REGULAR PRESS BRIEFING BY THE INFORMATION SERVICE
14 March 2014
Corinne Momal-Vanian, Director of the United Nations Information Service in Geneva, chaired the briefing, which was also attended by the Spokespersons for the Human Rights Council, the Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs, the Economic Commission for Europe, the Inter-Parliamentary Union, the International Labour Organization, the International Organization for Migration, the United Nations Refugee Agency and the International Committee of the Red Cross.
Central African Republic / Cameroon
Fatoumata Lejeune-Kaba, for the United Nations Refugee Agency (UNHCR), spoke today of how the increasing number of people who fled violence in the Central African Republic to eastern Cameroon had arrived in need of medical care, due to hunger and exhaustion during their flight.
Some 80 per cent of the latest arrivals suffered ailments such as malaria, diarrhoea and respiratory infections. More than 20 per cent of the children were severely malnourished.
In Central African Republic, many were forced to walk over a month and hide in the bushes without food or clean water to avoid being killed by anti-Balaka militiamen. Those militiamen have reportedly targeted Muslims in revenge attacks.
Many lost relatives to hunger along the way or shortly after their arrival in Cameroon. They were also traumatized by the horrors they experienced in northwest Central African Republic. One refugee could no longer eat meat after he witnessed someone being killed and cut into pieces by Anti-Balaka. A woman whose husband was shot by the anti-Balaka, lost six of her nine children to hunger when they were in the bush for seven weeks without food.
Sixteen refugees died after reaching Cameroon between January and February, including six from severe malnutrition. Their conditions were too advanced for them to be saved despite the emergency treatment received in local hospitals. Thirty-three children had died in Kenzou, according to one of the community leaders of the 9,000 Chadians who had to flee from CAR. Twenty of the dead were Chadians, while the identity of the 13 others could not be determined.
Since March 2013, Cameroon had received 44,252 refugees from the Central African Republic. New arrivals were living with host families or sheltering in mosques, churches, a stadium, or in makeshift sites. Some had been sleeping out in the open.
UNHCR had moved nearly 10,000 refugees who were sleeping out in the open to settlements established close to the villages of Lolo, Mborguene, Borgop and Gado. There, they received food, clean drinking water, family shelters and basic relief items. Meanwhile, UNHCR had stepped up assistance in border areas and deployed emergency staff, including nutrition specialists and site planners. UNHCR had funded health posts and mobile clinics in Kenzou as well as Ngaoui, Yamba and Gbatoua-Godoli in the neighbouring Adamawa region.
UNHCR had also erected community shelters and latrines in Garoua Boulai and Kenzou to house women, children and elderly people. Despite UNHCR’s efforts, aid was not enough to cover all the refugees’ needs.
UNHCR would require more donor support to expand facilities in Garoua Boulai and Kenzou and to turn them into transit centres where all arrivals can be medically screened and treated without delay.
UNHCR would also be able to provide food and non-food assistance in order to avert further deaths.
There had been no deaths in the refugee sites so far. Before the current crisis, Cameroon was hosting 92,000 refugees from the Central African Republic (CAR), who started to arrive in 2004 to escape from rebel groups and bandits in the north of their country.
Christiane Berthiaume, for the International Organization for Migration (IOM), informed that IOM had organized an evacuation flight on 12 March for 106 Mauritanians fleeing violence in the Central African Republic. Over half of the evacuees were children. A second flight for another 101 Mauritanians was scheduled for 14 March.
The flights, which were sponsored by the Government of Mauritania, relied on IOM to provide registration, fit for travel health screening, ground transportation, boarding assistance, coordination with airport authorities and civil-military coordination.
When the first flight had arrived in Nouakchott, Mauritania on 12 March, the returnees had been received by IOM Mauritania staff, government representatives, family and friends.
Ms. Berthiaume added that Mauritania had also agreed to bring out Malian nationals. Central African Republic had become a dangerous place for foreign nationals, who were sometimes accused of supporting the armed rebel group ex-Seleka. Fourteen of the passengers on the flight had been evacuated from Boda, where Muslims were trapped in an encampment surrounded by the armed group anti-Balaka.
More than 100 of the Mauritanians choosing to evacuate had been living in Bria, in eastern Central African Republic. They had heard reports that the anti-Balaka were coming and had decided to flee.
