REGULAR PRESS BRIEFING BY THE INFORMATION SERVICE
17 January 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 Office for the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees, International Labor Organization, United Nations Children’s Fund, World Food Programme, United Nations Economic Commission for Europe, World Trade Organization, United Nations Environment Programme and the Human Rights Council.
International Conference on Syria
Ms. Momal-Vanian provided details and answered a number of questions with regard to the International Conference on Syria, which would take place the following week.
Regarding practicalities on the day of the conference in Montreux, Ms. Momal-Vanian reiterated that the www.unog.ch/news website contained extensive information. The conference would start early, at 9 a.m, there would be a lunch break, and it would then continue until the afternoon, probably 6 p.m. At that time, the Secretary-General would give a press conference, likely to be followed by press conferences by heads of some delegations.
Ms. Momal-Vanian said that a media pool would be constituted and statements would be made available as they were delivered. Those statements would also be uploaded on the UNOG website. An effort would be made to have print copies, but given the high number of journalists, there could not be guarantee that all would manage to receive printouts of all the statements. The conference would be webcast on UNTV (webtv.un.org) in the original language, English and Arabic. The conference and the press conferences would be broadcast through the European Broadcast Union (EBU) in the original language, English, French and Arabic. The conference would also be screened on the monitors in the media centre. A stakeout position would be available in the media centre, where ministers and senior officials could brief the media as they wished throughout the day.
On 24 January, negotiations would start in Geneva, and would be chaired by Mr. Brahimi. Media details for that day were yet to be established. Ms. Momal-Vanian could still not confirm whether there would be any activities on 25 January. She asked the journalists to regularly monitor UNOG website, as all the information would be posted there.
Asked about the list of invitees, Ms. Momal-Vanian said that the list had been shared by Mr. Brahimi on 20 December; the transcript of that press conference was available on line. Ms. Momal-Vanian said that she did not have the definite list of countries which had responded to Mr. Brahimi’s letter. In response to a question, she specified that Mr. Brahimi had sent a letter to Mr. Jarba of the Syrian National Coalition inviting a delegation representing the Syrian opposition to participate in the Conference.
On the question on the chances that the conference would not happen at all if the opposition decided not to come, Ms. Momal-Vanian said that hypothetical questions were not taken into consideration, and the preparations were well underway for Montreux. The final list of participants was not yet known.
Asked whether Iran would participate, Ms. Momal-Vanian said that no invitation had been sent to Iran. Both the Secretary-General and Mr. Brahimi had made their positions very clear on that question, but, as of now, there had been no agreement to invite Iran.
Ms. Momal-Vanian encouraged all the journalists to pick up their badges in Geneva, as long lines should be expected in Montreux, for both picking up badges and security screening. She advised all the journalists to arrive early.
Ms. Momal-Vanian reiterated that there were no meetings previewed for 23 January in Montreux. It was possible that some delegations could decide to remain in Montreux that day and hold bilateral meetings.
Asked about security matters, Ms. Momal-Vanian said that no details on security arrangements could be given. Switzerland as the host country was primarily in charge of security and there had been a press statement issued by the Vaud police the previous day.
Secretary-General’s Activities in Switzerland
Ms. Momal-Vanian informed that on 20 January, the Secretary-General would depart New York for the Swiss city of Montreux, where he would convene the Geneva conference on Syria.
As the Secretary-General had said, he viewed the conference as a unique opportunity for ending the violence and ensuring that peace be restored. He also hoped that the transition foreseen in the Geneva Communiqué of 30 June 2012 could be implemented in a way that fully met the aspirations of the Syrian people, with the establishment of a transitional governing body based on mutual consent at the core of thAT effort.
On the sidelines of the conference, the Secretary-General would hold bilateral meetings with delegates attending the meeting.
On his way to Montreux, the Secretary-General would make a stop in Geneva and address the Conference on Disarmament on 21 January.
On 23 January, the Secretary-General would travel to Davos to attend the World Economic Forum, focusing on meeting the global climate challenge.
While in Davos, the Secretary-General would engage private sector leaders as well as Heads of State and Government in public and private sessions, aimed at advancing concrete deliverables at the 2014 Climate Summit in September.
The Secretary-General would return to New York on 24 January.
Central African Republic (CAR)
Rolando Gomez, for the Human Rights Council (HRC), informed that the HRC special session on the Central African Republic would be held on 20 January, from 10 a.m. in room XX. The meeting would probably last for the whole day given the high number of sponsors states - 90.
Mr. Gomez explained that the meeting would be opened by the current president, Ambassador Baudelaire Ndong Ella of Gabon, followed by a statement of the High Commissioner Navi Pillay, who would address recent developments in CAR, as well as the findings of the OHCHR. Following that, the statement by the Secretary General would be delivered by the UNOG Acting Director-General, followed by a joint statement on behalf of the special procedures delivered by the Chair of the Special Procedures Coordination Committee Mr. Beyani. The Special Rapporteur on IDPs would then make a statement.
