Category Archives: Op-Eds

Open Letter of Women Leaders on International Women’s Day 2019

We join our voices as women colleagues who have worked in governments and in multilateral organizations in support of promoting humanitarian relief, advocating for human rights principles and normative policies, advancing sustainable development, and resolving some of the world’s most complex conflicts. We ourselves have leveraged multilateralism in order to drive positive change for peoples and our planet. Now we collectively call attention to the need to achieve full gender equality and empowerment of women across all ambits of society and the critical importance of multilateralism as a vehicle in support of that.

As women leaders in our respective fields, we have struggled locally and globally to respond to challenges ranging from the elimination of hunger to achieving peace and security, and from the provision of emergency humanitarian aid in the aftermath of natural and human-induced disasters to the promotion of human rights, including those of women, children, marginalized populations, and those living with disabilities. Our work at its best was based on the principles of sustainable development and the need to build long term resilience. It has also been underpinned by our determination to have a positive impact on the lives of those with and for whom we work, particularly the most vulnerable. We are deeply convinced that for peace to be achieved and sustained, the full participation and potential of women must be unleashed.

Our shared sense of purpose and responsibility to promote gender equality and women’s empowerment derives from our experiences. Despite decades of notable advances, a reality in which opportunities, freedoms, and rights are not defined by gender has not been universally attained. Even more concerning, we are seeing in some places that the basic rights of women are interpreted as direct and destabilizing challenges to existing power structures. That can lead to efforts to roll back hard-won rights and frameworks agreed on in support of gender equality and women’s empowerment, not least those encapsulated in the historic Beijing Declaration and Platform for Action of 1995 and Security Council Resolution 1325 on Women, Peace and Security.

As women increasingly occupy meaningful spaces in local, national, and international political structures and in socio-economic, scientific and sustainable development debates, and as we engage through civil society in many campaigns, we see now, close to a quarter of a century after Beijing, more movements gaining traction which seek to halt the gains made and erode the rights won by women.

This regression is what fuels our collective effort now under the banner of “Women Leaders – voices for change and inclusion”. As women leaders, we call on leaders in governments, the private sector, and civil society to reinvest in policies and in legal and social frameworks that will achieve gender equality and inclusion. Ours is a call for a redoubling of current efforts which are insufficient in many places. Above all, we seek to underscore that the risk posed by politics that seek to halt and erode gender equality is a risk not only to women, but also to all of humanity because half the population is prevented from contributing to its full potential.

The 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development, the Paris Agreement, the Convention on the Eradication of Discrimination Against Women, and many other global agreements, treaties, and conventions have been achieved through multilateralism and demand our collective effort in order to realize their ambitious vision. They represent the hopes and aspirations of current and future generations. Yet, these transformative agendas and agreements are increasingly and disconcertingly called into question.

We attach our names to this open letter in the belief that, by bringing together our voices and leveraging our experiences, as women leaders from diverse backgrounds, we will amplify the reach and impact of our message.

In the coming weeks and months, we will speak through different means and publish a series of opinion pieces and essays in publications around the world that draw on our diverse – and yet shared – experiences and perspectives as women leaders in our respective fields. It is our hope that this compilation of work will serve not only to impart insights on the importance of women as multilateral actors, but also to be a call to action to the women leaders and advocates of tomorrow. The space that we collectively occupy as women leaders in our fields across the public, private, and civil society spheres was not opened up easily and can never be taken for granted. It is the result of the sacrifices and struggles, of generations of women. Political forces today threaten to erode the progress that we have made at both the national level and through landmark global agendas. Whether those forces succeed will depend on whether the women leaders and advocates of today and tomorrow and all who stand with them recognize the urgency and peril but also the opportunity of this current moment and act accordingly.

