REGULAR PRESS BRIEFING BY THE INFORMATION SERVICE
25 March 2014
Corinne Momal-Vanian, Director of the United Nations Information Service, chaired the briefing which was also attended by the Spokespersons for the Human Rights Council, Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights, United Nations Conference on Trade and Development, United Nations Children’s Fund, World Health Organization, World Food Programme, Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs, International Organization for Migration, the United Nations Refugee Agency and the International Labour Organization.
Human Rights Council
Mr. Rolando Gomez for the Human Rights Council (HRC), informed that the Human Rights Council began today with the high-level dialogue on the sexual violence in the Democratic Republic of Congo which would explore steps taken to combat sexual violence in the African nation and set priorities for future actions to discourage such violence which had been used as a weapon of war in conflict areas. An opening statement was delivered by the High Commissioner Navi Pillay, and panelists included among others Ms. Wivine Mumba Matipa, the Minister of Justice and the Human Rights of the DRC, and Ms. Dana Angora, the Special Representative of the Secretary-General on Sexual Violence in Conflict and the Deputy Special Representative of the Secretary-General for the Democratic Republic of Congo Mr. Abdallah Wafy. More information was available in a concept paper distributed in the morning. The Council would then move on to a brief presentation from its subsidiary bodies charged with tackling the issues of racism, racial discrimination and xenophobia followed by a general debate on the issue which would last till about 3 p.m. Then the Council would start with a list of country-specific reports, including a presentation of a report on Côte d’Ivoire by the Independent Expert on the situation of human rights in Côte d’Ivoire Mr. Doudo Diène, which would be followed by an interactive dialogue, and a presentation of a report of the Independent Expert on the situation of human rights in Haiti Mr. Gustavo Gallón followed by an interactive dialogue, and time-permitting, a presentation of a report of the Independent Expert on Mali Mr. Suliman Baldo, followed by an interactive dialogue. That was the first report being presented on Mali, which had already been made public.
Tomorrow, the Council would either start or resume an interactive dialogue on Mali, then hold an interactive dialogue with the Independent Expert on the Central African Republic Ms. Marie-Therèse Keita Bocoum, who had visited the country 4-14 March 2014. She had been appointed at a Special Session on 20 January 2014. She would be presenting a report on the country during the upcoming Session on 20 June 2014, which would be followed by a dialogue. Then the Council would hold a general debate starting approximately at 12 a.m. following a presentation of a report on Sri Lanka by the High Commissioner. Sri Lanka would speak a concerned country. Afterwards there would be two more general debates, the first of which would be on the following country reports: Guatemala, Bolivia, Colombia, Cyprus and Iran. Those would follow a statement delivered by the Deputy High Commissioner Flavia Pansieri and all those countries would speak as a concerned country.
The second general debate would cover the following countries: Afghanistan, Libya, Guinea, Somalia and the Central African Republic. All reports were available and a
presentation would be delivered by the Deputy High Commissioner.
The Council had now forty-one draft resolutions tabled and expected one more presidential statement on Haiti, bringing it to forty-two. All those drafts would be considered on Thursday and Friday 27 and 28 March. The Council would share a list in the order they would be discussed. After the resolutions were done, the Council had a record number of mandates to fill; nineteen special procedure positions would be filled as the last action of the Council on Friday afternoon.
Responding to a question on countries’ complaints regarding a request by NGOs for a minute of silence for a Chinese activist, Mr. Gomez confirmed that during the adoption of the Universal Periodic Review report on China, an NGO called for a minute of silence, which triggered a series of points of order. In the end the NGOs in the back of the room, about fifty of them, stood up as a form of a demonstration.
Responding to another question as to whether Israel would attend the Universal Periodic Review, Ms. Gomez said Thursday morning there would be brief discussion on the report on Israel, which had been scheduled to take place last week. The Israeli government informed that they could not participate due to an internal strike in the country, and they consented that the formal adoption of the report could go ahead without them.
Responding to an inquiry concerning an allegation by a human rights advocacy group that another NGO had been removed from the Human Rights Council chamber for spying on its members, Mr. Gomez confirmed there was an incident. It was brought to the attention of security and the decision was taken to remove that individual’s badge and the individual was no longer allowed to attend that Session.
