REGULAR PRESS BRIEFING BY THE INFORMATION SERVICE
2 July 2013
Corinne Momal-Vanian, Director of the United Nations Information Service in Geneva, chaired the briefing which was also attended by Spokespersons for the UN Refugee Agency, the Office for the High Commissioner for Human Rights, the United Nations Children’s Fund, the United Nations Development Programme, the World Meteorological Organization and the International Organization for Migration.
Rupert Colville for the Office for the High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR) said OHCHR was following with great concern the extremely tense situation in Egypt and wished to convey a strong message of solidarity and support to the Egyptian people.
He explained that the High Commissioner had, ever since the first stirrings of protest back in January 2011, consistently supported the Egyptian people’s rights to freedom of expression and assembly, while calling on all sides to resolve their differences peacefully and refrain from resorting to violence.
He urged the Egyptian government to continue to make every effort to protect the rights of citizens to engage in peaceful protests and demonstrations. It was regretted that deaths had occurred in Egypt since Sunday, and stressed that any perpetrators of attacks against peaceful demonstrators, who were found to have used excessive force, should be held accountable.
He urge all political parties and social groups to urgently engage in a serious national dialogue in order to find a solution to the political crisis and prevent an escalation of violence. He then called on the President of Egypt to listen to the demands and wishes of the Egyptian people, expressed during these huge protests over the past few days, and to address key issues raised by the opposition and civil society in recent months, as well as to heed the lessons of the past in this particularly fragile situation.
Public assurances made by the law enforcement agencies and the military that no measures would be taken that could lead to excessive use of force against peaceful demonstrators were welcome.
Answering questions, he said military or security forces involvement should not undermine democratic processes in the country. Any interventions should do what was necessary to guarantee citizens peace and security, though not at the cost of democratic human rights principles.
Ms. Momal-Vanian added that the Spokesperson of the Secretary-General had yesterday issued a statement reiterating the Secretary-General’s call for all parties to uphold the law, while respecting the right to demonstrate peacefully. It was crucial at this time that Egyptians find the way to resolve differences through democratic means. Peaceful dialogue and non-violence were the keys to restoring stability and moving Egypt’s transition forward. The statement also appealed for tolerance and peaceful co-existence of different faiths and beliefs, as had been traditionally the case in Egypt.
Mass surveillance programmes
Answering questions, Rupert Colville for the Office for the High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR) said of relevance to the current debates on methods of mass surveillance, was article 17 of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR). This prohibited States from interfering with the privacy of those within their jurisdiction. It required them to protect those persons by law against arbitrary or unlawful interference with their privacy. In other words, any act which had an impact on a person’s privacy must be lawful. This meant that any search, surveillance or collection of data about a person must be authorized by law. The extent to which this occurred must not be arbitrary, which in turn required that the legislation must not be unjust, unpredictable or unreasonable.
In its General Comment 16, the Human Rights Committee - the body which oversaw the application of the ICCPR - had noted that article 17 of the Covenant imposed specific obligations relating to the protection of privacy in communications, underlining that “correspondence should be delivered without interception and without being opening or otherwise read. Surveillance, whether electronic or otherwise, interceptions of telephonic, telegraphic and other forms of communication, wire-tapping and recording of conversations, should be prohibited. “ The Committee further stated that, “the gathering and holding of personal information on computers, data banks and other devices, whether by public authorities or private individuals or bodies, must be regulated by law.”
Also of particular relevance, in his report to the most recent session of the Human Rights Council, the UN Special Rapporteur on the right to freedom of opinion and expression analysed the implications of States’ surveillance of communications on the exercise of the rights to privacy, and to freedom of opinion and expression. The report underlined the “urgent need to further study new modalities of surveillance and to revise laws regulating these practices in line with human rights standards.”
In his report, the Special Rapporteur said that: “States cannot ensure that individuals were able to freely seek and receive information or express themselves without respecting, protecting and promoting their right to privacy. Privacy and freedom of expression were interlinked and mutually dependent; an infringement upon one can be both the cause and consequence of an infringement upon the other. Without adequate legislation and legal standards to ensure the privacy, security and anonymity of communications, journalists, human rights defenders and whistleblowers, for example, cannot be assured that their communications will not be subject to States’ scrutiny.
Central African Republic
Marixie Mercado for the United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF) said UNICEF-led assessments show a dramatic and worsening humanitarian situation for children in the centre and west of the Central African Republic. The assessments were done in 13 of the country’s 16 prefectures, with more assessments planned in the east.
