REGULAR PRESS BRIEFING BY THE INFORMATION SERVICE
18 June 2013
Corinne Momal-Vanian, Director of the United Nations Information Service in Geneva, chaired the briefing which was also attended by Spokespersons for the United Nations Refugee Agency, the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights,
the United Nations Conference on Trade and Development, the World Food Programme, the World Health Organization and the Inter-Parliamentary Union.
Glenn Thomas for the World Health Organization (WHO) said that a scientific meeting on Middle Eastern Respiratory Syndrome (MERS-CoV) was to be held in Cairo tomorrow (19 June) and continue until Saturday. This was to have first a scientific focus around the latest situation, before moving onto more operational activities. A press conference was planned after the meeting on Saturday. More details of who would be attending could be shared as they became available. Representatives of WHO and European countries were to attend, with 22 states in total attending. The latest figures released last night showed 64 confirmed cases and 38 deaths.
Answering questions, he clarified that reporting on this disease began in September 2012 and there had been 50 laboratory confirmed cases due to exposure in Saudi Arabia since then. These cases had resulted in 33 deaths. He also mentioned that studies showed that the first case was probably in fact seen in Jordan in April 2012. The majority of cases seemed to be in elderly men and the majority of sufferers had other conditions, though nothing could specifically be determined from this. The number of new cases still seemed to be sporadic.
Rupert Colville for the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR) said the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights Navi Pillay welcomed last week's decision by the Turkish Government to put on hold further action on the Gezi Park development in Istanbul until there was a court decision, and then to submit the issue to a local referendum. She was also urging Turkey’s government and civil society to build on this decision and to act in a manner that would defuse tensions.
The atmosphere was still clearly highly combustible and it was important that the authorities recognized that the initial extremely heavy-handed response to the protests, which resulted in many injuries, was still a major part of the problem. Because of that response, the scope of the protests broadened to include other aspects of governance, including those relating to fundamental human rights, such as freedom of assembly and freedom of opinion and expression.
The initial demonstrations about the proposed redevelopment of Gezi Park developed into wider anti-government protests, during which thousands of people were injured or overcome by tear gas. At least four individuals had died so far, including a police officer, although the circumstances of some of these deaths remained to be clarified.
In times of growing public outcry and large-scale protests, the Government must take all necessary measures to ensure that police forces did not resort to excessive use of force and other human rights violations while discharging their duties. The aim should be to minimize damage and injury, and to respect and preserve human life.
The High Commissioner was particularly concerned about allegations of excessive use of force by police against peaceful groups of protesters, as this may have resulted in serious damage to health. Reports that tear gas canisters and pepper spray were fired at people from close range, or into closed spaces, and the alleged misuse of rubber bullets, needed to be promptly, effectively, credibly and transparently investigated.
The High Commissioner noted that ensuring accountability of law enforcement bodies for their actions was essential in times of social unrest. Any excessive use of force should be punished, if trust in the authorities’ willingness to abide by the rule of law was to be fully restored. The High Commissioner said the Government must ensure that the policing of demonstrations complied at all times with international human rights obligations and international standards on policing, including the UN Code of Conduct for Law Enforcement Officials and the UN Basic Principles on the Use of Force and Firearms by Law Enforcement Officials.
The High Commissioner was urging the authorities both to facilitate and protect peaceful gatherings and protests, and stressed that they need to ensure that acts of sporadic violence or other punishable acts committed by some individuals – which she unequivocally condemned – were not used to deprive others of their right to freedom of peaceful assembly. She was also concerned about reports that significant numbers of people were arbitrarily detained, for acts other than recognized crimes, including some lawyers, and people using social media such as Twitter.
She also expressed particular concern about allegations of ill-treatment of some of those held, and said these allegations must be investigated as a matter of urgency and any perpetrators should be brought to justice. The Government must also provide adequate reparation to victims of excessive use of force and other serious human rights violations by security forces.
Rupert Colville for the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR) said the High Commissioner was urging the Hungarian Government to revoke a series of constitutional changes that had been widely criticised by international and regional human rights bodies as representing a backward step in human rights protection and undermining constitutional justice.
Her call came after an advisory panel of the Council of Europe issued a critical report on Hungary’s constitutional amendment, saying it “perpetuates problems of the independence of the judiciary, seriously undermines the possibilities of constitutional review in Hungary and endangers the constitutional system of checks and balances.”
The panel of constitutional experts, known as the Venice Commission, said the Fourth Amendment had provisions that contradict Hungary’s basic law and European standards. The High Commissioner shared the concerns of the Venice Commission on the independence of judges, which was essential for the protection of human rights.
