REGULAR PRESS BRIEFING BY THE INFORMATION SERVICE
13 June 2014
Corinne Momal-Vanian, Director of the United Nations Information Service in Geneva, chaired the briefing, which was also attended by Spokespersons for the Human Rights Council, the United Nations Conference for Trade and Development, the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights, the United Nations Children’s Programme, the United Nations Refugee Agency, the Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs, the World Health Organization, the World Food Programme and the World Trade Organization.
Rupert Colville, for the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR), said that the High Commissioner was expressing extreme alarm at the dramatic deterioration of the situation in Iraq, amid reports of summary executions and extrajudicial killings, and the massive displacement of some half a million people, as forces allied with the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL, also known as ISIS), overran a succession of major towns and cities earlier in the week.
The full extent of civilian casualties was not yet known, but reports suggested the number of people killed in recent days may run into the hundreds, and the number of wounded was said to be approaching 1,000. OHCHR had received reports of the summary execution of Iraq Army soldiers during the capture of Mosul, and of 17 civilians on one particular street in Mosul City on 11 June.
The High Commissioner warned the parties to the conflict that they were obliged under international law to treat humanely members of armed forces who had laid down their arms or were hors de combat. She also stressed that murder of all kind, mutilation, cruel treatment and torture constituted war crimes. They must also take all feasible precautions, in areas under their effective control, to spare civilians from the effects of hostilities, and to respect, protect and meet the basic needs of civilian populations.
Mr. Colville gave examples of human rights violations received by the Human Rights Division of the United Nations mission in Iraq, UNAMI, since the fall of Mosul: The execution on 11 June of 17 civilians who worked for the police that took place on Street 60, close to the airport in southern Mosul; the execution of a court employee in the central Dawasa area of Mosul; the execution of 12 people in Dawasa who were believed to have been serving with the Iraqi security forces (ISF) or were members of the police; the reported suicide of four women either after they were raped by members of ISIL, or after an attempt to force them into marriage with ISIL fighters; the kidnapping of 16 Georgians who worked for an Iraqi communications company in Mosul; reports that prisoners freed from Mosul’s prisons, who were then armed by ISIL, had been searching for those they believed to be responsible for their incarceration in order to carry out reprisal attacks on them; there were reports that former prisoners went to Tikrit and killed seven former police officers who had worked in the prison; there were also reports that ISIL checkpoints were specifically targeting former soldiers and police and others they perceived as being from a particular tribe associated as being close to the Government.
Christiane Berthiaume, for the International Organization for Migration (IOM), said the fall of Iraq’s second city Mosul to armed opposition groups this week displaced an estimated half a million people who were going into three different directions: the west of the City, around Mosul and to Kurdistan. IOM had 12 rapid assessment and response staff working in Mosul, who were assessing the situation on the ground and providing updates on displacement and the immediate needs of the internally displaced persons (IDPs), but their ability to gather the most up-to-date information was constrained by the lack of access to the worst affected areas due to the deteriorating security situation.
IOM staff reported that the hospitals in Mosul were no longer accessible, and schools and mosques had been converted into makeshift clinics to tend to the injured and chronically ill. Families in the western districts of Mosul had limited access to drinkable water and across the city most families had only a few hours of electricity a day.
IOM was urgently calling on donors for USD 15 million to procure and distribute a total of 30,000 non-food relief items and 5,000 tents not only to Mosul population, but also to people who lived in the Anbar governorate cities of Fallujah, Ramadi and Heet, and to implement its displacement tracking and needs assessment matrix.
Adrian Edwards, for the United Nations Refugee Agency (UNHCR), said a shortage of shelter was emerging as the main challenge for the several hundred thousand Iraqis who had fled this week’s violence in Mosul. UNHCR monitoring teams reported that many of the 300,000 people being reported by local authorities to have sought safety in the Erbil and Duhok governorates arrived with little more than the clothes they were wearing.
Many people had no money, and nowhere to go. While some stayed with relatives, others were temporarily in hotels where they were exhausting what funds they had. Many families in Duhok were also sheltering in schools, mosques, churches and unfinished buildings.
