REGULAR PRESS BRIEFING BY THE INFORMATION SERVICE
20 April 2012
Corinne Momal-Vanian, Director of the United Nations Information Service in Geneva, chaired the briefing which was also attended by Spokespersons for the International Organization for Migration, the United Nations Children’s Fund, the United Nations Refugee Agency, the Spokesperson for the Joint United Nations/Arab League Special Envoy on Syria, the World Health Organization, the World Food Programme, the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights, the World Trade Organization and the International Labour Organization.
Ms. Momal-Vanian said that the Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs’ Operational Director John Ging, who was co-chairing the Syria Humanitarian Forum today at the Palais, would brief journalists in a stakeout at 1 p.m. this afternoon at the end of the meeting in front of Salle XIX.
Melissa Flemming of the United Nations Refugee Agency (UNHCR) said one month after the United Nations issued an appeal for $ 84 million to help Syrian refugees in Jordan, Lebanon, Turkey and Iraq, only 20 per cent of the funds had been given. Of the 34 organizations that had appealed for funds under the Syria Regional Response Plan, only eight, including UNHCR, had received funding totalling $ 15.6 million. UNHCR was trying to support the governments of countries neighbouring Syria. Many of the refugees arrived with little or no financial resources and were very much reliant on the efforts of the host communities and organizations like UNHCR dedicated to supporting them. Those communities and the under-funded organizations were definitely showing signs of financial strain. The Syrian Humanitarian Forum would certainly hear other appeals for funds for Syria.
Ms. Mercado of UNICEF said UNICEF’s share of the appeal was for $ 7.4 million which would help it reach 40,000 children. So far, UNICEF had received £ 1.5 million. The programme was intended to provide support in terms of psycho-social support for children, for education, for health, as well as for water and sanitation.
In response to a question, Ms. Flemming said the four neighbouring countries to Syria had not given an indication that they might close their borders in light of the shortage of funds, but they had indicated that financial assistance would be needed.
A journalist said that the Syrian Red Crescent was talking about 400,000 internally displaced persons in Syria. Ms. Flemming said there was an issue with access inside Syria; there were no authoritative figures on internally displaced persons at this point and any figures at this point were estimates. At a briefing yesterday, such estimates had been provided, indicating that there were 239,000 internally displaced persons inside Syria.
In response to a question on a time frame for the deployment of the United Nations observers, Ahmad Fawzy, Spokesperson for Kofi Annan, the Joint United Nations/Arab League Special Envoy on Syria, said this question was on everyone’s mind: when would the balance of the observers be deployed? The United Nations wanted them to be deployed today, but that of course was impossible. There were seven observers on the ground today, and two more would be arriving on Monday to bring the number of observers on the ground to nine. During the course of next week, they hoped that those seconded from missions in the area, who could move quickly, would be there and that would increase the number of observers to up to 30. But this was not just about deploying personnel, it was about deploying vehicles, communications equipment, medical equipment, all kinds of gear to help the observers in their very difficult and risky job. The next step would be for the Security Council to adopt a resolution authorizing the deployment of up to 300 observers as requested by the Secretary-General. The time frame on that would depend on how long it would take the Security Council to authorize their deployment. That did not mean to say that they were standing idle. They were preparing for the deployment, as they felt that it was going to happen sooner or later. The situation on the ground was not good, as they all knew: it was a very fragile ceasefire, there were casualties and incidents every day, and they had to do everything they could to stop the killings and the violence in all its forms. As soon as the Security Council adopted a resolution authorizing up to 300 monitors on the ground, they would be ready to deploy very, very rapidly. As for when the Security Council would adopt this resolution, they hoped that it would be in the next two or three days. But as journalists knew the report was submitted by the Secretary-General yesterday and the Security Council would be discussing it for a couple of days.