Outbreak of ebola in Guinea
Tarik Jasarevic, for the World Health Organization (WHO), informed about the outbreak of ebola hemorrhagic fever in Guinea. The Ministry of Health of Guinea had notified the WHO of rapidly evolving outbreak of ebola hemorrhagic fever in forested areas in the South-East part of the country.
As of today 25 March, a total of 86 suspected cases including 59 deaths had been reported. The cases had been reported in Guekedou, Macenta, Nzerekore and Kissidougou districts. Those districts were very close to the border of Sierra Leone and Liberia. In Guekedou, Médecins Sans Frontières (MSF) Switzerland had set up an isolation ward in a local hospital. The EU mobile lab deployed through the WHO was also being based in that hospital. Two suspect cases in Conakry were tested negative by the Institut Pasteur from Dakar. In total, there were thirteen cases lab-confirmed. Six of seven cases of blood samples tested by Institut Pasteur in Lyon were positive. Seven additional cases were confirmed by Institut Pasteur laboratory from Dakar in Conakry, but those reports came from the South-East of the country.
Initial reports suggested that a suspect case in Canada traveling from Liberia was tested negative, which was good news. Multi-disciplinary teams were deployed to the field to search and actively manage cases, trace and follow-up contacts and to work with the communities in the outbreak prevention and control. Besides facilitating the deployment of the two laboratories mentioned, WHO was also sending two logisticians, three epidemiologists and one medical anthropologist. Ebola was causing a severe hemorrhagic fever, was highly contagious, fatality ratios could go up to 90%, and outbreaks occurred primarily in remote villages of Central and West Africa. We had periodic outbreaks of ebola, there was in 2012 one in Uganda and one in the Democratic Republic of Congo. Main response was to focus on several areas: infection control, scaling up medical facilities, critical management of the cases infected and working with health workers so they know how to treat properly patients and do not fall victims themselves. There was a coordination mechanism set up in Conakry, led by the Ministry of Health and involving the WHO and other partners meeting on a daily basis to deal with the situation.
In follow-up to questions, Mr. Jasarevic confirmed that all thirteen lab-confirmed cases were from the South-East of Guinea. There were first six suspected cases from Liberia, out of which five died, that were being tested. Two of those samples were sent to Conakry where they would be examined. There were two cases in Sierra Leone and one suspected case of the person traveling to Canada.
Mr. Jasarevic confirmed that out of the six cases in Liberia, one person was still alive. It was important to understand that the numbers could change rapidly and the symptoms that were presented could be linked to some other disease so it was important to have a lab capacity to be able to confirm.
The WHO was trying to work on overall response, as it had done in other countries where outbreaks happened in the past, such as Uganda, Democratic Republic of Congo and Gabon. Secondly, it was crucial to make sure there was an isolation ward. The problem with ebola was that often health workers often fell victims in Africa because they were insufficiently informed. WHO recommended tracing all contact with the confirmed and suspected cases by national health authorities and checking on them if they developed symptoms or not. Through the WHO networks, it managed to facilitate the deployment of two labs, sending their own logisticians setting up the isolation ward and making sure that heavy protective equipment was made available.
When it came to the incubation period, it was three days to three weeks. One of the reasons why ebola was not travelling so much was that people fell sick very fast. Concerning the length of the outbreak, it was noted that every outbreak of ebola was a case of concern, because there was no vaccine, no medicine or treatment and it was highly contagious, the only thing that could be done was to provide palliative support and care. WHO had experience and was ready to support the affected countries.
With respect to travel recommendations or restrictions, the WHO functioned under international health regulations, so it was officially notified on Friday or Saturday and then acted. It was under the International Health Regulations, so countries should notify the WHO on ebola, but that did not mean that the WHO would propose any travel restrictions. The WHO was not recommending any at that point. Assistance was asked to facilitate the transport of samples to Institut Pasteur in Lyon, which took some time and only when that was confirmed, there would be an official notification and it would be declared an outbreak by the Ministry of Health.
Rupert Colville, for the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR), said that the OHCHR was deeply alarmed by the imposition of the death penalty against 529 people in Egypt yesterday after a cursory mass trial in which the majority of defendants were not present in court.
The astounding number of people sentenced to death in this case was unprecedented in recent history. The mass imposition of the death penalty after a trial that had been rife with procedural irregularities was in breach of international human rights law.
