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REGULAR PRESS BRIEFING BY THE INFORMATION SERVICE
22 November 2013

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

CENTRAL AFRICAN REPUBLIC

Patrick McCormick and Souleymane Diabate, for the United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF), stressed that the Central African Republic (CAR) was a forgotten crisis at the global level. While the world was preoccupied with what was happening in Syria or the Philippines, the situation in CAR was very tragic. The whole population of 4.6 million people was either directly or indirectly affected by the crisis. Half of that population was under the age of 18. Even before the crisis, the situation had not been good at all, and it had only worsened since, primarily in terms of security. It was a very fragile, volatile and unpredictable context. CAR was among the countries with the worst social indicators in the world, including maternal and infant mortality rates.

Mr. Diabate stated that UNICEF was in CAR to deliver help to children and women across the country. Immunization and back-to-school campaigns were conducted under very difficult circumstances. UNICEF was also working with armed groups on release of children from their forces. The number of such children associated with armed groups was now estimated at between 5,000 and 6,000, which represented a significant increase. There were more than 400,000 internally displaced persons and 66,000 refugees. CAR was probably one of the most difficult countries in the world to work in, but UNICEF remained committed.

Answering a question on the exact number of children soldiers, Mr. Diabate said that the estimate had been 3,500 before the crisis, but it had now increased to between 5,000 and 6,000. Self-defense groups, which included children, were being widely organized.

Asked for a view on statements that CAR might be in a “pre-genocide” situation, Mr. Diabate stated that Christians and Muslims had lived together in the country for many decades. However, the rebel group Seleka, stemming from the northeast of the country, composed mainly of Muslims, had been committing killings since March 2013. Self-defense groups, mostly Christian, had been constituted, which defended their communities but also killed ex-Seleka members. If the international community did not do something, more violence and many more killings would take place.

Answering a question on the causes of the fighting between the communities, Mr. Diabate explained again that almost nobody could have guessed that they would enter the conflict, as they had been living next to each other for years. Former members of the Presidential Guard had joined the self-defense groups against the Seleka, providing heavy weaponry and complicating the situation.

The situation in CAR today was thus very grave, and the international community had to mobilize itself to react sooner rather than later. Mr. Diabate explained that CAR was rich in resources, such as gold, diamonds and uranium, and the Seleka were using those resources to rearm themselves. The north-east of the country, from which they were primarily stemming, was a geographically remote and historically marginalised region where the state was almost absent.

Answering a question on actions taken to punish the perpetrators of human rights violations in CAR, Cécile Pouilly, for the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR), said that two weeks earlier the OHCHR had published a press release warning against the worsening of the human rights situation in CAR. It had already mentioned the fact that several factors were to be taken into account when assessing the situation in CAR - not only religious factors, but also factors related to ethnicity. OHCHR had warned against the continuation of forced disappearances, forced executions and theft of livestock. Some persons were taking advantage of the chaotic situation in CAR in order to benefit financially from it. Ms. Pouilly stressed that impunity reigned in CAR today and that a centre of illegal detention allegedly existed in Bangui, where massive uses of torture was reported. OHCHR had already warned the international community of that matter, and insisted that there was an urgent need to take action in order to restore order and put an end to those exactions.

THE PHILIPPINES

Babar Baloch, for the United Nations Refugee Agency (UNHCR), stated that two weeks after typhoon Haiyan had swept through the Philippines, affected communities were asking for shelter materials in order to start rebuilding their lives.

Earlier in the week, UNHCR staff had been deployed to Ormoc in western Leyte province and Guiuan in Eastern Samar province. They had been visiting numerous administrative units to assess the evolving protection and other needs of typhoon survivors. They had found some gaps which were now being addressed.

Mr. Baloch said that in some remote areas of Guiuan, where the typhoon had first hit in the morning of 8 November, logistical problems had hampered the smooth distribution of aid including to the islands of Homonhon and Suluan. In addition, a community of 50 indigenous families who had previously not been registered with the municipal authorities in Marabut on Samar Island, had not been receiving assistance.

As the co-lead for the protection cluster, UNCHR was working with the Government and the World Food Programme to address those gaps and ensure that all affected groups could receive assistance equitably. UNHCR staff had also noticed that many communities were slowly getting back on their feet, especially in city centres. Some shops were starting to re-open and commercial activities were resuming. In areas like Ormoc’s barangay Tagatay, where most of the houses had been affected, people had started building makeshift shelters while repairing their houses.