Shamshad Akhtar                                             Amat Alsoswa

Valerie Amos                                                     Zainab Bangura

Catherine Bertini                                              Irina Bokova

Gina Casar                                                          Margaret Chan

Helen Clark                                                         Radhika Coomaraswamy

Ertharin Cousin                                                  Christiana Figueres

Louise Frechette                                                 Cristina Gallach

Rebeca Grynspan                                               Noeleen Heyzer

Elisabeth Lindenmayer                                      Susana Malcorra

Aïchatou Mindaoudou                                        Flavia Pansieri

Navi Pillay                                                              Mary Robinson

Josette Sheeran                                                    Fatiah Serour

Ann Veneman                                                       Sahle-Work Zewde

Towards a new global compact on migration

by Antonio Guterres

Managing migration is one of the most profound challenges for international cooperation in our time.

Migration powers economic growth, reduces inequalities and connects diverse societies.  Yet it is also a source of political tensions and human tragedies.  The majority of migrants live and work legally.  But a desperate minority are putting their lives at risk to enter countries where they face suspicion and abuse.

Demographic pressures and the impact of climate change on vulnerable societies are likely to drive further migration in the years ahead.  As a global community, we face a choice.  Do we want migration to be a source of prosperity and international solidarity, or a byword for inhumanity and social friction?

This year, governments will negotiate a Global Compact on Migration through the United Nations.

This will be the first overarching international agreement of its kind.  It will not be a formal treaty. Nor will it place any binding obligations on states.

Instead, it is an unprecedented opportunity for leaders to counter the pernicious myths surrounding migrants, and lay out a common vision of how to make migration work for all our nations.

This is an urgent task.  We have seen what happens when large-scale migration takes place without effective mechanisms to manage it.  The world was shocked by recent video of migrants being sold as slaves.

Grim as these images were, the real scandal is that thousands of migrants suffer the same fate each year, unrecorded.  Many more are trapped in demeaning, precarious jobs that border on slavery anyway.

There are nearly six million migrants trapped in forced labor today, often in developed economies.

How can we end these injustices and prevent them recurring in future?

In setting a clear political direction about the future of migration, I believe that three fundamental considerations should guide discussions of the compact.

The first is to recognize and reinforce the benefits of migration, so often lost in public debate.

Migrants make huge contributions to both their host countries and countries of origin.

They take jobs that local workforces cannot fill, boosting economic activity.  Many are innovators and entrepreneurs.  Nearly half of all migrants are women, looking for better lives and work opportunities.

Migrants also make a major contribution to international development by sending remittances to their home countries.  Remittances added up to nearly $600 billion last year, three times all development aid.

The fundamental challenge is to maximize the benefits of this orderly, productive form of migration while stamping out the abuses and prejudice that make life hell for a minority of migrants.

Secondly, states need to strengthen the rule of law underpinning how they manage and protect migrants – for the benefit of their economies, their societies and the migrants themselves.

Authorities that erect major obstacles to migration – or place severe restrictions on migrants’ work opportunities – inflict needless economic self-harm, as they impose barriers to having their labour needs met in an orderly, legal fashion.

Worse still, they unintentionally encourage illegal migration.

Aspiring migrants, denied legal pathways to travel, inevitably fall back on irregular methods.

This not only puts them in vulnerable positions, but also undermines governments’ authority.

The best way to end the stigma of illegality and abuse around migrants is, in fact, for governments to put in place more legal pathways for migration, removing the incentives for individuals to break the rules, while better meeting the needs of their labor markets for foreign labor.

States also need to work together more closely to share the benefits of migration, for example through partnering to identify significant skills gaps in one country that migrants from another are qualified to fill.

Third and finally, we need greater international cooperation to protect vulnerable migrants, as well as refugees, and we must reestablish the integrity of the refugee protection regime in line with international law.

The fate of the thousands who die in doomed efforts to cross seas and deserts is not just a human tragedy.  It also represents the most acute policy failure: unregulated, mass movements in desperate circumstances fuel a sense that borders are under threat and governments not in control.

In turn this leads to draconian border controls which undermine our collective values and help perpetuate the tragedies we have too often seen unfold in recent years.

