REGULAR PRESS BRIEFING BY THE INFORMATION SERVICE
7 June 2013
Corinne Momal-Vanian, Director of the United Nations Information Service in Geneva, chaired the briefing which was also attended by Spokespersons for Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs, Human Rights Council, International Labour Organization, World Health Organization, Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights, UN Refugee Agency, International Organization for Migration, World Food Programme, United Nations Economic Commission for Europe, World Trade Organization and the Inter-Parliamentary Union.
Jens Laerke for the Office for the Coordination for Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA) highlighted that at 1 p.m. in Room III there would be a joint press conference by the United Nations High Commission for Refugees, Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs and International Organization for Migration to launch the Regional Response Plan for Syrian Refugees and the Syria Humanitarian Assistance Response Plan. Valerie Amos, Under-Secretary-General and Emergency Relief Coordinator for OCHA and António Guterres, United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees, as well as William Lacy Swing, Director General of the IOM would speak at the event. Other representatives of United Nations agencies would be in the room to answer any technical questions. A summary overview of the revised Syria Humanitarian Assistance Response Plan had been sent to the media and was under an embargo until 1 p.m. Geneva time today. Mr. Laerke said that the revised global amount for the response inside Syria was included in that summary together with a break-down of figures.
Gaëlle Sevenier for the International Organization for Migration (IOM) said that the latest Situation Report on Syria was available at the back of the room. She highlighted that the number of Syrian refugees crossing the border to Jordan had increased from 700 a week ago to 5,000. IMO had facilitated the transport of 4,600 refugees to the Za’atari camp and 200 towards the Emirates Jordanian camp. In all, IMO had facilitated the access of 312,000 Syrians to Jordan since the beginning of the crisis. More information would be provided at the press conference at 1 p.m.
Answering a question about the contribution of some €400 million by the European Union to the Syria funding appeal, Adrian Edwards for the United Nations High Commission for Refugees (UNHCR) said the European Union’s contribution was enormously welcome and was the biggest single contribution received. It would go towards a mixture of humanitarian needs and development needs, such as training of police, security and activities around camps and in the neighbouring region.
Answering a question on the withdrawal of Austrian peacekeeping troops from the United Nations peacekeeping mission in the Golan Heights, United Nations Disengagement Observer Force (UNDOF), Corinne Momal-Vanian referred to the statement of the United Nations Secretary General issued last night in which he regretted the decision by the Austrian Government but also appreciating Austria’s longstanding and valuable contribution to UNDOF. What was important was that there was a mandate decided a long time ago by the Security Council which has to be fulfilled.
Rupert Colville, for the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR), said OHCHR regretted the promulgation on 4 June of a press law which could infringe on the freedom of press in Burundi. Back in April, the UN Human Rights Office in Burundi urged that the draft law be revised to ensure its conformity with international human rights standards. Unfortunately their suggestions did not appear to have been taken fully into account.
OHCHR was particularly concerned that the new legislation defined far too broadly both the circumstances under which journalists could be obliged to reveal their sources and the grounds for restricting freedom of expression, which went beyond those foreseen in article 19 of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights.
OHCHR was also concerned that journalists were required to have certain qualifications such as a diploma, professional experience and a press card to exercise their profession. Those requirements, which were really quite stringent, did not comply with international standards. Although OHCHR welcomed the fact that custodial sentences had been removed in the new legislation, the fines that could be imposed had in some cases increased by up to 2000 per cent. Those fines could threaten the survival of some media institutions in Burundi. OHCHR called upon the Burundian authorities to revise the new law in order to bring it into conformity with human rights standards and, in the meantime, to implement the law in a way that protected freedom of expression, in accordance with international law.
Rupert Colville, for the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR), said on 4 June the Cairo Criminal Court ruled on the case of the 43 non-governmental organization workers, all of whom were found guilty, and 27 of the defendants were sentenced in absentia to five years imprisonment. The other defendants received different sentences. The verdict was based on an article of the Penal Code, which dated back to the Mubarek era, and that was vaguely worded and had often been interpreted in ways that had led to severe limitations of the right to freedom of association.
