REGULAR PRESS BRIEFING BY THE INFORMATION SERVICE
29 November 2013
Corinne Momal-Vanian, Director of the United Nations Information Service in Geneva, chaired the briefing which was also attended by the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights, International Organization for Migration, World Food Programme, World Health Organization, United Nations Conference on Trade and Development, Economic Commission for Europe, and World Meteorological Organization.
Cécile Pouilly, for the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR), said that OHCHR had received reports indicating that South Sudan had carried out at least four executions since the beginning of November. Two men convicted of murder had been hanged in Juba on 12 November and two others in Wau on 18 November. More than 200 individuals were believed to be on death row throughout the country.
South Sudan's justice system was struggling to establish itself after decades of civil war. Police and prosecutorial services were not available in much of the country and, when available, did not have the resources to conduct proper investigations and prosecutions.
OHCHR was particularly concerned about the limited access to legal representation during trials, including for people sentenced to death. The overwhelming majority of individuals in prison in South Sudan did not have legal representation or the right to free legal aid in serious criminal, civil, land and family matters. As a result, they were often unable to mount an adequate defence or to contest the use of forced confessions in court. Unclear bureaucratic procedural requirements also hindered the exercise of the right of appeal.
Ms. Pouilly added that, in those circumstances, the high threshold set by international law for the use of the death penalty failed to be met. International law required that the death penalty might only be carried out pursuant to a final judgement rendered by a competent court after a legal process with all possible safeguards to ensure a fair trial, including legal representation and the right to appeal to a court of higher jurisdiction. It was unclear whether the four individuals executed in November had had any access to legal representation.
Although South Sudan had voted in favour of the adoption of UN General Assembly’s resolutions 67/176 on moratorium of the use of the death penalty in December 2012, at least 14 individuals were believed to have been executed since the country had gained its independence in July 2011. The actual number of individuals executed was likely to be higher, as the Government did not publicly disclose information about death sentences or judicial executions.
Christiane Berthiaume, for the International Organization for Migration (IOM), stated that IOM was appealing for USD 10.5 million to provide emergency return assistance to vulnerable and stranded South Sudanese in Khartoum, Sudan. Some 19,700 South Sudanese were stranded so they were living in makeshift shelters with limited access to health care, sanitation and other basic services.
Conditions in the open areas were further affected by flooding in early August 2013, which had damaged numerous shelters. Roughly 40 per cent of the total population in the open areas was under the age of 12. There were many pregnant and lactating mothers as well as individuals with chronic illness. It was imperative that transport assistance was provided so that the stranded population could reach their homes in South Sudan. The governments of both countries were aware of that, but they did not have the adequate resources to face that issue. They had asked for IOM assistance, which was the reason why IOM had launched an appeal for USD 10.5 million.
OTHER HUMAN RIGHTS ISSUES
Asked whether there had been any updates on North Korea, where around 80 summary executions had been reported, Ms. Pouilly said that the High Commissioner would have a general press conference on 2 December, when that issue could be raised.
Answering a question on reported actions by the Angolan government, Ms. Pouilly said that OHCHR was concerned about a number of allegations on destructions of mosques and possible restrictions on religious freedoms, and had requested the authorities to provide a clarification. OHCHR did not have its own office on the ground in Angola and is gathering information from a variety of sources.
CENTRAL AFRICAN REPUBLIC
Elisabeth Byrs, for the World Food Programme (WFP), wished to once again bring attention to Central African Republic, where the situation had been continuously deteriorating and the WFP, despite the security challenges, continued to increase its operations.
In October, WFP had distributed food to internal displaced person of Bossangoa. Nearly 29 000 IDPs had received 358 tons of food. In November, such distribution would increase to reach 8,000 more people, for a total of 37,000 IDPs in Bossangoa. According to studies, WFP would estimate that 1,3 million persons were suffering from food insecurity in CAR, among them half were IDPs. The most vulnerable were the IDPs who had escaped violence and hidden in the bushes, which made it difficult to reach them. That was why WFP had been thinking about re-opening its offices in Bambari and Kaga-bandoro and sending mobile teams.
