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Microsoft releases its internal generative AI red teaming tool to the public

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Despite the advanced capabilities of generative AI (gen AI) models, we have seen many instances of them going rogue, hallucinating, or having loopholes malicious actors can exploit. To help mitigate that issue, Microsoft is unveiling a tool that can help identify risks in generative AI systems. 

On Thursday, Microsoft released its Python Risk Identification Toolkit for generative AI (PyRIT), a tool Microsoft’s AI Red Team has been using to check for risks in its gen AI systems, including Copilot

Also: How renaissance technologists are connecting the dots between AI and business

In the past year, Microsoft red-teamed more than 60 high-value gen AI systems, through which it learned that the red-teaming process differs vastly for these systems from classical AI or traditional software, according to the blog post. 

The process looks different because Microsoft has to consider the usual security risks, in addition to responsible AI risks, such as ensuring harmful content cannot be intentionally generated, or that the models don’t output disinformation. 

Additionally, gen AI models vary widely in architecture, and there are deviations in outcomes that can be produced from the same input, making it difficult to find one streamlined process that fits all models. 

Also: Want to work in AI? How to pivot your career in 5 steps

As a result, manually probing for all of these different risks ends up being a time-consuming, tedious, and slow process. Microsoft shares that automation can help red teams by identifying risky areas that require more attention and automating routine tasks, and that’s where PyRIT comes in. 

The toolkit, “battle-tested by the Microsoft AI team,” sends a malicious prompt to the generative AI system, and once it receives a response, its scoring agent gives the system a score, which is used to send a new prompt based on previous scoring feedback. 

PyRIT process

Microsoft

Microsoft says that PyRIT’s biggest advantage is that it has helped Microsoft’s red team efforts be more efficient, significantly shortening the amount of time a task would take. 

Also: How tech professionals can survive and thrive at work in the time of AI

“For instance, in one of our red teaming exercises on a Copilot system, we were able to pick a harm category, generate several thousand malicious prompts, and use PyRIT’s scoring engine to evaluate the output from the Copilot system all in the matter of hours instead of weeks,” said Microsoft in the release. 

The toolkit is available for access today and includes a list of demos to help familiarize users with the tool. Microsoft is also hosting a webinar on PyRIT that demonstrates how to use it in red teaming generative AI systems, which you can register for through Microsoft’s website





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UK urged to end ‘national threat’ of violence against women and girls

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Concluding a 10-day visit to the country, Special Rapporteur Reem Alsalem noted that a woman is killed by a man every three days in the UK, and one in four women there will experience some form of domestic violence in her lifetime.

Entrenched patriarchy at almost every level of society, combined with a rise in misogyny that permeates the physical and online world, is denying thousands of women and girls across the UK the right to live in safety, free from fear and violence,” she said in a statement summarizing her preliminary findings and observations.

Leadership and inspiration 

Ms. Alsalem acknowledged the robust legal framework for promoting gender equality, including the Equality Act 2010 and other legislation that applies across the UK, noting that this framework is complemented by important legislation and policies in the devolved regions, referring to Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland.

She said the UK has been a leader in strengthening its legal framework to address current and emerging forms of violence against women and girls, including coercive control, digitally facilitated violence and stalking, as well as improving access to justice.

“Many countries will look to the UK for inspiration, as well as examples of innovation and good practice on how to make life safer for women and girls, and accountability for crimes committed against them,” she added.

Translate policy into action 

However, the Special Rapporteur noted that a number of realities undermine the UK’s ability to realise the full potential of its legislation and policies on violence against women.

They include the dilution of the link between these policies and the UK’s international human rights obligations; a general critical discourse and positioning on human rights, particularly in relation to migrants, asylum seekers and refugees; and the fragmentation of policies on male violence against women and girls across devolved and non-devolved areas.

The UK can do more to translate its political recognition of the scale of violence against women and girls into action,” she said, before offering several recommendations, such as bringing together all legislative and programmatic strands of intervention on the issue, upgrading and formalising responsibility for discrimination and violence against women and girls in government, and anchoring it in human rights commitments. 

Grassroots groups struggling 

Ms. Alsalem expressed concern about how grassroots organisations and specialised frontline service providers working with women and girls are struggling to meet the needs of the most vulnerable, both foreign and national, who fall through the cracks and are not covered by statutory service providers. 