Provisions regulating the right to association should be interpreted and implemented in conformity with the relevant international jurisprudence. Restrictions should only be imposed in line with international human rights obligations, especially Article 22 of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, which was ratified by Egypt in 1982.
The High Commissioner was very concerned about the verdict. OHCHR understood that the defendants were appealing and would continue to follow the case closely.
Human Rights Council
Rolando Gomez for the Human Rights Council (HRC) said today was another busy day for the HRC which began at 9 a.m. with a continuation of the general debate on Item 4 on human rights situations that required the HRC’s attention (“country situations”). At 10 a.m. the Council began consideration of reports of the Universal Periodic Review Working Group for Montenegro, United Arab Emirates and Liechtenstein. At 1 p.m. the HRC would return to the general debate on country situations. The HRC would also hear presentations of reports under Item 5 – HRC subsidiary bodies – namely the Social Forum, the Forum on Business and Human Rights, and the Working Group on the Right to Peace, followed by a general debate. At 3 p.m. the Human Rights Council would consider the Universal Periodic Review Working Group’s report on Serbia.
At 4 p.m. today the President of the HRC would present a paper, published on the intranet last night, which detailed efforts undertaken to urge Israel to re-engage with the Universal Period Review process, and included a letter from Israel indicating their intention to re-engage with the Human Rights Council. It also set a date for of 29 October 2013, during the upcoming session of Universal Period Review Working Group, in which Israel was scheduled to have its Universal Period Review. The statement would be followed by a general debate on Item 6, the Universal Periodic Review.
Briefing journalists on resolutions to be considered by the HRC in the last two days of its session, 13 and 14 June, Mr. Gomez said so far 24 draft resolutions had been submitted and were available on the extranet. Extensions had been requested for four resolutions: on human rights in Syria and in Myanmar, on climate change and on violence against women.
At 10 a.m. on Monday 10 June the Special Rapporteur on the Human Rights Situation in the Occupied Palestinian Territories, Richard Falk, would present his annual report to the HRC on Israel’s ‘Pillar of Defence’ operation, the general human rights situation in the Gaza Strip, the extension of Israeli settlements and businesses that profited from the expansion of Israeli settlements. That would be followed by an interactive dialogue. Mr. Falk would hold a press conference on Tuesday at 11 a.m. in Press Room 1. Also on Monday 10, followed the discussion on the Occupied Palestinian Territories, the HRC would hold a general debate on the twentieth anniversary of the Vienna Declaration: 25 June 1983 was the date that landmark document was adopted in Vienna and statements would mark that significant achievement.
A side event would take place this afternoon entitled ‘Syria: the Path to Peace’ at which the High Commissioner Navi Pillay would speak, at 2 p.m. in Room 9, hosted by Russia.
Mr. Gomez also highlighted that all next week a curious-looking 100 metre-long structure would be on the lawns of the Palais des Nations, the ‘Luminarium’. The inflatable structure was hosted by the United Kingdom Government. The Luminarium would officially be opened at 1 p.m. on Monday 10 June by High Commissioner Navi Pillay. There would be lots of events and activities taking place in the Luminarium all week, including a live hip-hop performance by former child soldier turned musician and activist Emmanuel Jal, who would also be speaking at the opening ceremony along with the United Kingdom Ambassador and the High Commissioner.
Elisabeth Byrs, for the World Food Programme (WFP), announced that the World Food Programme (WFP) and the United Nations Population Fund (UNFPA) were launching a new partnership to improve nutrition among pregnant and breastfeeding women to ensure the next generation of children achieved the best possible start in life. The new initiative, which was launched ahead of the “Nutrition for Growth” summit in London on Saturday 8 June, aimed to address the nutritional needs of women throughout pregnancy and breastfeeding.