Mr. Gomez indicated that a statement of the concerned country would follow, but he did not know who would be speaking on behalf of the CAR yet. Other statements would follow, and the action on draft resolution, which was also being currently finalized. Finally, there would be an announcement of the new independent expert on the CAR, whose mandate had been authorized by the Council at the September session.
Ms. Momal-Vanian added that on 20 January, UN Humanitarian Chief Valerie Amos and EU Commissioner Kristalina Georgieva were expected to co-chair a high-level meeting in Brussels to discuss the humanitarian situation in CAR, its implications and financial requirements for aid.
Marixie Mercado, for the United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF), stated that 23 children between 14 and 17 years old had been released from armed groups in Bangui the previous day, with many more identified for release in the coming days. The released children, among whom six were girls, had been taken from a military base to a UNICEF-supported Transit and Orientation Centre.
The children’s release was the result of negotiations between UN representatives and the transitional authorities to allow unimpeded access to all military bases in the country so that children found among the ranks of the ex-Seleka /national forces could be released to child protection actors.
Ms. Mercado said that 2013 had been a year of chronic crisis in CAR, as the country had spiraled into a complex protection and humanitarian emergency, with brutal consequences for children. The number of recruited children was believed to have risen considerably due to the escalation in fighting and the emergence of self-defence groups such as the anti-Balaka. Although volatile security conditions made it extremely difficult for child protection actors to verify exact numbers, UNICEF estimated that the current number could be as high as 6,000.
UNICEF strongly believed that there was no place for children in armed conflict and was greatly encouraged by the collaboration with the transitional authorities to return children to their childhoods. In Bangui and around the country, UNICEF was working with all parties to the conflict to verify, release, and reunify children with their families. UNICEF was continuing to work with all parties for the release of all children without delay.
The 23 released children were now at a UNICEF-supported Transit and Orientation Centre that provided basic education, sports, vocational and life skills along with psychosocial support while the children’s families were traced and reintegration within their communities was prepared.
Ms. Mercado specified that since May 2013, UNICEF and partners had secured the release of 229 children associated with armed groups and forces in the Central African Republic.
Asked for details on recruitment of child soldiers, Mr. Mercado said that girls were among children recruited for fighting. Six of the 23 released children were girls. What had been seen over the previous year, as the fighting had pitted communities against each other, was that children were increasingly involved in the fighting. Before the fighting had begun, there had been some 2,000 children believed to be associated with armed groups, while now more than 6,000 children were suspected to be involved in fighting at the moment, and recruitment was happening on all sides. Reasons included poverty, despair, desire for revenge, and the general lack of options of children. On whether girls had been sexually abused, Mr. Mercado said that there had been many reports of sexual violence against girls and women over the previous year, and the use of girls as sexual slaves was a pattern in conflict situations.
Elisabeth Byrs, for the World Food Programme (WFP), stated that insecurity presented a serious challenge for movement of convoys beyond Bangui. No trucks had been able to reach Bozoum for the previous 15 days. Following repeated delays due to clashes and checkpoints, WFP had been finally able to send through four trucks to Bossangoa on 14 January.
Due to a combination of factors, trucks were stuck at the border with Cameroon. It was estimated some 400 trucks were stuck at the border (including 48 WFP food trucks, and other humanitarian goods). WFP cereal stocks in Bangui were no longer sufficient. In the past days, WFP had borrowed commodities, and substituted rice for maize meal; those mitigation measures were exhausted, and the agency would be forced to cut rations from 20 January— and suspend distributions outside of the airport and Bossangoa.
The concern had been raised to the humanitarian country team. WFP staff had been deployed to the border, and WFP was advocating with customs authorities and all concerned for the release and safe movements of trucks.
Ms. Byrs stressed that current funding was insufficient to cover needs in the Central African Republic. After March 2014, WFP would no longer be in a position to respond. Additional commitments were required now to avoid cutting rations or suspending assistance in an already tense and volatile context.
The current shortfall stood at USD 95 million (88 per cent of resources) for food, nutrition, and emergency school meals.
Ms. Byrs informed that WFP had activated all internal mechanisms necessary to pre-finance the operation and launch early procurement so as to cover priority immediate shortfalls in January and part of February. However, those mechanisms were not sufficient to cover the growing needs.
Priority commodities for general food distribution were cereals (the bulk of the food basket and caloric requirements), in addition to pulses. From January, WFP aimed to begin distributing ready-to-use PlumpySup in addition to the food basket to support increased micronutrient intake, targeted to children under five years of age.
Ms. Byrs said that the rainy season was to begin in April, and would aggravate already poor road conditions; between May and November, movement beyond the capital or main towns became extremely reduced. That period coincided with the peak of the lean season, when the impact of the current crisis on household food security and nutrition would be most exacerbated, and access to food further strained by additional peaks in food prices.
