REGULAR PRESS BRIEFING BY THE INFORMATION SERVICE
1 June 2012
Corinne Momal-Vanian, the Director of the UN Information Service in Geneva, chaired the briefing, which was also attended by Spokespersons for the International Labour Organization, the Human Rights Council, the International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies, the International Organization for Migration, the UN Refugee Agency, the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change and the World Health Organization.
Human Rights Council Special Session on Syria
Rolando Gomez of the Human Rights Council said the Council was currently in session to adopt the UPR reports on the Philippines and Algeria, before opening the Special Session on Syria at 11 a.m.
The session would be opened by the President of the Council, Ambassador Laura Dupuy Lasserre, who would deliver brief comments followed by a statement delivered on behalf of the High Commissioner for Human Rights, Navi Pillay. This would be followed by a joint statement by the UN Special Procedures mandate holders, delivered by Christof Heinz, the Special Rapporteur on extrajudicial, summary or arbitrary executions, via video message.
The Council would then begin its general debate, starting with a statement by the Ambassador of Syria, as a concerned country. This would be followed by a long list of speakers taking the floor in the general debate.
At the end of the statements, the Council would consider the draft resolution. The document had been subject to consultations and was still being negotiated, with consultations scheduled for 10 a.m. The statements would all be posted on the extranet.
Democratic Republic of Congo
Ms. Momal-Vanian said that close to 100,000 people had been uprooted from their homes by the recent wave of violence in the eastern Congolese province of North Kivu. Since the beginning of April, thousands of families in North Kivu have had to flee for their lives, in the wake of violence borne out of desertions from the national army as well as ongoing military operations. An estimated 74,000 people were now displaced in the Masisi, Lubero and Rutshuru territories, and several thousand more had found refuge in and around the provincial capital Goma. The crisis had spilled over into neighboring South Kivu where some 33,000 had fled in recent weeks.
The chaotic situation families were facing was disastrous - many of them had been displaced many times before. UN agencies and NGOs were ready to help, but there was an urgent need for unimpeded access to the people.
Since the beginning of the North Kivu crisis, much of the humanitarian assistance had been delivered to the more easily accessible internally displaced persons in camps around Goma and to the refugees living in Rwanda and Uganda. They were only the most visible victims of the current conflict. Thousands had sought refuge in very remote and difficult-to-reach areas like forests and had not yet received aid. The Humanitarian Coordinator, Fidel Sarassoro, had highlighted that there was no shortage of capacity, the issue was access and money so that more aid can be rolled out.
Earlier this year, the UN and partners had appealed for US$718 million to respond to humanitarian needs in the Democratic Republic of Congo in 2012. However, aid organizations estimated that current funding levels (34 per cent) would not allow a sustained response if the crisis persisted. More than two million people were currently displaced in the Democratic Republic of Congo.
A briefing note from the Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs was at the back of the room.
Some 20,000 Sudanese refugees converge at South Sudan border
Adrian Edwards of the UN Refugee Agency said that an estimated 20,000 refugees had amassed on the South Sudan border after fleeing conflict and depletion of their food stocks. Thousands had been moved to a new camp as UNHCR and its partners were working to relocate the rest while providing emergency aid.
Many of the new arrivals in the Elfoj border area said they had fled because of the ongoing bombing and ground fighting between the Sudanese Armed Forces and the Sudan People’s Liberation Army-North in Blue Nile state. As a result of the fighting, villagers had had limited access to food and the fields for farming. A number of refugees had arrived at hospitals in poor health after surviving on tree leaves for some time. Refugees interviewed by UNHCR staff at Elfoj reported that up to 40,000 more people could be en route to South Sudan.
UNHCR was concerned about the refugees’ safety in Elfoj due to their proximity to the volatile border. Since 19 May, the organization had bussed and trucked several thousand of them to its new camp, Yusuf Batil. The remainder had been relocated some 30 kilometres from Elfoj to a transit site called Rum, where the UN Refugee Agency provided emergency assistance before onward travel to Yusuf Batil.
In Rum, UNHCR and the World Food Programme were distributing 10-day emergency food rations for 20,000 refugees. UNHCR trucked water in Rum when needed to complement a system MSF had set up to treat available water on site.
