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REGULAR PRESS BRIEFING BY THE INFORMATION SERVICE
14 January 2014

Corinne Momal-Vanian, Director of the United Nations Information Service in Geneva, chaired the briefing which was also attended by Spokespersons for the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights, United Nations Refugee Agency, World Food Programme, World Health Organization, International Organization for Migration and the Human Rights Council. 

Central African Republic

Rolando Gomez for the Human Rights Council (HRC) announced that the Human Rights Council would hold a special session on the human rights situation in the Central African Republic at 10 a.m. on Monday, 20 January in Room XX of the Palais des Nations.  The High Commissioner was expected to address the session, which would be chaired by the new President of the Human Rights Council, Ambassador Baudelaire Ndong Ella.

The request to hold the session was signed by 79 States: the largest number of States to support a special session of the Council on a country situation.  Of those, 36 States were currently Council Members.  Mr. Gomez noted that the Council was likely to announce the appointment of an Independent Expert on the human rights situation in Central African Republic at the special session.

The Human Rights Council would hold an organizational meeting in order to prepare for the session on Friday 17 January at 3 p.m., during which it would agree a draft resolution.  Mr. Gomez said the meeting would be public and members of the press were welcome to attend.

Rupert Colville, for the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR), said that the human rights situation remained extremely volatile in the Central African Republic (CAR), as OHCHR released its findings on an earlier wave of human rights violations in December. 

Although the number of clashes appeared to have slightly diminished in recent days, around 40 people were reported to have been killed in Bangui since Friday and a number of kidnappings, mutilations and widespread looting also occurred over the weekend.

More violence, killings and looting had also been reported in other parts of the country in recent days.  On January 11, in the town of Bozum, anti-Balaka reportedly attacked a convoy of Muslim civilians, leaving several people dead and injured, in reprisal for previous attacks by ex-Séléka, including the burning of hundreds of houses.  On January 8, anti-Balaka also reportedly attacked the village of Boyali, causing the death of more than ten Muslim civilians.  

OHCHR today issued the preliminary findings of a four-person team that was deployed in CAR from 12 to 24 December which described a cycle of widespread human rights violations and reprisals.  Those included extrajudicial killings, sexual violence, mutilations, enforced disappearances, ill-treatment, rape and the deliberate targeting of civilians based on their religion.

The OHCHR team documented numerous extra-judicial killings perpetrated in Bangui on December 5 and 6, after the launch of a coordinated attack by anti-Balaka forces.  During the clashes, anti-Balaka forces killed members of the ex-Séléka forces but also deliberately targeted Muslim civilians, including women and children.

During the reprisals that followed, numerous extra-judicial killings were also carried out by ex-Séléka forces.  Ex-Séléka detained and reportedly executed civilian males, including boys, in Camp Kassai, and also searched for and executed men and boys at hospitals, including severely injured patients.

According to eyewitnesses, the local Muslim population participated in killings and looting, for example in the neighbourhoods known as PK12 and PK23, where a group of men wearing military uniforms, along with Muslim Peul civilians, were seen entering civilian residences, allegedly separating the men from the women and killing them.

The team also documented cases of attacks on places of worship involving anti-Balaka attacking mosques, such as in Fouh District, where some 200 anti-Balaka reportedly attacked and burned the mosque, killing and mutilating several people.

Since the end of the first phase of intense fighting from 5 to 6 December, sporadic clashes continued, resulting in multiple incidents of tit-for-tat Muslim and Christian civilian killings, particularly in Bangui, but also in other parts of the country, such as Ouham and Nana-Mambéré Prefectures.

The OHCHR team found for example found that, on 7 December, two internally displaced people from Eglise Saint Paul, in Bangui, were allegedly killed by predominantly Muslim ex-Séléka forces.  On 13 December, eight Christians and Muslims civilians were also killed in different Bangui neighbourhoods.  On 20 December, ex-Séléka reportedly opened fire at Saint Jacques monastery in Bangui, where approximately 20,000 internally displaced people had sought shelter, killing at least 27 people. 

Testimonials collected from the Muslim community in various neighbourhoods also described attacks and killings of Muslim civilians, including entire families, by predominantly Christian anti-Balaka forces.

The press release and report also gave examples of human rights violations in Bouar, Bossangoa, and other areas, Mr. Colville said.  