The goal was to reduce the number of low birth weight babies and stunted children, who as a result, grew up blighted by health problems and experienced a detrimental impact on their learning and economic potential. Ms. Byrs said that providing women, particularly adolescent girls, with access to nutritious food cemented the next generation’s opportunity for a healthy and productive future.
The partnership between WFP and UNFPA supported the “1000 Days” initiative, which focused on improving nutrition in the first 1000 days between the start of a woman’s pregnancy and her child’s second birthday. With their deep-field presence, WFP and UNFPA were uniquely positioned to reach women when they visited clinics for advice on reproductive health, and offer access to the nutritional foods that were so important during that critical period.
Ms. Momal-Vanian announced that Dr. David Nabarro, Special Representative to the United Nations Secretary General on Food Security and Nutrition, would participate in the “Nutrition for Growth” summit. A press release by ‘The Scaling Up Nutrition Movement’ would be distributed tomorrow.
Refugees and Homelessness in Europe
Adrian Edwards for the United Nations Refugee Agency (UNHCR) said UNHCR was today publishing three studies under the title Where is my home? The studies looked at housing issues and homelessness among refugees and asylum seekers in Poland, Bulgaria and Slovakia and were part of a regional initiative by UNHCR in central Europe.
In Poland, the study found that up to 10 per cent of people receiving international protection were “living in extreme homelessness” – without a roof over their head. Between 30 and 40 per cent were categorised as “living in housing exclusion” – sheltered, but without permanent accommodation. Only 20 per cent of Poland’s asylum-seekers and refugees were living in “secure and adequate” housing conditions. The refugee housing crisis in Poland was caused by shortcomings in the integration process and policies that limited the ability of asylum-seekers to find jobs. The report recommended that refugees in Poland be given greater financial assistance during integration, that they be assisted in finding homes, and that the State increased the availability of “bridge housing” – temporary accommodation for refugees who were in the process of integrating.
In Bulgaria, researchers identified homelessness as a threat at every stage of the asylum process. In addition to discovering homelessness among newly arrived asylum-seekers, researchers found at least one example of a fully integrated refugee who was destitute and living on the street. According to the report, a major cause of homelessness in Bulgaria was due to the policy of prolonged detention. In order to be released many asylum seekers were falsely declaring that they had accommodation elsewhere, but were unaware that those declarations made them ineligible for further state protection.
In Slovakia, researchers found that the country’s official integration centre, a ten-flat complex situated in the city of Zvolen, was empty at the time of the study and had not been occupied by asylum seekers since 2011. Similarly, nine low-rent apartments in Bratislava earmarked for refugee accommodation were unavailable for occupancy at the time of the study. In 2011, 491 foreigners applied for asylum in Slovakia. Only 12 asylum applications were granted. Seven refugees achieved Slovak citizenship. The record improved in 2012 with 32 foreigners given asylum out of 732 applications, and subsidiary protection granted to 104 people. No refugees were granted citizenship in 2012. More details were in the press release and online.
Adrian Edwards for the United Nations Refugee Agency (UNHCR) said up to 140,000 people remained displaced a year after inter-communal violence erupted in Myanmar’s Rakhine State. UNHCR stood ready to provide the Myanmar government with technical support to register all internally displaced people (IDPs) and to promote reconciliation so that voluntary returns to places of origin could eventually take place in a safe and sustainable way.
The first wave of riots started in northern Rakhine State on 8 June last year and uprooted some 75,000 people across the state. Another 36,000 were displaced by a second wave of unrest in October. Many others who were not directly affected by the violence had lost their livelihoods and some had been forced to leave their homes in search of assistance. There were an estimated 13,000 people living in makeshift sites around the state capital Sittwe and some 2,800 people in Maungdaw who are not formally considered IDPs by the authorities.
UNHCR was the lead agency for relief items, shelters, protection, camp coordination and camp management in Rakhine state. In the last year, it had distributed relief supplies for 75,000 IDPs. Supplementing the government’s shelter program, it had provided tents, temporary or permanent shelters to 45,000 people. UNHCR had been working with the authorities and partner agencies to make sure that the IDPs receive adequate water, sanitation and health care services. That had been difficult in some areas, with aid workers being harassed or threatened. Many of the displaced children had been out of school for a year.
