Kristalina Georgieva is the Managing Director of the International Monetary Fund in Washington D.C. She laid out her perspective during the African Development Bank Annual Meeting on June 23, 2021
Excellencies, Ministers, and Dear Friends, I would like to thank President Adesina for inviting me to take part in the discussions today. The African Development Bank’s Annual Meetings are taking place at a critical moment for Africa and for the world. More than ever, we must all come together—to end the pandemic and secure the recovery.
Africa is now facing the world’s fastest growth rate for new COVID cases, with an exponential trajectory even more alarming than during the second wave in January. Based on current trends, this wave will likely surpass previous peaks within the next week.
It is a human tragedy—and an economic calamity. Countries across the continent—from South Africa, to Uganda and Rwanda—are forced to reintroduce restrictions, further denting a precarious recovery. In the face of new variants, Africa is ill protected, due to severe vaccine shortages. So far, only 0.6 percent of Africa’s adult population have been fully vaccinated.
The warning signs are clear: atwo-track pandemic is leading to a two-track recovery. Africa is already falling behind in terms of growth prospects. This year, we project the global economy to grow by 6 percent, but only half that—3.2 percent—in Africa.
This ought to change, for the sake of Africa and for the benefit of the world. And it requires international cooperation on multiple fronts.
(1) First, step up international cooperation to end the pandemic.
IMF staff recently proposed a $50 billion plan that involves vaccinating at least 40 percent of the population of all countries by the end of this year and at least 60 percent by mid-2022.
The $50 billion price tag is dwarfed by the estimated $9 trillion boost to global economic activity by 2025 from faster vaccine rollout and faster recovery. It would be the best public investment of our lives—and it would be a game changer for Africa.
Together with the World Bank, WHO, and WTO, we are forming a ‘war room’—a task force to monitor and accelerate the implementation of this plan.
I am encouraged by pledges for vaccine support from international partners, including one billion doses announced at the G7 summit. I strongly support efforts to diversify vaccine production on the Continent.
And I commend the African Development Bank and the African Union for providing vital support, including through Rapid Response Facilities and vaccine procurement. At the IMF, we are also working on deploying our financing instruments to ensure that health systems have the capacity to save lives and secure the recovery.
(2) Second, help Africa deal with a growing debt burden.
Debt levels—which were already elevated before the pandemic—have increased sharply. Public debt in sub-Saharan Africa jumped by more than 6 percentage points to 58 percent of GDP in 2020, the highest level in almost two decades.
Interest payments last year reached 20 percent of tax revenue for the region as a whole and exceeded one-third of revenue in some countries. Similarly, public debt in North Africa rose by about 12 percentage points to an average of 88 percent of GDP last year.
To help safeguard debt sustainability, the world has stepped up. The IMF has provided debt service relief to its poorest members. And together with the World Bank, we advocated for the G20 Debt Service Suspention Initiative, as well as for the Common Framework for debt resolution, designed to provide deeper debt relief to countries with higher debt vulnerabilities.
Thanks to the joint efforts of our members, we have reached two historic milestones: last year, Somalia received debt relief under the enhanced HIPC Decision Point and is now benefiting from our financing—and today, Sudan is on the same path.
The DSSI has provided much-needed breathing space; and it has been extended until the end of this year. Now is the time to make the Common Framework fully operational. Three countries have asked for debt treatment under the Common Framework—Chad, Ethiopia, and Zambia. And I am encouraged that Chad recently received financing assurances from its G20 bilateral creditors. We now need speedy commitments, on comparable terms, by private creditors and other official bilateral creditors.
Successful implementation of the Common Framework in the first cases under consideration is crucial for other countries with unsustainable levels—they should also seek early action for debt resolution. This is particularly important in light of strong growth in the developed world, especially in the US, and the likelyhood of gradual monetary policy normalization that could increase the cost of debt service.
(3) Third, the international community can help strengthen Africa’s recovery and resilience.
Clearly, the best way to deal with debt is for economies to grow. This is not an easy task during the pandemic, when governments face reduced revenues and increased spending on crisis measures. But this crisis is an opportunity for transformative reforms—to improve public services, strengthen governance, and boost domestic revenue mobilization.
Think of how digitalization can improve tax administration and revenue collection, and the quality of public spending. With radical transparency, Africa can tap into new sources of finance, such as carbon offsets. And there is room to encourage more private investment in social and physical infrastructure.
As noted at the G7 summit, Development Financing Institutions and multilateral partners intend to invest at least $80 billion into the private sector in Africa over the next five years. And the G20 Compact with Africa remains a key framework to enhance the business environment in Africa—and now is the time to expand and strengthen this initiative.
We also need to modernize international taxation. We see growing support for a global minimum corporate tax, which can end the race to the bottom and reduce tax avoidance. We welcome international efforts on digital taxation. This would help ensure fairer distribution of tax revenues—which will help address Africa’s significant financing needs.
At the IMF, we are doing our part. We swiftly ramped up our financing for the Continent—including by providing in one year 13 times our average annual lending to sub-Saharan Africa. We have received support to increase access limits, so we can scale up our zero-interest lending capacity.
And as we speak, our Executive Board is discussing the successful completion of Egypt’s Stand-By Arrangement—whereby the IMF provided about $8 billion to help Egypt address its pandemic-related financing needs, while helping to safeguard debt sustainability.
Our membership also backs an unprecedented new allocation of Special Drawing Rights of $650 billion—by far the largest in our history.Once approved, which we intend to achieve by the end of August, it will directly and immediately make about $33 billion available to our African members. It will boost their reserves and liquidity, without adding to their debt burden, and it will help address their emergency needs, including vaccines.
In addition, we are working towards magnifying the impact of the new allocation—by encouraging voluntary channeling of some of the SDRs and/or budget loans to reach a total global ambition of $100 billion for the poorest and most vulnerable countries. We are exploring with our membership options on how we can get this done—through the Poverty Reduction and Growth Trust and possibly a new Sustainability and Resilience Trust.
In this pivotal moment, Africa can count on the IMF. We are deeply committed to all countries in the region, supporting the heavy lifting on recovery efforts and transformative reforms.
Together we can move mountains. Together we can lay the groundwork for a more prosperous and peaceful future.
Secretary Antony J. Blinken will participate in the Second Berlin Conference on Libya on June 23 in Berlin, underscoring U.S. support for progress in Libya and reaffirming the importance of Libya’s national elections scheduled for December 24, 2021. Secretary Blinken will also emphasize support for the implementation of UN Security Council resolutions 2570 (2021) and 2571 (2021) along with the October 23 Libyan nationwide ceasefire agreement, including the withdrawal of foreign military forces, foreign fighters, and mercenaries.
The United States strongly supports the progress the Libyan people have made towards an inclusive, negotiated political solution.
The United States is committed to increasing its diplomatic focus on supporting progress in Libya, including through the work of Ambassador Richard Norland as the U.S. Special Envoy for Libya.
Support for Elections in December 2021
The United States strongly supports the work of the Libyan interim Government of National Unity to ensure elections are held in December 2021.
The goal of the United States is a sovereign, stable, unified, and secure Libya with no foreign interference, and a democratically elected government that supports human rights and development, and that is capable of combating terrorism within its borders.
The United States looks forward to working with the international community and Libyan partners to ensure robust support as national elections are organized for December 2021 and the political transition continues.
Withdrawal of Foreign Forces
The United States opposes all military escalation and foreign military interventions, including through foreign fighters and proxy forces, which deepen and prolong the conflict in Libya.
To that end, the United States. strongly supports the implementation of the October 23 Libyan nationwide ceasefire agreement, including the withdrawal of foreign military forces, foreign fighters, and mercenaries.
The United States, at the highest levels, engages stakeholders on all sides of the conflict – both Libyan and international – to encourage restraint and advance a Libyan-led, UN-facilitated political solution in the service of Libyan sovereignty and protection of the shared interests of the international community.
Since 2011, the United States has invested over $850 million in Libya’s overall development, including $605 million in U.S. development and security assistance, as well as nearly $269 million in humanitarian assistance, including nearly $11 million in COVID-related humanitarian assistance.
The United States implements programming across Libya to promote a peaceful political transition and to strengthen the foundations of a more unified Libyan state.
In the past week, the number of new COVID-19 cases and deaths continued to decrease, with over 2.6 million new cases and 72 000 new deaths reported globally.
While the number of cases reported globally now exceeds 175 million, over the past week, the lowest weekly case incidence since February 2021 was reported.
Declines in the number of new weekly cases, compared to the previous week, were reported across all Regions except for the African Region. The number of new deaths reported in the past week decreased across all the regions except for the African and South-East Asia Regions.
In its weekly epidemiological update on COVID-19, the World Health Organization focused on variants, including a newly designated variant of interest (VOI), along with the geographical distribution of variants of concern (VOCs) Alpha (B.1.1.7), Beta (B.1.351), Gamma (P.1) and Delta (B.1.617.2). This edition also includes an update about strengthening public health intelligence through event-based surveillance, specifically learning from the COVID-19 pandemic.
President Biden believes that the surge in gun violence that has affected communities across the country over the last year and a half is unacceptable, and his Administration is moving decisively to act with a whole-of-government approach as we enter the summer months when cities typically experience a spike in violence.
Today, the Biden-Harris Administration is announcing a comprehensive strategy to combat gun violence and other violent crime. This strategy implements preventative measures that are proven to reduce violent crime, and attacks the root causes – including by addressing the flow of firearms used to commit crimes.
This strategy will use the Rescue Plan’s historic funding levels and clear guidance to help state, local, territorial, and tribal governments get the money they need to put more police officers on the beat – with the resources, training, and accountability they need to engage in effective community policing – in addition to supporting proven Community Violence Intervention programs, summer employment opportunities, and other investments that we know will reduce crime and make our neighborhoods safer.
The strategy will also address the direct link between gun violence and the rise in violent crime by taking immediate steps to keep guns out of the wrong hands, including by strengthening ATF’s efforts to stem the flow of firearms used in crimes, and by launching multijurisdictional firearms trafficking strike forces to stop illegal gun trafficking across state lines.
Combined, the Administration’s comprehensive strategy will:
Stem the flow of firearms used to commit violence, including by holding rogue firearms dealers accountable for violating federal laws;
Support local law enforcement with federal tools and resources to help address summer violent crime;
Invest in evidence-based community violence interventions;
Expanding summer programming, employment opportunities, and other services and supports for teenagers and young adults; and
Help formerly incarcerated individuals successfully reenter their communities.
As the President has repeatedly said, we are experiencing an epidemic of gun violence in this country. This violence robs us of loved ones and causes life-altering physical injuries. It causes lasting trauma, with cascading consequences for children, families, and communities. It steals our freedom, our sense of belonging and security, and has ripple effects for our economy.
The President continues to call on Congress to take action to end this gun violence epidemic. But he knows we cannot afford to wait a single day while lives are being taken, which is why he has already announced a set of initial actions to prevent gun violence – including toughening regulations on ghost guns and moving historically quickly to nominate a permanent ATF Director – in addition to the steps announced today as part of this strategy.
Stem the Flow of Firearms Used to Commit Violence
The Biden Administration is taking action to help stem the flow of guns into the hands of those responsible for violence by:
Establishing zero tolerance for rogue gun dealers that willfully violate the law. Gun dealers across the country are regulated by federal law that is enforced by the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives (ATF). Dealers that fail to comply with their obligations under the law create risks for all of us. Today, the Justice Department is announcing a new policy to underscore zero tolerance for willful violations of the law by federally licensed firearms dealers that put public safety at risk. Absent extraordinary circumstances that would need to be justified to the Director, ATF will seek to revoke the licenses of dealers the first time that they violate federal law by willfully 1) transferring a firearm to a prohibited person, 2) failing to run a required background check, 3) falsifying records, such as a firearms transaction form, 4) failing to respond to an ATF tracing request, or 5) refusing to permit ATF to conduct an inspection in violation of the law.
In addition, ATF will notify every firearms dealer whose license is revoked about how to lawfully transfer any remaining inventory, as well as the potential criminal consequences of continuing to engage in the business of buying and selling guns without a license. The prior Administration stopped this important notification practice that helps deter future unlawful activity.