A death sentence may only be imposed after proceedings that met the highest level of respect for fair trial and due process standards. A mass trial of 529 people conducted over just two days could not possibly have met even the most basic requirements for a fair trial. In accordance with international human rights jurisprudence, “the imposition of a death sentence upon conclusion of a trial in which the provisions of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights have not been respected constitutes a violation of article 6 of the Covenant.” More than three-quarters of the defendants, reportedly 398 individuals, were tried in absentia.
The 529 defendants had been convicted of various charges, including membership of an unlawful organization (the Muslim Brotherhood), incitement to violence, vandalism, unlawful gathering and the killing of one police officer. All the charges related to events in August last year after the Government of President Mohammed Morsi had been ousted. This had been several months before the Muslim Brotherhood was declared by the Egyptian authorities to be an unlawful organization. The exact charges against each defendant were unclear as they were not read out in court.
Defence lawyers said that they had had insufficient access to the defendants and that the court had not considered relevant evidence presented by the defence. According to sources present at the trial, among other procedural irregularities, the judge did not call on each defendant by name; some of the defendants who were in detention at the time of the trial were not brought to the court; and the judge did not ask about the legal representation of the defendants.
For those countries which have not abolished the death penalty, article 6 of the ICCPR, which has been ratified by Egypt, applied. This stated that the “sentence of death may be imposed only for the most serious crimes in accordance with the law,” and “not contrary to the provisions of the Covenant." The UN Human Rights Committee had interpreted this to mean that the death penalty should only be applied for the crime of murder or intentional killing. Membership of a political group or participation in demonstrations certainly did not meet the threshold of "most serious crimes".
Article 14 of the Covenant required that every defendant was tried in his or her presence, had the right to adequate time and facilities for the preparation of his or her defence and to communicate with counsel of his or her own choosing, and to examine prosecution witnesses. This was particularly important in cases where the death penalty was imposed. It appeared that these safeguards were largely absent from the mass trial in Egypt. Lawyers have reportedly filed a case contesting the trial on the basis of procedural flaws.
It was particularly worrying that there are thousands of other defendants who had been detained since last July on similar charges. The Minya criminal court in southern Egypt is today trying more than 600 individuals for membership of the Muslim Brotherhood, among other charges.
Responding to a question to trials of people in absentia, Mr. Colville specified that some of the defendants were not in detention, they were either released on bail or evaded detention, but around 50 defendants were in detention and yet, were not brought to the court on the day of the trials and tried in absentia instead. Some of the lawyers objected to the absence of their clients from the court room, yet the judges went ahead with the trials, which was understood as a breach of the Egyptian court and criminal procedures. The main point was the right to defence, the right not to be tried in absentia to serious charges. Some of the defendants did not have lawyers, and even those lawyers that were in the court were allegedly unable to study properly the cases. The sentence could be appealed and the OHCHR presumed it would be appealed.
Answering a question, Mr. Colville said the High Commissioner was concerned that the blocking of access to Twitter on 20 March by Turkey’s Telecommunication Presidency may be incompatible with the country’s international human rights obligations. He referred to a statement he had delivered on 14 February showing concern on the legislative amendments (adoption of law 6518) , which lay behind this recent case as well, and allowed Turkey’s Telecommunication authorities to block website without seeking first a court order. The law as it stands appeared to be incompatible with Turkey’s international human rights obligations, in particular those related to freedom of expression and right to privacy. Noting that the General Assembly had recently affirmed that the rights that people have off- line must be protected on-line as well and he urged the authorities to rescind the blocking of Twitter.
Jens Laerke for the Office for the Coordination for Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA) gave an update on Syria. In the morning, 12 trucks of the cross-border humanitarian operation between Turkey and Syria began moving across the Nusaybin/Qamishli border point. Over five days, with a one day break on Friday, some 78 trucks with much needed aid had crossed into Syria’s Al Hassakeh governorate. The aid consisted of food supplies, blankets, mattresses, family and hygiene kits, medicines and medical supplies.
Each UN agency and IOM had beneficiary lists which were used to determine the content of this convoy. The aid was initially taken to UN warehouses and was planned for distribution by the UN and its partners based on the needs and vulnerability of the affected people.
The Regional Humanitarian Coordinator, Nigel Fisher, last night stressed the importance of continuing to provide UN agencies and partners with the security required to enable them to deliver aid safely. He said that he was pleased that this UN convoy had been authorized to enter, but also reminded the parties to the conflict of their obligation to ensure implementation of Security Council Resolution 2139 to enable delivery of humanitarian aid across borders and front lines whenever needed.