These groups “are struggling to survive in an increasingly challenging context of rising living costs, a deepening housing crisis and a critical lack of funding,” she said.

“The situation of NGOs working on gender equality and violence against women and girls has reached a crisis point and is simply untenable,” she added, urging the UK authorities to restore predictable and adequate funding to frontline organisations. 

Ms. Alsalem, the UN Special Rapporteur on violence against women and girls, was appointed by the UN Human Rights Council in Geneva. 

Independent experts who receive mandates from the Council are not UN staff and are not paid for their work. 



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Independent review group on UNRWA may request Gaza visit

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Appointed by the Secretary-General in early February following Israeli allegations that 12 UNRWA employees were involved in the Hamas-led terror attacks in Israel in October, the group also aims to meet Palestinian Authority officials and may request a visit to Gaza, said its chair, former French former minister Catherine Colonna, who spoke outside the Security Council after meeting with the UN Secretary-General.

My goal is to deliver a report that is rigorous and evidence based…and to do our best so we can help UNRWA deliver under the mandate given [to it] by the General Assembly,” she said.

The group began its work on 13 February and expects to have an interim report by late March, Ms. Colonna said, noting that its role includes clarifying the process in place at the UN agency to ensure neutrality and how it is implemented.

Operating since 1949, UNRWA now serves almost six million Palestine refugees in the West Bank, Lebanon, Jordan, Syria and in besieged Gaza, where many Palestinians urgently depend on the agency for assistance amid Israel’s continued military offensive in response to the October attacks.

The ongoing war in Gaza has killed almost 30,000 Palestinians, displaced more than one million and has restricted humanitarian aid from entering the enclave, which now faces severe hunger, according to a joint appeal from UN agency chiefs issued on Thursday morning.

Neutrality ‘must be respected’

The goal of this “very sensitive” mission is “to find the ways and means to see that UNRWA does everything it can to ensure neutrality, which is one of the basic principles of the agency and a principle that’s difficult to respect in the circumstances – but must be respected”, Ms. Colonna said.

She said the group intends to issue recommendations in its final report, which is expected on 20 April.

Ms. Colonna is working with a team from three research organizations: the Raoul Wallenberg Institute in Sweden; Chr. Michelsen Institute in Norway; and the Danish Institute for Human Rights.

They are tasked with assessing how its mechanisms and procedures have, or have not, been implemented in practice and whether every practicable effort has been made to apply them to their full potential, considering the particular operational, political and security environment in which the agency works.

A final report will be made public.



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Singapore is boosting its broadband for AI and autonomous vehicles

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Singapore is looking to boost its national broadband network to better prepare for emerging technologies, such as artificial intelligence (AI) and autonomous vehicles. 

The country will set aside up to SG$100 million ($74.2 million) to upgrade the current nationwide network to deliver speeds of up to 10Gbps, according to Infocomm Media Development Authority (IMDA). The industry regulator projects that at least 500,000 households will sign up and access the upgraded network by 2028. 

Also: 7 ways to make sure your data is ready for generative AI

Work to boost the broadband infrastructure will begin from the middle of this year and continue through to 2026. Alongside 5G mobile services and higher Wi-Fi connectivity speeds, IMDA said the upgraded national broadband network will deliver more symmetric end-to-end 10Gbps connectivity across the island. 

“Digital technologies are developing rapidly, ranging from areas such as AI, immersive digital experiences, and autonomous devices,” it said. “A higher-capacity broadband network provides the foundation to enable these future innovations and opportunities. It is important for Singapore to invest ahead in foundational connectivity infrastructure, even as use cases continue to develop and evolve, so as to be future-ready.”

The upgraded 10Gbps network will provide the backbone for future applications and innovation, it added. 

Also: Prepare for AI-powered ‘agent ecosystems’ that will dominate tomorrow’s services

First unveiled in 2006, Singapore’s nationwide broadband network currently pushes connectivity speeds of 1Gbps to more than 85% of households.

The new SG$100 million investment will support upgrading efforts for both backend network and frontend user equipment, IMDA said.  