Maximizing the efficacy of ATF resources to crack down on rogue gun dealers violating our laws. The Administration continues to call on Congress to increase funding for ATF to hire additional personnel necessary to increase the number of inspections and enforcement actions taken against dealers in violation of federal law. The President’s FY 22 budget request would allow ATF to add inspectors in every field division around the country. In the meantime, ATF is announcing the following actions to increase the efficacy of its existing, limited resources:
Better coordination with state and local officials with on-the-ground knowledge of which dealers are supplying firearms that show up at crime scenes. ATF has designated a specific point of contact in every field division for mayors, police chiefs, or other local leaders to report concerns about particular dealers’ compliance with the law. This information may provide valuable leads for ATF investigations and serve as a source of information that helps focus inspection resources on the places that need them most.
Formalizing the use of data-driven prioritization of inspection resources. Starting today, ATF will make clear to investigators in every field division—through trainings and guidance—that when identifying inspection priorities they must consider a number of factors related to public safety, including the extent to which firearms sold by the dealer are later used in criminal activity; the time between the sale of a firearm and its use in a crime; the number of recoveries associated with shootings, domestic violence, and other violent offenses; and additional information developed by local law enforcement partners. This data-driven prioritization will allow ATF to target its limited inspection resources to ensure compliance with federal law.
Equipping states that have their own gun dealer licensing systems with data from ATF inspections. Sixteen states license or regulate firearms dealers themselves, and their inspection systems can be force multipliers in protecting public safety. Starting next month, ATF will begin sharing inspection data with these states so that officials there can determine whether to take their own steps to shut down dealers that fail to live up to their obligations under state law.
Launching multijurisdictional firearms trafficking strike forces. The Biden-Harris Administration recognizes that the federal government has a critical role to play in coordinating multijurisdictional enforcement efforts to stop the illegal flow of firearms across state lines. Yesterday, the Justice Department announced that it is launching five new law enforcement strike forces focused on addressing significant firearms trafficking corridors that have diverted guns to New York, Chicago, Los Angeles, the Bay Area, and Washington, D.C. These strike forces, which will launch within the next 30 days, will be led by designated United States Attorneys who will coordinate not only with ATF but also with state and local law enforcement partners in places where firearms originate and where they are used to commit crimes. The strike forces will share information and otherwise coordinate their efforts across districts where firearms trafficking schemes cross state or jurisdictional boundaries. As part of this effort, ATF is issuing a best practices guide for law enforcement agencies that will include specific questions that officers should ask unlawful firearm possessors to help identify sources of trafficked crime guns.
Providing the public with additional data to promote transparency and accountability in enforcement of federally licensed firearms dealer policies. ATF will publicly post more detailed information about inspection findings and enforcement actions. For the first time, this publicly posted data will be disaggregated to show the number of inspections conducted in each field division, the number of inspections that identified violations, and actions taken by ATF to implement the willful-violation policy discussed above (including any application of the extraordinary circumstances exception). This data will promote transparency and accountability for the enforcement of our existing gun laws. Stemming the proliferation of “ghost guns” and modified firearms. During the April address in the Rose Garden by the President and Attorney General, the Justice Department announced that it was beginning the rulemaking process to help stop the proliferation of dangerous firearms that are currently circumventing our gun laws. The Justice Department has since issued two proposed rules to follow through on this commitment. First, the Justice Department issued a proposed rule to help address the proliferation of “ghost guns,” which are homemade firearms that are increasingly ending up at crime scenes and often cannot be traced by law enforcement due to the lack of a serial number. Second, the Justice Department issued a proposed rule to make clear when a device marketed as a stabilizing brace effectively turns a pistol into a short-barreled rifle subject to the requirements of the National Firearms Act. Modifying a pistol with an arm brace can make a firearm more stable and accurate while still being concealable.
Convening state legislators and Attorneys General regarding policy strategies to hold gun dealers and manufacturers accountable for their contributions to the flow of crime guns. The President continues to call on Congress to repeal the Protection of Lawful Commerce in Arms Act (PLCAA), which gives gun dealers and manufacturers special immunity from certain liability for their products. In the meantime, the White House will convene state legislators and Attorneys General to discuss strategies for enacting and employing state liability laws that can be used to hold dealers and manufacturers accountable for improper conduct not covered by PLCAA.
These actions are part of the Biden-Harris Administration’s comprehensive strategy to reduce gun violence through executive action and legislation. For example, earlier this month the Justice Department issued model state “red flag,” or “extreme risk protection order,” legislation. Extreme risk protection order laws allow family members or law enforcement to petition for a court order temporarily barring people in crisis from accessing firearms if they present a danger to themselves or others. The President urges Congress to pass an appropriate national “red flag” law, as well as legislation incentivizing states to pass their own versions of these laws.
The President again strongly urges the Senate to ban assault weapons and high-capacity magazines, and pass the three House-passed, bipartisan pieces of legislation which would strengthen our gun background check system.
Provide law enforcement the tools and resources needed to tackle gun violence
As part of the Justice Department’s Comprehensive Strategy for Reducing Violent Crime, the Justice Department is committed to supporting law enforcement in local communities in addressing gun violence. In preparation for a possible increase in violence typically seen over the summer months, where needed and appropriate, the Justice Department is providing the following law enforcement support:
The FBI is making available cutting-edge analytical resources to support state and local law enforcement efforts to identify the most violent offenders and most dangerous criminal organizations in communities. The FBI is also deploying agents to assist with enforcement operations targeting these entities.
Where feasible, the ATF is embedding with local homicide units and expanding the availability of its National Integrated Ballistic Information Network (NIBIN) Correlation Center, which matches ballistics from crime scenes to other ballistic evidence nationwide.
The DEA is focusing its efforts, in coordination with state, local and Tribal law enforcement, to disrupt the activities of the most violent drug trafficking gangs and egregious drug-trafficking organizations operating in the highest-crime areas.
The United States Marshals Service, in coordination with state and local authorities, is conducting fugitive sweeps throughout the country focused on individuals subject to state or local warrants for homicide, aggravated assault with a firearm, aggravated robbery, robbery with a firearm, rape or aggravated sexual assault.
Guidance on Using ARP Funds to Reduce Violence. Today, the Treasury Department is highlighting that communities experiencing a surge in gun violence as a result of the pandemic may use the American Rescue Plan’s $350 billion in state and local funding for purposes such as:
Hiring law enforcement officials – even above pre-pandemic levels – or paying overtime where the funds are directly focused on advancing community policing strategies in those communities experiencing an increase in gun violence associated with the pandemic.
Additional enforcement efforts to reduce gun violence exacerbated by the pandemic, including prosecuting gun traffickers, rogue dealers, and other parties contributing to the supply of crime guns, as well as collaborative federal/state/local efforts to identify and address gun trafficking channels.
Investing in technology and equipment to allow law enforcement to more efficiently and effectively respond to the rise in gun violence resulting from the pandemic.
In addition, the Treasury Department is clarifying that any community may use ARP state and local aid for the above strategies and any other public safety programs, up to the level of revenue loss the jurisdiction experienced during the pandemic. And any community may use ARP funds to rehire police officers and other public servants to restore law enforcement and courts to their pre-pandemic levels.
Byrne JAG Funds. Applications for the Justice Department’s FY21 $276 million Byrne Justice Assistance Grant program are open now. Byrne JAG provides critical support to State and territory, local, and Tribal governments across a range of program areas, including crime prevention and education, law enforcement, prosecution, indigent defense, courts, corrections and community corrections, drug treatment and enforcement, technology improvement, crime victim and witness initiatives, and planning and evaluation. Community violence intervention programs are eligible uses of the funding.
In soliciting grant applications for this program, the Department has emphasized the importance of addressing the backlog of cases created when courts at every level were forced to cancel or scale back proceedings due to COVID-19. It has made clear that funds could be used, for example, to purchase technology that would facilitate virtual outreach and appearances, to enhance case management systems, to build tools to support diversion and alternatives to incarceration as part of the review of backlogged cases, or to retrofit courthouses to mitigate risks to staff.
The President is also seeking a $300 million increase for the Community Oriented Policing Services (COPS) Hiring program in his recent budget request. These funds will advance community policing and give police the resources they need to keep their communities safe.
Invest in evidence-based community violence interventions
Community violence intervention (CVI) programs have been shown to reduce violence by as much as 60%. These programs are effective because they leverage trusted messengers who work directly with individuals most likely to commit gun violence, intervene in conflicts, and connect people to social, health and wellness, and economic services to reduce the likelihood of violence as an answer to conflict.
Last month, the Treasury Department announced that the American Rescue Plan’s $350 billion in state and local funding can be used to invest in evidence-based community violence interventions. The Department of Education also released guidance clarifying that ARP’s $122 billion in K-12 funds can be used for CVI strategies. To date, the Administration has transferred more than $190 billion of state and local recovery funds and $81 billion in education funds, and additional support is on the way.
Today, the President is announcing that the Administration will convene and support a CVI Collaborative of 15 jurisdictions that are committing to use a portion of their ARP funding or other public funding to increase investment in their CVI infrastructure, including to anticipate and respond to the potential rise in violence this summer. These jurisdictions include:
Baton Rouge, LA
King County, WA
Los Angeles, CA
Minneapolis & St. Paul, MN
Rapid City, SD
St. Louis, MO
Over the next 18 months, the Administration will convene meetings with officials from these communities, facilitate peer-to-peer learning, and provide technical assistance. This effort will support both proven and new strategies that reduce gun violence and strengthen community-based infrastructure to enhance public safety for children, families, and communities and to advance equity. A group of philanthropies that have been leaders on this issue will support this collaborative learning network by deploying CVI experts to provide training and technical assistance, identify best practices, integrate proven and innovative public-health approaches, and help local community-based organizations scale CVI efforts this summer and beyond. This group includes:
The California Endowment
Annie E. Casey Foundation
W.K. Kellogg Foundation
The John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation
Open Society Foundations
Charles and Lynn Schusterman Family Philanthropies
Domestic Policy Advisor Susan Rice and Director of Intergovernmental Affairs Julie Chavez Rodriguez will convene the first meeting of the CVI Collaborative soon. The President is calling on mayors across the country to follow the lead of these local officials by using their ARP funding or other public funds to launch and strengthen CVI programs in their communities.
Additionally, the Biden-Harris Administration will convene the first CVI Webinar Series event on June 23. The webinar series will bring together subject matter experts to discuss immediate steps communities and local organizations can take to reduce violence.
The Administration is continuing to seek a historic $5.2 billion investment in new grant funding for CVI programs through the American Jobs Plan and its FY22 discretionary budget request. The Administration is also executing on its announced changes to 26 programs across five agencies to make federal dollars and technical assistance available to CVI practitioners in the immediate term. For example, this month the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) will publish guidance encouraging jurisdictions to use part of their Community Development Block Grant funds to support CVI efforts needed to combat violence as a result of the coronavirus pandemic. In July and August, the Department of Education will publish guidance explaining that school districts can draw upon the $1.22 billion in Student Support and Academic Enrichment grants and $1.26 billion in 21st Century Community Learning Centers grants to support CVI programs that serve students. This funding will supplement American Rescue Plan funds, providing CVI programs with multiple potential funding streams to expand their work.
Expand summer programming, employment opportunities, and other services and supports, especially for teenagers and young adults
American Rescue Plan Funds. The Administration released guidance from the Department of the Treasury today and from the Department of Education last week explaining how two buckets of American Rescue Plan funding—$350 billion in state and local funding and the $122 billion in school funding—can be used for a variety of public safety strategies. Within the parameters explained in those guidance documents, State and territory, local, and Tribal governments can:
Hire support personnel such as nurses, counselors, and social workers;
Pay court personnel and operations costs to return to pre-pandemic operation levels;
Provide and expand employment services, including summer jobs for young people and programs that provide training and work experience for formerly incarcerated persons and other individuals who live in communities most impacted by high levels of violence;
Provide and expand summer education and enrichment programs, including summer camp;
Scale up wraparound services—such as housing, medical and mental health care, trauma-informed care, substance use disorder treatment, food assistance, and job placement services—for victims of crime, young people, formerly incarcerated persons, and individuals and households facing economic insecurity due to the pandemic; and
Establish or expand full-service community schools.
The President urges jurisdictions to use these resources now for strategies to prevent violence.