We must fulfill our basic obligations to safeguard the lives and human rights of those migrants that the existing system has failed.

We must take urgent action to assist those now trapped in transit camps, or at risk of slavery, or facing situations of acute violence, whether in North Africa or Central America.  We have to envisage ambitious international action to resettle those with nowhere to go.

We should also take steps – through development aid, climate mitigation efforts and conflict prevention – to avoid such unregulated large movements of people in future.  Migration should not mean suffering.

We must aim for a world in which we can celebrate migration’s contributions to prosperity, development and international unity.  It is in our collective power to achieve this goal.  This year’s global compact can be a milestone on the road to making migration truly work for all.

The author is Secretary-General of the United Nations

ASEAN’s Rising Terrorism Threat Calls for Urgent Actions

Op-ed by Jeremy Douglas and Joseph Gyte

15 February 2017

2016 was a year of rising terrorist activity for the ASEAN region. Arrests and deaths of terrorist suspects in Indonesia more than doubled to 170, Malaysia faced a steady stream of travel attempts of foreign terrorist fighters to Syria or Iraq and witnessed its first successful Daesh attack in June, and the Philippines suffered from an increase in bombings and hostage-takings conducted by Daesh affiliated groups, including Abu Sayyaf. Less covered in the international media, Thailand’s ‘Deep South’ experienced a dramatic upsurge in attacks to over 800, resulting in over 300 deaths and 600 injured.

Unfortunately, this trend is not expected to subside in 2017; rather, without effective collaboration between ASEAN countries, it is predicted that the level of terrorist violence will increase further.

Daesh has shown great interest in this region. In June last year, a propaganda video instructed their supporters to focus on Southeast Asia, telling them to join their regional branch in the Philippines if they can’t make it to Syria or Iraq. Now, as Daesh’s territorial control in the Middle East diminishes, their  need to disperse and move elsewhere is becoming a reality. As a result, it is predicted that many foreign terrorist fighters from Southeast Asia now in the Middle East – there are believed to be more than 1,000 – will return home to continue their campaign and potentially declare a caliphate.

Several militant groups in the region have already pledged allegiance to Daesh and have adequate manpower and connections to be a viable threat in the region. Southeast Asia also provides an extremely hospitable environment for Daesh to thrive. Using ongoing conflicts and pockets of instability, and capitalizing on racial and religious intolerance, Daesh could gain power and momentum in the region.

Daesh has frequently utilised the suffering of the Rohingya minority in Myanmar as justification for their cause and recruitment. Now, the recent sectarian violence in Rakhine has led to increasing attempted attacks on Myanmar interests and protests in Muslim majority countries; Malaysia and Indonesia. This could lead to an environment in which Daesh’s claim of legitimacy is strengthened.

Long running conflicts in both the Philippines and Thailand also provide fertile breeding grounds for violent extremism. Protracted insurgencies in both countries provide Daesh with the opportunity to exploit deep-rooted grievances to garner support, resources, and potentially start exercising control.

As well as potential local support for Daesh, Southeast Asia has exceptionally porous borders, which combined with highly sophisticated smuggling networks, provides easy entry into, and movement  within, the region for persons, weapons, and resources.

Although there is clear cause for concern, there are many actions which could help mitigate these risks.

Indonesia’s immigration offices in Batam and Depok last year rejected close to 1400 passport applications, mostly for suspected intentions of travel to become foreign terrorist fighters. Unfortunately, screening processes in many parts of the region are usually poor to non-existent, and it remains easy for terrorists to move from one country to the next. Building on the successful border liaison office mechanism and network to address transnational crimes, UNODC has started assisting border officials to recognize and prevent the movements of foreign terrorist fighters. Dismantling smuggling networks and preventing corruption at border checkpoints will further assist.