A growing number of people were now staying in a hastily set-up transit camp near the Khazair checkpoint, some 40 kilometers from Mosul. Over the past two days, UNHCR had helped the Government pitch tents there, and was providing plastic sheets, hygiene kits and other relief items to the displaced. The host communities were providing hot meals and other food. Sister UN agencies were installing latrines and water tanks, and providing other relief items.
UNHCR had also delivered close to a thousand family tents to a new camp being built by authorities and non-governmental organizations at Garmawa, near Duhok in the Kurdistan region. Teams started raising tents yesterday, and the camp was expected to initially host some 3,000 people. Planning was underway for two more sites in Minara, south of the Bedrike checkpoint and Zummar, near Sehela, in case they are needed.
This weekend, UNHCR protection teams would be gathering more information on where other displaced people were staying, and how it could best meet their needs. It was also identifying the most vulnerable among the displaced, such as the elderly, disabled, pregnant women and children, and reaching out to other humanitarian groups to provide immediate emergency support.
While the rate of new arrivals to the Kurdistan region had slowed over the last day or so, the situation remained fluid with fighting continuing on several fronts and further displacement could take place. Other displaced people were spread out beyond the Kurdistan region with some going to Baghdad and elsewhere, while others had remained in Ninewa province. UNHCR monitoring teams at checkpoints had observed that some Mosul families were returning after hearing that water and electricity services had been restored. Others said they were returning because they ran out of money, and preferred to return home than stay in mosques, empty buildings or other collective shelters.
Elisabeth Byrs, for the World Food Programme (WFP), said WFP personnel on the ground at the Iraqi-Kurdistan border where displaced people were arriving had reported that there was no food available in the shops nor services such as electricity and water.
WFP had prepared an emergency operation to provide food assistance to 42,000 of the most vulnerable internally displaced persons from the Mosul conflict for the coming two months, an airlift of food supplies from Dubai had been planned and WFP had deployed emergency and logistics staff to Erbil in the Kurdistan region to help with logistics.
Approximately 547 metric tonnes of food per month a month was needed to feed 42,000 displaced persons, at a cost of $1.5 million. Eventually WFP expected to send as much as 1,000 tonnes of food via the airlifts. The most suitable transport corridor currently was through Turkey but WFP was looking at alternate transport corridors to facilitate easier access and shorter delivery time of food.
Along with the newly displaced, WFP was already assisting about 240,000 people displaced by conflict in Iraq’s al-Anbar region, as well as more than 100,000 refugees from the conflict in Syria, who are sheltering in Iraq, Ms. Byrs noted, adding that there were more details in the press release.
Glenn Thomas for the World Health Organization (WHO) briefed on a couple of points related to the public health situation following this week’s events in Iraq.
Mr. Thomas said that measles was endemic in Mosul and there was therefore a high risk of outbreaks, particularly in areas with makeshift or poor living accommodation. There was a need for surveillance among children in case of outbreaks. WHO had already issued a disease early warning system for Syrian refugees in the Kurdistan region which had now been expanded for the internally displaced persons.
In addition polio was a risk factor, Mr. Thomas said, although a recent round of vaccinations in May had 97 per cent of coverage of children in Mosul. Another round of vaccinations was planned for Sunday 15 June, but because of the displacement and the fact that registrations had not yet been carried out there would be extra challenges for the vaccination team. However, it was intended that all children would be vaccinated to ensure immunity from polio.
Health Clinics had been set up four camps, but for those families stranded at checkpoints the Ministry of Health, supported by WHO, was providing basic services such as insuring supplies, medicines and surveillance. Along with UNICEF, WHO hoped to establish Measles vaccinations for those entering into the camps in the next few days, and also to provide them at check points.
The situation in the Kurdistan region was already overstretched because of the Syrian conflict, with a quarter of million Syrian refugees housed in camps and among host communities, but now the situation had been accelerated by the new intake of internally displaced persons many of whom would consider their needs a priority as they were in their own country. However WHO hoped to guarantee the same level services for all internally displaced persons.