The preliminary findings suggested that the deployment of French troops and the reinforcement of African peacekeepers, and the subsequent cantonment of ex-Séléka fighters had to some extent deterred further large-scale attacks by ex-Séléka against anti-Balaka and Christian civilians.  However, the mission received multiple reports that the disarmament of ex-Séléka carried out by the French forces left some Muslim communities vulnerable to anti-Balaka retaliatory attacks.  There were several incidents in Bangui during which anti-Balaka or hostile mobs targeted and killed recently disarmed ex-Séléka elements and their families.

The OHCHR team also reported that it received multiple testimonies identifying certain ex-Séléka perpetrators as being Chadian nationals.  Witnesses consistently reported that ex-Séléka, wearing the armbands of Chadian FOMAC peacekeepers, went from house to house searching for anti-Balaka, and shot and killed civilians.  The team also said it received credible testimonies of collusion between some Chadian FOMAC elements and ex-Séléka forces.

The High Commissioner would give a fuller account of her team’s findings, as well as an update on the current human rights situation in Central African Republic during the Human Rights Council Special Session on 20 January.

In response to a question about the origins of the violence, Mr. Colville said the roots of what has happened in the last few weeks had been growing over the last year.  It was very clear right now that the Christian - Muslim divide was the main characteristic, but like all of those situations – such as South Sudan – it was always more complicated than that.  Tribal elements, long-standing local issues, land ownership and other factors also came into play.  Whether the Christian – Muslim split had been deliberately manufactured or stoked-up was another question, which might be something a Commission of Enquiry into Central African Republic may look into. 

Elisabeth Byrs, for the World Food Programme (WFP), said that the Central African Republic Multi Cluster Sector Initial Rapid Assessment (MIRA) report was now available.  The report was produced by OCHA and WFP on behalf of the Humanitarian Country Team and involved 20 agencies.  It was concluded between 24 and 28 December 2013 in 86 communities including urban areas in Bangui and Bossangoa.  The report provided a snapshot on the situation in Central African Republic, Ms. Byrs said, and had been sent out to journalists this morning. 

Some 2.6m people currently required humanitarian assistance, said Ms. Byrs.  Priority needs included health, food, protection and WASH (water, sanitation and hygiene).  Immediate survival assistance was urgently required in internally displace person (IDP) sites in Bangui.  Women’s priority needs were protection and food.

The MIRA report found that the average number of meals had declined from two to three to just one meal per day in assessed areas (for 90 per cent of those surveyed).  The quality of food was also poorer, with risks for nutrition. 

Household food stocks were running out in both urban and rural areas, indicating that households would rely on humanitarian assistance until the next harvest mid-2014.  On average 60 per cent of those surveyed reported that households no longer had food stocks.  Food prices across Central African Republic had increased substantially due to disruption of transport, markets and traders. 

Since December, the prices for oil, sugar and milk had risen by up to 40 per cent and prices for stables – such as cassava and maize – had risen between 15 to 25 per cent and in Kabo and Kaga Bandioro by much more.  Almost all communities – 94 per cent – reported not having enough seed for the next planting season, raising the risk of a very poor harvest in 2014.  Further to the violent stock looting and destruction of stores and markets, prices had risen significantly, putting further strain on the urban population and particularly IDPs. 

WFP continued to provide food assistance to some 100,000 displaced people who sought refuge at Bangui International Airport three weeks after insecurity forced the suspension of distributions there, continued Ms. Byrs.  Every day WFP aimed to distribute 15-day rations of rice, pulses and vegetable oil to the 1,000 families there.

WFP was deeply concerned about the deterioration of security in Northwest Central African Republic.  Access to people in need of assistance in Bozoum is restricted due to new waves of violence.  WFP planned to assist up to 1.25 million people in the first eight months of 2014 and was appealing for nearly US$107 million to support people in Central African Republic who risked hunger because of displacement and the lean season.

WFP had deployed additional trucks from Ghana, which were expected to be in Bangui next week.  Boosting the fleet capacity would be critical in order to maintain assistance to communities outside of Bangui as well as WFP’s capacity to continue to deliver assistance using “mobile teams” as required in the context.

Christiane Berthiaume for the International Organization for Migration (IOM), said the IOM hoped to evacuate 550 Malian nationals stranded by the fighting in the Central African Republic.  The airlift, which would take place today and tomorrow, would involve five hour flights from Bangui to Bamako in Mali, and was taking place following a request from the Malian government.  The operation was complicated by dangerous conditions on the ground, said Ms. Berthiaume.  Infrastructure was very poor and insufficient, and only one of four fire trucks currently worked. 

The operation followed three earlier IOM charter flights completed last weekend (11 and 12 January) which evacuated 750 Chadian nationals from Bangui to N’Djamena, the Chadian capital, at the request of the Chad Government. 