Throughout the region, counter terrorism investigators and prosecutors are hindered by inadequate legal frameworks. In-line with UN Security Council Resolutions, Universal Legal Instruments Against Terrorism, and International Human Rights Law, it is essential that ASEAN countries update their terrorism related legislation. Notably, travelling for the purpose of conducting or facilitating terrorist activities has only been criminalized by one ASEAN nation, Malaysia. Without this legal backing, ASEAN remains vulnerable to the movements of terrorists.

While ASEAN countries have improved collaboration and intelligence sharing, it still occurs in an ad hoc and inconsistent fashion. Regular and efficient information sharing through formal and informal channels, within and between countries of the region, needs to be seriously enhanced.

Lastly, there is no ASEAN plan for the prevention of violent extremism or PVE. In much of the region, local grievances and root causes of terrorism are left unaddressed and Daesh’s propaganda goes unchallenged; leaving communities vulnerable to radicalisation. It is important that ASEAN develops a regional PVE plan which is subsequently tailored for each country.

This is by no means an exhaustive list of recommendations; however, if all ASEAN nations implement a common approach, including what we are recommending, risks posed by terrorists in the region would be significantly reduced.


Jeremy Douglas is the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC) Regional Representative for Southeast Asia and the Pacific and the former UNODC Representative for Pakistan. Joseph Gyte is a UNODC Counter Terrorism Consultant for Southeast Asia.

A Continent of Hope

Op-ed by António Guterres

Far too often, the world views Africa through the prism of problems. When I look to Africa, I see a continent of hope, promise and vast potential.

I am committed to building on those strengths and establishing a higher platform of cooperation between the United Nations and the leaders and people of Africa. This is essential to advancing inclusive and sustainable development and deepening cooperation for peace and security.

That is the message I carried to the recent African Union Summit in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia — my first major mission as United Nations Secretary-General.

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Violent extremism in prisons: Behind bars, but not locked up

Opinion article by Yury Fedotov

Violent extremism today presents a chilling challenge to the world’s prison correction communities.

Anis Amri, shot dead before Christmas by Italian police after killing 12 people in the Berlin terrorist attack, was allegedly radicalised in prison. His story follows a shocking trajectory that enables murderous terrorism due to the incitement and recruitment of vulnerable prisoners.

Cases such as Amri’s show that, today, for the small minority, prisons have become the first step towards committing horrific acts of mayhem and destruction. How can we get this minority back on the rehabilitation path and defeat the violent extremists. While no quick remedy exists, there are approaches that can make prisoners less susceptible.

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A Turning Point for Humanitarian Action

Op-ed by UN Secretary-General Mr. Ban Ki-Moon

9 June 2016

At the recent World Humanitarian Summit in Istanbul, more than 9,000 participants made a three-fold commitment to people in crisis all over the world. We pledged to improve our response to people caught up in natural disasters and conflicts; to empower them as the agents of their own recovery; and to summon greater political will to prevent and end the wars which are causing so much suffering.

The challenge we face is unprecedented. Around the world, 130 million people need humanitarian aid. More than 60 million people have been forcibly displaced from their homes.  Despite their precarious conditions, there is a severe lack of funding to assist them — raising basic questions about global solidarity in a world of great wealth.

The massive extent of this challenge meant this had to be a different kind of summit. For the first time, people affected by crises worked alongside world leaders, heads of NGOs, civil society and the private sector to find solutions. This diversity of voices was an achievement in itself.

I met many people affected by crisis, and spoke with brave aid workers. People on the front lines, often in the poorest countries in the world, show enormous commitment to helping families and communities in crisis. The international community as a whole must do more.

My Agenda for Humanity, drawn up in advance of the summit, outlined five areas for collective action: preventing and ending conflict; respect for the rules of war; leaving no one behind; working differently to end needs; and investing in humanity. The summit recorded nearly 3,000 individual and collective commitments in support of these five core areas, including many from countries affected by crisis.

A “Grand Bargain” between 30 top donors and aid agencies should reduce management costs, provide more flexible funding and give affected people a bigger voice in the decisions that will shape their lives.

