REGULAR PRESS BRIEFING BY THE INFORMATION SERVICE
7 December 2012
Corinne Momal-Vanian, Director of the United Nations Information Service in Geneva, chaired the briefing which was also attended by Spokespersons for the High Commissioner for Refugees, the High Commissioner for Human Rights, the Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs, the Economic Commission for Europe, the United Nations Children’s Fund, the World Trade Organization, the World Health Organization and the International Organization for Migration.
Rupert Colville for the High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR) said the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights, Navi Pillay, had expressed alarm at the rising tension and recent deaths and injuries during protests related to Egypt’s draft Constitution, while also drawing attention to a number of major problems with the text which was due to be put to referendum on 15 December.
Ms. Pillay welcomed President Morsi’s call for dialogue on Thursday but regretted there was no significant progress on the core issues relating to the Constitution. Mr. Colville said the High Commissioner raised serious concerns about the process leading up to the referendum, and said her Office had been carefully analysing the contents of the draft Constitution, as well as monitoring the Constitution-drafting process.
She had said that the lack of inclusive participation of various actors in Egypt in the constitution-drafting process was a matter of major concern, and one of the main reasons for the disastrous situation that had been developing in Egypt over the past couple of weeks. She believed that this was the last thing Egypt needed during such a difficult period of transition, but believed people were right to be very concerned, not just about the way the process had been short-circuited, but also about some of the elements included in, or missing from, the draft text.
The High Commissioner noted that the draft Constitution contained some important positive elements, including for example the limitation of the presidency to two four-year terms and the inclusion of the right to establish associations and civil institutions.
The draft constitution therefore did provide some guarantees, however, there were also some very worrying omissions and ambiguities, and in some areas the protections in it were even weaker than the 1971 Constitution it was supposed to replace. She was highly concerned, for example, by the absence in the current draft of any reference to the international human rights treaties which Egypt had ratified, and was bound to uphold. The 1971 Constitution, by contrast, stipulated the legal standing of these treaties.
Mona Rishmawi, Chief of Rule of Law and Equality branch, OHCHR, added that Egypt was central to engagement on human rights issues and a leader in the Arab world. The drafting of the Constitution was being considered in three contexts, the process, the substance and what has resulted and the outcomes being seen were a major situation for the OHCHR to consider.
Answering questions she said that despite serious tensions in Egypt she was still optimistic. People were participating in public debates, they were expressing themselves and asking very good questions about what was happening. To express views in a peaceful and responsible way was good grounds for democracy, she said, though ideally a smoother process would be better for the country to arrive at security and continuity. A broader constitution-making process was also desirable.
Internally, each country had their own mechanism for achieving their own principles and the concern of OHCHR was that the mechanism chosen appropriately took them into account and respected them. She added that Egypt was party to the bulk of the important human rights treaties and it was hoped that these obligations would be better reflected in the Constitution but this did not seem the case, seen particularly in the lack of constitutional reference points for case law and provisions.
Tarik Jaresevic for the World Health Organization (WHO) said the number of suspected cases of Yellow Fever in Darfur had reached 732 and 165 deaths.
Dr Anshu Banerjee, WHO Representative in Sudan added that the outbreak was the worst seen in the last 20 years anywhere in the world. He explained that the condition was a haemorrhagic fever and could lead to bleeding and kidney failure. This meant that blood transfusion was needed and capacity to do this had been strengthened in some hospitals. Nomads were the main sufferers and this was exacerbating its spread.
Vaccinations were under way and were to be conducted in three phases, for 5.5 million people altogether, starting with 2.2 million in the 12 districts with the most cases. The second was to start early next week and this phase would cover urban areas as in those surroundings the mosquito-human-mosquito transmission process could speed up considerably. This was in comparison to rural areas where transmission was slower. The third round of vaccinations then targeted another 2.2 million people, mostly in remote areas. The main challenges to this were reaching people due to issues of transportation, lack of roads and insecurity.
Answering questions he said the Sudanese Government was managing the campaign and collaboration with NGOs on the ground was also good for hard-to-reach areas. The source of the infection was primates, he explained, and the recent rainy season had increased the number of mosquitoes, and this was thought to explain the increase in cases. In addition the migration of mine workers from surrounding countries was thought to be a factor. The important thing now was to contain the cases within Darfur, he said, as the vector was available throughout Sudan. Cases were mostly seen in nomads, though a few cases among IDPs and refugees were being reported.
There was no cure for the condition, he added, and treatment related instead to managing the condition and ensuring the patient didn’t go into shock. The vaccination campaign was, therefore, the way to control the outbreak.
Marixie Mercado for the United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF) said an emergency vaccination campaign was under way in Syria to give 1.4 million children measles and polio vaccines, representing around half of all children under five years old. The campaign initially focused on children living in collective shelters around the country.
She said that that since the campaign started on 26 November, more than 630,000 children aged under five had already received polio drops, while over 510,000 children had been vaccinated against measles. Children over one year old were also receiving a Vitamin A supplement.
