Daily Archives: April 9, 2015

Political will and sustained financing needed to ensure ...

09 Apr 2015

Dakar, Senegal  The strong political will of Africa’s leaders is needed to ensure increased and sustained financing for social protection initiatives, if the continent is to lift millions of people out of poverty and onto the path to prosperity. 

At the same time, social protection should be seen as a comprehensive set of inter-sectoral interventions that protect citizens – prioritising the poorest – from social, environmental and economic shocks that arise throughout their life-cycle, and build their ability to withstand crises, as well as improve their wellbeing. 

These are among the recommendations of the International Seminar on Social Protection in Africa that closed today in Dakar, Senegal, aimed at boosting the number of Africans – currently only 20% of the poorest, some 44 million people – with access to targeted interventions in health, nutrition or cash transfers.

The Seminar was a platform for some 13 African countries, Brazil and civil society to share experiences and ways in which to fund social protection programmes sustainably, in the context of growing inequality despite Africa’s economic growth. 

Brazil’s Bolsa Familia conditional cash transfer programme was profiled as it succeeded in lifting millions out of poverty, advancing health and education, and significantly reducing inequality levels.

Participants emphasized that social protection systems are an investment, rather than simply expenditure. Well targeted and monitored interventions could have multiplier effects that promote inclusive economic growth, job creation and local markets, while addressing social exclusion of citizens.

As social protection programmes in many African countries are supported by international partners, participants recognized that donor financing still has a role to play. 

However, to ensure sustainability, the social protection agenda should be firmly anchored in domestic financing and reflected in countries’ medium term expenditure frameworks. Technical cooperation and capacity development, especially focused on coordination and partnerships – including South South Cooperation – still remains crucial.

More effective domestic resource mobilisation, including private sector compliance with taxes, were additional recommendations to help move the social protection agenda forward. 

The recommendations will be tabled at the African Union inter-Ministerial meeting on Social Development, Labor and Employment later this month, in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia.

The Dakar Seminar comes at a critical time as international delegates prepare to meet this July in Addis Ababa, for the Third International Conference on Financing for Development in which they will agree on a new framework to finance development.

It was organized in partnership with the African Union, the governments of Brazil and Senegal, the Instituto Lula, and UNDP, including its World Centre for Sustainable Development (RIO+Centre).

Helen Clark: Lecture on “Youth, Innovation, Sustainable ...

09 Apr 2015

It is a privilege for me to deliver the Commonwealth Lecture at this prestigious venue this evening. I thank Commonwealth Secretary-General Kamalesh Sharma for the invitation to me, and I also acknowledge the presence of Sir Anand Satyanand, the Chair of the Commonwealth Foundation and former Governor-General of New Zealand.

As Prime Minister of New Zealand, I had the privilege of attending four Commonwealth Heads of Government Summits – or CHOGMs as they are known. For a New Zealand Prime Minister coming from the very far south of the South Pacific, CHOGM is an opportunity to meet counterparts not only from one’s near region, but from the Caribbean, Asia, Africa, the Indian Ocean, Europe, and Canada.

For the Commonwealth, like the United Nations, spans every region of the world. It constitutes nearly a third of the global population – some 2.2 billion people, and a quarter of our planet’s land area. But it has not relied on its size and geographical reach alone in making its mark in a world of many multi-country organisations. The Commonwealth’s unique value has been its commitment to development, democracy, and diversity.

Of special note have been the Singapore Declaration of Commonwealth Principles in 1971 setting out the core political values of the organization, and the Harare Declaration of 1991. These landmark documents consolidated the Commonwealth’s positioning as an organisation committed to peace, equal rights for all, the rule of law, free and democratic political processes, and economic and social development.

At 66 years of age, the Commonwealth is just four years younger than the United Nations, which celebrates its seventieth anniversary this year. To be relevant to our times, both must continually reinvent themselves in a world of many pressing challenges – and in a very youthful world. The global population under the age of thirty numbers more than half the total of over seven billion.

Three in every five Commonwealth citizens are under the age of thirty. That fully justifies the choice of this year’s Commonwealth theme: “A Young Commonwealth”. And one cannot fail to be impressed by the major focus of the Commonwealth on developing youth potential through its programmes and forums. The Commonwealth Youth Index is an innovative tool which can support governments in designing effective youth policy. I especially welcome the 2013 Declaration of Commonwealth Leaders in which they committed “unequivocally to investing in young people and placing them at the centre of sustainable and inclusive development, thus harnessing their creativity, leadership, and social capital towards the progress and resilience of Commonwealth countries and a more prosperous and democratic Commonwealth.”

With youth comes energy, vibrancy, and optimism – if there is a supportive environment and opportunity. That lays the ground for major positive contributions and a demographic dividend from the largest youth population the world has ever known. Yet a failure to invest in opportunity for youth can quickly lead to the opposite -to alienation and to energy turned in destructive rather than constructive directions. That is a future we invite at our peril.

So, what kind of future is currently on offer for today’s children and young people? How could the current global offer be improved through commitment to a transformational, post-2015 sustainable development agenda consistent with the vision and values of the Commonwealth? What role can innovation play in engaging citizens and driving development? These are the questions I will endeavour to address in my lecture this evening.

Let me refer first to just some of the significant challenges our world faces which must be addressed in the post-2015 global development agenda currently being negotiated at the United Nations. The new agenda will supersede the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) which run their course at the end of this year. It needs to be big, bold, and transformational to meet the needs of young and old alike for a more just and peaceful world.

1. Poverty and inequality

Tremendous progress has been made on lifting people out of abject poverty in the last thirty years. Growth in emerging economies has been driving a process of convergence between what was traditionally regarded as a poor and developing ‘south’ and a rich and developed ‘north’ – although clearly very significant gaps still remain.

The MDGs set targets for progress on a range of basic development indicators, using 1990 data as a baseline. Against those targets, we have seen:

• extreme income poverty halved between 1990 and 2010. To a significant extent, this was driven by the incredible decline in poverty in China;
• over the same period the likelihood of a child dying before their fifth birthday was nearly cut in half;
• now nine out of ten children in developing countries are enrolled in primary schooling (net enrolment rate), with roughly equal numbers of boys and girls.
• Many more women are being elected to the parliaments of their countries, but progress in lifting the numbers falls well short of the targeted thirty per cent figure.

But despite these and other areas of progress on MDG targets, many inequalities have become starker:

• eight per cent of the world’s population now earns fifty per cent of the world’s income;
• the richest one per cent owns 48 per cent of the world’s assets;
• in some developing regions, children in towns and cities are up to thirty per cent more likely to complete primary school than are those in rural areas;
• gender inequality is stark by virtue of the fact that it remains pervasive in the 21st Century, and is upheld variously by law, culture, and/or custom. Sexual and gender-based violence blights every nation on earth. By not tackling these issues decisively, nations are limiting their potential. Pursuing gender equality and women’s empowerment is not just the right thing to do; it’s also the smart thing to do, as Hilary Clinton has aptly observed; and
• countries in conflict or facing significant insecurity have been unable to reduce poverty because of the disruption they suffer to the course of human life and to their infrastructure and institutions. They fall behind as the world develops around them and without them.

Overall, inequalities have grown in the majority of the world’s countries, with very few exceptions. Wealth, opportunity, and ultimately power is increasingly concentrated in the hands of the few. High levels of inequality limit the political will to address poverty, and they tear at the very fabric of our societies. Political exclusion, and a lack of hope for young people, has contributed to the rise of sectarianism and violence.

2. Conflict, insecurity, and shocks

The seeming magnet in ISIS which is attracting young men and women from countries rich and poor threatens to destabilise parts of our world for years to come. Alas, ISIS is far from unique as an extremist group – just within the past week, a Commonwealth country, Kenya, has experienced a horrific massacre of young people on a college campus carried out by another terrorist group, and from Nigeria to Pakistan and beyond such organisations are destroying lives and prospects. The crimes being committed by members of these groups are at a level of depravity which can only be described as grotesque.

Whether born from greed, grievance, or ideology, conflict can dissolve human development in an instant. Conflict and protracted insecurity reverses decades of progress, stranding generations of young people without education and the opportunities for decent jobs and livelihoods. The impact on women and girls is typically abhorrent.

Often ‘conflict’ is put in a separate box from ‘development’ but that makes little sense in the real world. Take the example of the Syrian crisis which has seen nearly four million refugees dispersed largely across five countries in the neighbourhood, and over seven million people internally displaced within Syria itself. This is not only a very serious humanitarian crisis; it is a development crisis for Syria and its neighbors. Many children are out of school; people have lost jobs and livelihoods; essential services are under huge pressure; homes have been destroyed – the list goes on.

