REGULAR PRESS BRIEFING BY THE INFORMATION SERVICE
6 May 2014
Corinne Momal-Vanian, Director the United Nations Information Service in Geneva, chaired the briefing, which was attended by the Spokespersons for the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights, World Health Organisation, International Labour Organisation, Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs, World Food Programme, International Organisation for Migration, United Nations Refugee Agency and the United Nations Children’s Fund.
Christophe Boulierac, for the United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF), informed that UNICEF was focusing on installing sanitary systems for those displaced, primarily women and children (some 150 families) in the region of Badakhshan. Psycho-social support for children, whose family members had lost lives, and were traumatised, was also a priority for UNICEF. Specialized UNICEF teams were helping children re-establish their new lives as soon as possible, including ensuring that affected children continued to attend school. Some 32,000 families had been provided assistance in terms of drinking water thus far.
Chris Lom, for the International Organisation for Migration (IOM), informed that the distribution of relief items at the site, where Abi Barik village used to be, had been quite difficult over the previous two days because of disputes between local authorities on the ground but it was going ahead. Various items that had been delivered by truck by IOM and other agencies were being distributing including blankets, solar lamps, cooking utensils, stoves, soap and other items.
The response then had to move on beyond helping the immediate victims of that tragedy, and include rebuilding people’s houses and help them recover their livelihoods because those were desperate poor people in a desperately remote part of Afghanistan.
Mr. Lom explained that, in a wider context, the victims were part of a much larger group, as over 70,000 other people in northern Afghanistan had also been severely affected by floods over the previous two weeks.
To date, IOM had assisted more than 900 families (6,300 individuals) in Balkh, Faryab, and Samangan provinces; while a further 690 families (4,830 individuals) would be assisted in Faryab and Ser-e-Pul in the coming days. In addition, 1,800 relief and emergency shelter kits were currently being distributed to flood-affected families in Jawzjan, the worst hit province.
In that context, Mr. Lom, mentioned an ongoing disaster risk reduction that IOM had been running in Afghanistan for many years. A critical part of that program was the construction of gabion walls (rocks inside chicken-wire) which basically held back potential landslides and protected access routes. They were also an excellent means of creating jobs for desperately poor unemployed people in remote parts of Afghanistan.
IOM hoped that the international community would be addressing that challenge to plan and implement longer-term programs that would actually minimize the damage caused by annual flooding and other natural disasters that remote areas of Afghanistan continued to suffer from.
Elisabeth Byrs, for the World Food Programme (WFP), said that the WFP had been present on the ground since early Saturday and had been distributing food since Sunday morning. The two-month ration consisted of wheat and vegetable oil, and would be supplemented with pulses.
Recent flooding had closed the road between Faizabad and Kishm for three days and thousands of people were stuck on both sides. WFP had provided a digger to support efforts to reopen the road.
Local authorities had reported at least 250 people buried under the mud, 300 houses buried, with a further 700 houses at risk of landslide, thereby necessitating the evacuation of the families living there.
Badakhshan was susceptible to recurrent natural disasters. That added to the province’s chronic poverty and the high vulnerability of its people.
Large tracts of agricultural land had been lost in the landslide and over 1,000 livestock, putting therefore communities’ future food security at risk.
WFP had been responding to this disaster out of its nearby Faizabad office, and was strengthening its presence in the area by adding an international logistics officer and international programme officer.
WFP was already responding to floods in neighbouring provinces in northern Afghanistan when the latest disaster hit.
[The following information was received from the Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs after the press briefing:
· The number of people affected by floods in Afghanistan has risen to approximately 75,000 in 14 provinces after three more provinces - Ghor, Kabul and Laghman - reported flood affected people yesterday evening. An estimated 5,000 houses have been damaged or destroyed by floods across the country.
· UN agencies and NGOs are working with the national authorities to provide assistance to displaced people across the northern provinces. Assessments are ongoing in the new areas affected by floods.