There are 1.43 million residential wired broadband subscriptions in Singapore, at a penetration rate of 91.8%, as of the third quarter of 2023. The number of wireless broadband subscriptions clocks at 11.03 million, according to the latest stats from IMDA

The Singapore government last June laid out a years-long Digital Connectivity Blueprint to ensure its digital infrastructure is ready for future technologies. The roadmap encompasses physical infrastructures, including broadband, mobile networks, and data centers, as well as “digital utilities” to facilitate secure and seamless cross-border transactions. These transactions include e-payments and invoicing, data exchanges, document authentication, and identity verification.

Also: Want to work in AI? How to pivot your career in 5 steps

The blueprint requires significant resources, the government had said, with submarine cables and data centers among big-ticket items that will drive some SG$20 billion ($14.84 billion) in investments. Of this funding, SG$10 billion to SG$12 billion is expected to go toward building new green data centers, where the private sector is expected to fund most of the investments. 

Last week, Singapore announced plans to invest at least SG$1 billion ($741.97 million) over five years to accelerate AI development, including securing access to the necessary compute power and skillsets. The funding is part of the government’s fiscal 2024 budget, which also comprises the latest SG$100 million investment in the 10Gbps broadband network. 





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World News in Brief: Ukraine attacks in Donetsk, Afghan quake costs, ‘forever chemicals’ dumped in US, benefits of multilingual education

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Briefing journalists in New York, Spokesperson Stéphane Dujarric cited the UN humanitarian affairs office, OCHA, which said the damage had occurred after a water filtering station was hit.

The city had a pre-war population of 220,000 people, now reduced to 90,000. 

The attacks also caused civilian casualties and damage to civilian infrastructure on both sides of the frontlines, according to both the Ukrainian Government and Russian-installed authorities in the occupied territory east of Kramatorsk. 

“On the humanitarian response, aid organizations immediately delivered assistance, including emergency repair materials, to communities on the Ukrainian side of the frontline”, said Mr. Dujarric.

Aid to Kurakhove

And humanitarians provided aid to the front-line town of Kurakhove, which has been impacted by 10 years of hostilities, following Russia’s initial annexation of territory in 2014.

The aid consisted of 13 tonnes of medical and hygiene supplies, including for people with disabilities, and other supplies to support civilians whose access to basic services is severely disrupted, the Spokesperson added.

Afghanistan: More than $400 million needed for post-earthquake recovery

A staggering $402.9 million will be needed to support recovery and reconstruction efforts in western Afghanistan following the devastating earthquakes last year, according to a UN-backed report published on Wednesday.

More than 1,500 people were killed, and 2,600 were injured, in the series of earthquakes which struck Herat province on 7, 11 and 15 October 2023.

People living in Herat Province, Afghanistan, are coming to terms with the devastation caused to property by the earthquake.

People living in Herat Province, Afghanistan, are coming to terms with the devastation caused to property by the earthquake.

The Post-Disaster Needs Assessment (PDNA) report– published by the UN together with the World Bank, the European Union, and the Asian Development Bank – surveyed nine districts, covering some 2.2 million people.

It highlights the scale of the disaster, which caused direct physical damage up to $217 million and losses reaching nearly $80 million.

Housing was the most severely affected sector and represents 41 percent of the total recovery needs, or $164.4 million.  Nearly 50,000 homes were damaged in the earthquakes, with 13,516 being completely destroyed. 

Education followed in second place, and the report noted that 180,000 students and 4,390 teachers currently face disruptions. Meanwhile, the agriculture sector, which accounts for the majority of jobs and income in the affected areas, has suffered considerable setbacks. 

The assessment revealed that over 275,000 people were affected, including pregnant women, infants, and people with severe disabilities.

The earthquakes hit vulnerable communities with limited resilience to handle multiple shocks. Herat is among provinces hosting the largest numbers of Afghans who have been internally displaced due to conflict and drought, resulting in severe impacts on access to services, land, and shelter which has only worsened.

The report stressed the need to transition from immediate humanitarian aid to long-term recovery, prioritizing strategies for building community resilience, service restoration, earthquake-safe housing, social protection, and access to basic services.