Currently the UN Refugee Agency was relocating refugees three times a week from Rum to Yusuf Batil camp, about 1,000 at a time, based on the capacity of services. The first rains and muddy roads were slowing down the movements. Some groups were moving on their own from the border to join their communities in Doro and Jammam camps.
The current refugee influx was putting tremendous strains on limited resources in this remote area of South Sudan. Doro camp was running out of space, with more than 37,000 refugees already living there. Jammam camp was grappling with a lack of water despite continuing efforts to drill deeper into the ground. UNHCR was in the process of relocating 15,000 refugees from Jammam to Doro and Batil to ease congestion and the pressure on limited water supplies in Jammam.
The current influx brought the total number of Sudanese refugees in Upper Nile to about 100,000. To the west, Unity state was hosting another 38,000 refugees from Sudan’s South Kordofan state.
Situation in Northern Italy following the recent two Earthquakes
Jessica Sallabank of the International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies said she was here together with Marco Fabiani from the Italian Red Cross Emergency Response Unit to provide an update on the situation in northern Italy following the two recent earthquakes on 20 and 29 May.
In terms of the latest information about Tuesday's 5.9 magnitude earthquake in the Emilia-Romagna area of northern Italy, 17 people had been confirmed dead by the Italian authorities and 350 injured, many with cuts, fractures and trauma wounds. Many victims of the quake, like the one nine days ago, were workers in local factories and warehouses. The search and rescue phase had now been declared over and there were no more missing people.
14,000 people had been displaced from their homes following Tuesday's earthquake, bringing the total to approximately 15,000 persons now displaced as a result of both earthquakes. This figure did not take into account people who had voluntarily chosen to leave their homes through fear of aftershocks or other circumstances.
The Italian authorities were currently in the process of verifying the stability and the extent of the damage. Until this was complete, people would not be able to return to their homes. There was a fear that aftershocks could continue into the coming weeks or at least a month.
Assisting these many thousands of people without shelter was now a matter or urgent priority for the Italian Red Cross. They were particularly concerned for elderly people and young children who had been traumatized by the quake and the numerous aftershocks. Italian Red Cross Staff and volunteers were providing psychosocial support at the various evacuation shelters and campsites which had been set up with the Italian Civil Protection Department. Staff and over 200 volunteers from the Italian Red Cross continued to provide shelter, hot food and drinks and support to all those affected by this emergency. At this point in time, the Italian Red Cross had not requested any international assistance and no appeal had been issued.
A more detailed operational update and map was available at the back of the room.
Examination of the potential cancer-causing properties of diesel and gasoline exhaust
Dr. Nicolas Gaudin, Head, Communications Group, International Agency for Research on Cancer (IARC), said one of the main programmes of the IARC, the cancer research agency of the World Health Organization, was the monographs programme. Within this framework the organization was convening the best experts from around the world to evaluate the scientific literature and available evidence on the cancer-causing properties of a number of human exposures.
He was here today to announce the holding of a meeting, to be held from 5 to 12 June in Lyon, that will examine all the published evidence related to the potential cancer-causing properties of diesel and gasoline exhaust. Background information was available from the documents at the back of the room as well as from their website.
Dr. Kurt Straif, Head, Monographs Program, said that during the meeting the experts would work intensively to finalize the review of the published literature on the potential cancer-causing effects of diesel and gasoline engine exhaust. This would be done by convening an external advisory group – the world’s leading experts on the topic – including scientists studying cancer risks in humans along with epidemiologists and toxicologists. In addition to these experts, several observers were invited to the meeting, including representatives of national and international health agencies and observers from the industry of environmental groups.
At the meeting, the different lines of evidence would be brought together for an updated overall evaluation of diesel and gasoline engine exhaust fumes. Currently, diesel engine exhaust was classified as “probably cancerogenic to humans” but much literature has been published since IARC’s last evaluation of diesel engine exhaust in 1989. The results of the meeting would be published in The Lancet Oncology, to be made available online on Friday, 15 June.
Gregory Härtl of the World Health Organization said that the monographs meeting was scheduled to finish at 6 p.m. on Tuesday 12 June, at which point there would be a virtual press conference from Lyon by Dr. Gaudin and Dr. Straif. Details would follow next week.