Other operations were planned for this week for Sudanese and Chadian migrants.  The largest group of migrants were Chadian - the Chadian Government estimated around 100,000 Chadian migrants were in need of assistant, a revision was an original estimate of 48,000.  There were a further 3,000 Malian individuals in Central African Republic, of whom 750 were particularly in need of help.

Ms. Berthiaume emphasised that the conditions endured by the migrants and displaced local people were very poor.  Many were destitute on arrival, traumatized by the violence they had seen, and were now – due to the conflict - considered to be foreigners.  The Malians evacuated had lived in Central African Republic for a long time, for many it was their country of origin, and some did not even speak the Malian language, Bambara.  They would need a lot of assistance to be fully reintegrated into Malian society.

IOM had launched a Central African Republic appeal for US$ 17.5 million, of which US$10 million would finance the air evacuation for a total of 10,000 migrants, and US$7.5 million would fund the reintegration of 50,000 in their countries of origin, said Ms. Berthiaume.

Corinne Momal-Vanian, Director of the United Nations Information Service in Geneva, told journalists that the Operations Director of the United Nations Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (UNOCHA), John Ging, was currently in the Central African Republic meeting affected people and humanitarian partners, and reviewing the aid operation.  He would be in Geneva later this week and it was hoped he would be able to brief the press on his activities.

Syria

Elisabeth Byrs, for the World Food Programme (WFP), said that WFP dispatched food for 3.8 million people inside Syria in December, an unprecedented record, and was ramping up logistics and operational capacity to feed 4.25 million people in January.

As fighting in Syria continued, WFP was appealing for close to US$ two billion to assist over seven million Syrians in urgent need of food assistance in 2014.  WFP needed to raise US$35 million every week to meet the food needs of people affected by the conflict in Syria.  Those included 4.25 million people inside Syria and over 2.9 million refugees in neighbouring countries in need of food, making it WFP’s most challenging, complex and largest emergency worldwide.

Ms. Byrs said that this month, and for the first time since August last year, WFP was able to send food assistance for over 74,000 people in the Qalamoun area - namely Al-Nabek, and Deir Atiyah, in Rural Damascus – that witnessed heavy fighting over the past four months preventing all humanitarian access.  WFP also supported an interagency convoy to Al-Nabek transporting other relief items on behalf of other UN humanitarian actors.

WFP had distributed close to 10,000 litres of domestic fuel to internally displaced families living in ten shelters in Damascus, and 35 shelters in Homs, Hama and Rural Damascus during the severe winter storms.  The fuel was used in stoves for both cooking and heating, said Ms. Byrs.  In January WFP further distributed 10 metric tons of yeast to bakeries in Al-Hassakeh as severe shortages of yeast there risked stopping bread production in the governorate.  More information was in the briefing note, Ms. Byrs added. 

Adrian Edwards for the United Nations Refugee Agency (UNHCR), said that UN High Commissioner António Guterres was in Iraq as part of a delegation of United Nations Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon and ahead of tomorrow’s pledging conference in Kuwait.  

This morning, they visited the Kawergosk refugee camp near Erbil in northern Iraq, to talk to refugee families and see the facilities.  Kawergosk hosted 13,000 Syrian refugees who arrived in August 2013, amid the influx of some 60,000 people at the time.

The Kurdistan Region of Iraq was among areas in the region currently seeing arrivals of Syrians.  Border crossing points there from Syria were all but closed from mid-September until the start of January, when the Peshkabour crossing was reopened.

Since then some 5,000 people had crossed, and several hundred now arrived every afternoon.  Of those, only around 900 had registered with UNHCR.  Those people were transferred to a reception centre where they were given basic assistance before being moved onwards to the Gawilan refugee camp in transport provided by IOM.  Other recent arrivals had arranged their own transportation and were apparently going to Erbil and Suleiymania to join families, while some proceeded to Zakho and Dohuk.

Meanwhile, in central Iraq, UN agencies and Iraq's Ministry of Displacement and Migration estimated that some 70,000 people had now been displaced by the fighting and insecurity in Iraq's Anbar Province.  Most were in areas around Fallujah and Ramadi, but authorities in other central and northern provinces reported the arrival of hundreds of displaced families there too.

Aid from UN and partner agencies had been reaching some of the affected communities since 8 January, and yesterday a further 12 trucks of UNHCR relief reached neighbourhoods around Fallujah, carrying non-food aid.  The International Rescue Committee, UNHCR's main partner agency in the area, was doing distribution.  At present, insecurity and access difficulties were still hampering the overall effort.  The UN was advocating with the Government of Iraq to ensure better access to displaced persons and safe passage of humanitarian aid.

