtains in the various RECs represented here, with regards to the landscape in harmonization efforts – the nexus between skills development, and migration should be eventually tightened to enhance employability and integration within the continent.

In his introductory remark, the representative from the UNECA and key partner in the JLMP initiative, Mr. Adrian Gauci, reinstated the importance of the workshop, by highlighting a key outcome of the Conference of Ministers of Finance where a side event on migration tasked AUC and UNECA to set up a high level panel on Migration in which skill portability will be a key issue.

A summary of the report on Skills Portability was presented by the consultant Mr. Francesco Panzica, and the experts received it well and made major contributions that will be taken on board in the road map.

Distributed by APO (African Press Organization) on behalf of African Union Commission (AUC).

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Briefing by Ambassador Schlaga on the current developments of the German-Namibian dialogue between Dr. Ngavirue and Mr. Polenz

Invitation to a media briefing with Ambassador Christian Schlaga on the current developments of the German-Namibian dialogue between the Special Envoy of Namibia, Dr. Zed Ngavirue and the Special Envoy of Germany, Mr Ruprecht Polenz, who met in Berlin this week.

Date: 28 April 2016, 15:00

Venue: Embassy of the Federal Republic of Germany, Sanlam Centre, 6 th Floor, 145

Independence Avenue

Please note:

Apologies for the short notice!

Media Identification upon entry required!

Distributed by APO (African Press Organization) on behalf of The Embassy of the Federal Republic of Germany – Windhoek.

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The African Union Commission participates at the model of the African Union in Bayreuth, Germany

H.E. Dr. Aisha Laraba Abdullahi, Commissioner for Political Affairs of the African Union Commission was represented by Amb. Salah S. Hammad, Senior. Human Rights Expert, at the 1st Model African Union, which was held in Bayreuth, Germany. The conference took place in Bayreuth from 21st to 24th April 2016.

The Model African Union was organized by the International Graduate School of African Studies-BIGSAS, at Bayreuth University in Germany under the theme “Towards a peaceful, prosperous and more integrated Africa”.

The Model African Union Bayreuth (MAU-Bayreuth) is an education-oriented association with particular focus on Africa, with membership comprising of students of all levels and disciplines at the University of Bayreuth. The first of its kind in Germany, this association seeks to build academic as well as non-academic competences and practical skills among its members in diverse areas of socio-political, economic and educational issues.

In his statement, Amb. Hammad stated that “if ever there was a time that we should cherish the ideals and the messages in the voices and words of the founding fathers that time is now. More than ever before, the Union that you have all established with foresight and vision is faced with the challenge of asserting its values and political interests in a context of diversity and difference. The need for political unity was echoed as far back as 1961 by the illustrious Dr. Kwame Nkrumah when he wrote that ‘individually, the independent states of Africa, some of them potentially rich, others poor, can do little for their people.”

Amb. Hammad also added that “the commitment to a political union and an optimum balance has created within the African Union, a momentum towards developing and domesticating inspiring shared values. Certainly, by way of adopting collective instruments, Member States have demonstrated a desire for an integrated future through value harmonisation on the basis of agreed principles and practices. Hence, there has never been any doubt that adopted shared values serve to inspire action and are the operational mechanisms for achieving the desire for a better future for all. These instruments and the practical modalities for their implementation further serve to indicate that shared values are more than just philosophical dispositions and can and do serve to assert common approaches to challenges and provide the African voice on the global stage. With the adopted shared values, we have witnessed that the Union and its Member States have become less reserved in their approach to identifying challenges, as they should, when problems are confronted. Member States have also reflected that they are cognizant and appreciative of local circumstances in the applicability of collectively established standards and, at the same time, have demonstrated a willingness to uphold our global commitments.”

The Conference brought together students interested in Africa issues from a number of German universities’ and it was well attended. The Conference ended by adopting three resolutions including one on supporting the fight against female genital mutilation.

Distributed by APO (African Press Organization) on behalf of African Union Commission (AUC).