IOM had evacuated a total of 6,153 third country nationals from Central African Republic. It was also carrying out mapping to identify and locate third country nationals still at risk in the country to address their protection and humanitarian needs.
IOM was appealing for USD 17.5 million to evacuate stranded migrants and assist communities in need in CAR. IOM had already allocated USD 3.1 million from its own emergency fund. The United States Bureau of Population, Refugees and Migration had contributed 1.5 million USD to replenish the fund.
Ewan Watson, for the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC), explained that after three years of fighting they were calling for greater access to the victims of the Syrian conflict.
In Eastern Aleppo, there had been reports of civilians neighbourhoods that had been directly targeted. Due to shelling and bombardments, civilians had fled their homes in the thousands to the rural regions of Aleppo. Some had even fled further afield into Turkey.
Despite the difficult environment in terms of humanitarian access, ICRC had improved access to water in Aleppo for 1.6 million people over the last month. Nearly one million people in Syria had been provided with food and other essential aid, though it was stressed that this number is simply not enough in view of the sheer scale of the humanitarian crisis.
ICRC urged the Government of Syria to provide the authorizations necessary to allow humanitarian workers safe access based on needs that were seen on the ground.
Ms. Watson also reported that recent ceasefires had allowed access to certain areas that were in serious need. As a result, ICRC was able to help 20,000 families through the safe delivery of aid.
ICRC called for regular sustained access which would allow humanitarian workers to truly understand the affected population’s needs and provide meaningful assistance to the people.
Ms. Berthiaume said that as Syria was marking the third anniversary of the start of armed conflict, IOM was helping a group of injured Syrian children to run, play and lead full lives.
Through a partnership with the Lugano-based social enterprise SwissLeg, which manufactured and fit low-cost artificial limbs, IOM was funding and overseeing the provision of prostheses for young Syrians who had lost one or both legs, in many cases as a result of the violence gripping their country.
SwissLeg’s chief technical officer, Mohammad Ismail, had flown to Damascus the previous week to measure up 43 amputees, including 12 children. Production of the artificial legs – at the company’s manufacturing centre in Irbid, Jordan – would be completed on 16 March, after which Mr. Ismail would return to Syria to fit them.
The recipients were from eight different areas of Syria, with more than one-third of them living in the capital. Most of the children were aged between 10 and 17. Thirty of those receiving new legs had lost their limbs as a result of the armed conflict – from gunshots, mortars, explosions or mines.
IOM had awarded a contract to SwissLeg – which was also working with IOM in Iraq – to fit and supply artificial limbs for 50 Syrians, at a total cost of USD 60,000. SwissLeg was also training an IOM staff member in Damascus and a non-governmental organization worker in Aleppo to adjust prostheses.
Jens Laerke, spokesperson for the United Nations Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA), announced that the Syrian humanitarian response plan this year was overall nine per cent funded, as of today. The refugee response plan was 14 per cent funded. He recalled that a pledging conference was held in January in Kuwait, with USD 2.26 billion pledged. As of today 22 per cent of those pledges had been translated into actual commitments and disbursements. When asked for the absolute figures, he reiterated that it was nine per cent of USD 2.2 billion for the response inside Syria, and 14 per cent for the Regional Response Plan for the refugees.
Mr. Jean-Yves Clemenzo, for the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC), spoke of the crisis in South Sudan. There had been continuous battles in several parts of the country, which had led to the displacement of many people. ICRC encountered many issues regarding access to treatment. ICRC advocated that all the parties of the conflict should respect the injured people, and facilitate their access to the medical centres. Medical services and medicines should not be the target of attacks.
Since the beginning of the crisis, ICRC has brought mobile surgery groups to South Sudan. There have been four groups of ICRC who worked on over 1,200 operations.
Ms. Berthiaume stated that IOM Haiti had inaugurated four Treatment Centers for Acute Diarrhea (CTAD) in the Artibonite department, a rural region north of Haiti’s capital that had been the epicentre of Haiti’s first cholera outbreak in 2010.
The project aimed to support the 10-year plan for the elimination of cholera in Haiti, recently launched by the Government of Haiti and the Ministry of Health, as was part of IOM’s commitment to reinforce the capacity of the government and to improve the access to basic services and the quality of life of its citizens.