Youth Workforce Development Funds. Young people are disproportionately likely to be involved in gun violence, either as perpetrators or victims. We also know that youth employment programs, including summer jobs programs, can reduce their involvement in violence by as much as 35% or 45%. The Biden Administration is committed to funding workforce development programs to keep young people safe and give them a path to success.
On June 10, the Department of Labor awarded $89 million through its YouthBuild program to provide pre-apprenticeship opportunities for young people ages 16-24. 68 grantee organizations will serve more than 5,000 youth in dozens of cities. The young people will split their time between workplace training and the classroom, where they earn their high school diploma or equivalency degree and prepare for postsecondary opportunities. The grants support training and employment in in-demand industries, including construction, healthcare, information technology, manufacturing, logistics, and hospitality. YouthBuild includes a significant wrap-around support system, such as mentoring, trauma-informed care, follow-up education, employment, and personal counseling services.
The Department of Labor on June 10 also awarded $20 million through its Workforce Pathways for Youth program to expand workforce development activities that serve youth ages 14-21 during “out of school” time (non-school hours). Through these grants, four national grantee organizations will serve approximately 7,000 participants in multiple cities across the country. The organizations will provide career exploration services; work readiness training; career counseling; work experience (internships, summer and year-round employment, pre-apprenticeships, and registered apprenticeships); mentoring; and assistance in placing youth in employment, education, or training.
Help formerly incarcerated individuals successfully reenter their communities
Formerly incarcerated individuals face an uphill climb in landing a job. Many employers are reluctant to hire them out of stigma, fear, or concern that they lack the skills needed for the job. But employment is a key to formerly incarcerated individuals’ successful reentry into their communities. Individuals who secure employment after release have much lower recidivism rates than those who do not. Good, stable jobs promote public safety. That is why the Administration is taking concrete steps to facilitate employment and associated services, such as housing assistance, for people who are formerly incarcerated.
Investments to help formerly incarcerated individuals find quality jobs. On June 21, the Department of Labor awarded $85.5 million to help formerly incarcerated adults and young people in 28 communities transition out of the criminal justice system and connect with quality jobs. This includes $60 million for Pathway Home projects that will serve approximately 6,000 adults. By enabling services to begin while participants are still incarcerated and continue services post-release, the Pathway Home initiative eliminates the gap between release from incarceration and enrollment into a reentry program. Participants are taught job readiness and job search strategies and receive apprenticeships and occupational training. The Department also awarded $25.5 million in Young Adult Reentry Partnership grants to organizations that will help provide education and training services to young adults between 18-24 who were previously involved with the justice system or who left high school before graduation. The program will serve approximately 3,000 young people, offering accelerated and work-based learning such as registered apprenticeships in high-demand occupations with living wages. Grantees reduce barriers to labor market entry by providing career exploration activities, case management services, legal and other supportive services, and both job preparation and placement. Priority was given to organizations serving communities with high rates of poverty and crime.
Expanding Federal Hiring of Formerly Incarcerated Persons: The Office of Personnel Management (OPM) will evaluate the existence of any barriers faced by formerly incarcerated persons in accessing federal employment and consider whether the federal government should take further action as appropriate, including creating a new “Schedule A” excepted service hiring authority for formerly incarcerated persons. This Schedule A hiring authority would allow federal agencies to hire qualified individuals for any job opening through the non-competitive, excepted service hiring process. Schedule A appointments are one-year temporary appointments with good benefits that can be extended for an additional year. Schedule A positions equip people with the skills and experience to become more competitive in the job market. Schedule A hiring authority has previously been created for veterans, people with disabilities, individuals on work release from incarceration, and people hired in direct response to the effects of the COVID-19 pandemic.
Implementing “ban the box” policy. OPM will also publish proposed regulations to implement the Fair Chance to Compete for Jobs Act of 2019’s “ban the box” policy. The Fair Chance Act prohibits federal employers and federal contractors in all three branches of government from inquiring into arrest and conviction history until they have made a conditional job offer.
Hiring Second Chance Act Fellow. The Department of Justice plans to post an application next month for a formerly incarcerated individual to work at DOJ as a Second Chance Act visiting fellow. This is a unique opportunity to draw on the expertise of a formerly incarcerated person as a policy advocate, legal or social services provider, or academic focusing on the successful reintegration of people returning home to their communities after incarceration. The fellow will develop innovative strategies that build upon and improve DOJ’s investments in reentry and reintegration.
Leveraging tax credits to incentivize hiring of formerly incarcerated individuals. The Department of Labor and Department of the Treasury will help employers leverage the Work Opportunity Tax Credit (WOTC), which includes incentivizes to hire formerly incarcerated individuals. Under WOTC, employers can receive up to a $2,400 credit against federal income taxes for hiring a person within one year of their conviction or release from prison for a felony offense. The Departments of Labor and Treasury will encourage employers to take up this opportunity to hire formerly incarcerated individuals. Specifically, within 90 days, the Departments will issue guidance, provide technical assistance to state workforce agencies, and release materials on ways employers can leverage this tax credit and other resources, such as the Federal Bonding Program and the American Rescue Plan’s Employee Retention Credit (ERC). For example, a small business that hires someone who was released in the last twelve months and employs them through the second half of the year could qualify for a credit of up to $16,400 per worker by claiming both the WOTC and the ERC. The Department of the Treasury will also revise online materials to make it easier to claim the tax credit.
Addressing the housing needs of returning citizens. Today, HUD Secretary Marcia L. Fudge is issuing a letter outlining actions that HUD is taking to improve public safety by addressing the housing needs of returning citizens, including through the recently awarded 70,000 emergency housing vouchers funded by the American Rescue Plan. The letter clarifies that returning citizens that are at-risk of homelessness are among the eligible populations for these emergency housing vouchers and encourages public housing authorities and their Continuum of Care partners to ensure that eligible returning citizens are given consideration for these vouchers. The letter also discusses additional steps that HUD is taking to improve access to housing for returning citizens and people with criminal records.
The White House Briefing Room Statements and Releases Washington, D.C. June 21, 2021
These doses are the remaining part of the 80 million President Biden pledged to allocate by the end of June
Today, the Biden-Harris Administration is announcing the distribution list for 55 million of the 80 million doses of America’s own vaccine supply President Biden has pledged to allocate by the end of June in service of ending the pandemic globally. As we continue to fight the COVID-19 pandemic at home and work to end the pandemic worldwide, President Biden has promised that the United States will be an arsenal of vaccines for the world. Part of that plan is donating vaccine from our domestic supply, and the President has pledged 80 million doses to be allocated by the end of June. Earlier this month, the Administration announced the plan for the first 25 million doses that we have begun shipping, and today’s announcement completes the list for the remaining 55 million doses. For all of these doses, those most at risk, such as health care workers, should be prioritized, based on national vaccine plans.
In addition to sharing doses from our own vaccine supply, the Biden-Harris Administration is also committed to working with our U.S. manufacturers to produce more vaccine to share with the world. To that end, ahead of the G7, President Biden announced that the U.S. will purchase half a billion Pfizer doses and donate them to 92 low- and lower middle-income countries and members of the African Union. In total, the G7+ agreed to provide an additional more than 1 billion doses starting summer 2021. In addition, the U.S. is committed to expanding local production of vaccines, and through our Quad partnership and the International Development Finance Corporation’s support for vaccine manufacturing, more than 1 billion doses will be produced in Africa and India in 2021 and 2022. This vaccine strategy is a vital component of our overall global effort to lead the world in the fight to defeat COVID-19 and to achieve global health security.
For these 80 million doses, the U.S. will share 75% through COVAX and 25% will be targeted to help deal with surges around the world. Our goals are to increase global COVID-19 vaccination coverage, prepare for surges and prioritize healthcare workers and other vulnerable populations based on public health data and acknowledged best practice, and help our neighbors and other countries in need. And, as we have previously stated, the United States will not use its vaccines to secure favors from other countries.
Based on this framework and pending legal and regulatory approvals, the allocation plan for these 55 million doses will be as follows:
Approximately 41 million will be shared through COVAX, with the following allocations:
Approximately 14 million for Latin America and the Caribbean to the following: Brazil, Argentina, Colombia, Peru, Ecuador, Paraguay, Bolivia, Uruguay, Guatemala, El Salvador, Honduras, Haiti, and other Caribbean Community (CARICOM) countries, Dominican Republic, Panama, and Costa Rica.
Approximately 16 million for Asia to the following: India, Nepal, Bangladesh, Pakistan, Sri Lanka, Afghanistan, Maldives, Bhutan, Philippines, Vietnam, Indonesia, Thailand, Malaysia, Laos, Papua New Guinea, Taiwan, Cambodia, and the Pacific Islands.
Approximately 10 million for Africa to be shared with countries that will be selected in coordination with the African Union.
Approximately 14 million – or 25% of these 55 million vaccines – will be shared with regional priorities and other recipients, such as: Colombia, Argentina, Haiti, other CARICOM countries, Dominican Republic, Costa Rica, Panama, Afghanistan, Bangladesh, Pakistan, Philippines, Vietnam, Indonesia, South Africa, Nigeria, Kenya, Ghana, Cabo Verde, Egypt, Jordan, Iraq, Yemen, Tunisia, Oman, West Bank and Gaza, Ukraine, Kosovo, Georgia, Moldova, and Bosnia.
Sharing millions of U.S. vaccines with other countries signals a major commitment by the U.S. Government. Just like we have in our domestic response, we will move as expeditiously as possible, while abiding by U.S. and host country regulatory and legal requirements, to facilitate the safe and secure transport of vaccines across international borders. This will take time, but the President has directed the Administration to use all the levers of the U.S. government to protect individuals from this virus as quickly as possible. The specific vaccines and amounts will be determined and shared as the administration works through the logistical, regulatory and other parameters particular to each region and country.
Rodney Hunter Political Coordinator New York, New York June 21, 2021
Thank you, Mr. President. Thank you, Special Representative Haysom, for your briefing today, and congratulations as you’ve taken on this new role. We commend you, as well the uniformed and civilian personnel of UNMISS, for your work to protect civilians, deter violence, support peacebuilding activities, and advocate for human rights – especially, as you noted, in today’s even more challenging environment. Mr. Mohandis, we greatly appreciate your briefing from the perspective of civil society in South Sudan. It’s essential that the Security Council continues to hear views such as yours as we consider next steps on this important issue. And we also welcome participation of the Representative of South Sudan in today’s briefing.
Mr. President, as Mr. Mohandis pointed out, in a few weeks, South Sudan will commemorate the 10-year anniversary of its independence. We recognize the pledge by South Sudan’s leaders to restore peace and stability in the country through implementation of the 2018 revitalized peace agreement, but we are concerned with the slow pace of progress. We strongly encourage South Sudan’s leaders to accelerate implementation of the peace agreement.
Last month, the Presidency announced appointments for the Transitional National Legislative Assembly, but members have yet to be sworn in. We urge the prompt finalization of the legislative assembly and the appointment and swearing in of the members of the Council of States so they can fulfill their duties as legislators. And we note the commitment by South Sudanese parties and stakeholders at last month’s constitutional workshop to a process that includes robust public consultation procedures to achieve a constitution that reflects the will of the people. Now, the transitional government should deliver on this commitment expeditiously.
The United States views free and fair elections in South Sudan that are both timely and peaceful as essential for sustaining peace and stability in the country. We call on the transitional government to develop the institutional and legal framework necessary to ensure elections are peaceful and reflect the will of the people. This includes ensuring the full, equal, and meaningful participation of women in elections. The United States looks forward to the results of the UN needs assessment on the electoral process currently underway. Delays in implementing transitional security arrangements in the peace agreement remain a significant barrier to progress. The transitional government must follow through on its commitment to expedite the graduation of the Necessary Unified Forces and the establishment of a joint command.
Claims by some South Sudanese officials that the UN arms embargo prevents graduation of Necessary Unified Forces are disingenuous. The arms embargo, which was recently renewed by this Council, includes straightforward exemption procedures should South Sudan require arms and materiel necessary for implementation of the peace agreement. We call on South Sudanese officials to work together with the Security Council on achieving the benchmarks in Resolution 2577 so that we can consider appropriate adjustments to the sanctions regime.
The United States is also alarmed at the rise of subnational violence in South Sudan, often involving large and well-equipped armed groups, sometimes with support from political actors and members of the security services. We deplore the violence against civilians, which has been documented by UNMISS, including extrajudicial killings and sexual and gender-based violence. This year has also seen a significant increase in the killing of, and attacks on, humanitarian personnel. We call on South Sudan’s leaders to take immediate and effective measures to protect civilians, humanitarian workers, and internally displaced persons, and to hold accountable those responsible for attacks on humanitarians.