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UNDP Administrator Helen Clark to Visit Kenya to Promote Wildlife Conservation

The UNDP Administrator Helen Clark will visit Kenya on an official mission to promote wildlife conservation on 29th and 30th April. The visit will coincide with the world’s largest destruction of elephant tusks by the Government of Kenya. During her visit she will emphasize the importance of conservation and the role played by UNDP and other UN agencies to support countries in their conservation efforts. She will also attend a Giants Club meeting to discuss and identify global opportunities to curb poaching and trafficking of wildlife.

African countries are currently fighting to protect their natural heritage, including wildlife, which has traditionally made an important social and economic contribution. Kenya has a thriving tourism industry with over one million tourists visiting its game parks and wildlife sanctuaries, contributing close to 12% of Kenya’s GDP and directly employing more than one million people.

“The poaching and trafficking of wildlife is abhorrent and threatens to rob us of our common heritage,” said Helen Clark in an opinion piece for The Independent newspaper. “This multi-billion dollar worldwide trade is at once a security issue, an environmental issue, and a development issue – and is pushing vulnerable and endangered species toward extinction. At the current rate of loss, wildlife species like African elephants could disappear from the wild in our lifetimes.”

Combating the illegal wildlife trade is central to making progress on the new 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development and the SDGs. The new global platform for development recognizes that eradicating poverty in all its forms and dimensions is a global challenge that we must all work hard to achieve, and that maintaining the integrity of the natural ecosystems is critical for global development and poverty reduction. Goal 14 calls for the conservation and sustainable use the oceans, seas and marine resources for sustainable development. This goal calls for an end to illegal and unreported fishing, and destructive fishing practices. In addition SDG 15 seeks to ‘Protect, restore, and promote sustainable use of terrestrial ecosystems, sustainably manage forests, combat desertification, halt and reverse land degradation, and halt biodiversity loss’. This goal has targets aimed at stopping the poaching and trafficking of protected species of flora and fauna.

UNDP is currently supporting the Kenya Wildlife Service and local community partners, in the Amboseli-Chyulu ecosystem to invest in successful community conservancies’ approach, in which Kenya is a world leader. Also, through the GEF-funded Small Grants Programme, UNDP has supported the Kenya Wildlife Conservancies Association, a national network organization.
The UNDP Kenya programme also supports the country to meet obligations to international environment agreements while enhancing the contribution of natural resources and the environment to poverty reduction and sustainable socio-economic development. UNDP seeks to realize this by supporting the government to develop appropriate policies, strategies, tools and innovative programs that integrate environment into national planning and budgeting processes together with promoting effective management of natural resources for production and income diversification. To do this UNDP Kenya has an environmental portfolio of about USD 82 million to be implemented in the next three years.

UNDP also works with various global partners like the Global Environmental Facility (GEF), the World Bank, the UN Environment Programme (UNEP), Asian Development Bank, the International Union for Conservation of Nature, and the World Wildlife Fund to enhance conservation and protection of wildlife through financial and technical support.

Editor’s Note: Helen Clark is the Administrator of the United Nations Development Programme and the former Prime Minister of New Zealand.

Distributed by APO (African Press Organization) on behalf of United Nations Development Programme (UNDP).

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PIDA a strategic continental initiative for Africa’s Integration

The Programme for Infrastructure Development in Africa (PIDA) is a strategic continental initiative which has the buy-in of all African countries, for mobilizing resources to transform Africa through modern infrastructure which will unlock the continent’s huge growth potential and put Africa on the path to accelerated economic and social development.

African economies are growing rapidly propelled by new resource discoveries, urbanization, a youthful population, deepening regional integration arrangements and increased integration of the continent into the global economy. These developments require sound and versatile infrastructure and the enabling environment for the infrastructure systems to perform efficiently and optimally. PIDA identifies priority continental projects in trans-boundary water, energy, transport and ICT to be realised by 2040, will have the greatest transformational impact on the continent. That is – projects that, if executed – will catalyse further infrastructure investments; open up important trade routes for landlocked countries; dramatically increase access to improved transport, electricity, ICT and water services; and support other economic activities. The total estimated investment cost is US$360 billion, or around US$9 billion per year which is less than 1% of Africa’s GDP.