The new Charter4Change commits 27 international NGOs to channel one fifth of their funding to national organizations, in response to widespread calls for more local decision-making and funding.

The Vulnerable 20 Group of Finance Ministers launched a Global Preparedness Partnership, which will help countries most at risk of crisis to prepare for future shocks.

Donors committed new funding to initiatives to protect women and girls from gender-based violence, and to ensure that millions of children in crisis can continue their education, addressing one of the most urgent priorities of refugees and displaced people around the world.

And the Summit won significant commitments to bridge the gap between humanitarian and development work; to create a new way of working together to reduce needs, manage risks and aim at common goals over longer timeframes.

Some 80 percent of humanitarian funding goes to manmade crises caused by conflict. So it was particularly significant that all the 173 Governments that were present committed to invest more in conflict prevention and peacebuilding, finding better solutions for refugees and internally displaced people, and pushing for practical measures to uphold the laws of war.

Now we must turn these commitments into action.

Later this year, I will report to the United Nations General Assembly and propose ways to take our commitments forward. The High-Level Meeting on large movements of Refugees and Migrants, to be held in New York on 19 September, will be a major opportunity to maintain momentum and build on the Summit’s achievements.

Civil society organizations were a dynamic presence in Istanbul, and I urge them to play an active role in monitoring States’ compliance with their commitments.

The World Humanitarian Summit was not an end point, but a turning point.  The United Nations is committed to building on the momentum generated to work in partnership with world leaders, including those who could not be present, and with all stakeholders to support the most vulnerable people in our world.

The Fight against Sexual Exploitation

Op-ed by Parfait Onanga-Anyanga

A few days ago, I woke up to yet another horrible allegation against peacekeepers serving in the UN Mission in Central African Republic (MINUSCA), the peacekeeping operation that I lead.  I read that Peacekeepers had allegedly raped a 14 year old girl in a small town located in the remote central regions of this massive country.  As I began to react to this deeply shocking news, we learned of another series of new allegations dating back to 2014 and 2015, brought to my attention by colleagues from UNICEF and UNHCR.

I have no words strong enough to describe the distress I feel when confronted with these appalling allegations.  Confronted with these horrors, I am personally overwhelmed by deep feelings of despair and anger. My colleagues in MINUSCA and at UN HQ feel just as I do. And yet as awful as this scourge may be, it is my job to put an end to it in my mission. Walking away is not an option and I am committed to giving this my all. We must not stop our efforts until we can ensure that all the perpetrators are identified, the victims get all the care they deserve and, perhaps most importantly, those responsible are brought to justice.

Since I joined this mission in late August 2015, I have committed myself and MINUSCA to a policy of transparency and accountability.  I have traveled thousands of miles around this country, going from camp to camp and from city to city, reiterating a stern message that Sexual Exploitation and Abuse (SEA) is entirely unacceptable and reminding all our UN personnel, both uniformed and civilian, of our obligations to protect the people of the Central African Republic.  This journey led us to some harrowing encounters with family members of survivors of sexual assault by armed groups and by international peacekeepers, both UN and non UN. And while I am incredibly disappointed that the Mission I am so privileged to lead is registering the highest number of SEA cases among all UN Peacekeeping missions, I have also been encouraged by the positive feedback I have received from victims, from the population and national authorities but also from UN member States on the strong and principled posture the Mission has adopted to tackle this important issue.

This will be a collective effort. Over the past few weeks, my spirits were lifted by the recent adoption of resolution 2272 (2016) by the UN Security Council, on March 11th, which fully backs the Secretary-General’s strong leadership in rooting out SEA from UN Peacekeeping missions. Under this new resolution, should troop or police contributing countries (TCCs/PCCs) not prosecute their own alleged perpetrators within a six months period, the Secretary-General will be entitled to repatriate entire units as he recently did with troops from the Democratic Republic of the Congo and from the Republic of Congo. Another source of hope in making a more effective impact in the fight against SEA came from the Secretary-General’s recent appointment of Ms. Jane Holl Lute, on 8 February, as his Special Coordinator on improving the United Nations’ response to sexual abuse and exploitation by peacekeepers.