The humanitarian situation continued to be alarming as half of the population, or 2.3 million people, remained in need of assistance. The humanitarian community was often a target of looting and attacks by armed groups.
Ms. Berthiaume said that IOM was preparing a detailed picture of the evolving needs and challenges faced by the hundreds of thousands of people displaced by typhoon Haiyan.
IOM’s Displacement Tracking Matrix (DTM) had been rolled out over 80 per cent of Samar and Leyte islands, and would shortly be completed, giving up-to-date information on sites for displaced people in 143 municipalities in Samar, Leyte, Bilaran, Cebu and Roxas. Four main immediate challenges were evident, which IOM was attempting to solve alongside the Government’s Department of Social Welfare and Development (DSWD) and other humanitarian partners, while longer-term solutions were planned.
Ms. Berthiaume stated that only one in ten children had returned to school. The problems of schools doubling as evacuation centers was slowly being resolved, as day shelters for families were being introduced, so that displaced people had somewhere to stay during the day, and could sleep in school buildings at night. There were minor health concerns, with coughs, asthma, colds, fever, skin disease, wound infections, diarrhea and other stomach problems.
IOM estimated that a total of 3 million families (over 14 million people) had been affected by Haiyan. The good news was that only one per cent of those screened by the Displacement Tracking Matrix (DTM) were living under canvas.
Ms. Momal-Vanian added that, according to the latest information provided by the Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA), the humanitarian situation in the areas devastated by Haiyan remained catastrophic. Some 14.4 million people were affected, 3.6 million people were displaced, and only 6 per cent of those were in evacuation sites. The priority needs included ongoing food assistance and access to water, urgent and extensive shelter requirements, recovery of livelihoods, including farming, fishing and the service industry with the planting season was only weeks away. Out of the 348 million requested for the Action Plan, 47 per cent had been funded so far.
MIDDLE EASTERN RESPIRATORY SYNDROME (MERS)
Glenn Thomas, for the World Health Organization (WHO), said that the WHO was issuing a DON (disease outbreak news) later today on the findings of a Qatari investigation into the Middle East Respiratory Syndrome (MERS). The discovery of the virus in camels at a farm in Qatar was linked to the virus in humans which the WHO had found in October.
Peter Ben Embarek, from WHO’s Department of Food Safety and Zoonoses, said that was a confirmation of finding the virus in camels and at the same time it was the first time that camels had been found to be able to be infected with the MERS virus. This, however, did not provide significant information yet on whether humans were infecting camels or camels were infecting humans, or infection came from a third source. Mr. Ben Ebarek stressed that, nonetheless, it gave the WHO a clue as to the source of the virus and helped the organization develop more detailed studies on where the virus was circulating and what type of exposure would be putting people at risk, so in the future the spreading and exposure to the virus could be stopped. Further studies were ongoing in the Netherlands’ laboratories which were working closely to the Qataris on this investigation; so these were only preliminary but interesting results.
Mr. Ben Embarek said that it was too early to make detailed recommendations based on those findings. However, based on the picture of the disease it was probably prudent to recommend for people at high risk of getting seriously ill from that disease, which would include people with conditions such as diabetes, chronic lung disease or heart disease to avoid close contact with animals when visiting farms in the region.
The WHO was working closely with Qatari authorities to develop further guidelines to design and develop the studies to find answers to all questions.
Asked whether an earlier cases had been recorded in Saudi Arabia, Mr. Embarek clarified that he had not said that that had been the first time the virus was found in animals but the first time that WHO had found that animals could be infected the same way as humans by the virus. He confirmed that Saudi Arabia had announced about two weeks earlier that they had found the virus in a camel that was also linked to human cases, but WHO had not heard further findings from that case. WHO was awaiting further details from the investigation.
Mr. Ben Embarek clarified that it had been the first time that the MERS virus was found to be infecting animals. The previous summer there had been some reports of findings of antibodies to the virus in camels from the region. At that time, the question had remained whether the antibody reaction to the same or a similar virus. But now in both Saudi Arabia and Qatar the virus was found in animals, which was a significant further step in WHO’s understanding of how the virus was spreading in the animal population.