US companies dump ‘forever chemicals’ with impunity: UN experts

In the United States, the DuPont and Chemours chemical companies are dumping toxic so-called “forever chemicals” into the local environment, completely disregarding the rights and well being of residents along the lower Cape Fear River in North Carolina.

That’s according to a group of nine independent UN human rights experts, who released a statement on Wednesday warning of the dangerous effects from the chemicals, commonly referred to as PFAs, or polyfluoroalkyl substances, and said members of impacted communities have reportedly been denied access to clean and safe water for decades.

PFAs come from products such as shampoo, nail polish and the synthetic coating on carpets or fabrics. 

They are known as forever chemicals because they do not easily degrade in nature and can cause harm for decades, even centuries.

Even though the companies are aware of the toxic impact of PFAs, they continue to discharge them, the experts said.

They also raised alarm over exports of PFAs and hazardous waste from the Netherlands to the United States, in apparent breach of international law.

Inadequate and insufficient

The experts said enforcement and remediation measures have been inadequate where legal action has been taken against the two companies. 

“Health and environmental regulators in the United States have fallen short in their duty to protect against business-related human rights abuses, including providing the public – particularly affected communities in North Carolina – with the type and amount of information necessary to prevent harm and seek reparation,” the experts said. 

The UN Human Rights Council-appointed independent experts have raised these concerns with the US Government, which has yet to reply.

Special Rapporteurs and other experts work on a voluntary basis and do not receive a salary, serving entirely in their individual capacity. 

Multilingual education, a useful tool for tackling learning crisis

Finally, Wednesday is International Mother Language Day, and education, science and culture agency UNESCO is calling on all countries to pursue a policy of multilingual education. 

That’s because it’s key to fighting the current global learning crisis, having produced positive results in the past. 

According to a recent agency study, children are more likely to start reading earlier when they are taught in their mother tongue during the earliest school years.

Lessons from Africa

Proof can be found across Africa. The continent has the world’s highest linguistic diversity, but only one in five children are taught their mother tongue.

To change that, Mozambique expanded bilingual learning to a quarter of its schools, and children are already performing around 15 per cent better in basic reading and mathematics, UNESCO said.

While people communicate in more than 6,700 languages around the world, 40 per cent of them are threatened with extinction in the long term, due to falling numbers of speakers.



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5 tips for securing SSH on your Linux server or desktop

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Gentoo Penguin in Antarctica

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I’ve been using Secure Shell (SSH) for decades. With this remote login tool, I can rest assured my remote machines accept logins securely and efficiently. At the same time, I also understand nothing is ever 100% secure on any device connected to a network, which is why I always take time to better secure SSH on every computer I use.

Also: The best VPN services (and how to choose the right one for you)

You might be surprised at how easy it is to add a few extra “layers” of security. As I highlight below, there are some easy-to-apply tips that will help your Linux desktop and server machine to be a bit more secure, so you can trust they’re better protected against unwanted logins.

Let’s get to work.

1. Install fail2ban

One of the first things you should do (especially on a server) is install fail2ban, which prevents malicious and brute-force login attacks and can also be used to monitor other networking protocols (such as HTTP, SSH, and FTP). 

Also: Do you need antivirus on Linux?

With fail2ban, you create jails, which are configurations that tell the system what to do when certain things happen (such as a failed SSH login attempt). Jail files (typically named jail.local) are housed in /etc/fail2ban/ and might look something like this:

[sshd]
enabled = true
port = ssh
filter = sshd
logpath = /var/log/auth.log
maxretry = 3
findtime = 300
bantime = 28800
ignoreip = 127.0.0.1

You can install fail2ban on a Debian-based system, with the following command:

sudo apt-get install fail2ban -y

On a Fedora-based system, that command would be:

sudo dnf install fail2ban -y

2. Change the default port

By default, SSH uses port 22 for incoming connections. This connection is common knowledge and can lead to trouble. On my more important systems, I’ll always change the port to something else, like 2124. It’s important that you change the port to something that is not being used by another system. 

The port configuration is set in the /etc/ssh/sshd_config file and in the line #Port 22. 

