REGULAR PRESS BRIEFING BY THE INFORMATION SERVICE
21 February 2014
Corinne Momal-Vanian, Director of the United Nations Information Service in Geneva, chaired the briefing which was also attended by Spokespersons for the International Labour Organization, International Organization for Migration, Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights, United Nations Economic Commission for Europe, United Nations Refugee Agency and World Meteorological Organization.Ravina Shamdasani, for the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR), said OHCHR was deeply concerned about the reported spike in executions in Iran since the beginning of the year. In just over seven weeks, at least 80 people had been executed. Some reliable sources indicated the figure could be as high as 95.
The majority of those executions were for drug-related offences, which did not meet the threshold in international law of “most serious crimes” for which the death penalty may be applied. A number of individuals were also executed in secret and at least seven people had been executed in public this year.
OHCHR was especially concerned about the reported execution in secret of Mr Hadi Rashedi and Mr Hashem Sha’bani Amouri, both members of the Ahwaz Arab community. Their executions were reportedly carried out last month (January) following proceedings that did not meet international fair trial and due process standards, as laid out in article 14 of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights. The two men were reportedly sentenced to death on ill-defined charges of “enmity against God” (Moharebeh), corruption on earth (Mofsid fil-arz) and acts against national security. They were allegedly denied access to a lawyer and their families for the first nine months of their detention, and reportedly subject to torture to force confessions. Various United Nations Special Rapporteurs and United Nations human rights mechanisms had previously expressed serious concerns about their sentences and appealed to the Government not to proceed with the executions.
An escalation in executions, including of political prisoners and individuals belonging to ethnic minority groups, was notable in the second half of 2013. At least 500 people were known to have been executed in 2013, including 57 in public. According to some sources, the figure may be as high as 625. OHCHR regretted that the new Government had not changed its approach to the death penalty and continued to impose capital punishment for a wide range of offences. OHCHR urged the Government to immediately halt executions and to institute a moratorium.
On a related note, the United Nations Secretary-General and the Special Rapporteur on the situation of human rights in Iran were due to present their reports to the twenty-fifth session of the Human Rights Council in the coming weeks, Ms. Shamdasani highlighted.
Ravina Shamdasani, for the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR), answered a question about Venezuelan opposition leader, Leopoldo Lopez, who was being held in prison. Ms. Shamdasani said that OHCHR was very concerned about his situation, as the charges against him kept changing. Mr. Lopez’s case needed to be handled in accordance with due process. If there were reasonable charges to be brought they ought to be brought promptly, or he should be released.
Papua New Guinea and Australia: asylum seekers
Central African Republic / Cameroon
Corinne Momal-Vanian, Director of the United Nations Information Service in Geneva, said that journalists had received a press release on the conclusion of the mission to Central African Republic by Emergency Relief Coordinator Ms. Valerie Amos.
The remarks of the United Nations Secretary-General to the Security Council yesterday in New York had also been forwarded to them. The Secretary-General expressed serious concern and made proposals for a six-step initiative to address the immediate needs of the Central African Republic. The Secretary-General would soon report to the Security Council on the outlines of a future United Nations Peacekeeping operation with a robust mandate to protect civilians and promote stability, Ms. Momal-Vanian said.
Dan McNorton, for the United Nations Refugees Agency (UNHCR), said the number of refugees from the Central African Republic (CAR) had sharply increased this month in Cameroon, as violence continues to rip through the country. Since the beginning of February a total of 19,565 refugees from Central African Republic had crossed into Cameroon to escape violence perpetrated by the former Seleka and anti-Balaka militiamen in Bangui and other towns in north-western Central African Republic. That was up from 4,764 Central African Republic refugees in the first week of the month.
The latest influx brought to 35,142 the total number of Central African Republic refugees who have fled to Cameroon since March 2013, when the Seleka rebels came to power in Central African Republic amid reports of gross human rights violations.
UNHCR said their colleagues in Garoua Boulay in eastern Cameroon witnessed the arrival on 16 February of 100 trucks carrying civilians from Central African Republic. Additionally, some 3,000 people had been reported to have crossed the border into the town of Yokadouma in the south-east of Cameroon. They were coming from Bangui and mainly from localities such as Bossemptele, Bouar, Baboua, Beloko, Carnot, Boaro, Gambala, Berberati and Nola in the west of Central African Republic. On Monday UNHCR started the registration of those new arrivals in Garoua Boulay, and its colleagues were in Yokadouma to verify new arrivals.