Questions on situation in Iraq
Answering questions, Corinne Momal-Vanian reminded members of the press that both the Secretary-General and the Security Council had strongly condemned the taking of hostages from the Consul in Mosul, and those statements were publicly available. Responding to a question about whether any security support would be provided by the international community, she said any such measures would be determined by the Security Council which had already issued a statement urging support for the Iraqi Government and the Iraqi people. The Security Council statement also reminded States of their obligations to implement enforced and targeted arms embargos and travel bans imposed on ISIS and associated groups, she added. Ms. Momal-Vanian also drew attention to informal comments made to the press last night by the Permanent Representative of Russia, who chaired the Security Council this month, in which he said all members of the Security Council were united in condemning what was happening and urging support for the Iraqi Government and the United Nations Assistance Mission for Iraq (UNAMI). Those remarks were available to watch on the United Nations webcast service.
Mr. Colville answered a question about reports of health personnel fleeing from Mosul, saying that the High Commissioner called upon armed groups to ensure civilians were protected and had unhindered access to hospitals and humanitarian aid, and they were allowed to safely leave areas where fighting was taking place. There were reports of excesses by Government forces, in particular shelling of civilian areas during the fighting of 6 and 8 June in Mosul which resulted in a large number of civilian casualties – reportedly up to 30 civilians were killed. There were also reports that Government forces were not allowing civilians to leave Mosul, and that people were being turned back from checkpoints. Another major concern was that ISIL checkpoints were being used to hunt down or identify people concerned with the Government in any way, he said.
Mr. Colville responded to a question on how many people had been killed in combat saying it was hard to answer. UNAMI had an integrated human rights division which, although it was unable to operate in the most affected places, including Mosul itself, had well established links and networks. UNAMI was putting out quick and detailed information, interviewing people who had fled and receiving information from them.
Answering a question about the impact of interruptions to the polio vaccine campaign, Mr. Thomas said the second round of vaccinations would start on Sunday 15 June as planned, and the intention was to vaccinate all children. Clarifying what support was available outside of the camps, he said over the last few days, the World Health Organization was working with the Ministry of Health and had provided three inter-agency emergency health kits each sufficient for 10,000 people for one month, four supplementary kits sufficient for 30,000 people for three months, and two cholera kits, so it was working on the ground to alleviate the deteriorating health situation there as much as possible.
Mr. Edwards answered a question on internal displacement in Iraq, and whether messages should be sent to European countries about taking refugees in. He said that it was too early to consider that, it was a volatile situation and people were both moving out and moving back. UNHCR did not have much information on the exact reasons why people were fleeing, it was primarily looking at the needs and it was too early to have a clear picture.
Responding to another question, Ms. Berthiaume said the total population of Mosul was estimated to be 1.5 million so it was a third of population who had fled, although that was an estimate.
Elisabeth Byrs, for the World Food Programme (WFP), announced today that in May this year WFP provided food to 3.2 million people inside Syria. That was a decrease compared to the number of people WFP reached in both March and April this year, as WFP provided food to a record-breaking 4. 1 million people in March and 3.9 million in April.
WFP’s goal was to reach 4.25 million people in need of food assistance inside Syria, but it was unfortunately unable to meet that goal because of continued insecurity, said Ms. Byrs, as access for WFP humanitarian staff was becoming more difficult by the day. WFP reminded all parties to the conflict of their obligation to allow humanitarian workers free access to provide food and assistance to people in need. WFP aimed to help all Syrians, regardless of their politics or location inside the country.
On May 22nd WFP and other United Nations agencies obtained approval for a joint two-month long assistance plan for the Aleppo Governorate, which was expected to help 800,000 people, of whom 160,000 lived in rural and eastern areas. Regarding the situation in the Ar Raqqa Governorate, Ms. Byrs said access was still limited and irregular. However, on 8 June WFP successfully managed to provide enough food for 69,000 people for one month in that Governorate, in an operation involving 13 trucks.
Ms. Byrs reminded journalists that over one million people were at risk of food insecurity in the Ar Raqqa and Deir Ezzor Governorates, and 600,000 people were in need of urgent assistance. Turning to funding, Ms. Byrs said WFP needed US$286 million not only to feed displaced persons inside Syria but also to feed refugees up until August 2014. It needed a further US$880 million to fund operations until the end of the year. WFP needed US$41 million dollars every week to continue its operations, she said, explaining the price of feeding one Syrian person for one day was US$1 – the equivalent price of a cup of coffee. There were more details in the press release, she added.