On our side, I have made the fight against SEA one of the Mission’s top priorities. A SEA Taskforce has been established. MINUSCA Force and Police are conducting patrols around MINUSCA camps to monitor the off-duty activities of uniformed personnel. Under my direct leadership, Regional SEA Joint Prevention Teams are being established in our three regional headquarters and in other field offices with a significant presence of our troops. These are steps in the right direction but we may have more dark days before we see light at the end of the tunnel.

Above all, we must put the victims at the heart of all our efforts. We put a premium on their care by making emergency assistance available, while closely coordinating with all relevant UN and non UN offices and agencies for longer-term support, such as the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights, UNICEF, UNFPA or Mercy Corps and others. I know the path to achieving that objective will not be easy because of the very nature of the environment in which we operate but we remain committed to the fight.

I make one point in all my conversations, whether with our military and police or with representatives of local populations: the days of silence are over; now is the time to come forward and to stand up.   Now is the time for the rights of victims to come first. The fight against SEA is first and foremost a fight for human rights. Victims must not suffer the double horror of abuse and exclusion when, after being assaulted, they are asked to go through the horrendous pain of rejection by their own communities because of the enduring burden of cultural stigma.  I will continue to fight this fight for every woman and every child, girl or boy, so that no 14 year old child–the same age as my daughter Eliwa–in this country is a victim of sexual exploitation and abuse.

Parfait Onanga-Anyanga is the Special Representative of the Secretary-General of the United Nations for the Central African Republic

(This article has previously been carried by Newsweek)

5 years too long: Why the world’s biggest humanitarian disaster must end

By Yacoub El Hillo and Kevin Kennedy*

The worst humanitarian crisis of our time has lasted too long as millions of Syrians have experienced widespread violence, destruction and displacement.  Since March 2011, hundreds of thousands have been killed, over a million wounded and half the population has been displaced or sought refuge in neighbouring countries. Schools, hospitals and other infrastructure have been reduced to rubble, and over 2 million children and adolescents are out of school. Four out of five Syrians now live in poverty.

In a country that was once known as the “cradle of civilization”, sieges are increasingly used as a tactic of war. In 2016, on average nearly half a million people have been trapped in their towns, deprived of essential aid and surrounded by armed groups. Millions more live in areas where aid seldom reaches.  Summary executions, arbitrary detention and horrific human rights violations are a regular feature of this crisis.

On 12 February, a landmark agreement was reached in Munich where a cessation of hostilities was agreed upon as well as accelerated delivery of aid to those most in need.  Despite ruptures, the agreement has mostly been respected offering a glimmer of hope to millions of Syrians.  It has presented a short respite for people who have repeatedly told us that all they want is to be safe and for their families to be protected from violence in a war that has endured far too long.  In towns across parts of Syria, there are signs of that hope as families are once again walking in the streets and children playing in parks.

At this moment, we must also take stock of what we have accomplished and where we have fallen short. Over the course of the last five years, the United Nations, the Red Cross/Red Crescent movement and the Non-Governmental organizations have delivered health services, medicine, food, clean water, sanitation and shelter to millions of people. It has come at a high cost as 85 humanitarian workers have lost their lives and hundreds of medical workers have been killed. Syrians themselves have played the lead role in alleviating the suffering of people in need – as first-line responders on the ground or hosting fellow Syrians fleeing conflict despite their own difficult circumstances.

Given the momentum started in Munich, we now have a unique opportunity that must not be lost. Humanitarian organizations are ramping up their operations but require access to all people in need on a sustained, unconditional and unimpeded basis. Sieges must be lifted and people allowed freedom of movement. The cessation of hostilities must be maintained and fully observed.   Most importantly, the political process must continue and achieve a permanent end to hostilities.

Five years of human suffering on an immense scale must be brought to an end. The Syrian people must have their dignity and security restored and have the opportunity to reconcile and rebuild.