Moreover, the growing number of new arrivals and their need for food and other basic necessities (cooking oil, rice, cassava, fish, beef, vegetables, sugar, salt, soap, fuel and other items) had resulted in higher prices and shortage of goods on the local market. Local residents were also feeling the pinch with rent increases.
New arrivals from Central African Republic were living in appalling conditions. Most of them lacked food and shelter. Generous host communities had taken in many people, but they could not share their homes and resources with everyone. UNHCR began to move refugees from Garoua Boulay to the new site at Mborguene, which could host up to 10,000 people. Meanwhile, it was also looking at another site in Lolo, 46 kilometres from the border in the eastern region, which could take up to 15,000 refugees.
In a separate development, 7,921 third-country nationals arrived in Cameroon from Central African Republic, and were mainly Chadian, Malian, Mauritanian, and Nigeriens, said Mr. McNorton. They were being repatriated by their embassies to their country of origin. As of today, 2,774 third-country nationals had been repatriated, including 2,702 Chadians, 49 Malians, 1 Mauritanian and 22 Nigeriens.
Before the current crisis, Cameroon was hosting 92,000 refugees from Central African Republic; the first started to arrive in 2006 to escape from rebel groups and bandits in the north of their country, said Mr. McNorton.
Christiane Berthiaume, for the International Organization for Migration (IOM) announced that hundreds of people were crossing the border between Chad and the Central African Republic. As of this morning, 17 trucks had crossed the border transporting more than 2,000 people. The situation was confused, she said and it was hard to know how many people and trucks are on the way to Chad.
Two convoys left Bangui this week, transporting Chadian displaced people who had found refuge at the airport military transit centre. One was escorted by Burundi forces while the other one was escorted by the Chadian military forces. Both convoys joined together, as the Burundian army handed over to the Chadian forces.
To assist IOM had deployed extra staff to the border. IOM had registration centres located at the major entry points in Sido and Mbitoye and in the camps in Gore, Sahr, Doyoba and Moundou with teams registering the migrants on arrival. Many were migrants from Chad who had been living in Central African Republic for many decades, but also some are Central Africans who considered themselves as Chadians, as well as migrants from third countries.
IOM transported those who wished to their regions of origin, but that was not the case for those who had lived for decades in Central African Republic and no longer had any roots in Chad. That placed a burden on a country like Chad insofar as it did not have the infrastructure to welcome all these people back.
In total, 70,000 Chadian people who lived in Central African Republic had gone back to Chad and 50,000 were still in camps. The camps were overcrowded. The living conditions on the camps were terrible, with a shortage of water and food. Central Africans who identified themselves as Chadians did not want to move from the camps. Many had left without taking their belongings. Therefore, they were waiting for the trucks which transported their belongings, which adds to the confusion. IOM expected more people to cross the border, Ms. Berthiaume added.
Dan McNorton, for the United Nations Refugees Agency (UNHCR), said that UNHCR was today calling upon States to make multi-annual commitments towards a goal of providing resettlement and other forms of admission for an additional 100,000 Syrian refugees in 2015 and 2016.
UNHCR had earlier called upon states to provide solutions for 30,000 of the most vulnerable Syrian refugees through resettlement or other forms of admission by the end of 2014. To date, 20 countries had offered more than 18,800 places towards the goal. UNHCR remained confident that the 30,000 goal would be met by the end of the year through a significant number of submissions to the United States.
UNHCR anticipated that in the coming years, there would be increasing numbers of vulnerable Syrian refugees who would be in need of resettlement, relocation, or other forms of humanitarian admission. In light of the growing needs of the Syrian refugee population, the goal of 30,000 in 2014 represented only the first benchmark in securing solutions for that group.
As part of the emergency response, UNHCR was urging states to consider a number of solutions that could provide secure, urgent and effective protection for those people. Such solutions could include resettlement, humanitarian admission, or individual sponsorship.
States could also offer other kinds of solutions: they could develop programmes that enable Syrian relatives to join family members. They could create scholarships for Syrian students in order to prevent a “lost generation” of young people. They could also offer medical evacuation for refugees with serious health conditions that require life-saving treatment.
UNHCR appealed to the international community to continue providing longer-term solutions for Syrian refugees who are most urgently in need, Mr. McNorton said. There were currently over 2.4 million refugees registered in the region. In Lebanon there were some 932,000, Jordan some 574,000, Turkey some 613,000, Iraq some 223,000 and Egypt some 134,000 refugees.
Iran: death penalty
Ravina Shamdasani, for the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR), said they were concerned about incidents that took place on 17 February in the Regional Processing Centre on Manus Island, Papua New Guinea (PNG), that left one asylum seeker dead and 77 others wounded, 13 of them seriously. While the precise circumstances were not yet clear, it was alarming to see violence against the very individuals who sought protection.