The PIDA Priority Action Plan (PAP) includes 51 priority projects and programmes across the major infrastructure sectors and regions of Africa at a cost of US$68 billion. Africa presently receives about US$50 billion per annum in development assistance, and imports around US$55 billion in food every year. Investing less than US$70 billion over the next 8 years in the selected infrastructure projects could unlock an increase in trade up to 25% and additional GDP growth of up to 2% per year.

PIDA priority projects were selected based on rigorous economic analysis and selection criteria, taking into account national and regional infrastructure development plans, and in close consultation with Member States, Regional Economic Communities (RECs), development partners and the private sector.

At their 18thAfrican Union Assembly, African Heads of State and Government formally adopted PIDA as a continental programme signalling high-level political commitment to adopting a coordinated continental strategy to tackle the continent’s infrastructure needs in a bold and innovative way. In approving PIDA, the Heads of State called for concerted action by all concerned to mobilise the necessary resources to make PIDA a reality by rallying African and international partners, both public and private to work together to make the vision of a transformed Africa, a reality.

The African policy makers recognised that the lack of capacity and funds in project preparation combined with a weak involvement of the private sector are the main issues that constitute the bottlenecks to PIDA implementation.

As a response, they set up the Continental Business Network (CBN) to facilitate private sector involvement in essential continent-wide infrastructure projects through the creation of a high-level private sector forum. This is an outstanding instrument towards a common understanding of the investment risks (and rewards) regarding infrastructure projects.

As a means to fast-track the implementation of PIDA Priority Action Plan (PIDA-PAP), the African Union Commission (AUC), the NEPAD Planning and Coordination Agency (NPCA) and the African Development Bank (AfDB) organized the First PIDA Week from 13 to 17 November 2015 in Abidjan.

The PIDA Week was attended by representatives of continental institutions (AUC, AfDB, NPCA), Regional Economic Communities RECs (ECOWAS, ECCAS, COMESA, SADC, UMA), UNECA, development partners (Germany, European Union, Japan), regional banks (DBSA), private sector, academia, journalists, etc. 120 people attended the PIDA Week.

On the ground some PIDA projects have made significant move among which: The Kaleta hydropower project in Guinea is currently operational. This project that significantly improves the energy supply in Guinea is funded by Chinese cooperation. Other important project such as the Internet Exchange point implemented by African Union Commission, the Grand Renaissance Dam in Ethiopia, and the Abidjan-Lagos Transport Corridor can be mentioned as well.

In collaboration with NPCA, AfDB and RECs with the support of keys partners, AUC is focusing on the implementation of following activities: Strengthen the PIDA SDM to grow to targeted value of $5 million and increase funding of Nepad Infrastructure Projects Preparation Facility (NEPAD IPPF) with the contribution of AU States members; Establish a sub-committee to develop regional frameworks for infrastructure financing that includes innovative financing such as blended financing, diaspora bonds, and domestic resources. Bridge Infrastructure Financing gaps through well prepared projects

Distributed by APO (African Press Organization) on behalf of African Union Commission (AUC).

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MSD Joins Campaign to ‘Close the Immunization Gap’and “Stay Polio Free” in Africa

MSD (www.MSD.com), known as Merck & Co., Inc. in the United States and Canada, has added its voice to the World Health Organization (WHO) campaign to promote the use of vaccines against some of the world’s deadliest diseases, and for countries to strengthen immunization services and systems.

World Immunization Week, a global awareness campaign launched by WHO in 2012 and commemorated in the last week of April, aims to promote the use of vaccines to help protect people of all ages against disease. For the second year running, the Close the Immunization Gap campaign will be celebrating the achievements to date with an emphasis on the unmet need amongst adolescents and adult vaccine uptake(1).

The theme for African Vaccination Week 2016 is “Close the immunization gap. Stay polio free!” (#AVW16) focusing attention on the need to attain universal immunization coverage in the African region. The theme also marks the celebration of the important polio eradication milestone that has been reached in the African region, and calls on African countries to stay vigilant in the fight against polio, and stay polio free.