UNHCR has highlighted the urgent need to register all IDPs in order to improve aid delivery and better respond to the needs of the most vulnerable. Active steps must also be taken to stem the outflow of people from Rakhine state. Since last June, more than 27,000 people – the majority believed to be from Rakhine state – had embarked on dangerous boat journeys from the Bay of Bengal in search of safety and stability in other countries. Scores had died in their attempts.
UNHCR has appealed to governments in the region to keep their doors open to people in need of international protection. In parallel, UNHCR was asking the Myanmar authorities to urgently address the root causes of the outflow.
Glenn Thomas, for the World Health Organization (WHO), gave new numbers on laboratory cases -54 and 30 deaths so far. A new announcement would be made today to show an elderly Saudi Arabian man had died from the virus bringing the total to 55 cases and 31 deaths so far. Mr. Thomas also mentioned that the WHO would issue new guidance on the subject of pandemic influenza on Monday 10 June.
Jemini Pandya, for the Inter-Parliamentary Union (IPU), announced that next week from 10 to 14 June the IPU Committee on the Human Rights of Parliamentarians would carry out a mission to the Democratic Republic of the Congo to investigate alleged human rights cases involving 34 Members of Parliament (MPs) and former MPs in the country. The Mission would in particular investigate the very high-profile cases of two MPs, Pierre Jacques Chalupa and Diomi Ndongala. The issue of continued harassment of opposition MPs was a long-standing and ongoing one, and if journalists had colleagues in the Democratic Republic of the Congo they were encouraged to pass on the details.
Ms. Pandya said the IPU had expressed its condolences to the Sri Lankan parliament and the family of opposition Sri Lankan MP and human rights activist Dr. Jayalath Jayawardena, following his death for medical reasons. He was an outspoken activist and critic of the hr situation in the country and the lack of protection for people who were willing to speak out about the conditions in the country. He was also a parliamentarian and because of his outspokenness his life had been at risk for many years. He was one of seven Sri Lankan Mps who had cases lodged with the IPU’s Committee on the Human Rights of Parliamentarians. Ms. Pandya noted that out of those seven, five had been assassinated. His death unfortunately came on the eve of an IPU Mission to Sri Lankan. Dr. Jayawardena was one of the most important sources of information on human rights in the country. The IPU mission would go ahead, and the IPU hoped to make progress on how to protect parliamentarians in Sri Lanka.
Ms. Pandya also highlighted an event taking place today and tomorrow in Peru bringing together 20 national parliaments from the Latin American region with the objective of promoting birth registration as a fundamental way of improving the rights of children. As we knew, if you were not registered you could not access basic services such as health, social security and education, and it was a huge problem in the region.
Hans von Rohland for the International Labour Organization (ILO) said that the first meeting of the high level committee on building and fire safety in RMG factories, the National Tripartite Committee formed to implement the National Tripartite Plan of Action on Building and Fire Safety in the Ready-Made Garment Sector in Bangladesh (NAP) was held on Monday, 3 June 2013. Mr. von Rohland said although he was not the spokesperson for that Accord, which was only being facilitated by the ILO, he had asked for more information for the media and had some contacts for the press – they should get in touch with him if they were interested.
Mr. von Rohland also gave an update on the International Labour Conference (ILC). He informed journalists that he would send daily a brief programme informing journalists of the programme for the day of the International Labour Conference but highlighted some elements of interest for next week. On Saturday 9 June and Monday 10 June, 24 specific cases would be discussed by the Standards Committee (a list of the 24 cases would be sent to journalists). One particular long-standing case, for instance, was the case of children working in cotton fields in Uzbekistan, which would be discussed on Monday. The situation in Myanmar would be discussed on Monday 10 June at about 3 p.m. (A decision was to be taken on 13 June concerning the lifting of restrictions) On 11 June at 2.00 p.m. in Press Room 1, there would be a Press Conference about child domestic work. On 12 June a speech would be made by the President of Malawi on the occasion of International Labour Day, and on 14 June in the afternoon the President of the European Council, Mr. Van Rompuy, would address the Conference and on 17 June the Prime Minister of Jordan would be attending the ILC.