It was imperative to pre-position stocks in strategic locations by April 2014 in order to ensure that WFP was in a position to respond.
Adrian Edwards, for the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR), said that, as more South Sudanese refugees were fleeing into neighbouring countries, UNHCR teams were working to establish a number of new camps and expand existing ones in neighbouring Uganda, Ethiopia and Kenya.
Since mid-December, when conflict had erupted in South Sudan, over 86,000 South Sudanese had crossed into neighbouring countries. With people still arriving at a rate of around 1,000 a day, UNHCR was looking at the prospect of refugee numbers exceeding 100,000 by the end January.
Inside South Sudan, people were reported to have moved to border areas, from where they could cross to neighbouring countries should the situation further deteriorate. To the south of Juba, just across the border from Uganda at Nimule there were now thousands of people. Others were reported in areas bordering Sudan and its neighbouring regions of East Darfur, South and West Kordofan.
According to government data there were now 46,579 South Sudanese refugees in Uganda. Ethiopia had so far received 20,624, and Kenya at least 8,900. An estimated 10,000 people had also crossed into Sudan’s South and West Kordofan states, which were themselves facing armed violence. The Government of Sudan had registered 1,371 of them as refugees while the rest were mostly nomads.
Mr. Edwards added that, in Uganda, there was still serious overcrowding at the Dzaipi transit centre in Adjumani District in the country’s north. People were contending with issues relating to hygiene, food and lack of water. Although some 10,000 people had now moved to the nearby Nyumanzi settlement Dzaipi, designed for 400 people, the camp was still hosting over 20,000 refugees.
UNHCR was racing to transfer around 500 families daily to decongest Dzaipi transit center as more refugees arrive. UNHCR was meanwhile rehabilitating former sites in Nyumanzi and nearby at Baratuku, where a primary school and health centre needed to be upgraded.
Water was the most urgent of the challenges, with some of the recently moved refugees reporting that a wait of up to 4 days to get water while others were sleeping in line at water pumps with their jerry cans. Shelter and health were also problematic, with many people sleeping in the open.
Mr. Edwards said that most of the newly arriving South Sudanese were under 18 years of age and many of them had already been asking for secondary and tertiary education opportunities. For children without close family members UNHCR was providing separate shelter and identifying foster caretakers within the community, but further support was still needed.
UNHCR was urging partners and other humanitarian organizations to assist in building up these settlements. In the meantime, UNHCR had created a second transit centre in the same area, with a capacity for 4,000 people, and where incoming refugees were now being now being taken.
In Ethiopia and Kenya, where new camp development was also taking place, refugees were facing similar challenges in terms of clean water, health, sanitation, shelter and education. In Kenya in particular, UNHCR was seeing many children separated from their parents.
By setting up new camps and expanding existing ones in both countries, UNHCR would be in a better position to address the news of the growing refugee population. UNHCR currently needed a total of USD 88 million to respond to the humanitarian crisis inside South Sudan as well as in the surrounding region.
Asked if UNHCR was concerned about pro-Machar refugees crossing into Uganda following the announcement of the Ugandan Government on their involvement in the fighting in South Sudan on the side of the President, Mr. Edwards said that for now Uganda was accepting refugees from South Sudan on the prima facie basis. UNHCR was working with the Ugandan Government on expanding the existing shelters there. Ugandan’s help with the refugees was appreciated.
On why there were so many children refugees in Kenya, who had been separated from their families, Mr. Edwards said that UNHCR did not have a definite explanation on why that was the case. The Kakuma camp in Kenya had traditionally hosted many children among the refugee population. Many children were separated from their own families, but traveling with other families, and efforts were underway to have them reunited.
Ms. Mercado stated that UNICEF expressed its deep concern about the use of children as combatants in the ongoing armed conflict in South Sudan.
Under both international and South Sudanese national law, no person under the age of 18 should be allowed to participate in armed conflict, whether as a member of a regular army or of an informal militia.
UNICEF had received credible reports that children were participating in the conflict in South Sudan. Although unable to confirm precise numbers of children involved in the fighting, UNICEF urged all parties in the ongoing conflict not to use or allow children to be used in the fighting, and to immediately release any children.
UNICEF was part of the UN Security Council mandated Monitoring and Reporting Mechanism on children affected by armed conflict in South Sudan. Despite challenges due to access and security, UNICEF was working with partners to ensure ongoing reporting of violations.
Ms. Mercado stressed that UNICEF reminded all parties in the conflict of their existing commitments and obligations under international and national law. Any party that did not adhere to laws prohibiting the participation of children in armed conflict had to be held accountable.
Ms. Mercado said that UNICEF did not have the exact number of children currently involved in the fighting in South Sudan.