She also noted that the Venice Commission had highlighted a “consistent pattern” of rulings by the Constitutional Court being overridden by changing the constitution, and said that the removal of all Constitutional Court case law up to 2012 was extremely worrying.
As the Venice Commission said, this attack on constitutional justice negatively affected the separation of powers as an essential tenet of democracy, the protection of human rights and the rule of law. The High Commissioner welcomed the strong criticism of the Venice Commission on the wide use of “cardinal laws” that were often introduced by individual members of parliament, so avoiding the scrutiny foreseen for government proposals. These laws were adopted by a two-thirds majority, which the current government enjoyed.
The comprehensive legal analysis on legislative developments in Hungary since 2010 done by OHCHR identified this as a major problem because it ensured future, less broad, majorities in Parliament would not be able to change the social, fiscal, family and other policies of the current majority. The High Commissioner concurred with the Venice Commission’s conclusion that this was a serious threat to democracy.
Rupert Colville for the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR) urged the Brazilian authorities to exercise restraint in dealing with spreading social protests in the country, and also called on demonstrators not to resort to acts of violence in pursuit of their demands. Overnight protests took place in several major Brazilian cities. Most were said to be peaceful but there were reported clashes between demonstrators and police in Rio de Janeiro and Belo Horizonte.
He welcomed the statement by Brazilian President Dilma Rousseff that peaceful demonstrations were legitimate, and also the agreement on Monday that Sao Paulo police would not use rubber bullets. These protests, mainly over the rising cost of public transport and the expense of staging the 2014 World Cup and the Rio Olympics in 2016, began on 10 June and were the biggest seen in Brazil in more than 20 years.
With further protests planned, OHCHR was concerned that the reported excessive use of police force in recent days should not be repeated. Reports had been received of a number of injuries, arrests and detentions, including of journalists covering the events. Some civil society organizations had also denounced the arbitrary nature of some of these detentions.
He called on the Government of Brazil to take all necessary measures to guarantee the right to peaceful assembly and to prevent the disproportionate use of force during protests. He further called on authorities to conduct prompt, thorough, independent and impartial investigations into reported excessive force, and urged all parties involved to engage in an open dialogue to find solutions to the conflict and alternatives to address legitimate social demands, as well as to prevent further violence.
Rupert Colville for the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR) said the OHCHR was deeply concerned about several of the new commissioners appointed to the Afghanistan Independent Human Rights Commission (AIHRC) by President Karzai on 16 June. Four other commissioners, including Chairperson Sima Samar, had been asked by the President to serve a further term.
The High Commissioner for Human Rights had asked her office to carefully review the appointment process to assess whether it complies with the Paris Principles (the international standard governing national human rights institutions of this kind), and the AIHRC's own statute. These required, among other elements, that the process was transparent, that it included broad consultation throughout, and that members were selected to serve in their own individual capacity rather than on behalf of any organization.
For more than a decade, the AIHRC had played a leading, courageous and active role in the promotion and protection of human rights of all Afghans in an exceptionally difficult environment, while managing successfully to preserve its independence. The High Commissioner believed it was essential that the high calibre of its members was maintained and the AIHRC's independence and integrity be upheld.
The appointment of new commissioners in line with the Paris Principles was a key human rights benchmark in the Tokyo Mutual Accountability Framework agreed between the Government of Afghanistan and its international partners in July 2012.
The compliance of the AIHRC with the Paris Principles was also to be evaluated by the international accreditation body for national institutions in November this year, at which point the AIHRC risked having its current 'A' status accreditation downgraded if the appointment of new commissioners was viewed as not being in line with the Principles.
Answering a question, he said that a bomb blast in Kabul this morning had not resulted in the death of any members of the Commission.
Adrian Edwards for the United Nations Refugee Agency (UNHCR) said with the on-going crisis in north-eastern Nigeria’s Adamawa, Borno, and Yobe States, UNHCR offices were reporting refugee arrivals in Niger, and now in Cameroon too.
In Cameroon, a UNHCR team visited areas along the Nigeria-Cameroon border in the Far North region on Friday. They reported the presence of over 3,000 Nigerians. Crossings of Nigerians into Cameroon began a week ago, with people telling UNHCR staff that they had fled a confrontation between the Nigerian army and Boko Haram. Most of those who had arrived so far were women and children. They were being hosted in churches and schools, and relying on food from the churches and local population. UNHCR was working with the authorities to relocate the refugees to safer places away from the border.