One story: last year I visited an informal campsite where Syrians had taken refuge in Lebanon’s Beqaa Valley. Our group sat in a makeshift shelter with a family. Mum, Dad, and all but one child were present. That one child was a twelve-year old girl. She was out at work in the fields as the only family member who could find a job. I have no doubt that countless thousands of Syrian children are in such situations – and worse if they are trafficked and/or sexually exploited.

Then there is the impact of natural disasters wherever disaster risk reduction has not been undertaken – or has not been sufficient in the face of new challenges like climate change, and like rapid urbanization which is placing more people in vulnerable locations. Severe floods, droughts, cyclones, earthquakes, and tsunamis still cause great loss of life, livelihoods, and infrastructure. Vanuatu, a Commonwealth country, suffered extraordinary damage from an unprecedented cyclone just last month. Big investments are needed to make communities more secure from such threats.

Other shocks also flow from under-development. Take the Ebola outbreak in West Africa – where one of the three epicenter countries, Sierra Leone, is a Commonwealth country. A functioning health system could have stopped the disease at the outset. But there wasn’t one, and nor was there an adequate, early international response. The outcome is now measured in thousands of lives lost, thousands of children orphaned, many more widow-headed households, economies struggling, jobs and livelihoods lost, months of missed schooling, and the collapse of basic services.

3. Climate change and other forms of environmental degradation

The number of extreme weather events is increasing dramatically around the world. Sea level rises will lead to displacement of people, and to increasing stress on land, water, and food. Changing rainfall patterns will affect agriculture and livelihoods. Tropical diseases will become more persistent. These impacts will increasingly challenge development. They threaten to erase past, present, and future development gains in all countries, and especially for the poorest.

Our current patterns of consumption are generating levels of pollution with which our planet cannot cope. Our overuse of the world’s resources for ‘wants’ rather than ‘needs’ is threatening ecosystems and will affect our very way of life. This is particularly evident with climate change. As Mahatma Gandhi said, “Earth provides enough to satisfy every man’s needs, but not every man’s greed.”

In the consultations on the post-2015 development agenda led by the UN development system, people have called for strong leadership from governments, business, and the UN to change course before it is too late. That course correction has been a long time coming, which leads me to my fourth and last point about challenges.

4. Glacial multilateralism

The challenges of poverty and inequality, environmental degradation, and human insecurity are sadly not new, but effective responses to many challenges, old and new alike, have been slow in coming. The architecture of key multilateral institutions from the UN Security Council to the International Monetary Fund is frozen in time.

Yet my sense is that we don’t have a lot of time. The scientific consensus is that we don’t have time to delay on tackling climate change. The economic evidence in heavyweight reports like that of Lord Stern prepared for the British Government in 2006 is that the longer action is delayed, the more costly it will be to try to avert catastrophic and irreversible climate change impacts.

With high rates of criminal violence in many countries; with nations from the Sahel to the Horn of Africa and from the Maghreb to Iraq and Yemen blighted by conflict; with youth -and the not so youthful too – rallying to join terrorist groups; one could paraphrase an old proverb and ask: are we reaping what we have sown? Have too many people been too marginalised and too excluded for too long from the economies, societies, and politics of their nations? And isn’t the biggest development challenge our world faces the need to address the root causes of all these problems? So, I ask:

– How can our world utilize its great global knowledge, technology, and wealth to build a better, fairer future?

– How can we engage youth as agents of development, innovation, and change – building on good principles like those in the Commonwealth Declaration on Investing in Young People?

– How can we fulfil our destiny of being the first generation able to eradicate extreme poverty and the last generation able to prevent catastrophic climate change?

The opportunity of 2015 – a new global development agenda

The good news is that 2015 offers a unique opportunity to reset the compass. This is a “once in a generation” year for development, with four major global processes and summits related to development taking place. Their outcomes will set priorities for the next generation. Ambition needs to be high, given the magnitude of the challenges.

The first of these events, the Third UN World Conference on Disaster Risk Reduction, has already taken place in Sendai, Japan, in March. UNDP’s tagline for that conference was that “if it’s not risk informed, it’s not sustainable development”. So often we see gains which have been painfully made literally swept away by floods, cyclones, and landslides, or destroyed by severe droughts, earthquakes, or tsunami. There are development solutions to these challenges. We can build greater resilience to these shocks and reduce risk.

The last of the four 2015 events will be the vital UN climate change conference in Paris in December (COP21), where a new global agreement is due to be reached – and must be reached if there is to be any credible chance of stopping the worst impacts of climate change.

In between Sendai and Paris are the Third International Conference on Financing for Development in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia, in July, and the Special Summit on Sustainable Development in New York in September.

At the September Summit, UN Member States are due to agree on a successor framework to the Millennium Development Goals. This will build on the MDG experience. The focus and funding driven by the MDGs has undoubtedly played a role in the increased school enrolment and decreased mortality among children to which I referred earlier. Action on MDG targets also played a role in improving access to drinkable water, reducing maternal mortality, and tackling HIV, malaria, and TB. Around the world, the MDGs guided budget decisions and legislative priorities.

The post-2015 development agenda therefore has large shoes to fill. Even so, it is also shaping up to be a bigger, bolder, and more transformational agenda than the MDGs were – and that is needed. It will be a universal, sustainable development agenda, requiring commitment from all countries, developed and developing, to build a better shared future. Poverty, inequalities, and environmental challenges exist in rich and poor countries alike. Poverty eradication, lifting human development overall, and environmental sustainability will be at the heart of the new agenda.

The Commonwealth, its associated organisations, and its Member States are engaged in the discourse about the new agenda, as they have long been with the MDG agenda and with all major development-related processes. The Commonwealth plays a unique role in the strength of its advocacy for Small Island Developing States. Its voice is loud and clear on the need for fair and equitable outcomes to world trade negotiations. The Commonwealth Local Government Forum has been a strong advocate for taking the MDGs to the local level, and will be a key partner in ensuring that the new SDGs are localized. And the Commonwealth’s deep commitment to democratic governance is a constant reminder of the importance of that as a driver of the sustainable development agenda.

In an eighteen month process culminating in a report last July, an Open Working Group set up by the UN General Assembly developed seventeen sustainable development goals (SDGs) and many associated targets. The numbers are large, but so are the challenges. Later, in a synthesis report on the post-2015 discussions to date prepared for the General Assembly, the Secretary General suggested framing the seventeen proposed SDGs in six “essential elements”. That could help simplify the presentation of the broad agenda, and thus raise awareness of what it is all about.

The first element would cover the proposed SDGs which deal with the urgency of eradicating poverty and fighting inequality of all kinds, including gender inequality. That is defined as an agenda for human dignity.

The second element covers goals and targets related to employment, social protection, health and education -classic social development goals making up an agenda for people.

For states to afford and advance a social agenda, they need to have economic growth, develop their infrastructure, including for energy, and enhance their capacity to trade and attract investment. That is an agenda for prosperity, and is well covered in the proposed SDGs.

But growth should not come at the cost of destroying vital ecosystems. This is the agenda for the planet. The proposed SDGs have strong environmental content.

Governments cannot build such an agenda alone. The participation of citizens, their organizations, and civil society is needed, along with the input of science and academia and the dynamism of the private sector. Post-2015 is an agenda for partnerships.

And finally, and for the first time explicitly, the proposed new global development agenda declares that development requires peaceful and inclusive societies, justice for all, and effective, accountable, and inclusive institutions at all levels. This is an agenda for justice, and is covered in what is well known in development circles simply as Goal Sixteen.

Dignity, People, Planet, Prosperity, Partnerships, and Justice: these are six essential elements of an agenda for human and sustainable development which would enable nations to grow and develop in inclusive ways within the boundaries set by nature. This is a transformative agenda, and it is badly needed.

But such agendas remain mere words on paper unless they can be implemented. Capacities need to be built. Governance needs to be improved. Citizens need to be engaged. And, while money isn’t everything, it certainly helps.

That’s why the Addis Ababa conference on financing for development in July is vital. Indeed, negotiations at the UN on the post-2015 agenda will go into recess after their June meeting until after that conference. To get agreement on the new global development agenda, Addis Ababa must go well.

On finance, official development assistance will remain vital for low-income countries, and can play a catalytic role in middle-income countries too. Achieving sustainable development as envisaged in the new SDGs, however, is estimated by UNCTAD to require investments of $3.3 to $4.5 trillion dollars per annum -vastly more than the current $135 billion per annum available in official development assistance. Developing countries will need to grow their tax revenues, be bankable, and be able to attract significant private sector investment. Enabling environments for that need to be built more broadly.

Beyond finance, achieving sustainable development also requires significant policy, legislative, and regulatory change. It requires changes in the way we live, work, produce, consume, generate our energy, transport ourselves, and design our cities. This is an all-of-society endeavour in which governments, citizens, civil society, the private sector, and academia and research institutions must all play their part.

