REGULAR PRESS BRIEFING BY THE INFORMATION SERVICE
5 October 2012
Corinne Momal-Vanian, Director of the United Nations Information Service in Geneva, chaired the briefing which was also attended by Spokespersons for the High Commissioner for Human Rights, the High Commissioner for Refugees, the United Nations Economic Commission on Europe, the International Telecommunications Union, the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora and the International Organization for Migration.
Rupert Colville for the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights said his office noted with regret that on 2 October the parliament of Ukraine adopted at first reading draft law 8711 which criminalised any reference to homosexuality in the media or public domain and, if adopted in its current form, could result in fines or prison sentences of up to five years.
The law, which introduced anti-homosexuality amendments into four existing laws as well as into Ukraine’s Criminal Code, was clearly discriminatory and ran counter to Ukraine's international commitments to ensure freedom of expression and information. It may also undermine the rights to health and equality before the law, and raised serious question marks over the country's adherence to fundamental human rights values, as contained in the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights and the European Convention for the Protection of Human rights and Fundamental Freedoms.
Draft law 8711 could not be reconciled with the recent adoption of an anti-discrimination law by Ukraine, which was a step in the right direction. Nevertheless, in order to clear away some of the contradictions, the anti-discrimination law would be strengthened by explicit references to sexual orientation and gender identity as possible grounds for discrimination.
He welcomed the statement by Ukraine’s Ombudsman expressing concerns about the limitation of rights the draft law would introduce, and about possible abuses it may give rise to. He also noted that the Ministry of Foreign Affairs of Ukraine had stated that it expected parliament to take into account Ukraine's international obligations to protect minority rights in its further consideration of the draft law.
He urged the Ukrainian authorities to take all necessary steps to strengthen individual human rights guarantees against discrimination, and noted that the second reading of the draft law provided an opportunity for the new parliament, which will be elected at the end of October, to rectify the situation.
Rupert Colville for the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights said the OHCHR had received alarming information that six indigenous peasants were killed and at least 30 injured as a result of clashes between indigenous communities, police and the military in the Department of Totonicapan in western Guatemala yesterday (Thursday). Seven soldiers were also reported to have been injured.
According to reports, the day started with a large number of indigenous people putting up several roadblocks protesting against the increase of electrical tariffs and other basic services. Details remain unclear and the OHCHR in Guatemala would shortly be sending two teams of Human Rights Observers - one to Sololá Department and one to Totonicapan - to verify the facts and follow up on the incidents. There had been conflicting reports about the location in which this incident occurred.
During her mission to Guatemala in March this year, High Commissioner Navi Pillay visited Totonicapan and met with traditional indigenous authorities to discuss a range of human rights concerns.
Adrian Edwards for the Office of the High Commissioner for Refugees said four months after inter-communal violence erupted in western Myanmaris Rakhine state, the scale of internal displacement was still growing with affected villagers continuing to leave their homes in search of food, healthcare and other assistance.
According to figures provided by the local authorities, there were currently some 75,000 internally displaced people in IDP camps in Rakhine state, mostly in and around the townships of Sittvve, Kyauk Taw and Maungdaw. This was an increase from the initial government estimate of around 50,000 displaced people shortly after the unrest broke out in early June. In early August, there was a resurgence of violence in Kyauk Taw township and more than 4,000 people had their homes burned down in the attacks.
Many more people were believed to had been indirectly affected by the violence. The humanitarian community was committed to assisting all affected communities in accordance with the humanitarian principles of humanity, impartiality and neutrality.
Despite the rising trend, there had been some returns. Since June, for example, many displaced people whose houses remain intact in Sittwe town had gone home.
A fragile calm had returned but the situation was still tense. Movement was still restricted in parts of Rakhine state, preventing some villagers from going to work. Out of desperation, people were leaving villages to seek food and medical assistance at the IDP camps.
Together with its partners, UNHCR had been advocating for greater humanitarian access and for support to be provided to these villages. It was hoped that by delivering aid in places of origin, humanitarian agencies can help to prevent further displacement and make interventions that can facilitate the eventual return of IDPs.
As part of the inter-agency response in Rakhine state, UNHCR had distributed relief supplies for some 54,000 people in IDP sites. These supplies include plastic sheets, sleeping mats, blankets, mosquito nets and kitchen sets. UNHCR was also supporting the construction of emergency temporary shelters that can house about 10,500 people.
At the same time, the humanitarian community was working to support the delivery of basic assistance in these government-run IDP camps, making sure that the displaced people were provided with food, water, sanitation and health care until the situation stabilized sufficiently for them to return home.
Answering questions he said UNHCR was working with authorities in a very difficult situation, where a number of areas were off limits. Furthermore people were still leaving, meaning the problems continued to evolve. He also agreed that the numbers used were unclear as registration was difficult.
Jean-Philippe Chauzy for the International Organization for Migration (IOM) said the Swiss Federal Office for Migration (FOM) had contributed $300,000 towards IOM's evacuation operations of most vulnerable migrant workers caught up in the Syrian crisis.
IOM will use the contribution to evacuate up to 250 extremely vulnerable Third Country Nationals (TCNs) as well as the distribution of non-food relief items in Syria, Lebanon and Turkey, and the provision of transport for refugees fleeing from Syria into Jordan.