*Yacoub El Hillo is the UN Resident and Humanitarian Coordinator for Syria and Kevin Kennedy is the UN Regional Humanitarian Coordinator for the Syria

Social Protection is Key to Tackle Asia-Pacific’s Inequality Trap

Op-ed by Shamshad Akhtar

Rising inequality threatens to derail, from the start, successful implementation of the new 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development in the Asia-Pacific region. Stronger, more equitable social protection will be critical in overcoming these challenges.

New research by the United Nations Economic and Social Commission for Asia and the Pacific (ESCAP) indicates that inequality, related to both outcomes and opportunities, is on the rise in the countries of Asia and the Pacific – and where it has not risen it has remained unacceptably high. This is having an adverse impact on sustainable development.

Growing disparities in income and wealth, as well as unequal opportunities, reinforce each other, creating an “inequality trap” that disproportionately affects women and the most vulnerable members of society, including the poor, youth, persons with disabilities, migrants and older persons.

This stands in sharp contrast to both the shared growth that defined the rise of the ‘Asian Tigers’ in the 1960s, and more recent trends in other parts of the developing world, in particular Latin America, where income inequality has been decreasing over in recent decades.

Over the past 20 years, the rich in Asia and the Pacific have grown richer, at the expense of the poor. Inequalities in regional opportunities also abound, with nearly 80 per cent of the population lacking access to affordable health care, and as many as 18 million children out of school. Access to these basic social services are considerably lower among low-income groups and rural communities.

In the context of the 2030 Agenda, inequality casts deep shadows on all three pillars of sustainability – economic, social and environmental.

Economically, inequality threatens regional dynamism, is destructive to the sustainability of growth, and makes it more difficult to reduce poverty through growth. Had Asia-Pacific inequality not increased, an additional almost 200 million people would have been lifted out of poverty in the three largest countries in the region over the last two decades.

Inequality undermines social cohesion and solidarity. A growing divide between the rich and the poor is often a factor in rising levels of crime and social unrest, undermining trust and weakening bonds of solidarity. In extreme cases, especially where inequality manifests along ethnic lines, it can lead to polarization, radicalization and even failure of the State.

Environmental sustainability is also hampered by inequalities, which create resentments and disincentives and, in turn, generate pervasive free-riding and overuse of resources, with unsustainable environmental outcomes. For instance, evidence from India and Nepal suggests that inequalities in local rural communities actually intensify deforestation.

This is why tackling inequality must be central to the sustainable development agenda. Perfect equality of wealth and income is not attainable but, when it comes to inequalities of opportunity, such as access to health and education, Asia-Pacific governments should not settle for less than a perfectly “level playing field.”

It is encouraging to see that, in addition to traditional cash transfers, Asia-Pacific countries are introducing innovative measures to reduce inequalities, such as health equity funds, impact investing in education, universal health coverage and expanding access to old-age pensions.

Building on this momentum, countries could also develop sets of complementary policies to tackle inequality in all its forms:

First, national taxation systems could be strengthened. There is ample room to expanding the tax base and strengthen compliance frameworks across the region. This is an effective way of broadening fiscal space to finance redistributive mechanisms, while building solidarity across socioeconomic groups and generations.

Second, productive and decent work should be even more strongly promoted. Forward-looking macroeconomic policies, coupled with active labour market programmes and policies that encourage diversification, including industrial upgrading and productivity growth are critical. Such approaches will ensure that economic growth generates more and better employment for people working in vulnerable conditions, while avoiding a “race to the bottom” triggered by unfettered international competition.

Third, social protection should be enhanced to ensure that everyone has access to quality essential services. Transformative social protection policies need to be anchored in national legislation and aim beyond providing short-term safety nets, to lift people out of poverty and vulnerability. Complementing their redistributive role, well-designed and implemented cash transfers are an important vehicle of inclusive, pro-poor growth. Good practices from around the region illustrate that comprehensive social protection systems are feasible and affordable but necessitate political will. Strengthening the evidence base on inequalities and social protection will also further facilitate the development and implementation of effective policies and programmes. Innovative financing schemes, especially in partnership with the private sector, will be essential in this regard.

