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Sharing a tweet, the WHO chief wrote, “Thank you Health Minister Mansukh Mandaviya for announcing India will resume crucial Covid vaccine shipments to COVAX in October.”

World Health Organisation (WHO) director general Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus has thanked Union health minister Mansukh Mandaviya for resuming shipments of vaccines against the coronavirus disease to the global platform COVAX from October.

Sharing a tweet, Ghebreyesus wrote, “Thank you Health Minister Mansukh Mandaviya for announcing India will resume crucial Covid vaccine shipments to COVAX in October.”

Calling it an “important development”, the WHO chief further said India’s contribution will help all COVAX-supported countries reach the 40 per cent vaccination target rate by the end of the year.

On Monday, India, the world’s biggest vaccine manufacturer, said exports of Covid-19 vaccines to the global vaccine alliance Covax will resume in October. Mandaviya said only excess supplies would qualify for export. "We will help other countries and also fulfil our responsibility towards COVAX," he told reporters.

India had put a pause on exporting the doses in April after infections skyrocketed during the second wave of Covid-19 and the government was subjected to intense criticism by the opposition parties for a low rate of inoculation. Before the export ban came into force, India had either sold or donated 66 million doses to nearly 100 countries002E.

Mandaviya said donations can now be resumed since total productions have more than doubled since April and is set to quadruple to over 300 million doses next month. There was also a possibility of the total vaccine production topping 1 million in the last three months of the year as new vaccines from companies such as Biological E may receive approval soon, the health minister said.

The Union government’s resumption of vaccine donations to global alliance COVAX came days before Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s official visit to Washington where US President Joe Biden will be pushing for wider access to vaccines for bringing an end to the ongoing pandemic by 2022.

India has inoculated at least 820 million beneficiaries against Covid-19 till Tuesday, official records showed. Source : ht  

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9 September 2021 Peace and Security

While the choices available in Afghanistan are “not comfortable” ones, continued international engagement and unwavering commitment to the country’s people can help steer the situation to its best possible outcome, the UN’s senior official in Kabul told the Security Council on Thursday.

In particular, Deborah Lyons, UN Special Representative and head of the UN’s assistance mission in Afghanistan, said the world will urgently need to devise a “modus vivendi” to allow billions of dollars in frozen donor funds, to flow into Afghanistan’s fragile economy.

Citing credible reports of reprisal killings, crackdowns on women’s freedoms and other rights violations by the country’s new Taliban-led administration, she added that the UN will also need to decide how to engage with high-level members of the Taliban’s de facto Government - including the newly named prime minister, two deputy prime ministers and foreign minister - who are currently on UN sanctions lists.

Lacking inclusivity

In the new reality that followed the fall of Kabul on 15 August, the world witnessed first scenes of chaos, and then images of protests around Afghanistan.

“These scenes, watched around the world … show that the Taliban have won power, but not yet the confidence of all the Afghan people,” said Ms. Lyons.

As the Council and the global community now ask themselves how to respond, she stressed that there are no “comfortable” answers.

“Those who hoped for, and urged, inclusivity will be disappointed,” she said, noting that no women, minority representatives or non-Taliban individuals have been named as part of the de facto Government.

In addition, several high-ranking officials in the new administration - including the man named Prime Minister, Mullah Hasan Akhund, are currently on UN sanctions lists.

Harassment, intimidation

A mixed picture has emerged in the weeks since the Taliban took power. The UN premises has largely been respected, but there have been worrying reports of harassment and intimidation against its national staff.

Ms. Lyons also expressed concern that, despite many Taliban statements granting general amnesties to former members of the Afghan National Defense and Security Forces and officials of the administration of former President Ashraf Ghani, reports are emerging of house-to-house searches and seizures by Taliban officials.

And while they have provided many assurances of assuring the rights of women, there are new reports that women are being prohibited from working or appearing in public places without male chaperones.