“Vaccines are one of the greatest public health success stories in history. For more than 100 years, our scientists have been discovering vaccines that have been impacting lives. By helping healthy people stay healthy, vaccines remove a major barrier to human an economic development,” said Farouk Shamas Jiwa, sub-Saharan Africa director for Policy and Corporate Responsibility at MSD.

Africa has made several gains beyond increasing reach of immunisation; some diseases have been eliminated through wide-scale immunisation programmes. Vaccines are available in public vaccination programmes in the vast majority of African countries, thanks to sustained political will, international support and innovative public/private partnerships(2). Despite recent progress within African countries, there are still significant opportunities provided by immunization, particularly to help protect against human papillomavirus (HPV) and cervical cancer.

Africa and Human Papillomavirus

  • An estimated 266,000 women die every year from cervical cancer. Over 85% of those deaths occur among women in developing countries. Without changes in prevention and control, cervical cancer deaths are forecast to rise to 416,000 by 2035; and virtually all of those deaths will be in developing countries(3).
  • Cervical cancer is the most common of all cancers in Africa and thus continues to be a significant threat that demands urgent attention in the African Region. In 2012, over half a million new cases of cervical cancer were diagnosed worldwide with 1 in 5 being in sub-Saharan Africa(4).
  • The primary cause of cervical pre-cancerous lesions and cancer is persistent or chronic infection with one or more types of the high risk HPV. HPV is the most common sexually acquired infection and is most often acquired in adolescence and young adults upon sexual debut(4).
  • Cervical cancer is a preventable disease. Immunisation, together with screening and treatment, is the best strategy to rapidly reduce the burden of cervical cancer(5).

In 2016, MSD is celebrating its 125th year and the 10th anniversary of its vaccines for rotavirus, human papilloma virus, and shingles.

“We must continue to build on the wonderful momentum we have. It will take a collective, collaborative effort involving governments, donors, patient organizations, healthcare professionals, NGOs, multilateral organizations and others in the private sector – to increase access to life-saving vaccines and to strengthen immunization programmes. Preventing disease though vaccination is about securing the future – in particular for African women and girls. Our goal is to sustain and improve the quality of life and health of communities and countries across Africa. Our commitment is steadfast as we work to increase access to vaccines now and in the future,” Mr. Jiwa said.

Distributed by APO (African Press Organization) on behalf of MSD.

Media Contacts:
Muchena Zigomo
(+27) 11 655 3000
muchena.zigomo@merck.com

Farouk Shamas Jiwa
(+41) 799 623 934
farouk.jiwa@merck.com

About MSD
For 125 years, MSD (www.MSD.com) has been a global health care leader working to help the world be well. MSD is a tradename of Merck & Co., Inc., with headquarters in Kenilworth, N.J., USA. Through our prescription medicines, vaccines, biologic therapies, and animal health products, we work with customers and operate in more than 140 countries to deliver innovative health solutions. We also demonstrate our commitment to increasing access to healthcare through far-reaching policies, programs and partnerships. For more information, visit www.MSD.com or www.MSD.co. za.

References:
1. http://who.int/campaigns/immunization-week/2016/event/en/
2. http://sa.au.int/en/sites/default/files/2014_Status_Report_on%20MNCH%20-%20English_1.pdf
3. http://www.gavi.org/support/nvs/human-papillomavirus-vaccine-support/?utm_source=The+Alliance+at+work&utm_campaign=c7db6ec405-The_Alliance_at_Work_Issue_7&utm_medium=email&utm_term=0_b075913875-c7db6ec405-407303021
4. http://www.afro.who.int/en/media-centre/pressreleases/item/7550-implementing-cervical-cancer-interventions-key-to-save-african-women.html
5. http://www.gavi.org/support/nvs/human-papillomavirus-vaccine-support/

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The African Union Welcomes the Return of Dr. Riek Machar to Juba

The Chairperson of the Commission of the African Union [AU], Dr. Nkosazana Dlamini-Zuma, welcomes the return of the leader of the Sudan People’s Liberation Movement/Army-In Opposition (SPLM/IO), Dr. Riek Machar, to Juba on 26 April 2016. In this context, the Chairperson equally thanks President Salva Kiir Mayardit and the Government of South Sudan for facilitating the immediate swearing-in of Dr. Machar as the First Vice President of the Republic of South Sudan. The Chairperson expresses her hope and expectation that these measures will boost the efforts towards the immediate formation of a Transitional Government of National Unity.