The survey showed 51 per cent of respondents said there were no medicines available at health facilities and hospitals; 29 per cent said health facilities were either closed or inexistent, and 24 per cent said there were no health workers. Other figures showed that 81 per cent said they had changed food sources and 54 per cent reported higher food prices and less availability in the market.
Although comprehensive numbers were unavailable, the assessments also revealed major protections risks, with an increase in documented cases of gender-based violence, unaccompanied children, and recruitment. At least 206,000 had been internally displaced, and over 50,000 had sought shelter in neighbouring countries, mostly in the Democratic Republic of Congo.
Even before the military takeover of the country, the Central African Republic was already one of the toughest places for a child to survive, consistently ranking among the bottom 10 countries in development indicators. The assessments showed that needs have deepened and extended, and that children were literally bearing the brunt of a vicious cycle of poverty, poor governance, conflict and political instability.
UNICEF had brought in over 140 metric tonnes of emergency supplies since the outset of the crisis, and was working with partners to provide health, nutrition, protection, water and sanitation support wherever access permitted. UNICEF’s emergency appeal for $11.5 million, issued before the military takeover of the country, had more than doubled to $32.4 million. Of this, so far under $9 million had been received.
Answering questions, she said the security context in CAR was still very volatile and a flare-up of violence in Bangui over the weekend had left several people dead. In terms of recruitment of children to conflict, partners on the ground said the phenomenon had spread to larger areas of the country though work continued to fight this and since May 149 children had been released from armed groups and forces, and 39 had been reunited with their families.
Adam Rogers for the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) said the opening session of multi-sectoral consultations about continuing and promoting progress on malaria had recently been held at the World Health Organization.
Douglas Webb, Cluster Leader, HIV, Health & Development Practice with UNDP New York added that for a long time, malaria treatment had focused on medical treatment, it was now clear that as the process of pushing back the spread of the condition continued it was necessary to bring in the social as well as the medical sectors.
Targets in the MDGS were being achieved and significant reductions in deaths were being seen, he said, transforming needs towards better housing, sanitation, urban planning, managing migration flows. A response framework was being developed to do this which aimed to help governments, and those in particular with a high burden, to plan and obtain funding at a national level. Stagnating financing could allow for the resurgence of malaria in areas which were underfinanced, he cautioned.
Michel Smitall, Advocacy Officer, Roll Back Malaria Partnership, answered a question saying that based on 2008 estimates, $5 billion were needed every year for actions (providing bed nets, medication, testing and delivery services) which would ensure that there was no malaria world-wide. In 2011, $1.8 was received, the highest figure of any year – though still short of the amount needed to potentially eliminate the disease in all corners of the planet.
Adrian Edwards for the UN Refugee Agency (UNHCR) welcomed Pakistan’s renewal of its commitment to providing protection and safety for over 1.6 million registered Afghan refugees.
Pakistan’s new minister for States and Frontier Regions (SAFRON), Abdul Qadir Baloch, announced on Friday at a tripartite meeting with the Government of Afghanistan and UNHCR in Kabul that his country would extend refugee cards for Afghans, known as proof of registration (PoR) cards. The cards had been due to expire on June 30.
Pakistan remains the world’s largest refugee hosting nation, and had generously hosted millions of Afghan refugees since the Soviet invasion of 1979.
The announcement by the States and Frontier Regions minister comes as Pakistan was finalizing a new national policy for Afghan refugees. The new policy was expected to be adopted soon by the Cabinet and included recommendations for extension of PoR cards and continuation of a tri-partite arrangement between Pakistan, Afghanistan, and UNHCR governing voluntary returns of Afghan refugees.
Extension of PoR cards will help end current uncertainty among Afghan refugees in Pakistan over their status. As an interim measure, UNHCR was encouraged to see an instruction from Minister Baloch’s office sent to various authorities in Pakistan, including law enforcement authorities, asking them to respect existing refugee cards until the Cabinet decided on the new national policy, including extension of PoR cards.
UNHCR remained engaged with the governments of Pakistan, Iran and Afghanistan in facilitating voluntary returns and managing the stay of Afghan refugees. Since 2002, UNHCR’s voluntary repatriation programme had helped nearly 4.8 million Afghans return home (3.8 million from Pakistan and around a million from Iran). Around 22,000 Afghans have returned home from Pakistan so far this year.
Answering questions, he said most Afghan refugees were living in the regions neighbouring their home country. The number of people returning to Afghanistan voluntarily was falling.
Adrian Edwards for the High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) said UNHCR yesterday (1 July) completed the transfer of its services and activities for persons of concern out of the Choucha transit camp in southern Tunisia to nearby urban areas. As of the latest information, over 600 refugees were living in Tunisia’s southern cities of Ben Gardane and Medenine.