Mr. Baloch stressed that the situation in suburban and rural areas still remained difficult. Until today, UNHCR had distributed relief items to 23,000 typhoon survivors in Tacloban’s San Jose and Bagacay areas, and in Tanauan. The areas south of Tacloban – such as Tanauan, Julita and Talosa – were severely affected and could take a longer time to recover. In the previous two days, UNCHR had been sending teams there to assess and coordinate aid distribution.

In addition, UNHCR was donating tents to the Tacloban authorities to enable policewomen to monitor the situation in evacuation centres more closely. The agency had also given an initial batch of 64 tents to help decongest schools currently being used as evacuation centres. That would help to re-open schools and restore some normality in the survivors’ lives.

In Tacloban, UNHCR had received additional items from Cebu and was expecting supplies from Manila shortly. Those would bring a total of 3,000 tents, 16,000 plastic sheets, 46,000 blankets and other urgently-needed items. UNHCR was dispatching some of those supplies to Guiuan and Ormoc based on identified needs. Those items would provide some temporary respite from the elements while survivors focused on rebuilding their homes.

Meanwhile, Mr, Baloch added, thousands of displaced people were continuing to leave Leyte by air and sea. A monitoring service provided by the protection cluster at the Government’s request sought to ensure assistance for vulnerable people and to prevent trafficking. On 20 November, UNHCR had set up tents at the Tacloban airport to provide shelter to the waiting crowd. Starting on 17 November, the International Organization for Migration and the Department of Social Welfare and Development had started registering people leaving on cargo planes, collecting data on their destination, needs and vulnerabilities. The Salvation Army was also present to provide food and water.

By the end of the day on 21 November, some 2,000 displaced people had been registered at the Tacloban airport before departure. According to the authorities in Ormoc and Guiuan, hundreds of people were also leaving every day by air to Cebu and Manila, while many more were taking the sea route. The monitoring services would be expanded to those departure areas soon.

Christiane Berthiaume, for the International Organization for Migration (IOM), said that with more and more people trying to leave areas affected by typhoon Haiyan, IOM, in coordination with the Philippine Government and its partners, had been screening evacuees to protect against potential human trafficking, while also identifying vulnerabilities of departing families.

By some estimates, up to 5,000 people a day were fleeing disaster-stricken Leyte, Samar and other affected areas, bound for cities like Cebu and the capital Manila.

IOM had also flagged up urgent vulnerabilities among those living in evacuation sites. Initial findings from its Displacement Tracking Matrix (DTM) registration tool indicated poor access to food, water and sanitation in a number of sites in Tacloban. Across a broad swathe of the Visayas region of the central Philippines, some 387,000 displaced people were now living in over 1,550 sites. In Tacloban alone there were 44 such sites housing 15,500 individuals. Many people were also living in informal settlements in and around the city.

IOM was working with the Department of Social Welfare and Development (DSWD), in collaboration with UNHCR and the Salvation Army to screen the evacuees. Over 1,000 people had passed through the Migrant Outflow Desk from Tacloban city alone in the previous five days, 80 per cent of whom were headed to Manila, where they had family or friends. Others were making their way to Manila by boat and by road. An estimated 1,000 people were leaving from Guiuan, one of the worst affected towns, every day.

The focus was now turning to poor living conditions in some shelters. While people were keen to get back to rebuilding their lives and homes – many completely destroyed by the typhoon – IOM was trying to avoid having families constantly moved as they sought permanent housing. A challenge was identifying land close enough to jobs and livelihoods in which to build new communities in typhoon-proof dwellings.

Ms. Berthiaume said that, after having identified some critical gaps, IOM was now focused on providing more life-saving humanitarian assistance at evacuation sites to improve living conditions through better basic health, sanitation, protection and self-governance.

IOM also intended to scale up its tracking of evacuees fleeing affected areas; identifying viable and safe land for resettlement sites and ensuring emergency preparedness in case of new weather-related disasters.

SYRIAN REFUGEES IN LEBANON

Elisabeth Byrs, for the World Food Programme (WFP), stated that on 20 November, nearly 500 families had arrived to the Aarsal region of Lebanon because of increased violence in Nabek and Yabroud.

So far, the WFP had helped and assisted 10,000 people by giving them food parcels for a month. As they arrived, often at night, they received their packages not later than the day after. The WFP was working closely with UNHCR to ensure that refugees had immediately what they needed. The refugees would then receive an electronic voucher to buy the food they wanted, which was convenient because they could buy items wherever they wanted, without having to move to a distribution point.

Ms. Byrs informed that 684 families had received packages on 21 November. Since 16 November, 2,130 food parcels had been distributed. They contained 19 different categories of foods, including vegetables, sugar, and canned meat.

By the end of the year, 800,000 Syrian refugees in Lebanon would be using the electronic voucher system, which would gradually replace the paper vouchers. Electronic vouchers represented USD 95 million injected into the Lebanese economy.