On this happy occasion, the Chairperson congratulates the people of South Sudan, and commends the leadership displayed by President Salva Kiir and Dr. Riek Machar, in their commitment to fully implement the Agreement for the Resolution of the Conflict in South Sudan, and their patriotic action to promote the long?term stabilization and reconstruction of the country. The Chairperson encourages the two leaders to maintain the momentum and accelerate the work of the Transitional Government of National Unity, and calls upon all South Sudanese to dedicate themselves to rebuild their country in earnest, foster strong institutions necessary for an enduring political system and revitalize their national economy. She stresses the imperative of a united South Sudan, as the country embarks on a new chapter in its history.

The Chairperson commends the work of the AU High Representative for South Sudan, former President Alpha Oumar Konare of Mali, for the dedication he showed in continuously engaging with the South Sudanese, regional and international stakeholders in successfully facilitating the return of Dr. Riek Machar to Juba. In the same vein, the Chairperson commends the ongoing efforts of the Chairperson of the Joint Monitoring and Evaluation Commission, former President Festus Gontebanye Mogae.

The Chairperson hails the IGAD Member Countries, the members of the AU High Level ad hoc Committee for South Sudan, the United Nations Mission in South Sudan and the international partners for their continued support in the promotion of peace and security in South Sudan. While urging all South Sudanese stakeholders to continue rebuilding their country, the Chairperson reassures the people and Government of South Sudan of the AU’s unwavering support in their national endeavor.

– See more at: http://www.peaceau.org/en/article/african-union-welcomes-the-return-of-dr-riek-machar-to-juba#sthash.cv1Rs0vb.dpuf

Distributed by APO (African Press Organization) on behalf of African Union Commission (AUC).

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Congo : Serious human rights violations behind closed doors in the Pool

FIDH, OCDH and the #MyVoteMustCount Coalition member organisations are extremely concerned about the major military and police operations currently ongoing in the Pool region. The violence has already led to dozens of people killed and injured, the destruction of many buildings including schools, medical centers and churches, and numerous arrests. While the security forces prohibit almost all access to the Pool department, our organisations are concerned about a crackdown behind closed doors against opponents to the recent and contested re-election of President Denis Sassou Nguesso. Our organisations urge the authorities to stop all operations of the security forces, to allow access to populations and to conduct independent investigations into these events.

For over two weeks, the Congolese army and police have been conducting major operations in the Pool region, officially against former members of the Ninja militia and its former leader, Frédéric Bintsmou aka Pastor Ntumi, former general delegate to the President in charge of the promotion of peace and war-related reparations. Until April 14, defence and security forces also conducted shelling with heavy weapons and bombardments, followed by ground offensives, including against the villages of Vindza, Kibouendé, Soumouna and Mayama. Even though the authorities assert that there are no civilian casualties, the testimonies received by our organisations mention dozens of people killed and injured. Many protected buildings such as schools, medical centers and churches have been struck, or even targeted. Populations have deserted cities and sought refuge in the bush where they survive in extreme precariousness and insecurity. Meanwhile, security forces carry out waves of arrests of people suspected to be former Ninja fighters, Pastor Ntumi rebel group. For instance in Brazzaville, Kinkala and Kindamba dozens of young people identified as former Ninjas were arrested after the events of April 4 in Brazzaville and during the ongoing operations in the Pool Department, and are still being held in Brazzaville. Congolese authorities also subject the Pool region to a complete blockade, preventing all non-tightly controlled access, raising fears that serious violations of human rights and international humanitarian law are perpetrated behind closed doors against the civilian population.

