REGULAR PRESS BRIEFING BY THE INFORMATION SERVICE
13 August 2013
Corinne Momal-Vanian, Director of the United Nations Information Service in Geneva, chaired the briefing which was also attended by Spokespersons for the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights, the United Nations Refugee Agency, the Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs, the United Nations Children’s Fund, the World Food Programme and the World Health Organization.
Central African Republic
Adrian Edwards for the United Nations Refugee Agency (UNHCR) said UNHCR was continuing to see forced displacement within and from Central African Republic. Inside CAR itself there were now an estimated 206,000 Internally Displaced People. Since mid-July an additional 4,125 refugees arrived in the Moissala area of southern Chad. There were now 62,714 refugees who had fled to neighbouring countries since the latest CAR crisis erupted last December – 40,500 of these in the Democratic Republic of Congo, 13,087 in Chad, 4,841 in Republic of Congo, and 4,286 in Cameroon.
UNHCR remained extremely concerned over the situation inside CAR, with continuing reports of lawlessness and insecurity in many areas. In Bangui, a local United Nations staff member was the victim of an attack by rogue Seleka elements on Sunday night. They raided his home at midnight, ordered him to give them money, then took his bike and shot him in the chest. He was now recovering from the wound. Another local United Nations staff member was seriously wounded and her husband killed during a similar incident a week ago. Such night attacks in Bangui had become increasingly common.
In rural areas, widespread fear was reported among the civilian population, who was responding in some cases by organizing vigilante groups. Clashes between the local population and elements of Seleka took place in the morning yesterday and the day before at Beboura, a village located 30 km from Paoua, a town near the Chadian border. The exact toll was still unknown but wounded people had been transported to a hospital in Paoua. This past weekend reports were also received of two people having been killed by armed men allegedly affiliated to Seleka in Bossangoa, in the northwest prefecture of Ouham. Thirty other people were reported killed by the Seleka in the same area.
Access for humanitarian workers remained difficult, although there was now better access to the refugee camps at Bambari, Batalimo, and Zemio in central and southern CAR – which together host 11,252 mainly Congolese and Sudanese refugees. UNHCR completed a second round of food distribution in the camps last week, coupled with a number of non-food items for 8,000 refugees and 796 vulnerable people in the host population.
UNHCR was again calling on the CAR government to do more to ensure the safety of people and their property across the country, to avert further displacement and suffering. As of last Friday, the CAR operation run by UNHCR was less than 30 per cent funded, with $8 million out of the $28.8 million required to help refugees in neighbouring countries.
Answering questions, he said reports were received on a routine basis of human rights violations of a serious nature, including rape and shootings.
Marixie Mercado for the United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF) said UNICEF emergency teams had been working for the past few weeks to restart health services in two districts at the heart of the Central African Republic that had been hard hit by the ongoing crisis. The six-person teams, one based on Kaga Bandoro since July 10 and the second in Bambari since July 20, represented the first extended United Nations presence in the conflict-ravaged interior of the country since December last year.
The mobile teams had provided emergency supplies to 19 health facilities serving a population of about 166,000 that had been closed or non-operational for many months due to drug shortages. The 19 sites were selected for assistance because health personnel had returned to work. UNICEF was planning to reach 26 additional health posts serving 325,000 people with emergency supplies over the next few days.
Through emergency mobile teams, and elsewhere across the country, UNICEF was working with national authorities and humanitarian partners to restart or rehabilitate basic services wherever security permitted. Late last month, over 50 metric tons of humanitarian supplies were brought in. A vaccination campaign that was being rolled out as access opens up has reached almost 200,000 children since May with measles and polio immunisation, as well as Vitamin A and deworming medication.
Even before the military takeover of the country, the Central African Republic was already one of the toughest places for a child to survive, consistently ranking among the bottom ten countries in development indicators. Needs had deepened and extended, and children were bearing the brunt of a vicious cycle of poverty, poor governance, conflict and political instability.
On top of the ongoing insecurity, funding was an acute constraint. UNICEF’s 2013 emergency appeal of $11.5 million, issued before the military takeover of the country, had since tripled to $32.4 million. UNICEF had received about $9 million, leaving a funding gap of $23 million through the end of the year.