South Sudanese authorities continue to obstruct ceasefire monitors and peacekeepers, and this is unacceptable. Ongoing restrictions on UNMISS patrols and movements – as reported by UNMISS – violate obligations under the Status of Forces Agreement. These restrictions put civilians and UNMISS personnel at risk. We call on South Sudan’s leaders to cease obstruction of the mission and to view UNMISS for what it is – a full partner in the process of transition.
Mr. President, the United States remains committed to the people of South Sudan and to working closely with the transitional government, the Security Council, and all stakeholders to enable peace and prosperity for the country and for the region.
U.S. Mission to the African Union Press Release Johannesburg June 21, 2021
The U.S. Mission to the African Union, the U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID), the U.S. International Development Finance Corporation (DFC), and the African Union Development Agency (AUDA-NEPAD) have announced their collaboration on the “100,000 MSMEs Initiative.”
This Initiative contributes to the “1 Million Jobs Initiative” of the African Union (AU) and aims to reach 100,000 micro- small- and medium-sized enterprises (MSMEs) across the continent by the end of 2021 and 1 million MSMEs by the end of 2024. This AUDA-NEPAD-led Initiative is joined by strategic resource partners, Ecobank, McKinsey & Company, The World Bank Group, Microsoft, and UNDP, among others, and seeks to support MSMEs across the continent with access to finance, capacity building, networking and mentoring, and introduction to new markets and procurement opportunities.
In 2021, DFC will engage with select local banking groups in Africa to provide guaranties and/or loans in support of access to finance for MSMEs and help connect these banking groups to AUDA-NEPAD’s platform and support services. AUDA-NEPAD will offer support services to African MSMEs receiving DFC-supported financing across the continent. DFC will also seek additional transactions in support of AUDA’s initiative in future years, leveraging support from USAID to partner with African financial institutions focused on MSMEs across the continent. Additionally, the U.S. Mission to the African Union will continue to provide technical assistance directly to AUDA to advance the 100,000 MSMEs initiative.
DFC collaboration with AUDA-NEPAD builds on existing U.S. Government efforts to increase investments that strengthen economic growth, technology, energy independence, and infrastructure in Africa. DFC’s collaboration with AUDA-NEPAD, along with the support of USAID and the U.S. Mission to the African Union, adds to a range of existing DFC partnerships.
The below is attributable to Spokesperson Ned Price:
Deputy Secretary of State Wendy R. Sherman met today with Sierra Leonean Foreign Minister David Francis in Washington, D.C. During their discussion, Deputy Secretary Sherman and Foreign Minister Francis emphasized the strength of U.S-Sierra Leone relations and our longstanding relationship based on the shared values of improving democratic governance and respect for human rights, combatting corruption, and improving Sierra Leone’s investment climate. The Deputy Secretary and the Foreign Minister highlighted the importance of multilateral cooperation in contributing to a prosperous democratic future in the region.
Media Note Office of the Spokesperson June 21, 2021
Secretary of State Antony J. Blinken will join Italian Minister of Foreign Affairs and International Cooperation Luigi Di Maio in co-hosting a meeting of the Foreign Ministers of the Global Coalition to Defeat ISIS on June 28 to discuss efforts in the campaign to achieve the enduring defeat of ISIS.
Ministers will discuss ways to sustain pressure on ISIS remnants in Iraq and Syria, and to counter ISIS networks elsewhere, including in Africa. They will also assess priorities for the Coalition’s lines of effort related to stabilization, foreign terrorist fighters, counter-ISIS financing, and counter-messaging efforts.
The 83-member Global Coalition, of which the United States is a leading member, remains unwavering in its commitment to the enduring and global defeat of ISIS.
Special Briefing Acting Assistant Secretary for European and Eurasian Affairs Philip Reeker, Special Envoy for Holocaust Issues Cherrie Daniels, and Special Envoy for Libya Richard Norland Via Teleconference June 21, 2021
AMBASSADOR NORLAND: Yeah, okay. Good afternoon or good evening, everyone. It’s a pleasure to speak with you today in my capacity both as special envoy and as ambassador to Libya. As Assistant Secretary Reeker just noted, Secretary Blinken will participate in the second Berlin conference on Libya on June 23rd, on Wednesday.
The conference we see is an opportunity for the international community to support the progress made by the Libyan people. The participation of the Libyan interim Government of National Unity will mark the first time that Libya will be included in the Berlin process as a participant. It underscores the significant achievements in Libya since the first Berlin conference on Libya in January of 2020. It was a summit held on January 19th, 2020.
We thank Germany for hosting this vital conversation. In Berlin, the United States and our partners will reaffirm support for the interim Government of National Unity as it continues its most important task, namely of preparing for national elections on December 24th of this year as outlined by the Libyan Political Dialogue Forum Roadmap approved through the UN-facilitated political process. This is a key step towards ending a decade of conflict through an inclusive negotiated political solution.
The U.S. goal is a sovereign, stable, unified Libya with no foreign interference and a state that is capable of combating terrorism within its borders. We strongly oppose all military escalation and all foreign military intervention, which only deepen and prolong the conflict. To this end, the conference will also underscore support for the full implementation of UN Security Council Resolutions 2570 and 2571 adopted earlier this year, along with the October 2020 Libyan nationwide ceasefire agreement, which addressed the withdrawal of foreign military forces, foreign fighters, and mercenaries.
The United States is committed to increasing our diplomatic focus on supporting the progress made by the Libyan people. Working with our international partners and the UN, we will continue to support the interim Government of National Unity in the months ahead as it prepares for the December elections and works to end the conflict.
QUESTION: Hello. Thanks, Ned. Thanks, everyone. I just have two questions. One is about Libya. The other one is about Vatican. Ambassador Norland, I’m just wondering what United States wants to see achieved until the planned elections in December. I know that the withdrawal of the foreign mercenaries and foreign troops is something Washington has pushed for for a while, but that hasn’t materialized until now. I’m wondering if you or other administration officials in their various meetings with officials from interested parties – say, like, Russia, Turkey – have gotten any assurances even remotely that these fighters will be pulled out anytime soon.
And then on Secretary’s meetings in the Vatican, the last administration had a rather rocky relationship with the Vatican, and former Secretary Pompeo criticized the Vatican over the renewal last year of 2018 agreement with China. On what issues does the State Department see any convergence? Where do you see divergence, and do you think the recent stand by the American Catholic bishops and the communion issue will come up in the Vatican talks? Thank you.
AMBASSADOR NORLAND: Yeah —
AMBASSADOR REEKER: Do you want to go ahead and take —
AMBASSADOR NORLAND: Yeah, sure. Dick Norland here. So you asked about the Berlin conference and elections and foreign forces. In terms of the elections, we see this conference as providing key momentum for some things that need to happen basically in July if the elections are going to take place as scheduled in December. There needs to be a constitutional basis and a legal framework established, approved by either the parliament or by the LPDF, the Libyan Political Dialogue Forum, basically in July, according to the election commission, in order for the elections to take place in December. And this process has been delayed. We think it needs urgent attention, and this conference is an opportunity to reinforce that message.
On the foreign forces, you’re quite right that forces have not departed yet, and our basic position is we should not wait until after the elections to try to make some progress on this goal. The elections – one of the reasons elections are so important is so that a fully empowered, credible, legitimate Libyan government can turn to foreign actors and say, “It’s time to take your troops out.” And that will be a very important development and we think a very impactful one, but we’re not suggesting that we have to wait until next year to try to make some progress.
So, to your point, there are negotiations underway with some of the key actors aimed at trying to remove some of the mercenaries, the foreign fighters. I don’t want to predict in this particular call where that might lead, but certainly that’s on the agenda in Berlin here, along with other confidence-building measures like reopening the coastal road in Libya, something that has been talked about. Some progress is being made even this week, but it’s not a done deal yet, and we’d like to see progress on that as well as on forming a joint military command in Libya so that these various Libyan armed elements come under one hat, and that’s directly related to the issue of trying to achieve the withdrawal of foreign forces, because when foreign forces leave, they’re going to need to be replaced by a viable united Libyan national military and police structure.
MR PRICE: We’ll take a final question from Cindy Saine.
OPERATOR: Your line is now open.
QUESTION: Yes, thank you. In conversations with allies, do you expect Secretary Blinken to also focus on the increasing Islamic State threat in Africa? Thank you.
AMBASSADOR REEKER: Well, I guess I can take that one noting that, obviously, in the – in Rome, we will have the D-ISIS ministerial, which Secretary Blinken will co-host with Foreign Minister Di Maio of Italy. But as I mentioned at the top, we’ll have a more detailed readout and focus on that multilateral forum. I would think that’s the sort of obvious question of discussion in terms of a D-ISIS conference, but let me leave it for the briefing that we’ll have as we get closer to the date and see what kind of details they can go in on the agenda of that multilat forum on the D-ISIS.
AMBASSADOR NORLAND: If I could just inject a footnote, Phil – Dick Norland here – it is true that on the Berlin agenda – Libya – there is concern stemming from the recent events in Chad where rebel groups trained by armed elements in Libya, assisted by Wagner mercenaries, carried out destabilizing actions. And there are signs that the – there is increasing evidence of this kind of activity. And so in addition, there have been a couple of ISIS-claimed attacks in Libya over the last month. So I think the agenda of destabilizing actions by armed groups and terrorism is also on the agenda in Berlin at the Libya conference.
[For full text of briefing, please follow this link].
U.S. Africa Command Public Affairs United States Africa Command AGADIR, Morocco June 21, 2021
The Commander of U.S. Africa Command, U.S. Army Gen. Stephen Townsend, visited Morocco to attend the closing ceremony of Exercise African Lion 21 and to meet with several African defense leaders June 17-19.
“African Lion is our largest and most important exercise in Africa,” said Townsend. “The exercise helps us build readiness as well as build and strengthen partnerships to best operate in a complex, multi-domain environment.”
Townsend visited several exercise locations, where he met with troops who took part in the exercise.
“We did not allow a COVID environment to change our focus and long-term commitment to our partners,” said Townsend. “We remain focused on maintaining strong relationships with our allies and partners. We worked extremely hard to make this year’s training a reality and no doubt we all benefited from it tremendously.”
Townsend met with senior Moroccan military leaders, including the Inspector General of the Royal Moroccan Armed Forces, Abdelfattah Louarak.
“The 17th iteration of Exercise African Lion 2021 has just wrapped up, and it has been a great success at all levels, by having fulfilled all its objectives,” said Louarak. “I am confident that this exercise will succeed in promoting the values of peace and solidarity among the nations, and is an essential milestone in the path towards peace and solidarity in the region and in Africa.”
Townsend thanked his Moroccan colleagues, particularly the Southern Zone Commander Lt. Gen. Belkhir El Farouk for outstanding efforts by the Royal Moroccan Armed Forces in planning and executing African Lion 2021, as well as opportunities to deepen the U.S.-Morocco security partnership.
Townsend also met with Senegal’s Chief of Army Staff, Brig. Gen. Fulgence Ndour. During their discussion, he thanked Ndour for Senegal’s role as a security leader in West Africa, and for hosting or participating in multiple U.S. Africa Command exercises, including Exercises Flintlock and Obangame Express.
On the margins of the exercise, Townsend met with defense leaders from other nations, including Libyan Government of National Unity representatives and the Chief of Staff of the Libyan Army, Gen. Mohamad al-Haddad. During their meeting, Townsend and Haddad discussed the need for foreign forces to withdraw from Libya immediately. Townsend and Haddad also discussed ongoing efforts to unify Libyan military institutions, and opportunities for greater military cooperation with the United States.
During the visit, Townsend also met with other U.S. military leaders who were on the ground for African Lion 21, including Gen. Daniel Hokanson, Chief of the U.S. National Guard Bureau. A number of National Guard troops from Utah, Wyoming, and D.C. took part in the exercise.
Remarks to the Press Antony J. Blinken, Secretary of State Washington, D.C. June 21, 2021
MR CAPEHART: Hello and welcome to this special edition of AC Front Page, the Atlantic Council’s premier live ideas platform for global leaders. I’m Jonathan Capehart, a journalist with The Washington Post and MSNBC. Thank you for joining us today.