The displacement in central Iraq was also impacting other regions of the country. Authorities in the northern Kurdistan Region of Iraq reported that some 14,000 people had arrived in the last two weeks from Anbar.  UNHCR was coordinating with the regional government to establish their locations and assess immediate needs.  Although the displaced were said to be mainly accommodated with family or staying in hotels, UNHCR were coming across families living in abandoned houses and semi-constructed buildings that were in urgent need of assistance.  At the request of the authorities in the Kurdistan region of Iraq, UNHCR and its partners were refurbishing a transit centre at Baharka to accommodate more displaced persons.

Christiane Berthiaume for the International Organization for Migration (IOM) said that IOM Director-General William Lacy Swing would travel to Kuwait today to attend the Second International Pledging Conference for Syria.  IOM would be appealing to the international community for US$ 150 million under the Syrian Humanitarian Assistance Response Plan. 

In the past year the humanitarian situation had dramatically deteriorated inside Syria and in the neighbouring countries and continued to do so.  To date, IOM Syria had helped to provide non-food items to over 760,000 internally displaced people, rehabilitated 82 collective shelters and distributed hundreds of shelter kits.  It had also evacuated 4,150 international migrants, provided resettlement assistance to more than 16,000 refugees, reached 80,000 individuals with psychosocial support and enrolled some 230 destitute households in case for work schemes. 

In neighbouring countries IOM had helped to transport 440,000 refugees, provided health services to over 400,000 refugees, distributed basic non-food aid to more than 160,000 people, provided over 8,000 people with transit and resettlement assistance and re4ached 4,000 refugees with psychosocial support. 

Corinne Momal-Vanian, Director of the United Nations Information Service in Geneva, reminded journalists that the deadline to get a press badge for the Geneva Conference on Syria in Montreux was this Friday; the details had been sent to journalists already and were also on the www.unog.ch website.  

Ms. Momal-Vanian also noted that the Secretary-General was travelling today from Iraq to Kuwait to chair the high-level pledging conference with Valerie Amos, the Emergency Relief Coordinator. 

In response to a question about access to the camps and people in the Damascus region, Ms. Byrs said that WFP had tried for the last few months to reach that area in and around Damascus without success, and was quite concerned about nutrition there. 

A journalist asked Mr. Colville if the High Commissioner for Human Rights or any of the Special Rapporteurs had any comment on the alleged mass executions in public, in Syria and including in Aleppo, reported to have taken place yesterday.  Mr. Colville replied that he was very concerned about those reported extrajudicial killings.  There was no team on the ground in Syria and the regional team was trying to find out more information, and had to be careful about reports on those issues.  A press release may be issued on a range of issues in Syria tomorrow.

South Sudan

Adrian Edwards for the United Nations Refugee Agency (UNHCR), said that more South Sudanese civilians were deserting their homes and crossing into neighbouring Uganda, Ethiopia, Kenya, as well as volatile regions of Sudan to escape from ongoing violence.

To date some 78,000 people had now fled to neighbouring countries since mid-December.  More than half had headed for Uganda’s West Nile region straddling South Sudan and the Democratic Republic of the Congo.  In all, 42,654 mostly women and children, from Nimule in South Sudan, were now in the Ugandan districts of Arua, Adjumani and Kiryandongo.  According to colleagues, many men were taking their families to the Ugandan border and leaving them there before returning back to their country.  The refugees UNHCR had spoken were telling eye-witness accounts of atrocities, killings, houses been burnt and widespread shooting.

The largest concentration of people currently was at the Dzaipi  transit centre in Adjumani District, by the border with Nimule, where there are 32,505 refugees.  The centre was initially designed to only host 400 people, so most of those there were having to sleep in the open with their children and complaining of cold at night and their children becoming ill.  It was critically overcrowded.  As well as shelter, they needed clean water, food, and basic household goods.  As more people continued to arrive daily at Dzaipi UNHCR was working with the Ugandan authorities to set up additional camps

Ethiopia was also seeing an upsurge in arrivals: 18,616 South Sudanese had crossed into the Akobo area from the Jonglei region and UNHCR was beefing up its staff presence to better monitor new arrivals and respond to their needs.  Kenya had also seen 6,778 arrivals from Jonglei state.  UNHCR was concerned by the large presence of children among them and was planning a joint assessment mission with UNICEF to find out more about their situation, and the needs. 