Since the start of operations, the Port of Beirut had been the main entry point for ships carrying food aid. This year, there had been 100 boats which had brought more than 85,000 tons of food to Syria. The food was then transported by trucks. 2,200 trucks had crossed the border between Lebanon and Syria in 2013, which was an average of 200 trucks each month.

Since the beginning of 2013, WFP had increased its food assistance in Lebanon five times. The total WFP operation in Lebanon between November 2013 and January 2014 would cost USD 116 million, out of which the current shortfall was USD 52 million.

EXPULSION OF MIGRANTS FROM TANZANIA

Ms. Berthiaume said that, while expulsions of undocumented migrants from Tanzania had gradually decreased, conditions for many Burundian, Rwandan and Ugandan migrants now stranded in border transit centers were deteriorating due to heavy rain. Many migrants, including vulnerable women, children and the sick had little or no shelter, with children at particularity high risk of contracting diseases, such as upper respiratory tract infections and diarrhoea. At border transit centers in Burundi and Uganda, there was now an acute need for emergency life-saving services, including primary health care, antenatal and postnatal care and vaccination for children.

Migrants arriving at the border crossings had told IOM staff that expulsions of undocumented migrants from Tanzania were now slowing down, but many migrants were still hiding in the jungle with little food or water, surviving on wild fruit and waiting for the situation to normalize. Tanzania had ordered thousands of undocumented migrants from Rwanda, Burundi and Uganda to leave the country by 2 August 2013. Burundi, which had received the largest number of those expelled, was the country least prepared for such a sudden influx.

Ms. Berthiaume said that 1,150 newly arrived returnees had no remaining links with the country because they had left many decades earlier. IOM was helping them get re-installed. For those being in Uganda, IOM was providing the first medical aids, and a mobile clinic was in place.

HIV/AIDS

Glen Thomas, for the World Health Organization (WHO), announced that the World Health Organization was issuing its first ever recommendations on HIV and adolescents. The new recommendations addressed the many challenges which had resulted in the failure to reduce death rates and prevent infections among adolescents. They included guidance on HIV testing and counseling, and offered advice to countries to help better tailor treatment and care services for 10-19 year-olds. The Policy Brief with those recommendations would be released on 25 November at 3 p.m, until when the content would be under embargo.

Dr Rachel Baggaley, Coordinator for Key Populations and Innovative Prevention of the WHO HIV/AIDS Department, said that there had been huge progress over the previous decade when it came to the access of people to antiretroviral drugs, but adolescents were being left out.

Jean Martinage, for the International Labour Organization (ILO), spoke of the contribution of ILO to the marking of the World Aids Day on 1 December. ILO would send a message from the Director-General, Guy Ryder, by the end of the following week.

ILO was also going to publish a report that would bring out how employment influenced proper monitoring of the treatment of a person living with HIV. The report, “The Impact of Employment on HIV Treatment Adherence” would be published on 28 November and would analyze the data concerning 6,500 people living with HIV. Those data showed that there had been a very clear link between being employed and the proper monitoring of the treatment against HIV. The report would be sent out at the beginning of the following week and would inform on the exact time of the embargo on 28 November. ILO was not planning to hold a briefing on the report, but if there were journalists interested in it, they should contact Mr. Martinage.

PYTHON CONSERVATION PARTNERSHIP

Jarle Hetland and Alex Kasterine, for the International Trade Centre (ITC), presented the ITC’s partnership with Kering and the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN), which had been created in order to ensure more sustainability in the python trade and facilitate industry-wide change.

Mr. Kasterine said that the IUCN was involved both through its Species Survival Commission and the Boa and Python Specialist Group. The partnership between those two organizations had been developed with the purpose of undertaking capacity-building research to improve sustainability and livelihood benefits of python skin exports from Southeast Asia, specifically Indonesia, Malaysia, Vietnam and Thailand.

One of the main drivers for that partnership was an ITC study published last year on international trade in South East Asia and python skins, which had highlighted a number of concerns across the trade in python skins. The python skin business was worth around 1 billion dollars per year, and a substantial part was in illegal trade due to smuggling and abuse of permits systems.

Another issue highlighted in the report was a potential lack of sustainability in the trade, so there was little information on the number of pythons and skins collected from the wild; and whether this was a sustainable uptake or not. This was important in terms of the growing demand for python skins in the luxury industry for accessories such as handbags and shoes. Within that context, there was a need to increase sustainability as well as to improve data collection.

A third part of the recommendations and concerns raised were with respect to animal welfare, about which NGOs in Switzerland and elsewhere had already raised their concerns. The ITC highlighted the three practices of animal welfare and recommendations on how it should be improved.