Answering questions, she said violations against women and children were happening every day. Emergency teams were working in every location it was safe for them to be in. Health facilities had been looted and the immunization chain outside of Bangui was destroyed. Many schools had been closed down. The CAR had always been a difficult place to live and conditions since the overthrow of the government had since further deteriorated.
Tarik Jasarevic for the World Health Organization (WHO) said a rapid evaluation exercise had shown that 70 per cent of persons in CAR did not have access to health services, Many health facilities were not functioning due to looting, movement of health workers, non-payment of wages and breach of the medicines supply chain.
An assessment in July in seven prefectures showed that the lack of health services in more precarious conditions of life puts populations such as children and women at risk of against communicable diseases and a resurgence of cases of malnutrition among children under 5 years year old.
The epidemic of measles reported in the first quarter of 2013 in the city of Bangui and around, had spread west in April 2013 and from January to July 2013, 272 suspected measles cases were reported, of which 161 were confirmed positive. In response, local vaccination campaigns against measles and polio were held in June and July, with the support of MSF France
Partners working in the health sector continued to assist, and WHO had given a large batch of emergency medical kits to NGO Merlin and Save the Children and cholera kits to the Ministry of Health. The health sector emergency appeal launched by the United Nations appeal was underfunded, with only 35% of the appeal of the WHO funded.
Jens Laerke for the Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA) said the humanitarian appeal for the Central African Republic requested $195 million and had received 62 million, the equivalent of 32 per cent. Of that coverage, 23 per cent was carry-over from last year.
Some sectors were particularly poorly funded or not funded at all. Early Recovery and Emergency Shelter had received no funding to date, and Water, Sanitation and Hygiene had received less than 8 per cent. This meant that local projects critical for rehabilitation of infrastructure and the restart of economic development could not be carried out. It also meant that projects targeting displaced people and returnees in need of emergency shelter could not be implemented.
The Central African Republic’s Humanitarian Appeal had a list of 30 projects submitted mainly by NGOs, but also by United Nations agencies, to improve vulnerable people’s access to safe water and proper sanitation. They had received no money. The Security Council would be briefed on the situation in the Central African Republic on 14 August.
Elisabeth Byrs for the World Food Programme (WFP) said in July the WFP had provided food for 2.9 million people, and hoped to reach three million in August. This included work in areas that had been very difficult to access, meaning the WFP had distributed 96 per cent of its intended recipients. Outside of Syria 1.1 million people had received food assistance. The current shortfall was $607 million as WFP needed $30 million per week to continue its operations inside and outside Syria.
Answering a question Ms. Momal-Vanian said the Special Joint Representative, Mr. Lakhdar Brahimi, was currently in Geneva where he and his team were preparing for the Geneva II peace conference, the date for which had not been set.
World Humanitarian Day
Ms. Momal-Vanian said journalists in Geneva were invited to participate on Monday, 19 August 2013 in the commemoration of World Humanitarian Day and the 10th anniversary of the bombing of the Canal Hotel in Baghdad.
The event in Geneva was to commence at 15:45 with a wreath-laying ceremony at the commemorative plaque for the victims of the 2003 Canal Hotel bombing outside Room XX, followed by a global ceremony led by the Secretary-General at United Nations Headquarters, which could be watched live in Room XX.
Jens Laerke for the Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA) said a global campaign would be launched on 19 August for the next thirty days. Last year, the humanitarian community reached more than one billion people globally through the ‘I Was Here’ campaign and the goal for 2013 was to harness this worldwide expression of goodwill and do something that has never been done before.
The UN and its humanitarian partners were launching a new, ground-breaking campaign called ‘The World Needs More…’ with the aim of turning words into real aid for real people. The plan was to have private enterprise and philanthropists sponsor words, such as peace, water, aid, love or others and whenever a member of the public shared that word it unlocked $1 of aid. More details of this were to be released on Friday.
Elisabeth Byrs for the World Food Programme (WFP) said there were humanitarian colleagues on the ground that were available for interview on request.
Elizabeth Throssell for the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR) said OHCHR was concerned about the recent arrest of Adilur Rahman Khan, a prominent human rights defender in Bangladesh and urged the Government of Bangladesh to secure his immediate release.