Women and girls

Amidst additional reports that girls’ access to education is once again becoming limited, the Security Council also heard an urgent briefing by Malala Yousafzai, the Pakistani activist, Nobel Prize recipient and founder of the Malala Fund, who reminded delegates what life for women and girls was like under past iterations of Taliban rule.

“I saw my home transformed from a place of peace to a place of fear in just three years,” she said.

Describing her experience of running from gunfire and explosions on the street, she said her childhood 15 years ago was marked by public floggings, schools that closed their doors to girls and banners in shopping malls declaring that women were not allowed.

“This is a story that many Afghan girls may share if we do not act,” she warned, calling on the Council to send a clear and unequivocal message to the Taliban that upholding the rights of women and girls is a precondition of any working relationship.

Shaping the new reality

Emphasizing the UN’s commitment to stay and deliver assistance and support to the people of Afghanistan, Ms. Lyons said that means it must engage with the Taliban, including on ways to allow money to flow into Afghanistan.

A high-level international funding conference is slated for 13 September to help donors meet the country’s rising needs

An additional, looming crisis is the billions of dollars in assets and donor funds that has been frozen by countries in an attempt to deny them to the Taliban.

“The inevitable effect, however, will be a severe economic downturn that could throw millions into poverty and hunger, may generate a massive wave of refugees from Afghanistan, and set Afghanistan back for generations,” the Special Representative warned.

Citing her initial engagement with certain Taliban leaders, she said they clearly stated their need for international assistance, which provides the global community leverage over their actions.

“We can still shape this new reality into a more positive direction,” she stressed. Source : un.org

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21 September 2021 Women

Since the Taliban seized power in Afghanistan last month, they have made some commitments to uphold human rights. However, their subsequent actions have “sadly contradicted” those promises, the UN rights chief told a side event of the General Assembly on Tuesday.

Michelle Bachelet informed a high-level event on safeguarding 20 years of international engagement in Afghanistan, that women have been “progressively excluded from the public sphere”, prohibited from appearing without a male guardian and face increasing restrictions on their right to work.

“The Ministry that once promoted women's rights has been disbanded, and its premises taken over by a Ministry for the propagation of Virtue and the prevention of Vice – an all-male office that will apply guidelines on appropriate dress and behaviour” the human rights chief said.

Moreover, Taliban representatives have dismantled many other former government offices for women’s affairs, gaining access to sensitive files, threatening staff, and accusing women's civil society groups of spreading “anti-Islamic” ideas.

“There is real and palpable fear among Afghan women of a return to the Taliban's brutal and systemic repression of women and girls during the 1990s”, said the High Commissioner.

Severe consequences

Meanwhile, a growing humanitarian crisis across the country is putting one million children in danger of extreme hunger, with families headed by women – most of whom can no longer work – among those at greatest risk.

Over the last 20 years, Afghan women have worked towards ensuring greater respect for and protection of their rights to education, work, political participation and freedom – of movement and expression.

“These rights are part of the evolution of Afghan society and are integral to the development and economic growth of Afghanistan”, underscored Ms. Bachelet.

As women and girls comprise half of Afghanistan’s population, she reminded that the country would benefit by utilizing their talents and capabilities.

Uphold human rights

The High Commissioner said that “first and foremost”, women and girls must have full and equal access to essential services, including healthcare and education; be able to work in every sector of the economy; be free to move without restrictions; and live free of all gender-related violence.

“In short, Afghan women and girls’ human rights must be upheld and defended”.

When engaging with the Taliban, Ms. Bachelet stressed that the international community, including the UN and all its Member States, must commit to “strong advocacy that demands compliance with these basic requirements for any fair and just society”.

“Respect for the rights of the women and girls of Afghanistan now will be a harbinger of the country's future”, she said. “They face extraordinary challenges – and we will remain at their side”.