Vaccinations were taking place at around 1,200 primary health care centres as well as through the work of 104 mobile vaccination teams. Long lines of parents were being seen waiting for the vaccinations, she said.
Ettie Higgins, Deputy Representative, UNICEF Syria, answered questions by phone saying efforts had been made to reach out to local leaders, and the community more generally, to inform them the vaccinations were taking place.
No reports had been received of sessions being disrupted due to conflict, though three Governates were currently out of communication contact. There had been no negotiations with regard to ensuring a ceasefire during vaccinations. Mobile teams of health workers were also trying to reach children that were unable to attend vaccination sessions wherever possible.
Adrian Edwards for the High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) said that six months after inter-communal violence broke out in western Myanmar’s Rakhine state, some 115,000 displaced people were still living in challenging conditions. UNHCR had distributed relief supplies to nearly two-thirds of the affected communities but the needs were still massive.
Currently, people were unable to return to their homes due to widespread destruction and continuing tensions. UNHCR was working with the Myanmar authorities on awareness of proper standards for safe and voluntary return when the right conditions were in place. In addition, UNHCR continued to advocate citizenship as a solution for those who were displaced and without nationality.
More than 100 people were killed and thousands of homes were destroyed in waves of unrest in June, August and late October. Today the displaced people were living with host families and in relief camps and temporary sites. In recent weeks, makeshift shacks had sprouted on roadsides in the state capital, Sittwe. Some shack dwellers said their host families could no longer support them while others were believed to have come from remote camps in the hope of getting assistance.
This week UNHCR erected tents donated by the Korea International Cooperation Agency to provide better shelter for these recent arrivals. It had also moved approximately 5,000 people into longhouse-style bamboo huts on the outskirts of Sittwe. This was in addition to building additional ones for more than 12,000 and more than 220 permanent homes for returnees in Maungdaw.
As part of the inter-agency response to the emergency in Rakhine state, UNHCR was leading efforts in protection, shelter, non-food items and camp coordination and management for the displaced people. Assistance was targeted at both affected communities based on their needs.
To date, UNHCR had distributed supplies including plastic sheets, blankets, and kitchen sets to some 70,000 people. An additional 3,500 UNHCR tents were scheduled to arrive by boat in Sittwe this weekend to provide emergency shelter to people displaced in October, and now in scattered locations including Pauk Taw, Mrauk-U, Kyauktaw and Myebon.
UNHCR was working with the authorities and other humanitarian agencies to ensure basic standards in the relief camps around Sittwe. Shelters, for example, needed to be properly spaced out to prevent overcrowding and the potential health and social problems associated with overcrowding.
Jens Laerke for the Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA) said USG/ERC Amos was in Myanmar to assess the country’s humanitarian situation, including the impact of the ongoing conflict in Kachin and northern Shan states, which had forced some 75,000 people from their homes since June 2011. She had also visited Rakhine state.
Yesterday, Ms. Amos visited a camp outside Myityina, the capital of Kachin State, which hosted some 700 IDPs. The camp was in a Government-controlled area and receivec regular assistance from aid organizations. Ms Amos, however, expressed her concerns for the people displaced in other parts of the state where the UN had no access and raised this concern in a meeting with the President of Myanmar.
Earlier, on 5 December, the USG visited different communities in Rakhine State who had lost almost everything due to inter-communal violence. While in Rakhine, she highlighted the security threats to humanitarian workers was a major challenge in providing assistance and said that political leaders in needed Myanmar to support the important humanitarian work being done by the United Nations and partners. Further, local leaders need to speak out and explain that they had asked us the international community to be there to help.
The humanitarian community in Myanmar recently revised its Rakhine Response Plan to address the needs of 115,000 displaced people for the next nine months, at a cost of some $68 million. $41 million was still needed.
Asked whether there was a current agreement with the Kachin Independent Organization (KIO) to enter areas under their control he explained he would look into the topic and later advised that in the past there was a secured agreement for the unhindered passage of aid supplies in the form of aid convoys (nine in total between March and July) which required both parties to the conflict providing assurances of safety. However, since July 2012, the UN had not had such assurances.
Jens Laerke for the Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA) said the number of people dead, injured, missing and affected from Typhoon Bopha (locally known as Pablo) continued to rise as debris was cleared from roads and more information became available.
According to the national disaster management authorities, five million people had been affected and almost 350,000 people were in 541 evacuation centres across the eight affected regions. Eastern Mindanao remained the worst affected, both in coastal municipalities and inland in the Compostela Valley, where the majority of the deaths, injuries and missing had been reported up till now.
The Government of the Philippines was leading the emergency rescue, evacuation and response operation and the joint Government/UN rapid needs assessments continued. These were supported by a United Nations Disaster Assessment and Coordination team, the ASEAN Coordinating Centre for Humanitarian Assistance team, and donors.
Answering questions he said local authorities stated that 331 people had been killed, though media reports put the figure higher.
Jumbe Omari Jumbe for the International Organization for Migration (IOM) said IOM was requesting more than $7 million from the international community to scale up its existing humanitarian response to Typhoon Bopha.