Questions on Syria
A journalist asked why access was becoming more and more difficult, whether it was related to the recent Presidential election, and how many people were in besieged areas. Ms. Byrs replied that the figure had not changed – it was still said to be 245,000 people living in besieged areas. The reason for the increased difficulties in access and the overall deteriorating situation were a combination of violence, insecurity and difficulty in accessing checkpoints. Ms. Byrs reminded the journalist that in May WFP was far from its target of reaching 4.2 million people. She could not comment on whether the issues had worsened since the recent Presidential election.
Central African Republic
Adrian Edwards, for the United Nations Refugee Agency, said UNHCR was looking into reports from the Central African Republic that people seeking safety in Chad may recently have been turned back at a border entry point. It was in touch with the authorities in Chad at this time. UNHCR was also asking all neighbouring countries, Chad included, to keep borders open and to allow refugees and other individuals access to safe haven.
Available information was that people fleeing Central African Republic had been turned back at the Sido border entry point, south of the town of Sarh, Mr. Edwards said, adding that numbers were not clear. Those being turned back were said to either be Central African Republic nationals or Chadians who failed to prove their nationality to border guards. If the reports were correct, it would be of serious concern and run contrary to the principle under international law of non-refoulement (no forced returns).
Violence in Central African Republic was continuing to drive refugees to seek safety in Chad and elsewhere, said Mr. Edwards. In the last six months over 14,000 Central African Republic refugees had arrived in Chad through various border entry points, bringing the total number of CAR refugees there to over 90,000. Some of those refugees had been in Chad for over 10 years.
Refugees arriving in Chad recently had been visibly suffering from hunger and exhaustion after trekking over five hundred kilometres on foot through bad roads and often hiding in the bush to avoid attacks. UNHCR had spoken to women, children and the elderly who had been on the move for months including from some areas near the capital Bangui. Children and adults alike were suffering severe malnutrition and were being transferred to a hospital in Gore in southwest Chad for urgent treatment.
Overall, the crisis that began in Central African Republic in December 2012 had so far caused the flight of some 226,000 refugees and third-country nationals into neighbouring countries. Internal displacement in Central African Republic was currently estimated at 550,000, of whom 132,000 are in Bangui.
Soraya Bermejo, for the United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF), said that in the past six months since violence erupted in the capital city Bangui, at least one child had been maimed or killed in the country every single day on average and there were no signs that that rate would reduce.
UNICEF was seriously concerned that Central African Republic was the least funded appeal of any of its humanitarian emergency appeals. UNICEF needs in Central African Republic had recently increased to US$120 million for 2014, less than 25 per cent of which had been met. More information was in the press release.
UNICEF had a very active group of national UNICEF committees who were finding it particularly difficult to generate media interest, which was a challenge for the organization, Ms. Bermejo noted.
Death Threats to Human Rights Activist in Mauritania
Rupert Colville, for the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR), said OHCHR was concerned at death threats issued last week on social media against the prominent Mauritanian human rights activist Aminetou Mint El-Moctar. The threats were based on a fatwa issued by the leader of the movement known as ‘Friends of the prophet’ and declared that “whoever kills her or tears out her eyes will be rewarded by God.”
Ms. Mint El-Moctar was being targeted because she publicly demanded a fair trial procedure, in compliance with Mauritania’s international human rights obligations, for Mohamed Ould M’Kaitir, a young Mauritanian man who has been awaiting trial on charges of apostasy since January. Because of the nature of the charges, no lawyers had been willing to come forward to defend Mr. Ould M’Kaitir, effectively making it impossible at present for him to be given a fair trial. The horrendous threats against Ms. Mint El-Moctar, simply for pointing that out, starkly underlined the importance of her public call that a fair trial must be ensured, and illustrate how difficult that would be.