School closed for girls

Henrietta Fore, Executive Director of the UN Children’s Fund (UNICEF), outlined some of the country’s advances, from tripling the number of schools since 2002 to increasing youth literacy from 47 to 65 per cent over the past decade.

“Over the past 20 years, school enrolment has increased ten-fold, reaching almost 10 million children today. Four million of those children are girls”, she said, calling them “significant improvements.”

Most recently however, girls over the age of 12 have been prohibited from attending school – with the genders separated at the university level and female students prohibited from being taught by male professors, who make up the majority of instructors.

Amidst her deep concern that many girls may not be allowed back to school, the UNICEF chief called it “critically important” that Afghan children have “an equal chance to learn and develop the skills they need to thrive”.

“Girls cannot, and must not, be left behind. It is critical that…[they] are able to resume their education without any further delays”, she spelled out.

Pay teachers, support learning

For this to happen, Ms. Fore stressed the need for female educators to resume teaching and be “actively” protected.   

She noted that the international community must also increase investment in education.

“At a bare minimum, every child needs foundational literacy and numeracy skills,” she said, adding that “girls and boys need qualified female and male teachers, who regularly receive their salaries and are supported to teach”.

Never ‘more urgent time’

Despite improvements, the plight of Afghanistan’s children was clear even before the Taliban took control of the country.

Ms. Fore highlighted that of the 4.2 million children not enrolled in school, 2.6 million are girls. And for those who are, COVID-19 has thwarted ten months of education and threatens the most vulnerable from ever returning to the classroom.

According to UNICEF, “access to quality education” is not only a right for every child, it is also an investment to expand opportunities for each child, their families, and their communities.

“There has never been a more urgent time to stand with the children of Afghanistan – boys but especially girls – and with the people who inspire and guide them”, concluded Ms. Fore, urging everyone to “protect and support these children”. Source : un.org

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21 September 2021 UN Affairs

With humanity on the edge of an abyss, and moving in the wrong direction, the world must wake up, Secretary-General António Guterres said in his keynote address to the UN General Assembly on Tuesday.

Outlining six “Great Divides” that must be bridged now, he called for greater action in areas such as climate policy, gender equality and closing the gap between rich and poor.

“This is our time. A moment for transformation.  An era to re-ignite multilateralism.  An age of possibilities,” the Secretary-General told world leaders and ambassadors.     

“Let us restore trust.  Let us inspire hope. And let us start right now.”

COVID-19 ‘moral indictment’  

Amid “the greatest cascade of crises in our lifetimes” - which include the COVID-19 pandemic, the climate emergency, and upheaval in places such as Afghanistan, Ethiopia and Yemen - Mr. Guterres singled out one disturbing image as indicative of the present moment, citing “the picture we have seen from some parts of the world of COVID-19 vaccines…in the garbage. Expired and unused”.

“On the one hand, we see the vaccines developed in record time - a victory of science and human ingenuity. On the other hand, we see that triumph undone by the tragedy of a lack of political will, selfishness and mistrust.”

For the Secretary-General, the fact that most wealthier countries are vaccinated, while more than 90 per cent of Africans are still awaiting their first dose, was “a moral indictment of the state of our world” and “an obscenity”.

Core values in the crosshairs

While the pandemic and the climate crisis have exposed profound fragilities, countries have shunned solidarity and are instead pursuing what Mr. Guterres described as “a dead end to destruction.”

Additionally, people are at risk of losing faith not only in their governments, but in UN values such as peace, human rights, dignity for all, equality, justice and solidarity.

“Like never before, core values are in the crosshairs,” he said.  “A breakdown in trust is leading to a breakdown in values. Promises, after all, are worthless if people do not see results in their daily lives.”

Bridging the ‘Great Divides’

Stating that “now is the time to deliver”, and also to restore trust and inspire hope, the UN chief stressed that these problems can be solved.  He listed six “Great Divides”, or “Grand Canyons”, that must be bridged, starting with achieving peace.