On the question as to how the animals transported from one country to another had the same virus, Mr. Ben Embarek responded that studies showed antibodies prevalent in a large population of camels in a variety of locations. There were still many open questions.
Answering a question whether WHO was expecting camels to be the only source of the disease, Mr. Ben Embarek said that it could be that other animal species could also be infected in a similar way. WHO knew from studies previously done in cells in laboratories that viruses could not multiply or establish themselves and reproduce in certain animal cells and in certain animals. For example, rodents did not seem able to carry viruses and allow them to multiply so WHO was not looking at that as a major player. The same occurred with birds since WHO knew that their physiology would not allow a particular virus to reproduce in their systems. Therefore, WHO was probably looking at mammals as potential carriers, but again it was too early to say whether other animals were involved.
Asked when the recommendations would be released, Mr. Ben Embarek said that any recommendation would be issued by the Food and Agriculture Organization and the World Organization for Animal Health who were in charge of surveillance for animals.
Ms. Berthiaume stated that, following the death of 30 Haitian migrants off the coast of Bahamas, IOM had launched an appeal to take measure so that such a situation would not happen again and the authorities would save the migrants and give them humanitarian aid. IOM was truly worried about the growing number of migrants dying at sea.
The death of 30 Haitian earlier in the week had triggered renewed concerns about the plight of irregular migrants risking their lives around the world in unseaworthy boats and other life threatening transport in search of better lives. IOM Director General had stated that the deaths at sea of these migrants in the Caribbean, and others in the Mediterranean, the Indian Ocean and the Red Sea, as well as in the deserts of Mexico and the Sahara, were a wake-up call for the international community to act. Urgent measures had to be taken to ensure that such tragedies become a thing of the past.
Ms. Berthiaume emphasized that the main priority was to save lives. Vulnerable groups of migrants included refugees, asylum-seekers, the unemployed, human trafficking victims and unaccompanied children. IOM demanded that the people taking benefit of such people's vulnerability be criminally prosecuted. Governments should recognize that migrants arriving by sea and land were not criminals. In that regard, IOM was calling for a comprehensive approach to migration management with the understanding that no one action was sufficient to address the root causes that drove those life-threatening journeys. IOM was proposing concrete actions to be taken to help both migrants and countries of origin, transit and destination with a focus on increased dialogue and cooperation.
Perhaps most importantly, IOM wanted to see more legal migration avenues for migrants seeking better prospects abroad - a move that would remove the need of some migrants to risk their lives at the hands of smugglers and traffickers.
NORTH ATLANTIC HURRICANE SEASON
Clare Nullis, for the World Meteorological Organization (WMO), announced that the 2013 Atlantic hurricane season, which would officially end on 30 November, had had the fewest number of hurricanes since 1982, thanks in large part to persistent atmospheric conditions over the Gulf of Mexico, Caribbean Sea, and tropical Atlantic Ocean, according to the United States National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration. 2013 was expected to rank as the sixth least active Atlantic hurricane season since 1950, in terms of the collective strength and duration of named storms and hurricanes, according to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA). Thirteen named storms had formed in the Atlantic basin this year. Two, Ingrid and Humberto, had become hurricanes, but neither had become a major hurricane. Although the number of named storms had been above the average of 12, the numbers of hurricanes and major hurricanes had been well below their averages of six and three, respectively. Major hurricanes were categories 3 and above.
Ms. Nullis informed that, unlike the United States, which had been largely spared this year, Mexico had been battered by eight storms, including three from the Atlantic basin and five from the eastern North Pacific. Of those eight landfalling systems, five had stricken as tropical storms and three as hurricanes. Two tropical cyclones from two separate basins (Ingrid in the North Atlantic and Manuel in the Eastern North Pacific) had stricken Mexico nearly simultaneously on 15 September, an unusual event that had last occurred in 1958.