OHCHR was concerned that Ms. Mint El-Moctar was not being provided with adequate protection by the authorities, despite having requested it. OHCHR reminded the Government of Mauritania of its obligation to protect its citizens from threats to their life and safety. The Government should take all necessary steps to protect Ms. Mint El-Moctar given the very clear public threats to kill or mutilate her, and to investigate and possibly prosecute those making threats which amount to incitement to kill. In that context, OHCHR encouraged the Government to finally adopt the draft law on civil association, which would strengthen the protection of members of civil society in circumstances such as those.
OHCHR also reminded Mauritania of its obligation to ensure an impartial and fair procedure with full respect for the presumption of innocence until proven guilty. In particular, during the current heightened political discussion in the run up to the presidential elections, the Government should ensure that religion was not used as a tool in the political debate.
Human Rights Council
Rolando Gomez, for the Human Rights Council (HRC) said the Council began its meeting at 9 a.m. this morning, concluding the dialogue with the Special Rapporteur on extrajudicial, summary or arbitrary executions, Cristof Heyns, and the Special Rapporteur on internally displaced persons, Chaloka Beyani. Mr. Heyns would give a press briefing today, Friday, 13 June at 11.30 a.m. in Room III, as detailed by Ms. Momal-Vanian, Mr. Gomez noted.
The Council was currently holding an interactive dialogue with the Independent Expert on international solidarity, Ms. Virginia Dandan, and the Special Rapporteur on trafficking in persons, Ms. Joy Ngozi Ezeilo. This afternoon the Special Rapporteur on the independence of judges and lawyers, Ms. Gabriela Knaul, would present her latest report including on her mission to Russia. A presentation by the Special Rapporteur on the human rights of migrants, Mr. François Crépeau, including his mission to Qatar, would follow.
Giving highlights of next week’s programme, Mr. Gomez said a panel discussion on female genital mutilation would take place Monday morning, 16 June 2014, which would feature opening remarks from High Commissioner Navi Pillay. Panellists included the First Lady of Burkino Faso. The Working Group on discrimination against women would present a general report on 12.30 p.m. followed by a presentation by the Special Rapporteur on the right to education. Also on Monday, the Deputy High Commissioner Flavia Pansieri would present a series of thematic reports on issues including child mortality, violence against women and remedies for victims of trafficking in persons. A general debate on a wide array of civil, political economic, social and cultural rights would follow.
The presentation by the Special Rapporteur on Eritrea was scheduled for Monday, but may be rescheduled to Wednesday to allow time for the interactive dialogue with the Independent Commission of Inquiry on the Syrian Arab Republic, which would present an oral update to the Council on Tuesday 17 June.
The Independent Commission of Inquiry on the Syrian Arab Republic would hold a press conference at 5:00 p.m. on Monday, 16 June in Press Room IIII, covering the latest developments of the human rights situation in Syria between mid-February to mid-June 2014, Mr. Gomez announced. All four Commissioners would be in attendance. The press conference was under strict embargo until presentation to the Council on Tuesday, 17 June, Mr. Gomez noted.
Mr. Gomez flagged the new report on the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea, which was already available on the website, and would be presented to the Council by the Special Rapporteur on the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea on Wednesday 18 June. He also reminded journalists that the deadline for the submission of draft resolutions was Thursday 19 June.
UNCTAD - 50th Anniversary events
Catherine Sibut, for the United Nations Conference on Trade and Development (UNCTAD) announced that UNCTAD had scheduled a concert on Monday 16 June, in the UNOG Cinema at the Palais des Nations, to celebrate its fiftieth anniversary, ahead of the opening of the African Film Festival on Tuesday 17 June, which would open with a lunch-time projection in Room XIX, then continue in the UNOG Cinema.
Ms. Sibut also announced that on Tuesday 17 June, the Secretary-General of United Nations, Ban Ki-moon would make the opening remarks at the twenty-eighth special session of the Trade and Development Board, in the presence of two former UNCTAD Secretary-Generals, Mr. Supachai Panitchpakdi and Mr Rubens Ricupero.