Answering a question, Mr. Laerke specified that up until that morning the Syrian side of the Kamishli border was controlled by the Syrian Government.
Patrick McCormick for the United Nations Children Fund (UNICEF) said that UNICEF sent in a total of 16 trucks with blankets, family hygiene kits and water kits. These included a number of essential items like water purification tablets, towels, shampoo, washing liquid, soap, baby rash cream and sanitary napkins for women.
These supplies were going to reach 50,000 people in need and to host families in Al-Hasakeh governorate with an estimated of 25,000 children displaced and affected by conflict. The supplies would be distributed through local partners in Al- Hasakeh.
Christiane Berthiaume, for the International Organization for Migration (IOM), said that of the ten IOM camions in the inter-agency convoy, there were nine that had passed. They transported kitchen utensils kits, hygiene kits, blankets, mattresses and soap reaching 57,000 families. The needs of the families had been estimated in advance.
Elisabeth Byrs, for the World Food Programme (WFP), said that the WFP had 23 trucks which had crossed already and were in the inter-agency convoy, it was transporting 10 000 family rations sufficient for one month for 50 000 people.
Ms. Byrs said that significant gains in accessing people had been made by the WFP in hard-to-reach areas in Syria. Since the adoption of Resolution 2139 on 22 February, WFP reached 112,500 people living in previously inaccessible areas in five governorates, including Deir-ez-Zor, Ar-Raqqa, Dar’a, Idleb, and Homs. Of those, 37,0500 people were reached through inter-agency convoys, while the remaining 75,000 ones were reached through the WFP regular programmes.
In February, 3.7 million people were reached, the March figure was not available yet. The March cycle showed a significant improvement in the dispatch rate compared to previous months, owing to an enhanced supply chain that allowed all commodities to be available prior to the start of the cycle. As of 18 March, the WFP had completed 68 per cent of its dispatch plan cycle with a 32 per cent increase as compared to the same time in February.
Mr. Jasarevic said that the WHO was part of this convoy too, and it had sent medical supplies for 60 000 people and 1000 surgical interventions. That added to airlifts to the Al Khas governorate, where the WHO had brought medical supplies to 330 000 people. The WHO had a focal point in Al Khas, and was planning to open an office in Qamishli and work with all health providers in that governorate.
Ms. Berthiaume said the IOM had surpassed 400 000 Syrian refugees transported from the transit centers towards the North of the country to the border with Jordan and the refugee camps inside Jordan. They arrived after a long journey dehydrated, famished and exhausted. More details were available in a press note.
Adrian Edwards, for the United Nations Refugee Agency (UNHCR), said that in light of the worsening crisis in South Sudan, the UNHCR and WFP on behalf of partners had appealed yesterday (Monday) to donors for US$371 million in urgently needed support for the thousands of South Sudanese refugees now arriving in neighbouring countries.
Since fighting erupted in mid-December more than 204,000 people had already fled to Sudan, Uganda, Ethiopia and Kenya. With continuing insecurity and growing food shortages inside South Sudan, UNHCR expected the number of South Sudanese refugees across the region to reach 340,000 by the end of the year.
South Sudanese had recently been fleeing into neighbouring countries at a rate of nearly 2,000 per day, with most heading to Ethiopia and Uganda. Many of the refugees had been arriving exhausted, nutritionally weak, and in poor health, having coming from areas of South Sudan experiencing severe food shortages. The majority are women, children and elderly people. With some 708,900 people displaced inside South Sudan and 3.7 million at high risk of food insecurity, the potential for further cross-border movement was high.
Given these trends, the regional emergency response announced yesterday would focus on protection activities and other life-saving needs. Those included emergency food, water, sanitation, and health. In addition, the UNHCR would be developing and expanding refugee camps and other sites where basic services would be available.
Monday’s appeal covered only the South Sudanese refugee population in neighbouring countries. UNHCR’s worked to help internally displaced people and the 235,000 mainly Sudanese refugees inside South Sudan was covered by separate budgets.