Does this agenda seem too big, too bold, and too broad to be implemented? Yes – often it does. It will require vision; it will require finance; it will require access to new technologies; and it will require innovative approaches to development which engage citizens.

Already there has been wide outreach to the global public – more than seven million people have voted on what their priorities for the post-2015 agenda are in the UN-sponsored MY World Survey. Sixty per cent of the respondents were from Commonwealth countries, and over eighty per cent of them were aged thirty or younger.

The top four priorities consistently registered were education, health care, jobs, and having an honest and responsive government. These are huge priorities for young people – they are disproportionately numbered among the unemployed; often lack access to quality and affordable education and other services; often face barriers in exercising their sexual and reproductive health choices and rights; and often are excluded from meaningful participation in the decision making which impacts on their lives. Simply put young people deserve a better deal, and have everything to play for in the post-2015 development agenda.

In national consultations across 88 countries, and in major thematic discussions on and offline, citizens across all regions of the world have made it clear that they don’t want their engagement with the new global agenda to be limited to providing input at the outset. They expect to be informed participants in development, and to be able to monitor progress and hold governments and other actors accountable for the commitments they make. We must enable youth to be fully part of this action.

This call for engagement is one of the reasons why a “data revolution” must go hand in hand with the new agenda. Progress must be measured. Data must be available, be of good quality, and be easily accessed. Capacities to analyse it are needed for good policymaking and for effective monitoring by parliaments, citizens, and media. Building national statistical capacity and all these associated capacities is a development function too.

The role of innovation

Innovative approaches to development using a wide range of new technologies and media to engage citizens and improve services are increasingly being used in the UN development system, and will play a big role in implementing the broad sustainable development agenda. We are already tapping directly into the insights of youth, communities, and small entrepreneurs to help define challenges and implement solutions. UNAIDS has used crowdsourcing to get wide input into the development of its youth strategy.

In Rwanda, a Commonwealth country, UNDP in partnership with the Government, created an online platform, YouthConnekt. It uses Google hangout technology together with other social media and text messaging to link young Rwandans to role models, resources, knowledge, skills, internships and jobs. The youth participating can showcase their innovative ideas and projects through the platform to potential partners.

In Eastern Europe and the Caucasus, UNDP and UNICEF are supporting social venture incubators which have been conceived and designed by and are now led by young people. The Social Innovation (Kolba) Lab in Armenia is helping young social innovators become social entrepreneurs through the provision of training, mentoring and specialist advice. It aims to incubate home grown solutions to pressing social challenges.

Then there’s the role of “big data” generated by mobile and online communications in helping to design responses to crises and reduce the risk of disasters and conflict. The UN’s Global Pulse initiative has been a leader in conceptualizing the use of big data, and UN organisations are already utilizing big data in their work. In Mexico, for example, the World Food Programme worked with the Government and a major mobile provider to see whether analysis of mobile phone traffic patterns could provide insights into how people communicate before and after flooding, and then to use those insights to guide response planning. Correlations were found which helped direct relief to where it was needed.

Especially influential is the “Ushahidi” platform, which developed as an early warning system in Kenya to support efforts to defuse outbreaks of violence after the 2007 elections. In effect the innovators behind it encouraged live reporting of incidents by text messaging or other means, and then were able to map what was happening and where help was needed.

Ushahidi’s open source software is now being applied to other settings and circumstances around the world, including to track violence against immigrants, violence associated with elections, and pharmacy stock-outs. In Afghanistan, the platform has been used to develop Watertracker, a community-based, crowdsourced tool which empowers citizens to monitor the functioning of wells and other water points. An estimated thirty to fifty per cent of all water points in Afghanistan are not functional after two years, so the potential of this new technology to improve service delivery is huge.

Conclusion

The last two decades have seen remarkable social and economic progress. Within a generation, hundreds of millions of people rose out of extreme poverty, and many developing countries have seen rapid economic growth. Yet, inequality has been on the rise, including within rapidly growing developing countries, and through a set of very poor and/or conflict-stricken countries being left behind other fast developing countries. We are living in turbulent times where volatility has become the new normal.

The challenge of the SDGs will be to lift all people in extreme poverty out of it within a generation, and keep them out of it. It will be to turn the tide on rising inequality and to tackle entrenched marginalization and exclusion. Environmental degradation must be addressed decisively, including by acting now on climate change. Better and more inclusive governance, the rule of law, and effective conflict resolution leading to peace and stability are needed too. Broad coalitions committed to transformational change are needed.

Tackling these huge challenges is what the post-2015 agenda is all about. It is an agenda for current and future generations. Young people have been engaged in the design of the new development agenda. And it is young people, the leaders of the future, who will see it through.

The Commonwealth, home to a third of the world’s people, combines the strength of its youth, its values of democracy and diversity, and a deep commitment to development. Over the past 66 years, the Commonwealth has shown a capacity to reinvent itself continually. It would have been all too easy for a voluntary association of nations drawn from where the same imperial flag once flew to lose its relevance. The triumph of the Commonwealth is that it hasn’t. It has developed a shared vision and set of values which aim to shape our common future

That’s why the Commonwealth is well positioned to support both the design and the implementation of the post-2015 agenda. For the agenda to succeed, it must seize the imagination of peoples, governments, civil society, and business, and big partnerships must be built around its vision and goals.

The UN and the Commonwealth are both institutions which can nurture citizens’ aspirations for peace, progress, prosperity, and justice and catalyze collective action. In this “once in a generation” year, we have the opportunity to put global development on an inclusive, sustainable course. The UN at age seventy and the Commonwealth are essential allies in making that happen.

Researchers develop Ebola vaccine effective in a single dose

EbolaResearchers develop Ebola vaccine effective in a single dose

Published 9 April 2015

During 2014, the outbreak of the West African Makona strain of Ebola Zaire virus killed nearly 10,000 and caused worldwide concern. With increasing population growth in West Africa, the frequency of contact between humans and natural Ebola virus hosts such as bats will likely rise, potentially leading to more catastrophic outbreaks. Researchers have developed a quick-acting vaccine that is both safe and effective with a single dose against the Ebola strain that killed thousands of people in West Africa last year.

An interdisciplinary team from the University of Texas Medical Branch at Galveston and Profectus BioSciences, Inc. has developed a quick-acting vaccine that is both safe and effective with a single dose against the Ebola strain that killed thousands of people in West Africa last year. These findings are detailed in the new edition of Nature.

During 2014, the outbreak of the West African Makona strain of Ebola Zaire virus killed nearly 10,000 and caused worldwide concern. With increasing population growth in West Africa, the frequency of contact between humans and natural Ebola virus hosts such as bats will likely rise, potentially leading to more catastrophic outbreaks.

A UTMB release reports that many vaccine approaches have shown promise in being able to protect nonhuman primates against Ebola Zaire. In response to the Ebola Zaire outbreak, several of these vaccines have been fast tracked for human use.

One of those vaccines, developed by UTMB and Profectus, has been undergoing testing in the Galveston National Laboratory, the only fully operational Biosafety Level 4 laboratory on an academic campus in the United States.

“These findings may pave the way for the identification and manufacture of safer, single dose, high efficiency vaccines to combat current and future Ebola outbreaks,” said Thomas Geisbert, UTMB professor of microbiology and immunology. “We are excited at the possibility of helping develop a way to stop this deadly disease. We have a lot of more work to accomplish but it’s important to note that this is a big step.”

The research team developed a vaccine effective against Ebola Zaire with a single dose in a nonhuman primate model. This new vaccine employs a virus not harmful to humans called vesicular stomatitis virus that had a part of the Ebola virus inserted into it. This “Trojan horse” vaccine safely triggered an immune response against Ebola Zaire.

To address any possible safety concerns associated with this vaccine, the team developed two next generation candidate vaccines that contain further weakened forms of the vaccine. Both of these vaccines produced an approximately ten-fold lower level of virus in the blood compared to the first generation vaccine.

“It was not known whether any of these vaccines could provide protection against the new outbreak West African Makona strain of Ebola Zaire currently circulating in Guinea,” said John Eldridge, Chief Scientific Officer-Vaccines at Profectus Biosciences. “Our findings show that our candidate vaccines provided complete, single dose protection from a lethal amount of the Makona strain of Ebola virus.”

Both weakened vaccines have features of the Mayinga strain of Ebola virus, as do most other candidate Ebola Zaire vaccines currently under evaluation. The original 1976 Mayinga strain and the new West African Makona strain are quite similar. The researchers said it was important to test their candidate vaccines on the Makona strain to ensure that even small differences between the strains didn’t impact the effectiveness of the vaccine.

— Read more in Chad E. Mire et al., “Single-dose attenuated Vesiculovax vaccines protect primates against Ebola Makona virus,” Nature (8 April 2015) (doi:10.1038/nature14428)

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UN AND AFRICA: Day of reflection on the genocide in Rwanda to never ...