“For far too many around the world, peace and stability remain a distant dream,” he said, pointing to places such as Afghanistan, Ethiopia, Myanmar, Syria, and the Sahel region in Africa.

“We are also seeing an explosion in seizures of power by force,” he continued, adding that “military coups are back.”

Additionally, lack of international unity is another hindrance, with geopolitical divisions “undermining international cooperation and limiting the capacity of the Security Council to take the necessary decisions.”

The fact that the world’s two largest economies are at odds represents another concern, making it impossible to address “dramatic economic and development challenges.”

The Secretary-General called for cooperation, dialogue and understanding to restore trust and inspire hope among nations, and for investment in prevention, peacekeeping and peacebuilding.

‘Obligation to act’ over climate

Bridging the climate divide will require bridging trust between the North and South, he said, underscoring the need for success at the COP26 UN climate conference in Glasgow, which starts on 31 October.

Countries need to show more ambition in the key areas of mitigation, finance and adaptation, which includes committing to carbon neutrality by 2050, and providing the $100 billion annually promised a decade ago, to support developing nations.

“My message to every Member State is this: Don’t wait for others to make the first move. Do your part,” he said, urging governments to shift to the green economy through steps such as taxing carbon, ending subsidies to fossil fuels and committing to no new coal power plants.

“This is a planetary emergency. We need coalitions of solidarity - between countries that still depend heavily on coal, and countries that have the financial and technical resources to support their transition. We have the opportunity and obligation to act.”

Global vaccine plan

Ending the pandemic for everyone, everywhere, is the first step in bridging the gap between rich and poor, said Mr. Guterres.  He underlined the need for a global vaccine plan to reach 70 per cent of the world’s population by mid-2022, through at least doubling present production capacity.

“We have no time to lose,” he said.  “A lopsided recovery is deepening inequalities.  Richer countries could reach pre-pandemic growth rates by the end of this year while the impacts may last for years in low-income countries.”

While welcoming the recent allocation by the International Monetary Fund (IMF) of $650 billion in Special Drawing Rights (SDRs), a type of foreign reserve asset, he regretted that they were mainly going to countries that need them least.

The Secretary-General advised richer economies to reallocate their surplus SDRs to countries in need, and renewed his call for debt suspension to be extended to 2022, calling it “solidarity in action.”

‘Bold steps’ for gender equality

The pandemic has also exposed and amplified the power imbalance between men and women: “the world’s most enduring injustice”, according to the UN chief.

“Bridging the gender divide is not only a matter of justice for women and girls. It’s a game-changer for humanity,” he stated.

“Women’s equality is essentially a question of power. We must urgently transform our male-dominated world and shift the balance of power, to solve the most challenging problems of our age.”

This transformation would see more women leaders in government and business, and women’s full representation everywhere. He called for “bold steps” in implementing quotas and benchmarks for gender parity.

“At the same time, we need to push back against regressive laws that institutionalize gender discrimination. Women’s rights are human rights,” he added.

“Economic recovery plans should focus on women, including through large-scale investments in the care economy. And we need an emergency plan to fight gender-based violence in every country.”

Digital technology dangers

Restoring trust and inspiring hope means bridging the digital divide, he continued, noting that half the planet still does not have access to the internet.

However, given the growing reach of digital platforms, and the use and abuse of data, the Secretary-General also pointed to the perils of digital connectivity.

“A vast library of information is being assembled about each of us. Yet we don’t even have the keys to that library. We don’t know how this information has been collected, by whom or for what purposes. But we do know our data is being used commercially - to boost corporate profits,” he said.

Mr. Guterres underlined the need for serious discussion over these and other related technological issues, such as the use of autonomous weapons, which he said must be banned. 

Close the generation gap

The final bridge to mend is the generational gap with young people who will inherit the consequences of decisions made today, whether good or bad.

However, he stressed that young people need more than support, they need “a seat at the table”, which has prompted the Secretary-General to appoint a Special Envoy for Future Generations and a UN Youth Office.