Across the country and around the world, the month of June is dedicated to celebrating and recognizing the LGBTQI community from all walks of life. However, both at home and abroad, there are significant challenges that affect the everyday lives of LGBTQI individuals. In his first year in office, President Biden and his administration have an opportunity to advocate for the social, economic, and political equality for sexual and gender minorities. Already the State Department has encouraged U.S. missions abroad to fly the pride flag in solidarity with a global LGBTQI community and by taking a more assertive approach to LGBTQI foreign policy, so that the U.S. Government has a chance to effect change and move the needle on human rights around the world.
Today, I am delighted to be joined by U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken to hear more from him about the Biden administration’s priorities for protecting and promoting the LGBTQI community, starting at the State Department and reaching beyond our borders. Secretary Blinken served as deputy secretary of state for President Barack Obama from 2015 to 2017 and before that as President Obama’s principal deputy national security advisor. Mr. Secretary, I’m looking forward to your remarks and our conversation.
This event is hosted by the Atlantic Council which, through its LGBTI Advisory Council and LGBTI in Foreign Affairs Fellowships and Out in Energy network, is promoting LGBTI leadership throughout the foreign affairs and national security community. The event is also co-hosted by GLIFAA, the LGBTQI+ employee affinity group for the U.S. State Department and other foreign affairs agencies. GLIFAA has been working for nearly 30 years to ensure LGBTQI employees can serve their country proudly and with dignity. We welcome you to engage in the conversation using the hashtag #ACFrontPage.
Mr. Secretary, before we begin our discussion, your opening remarks.
SECRETARY BLINKEN: Jonathan, thank you very, very much. First of all, Happy Pride, everyone. I am delighted to be part of this conversation. And I especially want to thank you, Jonathan, for serving as moderator today.
And thank you to the Atlantic Council and all of my friends there for many, many years for helping to bring us together, and to GLIFAA for bringing us together as well for what is an important discussion.
So let me just say a few words to get us started, and then look forward to having a conversation with you and other colleagues who will join in.
One of the leading human rights issues of our time is the treatment of LGBTQI people around the world. You know this better than I do. In many countries, they face violence, harassment, stigma, rejection. They aren’t protected equally by laws – in fact, they’re often targeted and scapegoated by those who make and enforce the laws. They’re denied equal access to health care, housing, employment, justice. And for some, simply living openly as their true selves can be incredibly dangerous.
And I’m not just talking about far-off places. Here at home, LGBTQI people have had to fight tooth and nail for every inch of progress. And there are still painful setbacks. There is still hate and violence. There is still too much bias across our society in workplaces, in schools, in churches, in households, and in our government.
This matters to me as a person and an American. It also matters to me as Secretary of State. One of our country’s greatest strengths is our identity as a place where freedom, justice, opportunity are available to everyone. When that rings true, when we make progress toward those ideals, the world notices. When we fall short, well, the world notices that too.
Our ability to stand up for human rights and democracy in other places depends on whether we’re strong on those fronts here at home. And by standing up for human rights worldwide, we’re not only delivering for people in other countries, we’re also delivering for the American people, because human rights and democracy are intrinsically linked with stability, broad-based prosperity, peace, and progress. And that’s all in our interests.
But most important, defending and advancing human rights, including the human rights of LGBTQI people, is simply the right thing to do. And at our best, the United States does the right thing.
That’s why a few days after taking office, President Biden signed a memorandum instructing all U.S. agencies engaged in diplomacy and development to promote and protect the human rights of LGBTQI people around the world.
Specifically, it named combating the criminalization of LGBTQI status or conduct; protecting vulnerable LGBTQI refugees and asylum seekers; ensuring that our foreign assistance protects human rights and advances nondiscrimination; responding swiftly and meaningfully to human rights abuses; and building coalitions of international organizations and likeminded nations – that is, using our convening power to advance global support for the human rights of LGBTQI people.
So here at the State Department, we’re now putting those provisions into action across our bureaus, across the department, on everything from our refugee programs to our global COVID-19 response to our multilateral engagement. For example, this week, we’re sponsoring our first-ever side event at the United Nations on the rights of transgender and gender-diverse people worldwide. Because again, this is a core human rights issue, and we believe the United States belongs at the forefront of the fight, speaking out, standing up for our values. And we couldn’t do that without our people.
I want to give a special thank you to all the members of GLIFAA, past and present, who have blazed the trail, one step at a time, often in the face of great resistance, to change our country and the State Department for the better.
We still have a great deal of work to do before the human rights of all people everywhere are respected. That’s a mission we’re proud to undertake. And I am very grateful to all you for being part of it.
With that, I’m eager to have a conversation, also to hear from some of you. So, Jonathan, over to you.
MR CAPEHART: Well, Mr. Secretary, again, thank you very much for being here. And before we get to the topic at hand, I do, of course, have to ask a news of day question.
MR CAPEHART: The New York Times is reporting that a bipartisan group of lawmakers is moving fast on legislation to get visas for folks in Afghanistan who helped the United States. Earlier this month, you told the House Foreign Affairs Committee the administration is looking, quote, “at every possible contingency.” Have you narrowed those contingencies, and do they include evacuation to a third country while they await U.S. visas?
SECRETARY BLINKEN: Well, first just to emphasize the point because it is vitally important, we have an obligation, a debt, to help those who helped us. We have people in Afghanistan who worked side-by-side with our diplomats, with our soldiers, as guides, interpreters, translators, put themselves on the line, put their lives on the line, put the security and well-being of their families on the line, and we owe them. It’s a simple as that.
And as part of that we’ve had, starting in Iraq but also in Afghanistan, a program to – for so-called Special Immigrant Visas to put folks who’ve helped us in a special place where they can apply, hopefully in a more expedited fashion, to come to the United States. We are doing everything we can to make sure that that program can move forward with the resources it needs to answer the demand that exists.
Just to give you a sense of where this stands, there are about 18,000 people who have expressed interest – or more – in using this program to come to the United States. In other words, 18,000 people who worked directly with our soldiers, with our diplomats in Afghanistan. About 9,000 of those are just in the beginning of the process. They’ve expressed interest, they’re looking at it, they haven’t filled out the forms. Another 9,000, though, have filled out the forms. They’re working through the process, and we’ve got a number of them that are awaiting approval by our embassy in Afghanistan and others who are actually in the immigration process itself.
We’ve surged resources to make sure that we could make good by the people who are seeking these Special Immigrant Visas. We’ve added about 50 people here at the State Department. A lot of the work actually gets done here at State. We have additional people in the field. We’ve reduced and in fact eliminated some backlogs that existed.
We’ve got challenges. We’ve actually got a new COVID emergency in Afghanistan where we’ve had to pull back a little bit on some of the work that we’re doing in country. But the work that happens out of country, which is actually the bulk of it, is going forward.
So that’s basically where things stand. We’re going to Congress to get more of these visa allowances. At the same time, to your point, Jonathan, we continue to look at every possible contingency to make sure that, one way or another, we can accommodate the demand. We haven’t ruled anything – anything out. And right now we’re focused on making sure that we actually can make good on the folks who are in the system, and as it stands today that’s what we’re doing.
MR CAPEHART: Thank you for that response, Mr. Secretary. So as you mentioned in your opening remarks, you and the President have made it clear that LGBTQ+ issues are a part of U.S. foreign policy. How specifically is that manifesting itself 152 or so days in – to the Biden administration?
SECRETARY BLINKEN: So there are a few things that are happening. First, on one level it’s show me your talking points and I’ll show you your priorities. This is now something that is much more integrated in the day-in/day-out work that we’re doing in the department in our engagements with countries wide and far. We’re doing it – we’re engaged on these issues on a bilateral basis when we’re dealing country to country. We’re dealing much more on a multilateral basis in international organizations. I mentioned this first-ever side event at the United Nations to put a spotlight on some of the challenges. We are working to coordinate more with likeminded countries.
And a lot of this involves programmatic support as well, making sure that we’re getting assistance out to groups that can help put a spotlight on challenges, on issues; emergency assistance to people who are in need and who are threatened by violence, by discrimination; and across the board trying as well to empower some of the local groups and local movements that are trying to make good on the agenda.
So what you’re seeing is actually integrating all of this work into what we’re doing every single day. And this is not just – it’s not just me. It’s not just other senior colleagues. We’re trying to do this spread out across the department.
MR CAPEHART: So – I have a a symbolic question and then a substantive question in terms of manifestation. Symbolically, during the Obama-Biden administration one of the hallmarks was the pride flag being flown at embassies around the world.
SECRETARY BLINKEN: Yeah.
MR CAPEHART: The previous administration did away with that, in some ways very proudly doing away with the pride flag at embassies. I saw, I believe somewhere on social media, the pride flag flying at an embassy around the world. Is that a stated policy at the Blinken State Department that if you are an ambassador anywhere at an American embassy around the world and you want to fly the pride flag, fly the pride flag?
SECRETARY BLINKEN: The answer is yes. We’ve made that clear. We’ve given our chiefs of mission, our ambassadors around the world the authority to do that. When we’re trying to advance, defend, support the protection of LGBTQI persons around the world, we want to make sure that we’re doing this in a way that takes into account the specific situation, conditions in a given country. But in every single country where we’re represented, our chiefs of mission, our ambassadors, our charges – whoever’s in charge – have the authority to fly the pride flag on an exterior, external-facing pole at the embassy.
And I think that’s hugely important because this is, again, the strength, the power of our own example, the willingness to speak up, to speak out, to show the strength of our own diversity, including at our embassies, I think sends a hugely important message.
One thing that I can actually announce today for the first time is that we’ll be flying the progress flag, a symbol that encompasses the diversity and intersectionality of LGBTQI persons and communities around the world at the State Department later this month.
We’ll fly the flag from June 26th to the 28th, and that’s a period that I know – as so many know – marks a couple of important turning points in our history for LGBTQI rights: June 26th, the anniversary of the historic Supreme Court decision in 2015 in Obergefell v. Hodges, which ruled that the fundamental right to marry is guaranteed to same-sex couples and is the law of the land; June 28th, I think everyone knows, marks the anniversary of the start of the Stonewall riots, which in many ways back in 1969 was the genesis of the global LGBTQI rights movement. So I think this is going to be a significant couple of days and we will see the progress flag flying at the State Department.
MR CAPEHART: I’m going to just rib you for a moment, because how did the Agriculture Department beat you to this? (Laughter.)
SECRETARY BLINKEN: Well, in the category of maybe sometimes a little bit better late than never, look, I’m glad. This is great that we have our administration, our government – across the administration, across the government – firing on all cylinders. And I think it’s a reflection of the fact that President Biden set the tone from day one. So if we have to play a little catch-up, we are.
MR CAPEHART: So in February the State Department – your spokesperson, Ned Price, from the podium – expressed concern over two Chechen brothers who were arrested in Russia and returned to their homeland. You just got back from Geneva, where President Biden met with Russian President Vladimir Putin. Did the – did Russia’s LGBTQ rights record come up at that meeting? Did the President push that issue with President Putin?
SECRETARY BLINKEN: The President pushed human rights, including LGBTQI rights, with President Putin. And I think he referred to this in his press conference as well. What he told President Putin is that as an American president, where for all of our challenges – many of which are manifest in recent months and recent years – this is something that is basically stamped into our DNA and he would be abdicating his responsibility as President, as an American president, not to raise these issues. Now, we didn’t get into specific cases in that meeting, but he made very clear to President Putin that this is fundamentally who we are, and who he is, and what we’ll do, and will continue to do going forward.
MR CAPEHART: What was President Putin’s response?
SECRETARY BLINKEN: Well, I don’t want to characterize his response. You should ask the Russians.
MR CAPEHART: (Laughter.) You were in the room.
SECRETARY BLINKEN: Well, it wouldn’t be fair of me to say what he said or didn’t said. But I think it’s fair to say that there was at least an acknowledgment of that basic fact of life. This is what an American president should do. This is who we are, and this is what we represent to the world.
MR CAPEHART: You’ve said a couple of times in responses, but also in your opening remarks, about how at home and abroad the LGBTQI community is facing all sorts of pressures. Here in the United States right now, there is the Equality Act that passed the House, is sitting in the United States Senate awaiting a vote. No vote has been scheduled. I know it’s either highly unusual or never that a secretary of state gets involved in domestic politics, but could you talk about why for foreign consumption it’s important that the Equality Act be passed by Congress?