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Jeanne d’Arc Byaje. Photo: UN Photo/Paulo Filgueiras

• Twenty-one years after the Rwandan genocide, there are still people who deny it was perpetrated, according to the Deputy Permanent Representative of Rwanda to the UN. In 1994, more than 800,000 people, mainly Tutsi, moderate Hutu and Twa, were systematically killed across Rwanda in less than three months. A solemn event was organized at UN headquarters on Tuesday to remember the victims and honour the survivors of the genocide.

Freedom of movement vital for planting season in South Sudan

Margerita, a South Sudanese farmer. Photo: FAO/Jean Di Marino

• Restrictions to people’s freedom of movement in South Sudan limit their abilities to provide for themselves, according to the UN Humanitarian Coordinator in the country. South Sudan continues to be plagued by a conflict that broke out between government and opposition forces in December 2013, displacing more than two million people and forcing half a million of others to flee to neighbouring countries. The UN says that traditional livestock migration patterns, agriculture and trading routes have been significantly disrupted by the ongoing fighting.

Project to restore food security begins in northern Mali

A farmerin in Mali sorts niebe beans. FAO@PHOTO

• A project to restore the livelihoods of households in northern Mali is being implemented by the UN Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) with the Government of the country. FAO says agriculture in parts of Mali, particularly the north, has been seriously affected in recent years by civil strife and climate change. The US$5 million project will seek to immediately restore production assets to families in the Gao, Mopti and Timbuktu regions.

Producer/Presenter: Derrick Mbatha
Production Assistant: Sandra Sandra
Studio Engineer: Zach Prewit
Duration: 10’00”

SEC Halts Microcap Scheme in South Florida

Washington D.C., April 9, 2015

The Securities and Exchange Commission today announced fraud charges and an asset freeze against the operators of a South Florida-based microcap scheme, including three boiler room brokers caught trying to conceal from investors that they have been barred from the industry.

The SEC alleges that investors were defrauded in cold calls placed to investors through a boiler room spearheaded by Dean A. Esposito of Boca Raton, Fla., Joseph DeVito of Brooklyn, N.Y., and Frederick Birks of Orlando, Fla.  These brokers and their sales agents were hired by Joseph J. Azzata of Boca Raton, Fla., CEO of eCareer Holdings, Inc., to sell unregistered stock shares in the company.  Investors were told their money would be used as working capital to develop eCareer’s online job staffing business, however about 30 percent of investor proceeds has been diverted to pay exorbitant fees to the brokers and sales agents.  These payments were mischaracterized in eCareer’s corporate filings as dispensed to third parties for consulting and advisory services rather than to the sales agents.  Company filings and offering materials also misrepresented that eCareer shares would be sold only to accredited investors when in reality stock has been pitched and sold to people not necessarily meeting that definition, including some non-accredited investors aged 85 to 98 years old. 

According to the SEC’s complaint unsealed today in U.S. District Court for the Southern District of Florida, Esposito, DeVito, and Birks were subjects of a prior SEC enforcement action that resulted in them being barred from acting as a broker or dealer or participating in any offering of a penny stock.  Therefore, they were prohibited from earning transaction-based compensation from the sale of eCareer’s stock.  In an attempt to circumvent these prohibitions and disguise the true nature of their compensation, Esposito, DeVito, and Birks and their companies entered into agreements typically signed by Azzata that miscategorized their compensation as advisory fees and finder’s fees. 

“We allege that senior citizens and other investors were falsely told that purchasing eCareer stock was a good, profitable investment,” said Eric I. Bustillo, Director of the SEC’s Miami Regional Office. “Concealed from these investors were the exorbitant fees being paid to sales agents as well as the disciplinary histories of Esposito, DeVito, and Birks.”

The SEC alleges that eCareer, Azzata, Esposito, DeVito, and Birks fraudulently raised more than $11 million in funds from more than 400 investors since August 2010.  In addition to approximately $3.5 million paid out of investor funds in the form of undisclosed exorbitant fees, Azzata diverted $650,000 to pay expenses related to his motorsports hobby as well as other family expenditures such as private school tuition for his children and shopping bills for his wife.  Corporate filings by eCareer falsely claimed that private offering funds were used for working capital purposes and concealed Azzata’s misappropriation of investor proceeds. 

“Contrary to statements in sales pitches and eCareer’s corporate filings that the company would use proceeds to grow its business, we allege that Azzata and the barred brokers he hired to sell the stock lined their own pockets at the expense of investors,” said Glenn S. Gordon, Associate Director of the SEC’s Miami Regional Office.

The SEC’s complaint charges eCareer, Azzata, Esposito, DeVito and Birks with violating Sections 5(a), 5(c) and 17(a) of the Securities Act of 1933 as well as Section 10(b) of the Securities Exchange Act of 1934 along with Rule 10b-5.  The SEC’s complaint also charges eCareer Holdings, Inc. for its violations of Section 13(a) of the Exchange Act and Rules 12b-20, 13a-1, and 13a-13, and the complaint charges Azzata for aiding and abetting and control person liability for eCareer’s violations among other violations.  The SEC seeks disgorgement of ill-gotten gains, prejudgment interest, and financial penalties among other relief for investors.  The court has granted the SEC’s request for a temporary restraining order and temporary asset freeze, and temporarily barred Azzata from serving as an officer or director of eCareer Holdings and voting the company’s shares.

Azzata’s wife is named as a relief defendant in the SEC’s complaint for the purposes of recovering investor proceeds diverted to her personal accounts or expenditures. 

The SEC also suspended trading in shares of eCareer Holdings due to questions that have arisen about the accuracy and adequacy of publicly disseminated information in its filings.  More information about the trading suspension process is available in an SEC investor bulletin on the topic.

The SEC’s investigation, which is continuing, is being conducted by Linda S. Schmidt and Fernando Torres in the Miami Regional Office.  The case is being supervised by Jason R. Berkowitz, and the SEC’s litigation is being led by Christopher E. Martin.  The SEC appreciates the assistance of Florida’s Office of Financial Regulation.

Daily Press Briefings : Daily Press Briefing – April 9, 2015

12:42 p.m. EDT

MR RATHKE: I just have one thing to mention at the top. As many of you know, Secretary Kerry is traveling to Panama today to join President Obama at the Summit of the Americas, which will include participation by all 35 countries in the Western Hemisphere for the first time. Today he will meet with Colombian Foreign Minister Holguin, and throughout the trip Secretary Kerry will champion collective hemispheric efforts to advance our shared commitments to democracy, human rights, and inclusive economic development. The Secretary will also underscore the importance of engaging with civil society as well as highlighting the importance of increasing student and faculty exchanges, fostering innovation, and addressing climate change.

And with that, over to you, Matt.

QUESTION: Well, on that, there had been some discussion or some speculation that there might be a meeting with the Cuban – the Secretary might have a meeting with his Cuban counterpart. Is that not yet decided or —

MR RATHKE: I don’t have any other scheduling announcements to make.

QUESTION: All right. And then the President in Jamaica said just now that he has received the review or the recommendation of the Secretary on the state sponsor of terrorism designation for Cuba. Can you elaborate on what the recommendation is?

MR RATHKE: Well, I won’t get into the recommendation’s contents. But yes, the President did say just a few minutes ago that the White House has received the State Department’s recommendation. He’s spoken to that and to the process going forward, so I would say while that process remains underway we’re not going to comment on any of the particulars.

QUESTION: Back in December when the President announced the – his decision to move ahead with normalization, he said that he had instructed Secretary Kerry to review the designation with an eye towards removing Cuba from the list.

MR RATHKE: I don’t believe he used those words. I can go back and check exactly —

QUESTION: Oh, so you’re going to keep —

MR RATHKE: — how he put it.

QUESTION: So you’re going to keep —

MR RATHKE: But —

QUESTION: You’re leaving open the option that the recommendation is to keep them on the list?

MR RATHKE: No, I’m simply saying that I don’t think the President put it that way, that —

QUESTION: Well, why would you do a review if you weren’t going to take them off?

MR RATHKE: Well, it’s clearly an important concern and an important issue, so the review was worth doing.

Yes.

QUESTION: One historical question that I think you guys have given us the answer to, but I just don’t remember it: Can you remind us when was the last time that a U.S. Secretary of State met with – or indeed any U.S. official – but a U.S. Secretary of State met with the Cuban Foreign Minister?

MR RATHKE: Okay, we may have that date. I understand the reason of the interest. I’m not confirming any changes to his schedule, but we’ll look for that and get back to you.

QUESTION: Okay, that would be great.

MR RATHKE: Yeah.

QUESTION: And – no, that’s it for me on Cuba.