Mr. Guterres cited recent research which revealed that the majority of young people in 10 countries surveyed, are suffering from high levels of anxiety and distress over the state of the planet.

Furthermore, some 60 per cent of future voters worldwide feel betrayed by their governments.

"Young people need a vision of hope for the future,” he said.

“We must prove to children and young people that despite the seriousness of the situation, the world has a plan - and governments are committed to implementing it. We need to act now to bridge the Great Divides and save humanity and the planet.” Source : un.org

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Deeply alarmed by the escalating violence in Syria’s east Ghouta, the United Nations has reiterated a call for an end to hostilities so that the sick and wounded can be immediately evacuated and humanitarian aid deliveries can reach those in need.

Speaking at a Security Council meeting on Wednesday, Secretary-General António Guterres called for an immediate suspension of all war activities in Syria’s conflict-battered east Ghouta, where, he said, “a human tragedy is unfolding in front of our eyes [with] 400,000 people living in hell on earth.”

“I don’t think we can let things go on in this horrendous way,” he urged, explaining that an estimated 700 people in the town, near the Syrian capital, Damascus, need urgent treatment that cannot be provided there.

Since the Syrian Government and their allies escalated their offensive against opposition-held east Ghouta on 4 February, there have been more than 1,200 civilian casualties, including at least 346 killed and 878 injured, mostly in airstrikes hitting residential areas, according to reports documented by the Office of the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights(OHCHR).

The Office, however, underscored that the figures are “far from comprehensive” and represent only those cases it has managed to document in the midst of the “chaos and destruction” in east Ghouta.

Furthermore, only one humanitarian convoy has been able to make its way to the war-ravaged city since November last year, bringing to one of its enclaves desperately needed but overwhelmingly insufficient food and medical supplies – enough only to meet the needs of 2.6 per cent of the population in need.

Stop the ‘monstrous campaign of annihilation’ of east Ghouta – UN rights chief

Also on Wednesday, the UN human rights chief also appealed to the international community to act urgently to save lives.

“How much cruelty will it take before the international community can speak with one voice to say enough dead children, enough wrecked families, enough violence, and take resolute, concerted action to bring this monstrous campaign of annihilation to an end?” the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights, Zeid Ra’ad Al Hussein, said in a statement.

“International humanitarian law was developed precisely to stop this type of situation, where civilians are slaughtered in droves in order to fulfil political or military objectives,” he underscored, reiterating his plea to the international community to ensure accountability for the ongoing violations, many of which may amount to war crimes. Source : un.org

 

 

 

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5 February 2018 – Describing January as “a dark month” in crisis-torn Middle East and North Africa, the United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF) director for the region said Monday that the violence has had a devastating toll on children, who were being killed in ongoing conflicts or suicide attacks, or freezing to death as they fled active warzones.

“It is simply unacceptable that children continue being killed and injured every single day,” said Geert Cappelaere, UNICEF Regional Director for the Middle East and North Africa.

In the month of January alone, escalating violence in Iraq, Libya, Palestine, Syria and Yemen has claimed the lives of at least 83 children.

“These children have paid the highest price for wars that they have absolutely no responsibility for. Their lives have been cut short, their families forever broken in grief,” he added.

Mr. Cappelaere said that as the Syrian conflict enters its eighth year, intensifying fighting has reportedly killed 59 children in the past four weeks.

Moreover, across Yemen the UN has verified the killing of 16 children in attacks and continues to receive daily reports of more killed and injured children amidst escalating fighting.

Additionally, a suicide attack took the lives of three children in Libya’s Benghazi while three others died playing near unexploded ordnance – a fourth child remains in critical condition after the blast.

Turning to the old city of Mosul in Iraq, a child was killed in a booby-trapped house, and in the Palestinian Occupied Territory, a boy was shot dead in a village near Ramallah.