SECRETARY BLINKEN: Look, I really can’t get into – you’re right, I can’t get into domestic politics. I won’t. It’s one of the maybe some would say luxuries of the job, but I think it’s one of the necessities of the job that I not do that. And one of the things I’ve made very clear in taking the job was that politics stops at the C Street doors, where we are here at the department.
But what I can say is this, because it goes to the larger point: I know as I’m traveling around the world – and thankfully we’re now able to really start to do that – that the effectiveness, the impact of our foreign policy is directly tied to our strength at home. And the power of our example, as President Biden likes to say, is as important as the example of our power. And so when we’re seen as making progress at home, when we’re seen as getting a little bit closer to achieving our ideals, something we’ll never fully achieve – forming a more perfect union by definition says that we’re constantly in that quest. But as we’re seen as trying to do that, that gives us so much greater standing around the world to try to advance rights for all day in, day out.
So I know that my foreign interlocutors are looking to this all the time. So I can’t speak to specific pieces of legislation or laws. I can say that our progress at home is directly tied to our ability to be a force for progress around the world.
MR CAPEHART: So, Mr. Secretary, we have questions from the audience, and I’m going to go to the first question, which is from Meghan Luckett, a public affairs officer from the U.S. Embassy in Malabo, Equatorial Guinea.
QUESTION: Yes, good afternoon, Mr. Secretary, and thank you very much for this opportunity. My question is this: Since 1999, there have been 13 out LGBTQI+ ambassadors, with President Biden nominating three more. However, all of them have been white, gay, cis men. Keeping in mind that the State Department has rightly centered its DEI focus on the importance of intersectionality and representation, what can and should the department do to ensure the full spectrum of the LGBTQI+ identities and experiences, including black indigenous people of color, are reflected at the highest levels?
SECRETARY BLINKEN: Meghan, thanks very much. First of all, thanks for your work and service, and second, thanks for the question. And I think it’s an important one. My belief is that when all is said and done, when you see the appointments that the administration makes in senior positions across the department, as well as abroad, that we’ll be able to show a real reflection of the diversity of the community itself in those appointments. So I can’t get into specific names and positions right now. It’s a lengthy process – I think you know that as well – in terms of getting people in place. But I hear what you’re saying and I think – I expect that what you’ll see will be an answer to that question.
MR CAPEHART: All right, our next question–
QUESTION: Thank you.
MR CAPEHART: — sorry – our next question comes from Austin Richey-Allen, deputy consular chief at the U.S. Embassy in Kathmandu, Nepal.
QUESTION: Hello, sir. Greetings from Kathmandu. Thank you very much for engaging in this important conversation. As an openly transgender employee at the State Department, I’ve spoken to other trans and non-binary employees, as well as those with trans or non-binary family members. The top concerns that I’ve heard relate to the availability of gender-affirming medical care while assigned abroad, policies related to workplace protections, and access to passports and other documents that accurately represent our identity.
Could you talk about what is on the horizon in the State Department to foster a supportive and inclusive environment for gender-diverse people? And if any trans people are watching now who may be considering a career at the State Department, do you have any particular (inaudible) for them? Thank you.
SECRETARY BLINKEN: Great. Thank you, and again, thank you as well for everything that you’re doing and for your service. Let me pull this back a little bit, and then address the question more specifically. When it comes more broadly to diversity and inclusion in the department, I’ve made – I’ve made that a priority for however long I’m in this job. And I’ve said this repeatedly, I’ve said it publicly as well as privately, that I’ll consider it a mark of my success or not in this job whether by the time I’m done we’ve put in place a stronger foundation to have a genuinely diverse department that truly reflects the people that we’re supposed to represent. And a lot goes into that, as you know. But one of the things that we’ve done is we’ve appointed for the first time ever a chief diversity and inclusion officer. And that office will – is actually an office with a team. It reports directly to me, and it has the responsibility of making sure that across the board the department is genuinely addressing and making progress on building a more diverse and inclusive – and that word “inclusive” is usually important – department so that, again, we reflect the people that we represent.
This starts with recruiting and making sure that we’re actually reaching out really early on in the pipeline to open people’s eyes and hearts and minds to the possibility of serving the country, and serving the State Department, serving our foreign policy. A lot more to follow on that. But we know that even once we get people through the doors here at C Street, that’s not enough. In fact, we’ve seen time and again that people coming from diverse communities get into the State Department and then leave, because we’ve done a bad job in addressing the particular concerns and particular challenges faced by people coming from diverse communities that many of us are simply not in tune with or aware of.
And so one of the responsibilities as well of the chief diversity and inclusion office is going to be making sure that we’re focused on some of the cultural challenges that come to making sure the department is genuinely inclusive across the board, and that people feel that they’re at home, they’re respected, and that they can actually make a real career out of the department, they can see the possibility of advancing, that they can see the possibility of having the most senior jobs over their careers. And that ties into making sure that, again, our appointments, including at the most senior levels, reflect that diversity.
Finally, accountability. And that starts with me. We’ve got to make sure that as we’re working to create a more diverse department, to put in place a foundation that will sustain that diversity going forward, that we actually have accountability, and that comes with making sure that we can actually show the progress, that we have data that’s disaggregated, which has been one of the challenges in the past, and that’s true across different communities.
Now, when it comes to the LGBTQI community in general, when it comes to transgender, gender-diverse persons in particular, this too is an area I think of particular emphasis, of particular need. We put out guidance back in April regarding transgender employees and management rights and responsibilities on – in the workplace. What’s so important here is that that guidance was the product of a consultation with GLIFAA. We wanted to make sure that we had the input going in, not just presenting something on the landing, that we actually had it on the takeoff. Which is another reason, by the way, why this diversity across the board in our department is so important. If we don’t have colleagues here in the department who can help us with internal policy choices and decisions, we’re not going to get it right.
I think the guidance is a good start. It addresses a number of issues, I think, of real importance, where we needed greater clarity, greater understanding, actually needed policies addressing, for example, the use of pronouns, dress codes, usage of bathrooms in accord with identity, et cetera. And it’s also the first means by which we’re actually providing resources to people who have questions, have concerns, have issues. I hope that’s going to be something that sends a message to future colleagues about the environment, the culture, the welcoming nature of this institution.
As I mentioned, we have this – just in a couple of days this first-ever side event in the United Nations that I’m proud to be able to participate in. And beyond that, I think you’re going to see some broader policy announcements that go beyond the State Department that will be coming out of the administration soon, all of which I hope send a very clear, very strong message that not only do we welcome, we want to be part of – this administration to be part of our government, a workforce of talented people that reflect the true diversity of our country.
MR CAPEHART: Austin Richey-Allen, thank you very much for your question. The next question comes from Coco Lim, a program associate for Latin America and the Caribbean at Freedom House.
QUESTION: Hi, Mr. Secretary. Thank you for your time today. So according to Freedom House freedom and the world reports and analysis, the quest to secure greater protections for LGBTQ people in Latin America has lost momentum over the past few years with some Latin American governments pursuing hostile legal frameworks, jeopardizing political and civil rights, especially the rights of trans women as the crimes against this population often go unpunished and sometimes uninvestigated, for instance, in the most recent murder of Guatemalan activists Andrea Gonzalez and Cecy Ixpata.
So in that context with your new leadership in Washington, how can the U.S. help to revitalize efforts to put an end to violence, discrimination, and impunity on the basis of sexual orientation and gender identity or expression, and perhaps specifically violence against trans folks throughout the Latin American region?
SECRETARY BLINKEN: Well, first, thank you for the work that you’re doing. I read the Freedom House reports very, very carefully every year. And I think, look, you put your finger on something that unfortunately is very stark and very powerful, and that is a wider trend that Freedom House has done more than any other organization to document of this democratic recession that we’ve been seeing around the world, a recession that’s been going on and getting deeper, going on for the past dozen or more years, 15 years or so – and as I said, getting deeper unfortunately over the last few years.
And this is an issue of profound concern to me, to the President, to the administration. And it’s not surprising that one of the markers of that recession has been exactly what you cited, which is not only a slowing of progress, a diminution of progress for the LGBTQI communities around the work, but in a number of cases actual regression, moving backwards when it comes to violence, when it comes to discrimination, when it comes to legal frameworks. And the two cases that you’ve actually cited I’ll be speaking to in a couple of days at the United Nations.
And for us, in terms of what we can do about it, it really starts with putting democracy and human rights, including the rights of the LGBTQI communities, at the heart of our foreign policy. And that goes back to what we were talking about just a few minutes ago, that it is on the agenda in our conversations country to country, that it’s on the agenda in what we’re doing in multilateral institutions around the world, that it’s on the agenda in terms of our programs and the resources that we dedicate, whether it’s emergency assistance to people from these communities who are in need, in danger, or the support that we’re giving to civil society and organizations that stand up for and advance LGBTQI rights. All of that goes to the heart of our foreign policy and what we’re trying to do.
We have in a whole host of countries efforts underway to push pack against discriminatory legal frameworks and laws. This is one of the most pernicious things in many ways that we’re seeing beyond overt instances of violence, discrimination. When you have a legal framework that actually institutionalizes this, that’s maybe the most fundamental problem of all.
We’re working on this day in, day out, country to country as we speak. I’m particularly sensitive to the plight of transgender people, especially people of color, and especially when we’re seeing within this overall regression particular instances of violence and discrimination against that community. So this is something we’re giving a particular focus to.
But the bottom line is this: It has to be and it is integrated in our foreign policy. Unfortunately, it’s not like flipping a light switch. I don’t think we’re going to see or show results from Friday to Monday, but if we’re doing it in a sustained, focused, and determined way, my hope is that over the next few years we’ll actually start to turn the corner and see progress again, not regression.
MR CAPEHART: Thank you very much, Coco Lim. We have one more question. This one, Mr. Secretary, comes from Michael Castellano, Associate Director for Strategic Partnerships at Heartland Alliance International. Unfortunately, he cannot be on camera because of a train mishap. He’s fine.
SECRETARY BLINKEN: Good.
MR CAPEHART: But he can’t be with us, so I’m going to ask his question for you. And in your response to this, fold in your final remarks because we are running out of time.
SECRETARY BLINKEN: Sure.
MR CAPEHART: He asks: President Biden’s memorandum committing to promoting LGBTQ rights abroad underscores five priorities, one of which is funding efforts to protect human rights and to advance nondiscrimination around the world, which you’ve mentioned earlier. For those of in civil society engaged in the implementation of such programs in collaboration with LGBTQ partners in the field, can you elaborate on how the Department of State under your leadership will leverage foreign assistance funding to support LGBTQ human rights programming?
SECRETARY BLINKEN: So I think there are a number of things. And I appreciate the question but also very relieved to hear that everything’s okay.
MR CAPEHART: Yes.
SECRETARY BLINKEN: So that’s good.
There are a number of ways we’re doing this. Look, we have our efforts, ongoing efforts as a founding member, to lead and administer something called the Global Equality Fund, and that is a pretty unique and I think effective public-private partnership that provides emergency assistance, for example, to LGBTQI organizations and persons that are under threat and as well as supporting human rights programming for grassroots organizations to try to catalyze positive change, and it’s operating in more than a hundred countries. So this is something that really covers a lot of ground.
Tenth year that we’ve been involved in this, and what we’re seeing is – as I said, it’s a public-private partnership – we’re drawing strength and support from like-minded governments around the world, businesses, foundations, the – a number of other organizations. And that’s been an essential resource that we’ve actually been able to help catalyze and provide about $83 million thus far to amplify,
The Nigerian government on Tuesday threatened to suspend all social media platforms that are deemed promoters of national disunity.
The Nigerian Minister for Information and Culture, Alhaji Lai Mohammed appeared before the House of Representatives Joint Committee on Information, Justice, and Communication to answer questions on the ban on prominent social-networking site Twitter.
The Nigerian government announced June 4 its decision to suspend Twitter indefinitely, which was met with immediate outrage and criticism from many, even sparking a lawsuit against the government.
The United States condemned the decision and State Department Spokesperson Ned Price said, “freedom of expression and access to information both online and offline are foundational to prosperous and secure democratic societies.”