The population at Choucha had declined in size since 2011, allowing UNHCR to shift its operations to urban areas. The closure of the camp had the support of the Tunisian authorities, who have expressed readiness to offer temporary residence to some 250 refugees who were not being resettled in other countries.
Departures to resettlement countries from Choucha under a global solidarity resettlement initiative that was launched in response to the mass influx from Libya in early 2011 began to accelerate in the middle of last year.
UNHCR had been working to find solutions for the population in Choucha since the camp’s opening in 2011. At the peak of the crisis the camp was receiving up to 18,000 people a day. The majority repatriated voluntarily to their home countries.
UNHCR was continuing to advocate for the adoption by the Tunisian authorities of a formal legal status for refugees as this would help safeguard their access to socio-economic rights, including income generating activities. UNHCR welcomed steps already taken by the Tunisian government, such as allowing unhindered access to national health and education systems. Additionally, the Tunisian government began finger-printing refugees in southern Tunisia as a step towards granting temporary residence.
Under an initiative launched in 2011, a total of 3,176 refugees have departed to resettlement countries, mainly the United States (followed by Norway, Sweden, Australia, Canada and Germany).
Libya's 2011 civil war triggered a massive influx of refugees and migrant workers into southern Tunisia. For a period of six months starting in February 2011, an estimated one million people sought refuge there, including 200,000 non-Libyan nationals. As Tunisia does not have an asylum framework yet in place, UNHCR conducted refugee status determination for more than 4,000 refugees.
Record temperatures in the USA
Clare Nullis for the World Meteorological Organization (WMO) said parts of the United States had been gripped by a heat wave. The U.S. National Weather Service says that Death Valley set a record temperature for June of 129 degrees Fahrenheit (53.9 degrees Centigrade). Death Valley also holds the world record for the hottest temperature ever recorded at 134 degrees Fahrenheit (56.7 Degrees Centigrade). This was recorded on 10 July 1913, nearly 100 years ago.
Intergovernmental Board on Climate Services
Clare Nullis for the World Meteorological Organization (WMO) said the Intergovernmental Board on Climate Services had started meeting today to discuss priorities and a road map for rolling out climate services needed to help countries with climate change adaptation. A dialogue was held Monday between the providers of climate services, primarily meteorological services, and users from the agriculture, disaster risk reduction and other communities.
Right of asylum
Answering a question Adrian Edwards for the UN Refugee Agency (UNHCR) said the right to seek asylum was part of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights and every person had the right to claim asylum, though this was not guaranteed to be granted. He also explained that there were two situations where a person could claim asylum, this was either prima facie when fleeing conflict and being automatically recognised after registration, or otherwise by applying at the frontier.
On another point he said that in the case of Rwanda, the cessation clause, (where UNHCR recommended that countries invoke Rwandans refugee status as fundamental and durable changes in a refugee’s country of origin meant they no longer have a well-founded fear of persecution,) came into effect on 30 June. This was being applied at different rates across Africa though all countries that UNCHR had met with planned to apply it at some point.
Answering a question Adrian Edwards for the High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) said there were concerns about difficulties Syrians were having with crossing international borders. This included Iraq, Jordan and Turkey though crossings still continued (at the rate of 700 per day into Jordan this week). Governments maintained they were still accepting refugees and the situation was being monitored.
He also confirmed that discussions on resettlement of Syrian refugees had been held with 37 countries last week. Quotas concerning UNHCR’s annual resettlement programmes were also discussed.
Global Migration Group
Jumbe Omari Jumbe for the International Organization for Migration (IOM) said IOM yesterday assumed the Chair of the Global Migration Group (GMG) for six months through year end. The GMG was an inter-agency group bringing together 15 UN agencies and IOM to promote the wider application of all relevant international and regional instruments and norms relating to migration, and to encourage the adoption of more coherent, comprehensive and better-coordinated approaches to the issues of international migration.
IOM will host the first GMG principals meeting of 2013 tomorrow (3 July) in Geneva. At the meeting, the Economic and Social Commission for Asia and the Pacific, the previous Chair, will report on the first six months of the year. IOM will lead a discussion of ways to improve the GMG’s work and IOM’s plans for the coming six months
International migration was currently under the spotlight due to the upcoming second UN High Level Dialogue on International Migration and Development (HLD), which will be held in New York on 3 and 4 October.
Besides work on the High Level Dialogue, IOM was to work with GMG partners on a number of other key issues and processes, including discussions on the post-2015 development agenda, and preparations for the 20th anniversary of the International Conference on Population and Development held in Cairo in 1994.
Answering questions he said the meeting was taking place at IOM headquarters and he would advise as to whether journalists would be invited.