On 10 August, Mr Khan, the director of Odhikar, a well-known human rights organization in Bangladesh, was arrested at his home in Dhaka by plainclothes officers reportedly acting without a warrant. He was reported to have been arrested under section 54 of the Code of Criminal Procedure and section 57 of the Information and Communication Technology Act, accused of publishing false information about violence by Government forces during demonstrations on 5 and 6 May by the Islamist movement, Hefazat-e-Islami. Odhikar reported that 61 people had died during these protests, challenging the government’s version of events.
On 11 August, Mr Khan was denied bail and ordered to be held on remand for five days. He was allegedly denied access to a lawyer before his court hearing. OHCHR was calling on the Government of Bangladesh to guarantee the physical and psychological integrity of Mr Khan, whose arrest might be linked to his work as human rights defender.
Adrian Edwards for the United Nations Refugee Agency (UNHCR) said violent clashes between displaced Muslims and security forces in Myanmar's Rakhine state last Friday had left one man dead and about ten people injured. UNHCR was reiterating its call for peaceful dialogue and confidence building between the IDPs and Government.
The latest incident was reported to have started on Friday morning when a dead body was found in a creek near Ohn Taw Gyi IDP camp outside Sittwe, the capital of Rakhine state. The cause of death and the handling of the body erupted into a dispute between a group of IDPs and the local police. This was believed to have led to violent confrontations between the police and IDPs, during which four IDPs sustained gunshot wounds and one was hit on the head by other IDPs. The IDPs burned a former border guard base near Ohn Taw Gyi. It was understood that at least three individuals were subsequently arrested.
The IDPs then blocked a road leading to the site of the incident. As a member of a UN inter-agency team, UNHCR was invited by the Government to mediate in the situation and defuse tensions. The UN team managed to gain temporary access and assess the situation on site, however reports were received later that police had removed the road block using force and resulting in further injuries.
On Sunday it was reported that one of the shooting victims had died from his injuries. Humanitarian community sources had been able to confirm, to some extent, the casualties related to the events of Friday. However, access to reliable information remained problematic.
Over the weekend, UNHCR and its partners were unable to access the affected areas for security reasons. By yesterday, the situation had calmed enough for humanitarian work to resume in the affected camps.
With most temporary shelters completed, camp coordination and camp management activities were of paramount importance to assist in ensuring constructive dialogue with the authorities in order to prevent future incidents. Teams were working with partners and the IDPs to strengthen camp management and help establish reliable camp committees that can mitigate any future tensions.
Some 140,000 people remained internally displaced in Rakhine state following last year's inter-communal violence. An additional 36,000 people in isolated areas and host communities in the state had also been adversely affected, with little to no access to work and basic services.
Ms. Momal-Vanian said the Committee on the Elimination of Racial Discrimination opened a three-week session yesterday, and was this morning to hear from NGOs in countries delivering reports this week; Chile, Chad and Venezuela.
The Advisory Committee of the Council of Human Rights also started work yesterday. Today there was a debate on the first of three new themes that will be discussed during this session, which concerns situations after a disaster or conflict, international cooperation in the field of human rights and the negative effects of corruption on human rights.
The Conference on Disarmament met this morning to continue its consideration of proposals made on June 18 by Mr. Tokayev as Secretary General of the Conference - which aimed in particular to promote the adoption of a work programme.
On Thursday, (15 August) the International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies (IFRC) would hold its monthly press briefing at 11.00 a.m. in Press Room 1 with updates planned on Sudan and Philippines.
Tarik Jasarevic for the World Health Organization (WHO) said today (13 August) at 2.00 p.m. in Press Room 1 there was a press briefing on the 2013 World Health Report Research for universal health coverage. Speakers were Dr Christopher Dye, Director, Office of Health Information, HIV/AIDS, Tuberculosis, Malaria & Neglected Tropical Diseases, WHO and Dr John Reeder, Director, The Special Programme for Research and Training in Tropical Diseases (hosted by WHO).
In the room but not briefing were representatives of the International Labour Organization, the International Organization for Migration and the United Nations Conference on Trade and Development.
The webcast for this briefing is available here: http://bit.ly/18rIbgc