The Nigerian government is rejecting the widespread accusation that its ban of Twitter is an attempt to silence dissent, with Alhaji Lai Mohammed saying Tuesday, “There was no intention of the federal government to stifle free speech in the country. The only reason we suspended Twitter is that it was promoting disunity. Its activities are inimical to the unity of the country.”
“We want Twitter to be registered first in the country before they can operate,” he said, also reportedly asserting that the Nigerian government would not hesitate to suspend other social platforms such as Facebook, Instagram, WhatsApp, Google hangout, if they are found to be promoting posts or statements capable of destabilizing the country.
Despite the Nigerian government’s insistence that its ban of Twitter is not meant to stifle free speech, many continue to raise concerns that the seemingly arbitrary suspension of social media networks and platforms poses a severe threat to the value of free and open discourse.
An airstrike killed dozens of people in Ethiopia’s Tigray region on Tuesday and health workers were blocked from traveling to the scene, witnesses and several reports said on Wednesday.
The airstrike hit a busy market in the village of Togora with some reports citing more than 80 civilians bombed to death.
The AP quoted wounded patients being treated at Mekele’s Ayder hospital as telling health workers that “a plane dropped a bomb on Togoga’s marketplace.” It quoted a nurse as saying that the six patients included a 2-year-old child with “abdominal trauma” and a 6-year-old.
“An ambulance carrying a wounded baby to Mekele, almost 60 kilometers (37 miles) away by road, was blocked for two hours and the baby died on the way, the nurse added,” according to the AP.
Hailu Kebede, foreign affairs head for the Salsay Woyane Tigray opposition party and who comes from Togoga, told the AP that one fleeing witness to the attack had counted more than 30 bodies and other witnesses were reporting more than 50 people killed. Many more were said to be wounded in the remote village that’s linked to Mekele in part by challenging stretches of dirt roads.
“It was horrific,” said a staffer with an international aid group who told the AP he had spoken with a colleague and others at the scene. “We don’t know if the jets were coming from Ethiopia or Eritrea. They are still looking for bodies by hand. More than 50 people were killed, maybe more.”
The news agency added that “on Tuesday afternoon, a convoy of ambulances attempting to reach Togoga, about 25 kilometers (15 miles) west of Mekele, was turned back by soldiers near Tukul, the health workers said. Several more ambulances were turned back later in the day and on Wednesday morning, but one group of medical workers reached the site on Tuesday evening via a different route.”
It said those medical workers were treating 40 wounded people but told colleagues in Mekele that the number of wounded is likely higher as some people fled after the attack. Five of the wounded patients were said to need emergency operations but the health workers were unable to evacuate them.
“We have been asking, but until now we didn’t get permission to go, so we don’t know how many people are dead,” said one of the doctors in Mekele.
The airstrike comes even as the international community warns that millions of people are at risk of famine in Tigray with the United States, the European Union, the United Nations calling on Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed to embrace peace and dialogue.
But the Prime Minister has rebuffed all peace moves and chosen war and his soldiers have been accused of even using food or famine as a weapon of war.
IMF Managing Director Kristalina Georgieva on Tuesday announced a financing milestone on debt relief for Sudan.
She said the Fund has secured financing pledges from 101 IMF members to provide more than US$1,415.7 million in financing for Sudan.
The development will enable the clearance of Sudan’s arrears to the IMF, allow for the provision of new Fund financing, and facilitate the delivery of the HIPC Initiative and other debt relief to Sudan. It will also help unlock significant amounts of development assistance and create the conditions for higher and more inclusive growth in Sudan.
Ms. Georgieva welcomed what she described as “this important breakthrough”, noting: “Today’s financing milestone marks a historic opportunity for Sudan to move toward comprehensive debt relief from the IMF and the international community. The Fund will continue to support Sudan in its recovery from a long period of instability and economic hardship.”
The Managing Director thanked the IMF’s member countries for their generous support, adding, “I would like to recognize the efforts of our member countries, including many low-income economies, in mobilizing funding for Sudan, as well as the continued cooperation from the World Bank, African Development Bank, Paris Club, European Commission, and other development partners which were critical to the success of this multilateral initiative.”
“This achievement marks a clear recognition by our membership of the extraordinary efforts of the people and the government of Sudan to advance economic and financial reforms despite a challenging environment. Sudan is now one step closer to reaching the HIPC Decision Point, a landmark which will significantly reduce Sudan’s total debt and allow access to fresh funds and new investments critical to boost growth and fight poverty,” Ms. Georgieva said.
On Friday, the Pentagon is set to declassify documents on ‘Unidentified Aerial Phenomena’ it has accumulated over the course of a century.
Commentators and analysts expect the report on UAPs, previously known as ‘Unidentified Flying Objects’, or UFOs, to be a bombshell, as the U.S. government may be acknowledging for the first time the existence of flying objects it cannot identify.
Florida Senator Mark Rubio pressed the government early this year to release any classified information it has on Unidentified Aerial Phenomena (UAPs). Such pressure has been mounting ever since 2017, when video footage documenting sightings by US Naval pilots was leaked to the New York Times.
Commander David Fravor of the USS Nimitz, and pilots of the USS Theodore Roosevelt have gained notoriety over the years for going public with their accounts.
In 2004, Commander and Navy Pilot David Fravor and his team were conducting naval exercises off the coast of California. His team encountered what he recalled as a “white tic tac” hovering above the water. As he approached the object with his F18, the object began mimicking his movements through aerial maneuvers. At one point, Fravor tried to lock-on to the object using his onboard weapon systems. Fravor was then prevented from doing so as the aerial phenomenon jammed his radar, which by Geneva Convention standards, is an act of war.
The commander and fighter pilot of the US Navy, David Fravor, is considered by UFO experts as the most credible witness of any UFO sighting
Off the cost of Virginia in 2015, naval fighter pilots associated with the USS Theodore Roosevelt captured the infamous GIMBAL and GOFAST videos which showed UAP’s preforming unwarranted aerial maneuvers by today’s aviation standards. Lt. Ryan Gates, Naval aviator for the USS Theodore Roosevelt gave an interview with 60 minutes where he explained such sightings were a daily occurrence for nearly two years.
Nonetheless, when one takes into account the individuals that are usually involved in UFO sightings, one begins to notice that they fit a certain demographic. UFO sightings tend to be heavily reported out of Western countries, and the individuals who report them tend to be of Caucasian extraction. Yet reports of UFOs sightings are documented from all over the world including the continent of Africa, and by those of African descent.
The Ariel School Phenomenon, Zimbabwe
On a hot day in September of 1994, children from the Ariel school in Ruwa, Zimbabwe swamped teachers and staff claiming to have encountered a UFO behind the school. Over 60 kids reported that an object resembling a disk floated down form above the clouds and landed in a small patchy area behind the school obstructed by bush. As the kids approached the aircraft, two beings stepped out, each wearing skin-tight black jumpsuits and dawning hair looking something akin to Michael Jackson. The two beings strangely looked at the kids, and then went back up into the craft and flew away. However, in that instance, lives were changed forever. Some kids reported that the beings communicated to them telepathically, warning them about human degradation of the environment. Others consistently drew the encounter on paper and chalk boards in the same manner as they remembered; with a UFO landing and two beings stepping out wearing skintight jumpsuits. All the children’s accounts corroborated with one another and there was little to no variation among their stories. Twenty years later some of the students who are now adults still claim that they were visited by something extraterrestrial.
What made this account most compelling was that the school was soon visited by the late Dr. John Mack, who took an interest in hearing the children’s stories. Harvard academic and professor of psychiatry; Dr. Mack’s interviews with the children and his research into the wider topic validated to the outside world that something extraordinary did in fact happen on that day.
Harvard Academic and Psychiatrist Dr. John Mack interviewing former student of Aerial School, Zimbabwe Circa 1994
Betty and Barney Hill: The First UFO incident
The very first UFO encounter that captivated the United States’ attention was the Betty and Barney Hill incident of 1961. On the night of September 19, leading into the morning of September 20th; Barney and Betty Hill were driving down a lonely stretch of road along the Route 3 highway. At that moment, they claimed that their car came to halt, and an unknown craft hovering above their vehicle flooded their view with a bright light. The next thing the Hill’s remember was being taken aboard a craft by eight individuals who then conducted medical experiments on them, some of them being sexually intrusive and painful in nature.
Betty and Barney Hill, holding up a copy of a newspaper detailing their UFO encounter. The Hills are considered to have been the first UFO sighting involving extraterrestrial contact
However, the real crux of the story is that Betty and Barney Hill never received the due recognition deserved for their account. Betty Hill, a middle aged Caucasian woman employed as a social worker, and Barney, a middle aged man of African descent employed by the US Postal Service; are glossed over for their contribution in being the first multiracial couple (or any couple for that matter) to report a UFO sighting. Betty and Barney Hill were prominent members of their community. Both were members of the NAACP and Barney sat on the Board for the United States Commission on Civil Rights. Yet documentaries of the account usually depict the couple as being racially ambiguous, or even in some cases, white. However what is interesting to note is that for an occurrence that so often happens to individuals of a homogenous character, the Betty and Barney Hill incident was the first UFO sighting of its caliber; pioneering the way for others to come forth and share their experiences as well. The incident gained so much notoriety though documentaries, books, and movies, that the state of New Hampshire even erected a historical marker commemorating the Hill’s experience. Such accounts give testimony to the fact that extraterrestrial encounters include a vast array of diverse individuals experiencing the same occurrences. It is the true definition of a global experience.
In the coming week it should be interesting to see what the Pentagon report discloses. However with the current state of world affairs, attentions have shifted to more pressing matters such as racial injustice, emerging international fault lines, and fighting the pandemic. What we should take away from the coming week is that our experiences of being visited by beings from another world transcend skin color and boundaries, and unite us all in a truly human experience.
A coalition of over 200 international civil society organizations, organized by Planned Parenthood Global and the International Planned Parenthood Federation, released a joint statement on Tuesday calling for a permanent end to the U.S. global gag rule. The statement — released as part of a week of action to end the global gag rule — was released in Arabic, English, French, and Spanish, demonstrating the diversity of just some of the communities harmed by the rule over the past 37 years.
In addition to the over 200 organizations from 88 countries across six continents that signed the statement today — and countless other people around the world — 70% of Americans favor ending the global gag rule.
What they are saying:
Tarah Demant, the director of the Gender, Sexuality, and Identity Program at Amnesty International USA:
“Ending the Gag rule forever is possible, it is urgent and it will make communities here at home as well as communities around the world much safer. It will also speed up the global recovery from COVID-19, advance global health, empower communities, and promote equity and human rights for all. Our lawmakers have an opportunity here and now to make certain that future presidents cannot reinstate the policy or interrupt life-saving health services ever again and now is the moment for them to seize that opportunity.”
Dawn Laguens, interim executive director, Planned Parenthood Global:
“Study after study has demonstrated that the neocolonialist global gag rule devastates health care access for people around the world, especially those who already face systemic barriers to care. And yet, since 1984, the global gag rule has come and gone with each party shift in the White House. President Biden took an important step by ending this harmful rule for now, but real relief will not be felt until we can permanently end this devastating policy. The global community deserves true partnership from the U.S., but the threat that this destructive policy could reemerge undermines relationships and harms people around the globe. We come together today to tell the U.S. government: It’s time to end the global gag rule once and for all.”
Alvaro Bermejo, director general, International Planned Parenthood Federation:
“Since its inception, the global gag rule has been a constant threat to the lives of women and girls and their right to decide what happens to their bodies. Designed to deny people safe and legal abortion care, it has also caused unfathomable damage across the health care spectrum — from HIV prevention and treatment to maternal health care. Our member associations on the front lines of care have witnessed this damage first hand. Whilst we applaud President Biden on rescinding the global gag rule, history has shown us that it is ready to be weaponized by coercive, anti-abortion administrations. We urge the U.S. government to break the violent cycle of the global gag rule permanently, so organizations like IPPF can provide life-saving health care without the fear of our ability to deliver being snatched away from us with the stroke of a pen. Together we can work toward a world where no one is left behind when it comes to their sexual and reproductive health and rights.”