Launch of a Web Platform to Accelerate Green Economy Transition
Isabelle Valentiny and Amanda McKee, for the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP), announced the launch of the new web platform that aimed at accelerating the green economy transition. The green Growth Knowledge Platform, which would be officially launched on 22 January, was a consortium of international partners which included UNEP. Ms. Valentiny added that interviews could be arranged with the head of the platform or with Mr. Achim Steiner, UNEP Executive Director.
The launch of the event would include a high-level panel debate and lunch reception. It would commence with the opening remarks by Bruno Oberle, Director of the Swiss Federal Office for the Environment, followed by a high-level panel debate between Achim Steiner (UN Under-Secretary-General and UNEP Executive Director) and Howard Bamsey (Director-General, GGGI), Marianne Fay ( Chief Economist, Sustainable Development Network, World Bank) and Dale Andrew (Head of Environment Division, Trade and Agriculture Directorate, OECD), moderated by Mark Halle (Vice-President, International Institute for Sustainable Development). The event would be opened to the public and to the journalists.
Asked on the position of UNICEF on the review of the Holy See by the Committee on the Rights of the Child, Ms. Mercado said UNICEF was supporting the role of this independent body.
On details regarding who was preventing humanitarian aid from reaching the Yarmouk camp near Damascus, Ms. Byrs said that security situation was making it impossible. Many attempts had been made to reach Yarmouk; recently a convoy from UNRWA had tried to reach the camp, but, in spite of clearance, access was not possible because of the crossfire. Ms. Byrs stressed that WFP was truly concerned about all those who could not be reached in Syria, and was continuing efforts to deliver aid to inaccessible areas.
Asked why it was not clearly stated that regime troops had prevented the UNRWA convoy, Ms. Momal-Vanian said that UNRWA had been trying to get access and it had tried to reach Yarmouk on 13 January. UNRWA was in touch with a number of interlocutors with the view of securing access to the camp. Ms. Momal-Vanian added that UNRWA was the primary organization responsible for Palestinian camps in Syria and the region.
Ms. Momal-Vanian informed that there would be no press briefing on 21 January.
Ms. Momal-Vanian informed that the Committee on the Rights of the Child had commenced its session this week and had considered reports of Congo, Yemen and the Holy See. The following week, the Committee would consider reports of Portugal and the Russian Federation.
The Conference of Disarmament would commence its work on 20 January, and the first public session would take place on 21 January, most likely around 10 a.m. The Secretary-General would address the plenary, as mentioned earlier.
On 20 January, at 12:15 p.m, the Acting Director-General of the United Nations Office at Geneva, Michael Møller, would deliver a statement on the topic of Which Role for the United Nations in Global Governance at an event, which would take place in the large conference room at “La Pastorale”, Route de Ferney 106.
Jean Rodriguez, for the United Nations Economic Commission for Europe (UNECE), informed about the upcoming activities of the Executive Secretary, Mr. Sven Alkalaj.
On 24 January, Mr. Alkalaj would be the key-note speaker at the Conference of the Central European Initiative (CEI) on " CEI as a bridge between European macro regions/synergies with other international and regional organisations", which would take place in Vienna. CEI consisted of 18 countries of Central and Eastern Europe.
Mr. Rodriguez announced the press conference which would be organized together with the United Nations Conference on Trade and Development (UNCTAD). The press conference would deal with the launch of a report on global economic prospects for 2014, and would take place on 20 January at 2:30 p.m. That would be an opportunity to ask questions on both global and regional economic perspectives.
Hans von Rohland, for the International Labor Organization (ILO), informed about the launch of an annual ILO report: Global Employment Trends 2014, which would take place on 20 January at 10 a.m. in Press Room III. Speakers would include Guy Rider, Director-General of the ILO, and Ekehard Ernst, Head of the Employment Trends Unit of ILO. The Director-General could also answer questions related to Davos or any other issue. Mr. von Rohland stressed that the report and all associated material and information were under embargo until 00:01 GMT on 22 January.
Ankai Xu, for the World Trade Organization (WTO), announced the WTO’s meeting schedules for the following week.
On 22 January, there would be a dispute settlement body meeting in the afternoon, and, as per usual practice, the WTO press officer would send out briefing emails afterwards.
The WTO Director-General, Roberto Azevêdo, would attend the annual meeting of the World Economic Forum in Davos. He would also attend informal ministerial gatherings convened by the Swiss on 25 January after which he would give a press conference at 3 p.m, together with ministers who attended the meeting. During his time in Davos, the Director-General would also meet with private sector and government representative who are attending the meeting.
On 20 January, the DG would post a message regarding the year ahead on the WTO website.
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The representatives of the World Health Organization and the International Organization on Migration also attended the briefing, but did not speak.
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The webcast for this briefing is available here: … http://bit.ly/1dqWkxD