OHCHR stressed the importance of a prompt, transparent and independent investigation into the violence and welcome the initial steps taken by Papua New Guinea and Australia in that regard. The incident underscored the need for independent monitors to be given full and immediate access to the Regional Processing Centre. OHCHR had been concerned at reports on the harsh conditions faced by asylum seekers in the processing centres in Papua New Guinea and Nauru and, the serious impact of such inadequate conditions on their physical and mental health.
It had been reported that private security forces had been involved in the violence. OHCHR stressed that States maintain their human rights obligations when they privatised delivery of services such as security, and must take steps to investigate, redress and punish human rights abuses by third parties.
The violent incidents took place in a situation of heightened tensions in the Regional Processing Centre, where an estimated 1,340 asylum seekers were currently detained. In July and August 2013, Australia announced the introduction of Regional Resettlement Arrangements, whereby asylum seekers arriving to Australia by boat would be transferred to Papua New Guinea and Nauru for processing.
OHCHR stressed the obligation of Australia, Papua New Guinea and Nauru to ensure that the human rights of asylum seekers are protected in accordance with international standards. The practice of detaining migrants and asylum seekers arriving by boat on a mandatory, prolonged and potentially indefinite basis, without individual assessment, was inherently arbitrary. Moreover, alternatives to immigration detention should always be considered.
OHCHR encouraged Australia, Papua New Guinea and Nauru to review their Regional Resettlement Arrangements urgently to find principled solutions that were fully consistent with international human rights standards, including the right to seek asylum, the right to freedom from arbitrary detention, and the right to the highest attainable standard of physical and mental health.
Haiti: former President Jean-Claude Duvalier
Ravina Shamdasani, for the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR), said the decision by the Court of Appeals in Haiti on 20 February in favour of opening new investigations into former President Jean-Claude Duvalier for crimes against humanity was a landmark step for Haitian justice in combating impunity for past human rights violations.
The three-judge panel stated that the acts allegedly committed by Mr. Duvalier qualified as crimes against humanity and did not fall under the statute of limitations; and that crimes against humanity were part of Haitian law as they pertained to customary international law by which Haiti is bound.
The judges found that there was significant evidence of Mr. Duvalier’s criminal responsibility in his capacity as Head of State as he did not take the necessary measures to prevent or punish the alleged crimes. The court appointed one of its own members to act as investigating judge who would interview witnesses, including persons associated with Mr. Duvalier, Ms. Shamdasani added.
Clare Nullis, for the World Meteorological Organization (WMO), spoke about the average rise of global temperature. According to the U.S. National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, last night issued its figures for January. The globally-averaged temperature over land and ocean surfaces for January 2014 was the fourth highest for January on record.
It also marked the thirty-eighth consecutive January and 347th consecutive month with a global temperature above the twentieth century average. The last below-average January global temperature was January 1976 and the last below-average global temperature for any month was February 1985. To put it in perspective, that was before the advent of the World Wide Web back in 1985, when smoking was widely permitted and top pop groups included Wham and Lionel Richie. Children under the age of 30 had never witnessed a temperature that was cooler than the average of the twentieth century.
Most areas of the world experienced warmer-than-average monthly temperatures, with the most notable warmth across Alaska, western Canada, southern Greenland, south-central Russia, Mongolia, and northern China.
Parts of south-eastern Brazil and central and southern Africa experienced record warmth, and there were also heat waves in Australia. That contributed to the warmest January Southern Hemisphere land temperature departure on record. That trend continued in February with unusually high temperatures, particularly in Europe.
Weather and Climate Services in Haiti
Clare Nullis, for the World Meteorological Organization (WMO), announced that WMO had signed an agreement to strengthen weather and climate services in Haiti to increase resilience against hazards such as tropical cyclones and floods and earthquakes. A Memorandum of Understanding on “Climate Services to Reduce Vulnerability in Haiti” was signed by WMO Secretary-General Michel Jarraud.
Since the earthquake in 2010, WMO and its member countries including France, Canada and the United Kingdom had been working to try to rehabilitate the country’s metrological services. The formal memorandum of understanding underpinned a 6.5 million Canadian dollar grant from Environment Canada. One of the immediate priorities will be to build a proper centre which will be earthquake and cyclone centre. It is important to build capacity in Haiti, and the WMO have been training forecasters on a permanent and sustainable basis.