These three policy measures benefit all, from individuals and communities, to public institutions and private actors. They constitute a shared responsibility to inspire new partnerships and creative approaches, as we move to implement the 2030 Agenda.

Asia-Pacific inequality cannot be ignored. To do so jeopardizes the future we want of a more prosperous, inclusive and sustainable Asia-Pacific region.

Download ESCAP’s new publication: “Time for Equality: The Role of Social Protection in Reducing Inequalities in Asia and the Pacific” at

Dr. Shamshad Akhtar is an Under-Secretary-General of the United Nations and Executive Secretary of ESCAP. She has also been the UN’s Sherpa for the G20 and served as Governor of the Central Bank of Pakistan and Vice-President of the MENA Region of the World Bank.


An Agenda for Humanity

Op-ed by UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon

More people desperately need humanitarian assistance than at any time since the founding of the United Nations.  More warring parties are brazenly violating international humanitarian law.  More resources than ever are needed to meet sharply escalating humanitarian needs.  Yet we face the largest-ever funding shortfalls.

For these reasons and more, I am convening the first-ever World Humanitarian Summit, on 23 and 24 May in Istanbul.  I am urging global leaders, international organizations and others to commit to deliver more and better for those in greatest need.  There is no time to lose.

Climate change is affecting lives and livelihoods across our fragile planet.  Brutal and seemingly intractable conflicts, violent extremism, transnational crime and growing inequality are devastating the lives of millions of men, women and children and are destabilizing entire regions.  More people have been forced to flee their homes than at any time since the Second World War.

Around the world, more than 125 million people need humanitarian assistance.  If they were all in one country, it would be the eleventh largest nation on Earth, and one of the fastest growing.

Today’s complex challenges cross borders.  No single country or organization can address them alone.  We need to restore trust in the ability of our national, regional and international institutions to confront these challenges.

A sense of shared humanity must shape our politics and drive financial decisions.  In advance of the Summit, I have set out an Agenda for Humanity as a framework for action, change and mutual accountability.  It has five core responsibilities.

First, leaders must intensify efforts to find political solutions to prevent and end conflict.  The enormous human and economic cost makes conflict the biggest obstacle to human development.  We must move from managing crises to preventing them.

Second, countries must uphold the norms that safeguard humanity.   This means complying with international humanitarian and human rights law, and stopping the bombing and shelling of civilian targets and areas.  It also means committing to national and international justice and ending impunity.

Third, we must leave no one behind – and we must reach those who are furthest behind, first.  This means transforming the lives of the most vulnerable, including those living in conflict and in chronic poverty, and those living with the risk of natural hazards and rising sea levels..  We must reduce forced displacement, provide more regular and lawful opportunities for migration, empower women and girls and ensure quality education for all.  We cannot meet the Sustainable Development Goals, agreed by world leaders last September, if we do not reach these people.

The fourth core responsibility is to move from delivering aid to ending need.  We need to close the humanitarian-development divide for good.  We must also anticipate crises, not wait for them to happen.  We must strengthen local leadership and capacity, reduce vulnerability, and increase the resilience of people and communities, who will always be the first and last responders in crises.

Fifth, we must find smart and innovative ways of mobilizing funds.  This will require diversifying and expanding the resource base and using a wider variety of financing tools.  I have proposed a new international financing platform with the World Bank to identify mechanisms to finance our response to protracted crises.

The Agenda for Humanity provides key actions and strategic shifts which the world requires to reduce humanitarian needs and contribute to achieving the Sustainable Development Goals.  I urge world leaders to come to the World Humanitarian Summit committed to promote sustainable human progress and a life of dignity and security for all.

Mr. Ban’s report, “One Humanity: Shared Responsibility,” was published on 9 February 2016.