· Afghanistan is a country extremely vulnerable to recurring natural disasters due to its geography and years of environmental degradation. “This tragedy highlights the need for greater attention to the larger issue of natural disasters that are so frequent in the northern part of the country. More attention needs to be focused on greater preparedness and disaster risk reduction,” said UN Deputy Humanitarian Chief Kyung-wha Kang after an aerial inspection yesterday in Badakhshan Province.
· The government has reinforced its coordination capacity with the appointment of a high-level Disaster Relief Coordinator.]
Ms. Momal-Vanian informed that United Nations Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon had arrived in Juba today for a one-day visit to South Sudan.
The Secretary-General would meet with the President of the Republic of South Sudan, Salva Kiir Mayardit. He would also visit, with his Special Representative and Head of the UN Mission in South Sudan (UNMISS), Hilde F. Johnson, the protection of civilians site in the UNMISS Tomping compound. He would meet with the community leaders representing the thousands of civilians who had sought shelter in the United Nations compound to hear of their concerns first hand
While in Juba, the Secretary-General would also have an opportunity to meet with civil society leaders, especially from women's and religious groups.
Finally, the Secretary-General was also expected to meet with UN staff and peacekeepers, in order to thank them for their dedication and service as they continued to help protect thousands of South Sudanese civilians who were at risk during the on-going crisis. Ever since the beginning of the current crisis, the Secretary-General had repeatedly called on the leaders to find a political solution and to put an immediate end to the violence which had led to the suffering of so many innocent civilians.
Adrian Edwards, for the United Nations Refugee Agency (UNHCR), informed that, in Ethiopia, UNHCR was seeing a sharp increase in refugees fleeing South Sudan's conflict, after Government forces had captured the rebel stronghold of Nasir in the Greater Upper Nile region over the weekend.
Over the previous 72 hours, over 11,000 people had crossed into the Ethiopian town of Burubiey, a small remote community on the shores of the Baro River which marked the border between the two countries.
The refugees were telling UNHCR that more people were on their way, with many amassed on the South Sudanese side of the border waiting to cross the river on one of the few small ferry boats. The newly arrived refugees, all ethnic Nuers, reported thatthousands more were fleeing Nasir, some 30 km from the border.
Mr. Edwards stated that the refugees were being registered on arrival and receiving basic medical and nutritional care plus relief items at a reception centre opened the previous week by UNHCR and Ethiopia's Administration for Refugees and Returnees Affairs (ARRA).
UNHCR and its partners, including ARRA and the Ethiopian Red Cross Society, MSF, WFP, IOM, were all rapidly scaling up their responses to meet the surge in new arrivals – some of them wounded and in urgent need of medical help – and to improve the crowded conditions. Thousands of people were still waiting to be registered, and UNHCR was moving staff from the nearby Leitchuor refugee camp to Burubiey to help, while giving priority to people with urgent health and nutrition needs. UNHCR was also working on flying additional staff and relief items to the area.
Once registered, refugees were being moved to Kule refugee camp, which was situated some 250 km to the east. That camp was fast approaching its capacity of 40,000 refugees, and a new camp was being established nearby to accommodate another 30,000 people.
Mr. Edwards explained that the IOM was also increasing its capacity to transport people way from the border to the established camps. Heavy rains were expected any time, which would make the relocation of refugees from Burubiey challenging.
The vast majority of new arrivals were still women and children (more than 70 per cent), although an increasing number of men were now also fleeing.
Mr. Edwards informed that more than 110,000 refugees had fled South Sudan to Ethiopia since the outbreak of violence in December 2013. So far, around 102,000 had gone through Level 1 registration, and they were staying in four camps in Ethiopia's western Gambella Regional State, run by UNHCR and ARRA.
Another 205,000 refugees had fled to Uganda (102,698), Sudan (67,401) and Kenya (34,770) while some 923,000 people were displaced inside South Sudan itself. Overall, more than 1.3 million were displaced from the current crisis so far.