Jean Rodriguez, for United Nations Economic Commission for Europe (UNECE) announced that the sixty-first session of the Conference of European Statisticians would take place from Monday 10 to Wednesday 12 June. The Conference of European Statisticians comprised the executive heads of the national statistical services of the 56 UNECE member countries, with the additional participation of the OECD member countries Australia, Chile, Japan, Mexico, New Zealand and Republic of Korea and also Brazil, China and Mongolia. The major international organizations active in statistics in the UNECE region also participated in the work of the Conference.
Highlights of the Conference include a meeting on measuring sustainable development in follow up to Rio+20 would take place on Monday 10 June at the Palais des Nations in Room XVIII at 10.25 a.m. with an introduction by François Baumgartner of the Swiss Federal Office of Statistics. A seminar on the key challenges in implementing the System of Environmental and Economic Accounting would be held at 2.30 p.m. organized and chaired by Slovenia. On Tuesday 11 June at 9.30 a.m. in Room XVIII a seminar entitled Challenges in Providing Access to Micro-Data for Research Purposes, organised by Slovenia, New Zealand and the United States would take place. The full agenda was available on the website.
Mr. Rodriguez also noted that a workshop of the Water Convention with Latin America – would take place in Buenos Aires from 11 to 12 June in cooperation with CEPAL & UNESCO. Some hundred participants from across Latin America as well as from two Caribbean countries sharing transboundary waters would participate to discuss transboundary water cooperation.
Glenn Thomas, for the World Health Organization (WHO), announced that World Blood Donor Day would take place next Friday, 14 June. A press conference would be held on Wednesday 12 June in Press Room I to look at the theme of this year’s World Blood Day which was non-remunerated blood donors as the cornerstone of the supply. Speaking at that press conference would be Doctors Neelam DHINGRA-KUMAR and Yetmgeta Eyayou ABDELLA, from the WHO Blood Transfusion Safety Unit.
Melissa Begag, for the World Trade Organization (WTO) announced the schedule for the following week. On Monday 10 June at 10 a.m. the Trade Policy Review Body would meet on Suriname. On Tuesday 11 June at 10 a.m. there would be a meeting of the Intellectual Property (TRIPS) Council, following by a briefing (time and venue to be announced). At 10 a.m. on Wednesday 12 June the Trade Policy Review Body would meet on Suriname, and at the same time that day there would be a meeting of the Intellectual Property (TRIPS) Council Briefing, followed by a briefing (time and venue to be announced). At 10 a.m. on Thursday 13 June the Working Party on the Accession of Serbia and Montenegro would meet, and on the same day at 3 p.m. there would be a meeting of the Committee on Agriculture, followed by a briefing (time and venue to be announced).
Turning to the agenda of WTO Director-General Pascal Lamy, Ms. Begag said that on Tuesday 11 June Mr. Lamy would be the keynote speaker at the launch of the Caribbean Regional Aid for Trade Strategy. Mr. Lamy would return to Geneva on Wednesday 12 June in order to speak at the Diplomatic School of the University of Haiti.
Ms. Momal-Vanian said The Committee on the Rights of the Child was now examining the final report on the program of the session, that of Guinea-Bissau. The session ended next Friday and next sessions will be devoted to the adoption, in private, the Committee's concluding observations on all reports reviewed: Armenia, Rwanda, Israel, Uzbekistan, Slovenia and Guinea-Bissau. 63rd Session: May 27 to June 14, 2013 (3 weeks).
Ms. Momal-Vanian also noted that the Conference on Disarmament would hold its next plenary session next Tuesday.
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The representatives of the United Nations Children’s Fund also attended the briefing but did not speak.
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The webcast for this briefing is available here: webtv.un.org/media