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UN staff suspended over sex-act in car

The United Nations has placed two of its workers on unpaid leave over allegations of sexual misconduct in an official car in Israel.

The men were filmed in a UN-marked vehicle on a main street by Tel Aviv’s seafront.

In the video, a woman in a red dress is seen straddling a man in the back seat of the car.

The UN launched an investigation into the 18-second video after it was shared widely on social media last month.

Stéphane Dujarric, the spokesman for the UN’s secretary general, said he was “shocked and deeply disturbed” by the footage.

Now the UN says the men in the video have been identified as staff members of the United Nations Truce Supervision Organization (UNTSO), UN military observers based in Israel.

The two staff members have been suspended without pay until the investigation into the incident has concluded.

Mr Dujarric told the BBC on Thursday their suspension was appropriate “given the seriousness of the allegations of failing to observe the standards of conduct expected of international civil servants”.

“UNTSO has re-engaged in a robust awareness-raising campaign to remind its personnel of their obligations to the UN Code of Conduct,” Mr Dujarric said.

The UN has strict policies against sexual misconduct by its staff members.

Staff may be disciplined if they are found to be in breach of conduct rules. They may be repatriated or banned from UN peacekeeping operations, but it is the responsibility of their home nation to take further disciplinary or legal action.

The UN has long been under scrutiny over allegations of sexual misconduct by its peacekeepers and other staff. There have been frequent allegations in recent years.

In 2019, there were 175 allegations of sexual exploitation and abuse against UN staff members, a report said. Of those allegations, 16 were substantiated, 15 were unsubstantiated and all others were still being investigated.

Secretary General António Guterres has pledged to take a “zero-tolerance” approach to sexual misconduct within the UN’s ranks.

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UN concerned Afghan violence aimed at derailing peace talks

More than 800 people have been killed or wounded in ‘deliberate attacks’ targeting civilians in 2020, UN says.

More than 800 people have been killed or wounded in “deliberate attacks” targeting civilians in Afghanistan during the first half of 2020, the UN has said, raising concerns the rising violence aims to derail planned peace talks between the government and the Taliban.

While violence dropped in the run-up to the signing of a deal between the US and the Taliban in February, and immediately after a three-day ceasefire in May, attacks have since been increasing across the country.

“In the first six months of 2020, preliminary figures indicate more than 800 civilians were killed and injured in deliberate attacks against civilians,” the UN Assistance Mission in Afghanistan (UNAMA) said in a statement on Thursday.

The mission said the Taliban was responsible for half of those casualties.

The Taliban and Afghan forces have regularly clashed across provinces, but in recent weeks attacks have targeted prosecutors, religious leaders, worshippers, journalists, and healthcare and human rights workers.

In May, a brazen daylight assault on a hospital in Kabul saw armed men rampaging through a maternity ward, killing 25 people including 16 mothers.

The Taliban denied responsibility for this and many other attacks, but acknowledges fighting government forces in the provinces.

The bloodshed comes as the Taliban and Afghan authorities prepare to launch much-delayed peace talks aimed at ending the country’s nearly two-decades-old war.

“It’s taken enormous work and some brave decisions for Afghans to reach the point of being on the eve of unprecedented intra-Afghan negotiations,” UNAMA chief Deborah Lyons said.

“There are spoilers who do not wish to see an end to war. No matter what tactics they employ to derail the peace process, they cannot be allowed to succeed.”

UNAMA urged the Taliban and Afghan authorities not to target civilians and push on with efforts to de-escalate the conflict ahead of upcoming talks.

Under the US-Taliban deal, the armed group was supposed to begin peace talks with the Kabul government in March. No start date has been announced.

Inside Story

Will there ever be direct talks between Afghan gov’t and Taliban?

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UN to call for $10bn aid for Syrians at virtual donor meeting

European Union to lead meeting of 60 governments, NGOs as UN seeks billions for Syrians and countries hosting refugees.

Governments are set to pledge billions of dollars in aid for Syrians at a virtual conference on Tuesday to help refugees enduring Syria’s ninth year of armed conflict, as the coronavirus and high food prices worsen the plight of millions.

This year, the United Nations is looking for almost $10bn for people in Syria and surrounding countries. It hopes much of that will come from the 60 governments and non-governmental agencies gathering by video link on Tuesday from 08:00 GMT. The European Union is hosting the event.

The pledging, now an annual event, breaks down into a UN appeal of $3.8bn for aid inside Syria and $6.04bn for countries hosting refugees. Only a fraction has been raised so far.

In a report last week, the EU said in 2019 donors contributed $10bn in grants to Turkey, Egypt, Iraq, Jordan, Lebanon and Syria.

“The needs have never been greater,” said Corinne Fleischer at the World Food Programme, a UN agency.

Virtual meeting

In Syria, more than 11 million people need aid and protection, the UN says, while 6.6 million have fled to neighbouring countries in the world’s largest refugee crisis.

Many Syrians face unprecedented hunger, with more than 9.3 million people lacking adequate food, while the country’s coronavirus outbreak could accelerate, the UN has said.

The combination of an economic slump and coronavirus lockdown measures have pushed food prices more than 200 percent higher in less than a year, according to the World Food Programme.

“The COVID-19 crisis has had an immediate and devastating impact on livelihoods of millions of Syrian refugees and their hosts in the region,” UN High Commissioner for Refugees Filippo Grandi said in a statement.

However, money pledged is only what European officials call a sticking plaster to meet Syrians’ immediate needs.

Rebuilding destroyed cities is likely to take billions more dollars and cannot start until powers involved in the war back a peaceful transition away from the rule of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad, the EU says.

It will be the eighth annual Syria pledging conference, and the fourth hosted by the EU, which estimates that it has donated approximately $23bn to Syria and the region over the years.

Beyond its economic impact, the coronavirus has also forced the conference to be held online.

The event is usually an important opportunity for officials to meet on the sidelines to discuss thorny issues and resolve problems, but officials worry that the virtual format might reduce the conference to a number-crunching exercise.

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