REGULAR PRESS BRIEFING BY THE INFORMATION SERVICE
15 May 2012
Corinne Momal-Vanian, the Director of the United Nations Information Service in Geneva, chaired the briefing, which was also attended by Spokespersons for the Human Rights Council, the International Federation of the Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies, the International Food Policy Research Institute, the International Labour Organization, the World Health Organization, the International Organization for Migration, the World Food Organization and the Inter-Parliamentary Union.
New Report on Tackling Food Insecurity
Goli Ameri, Undersecretary General for Humanitarian Values and Diplomacy of the International Federation of the Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies (IFRC), said that the IFRC and the International Food Policy Research Institute would today launch the findings of a joint study entitled “Reducing the risk of food and nutrition among vulnerable populations”.
The report examined the numerous causes and solutions to global food insecurity and malnutrition. Hunger and food insecurity were still gripping many parts of the world – 9 million people in the Horn of Africa, 14 million in the Sahel, and now the upcoming situation in Yemen – and the IFRC staff had volunteered to contribute to this report as they worked in the communities and knew the best ways to increase their resilience.
The report encouraged Governments to modify their policies and increase their levels of investment in the agricultural sector and social safety nets. It called on aid organizations to globally earmark a percentage of their funds specifically for building resilience at the community level. The report further advocated the establishment of global, regional, national and community platforms for policy dialogue so that resilience-building could become more mainstreamed.
The results of the study would be officially launched this afternoon at 3 p.m. at the IFRC, in the presence of several high-level participants, and the media were welcome to attend. Summaries of the report were at the back of the room.
Shenggen Fan, Director-General of the International Food Policy Research Institute, responding to a question as to whether it was realistic to end hunger in Africa, said there were several strategies and policies that could help end hunger in Africa. The two most important were, first, that Governments must include food production among the top items on their agenda. Many African countries forgot agriculture and moved to industrialization and urbanization. This was wrong – Governments needed to spend at least 10 per cent of their national budgets to support at least 6 per cent agricultural growth. Second, an appropriate social network could help the poor to build resilience. A productive social network contributed to building a buffer against short-term shocks and to building assets for productivity growth.
South Sudanese Stranded in Kosti
Jean-Philippe Chauzy of the International Organization for Migration (IOM) said that IOM had begun an airlift of some 12,000 stranded South Sudanese from Kosti, 300 kilometers south of the Sudanese capital Khartoum, to Juba in South Sudan. On Monday, 14 May the first two IOM-chartered flights had arrived in Juba from Khartoum carrying a total of 326 people. A third flight had left Khartoum on schedule at 9.15 a.m. local time this morning and a fourth flight was expected to leave later today.
Yesterday’s returnees – who included vulnerable people such as the old, the sick and families with small children – had been received at Juba airport by South Sudanese officials before being transferred in IOM buses to a transit complex run by the UN Refugee Agency on the outskirts of Juba. The flights were the first in an IOM airbridge between the two capitals designed to move South Sudanese stranded in Kosti to South Sudan, following the country’s independence last year.
Passengers are allowed to carry a maximum of 20 kg of luggage, said Mr. Chauzy. The Government of South Sudan was providing transport for the rest of their luggage, which would be moved by truck from Kosti to Renk in South Sudan’s Upper Nile state. From Renk it would be transported by Nile barges to Juba. Many returnees had large quantities of luggage, which represented a major logistical challenge.
Meanwhile, an IOM-sponsored river Nile barge carrying 1,700 returnees who had departed from the town of Renk in Upper Nile state two weeks ago was due to arrive in Juba shortly. Renk currently hosted some 17,000 returnees in three congested camps.
IOM had USD 2.3 million to pay for the aircraft, buses and staff required to move people from Kosti to Juba. It believed that it would need USD 5.5 million to complete the operation and was therefore appealing to international donors for the additional USD 3.2 million.
Elisabeth Byrs of the World Food Programme (WFP) said that the WFP was planning to provide food assistance to about 12,000 people stranded in Kosti. For its emergency operations until the end of the year the WFP still needed USD 72,000.
Ms. Byrs said that thousands of people in Somaliland were getting more fresh meat in their diet as a result of an innovative project that provided parents with vouchers to help them afford nutritious food from local traders. Under the programme, people received US $80 of vouchers each month, and could use them to buy a variety of food including rice, cooking oil and fresh camel and goat meat.
The first phase of the voucher project was linked to WFP’s nutrition programme for young children in Burao, Somaliland, said Ms. Byrs. WFP was partnering with the Danish Refugee Council to distribute the vouchers, in coordination with Medair, a non-governmental organisation which managed the nutrition programme in Burao. WFP had reached about 1.5 million people with assistance in those areas of Somalia to which it had had access since the start of the food crisis last year.
Asked about the situation in Syria, Ms. Byrs said that the WFP, working through the Syrian Red Crescent, had provided food assistance to close to 200,000 people in Syria in April, and was hoping to reach 500,000 in the coming weeks.