Funding for the project had been provided by the Community Violence Reduction section of the UN Stabilization Mission in Haiti (MINUSTAH). IOM had partnered with the Community Violence Reduction section since 2006 on a wide range of community development and stabilization projects in Haiti.
The four communes that would benefit from the newly built medical facilities were selected based on their high morbidity and mortality rates, as well as remoteness and lack of access to the most basic services required for preventing and treating cholera.
In addition to the construction of the four treatment centres, the project had also focused on reinforcing the capacity of local health staff and community health workers, implementing a comprehensive community outreach program and improving the water and sanitation infrastructure at the community level. Those actions would result in a decrease of cholera cases in the region, as well as in the stabilization of the community and a reduction of violence in the area.
Ms. Berthiaume explained that IOM was currently active in cholera response in the West, South-West and Artibonite departments. Since 2010, it had carried out a monitoring and rapid response programme that included the distribution of medical and non-medical items for cholera treatment throughout the country.
IOM had also implemented 37 oral rehydration posts in the Artibonite department, trained over 500 health workers and community agents, and reached almost half a million people with messages on cholera prevention and treatment.
A total of 699,224 suspected cholera cases had been reported since the outbreak in 2010. Combined international and Haitian efforts to combat cholera in effect since 2011 had cut the incidence of the disease by 50 per cent.
Although the number of new suspected cases had considerably diminished, Haiti was still reporting the highest number of cholera cases in the world. If current trends were confirmed, an estimated 45,000 cases could be expected in 2014.
Human Rights Council
Mr. Rolando Gomez, spokesperson for the Human Rights Council (HRC), announced this morning that as usual the council started at 9 a.m. continuing its interactive dialogue with the Special Representative of the Secretary General on Violence against Children, Marta Santo Paez, and the Special Representative of the Secretary General for Children and Armed Conflict, Leila Zerrougui.
Following that the United Nations Deputy High Commissioner for Human Rights, Flavia Pansieri, would present a series of thematic reports produced by the Secretary General and the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights, which touched upon a number of important themes including peace for protests, rights of persons with disabilities, deprivation of nationality and access to justice for children, among others. Subsequently the Council would hold a general debate under agenda item 3, which was very broad and included civil, political, economic, social and cultural rights.
On Monday 17 March, at 9 a.m. the Council would hear a presentation from the Independent Commission of Inquiry into the human rights situation in the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea by the three commissioners Judge Michael Kirby, Marzuki Darusman and Sonja Biserko.
That afternoon the Special Rapporteur on the human rights situation in Iran would present his third report to the Council. The Special Rapporteur on the human rights situation in Myanmar, Tomás Ojea Quintana, was also scheduled to present his report that afternoon which, in the context of the ongoing democratic transition, looked at the serious situation in Rakhine State, the next steps needed to secure peace in the ethnic border areas and the ongoing arrests of journalists and people protesting evictions and land confiscations in the face of large-scale development projects.
Responding to a question, Mr. Gomez stated that he would send the statement issued by the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea to the press.
Mr. Hans von Rohland, for the International Labour Organisation (ILO), announced a new ILO report on micro insurance released today. The ILO’s micro-insurance Innovation Facility issued its annual report which analysed the evolution of micro-insurance over the past five years. The report showed that micro-insurance would be viable for insurers, while providing value for low-income households.
The report provided evidence that micro insurance is coming of age, with Asia and some parts of Africa and Latin America seeing rapid growth in micro insurance coverage.
Overall, an estimated 500 million people now have micro-insurance, up from 78 million in 2008, while 33 of the world’s top 50 insurance companies now offer micro-insurance, up from just seven in 2005.
The report also examined how business viability would be achieved based on an analysis of 95 successful micro-insurance products that achieved scale, highlighted the potential of public-private partnerships to achieve public policy objectives like universal health coverage, provided evidence from 31 studies that micro-insurance would enhance the welfare of low-income populations and outlined a five-year strategy for providing access to micro-insurance to an additional 100 million low-income persons.
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Mr. Fernando Puchiol, for the Inter-Parliamentary Union (IPU), spoke about its one hundred and thirtieth General Assembly which would take place from 16 March until 20 March in Geneva. The list of participants included 725 Members of Parliament from 124 countries.
