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World News in Brief: Food aid relief for Rohingya, 5 new Security Council members, jailing of Russian poets draws rebuke from rights expert

A Rohingya refugee from Myanmar receives support from the UN in Bhasan Char in Bangladesh.
© WFP/Saikat Mojumder
A Rohingya refugee from Myanmar receives support from the UN in Bhasan Char in Bangladesh.

World News in Brief: Food aid relief for Rohingya, 5 new Security Council members, jailing of Russian poets draws rebuke from rights expert

Humanitarian Aid

Critical food aid support is to be stepped up for many hundreds of thousands of Myanmar refugees sheltering in neighbouring Bangladesh, the UN World Food Programme, WFP, announced on Tuesday.

“The entire Rohingya population” from Myanmar will benefit, according to the UN agency, which increased the value of its monthly food voucher from $8 to $10 per person on 1 January.

Until early last year vouchers were worth $12 but WFP was forced to reduce their value in March to $10 because of funding gaps. A further reduction to $8 was implemented in June.

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Last year was marked by a sharp rise in the number of refugees struggling to eat a decent meal, to nine in 10 by last November.

WFP thanked donors for their support and said that it will also gradually begin distribution of fortified rice to the Rohingya population, starting in one or two camps and eventually extending to all camps in Cox’s Bazar complex and in Bhasan Char island.

“The year 2023 has been a tumultuous one for the Rohingya in Bangladesh, who lived through multiple fire outbreaks, cyclones, and, for the first time, ration cuts,” said Dom Scalpelli, WFP Country Director in Bangladesh.

'Rapid deterioration'

“The rapid deterioration of the food and nutrition situation in the camps is extremely worrying. Through all this, the donor community stood with the Rohingya – it's all thanks to its generous contributions we can now boost the voucher value and add locally fortified rice to WFP’s food assistance package.”

Mr. Scapelli said the agency remains fully committed to supporting the mostly-Muslim minority Rohingya, many of whom fled their native Rakhine State in northern Myanmar following a brutal military campaign in August 2017.

“We are immensely grateful to all our donors for their unwavering support, and we count on them to step up even further in 2024 to ensure we can provide the Rohingya with a full and nutritious ration”, he added. 

Five new elected members join Security Council 

Five new nations officially began two-year terms on the UN Security Council on Tuesday – Algeria, Guyana, the Republic of Korea, Sierra Leone and Slovenia.

They were elected to serve in June last year, and they are replacing Albania, Brazil, Gabon, Ghana and the United Arab Emirates who ended their terms on 31 December.

Five permanent members sit around the iconic horseshoe table in New York, China, France, Russia, the United Kingdom and the United States.

The ten non-permanent members, selected to provide regional balance, are elected by the General Assembly which is made up of all 193 UN Member States.

France serves as president of the Security Council for the month of January, and it is expected that the Israel-Palestine crisis and war in Gaza will continue to be a prime focus for ambassadors.

The quarterly open debate on the situation in the Middle East is due to be elevated to ministerial level with the French foreign affairs minister expected to chair the meeting on 23 January.

Watch the flag installation ceremony for the new Council members including remarks from ambassadors, below:

UN rights expert slams jailing of Russian poets

An independent UN human rights expert on Tuesday voiced concern over the continuing use of legislation to clampdown on freedom of expression in Russia, following the jailing of two poets for reciting their work at an anti-war event.

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A Moscow court sentenced Artyom Kamardin to seven years and Yegor Shtovba to five and a half years in prison last Thursday in response to their participation in a public poetry reading in the Russian capital Moscow, known as the “Mayakovsky Readings.”

On 25 September 2022, both men, acting independently, took part in the event where activists and poets recited anti-mobilisation and anti-war poems.

'Systemic issues'

“The decision starkly contravenes international standards for the protection of freedom of expression,” said Mariana Katzarova, Special Rapporteur on the situation of human rights in Russia, the first UN Human Rights Council-appointed expert to serve in the independent role.

“The sentence by the Tverskoy District Court of Moscow reveals systemic issues concerning the integrity of law enforcement and judicial systems in Russia and their use to suppress dissent and criticism, especially regarding Russia’s war against Ukraine,” Ms. Katzarova added.

The poets were charged under Russia’s national security legislation, for “inciting hatred or enmity or humiliating the dignity of a person or a group of persons” and for calling for action that allegedly threatened State security.

 When he was arrested, Mr. Kamardin complained that he was severely tortured and ill-treated. However, the local Investigative Committee in Moscow refused to open a criminal investigation into allegations of torture. 

“The nature of the charges, severity of the sentences, and conduct of the trial itself, based on testimony from a ‘secret witness’, send a clear message to all of Russian society that dissenting voices, whether through poetry, art, or other forms of expression, will face serious repercussions,” the UN expert warned.

“Sham trials have become a go-to tool of intimidation aimed at instilling fear and discouraging others from engaging in anti-war expression,” Ms. Katzarova said.

She called for the immediate release of the poets and urged Russian authorities to grant them effective remedies against violations of their human rights.

UN Special Rapporteurs and other rights experts do not receive a salary for their work and serve in their individual capacity, without representing any government or organisation.