Furthermore, 16 refugees, including four children, froze to death in a harsh winter storm in Lebanon – fleeing the war in Syria – where many more children were hospitalized with frost bite.

“We collectively continue failing to stop the war on children,” stressed Mr. Cappelaere.

He underscored, “not hundreds, not thousands but millions more children in the Middle East and North Africa region have their childhoods stolen, maimed for life, traumatized, arrested and detained, exploited, prevented from going to school and from getting the most essential health services; denied even the basic right to play.”

Mr. Cappelaere maintained that we have no justification, no reason to accept this as a new normal.

“Children may have been silenced. But their voices will continue to be heard. Their message is our message: The protection of children is paramount under all circumstances, in line with the law of war,” he argued.

“Breaching that law is a most heinous crime and jeopardizes the future – and not just for children,” concluded the UNICEF Regional Director. Source : un.org

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16 January 2018 – As the brutal conflict in Yemen nears its grim third anniversary, malnutrition and disease are running rampant in the country and virtually every child there is dependent on humanitarian aid to survive, the United Nations Children's Fund (UNICEF) said on Tuesday.

“An entire generation of children in Yemen is growing up knowing nothing but violence,” said Meritxell Relano, the head of UNICEF operations in the war-torn country, underlining the gravity of the crisis.

“Malnutrition and disease are rampant as basic services collapse. Those who survive are likely to carry the physical and psychological scars of conflict for the rest of their lives,” she stated.

Since the escalation of violence in March 2015, when conflict broke out between forces loyal to President Abdrabbuh Mansour Hadi and those allied to the Houthi rebel movement, Yemen, already the poorest in the region, has been left on the verge of a humanitarian collapse.

Hospitals, medical facilities as well as water and sanitation systems have been rendered inoperable across large parts of the country, and humanitarian assistance is the lifeline for over three-fourths of the country's population.

Born into War

This dire situation in Yemen, has perhaps had the worst impact on the three million children born in country since the conflict erupted.

In its latest report, Born into War – 1,000 Days of Lost Childhood, UNICEF notes that 30 per cent of that number were born premature, another 30 percent had low birth weight and 25,000 died at birth or within the first month of life.

Furthermore, more than half of all children in Yemen lack access to safe drinking water or adequate sanitation, children-under-five represent over a quarter of all cases of cholera and acute watery diarrhoea. An additional 1.8 million children are estimated to be acutely malnourished, including nearly 400,000 severe acutely malnourished children “fighting for their lives” adds the report.

The report calls on all parties to the conflict, those with influence on them and the global community to prioritize the protection of children in Yemen by putting an immediate end to violence and reaching a peaceful political solution.

It also calls for sustainable and unconditional humanitarian across the country and lifting of restrictions on imports of goods into Yemen as well as for sustained and sufficient funding for aid programmes. Source : un.org

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An estimated 500,000 to 750,000 Indian H-1B visa holders could be deported if the administration goes ahead with the proposal which is aligned with President Donald Trump’s “Buy American, Hire American” vision.

The Trump administration is considering a proposal that could potentially lead to large-scale deportation of foreigners on H-1B visas for high-speciality workers waiting for their Green Card — mostly Indians — and drastically alter the way high-tech companies operate in the United States.

The proposal circulated in the form of an internal memo in the Department of Homeland Security (DHS), which oversees citizenship and immigration, intends to end the provision of granting extensions to H-1B visa holders whose applications for permanent residency (Green Card) had been accepted.

An estimated 500,000 to 750,000 Indian H-1B visa holders could be sent home if the administration decides to go ahead with the proposal which is aligned with President Donald Trump’s “Buy American, Hire American” vision to boost manufacturing and protect local jobs for Americans.

“If implemented this could lead to large-scale deportations, mostly of Indians, throwing hundreds and thousands of families into crisis,” said an official of Immigration Voice, an advocacy body in San Jose. Immigration Voice is planning to mount a challenge through outreach and sue when a decision is announced, he added.