In Sudan, available estimates were that 10,000 had crossed into West and South Kordofan, two states that were themselves volatile.  The majority were nomads and, so far, UNHCR had not been able to verify exact numbers.  The Government of Sudan said that, so far, only 1,371 of the new arrivals were South Sudanese refugees.  UNHCR, WFP and other partners were providing assistance to those people via local partners.

With fighting still being reported in parts of South Sudan — mainly in the states of Jonglei and Upper Nile – and the slow progress in the political talks in Addis Ababa, UNHCR was anticipating further displacement both within and beyond the borders of South Sudan.  Internal displacement figures were now at 355,000, up from 200,000 last week.  The added displacement was being fuelled by the fighting itself as well as by fear of it, combined with deteriorating living conditions, including a lack of food in some markets.

Despite the challenges UNHCR continued to provide assistance to 230,000 refugees in 10 camps in South Sudan.  It planned to begin food distribution tomorrow for some 77,000 Sudanese refugees in the camps of Yida and Ajuong Thok in Unity State, with the support of the UN peacekeeping mission in South Sudan (UNMISS), which had agreed to redeploy troops to secure Yida.

In response to the reports today of a fatal ferry accident on the Nile river today that led to some 200 South Sudanese civilians drowning, Mr. Edwards said they did not have any information on that at the moment beyond what was being reported in the media. 

World Health Organization news

Glenn Thomas, for the World Health Organization (WHO),gave the press a ‘heads-up’ on the 134th session of the WHO Executive Board meeting.  He also announced more cases of avian influenza A (H7N9) virus.

The Executive Board would meet next week from 20 to 25 January in the Executive boardroom at the WHO headquarters in Geneva.  The Executive Board would determine the agenda for the World Health Assembly, and would be considering around 16 draft resolutions.  Issues expected to be discussed included polio, research and development, financing, and coordination on health research.  A media advisory highlighting some of the logistics and issues around covering the Executive Board meeting would be issued this week.

Mr. Thomas said that a disease outbreak alert would probably be issued later today detailing more cases of H7N9.  There had been five new cases in China, one of which had been fatal.  The cases were a 58-year-old woman, a 56-year-old man, a 75-year-old woman, a 29-year-old man and a 76-year-old man.  Answering a question from a journalist, Mr. Thomas said that the fatality was a 75-year-old woman from Zhuji City of Zhejiang Province, who was admitted to hospital on 5 January and died on 9 January.

Haiti

Christiane Berthiaume for the International Organization for Migration (IOM) said that four years after the earthquake that struck Haiti on 12 January 2010, an estimated 146,000 internal displaced people (IDPs), or 39,000 households, remained in 271 camps scattered throughout metropolitan Port-Au-Prince and the regions.

Since the height of the displacement crisis, when 1.5 million persons lived in makeshift camps, the IOM Displacement Tracking Matrix (DTM) had registered a decrease of 89 per cent in the total number of households and an 83 per cent decrease in the number of sites.

Since the earthquake, IOM and its partners had provided tailored support to IDPs to help them to leave the camps and resume a normal life.  One of the solutions provided was the ‘rental for one year’ subsidy approach, an initiative that was first promoted by the Government of Haiti in 2011.  That represented approximately US$500 per family.  
Since June 2011, it had resulted in the successful relocation of approximately 60,000 households and the closure of 311 IDP sites.

During the period of October to December 2013 alone, programmes that offered rental subsidies were responsible for the relocation of 3,532 households and the closure of 38 sites, thereby contributed to a 98 per cent reduction in internally displaced households in that period.  The persons who stayed were the most vulnerable ones, which was the reason why 200 camps were still open.

IOM worked with its partners to build houses.  Nine houses had been built to host 18 families, 69 would still be under construction and 36 other would be built in the future. The goal was to close the camps by mid- 2015.  The conditions were too poor for people to live in the camps, as there was no access to basic needs and medical insecurity.  There was more information in the briefing note, Ms. Berthiaume added. 
         
Geneva activities

Ms. Momal-Vanian announced that the Committee on the Rights of the Child this morning would complete its review of the report of the Congo and this afternoon began reviewing the reports of Yemen.  The reports of the Holy See would be reviewed on Thursday.  Next week, the Committee would consider the reports of Portugal and Russia, followed by Germany the week after.

Ms. Momal-Vanian announced that the Conference on Disarmament would start its 2014 session next week.  The first public meeting would be held Tuesday, 21 January.

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The representatives of the United Nations Children’s Fund, International Labour Organization and the International Trade Centre also attended the briefing but did not speak.
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The webcast for this briefing is available here: http://bit.ly/1eG3MWN