On behalf of the Universal Postal Union, Ms. Momal-Vanian announced a Forum “Fulfilling the global e-commerce promise” which would take place later in the week 26-27 March 2014 in Bern (programme was distributed in the room). Predicted global e-commerce sales were of US$ 1.5 trillion in 2014, requiring effective delivery payment and custom solutions. While domestic e-commerce tended to be successful, issues needed to be addressed at the international level to have successful cross-border e-commerce. E-commerce was a major issue for postal services as they continued to facilitate trade globally and their business increasingly shifted from the delivery of letters, post parcels and goods.
The Forum would have representatives from major e-tailers, consumer associations, post, customs and telecommunication especially. The Secretary-Generals from the International Telecommunications Union (ITU), United Nations Conference on Trade and Development (UNCTAD) and the World Customs Organization in Brussels would participate in the Opening Session. For those interested but unable to attend, the discussions could be followed through a live webcast on the UPU website (www.upu.int) and for more information or to interview any speakers, Rhéal LeBlanc could be contacted.
Corinne Momal-Vanian announced that the Committee on Enforced Disappearances held a thematic debate in the morning on enforced disappearances and military justice in room XXV. The Committee on Human Rights continued its work on liberty and security of the person. The rest of the Session would be consecrated to private sessions to adopt final observations on the six observed countries (Kyrgyzstan, Sierra Leone, Lithuania, United States, Chad and Nepal) which would be rendered public at the closing of the Session Friday.
The Conference on Disarmament did not meet today but would hold the last public meeting tomorrow Wednesday before the suspension of the current Session. The Minister of Foreign Affairs of Australia would make a declaration, and the Conference on Disarmament would also pronounce itself on the calendar of activities for debates that would take place in the second part of the Session from 12 May.
Two Committees would meet next week, the Committee on Migrant Workers and Committee on Handicapped Persons. A basic press release for each of those committees would be published on Thursday.
Ms. Momal-Vanian noted regarding upcoming press conferences, that there would be a conference of the Permanent Mission of Italy at 12:00 On Wednesday in Room I on a theatre project which would be presented on 26 march 2014 in the evening in Palais de Nations with important personalities present. The project called “Blessées à mort” was on the subject of feminicide.
Also on 26 March 2014 at 17:00 there would be a series of two press conferences at the end of Geneva International Discussions in Room III at Palais des Nations, to start with press briefings by the Co-Chairs of the Discussions, the European Union (EU), United Nations (UN), and Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE).
There would also be a press conference on Thursday 27 March 2014 in Room III of the Committee on Human Rights on its final observations on Kyrgyzstan, Sierra Leone, Lithuania, United States, Chad and Nepal.
Hans von Rohland, for the International Labour Organization (ILO), informed that tomorrow the International Labour Organization would issue a press release on Freedom of Association. The ILO Committee on Freedom of Association would present its report to the ILO Administration Council which would adopt it tomorrow around 17:00 o’clock. The press release would be released on that occasion, citing the most urgent and serious cases of arrests, which the Committee had addressed this year.
Ms. Catherine Sibut, for the United Nations Conference on Trade and Development (UNCTAD), announced the UNCTAD’s 5th Global Commodities Forum held in Room XXVI, Palais des Nations, on 8 April 2014. Two subject would be addressed: the role of "global value chains" and the distribution of the value created. As the analysis by UNCTAD suggested, only 8% of the value created by international supply chains flew to the 100-plus developing countries. This issue was important in the context of development policies, as well as the question how the developing countries could retain more of the value created in the value chains that transformed basic resources.
Its second subtheme concerned the need for greater transparency in the commodities sector. Since the crisis of 2008 it had been recognized by economists, analysts and observers of the commodities market that the transparency did not exist, and the increase of commodities during this period could not be explained by the market’s fundamental principles. Thus there was a fundamental problem with the lack of transparency, which would be discussed among other experts by the founder of Transparency International and the Chairperson of the Extractive Industries Transparency Initiative (EITI) Mr. Peter Eigen. As host to the world's largest commodity trading sector controlling dominant shares of the global trade in, for example, crude oil, grains, oil seeds, coffee and sugar, Switzerland’s approach to transparency in this sector would be among the topics discussed.
Ms. Sibut would share the list of participants and further information. She reminded that the Forum had free entrance and there would be a press release distributed before the Forum. She proposed a briefing about the issues discussed at the Forum on Monday at 2:30 p.m. at Room I of Palais des Nations.
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The webcast for this briefing is available here: http://bit.ly/1hlseuE