“The idea is to create a sort of ‘self-deportation’ of hundreds of thousands of Indian tech workers in the United States to open up those jobs for Americans,” a US source briefed by homeland security officials told McClatchy DC Bureau, which first reported the proposal.

A response to Hindustan Times requests to both DHS and the US citizenship and immigration services (USCIS) was awaited, but the existence of the memo was confirmed by sources in the US and Indian governments, industry and those that are likely to face action under the new rules.

An H-1B visa is granted for three years, with the provision of three more with one extension after which visa holders return to their countries. If approved for Green Card, they wait in the US using extensions.

For Indians, that wait could stretch for years given the massive backlog caused by the system of per-country annual cap on the number of permanent residencies.

The proposal is based on the power of discretion given to USCIS officials to decide on extensions to be given to H-1B holders waiting for Green Card. They could choose to extend from one to three years, and often chose the maximum of three, and granted some visa holders as many extensions as needed.

“If it has been left to their discretion,” said a lobbyist. “They can theoretically decide not to grant any extension at all.”

The Indian government is watching the development with mounting alarm as it had the administration’s previously announced plans and decisions to tighten H-1B rules and regulations with the objective of preventing its abuse to replace American workers with lower-paid foreigners.

One of the plans in February 2017 was to roll back H-4 EAD — a regulation introduced by President Barack Obama to attract and retain highly skilled foreign workers by granting work authorization to spouses of H-1B visa holders awaiting Green cards. That will impact mostly Indians again.

The administration also plans to redefine high-speciality professionals for the purpose of H-1B visas. And there is a general review of the programme ordered by the President.

The United States grants 85,000 non-immigrant H-1B visa every year — 65,000 to foreigners hired abroad and 20,000 to foreigners enrolled in advanced degree courses in US schools and colleges. An estimated 70% of these visas go to Indians — hired mostly by American companies such as Facebook, Microsoft and Google and some by American arms of Indian tech giants Infosys, Wipro and TCS.

The US companies, which are large employers of foreign workers but escape the scrutiny facing Indian firms, will be hit the hardest as they are more likely to apply for Green Cards for their H-1B workers than their Indian counterparts, who tend to rotate their workers home at the end of the stipulated period.

These big companies can be expected to push back as well, as could the chamber of commerce. A response was awaited to a request for comments from Compete America, a trade body representing Silicon Valley high-tech firms in Washington DC. Source : ht

 

 

 

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GENEVA (AFP) - The UN human rights chief voiced alarm on Monday (Sept 11) at widespread rights abuses in Venezuela, warning of possible "crimes against humanity" in the crisis-wracked country.

"My investigation suggests the possibility that crimes against humanity may have been committed," Mr Zeid Ra'ad Al Hussein said at the opening of the 36th session of the Human Rights Council, calling for an international probe.

Venezuela's crisis has caused food and medicine shortages, deadly unrest and calls for President Nicolas Maduro to quit.

Clashes with security forces at anti-government protests left 125 people dead from April to July.

"There is a very real danger that tensions will further escalate, with the government crushing democratic institutions and critical voices," Mr Zeid warned.

He said an investigation by his office had noted the widespread use of "criminal proceedings against opposition leaders, recourse to arbitrary detentions, excessive use of force and ill-treatment of detainees, which in some cases amounts to torture".

Late last month, Mr Zeid echoed international concerns that Venezuela was slipping into dictatorship, cautioning that democracy in the country was "barely alive, if still alive".

His office has previously criticised Venezuela's all-powerful constituent assembly and its "truth commission", which has been tasked with investigating several opposition leaders for treason.

On Monday, Mr Zeid said he supported the concept of a truth commission, but stressed that "the current mechanism is inadequate".

"I therefore urge that it be reconfigured with the support and involvement of the international community," he said.

He urged the UN rights council "to establish an international investigation into the human rights violations in Venezuela".