Since the storm struck IOM had mobilized its staff in Mindanao, prioritizing the distribution of non-food relief items and shelter repair materials. On the request of the Philippine Government, IOM was preparing bunkhouses and alternative transitional shelters. There was severe overcrowding in the government’s evacuation centres, where more than 300,000 people were staying.
Democratic Republic of Congo
Jumbe Omari Jumbe for the International Organization for Migration (IOM) said IOM had received seed funding of $55,000 from the Swiss Development and Cooperation Agency (SDC) to erect emergency shelters for 800 internally displaced people (IDPs).
The shelters were to allow families to leave school buildings where they have been sheltering since the takeover of Goma.
IOM had articulated a 3-axis strategy, he explained. This involved information gathering and mapping of displacement; support for the coordination of humanitarian assistance in spontaneous sites and the provision of direct support to IDPs and hosting communities; and strengthening the resilience of IDPs and communities.
Since the onset of the crisis, an estimated 129,000 people had been newly displaced, adding to the over 2.4 million IDPs already in the DRC. Until now, the security situation in the area had made it very difficult to help people forcibly displaced by the conflict.
Jumbe Omari Jumbe for the International Organization for Migration (IOM) said EEA Grants, a funding mechanism supported by European Economic Area (EEA) members Iceland, Norway and Liechtenstein, had signed an agreement with IOM that provided EUR 4 million to support NGOs in Greece that ran reception centres for vulnerable migrants and asylum seekers, especially unaccompanied minors.
Greece, which was struggling to cope with the economic crisis, austerity measures and 25 per cent unemployment, currently hosted an estimated 810,000 irregular migrants, including some 44,000 asylum seekers, many of whom had become stranded en route to other European Community countries.
Greece currently had very few reception centres for vulnerable migrants, putting many at risk and forcing them to sleep in parks and other public spaces. The money was to allow NGOs that already ran reception centres and wished to improve their services, and NGOs that wished to start new reception centres, to apply for funding under the new project.
Ms. Momal-Vanian announced the 2012 Meeting of States parties to the Biological Weapons Convention (BWC) was to be held at the Palais des Nations from 10 to 14 December 2012. A background note had been distributed and a summary of the statement to be made at the opening by the Director General of the World Organization for Animal Health (OIE), Bernard Vallat, had also been released. This was under embargo until Monday (10 December) at 11:00.
She also said that on the occasion of International Mountain Day (11 December), the United Nations Environment Programme, in cooperation with the United Nations Information Service Vienna was to organize a public event entitled “the Future of Mountains after Doha: Will the Big Melt continue?” at the Vienna International Centre. The International Mountain Day provided an opportunity to create awareness about mountains, their importance to the global community, and to highlight the opportunities and constraints in mountain development. "Mountains" have been successfully included in the Rio+20 outcome document "The Future We Want".
She also mentioned that from 9 to 11 December, the Verbier Green Pioneering Summit 2012 was to be held. The theme for this year's summit was "Water and Energy" and the focus was to be on the increasing diversity of investment in clean energy and sustainability. World renowned firms, investors, speakers and experts from both private and public sectors alike were to be present at summit.
Finally she announced a press conference on Tuesday (11 December) at 9:45 in Press Room I by the Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA) on the launch of nominations for the Green Star Awards 2013. Speakers were Alexander Likhotal, President of Green Cross International and Rene Nijenhuis, Humanitarian Affairs Officer, OCHA.
Adrian Edwards for the High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) said the Annual Global Appeal Report had been published and could be downloaded from the UNHCR website.
Jean Rodriguez for the Economic Commission for Europe (UNECE) said a press release was available at the back of the room regarding a recent article in the journal, Science, where a group of researchers considered the link between public policy and the fight against pollution. This work cast a positive light on UNECE Convention on atmospheric pollution in matters of reducing emissions and the adoption of protocols. It also, underlined work to be done and highlighted the importance of cooperation.
This was timely, he explained as the Executive Body of the Convention (properly titled that on Longrange Transboundary Air Pollution) met next week (11 to 13 December) in Room VII of the Palais des Nations. Interviews with researchers involved in the article, and members of the Board were available on request.
In addition, from 11 to 14 December there was a meeting of the Aarhus Convention Compliance Committee in Room VIII, which dealt with the matter of public access to environmental justice and signatory countries adhesion to the rules of the Convention. Part of this meeting was accessible by the press.
Ankai Xu for the World Trade Organization (WTO) said today (7 December) there was a meeting of the Trade Negotiation Committee, followed by a briefing at 13:00. Next week on Monday (10 December) at 15:00 there was a General Council on the accession of Tajikistan, which the President of Tajikistan was to attend. Before that session the Accession Working Party of Kazakhstan was scheduled for 10:00 and an informal General Council meeting to discuss arrangements for the 9th Ministerial Conference followed by a briefing. On Tuesday (11 December) there was again a General Council meeting, followed by a briefing.
She also mentioned that Data Day planned for 12 December, was cancelled.