Meanwhile, the inter-agency appeal for the South Sudanese Refugee Emergency remained dramatically underfunded, with only 14 per cent of the requested USD 370 million appeal received. As the number of displaced people continued to rise, UNHCR was expecting to increase its appeal in the coming days.
Mr. Lom stated that the IOM had provided transport and pre-departure medical checks for 91,000 South Sudanese arriving in Ethiopia through the country’s Pagak and Akobo-Tergol border crossing points since 11 January.
The asylum seekers, some of over 110,000 South Sudanese to seek safety in Ethiopia since conflict had broken out in South Sudan in December 2013, had been moved by boat and road to the Fugnido, Leitchuor, Bonga and Kule refugee camps in Ethiopia’s Gambella province.
IOM medical teams on the ground reported that 95 per cent of arrivals were women and children. Many had walked for days to reach the border and were suffering from malnutrition (moderate and acute), diarrheal diseases, malaria, acute respiratory infections (ARI), acute febrile illnesses and pregnancy-related complications.
Mr. Lom informed that, out of the people who had come across, some 342 had been too ill to travel by boat or by truck, and UNHCR had transported them by helicopter to nearby hospitals and camps.
IOM’s office in Ethiopia had said that as far as it could, Ethiopia would keep its doors open to people fleeing South Sudan.
Ms. Byrs stated that the WFP was concerned about food security in South Sudan and the possibility of a food catastrophe developing over the coming year as conflict was pushing many more people into hunger.
WFP had so far provided lifesaving food and nutrition support to more than 800,000 people affected by the conflict in South Sudan, and was reaching more people every day.
Ms. Byrs said that the World Food Programme was using a combination of airlifts and airdrops in remote, hard-to-reach areas, overcoming severe challenges including looting and continued fighting. Mobile distribution teams took advantage of windows of opportunity to distribute food in communities isolated by conflict.
WFP was appealing to all parties to the conflict to facilitate unimpeded access to all those in need before conditions deteriorated even further, and we called on the donor community to increase their support for urgent, humanitarian operations. WFP continued to assist people sheltering in UN compounds and other IDP populations. About 80,000 people were sheltered in UN compounds.
Ms. Byrs stated that the WFP was facing serious challenges in transporting food to deep field locations due to access and security concerns. That was hampering its annual pre-positioning exercise, in which the WFP stocked up warehouses in areas that would become inaccessible during the rainy season. In some areas the rains had already begun.
Despite immense challenges due to insecurity, including looting and commandeering of trucks belonging to commercial transporters, WFP had dispatched over 72,000 metric tons of food around the country since the start of 2014.
Regarding the Maban County, WFP had also continued providing regular food rations to a pre-existing caseload of more than 200,000 Sudanese refugees living in camps in Unity and Upper Nile states. Re-supplying those camps had been complicated by continued insecurity along the supply routes and cross-border access constraints.
For several months, WFP had faced a series of obstacles in trying to move food by road into Maban County, both from neighboring Ethiopia and from Renk, where it had purchased cereal locally. Heavy fighting was currently blocking all routes leading to the refugee camps, leaving air transport as the only remaining option to resupply them.
Re-supplying refugee camps in Maban County had been complicated by continued insecurity and fighting along the supply routes. Since 3 May, WFP had delivered more than 244 metric tons of cereals by airdrop into Maban. Non-droppable commodities were being airlifted to Paloich and transported by road to Maban.
More than 2,300 metric tons of food was needed each month to assist the Sudanese refugees and vulnerable population in Maban.
Rupert Colville, for the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR), said that OHCHR was deeply concerned by the surge in violence in Ukraine, which was resulting in more and more deaths and destruction. OHCHR urged all sides to make a much greater effort to find a peaceful resolution to the current crisis, especially in the various towns in eastern and southern Ukraine that had been racked by increasingly violent confrontations.
The Government had to ensure that military and police operations were undertaken in line with international standards. It was extremely important that the authorities themselves demonstrated full respect for the rule of law and scrupulously protected the human rights of all, including the Russian-speaking population.