” Congolese authorities must immediately stop all operations by security forces in the Pool, and facilitate the return and access to affected populations. The ongoing blockade is unacceptable. All light must be shed on recent weeks’ events”, declared Dismas Kitenge, FIDH vice-president.

Congolese authorities seem to have engaged those military operations in the Pool in response to the violence that occurred on April 4, the night before the validation by the Constitutional Court of Denis Sassou-Nguesso first round victory at the presidential election with over 60% of votes. That day, heavy and automatic weapon shots have been heard in the southern districts of Brazzaville. In particular, a military barracks was attacked, two police stations and a municipality building were burnt to the ground and hundreds of people fled to reach the north of Brazzaville. The violence that occurred in Brazzaville between April 4 and 10 reportedly killed at least 17 people and injured dozens, according to various sources.

The authorities have however provided no toll of these events, qualifying them as “terrorist acts” perpetrated by members of the Ninja rebel militias under the supervision of Pastor Ntumi. While the Congolese authorities justify their operations in the Pool as a fight against terrorism, Pastor Ntumi denied any involvement in the April 4 events in Brazzaville in a statement published on April 5. Dozens of people, presented as Ninjas combatants and suspected of being behind those attacks, were arrested by the police in the days following the violence. Series of arrests of high profile individuals, including executives of campaign directories of the candidates Jean-Marie Michel Mokoko and Okombi Salissa accused of “endangering the security of the state”, also continue.

” The confiscation of power and the inability of alternating heads of States adds to the the population’s frustrationsand increases the temptation for the opposition to the regime to radicalize. The manipulation of the fight against terrorism for the purpose of political repression against entire groups of the population could degenerate into a real crisis or even plunge the country into a civil war. To avoid chaos, the government must release all opponents, open an inclusive political dialogue and commit to respecting public and individual freedoms”, declared Trésor Nzila, OCDH executive director.

After 32 years in power, Denis Sassou-Nguesso was sworn in on April 16, for a five year term, following an election that took place during a nationwide telecommunication blackout – suspended for safety reasons according to the government. The election was widely marred by frauds and irregularities, denounced by Congolese opposition and civil society, as well as part of the international community, including Canada, the United States and the European Union.

Denis Sassou-Nguesso has forced its way through his “re-election” in defiance of constitutional legality and African Union texts. Barred from running by the provisions of the previous Constitution, the ruling regime organized on October 25, 2015, less than 5 months before the presidential election, a referendum to adopt a new constitution. This new Constitution in force since November 6, 2015 allows the president to run for further terms. By advancing the elections by several months and organizing the victory of the ruling president with a “knock-out”, according to the words consecrated by several African leaders, the regime organized a real coup

” The pre-election period was marked by numerous human rights violations and fundamental freedoms abuses, including against opposition activists who have been subject to several arrests and detentions. Denis Sassou-Nguesso’s regime responded to the mobilisation of the opposition and civil society against the constitutional amendment through repression. After the presidential election, intimidations continue and freedoms are still confiscated in what appears to be a clear strategy to silence all dissenting voices” said our organizations.

Context

President Denis Sassou Nguesso was sworn in on April 16, 2016 for a third term after a disputed election. On September 22, 2015, he expressed his willingness to organise a referendum to decide on a “change” of the constitution in force since 2002. This amendment intended to allow him to run for a third consecutive presidential term. Opponents, who considered it an attempted constitutional coup, massively mobilized and were severely repressed on October 20 and 21, 2015. At least 20 people were killed in Brazzaville, Pointe Noire and in other parts of the country according to the figures ascertained by our organisations.