WMO Typhoon Committee
Clare Nullis, for the World Meteorological Organization (WMO), said the Typhoon Committee, which was responsible for the western north Pacific, met last week in Bangkok and was now finalizing its report.
In the western North Pacific, there were 31 named tropical cyclones formed in 2013, which is more than the 30 year average of 25.6 for the period. That basin is the most active in the world for tropical cyclones. Many of the discussions were dominated by Typhoon Haiyan, which was one of the most powerful tropical cyclones ever. Discussions included how to improve forecasting of the intensity of typhoons and warnings about storm surges. There would be a WMO technical mission to the Philippines and to Viet Nam, which was also impacted.
The Committee agreed to the request of the Philippines to retire the names of the tropical cyclones HAIYAN and UTOR from the rotating list of names.
Geneva and other activities
Catherine Sibut, for the United Nations Conference on Trade and Development (UNCTAD), announced that, for the International Year of Small Island Developing States (SIDS), UNCTAD was urging more effective steps in their favour. The challenges faced by SIDS ranged from their small size, distance from international markets, vulnerability to economic crises and to environmental changes. Ms. Sibut said that a meeting would take place in New York on challenges faced by Small Island Developing States at which a partnership would be launched that aimed to help the countries better deal with climate change. UNCTAD estimated that the economical vulnerability of SIDS was 30 per cent more than for the other developing countries.
Hans von Rohland, for the International Labour Organization (ILO), announced that the ILO Director-General Guy Ryder would open the session of the Second Arab Forum for Development and Employment which would take place in Riyadh, Saudi Arabia, on Monday 24 February. The forum would discuss ideas for social protection and sustainable development in the region. It would bring together ministers of finance, labour, social affairs and education from across the 21 Arab League member states. The event was being organised by the ILO Regional Office for Arab States (ROAS) with the support of the Saudi Arabia’s Ministry of Labour and the World Bank.
Jean Rodriguez, for the United Nations Economic Commission for Europe (UNECE), announced that the UNECE Inland Transport Committee (ITC) would take place from 25 to 27 February, in Room VII at the Palais des Nations. The subject for the first day would be "Innovations for tomorrow's infrastructure and vehicles" and one of the first lectures would be given by a Google staff member - Ron Medford, Director of Safety, Self-Driving Cars – on "the benefits of self-driving cars". Self-driving cars could be a huge advantage in terms of safety and could reduce the number of accidents caused by human factors such as fatigue, alcohol or drugs, Mr. Rodriguez added. Other participants included Mr Sven Alkalaj, Executive Secretary, UNECE, Dr. Veit Steinle, Director-General of the Federal Ministry of Transport and Digital Infrastructure of Germany, Mrs Seija Miettinen-Bellevergue, Senior Advisor at the Ministry of Transport and Communications of Finland, and Mr. Alexandre Prina, of the Canton of Geneva. The programme was available on the UNECE website.
Mr. Rodriguez also announced a new photography exhibition titled “The E-40”, located outside the Bar des Délégues at the Palais des Nations. The photos were of a journey taken by three artists along the 8,000 kilometre-long E-40 European Highway from Calais, France, to Ridder, in northeast Kazakhstan, near the Russian and Chinese borders, via Germany, Ukraine, Russia and other countries. It showcased how operational inland transport between Europe and Asia was becoming a reality.
Ms. Momal-Vanian announced that the Committee on the Elimination of Racial Discrimination (CERD) would this afternoon close its session in a public meeting. Prior to that the Office of the High Commissioner of Human Rights had organized a press conference for today, Friday, 21 February at 1.30 p.m. in Press Room III to announce the Committee’s concluding observations on the country reports examined during the session, Belgium, Honduras, Montenegro, Poland, Uzbekistan , Kazakhstan, Luxembourg and Switzerland. Committee Chairperson Jose Francisco Cali Tzay, and Committee Experts Anastacia Crickley, Ion Diaconu and Dilip Lahiri would be speaking.
Ms. Momal-Vanian added that the Committee on the Elimination of Discrimination against Women (CEDAW) on Thursday reviewed the report of Finland, which was the last country report of the session. The Committee would meet in private for the rest of the session, before holding a public closing meeting on the afternoon of Friday, 28 February.
The Advisory Committee to the Human Rights Council will open a one-week session on Monday, 24 February. A background press release was distributed yesterday.
The Conference on Disarmament would hold a public plenary on Tuesday, February 25, Ms. Momal-Vanian said.
The representatives of United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF) and the World Health Organization (WHO) also attended the briefing but did not speak.
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The webcast for this briefing is available here: webtv.un.org/media.