Mr. Colville stressed that armed opposition groups had to stop all illegal actions, including detaining people and seizing public buildings in violation of Ukraine’s laws and Constitution. Those organized and well-armed groups should lay down their weapons, free arbitrarily detained persons, and vacate occupied public and administrative buildings.
It was essential that the authorities carried out prompt, transparent and comprehensive investigations into the events in Odessa and Donetsk regions that had led to the deaths of dozens of people in recent days, including the fire in the trade union building in Odessa last Friday in which more than 40 people were believed to have died.
Inclusive and participatory dialogue needed to be undertaken at all levels to de-escalate tensions and prevent further violence. Leaders at national and local levels needed to take serious steps to halt the rhetoric of hatred and confrontation, before the situation spiralled totally out of control.
Genuine peaceful demonstrations had to be permitted, both as a matter of international law and as a release valve for people’s legitimate fears and frustrations. Policing should facilitate such assemblies while ensuring the protection of participants, irrespective of their political views. There was an urgent need to create an environment where freedom of expression and opinion were fully respected.
OHCHR condemned all attacks on, and harassment of, journalists. All sides had to allow journalists space to work, which was a key element in ending the increasing misinformation, disinformation and hate speech that had been colouring conflicting narratives and fuelling the development of artificial, destructive and deeply dangerous divisions between communities. Journalists themselves should make strenuous efforts to be objective, and to avoid incitement.
Mr. Colville said that very little time remained before the elections on 25 May, which remained the best opportunity for Ukraine to begin the process of reconciliation and stabilization.
The Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights currently had a monitoring mission of 34 staff based in five locations, and was due to publish its next report on the human rights situation in Ukraine on 15 May.
On the number of possible arrests or deaths of journalists in Ukraine, Mr Colville said that some journalists had been physically assaulted, but had no precise number of how many were currently detained.
Asked whether there would be more OSCE monitors in the area, now that those held in captivity had been released, Mr. Colville said that that was up to the OSCE to decide, but reminded that OHCHR had 34 personnel on the ground, in five different locations, including in the eastern part of the country. On whether the OHCHR monitors were easily identifiable as UN personnel, Mr. Colville responded that he would check and revert, but they were likely using official, marked UN vehicles.
Regarding security constraints for monitors and UN personnel on the ground, Mr. Colville said that there were security officers on the ground making regular assessments and recommendations, but the situation was quite volatile and changing from one day to another.
Ms. Momal-Vanian informed that the Under-Secretary-General for Political Affairs, Jeffrey Feltman, would visit Moscow and Kiev shortly. No exact details of his trip were yet known.
Mr. Colville said that OHCHR was deeply concerned about the outrageous claims made in a video believed to be by the leader of Boko Haram in Nigeria the previous day, in which he brazenly said that he would sell the abducted schoolgirls “in the market” and “marry them off”, referring to them as “slaves”.
OHCHR condemned the violent abduction of those girls, reportedly at gunpoint from their school in Chibok in Borno State in north-eastern Nigeria. OHCHR warned the perpetrators that there was an absolute prohibition against slavery and sexual slavery in international law, which could, under certain circumstances, constitute crimes against humanity. The girls had to be immediately returned, unharmed, to their families.
The High Commissioner had contacted the President of Nigeria and urged the Government to ensure that it spared no effort to ensure the safe return of the girls to their homes and communities. In a letter signed by Navi Pillay, along with the Executive Director of UN Women, the Special Representative of the Secretary-General on Sexual Violence in Conflict and the Special Representative of the Secretary-General on Children and Armed Conflict, the four African UN women leaders reminded the Nigerian Government of its legal responsibility to ensure that girls and boys had the fundamental rights to education and to be protected from violence, persecution and intimidation.
As the High Commissioner had said during her visit to Nigeria earlier in 2014, the actions of Boko Haram had grown increasingly monstrous. The group had targeted some people simply because of their religion or professional occupation – and in this case, simply because the girls were enrolled in school.