Asked if the Syrian authorities were being helpful in this regard, Mr. Fawzy said the Syrian authorities had been cooperating with their teams on the ground up to a certain extent. They had two teams on the ground, one was a negotiating team and as journalists knew they were able to conclude a preliminary agreement yesterday which would form the basis of the protocol that would govern the work of the advance mission and the full mission. That was no mean achievement. A lot of issues were raised, discussed and agreed upon. There was also the observer team. During the course of the negotiations, there was the usual back and forth that happened in any negotiating and mediating effort, but there was what they believed to be a genuine desire on the Syrian side to conclude this agreement and to support the deployment of monitors.
Asked if the preliminary agreement contained clauses guaranteeing observers free movement, Mr. Fawzy answered that it did refer the observers’ unfettered access, free movement to locations, and ability to contact people whenever and wherever they decided that was within their mandate.
Asked when they expected the observers to issue their first report, Mr. Fawzy said that the Secretary-General had been asked to report today on resolution 2042. There would be periodic reports as they went along. The observers were reporting on a daily basis to the office of the Joint Special Envoy and through him to New York.
A journalist said he thought that the second wave of deployment had been scheduled to take place only if the ceasefire was respected and asked if that was correct. Mr. Fawzy said that they had all heard what Member States were saying, and they were quite right to be concerned about the situation on the ground. They did not want to put their people in situations of unnecessary risk. But they had to face the facts. This was a risky situation, the ceasefire was fragile; however, they were not going to sit back and wait any longer. Mr. Annan felt very strongly that it was important to have a presence of monitors on the ground because they would observe and report what both sides were doing, which would create a new momentum and it was already changing the political dynamics on the ground. They wanted these monitors to be deployed as quickly as possible, even given the current fragile ceasefire.
Asked if the negotiating team had contacts with the opposition, especially the Free Syrian Army, Mr. Fawzy said the office of the Joint Special Envoy had been in contact not only with the Syrian authorities, but as made clear in the statement issued yesterday, with the opposition and through them with the armed groups on the ground. They too had commitments and they too must be held accountable to their commitments.
A journalist said that Mr. Fawzy had said the observers had free movement, and asked where they had gone, were they able to go to Homs, what concretely had the observers done so far? Mr. Fawzy said the observers were very keen to get to Homs as quickly as possible. They had not been there yet, but they had been to other locations. The observers had been there for five days, and there was a lot of preparation going on. Being experienced peace keepers, they could hit the ground running, but they still needed to liaise with people on the ground. There had been a lot of discussions, with the Syrian military, with the Syrian political officials, with their colleagues in the United Nations country teams, whether it be the humanitarian colleagues or other colleagues in the United Nations family in Damascus, in order to coordinate their work and brief each other on what they were doing. They had visited a number of locations over the past five days, but had also been preparing the ground work for the arrival of the larger group of monitors.
Elizabeth Byrs of the World Food Programme (WFP) said WFP had set up an emergency operation in Syria since December through the Syrian Red Crescent. In March, WFP, through the Syrian Red Crescent, had distributed food and assistance to more than 106,000 persons.
Christopher Lom of the International Organization for Migration (IOM) said the consolidated appeal for Yemen in December had asked for $ 447 million and that money was now beginning to come in. IOM was involved in health interventions in three parts of the Yemen. The first was in Abyan governorate in the south and it was made possible by a $ 1.9 million donation from the United Nations Central Emergency Fund. It would fund two mobile health units and two community-based management of acute malnutrition teams targeting internally displaced people and host communities. The money would also rebuild the capacity of local public health services to provide basic healthcare both for the displaced people and host communities. IOM was the only agency working in Abyan since September 2011. The second intervention was in Haradh where IOM was concerned about the well-being of thousands of Ethiopian migrants following an ongoing outbreak of dengue fever which started last month. There were 3,000 Ethiopian migrants in Haradh which IOM would like to assist to return home but it lacked the funds. The third intervention concerned IOM support of a nation-wide measles immunization campaign. The campaign was planning to vaccinate some 126,000 children under 10 years old by mid-May.