All of that was in support of CITES processes (Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species) and had been presented at their conference of parties in April 2013, supporting their ongoing efforts to improve sustainability.

Following the presentation of the report, the ITC and IUCN had been approached by Kering to form a public-private partnership, where Kering would make a sustainable investment in the supply chain, having acknowledged the concerns raised in the report about sustainability and animal welfare.

The partnership would consist of the following programme of work highlighted in the press release, with five key areas of research being covered. The ITC would be in charge of one of the areas, which was to understand the impact of the python trade on local livelihoods, which employed tens, if not hundred thousands of people living in marginal areas and who were part of the very lowest income groups in South East Asia.

The other partners would take the lead in four areas: monitoring wild capture to improve sustainable sourcing, differentiating between captive-bred and wild animals through innovative technology; differentiating between captive-bred and wild animals through innovative technology; developing and promoting the highest standards of animal health and welfare; and exploring ways to improve captive breeding.

This work would be managed over the following couple of years and would be managed by a Steering committee made up of three members from the partnership.

On the question on ethical dimensions of involving the corporate sector in this programme, Mr. Kasterine said that the role of ITC to date had been to shed light onto the supply chain, and to describe in the report how the supply chain for the trade on snakes worked, as well as to address concerns over sustainability. ITU’s role was to bring that to light, and Kering had responded to those recommendations by making sustainable investments. ITU’s role was to highlight the livelihood benefit of the research, while there were no financial exchanges between the ITU and Kering.

Mr. Kasterine specified that the annual value of legitimate trade was worth around USD 500 million, while it was estimated that the illegal trade was worth roughly the same. Asked about the functioning of supply chains, Mr. Kasterine further explained that the supply chain was made up of different actors, some of whom were making little and some a lot of money. 97 per cent of the value of trade was captured by the designers and fashion houses. There were perhaps higher margins for illegal than legal operators, which reflected the risks they were taking in terms of evading the law.

GENEVA ACTIVITIES

Ms. Momal-Vanian announced that the Committee against Torture was closing its current session today, after which it would hold a press conference in Press Room I at 2 p.m. to present concluding observations on Mozambique, Uzbekistan, Poland, Latvia, Belgium, Burkina Faso, Portugal, Andorra and Kyrgyzstan.

The Committee on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights would complete its session the following week, when it would adopt concluding observations on 10 countries considered.

On 25 November, UN-Arab League Joint Envoy Brahimi would meet with US and Russian representatives in the trilateral format. Audio-visual press would be allowed to film the arrival of delegations, probably in mid-morning. If there was going to be a press conference, it would take place in Room III in the afternoon.

Melisa Begag, for the World Trade Organization (WTO), informed that intensive consultations would continue over the weekend, which was why it was still not possible to confirm the date of the General Council before Bali. There was a possibility that WTO Director-General would give a press conference before the Bali talks.

Ms. Begag also presented the schedule for the following week. On 25 November, at 10:00 a.m, there would be a meeting of the Dispute Settlement Body; on 26 November, at 10:00 a.m, the Council for Trade in Goods would meet; and on 27 November, at 10:00 a.m. the Trade Policy Review Body would hold a meeting on the former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia.

Mr. Thomas announced that, in the run-up to the World AIDS Day, WHO would hold a press conference in Press Room I on 22 November at 3 p.m, where Dr Gottfried Hirnschall, Director of HIV/AIDS Department at WHO, and a number of experts, would address the journalists.

Mr. Hetland said that a press briefing would take place in Press Room I on 25 November at 10:30 a.m, where the ITC Executive Director would speak of perspectives on the upcoming Bali talks.

Ms. Berthiaume announced that on 22 November, IOM had launched its Annual Review of Migrant Assistance. The report focused on human trafficking crime trends worldwide. While women continued to represent the majority of trafficked people in receipt of IOM assistance, accounting for over half of all cases, the review reported rising numbers of male victims of trafficking and labour exploitation, particularly in economic sectors requiring predominantly manual labour. Children, especially unaccompanied minor children, continued to represent an important beneficiary group of IOM assistance projects. Close to 30 per cent of the total number of victims of trafficking assisted were under the age of 18.

Ms. Berthiaume also announced that the 103rd session of IOM’s Council would be held at the Palais des Nations from 26 to 29 November. She drew attention, in particular, to the testimony which would be delivered by migrants as well as the participation of the Secretary-General’s Special Representative on International Migration and Development, Mr. Sutherland.

The spokesperson of the United Nations Conference on Trade and Development was also present, but did not brief.

For technical reasons, there is no webcast for this briefing.