Mr. Colville stated that the OHCHR urged the authorities to take all necessary measures, consistent with human rights, to protect their people from these violations and crimes. It was particularly important that the local state authorities and the federal government cooperated fully. Failure to undertake effective measures that were within the authorities' means to protect people was a violation of human rights. However, States assisting Nigeria in its counter-terrorism operations should also ensure that they stayed within the remits of international law.
Answering a question on what would be done if Boko Haram did not respect the request issued by the High Commissioner, Mr. Colville said that the United Nations did not have a police force and it was first and foremost up to the Nigerian authorities to deal with the issue. He reiterated that there was no statute of limitations for such grave international crimes, including slavery and sexual slavery. Anyone responsible could be arrested and prosecuted at any time in the future.
Asked to assess the actions by the Government of Nigeria thus far, Mr. Colville stressed that the bottom line was that the girls had not yet been found and freed. It was less important whether that was the result of less successful operations of local or federal authorities. Given that Nigeria was a federal state, local and state authorities had more power. It was particularly important to ensure greater cooperation among various authorities for the greater good, which was the release of the girls.
Mr. Colville emphasized that the consequences of those girls being sold would be devastating, and would tantamount to slavery within the so-called marriage. They would likely be exposed to continuous economic, sexual, physical and mental violence.
On whether there was anything else the United Nations could do to help the girls, Mr. Colville reiterated that the primary responsibility lay with the Nigerian state, which was large and strong. Boko Haram was conducting more and more vicious acts, and the Government was trying to deal with it. Regional cooperation was also extremely important on those matters. All actions should take place within the parameters of international human rights.
Mr. Boulierac said that in an earlier press statement, UNICEF had clearly stated that such acts of violence were absolutely unacceptable, and represented a crime against international law.
Ms. Byrs added that the right to education was a fundamental one, and young girls had to be allowed to attend school which WFP encouraged through various programmes. She agreed that their abduction was a serious crime.
Democratic Republic of the Congo
Mr. Colville stated that OHCHR was disappointed by the judgment of the Operational Military Court in North Kivu against 39 members of the DRC armed forces (FARDC) who had been accused of rapes and crimes committed in Minova and its surroundings in November 2012.
The Court had condemned 26 FARDC members, including two for rape, one for murder and most of the rest on more minor charges such as looting and disobedience. Fourteen officers had been acquitted. OHHR staff on the ground were still carefully analysing the Court’s judgment.
By that judgment, the judiciary had not met the expectations of the numerous victims of rape who had fully participated in the trial. The outcome of the trial confirmed shortcomings in the administration of justice in the DRC, as outlined in the report on progress and obstacles in the fight against impunity for sexual violence in the country issued on 9 April 2014 by the UN Joint Human Rights Office in the DRC.
There was no possibility for appeal as per the rules of procedure of the Operational Military Court, in contradiction of international standards as well as the Congolese Constitution, both of which guaranteed the right to appeal.
Mr. Colville stated that the crimes perpetrated in Minova and its surroundings in November 2012 had been extremely serious and widespread. On 8 May 2013, the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights and MONUSCO had issued a report on mass rapes and other violations of human rights committed in Minova and surrounding areas in November 2012. The report had documented 135 cases of sexual violence perpetrated by FARDC elements in and around the town of Minova as units had retreated from the front lines.
Asked whether MONUSCO would be involved in the conduct of the elections, Ms. Momal-Vanian said that she would check on the exact role of MONUSCO in the following elections.
Central African Republic
Mr. Lom spoke about returned tensions surveys which had been conducted among displaced people in Bangui. The bad news in the survey was that, out of the 160,000 IDP’s in 43 sites around Bangui, the number who were considering returning into their homes had actually dropped from 74 percent in January to 57 percent in April. Most of the people had left their homes in December and were now living in really bad conditions in those IDPs sites.