MR RATHKE: Anything on the same topic or move over?

QUESTION: Iran.

MR RATHKE: Okay, go ahead.

QUESTION: You will have seen, undoubtedly, or at least heard of comments made today by both President Rouhani and the Supreme Leader about the nuclear deal. Do you have any general thoughts about what they said? And then I’ll get – ask you specifics.

MR RATHKE: Well, I think the first point I would make is we’re not negotiating in public. We’ve talked a lot over the last week about the parameters of the framework, and we’ve certainly gone into some detail about them. So we’re not going to negotiate on those terms in public. Of course, there are a number of details that remain to be negotiated. That’s why we have the process that will run until the end of June, and we will negotiate those details with our partners.

QUESTION: On any number of points, the president, but more specifically the Supreme Leader, appear to have just simply restated Iran’s opening position from two years ago. Is that your read on it?

MR RATHKE: Well, I don’t want to – from what I understand, I think each of these speeches was rather long and I haven’t read them in their entirety, so I don’t want to comment – I don’t want to characterize them.

QUESTION: Well, did you hear anything new?

MR RATHKE: Well, I think, again, the – we’re working toward the end of June and completing many of the details that remain to be elaborated.

QUESTION: Well, if it is in fact the case that the positions outlined today are pretty much the same as they were – as their positions were before the negotiation ever began, I’m just trying to figure out what exactly was agreed to at Lausanne, particularly on the issue of sanctions removal, where the Supreme Leader says that they have to be removed the day the agreement is signed, not the day that it is certified that they are complying with it; and also on the question of PMDs, which you guys say will have to be addressed if there is to be a final deal and the Supreme Leader says that there will be no access, no inspections of military or security sites. And I don’t understand how you can combine the two and get a deal – the two positions – your – unless your position has shifted somehow.

MR RATHKE: Well, I’m not going to – again, we’re not going to respond to every public statement made by Iranian officials or negotiate in public. Just as one example, though, under the agreed-upon parameters, sanctions will be suspended in a phased manner upon verification that Iran has met specific commitments under a finalized joint comprehensive plan of action.

QUESTION: And you’re saying that that —

MR RATHKE: And that process – and that was – those are among the agreed-upon parameters.

QUESTION: At – from the Lausanne —

MR RATHKE: From Lausanne. And so —

QUESTION: Well, it doesn’t appear that way, since the Supreme Leader says that they have to be taken off immediately on the signing of a deal.

MR RATHKE: The process will only begin after —

QUESTION: Is he just badly misinformed by his negotiators?

MR RATHKE: I’m not going to characterize their internal processes or respond to all those public statements, but again, I think on this point it’s worth mentioning that the process of sanctions suspension or relief will only begin after Iran has completed its major nuclear steps and the breakout time has been increased to at least a year. So that’s consistent with what we’ve said over the last week or so, and that was agreed upon by all the parties in Lausanne.

QUESTION: You’re pretty sure of that? Because it doesn’t sound like it was agreed at all.

MR RATHKE: I don’t have further comment on the Supreme Leader’s remarks.

QUESTION: Just to put a fine point on it —

MR RATHKE: Yeah.

QUESTION: — it is still entirely the U.S. Government’s position that, as laid out in the parameters described by you guys in your fact sheet, that sanctions relief will only occur as Iran meets its nuclear commitments, correct?

MR RATHKE: Right. That’s right.

QUESTION: So it is – so from your point of view, it is inconceivable that sanctions relief could occur on the date that an agreement is reached, or is it conceivable that they could take every step necessary on that one date and then everything could be released that day?

MR RATHKE: That would be up to them. I think that there would – that would be a technical question, whether it would be possible to carry out all those steps. I’m not in a position to comment on that technical feasibility, but again, suspension will be phased upon verification of Iran’s completion of specific commitments.

QUESTION: And if – President Rouhani also said something, at least the quote that I saw in English, that suggested that all the sanctions had to be eased on the date that an agreement is reached. Do you think that they have not taken on board what the negotiators and particularly what Foreign Minister Zarif negotiated with you?

MR RATHKE: Well, I’m not going to draw a conclusion about their internal processes. I don’t have a comment on that. But our understanding and the understanding that we reached in Lausanne remains as I described it and, of course, others have gone into much greater detail about the particulars, including what’s in the fact sheet.

QUESTION: And are you troubled by the Supreme Leader’s statement, since he’s ultimately the decision-maker, that he does not take a position on the parameters that were reached in Lausanne?

MR RATHKE: Well, I’m not going to put a value on it either way. I would just say that as the President and the Secretary have said, we have a political framework, an understanding, but over the next two to three months, we have a very tough series of negotiations ahead of us to try to reach a comprehensive plan of action. And so we’ve always acknowledged that we’ve got a lot of tough work ahead of us.

QUESTION: As I understood your answer to Arshad, when you – when he asked if it was “inconceivable” – great word, by the way, have to get Princess Bride script in here more often – (laughter) – on the sanctions issue, your answer was essentially yes. You are not going to agree to anything in the final deal that deviates from what you have just outlined is in the Lausanne parameters, which is phased on completion verification of Iran’s steps.

MR RATHKE: That’s the framework understanding that guides the work from here.

QUESTION: So it is inconceivable for you to agree to something that would immediately ease or suspend the sanctions upon signing, unless, of course, it’s possible for Iran to comply immediately on signing.

MR RATHKE: Well, again – and that’s – and the – I don’t want to parse the Supreme Leader’s words on that or get into analyzing that further, but certainly, we stick by the framework understanding.

QUESTION: All right. But would you – so how about on the PMDs? Is it also inconceivable for you to accept something that doesn’t fully address the question of PMDs, particularly in light of the Supreme Leader’s comments that no security or military installation will be allowed to be subject to monitoring?

MR RATHKE: Well, again, the particular details and modalities of the inspection and verification are to be worked out in the follow-on talks.

QUESTION: Right.

MR RATHKE: And I think with regard to PMD, we’ve also said that that is – that that – Iran’s program and the framework understanding, they have to undertake a process that will address the IAEA concerns about PMD.

QUESTION: Well, can that be done without having access to the military and security sites that —

MR RATHKE: I’d have to talk to our technical experts about that. But the point is that verification and transparency in order to assure that all of the four pathways are closed down is an essential part of the agreement, and that – and it was – and that’s the understanding that was reached.

QUESTION: Can I ask you one question —

MR RATHKE: Yes.

QUESTION: — on the issue of signing? It’s my understanding – maybe I’m mistaken, but I thought that the JPOA from November of 2013 was not actually signed.

MR RATHKE: Mm-hmm. Right.

QUESTION: Is that not correct?

MR RATHKE: I’ll be honest. I don’t know the answer to that. We’ll verify.

QUESTION: Okay. So I guess then the next question is whether the comprehensive agreement, if there is one, would actually be signed by U.S., Iranian, members of the P5+1, and the European Union representatives or not. Because my – since it’s not a legally binding understanding, it’s just not clear to me whether there’s actually going to be a piece of paper that actually gets signed. So can you take that?

MR RATHKE: Yeah. Sure. Yeah.

QUESTION: Was the JPOA signed, and would you expect a comprehensive arrangement to also be signed?

MR RATHKE: Yeah. We’re happy to look at that.

Go ahead, Nicolas.

QUESTION: Related to that —

MR RATHKE: Sure.

QUESTION: — Yemen and Iran.

MR RATHKE: Yes.

QUESTION: Secretary Kerry had pretty strong words yesterday night on PBS against Iran, and at the same time, Iran had pretty strong words against Saudi Arabia. So I know that the two things are different, but there may be a connection. So do you think that it will be more difficult to reach a final agreement on the nuclear issue because of the situation in Yemen and because Iran and the U.S. are on different —

MR RATHKE: I don’t think we’re at a point where we’re going to draw that conclusion. We have been, of course, focused on the nuclear issue in the nuclear talks. But as the Secretary made clear, we have continued throughout to make our views known, publicly in many cases as well, about Iran’s behavior in the region that causes us great concern – support for terrorism, detention of American citizens, and so forth. Those remain concerns of ours and – but we’re not going to draw a conclusion about the impact it might have.

QUESTION: Any update —

QUESTION: (Off-mike.)

MR RATHKE: Just we’ll let Nicolas follow up, and then we’ll come to you.

QUESTION: Just an update on the U.S. citizens still trapped in Yemen. Do you have an assessment of the number of people who are still there and the efforts to try to evacuate them?

MR RATHKE: Yeah. So I don’t have a number to share about – but as it’s – the situation remains similar to what it’s been in recent days. We are aware of some American citizens who remain in Yemen. We remain in contact through a variety of means to advise American citizens in Yemen about the opportunities that present themselves for people to leave, if they choose to.