Ms. Nullis also informed that in contrast to the North Atlantic basin, the western North Pacific basin had had a very active tropical cyclone season. The total number of named tropical cyclones so far in 2013 was 30, higher than the annual average of 25.6. Ms. Nullis announced that there would be a workshop of the joint Economic and Social Commission for Asia and the Pacific and the World Meteorological Organization Typhoon Committee the following week, between 2 and 6 December 2013 in Macao, China, to look at forecasting, warning and disaster risk reduction strategies in the mitigation of tropical cyclone impact. There would also be a special review of the impact and implications of typhoon Haiyan which had been the strongest tropical cyclone so far in 2013 and one of the most intense on record.
Ms. Momal-Vanian informed that the Committee on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights (CESCR) would close its session in the afternoon on 29 November. A final communique would be issued at the end of the day on concluding observations concerning the ten countries which had been considered: Kuwait, Albania, Belgium, Bosnia and Herzegovina, Djibouti, Belarus, Egypt, Gabon, Austria and Norway.
Ms. Momal-Vanian also announced that, on the occasion of the International Day of Solidarity with the Palestinian People, a meeting was taking place on 29 November from 10 a.m. in Room XIX, and a press release would follow.
Jean Rodriguez, for the Economic Commission for Europe (UNECE), announced the launch of the report "Forest Products Annual Market Review 2012-2013" at a press conference on 29 November at 12 noon in Press Room III. The report provided trends on production and consumption of wood and by-products (tropical timber excluded) covering approximately 70 per cent of global wood trade. It covered wood products, paper products and wood energy and also highlighted the role of big players outside the region (China) and emerging ones (Latin America and Asia).
Regarding the schedule of the UNECE Executive Secretary, Mr. Rodriguez informed that Mr. Sven Alkalaj would sign a Memorandum of Understanding with the Minister of Communications and Information Technology of Azerbaijan to establish a Specialist Centre on Public-Private Partnerships (PPPs) on the ICT sector in Baku on 29 November. The Memorandum established a Specialist Centre for Public-Private Partnerships (PPPs) on Information and Communication Technologies (ICT) infrastructure in Baku, Azerbaijan, affiliated to the UNECE International PPP Centre of Excellence in Geneva. The Specialist Centre would identify international PPP best practice models in ICT and act as an international repository for PPP projects in the ICT sector. Mr. Alkalaj would also hold bilateral meetings with President of Azerbaijan, Mr. Ilham Aliyev, and the Minister of Foreign Affairs of Azerbijan, Mr. Elmar Mammadyarov.
On 5-6 December, Mr. Alkalaj would attend the 24th meeting of the Energy Charter Conference in Nicosia, Cyprus, and would give an address during Ministerial session 5. Mr. Alkalaj would also hold bilateral meetings with Cypriot officials on the margins of the Conference.
Mr. Thomas announced that, on the occasion of the United Nations' International Day of Persons with Disabilities on 3 December, WHO would launch a new report, “International perspectives on spinal cord injuries”, which would be presented at a press conference on 2 December at 9:30 a.m. in Room III. The report highlighted the impact of spinal cord injury on both men and women, and its geographical distribution. It also showed the consequences associated with spinal cord injury and what could be done to minimize its effects on individuals and societies.
Catherine Sibut, for the United Nations Conference on Trade and Development (UNCTAD), announced that the first meeting of the Geneva Dialogue on the post-2015 development agenda had started on 29 November in Room XXVI. It was an initiative of the Secretary-General of UNCTAD, who wanted institutions, international organizations, but also the private sector, the civil society as a whole, and the Member States represented in Geneva to discuss the development issues that would be put in the goals of the agenda post-2015.
Ms. Sibut said that the situation was delicate after the economic crisis of 2008. The inventory would be done with all those partners. The meeting had been opened this morning in the presence of Amina Mohamed, Special Advisor to the Secretary-General for Development Planning post-2015. Policy briefs would be published to feed the dialogue, and the first note was already available: “UCTAD and the post-2015 agenda” . A second one would be posted in the afternoon of 29 November.
Spokespersons of the United Nations Refugee Agency, International Labour Organization, United Nations Children’s Fund and the Human Rights Council were also present, but did not brief.
The webcast for this briefing is available here: http://bit.ly/1dFJY82