Jumbe Omari Jumbe for the International Organization for Migration (IOM) said an IOM-organized convoy of river barges carrying 1000 returnees departed on 30th June from Renk in South Sudan’s Upper Nile State on a two-week journey to Juba.
The river convoy, consisting of two passenger and two luggage barges, was the first to depart from Renk this year. An estimated 20,000 returnees remained stranded in Renk’s four transit camps.
IOM medical staff screened returnees travelling on the barges 72 hours prior to departure to check if they were fit to travel and prevent the spread of communicable diseases. Children under the age of five were also vaccinated. To further ensure the health and safety of the passengers, IOM medical teams escorted the barges throughout the duration of the journey.
Answering a question he said implementation had been agreed, though not finalised, on the “four freedom” agreement between Sudan and South Sudan which would allow Sudanese persons to live and potentially gain citizenship if they wished to live in South Sudan, and vice versa.
Jumbe Omari Jumbe for the International Organization for Migration (IOM) said a new voluntary assisted return and reintegration (AVRR) programme for stranded migrants initiated by Greece and implemented by IOM, with funding from the European Union and the Greek government, was launched in Athens yesterday (1 July).
The new programme was to help some 7,500 undocumented migrants to voluntarily return to their countries of origin from Greece. It followed a similar programme launched in 2012, which helped some 8,000 stranded migrant workers to return home.
Answering questions, he said assistance came in the form of transport, health screening, help with acquiring documentation and a small amount of money to start their lives in their new location.
Ms Momal-Vanian said the Committee on the Elimination of Discrimination against Women (CEDAW) and the Committee on Human Rights each began a three-week session next Monday (8 July). CEDAW was to review reports from eight countries:
Cuba, Afghanistan, Democratic Republic of the Congo, Dominican Republic, Cape Verde, the United Kingdom, Serbia and Bosnia-Herzegovina. The Committee on Human Rights was to consider reports from six countries: Ukraine, Tajikistan, Indonesia, Finland, Albania and the Czech Republic. A background release was planned for distribution on Thursday.
The Economic and Social Council continued its high-level segment until Thursday (4 July). On Friday (5 July) it was to begin examining issues of coordination. It was also noted that the Under-Secretary-General for Economic and Social Affairs and the President of ECOSOC were available for interview. The President can be interviewed in English and Spanish, and the USG in English and Chinese.
She added that today (2 July) at 3 p.m. in Room III there was a press conference featuring the winners of the second annual Katerva Awards Grand Prize and Peoples’ Choice Awards. Speakers included Ambassador Martin Sajdik, Permanent Representative of Austria to the United Nations in New York. A press release was also available.
Also today (2 July) at at 11.30 a.m. in Room III the Permanent Mission of Switzerland held a press conference on the launch of the Small Arms Survey 2013: Everyday Dangers. Copies of the report were available.
Tomorrow, (3 July) at 10 a.m. in Press Room 1 the International Renewable Energy Agency (IRENA) held a press conference on the occasion of the launch of the new report, “Road Transport: The Cost Of Renewable Solutions.”
Later at 11 a.m., also in Press Room 1 the International Federation of the Red Cross and Red Crescent (IFRC) held a press conference on its revised appeal for Syria and give an update on the IFRC/Syrian Arab Red Crescent Operations in the country.
Clare Nullis for the World Meteorological Organization (WMO) said that tomorrow (3 July) at 1 p.m. in Room III there was a press conference on the launch of the new report, “The Global Climate 2001-2010, A Decade of Climate Extremes.” The report analysed global and regional temperatures and precipitation as well as extreme events and their impact on economies and loss of life and was being launched to coincide with the first session of the Intergovernmental Board on Climate Services. Speakers were Michel Jarraud, WMO Secretary-General and Omar Baddour, author of the report.
Answering a question, she said the document issued to journalists was an extensive summary and the full final report was to be made available online under embargo as soon as it was received.
Finally on Wednesday (3 July) at 5.30 p.m. in Room III the Permanent Mission of the Russian Federation would hold a press conference on the concert of Yuri Bashmet and the International Chamber Children's Orchestra, scheduled for he same evening at 6.30 p.m. Speakers were Yuri Bashmet, conductor and musician, Professor and Chair of the Moscow Conservatory, Anatoly Karpov, President of the International Foundations of Peace Association, Ambassador of the United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF), and world chess champion and Elmira Scherbakova, Head of the Organizing Committee of Russian Cultural Seasons.
In the room but not briefing was Tarik Jasarevic for the World Health Organization
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The webcast for this briefing is available here: http://bit.ly/19SjdLr