Ms. Sibut also reminded journalists that an UNCTAD press conference was scheduled for Friday 20 June, at 9.30 a.m. in Press Room I, which would be attended by UNCTAD Secretary-General Mr. Mukhisa Kituyi and UNCTAD Director of the Division on Investment and Enterprise Mr. James Zhan. They would present the new World Investment Report 2014 titled “Investing in the Sustainable Development Goals: an Action Plan”. The report was under embargo until June 24 at 5.00 p.m. she noted, and would be released in the UNCTAD virtual press room on Monday.
Christiane Berthiaume, for the International Organization for Migration (IOM), said that thousands of irregular migrants continued to pour across the Cambodian border from Thailand. IOM was working to provide transport for vulnerable people who lacked the means to get home.
IOM estimated that close to 150,000 people had re-entered Cambodia since Saturday, and last night some 15,000 people had crossed into Cambodia at the border town of Poi Pet, following an effort to regularize migration by the military authorities in Thailand. The IOM team on the border had struggled to find enough buses to move people away from the border and back to their home provinces, but the situation was temporarily eased overnight with the arrival of over 100 Cambodian military trucks, she added.
Christiane Berthiaume, for the International Organization for Migration (IOM), said IOM welcomed recent efforts by the Yemeni Government to crack on smugglers/traffickers who took advantage of desperate migrants. However, Ms. Berthiaume specified that IOM required more engagement from the Government to protect irregular migrants who were at the mercy of ruthless smugglers who regularly used torture and rape to extort more money from migrants as well as from their families in the countries of origin.
Ms. Berthiaume said that the presence of a vast network of smugglers in Haradh was recently highlighted in a report by Human Rights Watch entitled: “Yemen’s Torture Camps: Abuse of Migrants by Human Traffickers in a Climate of Impunity”. Following the release of the report the authorities in Haradh had embarked on a number of raids against the smugglers. They had requested IOM to provide for the rescued migrants’ immediate needs and facilitate the voluntary return of those who wished to go back home.
Ms. Momal-Vanian reminded journalists that at 11.30 a.m. on Tuesday, 17 June the United Nations Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon would give a press conference here in Press Room III. There would be no regular briefing that day, she noted.
Ms. Momal-Vanian announced that the Committee on the Rights of the Child would this afternoon close its session with a public meeting. During the session the Committee examined country reports of Jordan, Kyrgyzstan, United Kingdom, India, Indonesia and St. Lucia. The Conference on Disarmament would hold its next public plenary at 10 a.m. on Tuesday, 17 June, Ms. Momal-Vanian also announced.
An OHCHR press conference with Christof Heyns, United Nations Special Rapporteur on extrajudicial, summary or arbitrary executions, would take place today, Friday, 13 June at 11.30 a.m. in Room III. The subject would be the use of lethal force by law enforcement officials worldwide, and Mr. Heyns’ call for a campaign to bring the laws of States in line with international standards.
Valerie Amos, UN Under-Secretary-General for Humanitarian Affairs and Emergency Relief Coordinator, would give a general humanitarian briefing to members of the press on Monday, 16 June at 2.15 p.m. in Press Room III, Ms. Momal-Vanian announced.
Glenn Thomas for the World Health Organization (WHO) announced the sixth meeting of the International Health Regulation and Emergency Committee on MERS-CoV would take place on Monday 17 June to consider the latest information on Middle East Respiratory Syndrome. A press conference was planned, but it depended upon the findings of the Committee and other events taking place on Tuesday 18 June. More information would follow.
Ankai Xu for the World Trade Organization (WTO), briefed on the upcoming schedule for
the coming week. On Tuesday 17 June there would be a Trade Policy Review by the
Organization of Eastern Caribbean States. On Thursday 19 June the Goods Council
would meet at 3 p.m. and on Friday 20 June the Services Council would meet at 10
a.m. On Monday 16 June Director-General Roberto Azevêdo would speak at a workshop
on the Implementation of Trade Facilitation Agreement, which was organized by the
World Customs Organization (WCO). On Tuesday 17 June the Director-General would
attend the fiftieth Anniversary event for the United Nations Conference on Trade and
Development. On Thursday 19 June Mr. Azevêdo would meet with Ministers of the
Philippines and Algeria.
The representatives of the International Labour Organization and the Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs also attended the briefing but did not speak.
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The webcast for this briefing is available here: http://bit.ly/1nAVaEY