Denis Sassou Nguesso has been in power since 1979. In 1992, he lost the first pluralist elections before returning to power by force of arms in 1997, following more than two years of civil war that has led to the death of 4 000 to 10 000 people as well as thousands of displaced and refugees. Over those years, Denis Sassou Nguesso Cobras militias have successively confronted Congolese armed forces and the Zoulous and Cocoyes militias of the president Pascal Lissouba, then the ninjas militias of the prime minister Bernard Kolélas. The intervention of the Angolan armed forces of José Eduardo Dos Santos allowed him to prevail militarily and to regain power. Fighting resumed against the Ninja militias led by Pastor Ntumi in the Pool region that became inaccessible and where the civilian population was victim of many abuses. In 1999 the government’s security services were accused of having massacred more than 300 refugees returning to the Congo on Brazzaville Beach. The case is still pending before French courts. Since the 2002 election, Denis Sassou Nguesso has been reelected in disputed elections.

“The #MyVoteMustCount coalition”

Between 2014 and 2016, 52 elections including 25 presidential elections have been scheduled in 27 African countries. To avoid manipulation, fraud, and violence resulting from shortened elections, African and international civil societies have decided to mobilize through the #MyVoteMustCount campaign. Civil societies are demanding that their leaders respect the legitimate rights of the people to choose their representatives in fair, free and transparent elections through public awareness, field actions and political advocacy prior to each election between now and 2016.

FIDH, OCDH and the #MyVoteMustCount Coalition member organisations are extremely concerned about the major military and police operations currently ongoing in the Pool region. The violence has already led to dozens of people killed and injured, the destruction of many buildings including schools, medical centers and churches, and numerous arrests. While the security forces prohibit almost all access to the Pool department, our organisations are concerned about a crackdown behind closed doors against opponents to the recent and contested re-election of President Denis Sassou Nguesso. Our organisations urge the authorities to stop all operations of the security forces, to allow access to populations and to conduct independent investigations into these events.

[Congo – repression in the Pool]
© AFP

For over two weeks, the Congolese army and police have been conducting major operations in the Pool region, officially against former members of the Ninja militia and its former leader, Frédéric Bintsmou aka Pastor Ntumi, former general delegate to the President in charge of the promotion of peace and war-related reparations. Until April 14, defence and security forces also conducted shelling with heavy weapons and bombardments, followed by ground offensives, including against the villages of Vindza, Kibouendé, Soumouna and Mayama. Even though the authorities assert that there are no civilian casualties, the testimonies received by our organisations mention dozens of people killed and injured. Many protected buildings such as schools, medical centers and churches have been struck, or even targeted. Populations have deserted cities and sought refuge in the bush where they survive in extreme precariousness and insecurity. Meanwhile, security forces carry out waves of arrests of people suspected to be former Ninja fighters, Pastor Ntumi rebel group. For instance in Brazzaville, Kinkala and Kindamba dozens of young people identified as former Ninjas were arrested after the events of April 4 in Brazzaville and during the ongoing operations in the Pool Department, and are still being held in Brazzaville. Congolese authorities also subject the Pool region to a complete blockade, preventing all non-tightly controlled access, raising fears that serious violations of human rights and international humanitarian law are perpetrated behind closed doors against the civilian population.

” Congolese authorities must immediately stop all operations by security forces in the Pool, and facilitate the return and access to affected populations. The ongoing blockade is unacceptable. All light must be shed on recent weeks’ events”, declared Dismas Kitenge, FIDH vice-president.

Congolese authorities seem to have engaged those military operations in the Pool in response to the violence that occurred on April 4, the night before the validation by the Constitutional Court of Denis Sassou-Nguesso first round victory at the presidential election with over 60% of votes. That day, heavy and automatic weapon shots have been heard in the southern districts of Brazzaville. In particular, a military barracks was attacked, two police stations and a municipality building were burnt to the ground and hundreds of people fled to reach the north of Brazzaville. The violence that occurred in Brazzaville between April 4 and 10 reportedly killed at least 17 people and injured dozens, according to various sources.

The authorities have however provided no toll of these events, qualifying them as “terrorist acts” perpetrated by members of the Ninja rebel militias under the supervision of Pastor Ntumi. While the Congolese authorities justify their operations in the Pool as a fight against terrorism, Pastor Ntumi denied any involvement in the April 4 events in Brazzaville in a statement published on April 5. Dozens of people, presented as Ninjas combatants and suspected of being behind those attacks, were arrested by the police in the days following the violence. Series of arrests of high profile individuals, including executives of campaign directories of the candidates Jean-Marie Michel Mokoko and Okombi Salissa accused of “endangering the security of the state”, also continue.