The IPU was celebrating its 125th anniversary in 2014. Peace and global security would be at the centre of the debate for parliamentarians during the four days of the Assembly. That included the role of parliaments in nuclear non-proliferation, the promotion of a risk resilient development and the protection of children, especially migrant children in situation of war and conflict.
There would be three proposals for emergency items: the situation in Syria, the Central African Republic and Ukraine.
The assembly would elect a new Secretary-General to take over from Anders B. Johnson who was retiring at the end of June after 16 years of the post.
The Assembly would also bring together women parliamentarians from across the world and the Forum of Young Parliamentarians would hold its second official meeting.
IPU’s committee on the Human Rights for Parliamentarians would meet to tackle cases involving the human rights abuses of Members of Parliament and would hold hearings with delegations from Oman, Venezuela and Zambia.
The IPU continued to grow as Tonga was expected to formally apply for membership which would make it the one hundred and sixty-fourth member of the organisation.
The full agenda and the draft resolutions are available at the IPU homepage: www.ipu.org. United Nations press badges would grant access, and allow for the opportunity to interact with both delegates and Members of Parliament.
UNECE Annual Conference
Jean Rodriguez, for the Economic Commission for Europe (UNECE), said the Executive Secretary of UNECE would participate next week on 17 and 18 March in the annual conference for the coordination of executive secretaries of five regional commissions.
Mr. Rodriguez said that while sustainable development was high on the United Nations agenda, unfortunately, it was still a low priority in people’s lives, and very often not a principle driving business. Promoting sustainable production and consumption patterns called not only for political will and commitment, but also for communication and outreach at every level of society to change priorities, habits and unsustainable practices. Such a change was often not, or not only, a matter of affordability, but more a matter of knowledge and choice.
With this in mind, the Governments of Switzerland, the Russian Federation and Italy, as well as Cittadellarte, the Italian National Chamber of Fashion, the Centre d’Art Contemporain Genève and other partners had joined forces with the UNECE-FAO Forestry and Timber Section to launch the initiative “Forests for Fashion-Fashion for Forests” aimed at promoting sustainable fashion. To reach the wider public and generate awareness about the various products deriving from forests and how forests can contribute to a green economy, the partners had chosen the date of 21 March, the International Day of Forests.
The launch would consist of a series of events, including: an art performance “Terzo Paradiso” by Michelangelo Pistoletto, one of the leading figures of the Arte Povera movement, (plaine de PlainPalais, Geneva, 11:00-11:30, with the participation of more than 500 students); a conference on fashion and forests (Palais des Nations 14:30-17:00) with high level speakers from the public and the private sector, including representatives of leading textile companies and NGOs committed to promote sustainable fashion; the opening of a fashion exhibit with a dance performance by choreographer Marthe Krummenacher (Palais des Nations 18:00-19:30). The exhibit would feature a fashion line created by young designers for the International Day of Forests.
Mr. Rodriguez welcomed journalists to invite guests to the festivities.
Ms. Momal-Vanian informed that the Human Rights Committee was continuing its consideration of the report of the United States, while the following week it would review reports of Chad and Nepal.
The Committee on Enforced Disappearances would commence a two-week session on 17 March, during which it would examine reports of Germany and the Netherlands, and also hold a thematic debate on enforced disappearances and military justice.
The Conference on Disarmament would meet in public at 10 a.m. on 18 March.
Ms. Antoine Marguier and Sonjka Koeppel, of the United Nations Orchestra, announced that the Orchestra’s Spring Concert would be held on Friday, 21 March at 8 p.m. in Victoria Hall in Geneva. The proceeds from the concert would support the Biliki Society, which was founded in 1997 in Gori, Georgia and ran day care centres, and homes that provided educational, psychological and social services to vulnerable children.
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The representatives of the United Nations Children’s Fund, the World Food Programme, the United Nations Conference on Trade and Development and the World Health Organization also attended the briefing, but did not brief. Some 13 students following a Master’s Degree in Journalism at the University of Neuchatel (Switzerland) also attended the briefing as observers.
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The webcast for this briefing is available here: http://bit.ly/1d0TbSZ