Meanwhile in Niger, UNHCR had sent relief aid by trucks from Niamey to the south eastern Diffa region, where over 6,000 persons had arrived from northern Nigeria in the past weeks. That figure included Nigerian nationals (2,692) as well as returning Niger nationals (3,544) and others (mainly Chadians). Mats, blankets and other aid items had been pre-positioned in Diffa, Bosso, Kablewa and Menesewa and were to be distributed to both Nigerian refugees and Nigerien returnees.
Most of the new arrivals in Niger were women and children coming from rural villages across the border and from Maiduguri and Baga towns. People were still arriving in Niger and on 11 June, gunshots were heard in Malam Fatouri, a village on the Nigeria side, near the border, prompting most of the population to flee into Niger. They travelled by foot and motorcycles and found refuge with host families just across the border. Hundreds of new arrivals had also been reported in an area some 60 km north of Diffa, according to local authorities.
At the same time, UNHCR teams observed that some displaced persons from Nigeria were returning home after a few days in Niger or shuttling between the two countries depending on the security situation in Nigeria. In Chad there had been no further arrivals of Nigerians beyond the 155 received last week. There the border was officially closed.
Answering questions he said there were no official numbers of the amount of people that had fled the fighting in Boko Haram, thought it was though there were around 9,000 persons in Cameroon and Niger. The state of emergency in the country was having an impact on displacement, he said. Host communities were looking after refugees, though for safety purposes UNHCR was looking at ways to move people away from borders.
Elisabeth Byrs for the World Food Programme (WFP) said since February 2013, there had been movements of population across the border from Sudan to Chad in the town of Tissi, in the Sila region. Following increased and ongoing ethnic clashes in Central Darfur and violent fighting in the villages, more than 30,000 refugees and 26,000 returnees were reported to have fled into Eastern Chad in the area of Tissi over the last month.
WFP had prepositioned almost 700 metric tons of food, to a value of $312,000, covering the needs of 15,000 refugees in the Abgadam refugees’ camp near Bir Nahar. The first round of distribution had helped 9,000 people. In addition, WFP assisted 26,000 returnees in the Tissi area with more than 522 metric tons of food, for a value of $233,000. Since April, WFP was also assisting newly registered refugees who were being transferred to refugee camps in the Sila region. Upon arrival, refugees received a hot meal, as well as a monthly family food ration.
The total number of beneficiaries assisted in Chad since the beginning of 2013 was 892,160. A WFP/FAO assessment mission was conducted in Tissi from 3 to 6 May to assess food security. It showed that between the three categories of people (returnees, refugees and local population), the most vulnerable were Chadian returnees, as they had left Darfur without any belongings. Refugees and returnees, along with the local population, would need food assistance over the upcoming lean season.
Elisabeth Byrs for the World Food Programme (WFP) said Uganda lost some $899 million annually due to the effects of malnutrition, according to a new study entitled The Cost of Hunger in Africa, published in Uganda today. Using data from 2009, the study measured the losses to the Ugandan economy caused by child undernutrition, particularly the effects of stunting or chronic malnutrition.
The research was being conducted in 12 African countries, using a methodology originally applied in Latin America with the support of WFP. The 11 other countries were: Kenya, Rwanda, Ethiopia, Egypt, Burkina Faso, Cameroon, Malawi, Botswana, Ghana, Swaziland and Mauritania.
The study was conducted by the Government of Uganda with the support of the African Union Commission including New Partnership for Africa’s Development (NEPAD), the UN Economic Commission for Africa and the UN World Food Programme (WFP). It underlines that undernutrition was not just a health issue, but an economic one as well.
The study found that two children in five suffered from stunting and malnutrition accounted for 15 per cent of child mortality in the country. It also explained that treating diarrhoea, anaemia, respiratory infections and other clinical conditions related to malnutrition cost $254 million. In the educational sector, the study estimated that 7 per cent of all repetitions in school were associated with stunting.
Uganda was the first country on the continent to carry out the Cost of Hunger in Africa study. Findings from the three other pilot countries were to be launched in Egypt on 20 June, in Ethiopia on 24 June and in Swaziland in July.
Jemini Pandya for the Inter-Parliamentary Union (IPU) said a group of seven MPs accompanied by IPU Secretary General Anders B. Johnsson were to take part in a mission to Jordan aimed at mobilizing parliamentary action on the Syrian refugee crisis.