Also: 4 key security steps you’re probably forgetting

Make sure to remove the # character and change 22 to whatever port you want to use. Once you’ve made the change, remember to restart SSH with:

sudo systemctl restart ssh

In the case of Fedora-based systems, that command would be:

sudo systemctl restart sshd

3. Block users with blank passwords

Although you probably don’t have users on your system with blank passwords, this tip falls under the category of “better safe than sorry”. If you have a user with a blank password, and a bad actor discovers it, they could access your machine with ease. To prevent that situation, open the /etc/ssh/sshd_config file and look for the line:

Change that line to:

Save and close the file and then restart SSH.

4. Restrict logins to specific IP addresses

Another very handy trick is to limit SSH access to specific IP addresses. For example, if you have only one person who needs to access a machine, and their IP address is 192.168.1.11, you could limit SSH access with the help of the /etc/hosts.allow file. Open that file with your favorite text editor, such as nano, and add the following line at the bottom:

sshd: 192.168.1.62, 192.168.1.11

If you have more than one IP address you want to allow in, you can add as many as necessary, separating each address with a comma, like so:

sshd: 192.168.1.62, 192.168.1.11, 192.168.1.12, 192.168.1.13, 192.168.1.14

Save and close the file.

5. Use SSH key authentication

The importance of SSH key authentication cannot be overstated. I’ve already shown in another article how this technique is set up, so make sure to read through that piece and implement the tactic. In conjunction with fail2ban, SSH key authentication is a great way to prevent unwanted SSH logins.

And there you have it — five easy ways of securing SSH on both your Linux desktops and servers. Just because SSH has the word secure in it, doesn’t mean it should be viewed as a means to a secure end. With a bit of extra configuration, your SSH logins will be better protected from the bad actors who roam the internet looking for access to systems.





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A single atom could drive a piston in a quantum engine

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An optical cavity like this could be used in a quantum engine

Max Planck Institute of Quantum Optics

A single atom inside of a reflective cavity could be enough to drive a piston in a tiny, quantum version of an engine.

The essential feature of any engine is that it converts heat into work which can then set mechanical parts into motion. For internal combustion engines, burning gas makes it expand and push on and pistons, which eventually results in car wheels or turbine blades moving. Álvaro Tejero at the University of Granada in Spain and…



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Look of the Week: Are we about to see more men in tights?

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Editor’s Note: Featuring the good, the bad and the ugly, ‘Look of the Week’ is a regular series dedicated to unpacking the most talked about outfit of the last seven days.



CNN
 — 

On Wednesday, TV personality Tan France was spotted in New York City in a flash of lilac nylon. France, who serves as the style expert on Netflix’s “Queer Eye,” among other gigs, brought a pop of color to an otherwise muted ensemble with some statement hosiery. And while his tights were opaque, they were a clear marker of what could be next in fashion.

Whether in mauve, maroon, periwinkle or firetruck red — bold hosiery has of late been seen on fashion favorites Gigi Hadid, Kendall Jenner, Anya Taylor-Joy and Emma Corrin. At the opening of the Bulgari Hotel Tokyo last week, Anne Hathaway’s indigo tights — paired with a purple mini dress and metallic platform heels — were the subject of laudatory headlines.

France was spotted sporting lilac tights earlier this week.

But colorful and painterly tights have reappeared throughout history. In medieval Europe, paintings depicted them as worn by noble men, soldiers and members of the upper class wealthy enough to afford dyed fabrics. They were once an important staple of 1960s Mod fashion, too, influenced in large part by the late British designer Mary Quant, who died April 13.

Quant, who is also credited with the invention of the mini skirt, re-imagined hum-drum pantyhose in garish patterns, bright washes and glittery finishes. “When I was 13, I sat down and had a good cry about the business of growing up,” she told a US newspaper in 1976. “What really unnerved me was the awful realization that grown-up dressing was grotesque and drab. I wanted to evade the entire issue of adulthood by wearing childlike clothes forever.”

Furthermore, Quant’s whimsical tights were the perfect companion for (and perhaps distraction from) the controversially high hemline of her mini skirt.

Whimsical colorful tights were populairzed by the late British designer Mary Quant.

In 2023, the “Queer Eye” host’s lavender-hued tights — which he paired with a black linen short-suit and chunky sandals — are provocative in their own right, and could become part of the gender-blurring fashion trends that have seen men donning on skirts and sporting nail art. (In 2020, Harry Styles sent shock waves across the internet when he appeared on the cover of independent British magazine Beauty Papers wearing nothing but a pair of fishnets and Gucci loafers.)