To date, IOM had received 6,000 requests for evacuation from nationals of 23 countries, and 2,000 had already returned. The majority were female domestic workers whose return to their countries of origin was hindered by a host of factors including a lack of travel documents, debts owed to recruitment agencies, inability to purchase flight tickets and insecurity around them.
IOM recently appealed for $20 million to continue the repatriation of vulnerable migrants from Syria. The Swiss contribution brings the amount of funding received since June 2012 to $3.3 million.
When asked about migrants in detention in Syria he said he had no figures on whether third country nationals were being held. He then suggested there may be as many as 120,000 third country nationals in the country that might request assistance.
Sanjay Acharya for the International Telecommunications Union gave details of a patents roundtable next week (10 October) and a briefing (9 October) on the upcoming World Conference on International Telecommunications (WCIT-12) to be held in Dubai, United Arab Emirates, 3-14 December 2012 to review the current International Telecommunications Regulations. He also mentioned the launch of the 2012 edition of ITU's Measuring the Information Society report (11 October).
Another meeting, Telecom World, was planned for 14 to 18 October, also in Dubai. This event brought together business leaders, public and private sector, regulators and academics to look at the future of the ICT sector.
Paul Connelly, also for the ITU, gave further details on the 9 October event saying it would provide insight into the content of the conference, such as transparency in mobile roaming costs, increasing the accessibility of the internet for the disabled and energy-saving and climate change issues. The briefing was to take place at the ITU, at 15:00 and online registration was required.
The patent roundtable of 10 October was to discuss litigation around intellectual property, and had been well received by many of the protagonists in recent cases arising from this topic. The morning session was open to the public by remote participation. A list of speakers was available on ITU’s website and requests for interviews would be facilitated if possible. A press conference at 18:00 would include a summit on the outcome of talks between the groups involved.
The ITU flagship report “Measuring the Information Society” would be launched the following day (11 October) which contained indexes that ranked country’s performance with regard to information and communication technology infrastructure and uptake as well as the ICT price basket which tracked the affordability of ICT services globally. Copies of the executive summary of the report were available on request, under embargo.
The full version of the report would be available to all media under embargo (10:30 a.m., Geneva time, on 11 October).
Jean-Philippe Chauzy for the International Organization for Migration (IOM) said an IOM study was released today on migratory flows in Latin America and the Caribbean (LAC), and between LAC and the EU.
It showed a marked increase in migration from Europe to LAC and a marked decrease in the number of LAC migrants entering the EU. According to the report, the largest group were young, single Spanish and Portuguese men with higher levels of education in social sciences or civil engineering, who emigrated to LAC countries hoping to advance their careers.
While the study confirms that migratory flows from LAC countries to the EU had gradually increased since 2000, they decreased from a peak of some 400,000 in 2006 to 229,000 in 2009. The study attributes the shift to the economic crisis affecting the EU, and in particular Spain, the main destination country for LAC nationals.
Remittances from the EU to the Community of Latin American and Caribbean States (CELAC) reached $7.25 billion in 2010.
Ms. Momal-Vanian announced that the Committee on the Elimination of Discrimination against Women today considered the report of Equatorial Guinea. Next week it was to examine reports from Comoros (Wednesday) and Turkmenistan (Thursday). The Committee had already considered the reports of Chile and Togo.
The Committee on the Rights of the Child was to end its session today, she added. During this session it had reviewed reports from Liberia, Namibia, Andorra, Austria, Albania, Canada and Bosnia and Herzegovina. Concluding observations on these reports were to be made public on Monday.
The United States Mission in Geneva had a press conference scheduled for Monday (8 October) at 11:00 in Press Room 1 on U.S. views leading up to the World Conference on International Telecommunications, she added.
Press conferences featuring representatives from all sides would follow the second day of the Geneva International Discussions next Thursday (October 11) at around 17:00. The meeting itself was at the CICG on 10 and 11 October.
The President of Turkmenistan was to visit the Palais des Nations on Tuesday (9 October) and was to meet with the UNOG Director General as well as five heads of agency.
Jean Rodriguez for the United Nations Economic Commission on Europe said that the Executive Secretary, Mr. Sven Alkalaj, was to meet the President of Turkmenistan, on Tuesday morning. This followed bilateral meetings between the two at the Rio+20 Conference in June, and the decision by Turkmenistan to ratify UNECE’s Water Convention, announced in August. On Wednesday, the UNECE Executive Secretary would also meet the Customs Minister of the Eurasian Economic Community to discuss bilateral cooperation. There were also a number of meetings of the joint protocol with the World Health Organization on water and health planned for 11 and 12 October.
Adrian Edwards said the High Commissioner for Refugees was to hold his annual post Executive Committee briefing to journalists today (5 October) in Room III at 12:30. It was to offer an insight into the activities of the Executive Committee this week, which included discussions on funding, how to provide quality protection as funding revenues decrease and new guidelines on detention.
Juan Carlos Vasquez for the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora said a press conference was scheduled for today at 14:00 in Press Room 1 on proposals to amend the CITES Appendices at the 16th meeting of the Conference of the Parties to CITES, Bangkok (Thailand), 3-14 March 2013.
Rupert Colville for the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights said a press conference was planned for Monday (8 October) at 12:00 noon in Press Room 1 on the Launch of the Nepal Conflict Report: a study of ten years of serious human rights violations in Nepal (1996-2006).