Marixie Mercado of the United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF) said there had been a shocking increase of measles in Yemen since the middle of 2011 and up to now. As of the end of March, there had been more than 4,000 cases, including 177 deaths. This was happening in a country that had had no measles cases for years. UNICEF and other partners had been working on a measles campaign for months now. The target was 8 million children below the age of 10 years.
In response to a question, Ms. Mercado said that the 177 children deaths from measles were more than all the children killed by the unrest last year. Measles was deadly and it was killing children. This increase in measles was representative of the damage done to social services by the unrest last year. This measles outbreak was also occurring in the context of a mal-nutrition crisis as well. One in five children in Yemen was acutely mal-nourished and these rates were comparable to the situation in Afghanistan and Somalia. The combination of mal-nutrition and measles was particularly deadly for children.
Ms. Mercado said that as of the first three months of this year, 13 children had been killed and 12 maimed by unexploded ordnance and landmines in Yemen. This number was fast approaching the total figure for 2011, which was 28 killed and nine maimed. If this trend continued, they could see up to 100 children killed or maimed by landmines this year.
Rupert Colville of the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR) said OHCHR was seriously concerned that the de facto authorities in Gaza continued to issue death sentences and carry out executions, especially since many of the death sentences were handed down by military courts against civilians. Since the beginning of this year, the authorities had delivered or upheld six death sentences, one of which was delivered in absentia. Three men were hanged earlier this month (on 7 April) and at least one other faced imminent execution by firing squad. OHCHR rejected the use of military tribunals to try civilians in Gaza, as this was a a practice which seriously undermined fair trial guarantees. Death sentences should never be issued under these circumstances, where the defendant did not receive all the procedural guarantees of a fair trial. Individuals sentenced to death must be guaranteed the right to seek pardon or commutation of the sentence by a competent, independent and impartial tribunal established by law. Information gathered by OHCHR staff in the region indicated that defendants in Gaza were routinely not granted regular access to their lawyers, and the military courts often relied on confessions made under duress and/or torture. OHCHR urged the de facto authorities in Gaza to stop using military tribunals to try civilians.
OHCHR also noted that due to the current intra-Palestinian political division between Gaza and the West Bank, it was not possible for defendants’ rights to a fair trial to be fulfilled according to the law. In particular, the Palestinian Basic Law required that all such sentences should be ratified by the President of the Palestinian Authority and that had not been happening. OHCHR also noted that in Gaza and in the area under the Palestinian Authority’s control in the West Bank, two different judicial systems were being used, and a completely different set of laws was being applied.
In response to a question, Mr. Colville said those people had been sentenced for serious crimes, including murder, but the issue was the procedure and the legal system behind the convictions and the carrying out of the sentences. In 2008 and 2009, no death sentences were carried out. In 2010, five death sentences were carried out, in 2011 three were carried out, and this year three already had been carried out and a fourth seemed imminent.
In Belarus, Mr. Colville said following last week’s welcome release of two opposition leaders from prison in Belarus, OHCHR called on Belarusian authorities to begin a process of dialogue with the opposition and to unconditionally release all remaining prisoners who were serving sentences for exercising their fundamental human rights.
Many of these individuals were imprisoned for their involvement in the aftermath of the events of 19 December 2010, when a mainly peaceful opposition rally in downtown Minsk on the evening of the election day was dispersed by police and security forces. Around 600 opposition supporters, media workers and human rights defenders were arrested at the time, including Andrei Sannikau, one of the candidates in the presidential elections, and his aide Dmitri Bandarenka. More than 40 of these opposition leaders and activists were subsequently sentenced to prison terms. Mr. Sannikau had been sentenced to five years in prison and Mr. Bandarenka to two years, but both were released on Saturday, April 14. OHCHR called on the Government of Belarus to unconditionally release all those who remained imprisoned for their peaceful involvement in the events of the 19 December, as well as other human rights defenders, such as Ales Bialiatski and opposition activists like Syarhey Kavalenka.