Though that’s not to say sartorial radicals haven’t tried reviving interest in recent decades: David Lee Roth, of glam metal band Van Halen, was known for his array of bold tights worn on stage during the ’80s, while Jean Paul Gaultier sent men down the runway wearing Quant-esque mustard and cobalt blue tights for his Spring-Summer 1987 collection titled “Souvenirs de Vacances.”

And the trend did make it off the runways and into the real world, according to street photographer Bill Cunningham, who wrote about the growing phenomenon for the New York Times in January 1987: “Either there is a rash of ‘Romeo and Juliet’ productions Off Broadway or we are once again on that precipice known as the cutting edge.”

In November 2022, Anya Taylor-Joy wore a monochromatic outfit accessorized with red tights.

Still, outside of costume dressing (see: many a superhero, any rendition of “Robin Hood” or even professional ballet), tights are one of a few clothing garments still widely perceived as staunchly gendered, despite a long history of men wearing tights pre-19th century, when trousers came into fashion.

While France might be one of the trailblazers as far as male tights go, the wider world of hosiery is becoming ever more experimental. In November 2022, Kendall Jenner left the house in nothing but a pair of black tights from Bottega Veneta and a navy crew-neck knit. And unlike many celebrity-fronted trends, painterly pantyhose are cheap, endlessly cheerful and easily accessible. Just pick your color.



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UN envoy calls for curb on illicit weapons in Central African Republic

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Briefing ambassadors on the UN Security Council, Valentine Rugwabiza, Special Representative for the Central African Republic (CAR), recalled the 15 January explosion which targeted a patrol from the mission, killing one peacekeeper and wounding five others.

“Explosive ordinance devices (EODs) and light weapons are not only a threat to the population and peacekeepers but equally the most serious constraint to the delivery of humanitarian assistance in the western region where 50 per cent of the CAR population live,” she said.

She asked the Security Council for an “urgent, dedicated and truly multidimensional” response to the threat, by strengthening situational awareness, greater cross border cooperation and adequate training for ‘blue helmets’ and police, prior to their deployment.

“We need to do the utmost to prevent the spread of these lethal weapons to other regions of the CAR,” she stressed.

Virtually non-existent road network

In her briefing, Ms. Rugwabiza highlighted the CAR’s poor road network which only makes the security and humanitarian challenges worse.

Some three per cent of CAR’s road network is metalled, leaving the near complete dirt-road transport infrastructure unusable during the eight-month-long rainy season.

“Throughout the country, many villages are not reachable and almost cut off year-round.” She said this constitutes “a major challenge to the mobility of MINUSCA’s troops and the national security forces, and therefore to the State authority, over its territory.”

The problems are compounded by limited MINUSCA airlifting capacity, further imperilling emergency operations, including protection of civilians.

She called on the Council and wider UN membership to provide the mission with sufficient transport and logistics means to ensure greater support to the Government and security forces in protecting civilians and expanding their presence across the country.

Security sector reform

Ms. Rugwabiza outlined the mission’s work with the UN Country Team in CAR in rehabilitating and reconstructing administrative buildings in the country.

She added that MINUSCA will continue to cooperate closely and hold joint patrols with the CAR security forces, particularly in border areas and conflict hotspots.

Related to this was the urgent need for security sector reform, she highlighted, urging UN Member States and partners to “support CAR’s efforts and progress in building a professional national army and internal security forces.

“There is no alternative” to provide lasting security for the CAR population and “preservation of the sovereignty of its territory,” she concluded.

Mission background

MINUSCA was established in 2014 to help bring stability to the country torn by sectarian violence.

With a mandate to protect civilians, facilitate humanitarian aid, and support the political process, MINUSCA aims to foster peace and stability in the region amidst ongoing challenges.

The mission has an authorized strength of 16,363 uniformed and 1,522 civilian personnel.

Valentine Rugwabiza, Special Representative of the Secretary-General for the Central African Republic, briefing the Security Council.



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Nvidia boss sees AI 'tipping point' as sales soar

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The artificial intelligence boom has helped Nvidia become one of the most valuable firms in the US.



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