Mr. Sanaka Samarasinha, UN Resident Coordinator / UNDP Resident Representative in BelarusMr. Samarasinha, could you tell us about the basic areas where the UN is active in Belarus?
The United Nations is represented in Belarus by nine UN resident Agencies, three International Financial institutions and the partner International Organization for Migration. The UN Country Team cooperates with the Government of Belarus and other national stakeholders on a whole range of issues. Other UN agencies who are not physically present in the country also work through our office here to provide assistance and engage in cooperation with national and international partners.
We are actively working on health issues starting from combating TB, HIV/AIDS to non-communicable diseases like alcohol and tobacco abuse, diabetes and cancer. With resources from the Global Fund to prevent AIDS, TB and Malaria, the UN is providing anti-retroviral drugs to almost 6000 people living with HIV, which helped prevent about 4000 new HIV cases and 2000 deaths due to AIDS. Thanks to the programmes on fighting tuberculosis implemented by the UN in Belarus since 2007, the TB rate has decreased by more than 1000 people. Now each year the TB rate is dropping by 200-300 people less than the previous year. The challenges and thus more work to be done remain in combatting the multidrug resistant forms of TB.
The UN under the leadership of the World Health Organization and with resources from the European Union is actively supporting Belarus in promoting healthy lifestyle and combating non-communicable diseases. In particular, we are establishing screening programmes on breast and cervical cancer. Almost 1000 women are diagnosed with cancer each year in Belarus and one person dies of cancer almost every day in the country. Our intention is to minimize these figures through screening and awareness campaigns.
Gender-related issues remain an extremely important area of work for the UN, in particular, the issue of domestic violence. In Belarus domestic violence is the most commonly encountered type of gender-based violence. In 2011, more than 2600 domestic crimes were registered. Every day about 500 incidents of domestic conflicts are reported to the law enforcement agencies, 70 per cent of which are cases of domestic violence against women and children. Under the leadership of United Nations Populations Fund we have helped to introduce legislation against domestic violence, train law enforcement officials, raised awareness among the public about the issue and how to deal with such situations and supported a telephone hotline and a shelter for victims.
At the same time, we are committed to supporting Belarus on accession to the Convention on the Rights of People with Disabilities, its ratification and implementation. There are over half a million people registered in Belarus as having disabilities and it is important that they are included in the society as full-fledged members, While Belarus already provides support for people with disabilities, we must still do more to remove infrastructure barriers that prevent people with disabilities from accessing services or simply enjoying the community and the environment like everyone else. At the same time, more can be done to address how people with disabilities could be trained in different areas and secure their jobs. Also important is the issue of mental health. We can do much more to ensure proper care and reduce social stigma of people with mental health problems.
The UN team in Belarus works actively with children. In the middle of November United Nations Children’s Fund together with the Ministry of Foreign Affairs of Belarus organized an international conference on juvenile justice. The participants of the conference exchanged views and shared experiences in the creation of effective child protection systems. The conference was also designed to strengthen the inter-agency cooperation in this field, bolster the activities of the national child protection agencies, and discuss the issues of child protection topical for the countries of the region. The issue of child injuries is very serious here in Belarus and UNICEF is working with the Government and NGOs in the country on minimizing the risks to children — often as a result of the lack of parental supervision. We’re working on a whole range of youth initiatives. We are about to launch a Youth Advisory Panel to the UN Country Team in Belarus where young people will have their say in the work of the UN. They will be able to guide the programmes we implement so that the specific issues of young people will be addressed in all our initiatives. Next year is the Year of Youth here in Belarus. We’re hoping that the Secretary General’s Special Envoy on Youth will be able to join us in Belarus during the course of the year to mark this important occasion.
Mr. Sanaka Samarasinha, Hero of Belarus Ms. Darya Domracheva and UDDP Administrator Ms. Helen Clark during the official ceremony of nominating Ms. Domracheva the UNDP Good Will AmbassadorWe have had quite a lot of programmes on human trafficking for many years. As you may know, Belarus has been one of the global leaders fighting this global challenge of human trafficking. Under the leadership of Belarus, last year the UN member states established the annual World Day against Trafficking in Persons. With the support of the UN much has already been achieved here in Belarus to reduce the number of women who are trafficked for sexual exploitation. At the same time, we have also seen an increase in men who are being trafficked for labor exploitation in Belarus and elsewhere.
The United Nations Office of the High Commissioner on Refugees has been dealing with refugees from Syria, Afghanistan and Africa for years. 893 refugees have been recognized by the Government since 1997 — 2014 with support from UNHCR; 217 of them in 2014 only. Last year we have noted more than 30 thousand people who have come across the border from Ukraine who also need some form of assistance. The Government should be commended for the services they are providing to these desperate people.
With the help of the Global Environment Facility and others, the United Nations Development Programme has been implementing numerous projects to protect the environment and promote sustainable development. For many years, Belarus has been known known as the “lungs of Europe”. The country still has more than 40% of forest cover and takes environment protection quite seriously. But we continue to work on a number of things from protecting biodiversity and helping to manage solid waste to reducing carbon emissions and improving energy efficiency. We also implement an important project to promote eco-tourism here with resources from United States Agency for International Development. The UNDP also implements programmes to strengthen economic development from helping small and medium enterprises to opening the country for private sector investments. On November 25th the Parliament will hold public hearings on a law on Public Private Partnerships. The initiative to introduce legislation and establish smooth procedures for foreign investment in public ventures has been the result of an EU funded UNDP project with the Ministry of Economy
The UN Agencies have been also doing a lot to support Belarus as the country which suffered the most from the Chernobyl disaster. With the generous support of donors the UN was able to channel over USD 45 mln to recovery efforts after the Chernobyl Disaster. Through local initiatives we have tried to help the affected communities deal with health, economic and social issues. But many challenges remain. That is why, in May 2014 the UNDP Administrator, who also leads the UN Inter-Agency Taskforce on Chernobyl, decided with the Government of Belarus for the first time to hold the annual meeting of the Taskforce in an affected country — here in Minsk. The aim was to highlight the remaining needs and come up with a plan of action for the future.