Ms. Byrs of the World Food Programme said the airlift of emergency food had resumed to Mali. The airlift operation of the United Nations, which was being conducted by WFP, aimed to increase the number of flights. Up to now, a number of airports were still closed, but as soon as they would re-open, they intended to fly to them. WFP had dispatched one metric ton of humanitarian assistance to Gao on 13 April for the first time since the rebel incursion. It would be used for the treatment of 720 malnourished children under the age of five in Gao hospital. WFP activities had been disrupted in the north and 2,000 metric tons of food commodities were feared to have been looted from its warehouses. Overall, WFP had 6,000 metric tons in Mali and it planned to provide assistance for 1.2 million persons in Mali until December 2012.
Ms. Byrs said available at the back of the room was a message from WFP Executive Director Ertharin Cousin and the Executive Director of UN Women Michelle Bachelet to mark Earth Day 22 April.
Ms. Momal-Vanian said the Committee on the Protection of the Rights of All Migrant Workers and Members of their Families this week considered the reports of Paraguay and Tajikistan. The Committee’s concluding observations and recommendations on the two reports would be released towards the end of its session on Friday, 27 April.
The Committee on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities reviewed the report of Peru this week. It was the only country report that was considered during the session. The Committee would issue its concluding observations and recommendations on the report next week, but it would officially conclude its session this afternoon around 4 p.m.
Mr. Lom of the IOM said IOM would hold a two-day workshop on migration management in crisis situations at the World Meteorological Organization in Geneva on 24 and 25 April in the context of IOM’s international dialogue on migration 2012. The subject was “moving to safety: migration consequences of complex cases”. The detailed provisional agenda was available at the back of the room.
Ankai Xu of the World Trade Organization (WTO) said on 23 April the anti-dumping committee would be meeting and on 24 April the dispute settlement body would be meeting in the afternoon. On 25 April, there would be the trade policy review of Uruguay, which would continue on 27 April. On 26 April, there would be the subsidy committee meeting. On 27 April, there were be the safeguard committee meeting. As for Director-General Pascal Lamy, he would be in Qatar, Doha on 23 and 24 April to attend the thirteenth session of the United Nations Conference on Trade and Development UNCTAD XIII. He would have bilateral meetings with ministers from a number of countries.
Hans von Rohland of the International Labour Organization (ILO) said that as journalists knew, the World Bank and the International Monetary Fund would be meeting in Washington this weekend. In this context, the World Bank and ILO were organizing a roundtable on how the recent financial and economic crisis and the policy responses to that crisis had affected the quality and the quantity of jobs. During the discussion, a new ILO/WB inventory of policy responses to the financial and economic crisis and a joint report would be launched.
Tarik Jasarevic of the World Health Organization (WHO) said on 25 April, WHO would be marking International Malaria Day. During the past decade, investment in malaria prevention and control had created unparalleled momentum and saved hundreds of thousands of lives. But these gains were fragile as malaria transmissions still occurred in 99 countries, killing an estimated 650,000 people every year, mainly children under the age of five years. It was vital that efforts were expanded to increase national and international political commitment and to a greater investment in malaria prevention and control tools. A press briefing would be held on 24 April at 2 p.m. in press room 1 on malaria.
On 23 April at 10 a.m., Dr. Peter Strebel, Group Leader, Department of Immunization, Vaccines and biologicals, WHO, would talk in Press Room 1 about the new strategic plan and outcomes of a decade-long effort to reduce measles deaths globally, based on new data to be published in next week’s Lancet. The partners would also announce a new global plan to jointly tackle both measles and rubella.
Mr. Jasarevic said the first-ever world-wide immunization week would be held from 21 to 28 April. Countries around the world would highlight using various measures to raise awareness on the need for immunization.