The reasons that they cited for not returning home were essentially the threat of their belongings being stolen, lack of money to move, feeling insecure in their neighbourhood and lack of any security forces to protect them once they were home. The total number of IDPs in Bangui had actually decreased from over half a million in December, but what was happening was that whenever there was an breakout of violence, people would flee to the IDPs camps for safety. There were nearly 600,000 IDPs in the country as a whole.
Haiyan 6-month anniversary
Mr. Lom informed that it was six months since the typhoon Haiyan, which had been the strongest storm ever recorded to make landfall. Over the previous 6 months the international community had mounted a massive relief operation but the situation at the moment was such that, as the next hurricane season approached, a very large number of people were still in desperate situation without adequate shelter, livelihoods or infrastructure to protect them.
Mr. Lom said that the estimates were that 380,000 families still urgently needed support to rebuild their homes, and 90 percent of the kind of places where people would shelter from future typhoons in the region that was struck by Haiyan had still not been repaired. There were also over 5,000 families that were still living in 60 displacement sites across the region. As far as money was concerned, 40 percent of the international community funding appeal was still unmet.
Ms. Momal-Vanian informed that the Committee on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights was examining the report of Lithuania today, after which it would consider reports of Armenia, China and the Czech Republic.
The Committee against Torture was considering the situation in Guinea today, in absence of a report. In the afternoon, a delegation of the Holy See would answer questions from the Committee, while in the following days, reports of Montenegro and Cyprus would be considered.
The Universal Periodic Review was continuing at the Human Rights Council, with the examination of human rights situation in Ethiopia today, to be followed by the adoption of reports for Dominica, the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea and Brunei Darussalam. The following day, the Universal Periodic Review Working Group would review the human rights situation in Qatar and Nicaragua.
Tarik Jasareviæ, for the World Health Organization (WHO), announced that there would be a press conference on 6 May at 11:30 in Press Room III on the occasion of the launch of updated estimates on maternal mortality, as well as a new study on causes of maternal death. Speakers would include Dr Marleen Temmerman, Director of the Department of Reproductive Health Research at WHO, and Dr Lale Say, Coordinator, Adolescents and At-risk Populations Team, Department of Reproductive Health and Research at WHO.
A press conference on air pollution would take place in Press Room III the following day at 11 a.m. WHO to launch air quality and health database, covering 1600 cities. The 2014 WHO Air Quality global database (updated from the 2011 edition) covered almost 1,600 cities in 91 countries, highlighting air pollution levels and trends. The database showed the cities where air pollution and the related health risks were highest. It followed the previous month’s release of information on the global health impact of indoor and outdoor air pollution. Speakers would include Dr Maria Neira, WHO Director for Public Health, Environmental and Social Determinants of Health, Dr Carlos Dora, Coordinator, Interventions for Healthy Environments, WHO Department for Public Health, Environmental and Social Determinants of Health, and Sophie Bonjour, Scientist, Evidence and Policy on Environmental Health, WHO Department for Public Health, Environmental and Social Determinants of Health. A report would be distributed today, and it would be embargoed until the briefing.
Hans von Rohland, for the International Labour Organisation (ILO), said that a press conference would take place in Press Room I on 12 May at 10 a.m, for the launch of the study Maternity and paternity at work: Law and practice across the world. Speakers would be Laura Addati, ILO’s Maternity Protection and Work-family Specialist, and Shauna Olney, Chief of the ILO Gender, Equality and Diversity Branch. The study was under embargo until 13 May at midnight.
A press conference on 19 May at 10 a.m. in Press Room III would present a new report on the economics of forced labour, including the profits generated by it. The report would be under embargo until 20 May at midnight.
Jens Laerke, for the Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA), announced a press conference on the humanitarian situation and challenges in Jordan on 9 May at 12:00 noon, with Edward Kallon, Resident and Humanitarian Coordinator for Jordan.
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The representative of the United Nations Conference on Trade and Development also attended the briefing, but did not brief.
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The webcast for this briefing is available here: … http://bit.ly/1g5hFMx