Mr Zeid also pointed out that Venezuela currently holds one of the 47 rotating seats on the Human Rights Council, and thus has a particular duty to "uphold the highest standards in the promotion and protection of human rights".

Without naming Venezuela specifically, he also called on the council to consider "the need to exclude from this body states involved in the most egregious violations of human rights."

 

 

 

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The U.N. Security Council is set to vote on Monday afternoon on a watered-down U.S.-drafted resolution to impose new sanctions on North Korea over its latest nuclear test, diplomats said, but it was unclear whether China and Russia would support it. The draft resolution appears to have been weakened in a bid to appease North Korea’s ally China and Russia following negotiations during the past few days. In order to pass, a resolution needs nine of the 15 Security Council members to vote in favor and no vetoes by any of the five permanent members – the United States, Britain, France, Russia and China.

The draft, seen by Reuters on Sunday, no longer proposes blacklisting North Korean leader Kim Jong Un. The initial draft proposed he be subjected to a travel ban and asset freeze along with four other North Korea officials. The final text only lists one of those officials. The draft text still proposes a ban on textile exports, which were North Korea’s second-biggest export after coal and other minerals in 2016, totalling $752 million, according to data from the Korea Trade-Investment Promotion Agency. Nearly 80 percent of the textile exports went to China.

The draft drops a proposed oil embargo and instead intends to impose a ban on condensates and natural gas liquids, a cap of two million barrels a year on refined petroleum products, and a cap crude oil exports to North Korea at current levels. China supplies most of North Korea’s crude. According to South Korean data, Beijing supplies roughly 500,000 tonnes of crude oil annually. It also exports 200,000 tonnes of oil products, according to U.N. data. Russia’s exports of crude oil to North Korea are about 40,000 tonnes a year.

The draft resolution also no longer proposes an asset freeze on the military-controlled national airline Air Koryo. Since 2006, the Security Council has unanimously adopted eight resolutions ratcheting up sanctions on North Korea over its ballistic missile and nuclear programs. The Security Council last month imposed new sanctions over North Korea’s two long-range missile launches in July. The Aug. 5 resolution aimed to slash by a third Pyongyang’s $3 billion annual export revenue by banning coal, iron, lead and seafood.

FOREIGN WORKERS

The new draft resolution drops a bid to remove an exception for transshipments of Russian coal via the North Korean port of Rajin. In 2013 Russia reopened a railway link with North Korea, from the Russian eastern border town of Khasan to Rajin, to export coal and import goods from South Korea and elsewhere. The original draft resolution would have authorized states to use all necessary measures to intercept and inspect on the high seas vessels that have been blacklisted by the council.

However, the final draft text calls upon states to inspect vessels on the high seas with the consent of the flag state, if there’s information that provides reasonable grounds to believe the ship is carrying prohibited cargo. The Aug. 5 resolution adopted by the council capped the number of North Koreans working abroad at the current level. The new draft resolution initially imposed a complete ban on the hiring and payment of North Korean laborers abroad.

The final draft text to be voted on Monday by the council would require the employment of North Korean workers abroad to be authorized by a Security Council committee. However, this rule would not apply to “written contracts finalized prior to the adoption of this resolution” provided that states notify the committee by Dec. 15 of the number of North Koreans subject to these contracts and the anticipated date of termination of these contracts.

Some diplomats estimate that between 60,000 and 100,000 North Koreans work abroad. A U.N. human rights investigator said in 2015 that North Korea was forcing more than 50,000 people to work abroad, mainly in Russia and China, earning between $1.2 billion and $2.3 billion a year. The wages of workers sent abroad provide foreign currency for the Pyongyang government. There is new political language in the final draft urging “further work to reduce tensions so as to advance the prospects for a comprehensive settlement” and underscoring “the imperative of achieving the goal of complete, verifiable and irreversible denuclearization of the Korean Peninsula in a peaceful manner.”

 

 

 

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