IOM Provides Emergency Assistance to Flood Victims in Northeastern Peru
Mr. Chauzy said that IOM was providing emergency assistance to displaced families in Peru’s Amazon region of Loreto, which had been hit by heavy rains and floods. According to the authorities, nearly 200,000 people had been severely affected by the rains that have fallen in Loreto since late February. IOM, which had received a contribution from the UN’s Central Emergency Relief Fund, was now providing emergency assistance, including water and sanitation.
IOM Ukraine targets football fans with child begging awareness campaign
Jean-Philippe Chauzy of the International Organization for Migration (IOM) said that IOM had launched a new awareness raising campaign on International Child Protection Day against trafficking in children for forced begging. The campaign, which was funded by the U.S. Agency for International Development, would target football fans visiting the country for the upcoming EURO 2012 Football Championship which would run from 8 June to 1 July.
The initiative brought together state institutions responsible for child protection in the four cities and Ukrainian NGOs and aimed to refute the belief that giving money to child beggars would improve their lives.
Ms. Momal-Vanian said during its next public meeting on Tuesday, 5 June the Conference on Disarmament would hold a thematic discussion on preventing an arms race in outer-space.
Ms. Momal-Vanian said that the Committee against Torture would today conclude its session and make public its concluding observations on Albania, Greece, Armenia, the Czech Republic and Rwanda.
The Committee on the Rights of the Child was today examining the report of Turkey. On Monday morning it would examine the report of Nepal (on the sale of children and child prostitution), to be followed by reports from Australia and Greece (on the Convention and its two Optional Protocols) and the report of Algeria, before concluding its session on Friday, 15 June.
Hans von Rohland of the International Labour Organization (ILO) said that the Committee of Experts on the Application of Conventions and Recommendations would hold a technical meeting tomorrow morning to discuss the situation in Myanmar. The conclusions would be presented and adopted at a meeting of the International Labour Conference on 13 June.
Mr. von Rohland said that the ILO would launch its annual report on the situation of workers in the Occupied Arab Territories at a press conference on 4 June at 11.30 a.m. in Room III.
The ILO’s workers' group would also launch a book entitled “Confronting finance” on Monday, 4 June at 1.30 p.m. in Room VII of the Palais des Nations.
Ms. Momal-Vanian said that two experts from the UN Conference on Trade and Development, Guillermo Valles, Director, International Trade Division, UN Conference on Trade and Development, and Lucas Assunçao, Chief, Trade, Environment, Climate Change and Sustainable Development Branch, would give a press conference on “Trade and Development: a Central Issue for Rio +20” on Monday, 4 June at 2.30 p.m. in Press Room 1.
Ms. Momal-Vanian said that Elisabeth Byrs of the World Food Programme would next week bring tickets for the piano concert by Sergei Babayan on 13 June, to which all journalists were cordially invited.
Agenda of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change
Jonathan Lynn of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) introduced a new colleague, Ms. Werani Zabula, an Information and Communications Specialist who had joined the Panel.
Mr. Lynn said two advisories were at the back of the room, including one on Rio+20, Brazil, at which the IPCC would organize two side-events.
The Governing Body of the IPCC would be meeting in Geneva next week. While they would not approve any major reports, several decisions would be taken. One involved the task force on national greenhouse gas inventories. Its members helped the parties to the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change report their greenhouse gas emissions and removals. There would be a press conference on 7 June in the presence of Dr. Rajendra Pachauri.
Geneva Lecture Series
Ms. Momal-Vanian said that the UN Office at Geneva and the UN Institute for Training and Research were organizing a series of open lectures on a regular basis, entitled The Geneva Lecture Series. The seventh edition of this series would be delivered by Carlos Slim Helú, the Founder of the Carlos Slim Foundation, on the topic"How are new technologies impacting business and changing the world?". It would take place on Monday, 11 June from 4 p.m. to 6 p.m. in Room XX of the Palais des Nations. Anyone wishing to attend must register on-line before 4 June 2012, including people already holding access badges to the Palais des Nations.
[Representatives of the mass media need prior accreditation to cover the meeting. Requests can be directed to the Information Service.]