The global gag rule prohibits non-governmental organizations in other countries from receiving any U.S. global health assistance if they provide, refer, counsel or advocate for legal abortion in their country — even if these activities are supported solely with non-U.S. funds. This cruel policy was originally imposed by the Reagan administration, before being rescinded in 1993 by President Clinton, and then reinstated in 2001 by President Bush on his first business day in office. President Obama rescinded the global gag rule in January 2009, but less than a decade later, President Trump reimposed and radically expanded the policy, extending its harm and devastation to even more women and communities. President Biden then rescinded the gag rule in a presidential memorandum signed on January 28, 2021.
Marginalized communities — including women and girls, young people, and LGBTQ+ people — have experienced the most devastating constraints on services as a result of the global gag rule. Tragically, this harm does not fully stop even when the policy is not in effect. According to the joint statement:
“The prospect of reinstatement under future administrations casts a long shadow and leaves the health and lives of millions of people vulnerable to the whims of future U.S. presidents… Even when presidents lift the global gag rule immediately upon taking office, high-quality health partners face long delays in resuming participation in U.S. global health programs. Permanent repeal of the policy is urgently needed to promote sustainable progress in global health and to build and maintain long-term partnerships between the U.S. government, local organizations, and the communities that they serve… Urgent action is needed to finally end the global gag rule once and for all and advance health, human rights, and gender equality across the globe.”
The full joint statement can be found here and the full list of signatories is below:
ACABEF (Central African Republic)
Accountability International (South Africa)
Action Against Hunger (United Kingdom)
Action Canada for Sexual Health and Rights (Canada)
Advocates for Youth (United States)
Afrihealth Optonet Association (CSOs Network) (Nigeria)
AIDOS – Italian Association for Women in Development (Italy)
Al Hameed educational society (India)
Alliance of Women Advocating for Change (AWAC) (Uganda)
Amnesty International (Global)
AMPF – Mauritanie (Mauritania)
AnA – Society for Feminist Analyses (Romania)
Asia Catalyst (Thailand)
Asia Pacific Alliance for Sexual and Reproductive Health and Rights (Thailand/ Asia Pacific)
Asian Pacific Resource and Research Centre for Women (ARROW) (Malaysia)
ASSOCIAÇÃO GUINEENSE PARA O BEM ESTAR FAMILIAR (AGUIBEF) (Guinea-Bissau)
Associação Para o Planeamento da Família (Portugal)
Association Algérienne pour la Planification Familiale (Algeria)
Association Béninoise pour la Promotion de la Famille ABPF (Benin)
Association Burkinabè pour le Bien Être Familial (ABBEF) (Burkina Faso)
Association Centrafricaine pour le Bien Être Familial ( ACABEF) Central African Republic)
Association Ivoirienne pour le Bien Être Familial (AIBEF) (Ivory Coast)
Association Malienne pour la protection et la Promotion de la Famille (Mali)
Association Marocaine de Planification Familiale (Morocco)
Association Mauritanienne pour la Promotion de la Famille (Mauritania)
Association Nigérienne Pour le Bien Être Familial (ANBEF) (Niger)
Association Tchadienne pour le Bien Être Familiale (Chad)
ASSOCIATION TOGOLAISE POUR LE BIEN ETRE FAMILIAL (ATBEF) (Togo)
Association Tunisienne de la Santé de la Reproduction (ATSR) (Tunisia)
ASTRA Network (CEE region/ Poland)
ATHENA Network (Namibia)
Aube Nouvelle pour l Femme et le Développement (Democratic Republic of Congo)
Austrian Family Planning Association (Austria)
Bahrain Reproductive Health Association (Bahrain)
Bandhu Social Welfare Society (Bangladesh)
Barnabas Charity Outreach (Nigeria)
Botswana Family Welfare Association (BOFWA) (Botswana)
Bulgarian Family Planning and Sexual Health Association (BFPA) (Bulgaria)
Burnet Institute (Australia)
CARE USA (USA)
Caribbean Family Planning Affiliation (Antigua & Barbuda)
Catalysts for Change (United States)
Catholics for Choice (United States)
Católicas pelo Direito de Decidir – Brasil (Brazil)
Católicas por el Derecho a Decidir – Colombia (Colombia)
CEDES – Centro de Estudio de Estado y Sociedad (Argentina)
Center for Health, Human Rights and Development (Uganda)
Center for Reproductive Rights (USA/ Switzerland/ Global)
Centro de Derechos de Mujeres (Honduras)
Centro de Promoción y Defensa de los Derechos Sexuales y Reproductivos – PROMSEX (Perú)
CHOICE for Youth and Sexuality (Netherlands)
CLADEM (Latin America)
Corporación MILES (Chile)
Danish Family Planning Association (Denmark)
Dr Uzo Adirieje Foundation (DUZAFOUND) (Nigeria)
DSW (Deutsche Stiftung Weltbevölkerung) (Germany)
Economic and Social Rights Centre – Hakijamii (Kenya)
Egyptian family planning Association (EFPA) (Egypt)
ELA – Equipo Latinoamericano de Justicia y Género (Argentina)
Equidad de Género, Ciudadanía, Trabajo y Familia (México)
Famia Planea Aruba (Aruba)
Family Guidance Association of Ethiopia (FGAE) (Ethiopia)
Family Health Association of Iran (Iran)
Family Medical Point (Uganda)
Family Planning Alliance Australia (Australia)
Family Planning Association of Trinidad and Tobago (Trinidad & Tobago)
FAMILY PLANNING ASSOCIATION OF MALAWI (Malawi)
Family Planning Association of Nepal (Nepal)
Family Planning Association Sri Lanka (Sri Lanka)
Family Planning New Zealand (New Zealand)
Family Planning NSW (Australia)
Federación Planificación Familiar Estatal (Spain)
Federation of Reproductive Health Associations, Malaysia (Malaysia)
Feminist League (Kazakhstan)
Feminist Task Force (United States)
Fiji Women’s Rights Movement (Fiji)
FILIA Center (Romania)
FLAMA Uganda (Uganda)
FPA Sri Lanka (Sri Lanka)
Friends Affected & Infected Together in Hand (FAITH) (Nepal)
Front Association / Feminism-Romania (Romania)
Fúndacion Arcoiris por el respeto a la diversidad sexual (México)
FUNDACIÓN CEMOPLAF (Ecuador)
Fundación Mexicana para la Planeación Familiar, A. C. MEXFAM (México)
Fúndacion para estudio e investigación de la Mujer (Argentina)
Fundación Pro Salud Sabana Yegua FUNPROSSY (Dominican Republic)
Futures Without Violence (United States)
Gestos _HIV, Communication and Gender (Brazil)
Girl Up Initiative Uganda (Uganda)
Global Network of Women Peacebuilders (United States)
GreeneWorks (United States)
Grupo Multidisciplinario para la Defensa de los derechos sexuales y reproductivos en Guatemala (Guatemala)
Guttmacher Institute (United States)
Hábitat Mujer Salud (Colombia)
Haiti Adolescent Girls Network (Haiti)
Health, Ethics and Law Institute of Forum for Medical Ethics Society (India)
Heartland Alliance International (United States)
Hesperian Health Guides (United States)
HIV Legal Network (Canada)
Human Rights Awareness and Promotion Forum (HRAPF) (Uganda)
International Action Network for Gender Equity & Law (IANGEL) (United States)
International Campaign for Women’s Right to Safe Abortion (United Kingdom/ Global)
International Center for Research on Women (ICRW) (USA)
International Federation of Gynecology and Obstetrics (United Kingdom)
International Planned Parenthood Federation East and South East Asia and Oceania Region (ESEAOR) (Malaysia)
Ipas (United States)
International Planned Parenthood Federation (Global)
Irish Family Planning Association (Ireland)
Israel Family Planning Association (Open Door) (Israel)
Jamaica Family Planning Association (Jamaica)
John Snow, Inc. (JSI) (United States)
JOICFP (Japanese Organization for International Cooperation in Family Planning) (Japan)
Kenya Legal & Ethical Issues Network On HIV & AIDS (Kenya)
Kenya Medical Association (Kenya)
Kisumu Medical and Education Trust (KMET) (Kenya)
Kyetume Community Based Health Care Programme (Uganda)
L’ASSOCIATION DJIBOUTIENNE POUR L’ÉQUILIBRE ET LA PROMOTION DE LA FAMILLE (Djibouti)
Latin American and Caribbean Women’s Health Network (Latin America and the Caribbean)
Le Planning familial (France)
LI PRIDE (Liberia)
Lobi Health Center Foundation (Suriname)
LUNA vzw (Belgium)
Marie Stopes International (Global)
MSI Reproductive Choices (United Kingdom)
Mujer Y Salud en Uruguay – MYSU (Uruguay)
Network for Adolescent and Youth of Africa (Kenya)
Observatorio de la Gobernanza para la Cooperación y el Desarrollo A.C. (México)
OutRight Action International (United States)
Palestinian Family Planning and Protection Association (PFPPA) (Palestine)
Pathfinder International (United States)
Plan International (United Kingdom)
Plan International USA (United States)
Plan International, Inc (Global)
Planned Parenthood Association of Ghana (Ghana)
Planned Parenthood Association of Thailand (Thailand)
Planned Parenthood Association of Zambia (Zambia)
Planned Parenthood Federation of Nigeria (Nigeria)
Planned Parenthood Global (Global)
Queensway Institute of Technology and Business Studies (Kenya)
Raks Thai Foundation (Thailand)
RAWSA MENA NETWORK (Tunisia – for the MENA region)
Red de Salud de las Mujeres Latinoamericanas y del Caribe (Latin America and the Caribbean)
Red Latinoamericana y Caribeña de jóvenes por los Derechos Sexuales y Derechos Reproductivos REDLAC (México)
REDAAS – Red de Acceso al Aborto Seguro Argentina (Argentina)
Regional Centre for International Development Cooperation (RCIDC) (Uganda)
Reproductive Health Network Kenya (Kenya)
Reproductive Health Training Center/Regional SRHR Coalition for EECA (Moldova/ Eastern Europe and Central Asia Regions)
SANTE SEXUELLE SUISSE (Switzerland)
SCI Foundation (United Kingdom)
Sex og Politikk (IPPF Norway) (Norway)
SEXUL vs BARZA / SEX vs The STORK Association (Romania)
Society for Conservation and Sustainability of Energy and Environment in Nigeria (SOCSEEN) (Nigeria)
Solidarity Sisters Network of Liberia (SoSNoL) (Liberia, West Africa)
Solomon Island Planned Parenthood Association (Solomon Islands)
Somaliland Family Health Association (Somaliland)
Soroptimist International (United Kingdom)
Space Allies (Japan)
Stichting EqualA Foundation (Netherlands/ Thailand)
Stichting Ultimate Purpose (Suriname)
Stop AIDS in Liberia (SAIL) (Liberia)
SUDAN Family Planning Association (SFPA) (Sudan)
Sukaar Welfare Organization (Pakistan)
Support for Women in Agriculture and Environment (SWAGEN) (Uganda)
Syrian Family Planning Association (Syria)
TAN UX´IL (Guatemala)
Teens Link Uganda (Uganda)
The African Women’s Development and Communication Network (FEMNET) (Kenya)
The Lebanese Association for Family Health- SALAMA (Lebanon)
The Lesbian and Gay Association of Liberia (LEGAL) (Liberia)
The Society for Education on Contraception and Sexuality from Romania (Romania)
Together for Girls (United States)
Trust for Indigenous Culture and health (TICAH) (Kenya)
Universal Access Project (United States)
Urgent Action Fund for Women’s Human Rights (United States)
Vidhayak Trust (India)
WGNRR AFRICA (Tanzania)
William and Flora Hewlett Foundation (USA)
Women Deliver (USA)
Women Enabled International (USA)
Women’s Global Network for Reproductive Rights (WGNRR) (Philippines)
Women’s Link Worldwide (Global)
Women’s Major Group (Global)
Women’s Refugee Commission (USA)
Women’S Way Foundation Suriname (Suriname)
Woodhull Freedom Foundation (United States)
Yemeni Association for Reproductive Health (Yemen)
YouAct – European Youth Network on Sexual and Reproductive Rights (United Kingdom)
Young Feminist Europe (Belgium)
Youth Association for Development (Pakistan)
Youth Coalition for Sexual and Reproductive Rights (YCSRR) (Canada)
Today News Africa is a US-based international news organization focused on US-Africa policy and breaking news. Our goal is to provide truthful and exclusive stories to a diverse audience across North America and the African Continent.