Just yesterday we put out two rather detailed but – messages to American citizens in Yemen about opportunities to depart. So that is, of course, something we remain focused on. And we are monitoring the situation in Yemen closely because, of course, protecting American citizens is a top priority for us.

Yes, Pam.

QUESTION: Going back to Secretary Kerry’s PBS interview last night, one specific thing that he said is that he’s very concerned about Iran’s support of the Houthi rebels. And this was in response to the reports of Iran moving ships closer to Yemen’s shore. What additional steps is the U.S. taking or looking at taking to address these concerns?

MR RATHKE: Well, I’m not going to spell out steps we might take or that we might contemplate taking in the future, but the Secretary was quite clear that we have concerns about support for the Houthis that comes from Iran. It is quite clear – and we’ve said for some time – that the blame for the conflict, as it currently exists in Yemen, lies squarely at the feet of the Houthis and also those who are supporting them. So that’s clearly a concern for us.

Same topic?

QUESTION: Yeah. Iran.

MR RATHKE: Iran. Yes. Go ahead.

QUESTION: Can we just go back – sorry, I know you don’t want to parse words and – but I want to look at this – the business about the fact sheet for a second, Jeff. You’ve said repeatedly here, as has the Secretary of State, that we don’t want to negotiate this deal in the press. And yet this department circulated a three-page document outlining the parameters of what was agreed to in Switzerland, and here now we have the Iranian Supreme Leader saying that it was inaccurate. Actually, what did he call it? Lying, most of it was against the agreement and wrong.

So was the fact sheet that was circulated translated into Farsi? I mean, there was also a Farsi fact sheet that came out from Tehran right afterwards that was different from the one that this department circulated. Why did you guys circulate that fact sheet – that’s my question – if you’re not trying to argue this in the public space?

MR RATHKE: Well, the distinction I would draw is we’ve – as we’ve said, we are not negotiating in public. The fact sheet represents understandings from – that were reached at Lausanne.

QUESTION: That the Iranians agreed to.

MR RATHKE: And we stand by that. And of course, as we’ve said all along, we consider it important as well to explain to the American public, including to Congress but to the public more broadly, what we’ve achieved in those talks. So I don’t see a contradiction between those two things.

As to the Iranians, their characterization of it, again, I’m not going to parse it.

QUESTION: But they agreed to the fact sheet that was circulated by this department?

MR RATHKE: No. It wasn’t a negotiated fact sheet that was released by the United States based on – we told them that we were going to talk about the agreement publicly, but it wasn’t a negotiated document.

QUESTION: So does it actually reflect what happened in the talks?

MR RATHKE: Yes. Yes, and we stand by it.

QUESTION: Because it was circulated like 10 minutes after the President announced that there was this historic development. It seemed like it was directly connected to what the focus of the talks were.

MR RATHKE: Well, yeah. And it reflects the understandings achieved there.

QUESTION: And so the Iranians agreed to what was in that document? Not —

MR RATHKE: Yeah. Not to the document itself. It isn’t like we had a process of negotiating that specific piece of paper. That’s the point I was making. But that fact sheet reflects the understandings achieved at Lausanne.

QUESTION: According to you.

MR RATHKE: Yeah. But – and we stand by it.

QUESTION: Right. But at some point somewhere down the line, presumably by the end of June, you’re going to have to produce – everyone at the table is going to have to produce one fact sheet that everybody agrees on. It doesn’t sound like you’re anywhere close to that.

MR RATHKE: Well, that’s the goal – is a joint comprehensive plan of action.

QUESTION: Right. Well, can you guarantee to us that if there is an agreement, it will be agreed to by everyone, and we won’t have the same kind of back and forth post agreement come July 2nd?

MR RATHKE: I’m not going to speak to the final shape and form of the agreement. And that’s also the nature of Arshad’s question —

QUESTION: The problem is that it just appears that – I know. It just appears because of the conflicting interpretations of what happened at Lausanne that, in fact, while you are saying that your version is correct and these things were agreed to, in fact, it’s not at all clear, at least to the Iranians, that they agreed to this. In fact, they say they didn’t, which is —

MR RATHKE: Well, again —

QUESTION: — problematic when you’re – which is a bit problematic if you’re negotiating with someone and you think you’ve agreed on something and they say no, we didn’t agree to this at all, right?

MR RATHKE: Well, again, we stand by that.

QUESTION: Okay.

MR RATHKE: Yes, go ahead.

QUESTION: Going back to what Khamenei said today about sanctions, and also the (inaudible) have been asking. So it seems like these – he has set these two redlines. Is this a deal-breaker? I mean, is it worth going for the next three months talking and not getting anywhere?

MR RATHKE: Again, no, we’re not negotiating those details in public, and so I’m not going to comment on his public statements. And we’re not – as this process goes forward, we’re not going to react to every public statement made by Iranian officials.

Arshad, you had a question.

QUESTION: Yeah. Even if the fact sheet that the U.S. Government provided was not a negotiated document with the Iranians, did U.S. negotiators make clear to the Iranian negotiators not merely that they were going to talk about the agreements that were reached, but that they were – did they make clear the basic substance of the things that they were going to describe in the fact sheet?

In other words – yeah, let’s put it that way. Did the U.S. negotiators tell the Iranian negotiators the basic substance of the items that they were going to disclose?

MR RATHKE: Right. I’ll go back and check. I believe Marie has spoken to this. I don’t have her remarks in front of me to characterize them precisely, so I’m happy to go back and look at that and come back to you.

QUESTION: Jeff.

MR RATHKE: Same topic?

QUESTION: On Iran.

MR RATHKE: Yes, go ahead.

QUESTION: Did the Under Secretary Sherman talk to members of Congress today about the agreement?

MR RATHKE: So with regard to the discussions with – pardon me for a moment – right. So we have offered briefings by Under Secretary Sherman starting as early as this week, and of course, the Secretary and a number of members of his team have been keeping in touch with members by phone. But I don’t have anything further to read out right now —

QUESTION: Thank you.

MR RATHKE: — on meetings or contacts.

QUESTION: So there was – I mean, Marie said yesterday there was a meeting, that she would begin these meetings today with the leadership and the (inaudible).

MR RATHKE: Well, we’ve offered some – I don’t have any meetings to confirm that have (inaudible).

QUESTION: Are there members of Congress who are turning down these meetings? I mean, recognizing that Congress is out right now.

MR RATHKE: Well, yes, many members are not here. As I said, the Secretary has also had discussions, as have others, by phone.

QUESTION: Right.

MR RATHKE: But Under Secretary Sherman has offered to meet in person as well.

QUESTION: Well, can you —

MR RATHKE: But I don’t have any of those to confirm.

QUESTION: Can you find out if a meeting is happening today or has happened today —

MR RATHKE: Sure.

QUESTION: — or if members were just not available or they said thanks but no thanks?

MR RATHKE: Yeah, yeah. We’ll look and see if there’s any specific meeting to confirm.

Yes, go ahead.

QUESTION: On the Iran-Yemen subject, is there any communications of what – any level regarding the subject, the Iranian – I mean, the U.S. is talking about Iranian involvement; Iran is talking back, accusing the U.S. of different things. Are there any exchanges on the – how to resolve this issue between the U.S. and Iran?

MR RATHKE: No. I think we mentioned some time ago when the discussions were happening in Geneva – or, no, at that point, I think it was already in Lausanne —

QUESTION: Lausanne.

MR RATHKE: — that the Secretary raised the matter in a discussion with Foreign Minister Zarif. He brought it up. It wasn’t the subject of a long discussion. But as we’ve always said, our focus is – in our discussions with Iran is on the nuclear issues, with the addition of the American citizens detained in Iran, which we raise whenever we have the opportunity.

QUESTION: Well, nothing besides that? I mean —

MR RATHKE: No.

QUESTION: — this week, since the talks —

MR RATHKE: No, no.

Same topic?

QUESTION: Yemen, yes.

MR RATHKE: Yemen, go ahead.

QUESTION: Yes. Given that we’re now into the 15th day of airstrikes in Yemen and given the growing humanitarian crisis that the Red Cross has expressed concern about, has there been any contact between the U.S. and the Saudi coalition to ask them to do something to reduce the humanitarian suffering, to get humanitarian aid in, and to do something about the humanitarian and civilian casualties that are being suffered, particularly when we’re hearing reports of severe fighting in places like Aden?

MR RATHKE: Well, you’ve mentioned the humanitarian situation. I think it’s worth pointing out that yesterday, we understand that the International Committee of the Red Cross, along with staff from Doctors Without Borders, successfully docked a ship in Aden to deliver medical supplies and surgical teams. ICRC would have more detail on that, but we also understand that they continue to work with Saudi officials in order to bring humanitarian supplies into Yemen.