We are also working with the Government and a number of partners on the important issue of human rights. Through a process called the Universal Period Review, every country in the world reports to other countries on their human rights record and receives recommendations on improvements. The UN is working constructively with Belarus to support the implementation of these recommendations and the international obligations of Belarus through other human rights treaties it has signed.
Finally, the UN under the leadership of the UNDP has begun an exciting initiative to promote social innovation in the country. Working with the private sector and with young innovators, NGOs, academia and the Government we recently concluded a very inspiring event called “Social Hackathon” where active and bright people came together to develop innovative solutions for social challenges like HIV, disabilities and climate change. We are now taking this further by establishing innovation labs around Belarus so good ideas to help communities deal with their issues can be prototyped and replicated.
So, we may say that we target many problems that Belarus sees as priorities. In all this work, the UN is a valuable source of international expertise and experience for Belarus and Belarusians. And we plan to extend our cooperation making it even more efficient.
Mr. Samarasinha awarding the winners of the First UNDP Social Hackathon in BelarusWork over UNDAF for 2016-2020 is going on currently. Are there any results yet? Who are the participants of the process?
The work on the United Nations Development Assistance Framework is ongoing. We are planning to finalize the document by the beginning of the year. This is the second time we are doing a strategic framework with the Government, and this time participants from several sectors took part in the development of results matrices: private sector, NGOs, the Government, academia and international consultants.
The following four priority areas have been identified in the course of various meetings and seminars: (i) economic sustainable development, (ii) green economy and environmental protection, (iii) responsive, inclusive and accountable governance; and (iv) human capital (health and social inclusion).
Throughout the preparation of the new UNDAF, the UN is committed to strengthen the national ownership and leadership, better alignment with national priorities and use of national systems when possible, stronger harmonization among the UN Agencies, thus ensuring that the impact on development is maximized.
This UNDAF will cover the period from 2016 to 2020. And at the same time we’ve been working with the Government to help them finalize their long-term strategy, which they call the National Strategy for Social Economic Development, which also runs from 2016 to 2030. Early next year from this long-term strategy there will be developing a Social-Economic Development Programme for 2016-2020, exactly the same time frame as the UNDAF, the UN Framework. Now with all of these processes we’ve been working together we’ve been making sure that the post-2015 National Consultations, findings that we have (and Belarus is one of the 88 countries that conducted these National Consultations together with UN), that these findings of these National Consultations are reflected in the UN’s Framework of Assistance as well as in the Government’s Strategies and Programmes.
Belarusian delegation headed by the Prime-Minister Mikhail Myasnikovich has recently visited New York to take part in the meeting of the UN GA and other official events. The visit included meetings with the UN Secretary General, the UNDP Administrator, other UN officials. The Belarusian Investment Forum was held in New York. Does this mean that the Belarus-UN relations have significantly developed recently? What was the reason for such development?
Belarus is an active member of UN family and it is one of the UN founding states. It should be stressed that Belarus was the first post-Soviet state to open a UN office. This happened in 1992, during an official visit by the UN Secretary General Boutros Boutros-Ghali to Minsk.
As I’ve said before, Belarus is among the world champions in the area of combating human trafficking. Besides this, the delegation of your country has raised a number of important issues during the last meeting of the UN General Assembly, in particular drawing attention of the United Nations to the issue of prevention of illegal trades of small arms, protection of children’s rights and on the issues of international migration.
At the same time, I feel that we are also seeing an even stronger relationship developing between the UN and Belarus in the past couple of years. This is primarily because of the constructive approach both sides have taken based on mutual respect and trust.
How do you see further cooperation between the UN and Belarus?
The President of Belarus during his meeting with the UNDP Administrator Ms. Helen Clark recognized that Belarus-UN cooperation remains most efficient and targeted. We are committed to preserving effectiveness and result-oriented approach of the UN Country Team with the National Authorities in the future.
I should say we are proud that the Government of Belarus uses our assistance in drafting the national long-terms strategies. This is a sign of recognition of our professionalism and of the results we have already achieved.
UN in Belarus is going to expand its cooperation with Belarus also using innovative approaches. In particular, we’ve recently had the first UNDP Social Hackathon where we’ve turned ideas of changing Belarusian society to better to concrete steps. And by now, only slightly more than a month later, the three winning projects have started being implemented in practice. We are planning to make Social hackathon a constant practice in Belarus, allowing Belarusian people define the most important problems, find and implement solutions to overcome them.
We will continue working with the country and those who need our assistance most, with the vulnerable groups, which include people living with disabilities, people living with HIV and with TB, elderly people, youth and children, women as victims of domestic violence, affected by different forms of cancer; affected by alcohol and tobacco, members of the integrating communities (refugees, migrants an other).
We will also continue to engage with all stakeholders and representatives of the Government, non-governmental organizations, private sector, academia, international partners, as we are committed to the principle of inclusivity, both in the society and in our work.