The mission from 25-28 June included MPs from Africa, Asia, Europe and Latin America representing IPU’s Committee to Promote Respect for International Humanitarian Law (IHL) as well as a Jordanian Senator. This visit followed the adoption of an emergency resolution at the 128th IPU Assembly in Ecuador in March 2013 on the Syrian refugee crisis and a UNHCR briefing to IPU’s IHL Committee.
The IPU resolution on Syria, the second in 12 months, focused on the need for parliaments to bring pressure on their governments to address the humanitarian crisis and support those countries sheltering the refugees. It also urged donor countries to fulfil pledges for humanitarian aid. Humanitarian leaders, including UN relief agencies, have appealed for international solidarity to increase dramatically, echoing IPU’s resolution highlighting the need for parliaments to work with governments in ensuring the necessary finance was made available.
During the three-day mission the group was to visit Syrian refugees in camps and in urban environments as well as hold high-level meetings with Prime Minister Abdullah Ensour, various government Ministers, the Speakers of both houses of the Jordanian parliament, and organizations working with refugees including UNHCR.
Democratic Republic of Congo
Jemini Pandya for the Inter-Parliamentary Union (IPU) said IPU was deeply disturbed by the decision of the political authorities in the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) to invalidate imprisoned opposition MP Diomi Ndongala as a parliamentarian. Ndongala and four other high-profile opposition MPs in the DRC had their parliamentary mandate invalidated on 15th June for prolonged and unjustifiable absence from parliament, she explained.
An IPU mission to the DRC last week led by the president of its Committee on the Human Rights of Parliamentarians Kassoum Tapo said the decision confirmed the political nature of the long-standing and violent harassment Ndongala had been subjected to. Ndongala, had been in prison since April awaiting trial on alleged rape charges yet to be verified. In 2012, he was allegedly kidnapped and illegally detained from June to October after which he required urgent medical attention and recuperation with the full knowledge of parliamentary authorities. The decision to invalidate his parliamentary status would facilitate new charges of alleged insurgency against Ndongala, who would then face the death penalty if convicted.
The five-day mission by the IPU Committee to the DRC that ended on 14th June was aimed at resolving the cases of 33 MPs and former MPs in the DRC. This included Ndongala and former opposition party leader. On a case involving the invalidation of another 29 MPs, authorities were now seeking a financial compromise to compensate them. In addition, IPU was pushing for a draft law ending the arbitrary invalidation of MPs following an election to be adopted as soon as possible.
Ms Momal-Vanian said the Conference on Disarmament met in public today to hear the Foreign Minister of India and was to hold a public plenary this Friday (21 June) at 10am.
She added on Tuesday, 18 June 2013 at 3 p.m. in Press Room 1 the International Labour Organization (ILO) was to launch a new book entitled, “Work sharing during the Great Recession, New developments and beyond.” The information disclosed was under embargo until 18 June at 15:00 GMT (17:00 Geneva time). The speakers were ILO researchers Jon C. Messenger and Naj Ghosheh
Glenn Thomas for the World Health Organization (WHO) said on Thursday, 20 June 2013 at 2.00 p.m. in Room III there was a press briefing to launch a first global report on the worldwide prevalence of violence against women and the serious impacts it had on women’s health. Alongside the report, WHO will launch new clinical and policy guidelines to help health services better respond to this global crisis (embargo to be lifted at 3 pm Geneva time on Thursday 20 June 2013). Soundbites were to be made available.
He added that ahead of the International AIDS Conference in Malaysia next month the WHO was to hold a press conference on Monday, 24 June 2013 at 2 p.m. in Press Room 1 on new horizons for HIV antiretroviral treatment, including discussion the launch of new WHO guidelines and global progress report. Speakers were Gottfried Hirnschall, Director, HIV/AIDS Department, World Health Organization and Gundo Weiler, Coordinator, HIV/AIDS Department, World Health Organization
Catherine Sibut for the United Nations Conference on Trade and Development (UNCTAD) said 24 and 25 June saw the UNCTAD Public Symposium, the annual meeting held with civil society. The themes this year was to look at "New Economic Approaches for a Coherent Post-2015 Agenda." This was to reflect on post-2015 priorities and details of the programme, including thematic and plenary sessions, were available at the back of the room. It was possible to arrange interviews with participants. She added that also on Monday (24 June) came the launch of the UNCTAD report into global investment, with a press conference with the UNCTAD Secretary-General. The document was under embargo until Wednesday evening.
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The representatives of the Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs, the United Nations Children’s Fund and the International Labour Organization also attended the briefing but did not speak.
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The webcast for this briefing is available here: http://webtv.un.org/watch/geneva-press-briefing-who-wfp-ohchr-ipu-unctad/2485477837001