Now on humanitarian issues more generally, we remain in close coordination with Saudi authorities. Deputy Secretary Blinken, of course, was there just this week. And we continue to call on all sides to comply with international humanitarian law, and the obligation to take all feasible precautions to minimize harm to civilians.

Yes.

QUESTION: Regarding Yemen and the possibility of some sort of peaceful solution to this war that is happening there. The Oman Government – the Omani Government – the Omani Foreign Minister has offered to try and kick-start some sort of talks, mediation. The Iranian Foreign Minister was actually in Muscat yesterday on his way to Pakistan, stopped there, and Iranian media reported that he was there specifically to have this discussion about the possibility of Oman playing intermediary. Does this department have a position on whether or not Oman could play that role between Tehran and Riyadh? And would we get behind that? Would the United States get behind that?

MR RATHKE: Right. Well, we continue to call on all parties in Yemen to return in good faith to political dialogue. And we also call for a renewed commitment to a peaceful, political transition which is consistent with the GCC initiative, the National Dialogue Conference, and all the relevant United Nations Security Council resolutions and the Yemeni constitution. As to a particular proposal, I’m not familiar with that one. But we don’t have a specific comment on those particulars. But certainly we see a need to return to political dialogue, and that’s something that the Houthis have to signal their readiness to do. There is – there are ample means to do it. There’s the UN-led process, and we certainly think that’s the way to achieve a political resolution.

Same topic, or —

QUESTION: Yeah. Still on Yemen.

MR RATHKE: Okay. This, and then I think we need to move on. Go ahead.

QUESTION: Is the U.S. Government doing anything to help with the humanitarian situation, or are you quite content to leave it to ICRC and Doctors Without Borders?

MR RATHKE: Well, of course, we’re the biggest humanitarian donor in the world. I don’t have figures in front of me particular to Yemen, but we can consult with our team and then come back to you.

Yes. New topic?

QUESTION: China?

MR RATHKE: China. Go ahead.

QUESTION: Did you see the comments made by the Chinese Government regarding their land reclamation efforts? And if so, do you have any comment on their claim that these land reclamation efforts are beyond reproach, entirely within their sort of national prerogative, and are designed both for a military and some civilian purposes to help other countries?

MR RATHKE: Well, in our view, China’s land reclamation and construction activities are fueling greater anxiety within the region about China’s intentions amid concerns that they might militarize outposts on disputed land features in the South China Sea. So we’re watching these developments closely and we continue to raise our concerns with China, as well as with others in the region, to urge all parties to avoid destabilizing activities. And we encourage all claimants, as we have for a long time, to pursue peaceful and diplomatic approaches to maritime and territorial disputes in the South China Sea. We don’t take a position on the underlying sovereignty question in these territorial disputes, but it is certainly important for all claimants to pursue their claims peacefully.

QUESTION: And do you regard the – I just want to make sure – I mean, I heard that you said that you felt they were feeling greater anxiety about the land disputes or territory —

MR RATHKE: No. What I said was “fueling greater anxiety… about China’s intentions amid concerns” – yeah.

QUESTION: Okay. And do you – okay, got it, about its intentions. Do you regard the land reclamation in and of itself as destabilizing?

MR RATHKE: Well, I think our Assistant Secretary for East Asia Danny Russel may have spoken to this as well. We’ve – we see it as destabilizing, and we’ve said it from this podium as well. And if you look at the commitments that countries in the region, including China, have made; and if you look at the size of the reclamation work over the past two or three years; and if you look at the Declaration of Conduct between China and ASEAN, which dates back over a decade, where the – where all parties committed to exercise self-restraint in the conduct of activities that would complicate or escalate disputes, it’s certainly our – we very much hope that China would recalibrate in the interest of stability and good relations in the region.

Yes.

QUESTION: Hi. My name is Toru Takei of Kyodo News, Japanese wire service.

MR RATHKE: Yes.

QUESTION: There is a report that says Deputy Secretary Blinken will be meeting his counterparts from Japan and South Korea next week here in Washington.

MR RATHKE: That’s correct.

QUESTION: Do you have anything? Do you know which day —

MR RATHKE: I don’t have a formal announcement to make, so I think that as we get closer to that meeting we will have – we will put out more details about the particulars of the meeting. I don’t have a formal announcement to make.

QUESTION: So you don’t know which day next week?

MR RATHKE: I’m happy to check on that and we can come back to you —

QUESTION: Okay, thank you.

MR RATHKE: — with the date.

Yes, Pam.

QUESTION: Ukraine?

MR RATHKE: Ukraine, yes.

QUESTION: Amnesty International has a new report that’s focused on human rights issues in Ukraine. It details atrocities that include abuse of detainees and also killings by pro-Russian separatists. Have you seen the report, first of all? And secondly, some of these are things we’ve talked about before, but if you have seen it, what is your reaction to the findings in this report?

MR RATHKE: Well, we are deeply troubled by reports of summary executions of captured Ukrainian security forces by Russia-backed separatists. These serious accusations must be thoroughly and transparently investigated, and any perpetrators must be held to account. So yes, we are familiar with the report.

Additional topics? All right, thank you.

QUESTION: No, sorry, just one brief – on Bahrain?

MR RATHKE: Bahrain.

QUESTION: Yeah. The continued – wondering if you have anything to say about Nabeel Rajab’s case.

MR RATHKE: Is there something in the last day or so that you’re referring to?

QUESTION: I believe it was back – what’s today? The 2nd – no, today’s the 9th. It may be a few days old now.

MR RATHKE: Okay.

QUESTION: I think he was rearrested.

MR RATHKE: So we certainly are deeply concerned about the arrest on April 2nd of Nabeel Rajab on new charges related to posting information on social media. And so we’re actively monitoring this case. We also understand there had been an April 5th court date for his appeal but that that has been postponed again. We urge the Government of Bahrain to drop these charges against Mr. Rajab and to release him immediately. As we consistently say around the world, the United States does not agree with prosecution of individuals for crimes of peaceful expression. We believe that societies are strengthened and not threatened by peaceful expressions of opinion and dissent.

Thanks, everyone.

QUESTION: Thank you.

(The briefing was concluded at 1:15 p.m.)

UN launches appeal for Nigeria refugees as Boko Haram violence ...

9 April 2015 – The United Nations refugee agency (UNHCR) has issued an urgent funding appeal as it seeks to provide tens of thousands of people fleeing the violence in north-eastern Nigeria with critical assistance and protection.

“Displaced people in north-eastern Nigeria and across borders are in a very dramatic situation, they fear for their lives, and are at this point unable to return to their homes,” UNHCR Regional Representative for West Africa and Coordinator for the Nigeria Refugee situation, Liz Ahua, declared in a press release today.

“We need more financial support to continue to help the refugees and to plan for increased aid in case of more people fleeing for safety outside Nigeria.”

The appeal, which calls for $174.4 million to help some 192,000 refugees, also foresees a plan to respond to any additional population movements amid an unrelenting volatile climate across Nigeria’s Adamawa, Borno, and Yobe states.

Since 2009, when the Boko Haram insurgency resorted to wide-scale violence, more than 15,000 people have been killed, countless children, women and men have been abducted, abused and forcibly recruited, and women and girls have been targeted for particularly horrific abuse, including sexual enslavement.

The terror caused by Boko Haram has also provoked the instability of Nigeria’s north and spilled over the country’s borders, affecting the wider region and displacing over a million people.

According to UNHCR, in fact, the latest movements of refugees across Nigeria’s borders are expected to bring the total of Nigerian refugees in Cameroon to nearly 66,000.

Elsewhere in the region, refugee numbers are also rising. Some 18,000 people have fled to western Chad, including more than 15,000 since early January after Boko Haram’s offensive against the town of Baga in Nigeria’s Borno state. At the same time, more than 100,000 people have already found refuge in Niger despite a steadily deteriorating humanitarian situation and a spike in insurgent attacks against the towns of Bosso and Diffa.

The refugee crisis is also compounding the economic stability of the area. A recent World Food Programme (WFP) food security and vulnerability assessment in Niger in November 2014 showed that a total of 52.7 per cent of displaced households and their host families were severely – 14 per cent – or moderately – 38.7 per cent – food insecure, and in need of food assistance.

In today’s appeal, UNHCR admitted that aid agencies on the ground in the region are struggling to upscale and maintain basic services to refugees in camps, including shelter and food, access to health and education, as well as to clean water and sanitation.

At the same time, thousands of school-age refugee children remain unable to attend school because of a lack of classrooms and teachers, while the need for mental health support among local civilians has also sky-rocketed.

Ms. Ahua added that the boost in humanitarian funding from the appeal would help the UN’s humanitarian agencies to relocate refugees away from the conflict border areas and establish additional refugee camps where needed.

“Adequate funding is crucial to make sure aid agencies can improve the living conditions for refugees in asylum countries and respond to their protection needs,” she said.