” The confiscation of power and the inability of alternating heads of States adds to the the population’s frustrationsand increases the temptation for the opposition to the regime to radicalize. The manipulation of the fight against terrorism for the purpose of political repression against entire groups of the population could degenerate into a real crisis or even plunge the country into a civil war. To avoid chaos, the government must release all opponents, open an inclusive political dialogue and commit to respecting public and individual freedoms”, declared Trésor Nzila, OCDH executive director.

After 32 years in power, Denis Sassou-Nguesso was sworn in on April 16, for a five year term, following an election that took place during a nationwide telecommunication blackout – suspended for safety reasons according to the government. The election was widely marred by frauds and irregularities, denounced by Congolese opposition and civil society, as well as part of the international community, including Canada, the United States and the European Union.

Denis Sassou-Nguesso has forced its way through his “re-election” in defiance of constitutional legality and African Union texts. Barred from running by the provisions of the previous Constitution, the ruling regime organized on October 25, 2015, less than 5 months before the presidential election, a referendum to adopt a new constitution. This new Constitution in force since November 6, 2015 allows the president to run for further terms. By advancing the elections by several months and organizing the victory of the ruling president with a “knock-out”, according to the words consecrated by several African leaders, the regime organized a real coup

” The pre-election period was marked by numerous human rights violations and fundamental freedoms abuses, including against opposition activists who have been subject to several arrests and detentions. Denis Sassou-Nguesso’s regime responded to the mobilisation of the opposition and civil society against the constitutional amendment through repression. After the presidential election, intimidations continue and freedoms are still confiscated in what appears to be a clear strategy to silence all dissenting voices” said our organizations.

Context

President Denis Sassou Nguesso was sworn in on April 16, 2016 for a third term after a disputed election. On September 22, 2015, he expressed his willingness to organise a referendum to decide on a “change” of the constitution in force since 2002. This amendment intended to allow him to run for a third consecutive presidential term. Opponents, who considered it an attempted constitutional coup, massively mobilized and were severely repressed on October 20 and 21, 2015. At least 20 people were killed in Brazzaville, Pointe Noire and in other parts of the country according to the figures ascertained by our organisations.

Denis Sassou Nguesso has been in power since 1979. In 1992, he lost the first pluralist elections before returning to power by force of arms in 1997, following more than two years of civil war that has led to the death of 4 000 to 10 000 people as well as thousands of displaced and refugees. Over those years, Denis Sassou Nguesso Cobras militias have successively confronted Congolese armed forces and the Zoulous and Cocoyes militias of the president Pascal Lissouba, then the ninjas militias of the prime minister Bernard Kolélas. The intervention of the Angolan armed forces of José Eduardo Dos Santos allowed him to prevail militarily and to regain power. Fighting resumed against the Ninja militias led by Pastor Ntumi in the Pool region that became inaccessible and where the civilian population was victim of many abuses. In 1999 the government’s security services were accused of having massacred more than 300 refugees returning to the Congo on Brazzaville Beach. The case is still pending before French courts. Since the 2002 election, Denis Sassou Nguesso has been reelected in disputed elections.

“The #MyVoteMustCount coalition”

Between 2014 and 2016, 52 elections including 25 presidential elections have been scheduled in 27 African countries. To avoid manipulation, fraud, and violence resulting from shortened elections, African and international civil societies have decided to mobilize through the #MyVoteMustCount campaign. Civil societies are demanding that their leaders respect the legitimate rights of the people to choose their representatives in fair, free and transparent elections through public awareness, field actions and political advocacy prior to each election between now and 2016.

Distributed by APO (African Press Organization) on behalf of International Federation of Human Rights (FIDH).

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Source:: Congo : Serious human rights violations behind closed doors in the Pool

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