Press Releases: Joint Statement of the Third Session of the ...

The following is a joint statement by the governments of Morocco and the United States following today’s Strategic Dialogue.

Begin text:

At the third session of the United States-Morocco Strategic Dialogue today at the Department of State, Secretary of State John Kerry and Foreign Minister Salaheddine Mezouar reviewed progress over the past year and discussed developments in the broader region which will shape our joint agenda over the next year. Building on the priorities defined in November 2013 by President Obama and King Mohammed VI, the outcomes of 2014’s Second Strategic Dialogue, and the shared economic objectives discussed during Vice President Biden’s November 2014 visit to Morocco, our strategic partnership and shared vision will promote a secure, stable, democratic, and prosperous Maghreb, Sahel region, Africa, and Middle East.

Support for Democratic Reforms:

The Secretary reiterated the United States’ appreciation for the action and leadership of His Majesty the King in continuing efforts to strengthen further Morocco’s democratic institutions and promote economic prosperity and human development. He welcomed the recent launch of a series of programs designed to strengthen political parties and civil society and to help prepare for municipal and regional elections, which will represent a new devolution of power to local authorities.

The Secretary hailed the passage of important reforms to Morocco’s system of military justice to ensure that civilians will no longer face military tribunals. He also noted the important role of civil society as a voice for the public in the policy process; in this regard, the Secretary welcomed the recent registration, in accordance with the recommendations of the National Human Rights Council (CNDH), of a number of civil society organizations.

The Secretary congratulated the Minister on Morocco’s immigration reforms and its legalization of more than 18,000 illegal migrants and asylum seekers over the course of 2014. The Minister underlined the important role that the National Human Rights Council has played in the protection and promotion of human rights nationally. The two parties discussed joint initiatives to work together to promote human rights globally at the United Nations Human Rights Council.

Economic Cooperation:

The Minister and the Secretary reviewed the successful Global Entrepreneurship Summit held in Marrakech in November 2014 and discussed the next steps to jointly promote a culture of entrepreneurship in support of socioeconomic development and shared prosperity across the region. The Minister and Secretary emphasized the importance of Moroccan and U.S. support for a successful sixth annual Global Entrepreneurship Summit in Kenya.

The Secretary congratulated Morocco on its eligibility for a second Millennium Challenge Corporation compact and looked forward to the important work it will do to stimulate investment and growth by promoting private sector linkages in education and improving land policy and productivity. The Secretary and Minister applauded the Memorandum of Understanding signed today between the Government of Morocco and the Millennium Challenge Corporation designed to share expertise and lessons learned with other select countries in Africa.

They discussed efforts to further increase trade and investment between the two countries and take full advantage of the U.S.-Morocco Free Trade Agreement. They praised the strengthening of business to business ties through an ongoing series of United States-Morocco Business Development Conferences. The Minister and the Secretary welcomed the potential of future cooperation on energy and highlighted Moroccan progress toward its 2020 renewable energy targets, including notable advances in wind and solar power.

Engagement in Africa:

The Secretary highlighted the leadership of His Majesty King Mohammed VI in promoting human development and economic prosperity within Africa.

The Secretary and the Minister reaffirmed the two countries’ will to work jointly to ensure security and stability and economic growth in Africa through a comprehensive and coordinated approach including food security, access to energy, trade promotion, conflict prevention, and the preservation of cultural and religious identity.

The Minister emphasized Morocco’s role and commitment in supporting growth and development in Africa and in providing an avenue for increased trade and investment in Africa, in particular through the enhancement of south-south cooperation; the Secretary reaffirmed the U.S. interest in coordinating efforts with Morocco on the continent and seizing the opportunities presented for shared prosperity.

The Issue of the Western Sahara:

The Secretary reaffirmed the U.S. commitment to a peaceful, sustainable, mutually agreed-upon solution to the Western Sahara question. The United States’ policy toward the Western Sahara has remained consistent for many years. The United States has made clear that Morocco’s autonomy plan is serious, realistic, and credible, and that it represents a potential approach that could satisfy the aspirations of the people in the Western Sahara to run their own affairs in peace and dignity. The United States supports the negotiations carried out by the United Nations, including the work of the UN Personal Envoy of the Secretary-General Ambassador Christopher Ross, and urges the parties to work toward a just, lasting, and mutually agreed political solution. The United States also supports the role of the UN Mission for the Referendum on Western Sahara (MINURSO). The Secretary and the Foreign Minister affirmed their shared commitment to the improvement of the lives of the people in the Western Sahara and discussed appropriate ways to meet that goal.

Security Cooperation:

The Minister congratulated the United States for organizing the White House Summit to Counter Violent Extremism in Washington and reaffirmed its readiness to play a leading role in its follow-up process and demonstrating progress on the Summit’s action agenda at the leaders’ summit against violent extremism in New York on the margins of the UNGA. In this regard, the Secretary thanked the Minister for Morocco’s participation in this summit and for Morocco’s leadership in addressing the challenge of Foreign Terrorist Fighters, including through Morocco’s co-chairing the Global Counterterrorism Forum’s Foreign Terrorist Fighters Working Group. The Secretary and the Minister hailed the work done since its creation by the Global Counterterrorism Forum.

Mindful of the importance of border control in any strategy to fight terrorism, they reaffirmed the commitment of Morocco and the United States to co-lead, within the GCTF, the Initiative on Open Border Security.

The Secretary noted the United States’ appreciation for Morocco’s leadership in countering violent extremism and welcomed the creation of Mohammed VI Institute of Training of Imams, Morchidines and Morchidates from Morocco and other African, Arab and European countries.

They looked forward to this year’s largest-ever iteration of the multilateral African Lion military exercise in Morocco, a critical event in support of greater regional security cooperation. They noted robust and growing cooperation to support Morocco’s reform of its justice sector and promoting the rule of law, and welcomed the launch of new law enforcement and counterterrorism programs, including a trilateral initiative with Moroccan and American trainers working together to train other African partners in border security and crisis management.

The Secretary and the Minister reaffirmed their commitment to support the project initiated by the International Institute for Criminal Justice and the Rule of Law (IIJ), for the establishment of an informal platform for judicial cooperation in the Maghreb and the Sahel region on terrorism and other related cases.

Regional Issues:

Minister Mezouar reiterated His Majesty Mohammed VI’s support to the efforts by President Obama and the Secretary to advance Middle East peace and they acknowledged the contribution of His Majesty King Mohammed VI, as Chairman of Al Quds Committee, to the efforts aiming at achieving a two state solution.

The Minister and the Secretary reemphasized our shared goal of stability and security throughout the region and the continent of Africa, in particular the Sahel region. They noted the importance of stability in Libya and discussed both countries’ support for the UN process to advance reconciliation there.

The Secretary praised Morocco’s constructive role in inter-Libyan political talks, taking place in Skhirat, Morocco, under the auspices of the UN Special Representative for the Secretary General for Libya. The Secretary and the Minister underlined the vital importance of reaching a political and negotiated solution, which will promote stability and reconciliation in Libya.

On Mali, the Minister and the Secretary emphasized the need for a comprehensive solution which could address the root causes of the conflict and ensure a genuine and lasting national reconciliation which engages and is freely agreed to by all the concerned parties. The Secretary and Minister Mezouar underlined the importance of a solution that preserves Mali’s sovereignty and unity.

Educational and Cultural Cooperation:

The Minister and the Secretary discussed further cooperation to promote mutual understanding and dialogue in Morocco and throughout the region. They commended the work of the MacArthur Foundation, DreamYard, and Digital Youth Network together with the Moroccan Education and Resource Network (MEARN) in launching the J. Christopher Stevens Virtual Exchange Initiative pilot program between Morocco and American students earlier this spring. The Secretary congratulated Morocco on the comprehensive educational reforms the government has taken on, in recognition of the importance of education as it relates to developing a participatory democracy and encouraging economic growth.

The Secretary looked forward to furthering our partnership through USAID’s multi-year $25 million commitment to improving primary grade educational attainment. The Minister and the Secretary confirmed that strong interfaith dialogue, the promotion of values of moderation and tolerance are key for stability and development in the region and welcomed the convening of the international conference entitled “Women at the Heart of Monotheism: A Plural History” held in Rabat in November 2014.

Conclusion:

The Secretary congratulated Morocco on its decision to organize and host the 22nd session of the Conference of the Parties (COP 22) to the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change, which will take place in 2016.

The Minister and the Secretary concluded by noting that the Moroccan-American strategic partnership is based both on shared interests and shared values which provide many avenues for cooperation and collaboration bilaterally, regionally, and globally. They committed to following up on the joint agenda in all its facets. The Secretary thanked the Minister for his invitation to visit Morocco, and they look forward to the fourth session of the Strategic Dialogue in Rabat next year.