Greece – Economic and Financial Crisis
In response to a question about the possible impact of Greece falling out of the Euro zone, Mr. Chauzy said the economic crisis was contributing to the scapegoating of migrants in Greece, and there had been increased acts of xenophobia against immigrants. IOM was concerned about the further impact of the economic crisis on perceptions of those migrants.
Ms. Momal-Vanian said several UN agencies had expressed general concern regarding the impact of the financial and economic crisis on vulnerable segments of the population including in Greece.
[Ms. Momal-Vanian later referred journalists to the High-level thematic debate on the state of the world economy and finance in 2012 which would be held at UN Headquarters in New York on 17 and 18 May.]
Palestinian hunger strikers
Jemini Pandya of the Inter-Parliamentary Union (IPU) said that IPU welcomed reports that Palestinian prisoners kept in isolation would now be moved back to regular cells as part of a brokered deal which would see the end of a protracted hunger strike in Israeli jails. IPU had been particularly concerned over the fate of Ahmad Sa’adat, General Secretary of the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine, who had been in isolation for three years, in poor health and without access to medical attention until recently. IPU had also welcomed the decision to resume family visits for Palestinians prisoners from Gaza which had been stopped following the abduction of Israeli soldier Gilad Shalit in 2006.
Although reports of the deal mentioned the easing of the use of administrative detention, which currently affected 300 Palestinian prisoners including 24 members of the Palestinian Legislative Council, the IPU believed the practice should be abandoned permanently. The Organization reiterated the call that those being held in administrative detention are to be either released immediately or prosecuted under normal criminal procedure should sufficient evidence of criminal involvement be determined.
IPU, whose Committee on the Human Rights of Parliamentarians has been actively engaged in finding a solution for 27 Palestinian MPs either in administrative detention or serving prison sentences in Israel, and it would continue to work for their release or for their right to due process.
New Algerian Parliament Reaches Important Milestone in Women’s Political Participation
Ms. Pandya said that Algeria had become the first and only Arab country to have more than 30 per cent of its parliamentary seats held by women following last week’s elections. One hundred and forty-five women had been elected as MPs in the elections for the lower house of parliament out of 462 seats, accounting for nearly 31.4 per cent of parliamentarians. In the outgoing parliament, women MPs had only accounted for less than eight per cent, putting Algeria joint 120th with Ukraine in the IPU world ranking of women’s political participation. The outcome of these latest elections means Algeria would now leap-frog into the top 25 countries.
In the IPU’s annual analysis of women’s political participation released in early March this year, the Arab region had had the lowest regional average in the world at 10.7 per cent. Until now, it had also been the only part of the world without a single parliament hosting 30 per cent or more women MPs.
The large increase in the number of women now in the Algerian parliament has partly been the result of a new law on women’s political participation. In a proportional representation system, it had set quotas for women candidates on political party lists depending on the size of a constituency.
However, the law did not stipulate where on the list women should appear, which significantly reduced the potential effectiveness of such a measure. The election of 145 women meant that in this instance, various political parties had played a significant role by putting women relatively high up on their candidate lists.
Ms. Momal-Vanian added that in a statement issued last night United Nations Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon had also welcomed the increased representation of women in the new Parliament following the elections in Algeria.
Human Rights Council
Rolando Gomez of the Human Rights Council said that the 13th session of the Universal Periodic Review Working Group would run from next Monday, 21 May, through 4 June. Fourteen countries were to be reviewed during this session, which marked the beginning of the second cycle of the Universal Periodic Review. This was a significant opportunity for States to spell out the actions they had taken to implement the accepted recommendations that had been proposed to them during their first review. The meetings were being webcast live and he would produce highlights of the discussions, said Mr. Gomez.
Preparations were well underway for the 20th regular session of the Human Rights Council. Taking place from 18 June to 6 July, the three-week session would notably feature presentations and reports from close to 20 independent human rights experts. Many reports were already available online.
The Commission of Inquiry on Syria would be issuing a written update in the coming days, added Mr. Gomez.
Tarik Jasarevic of the World Health Organization (WHO) said that the World Health Assembly would run from 21-26 May inclusive to discuss a number of public health issues, such as non-communicable diseases, the Millennium Development Goals, mental disorders and adolescent pregnancies. The nomination of Dr. Margaret Chan for a second term in office would also be submitted for approval to the World Health Assembly. The documents were available from the WHO website in all six languages. Further information on the World Health Assembly would be given at a press conference to take place on 16 May at 2 p.m. in Room III. The speakers, all from the WHO, were Dr Andrew Cassels, Director of Strategy, Dr Douglas Bettcher, Director Free Tobacco Initiative and Director a.i. Chronic Diseases and Health Promotion, Dr Zafar Mirza, Coordinator, Public Health, Intellectual Property and Innovation, and Dr Chris Maher, Chief, Strategy and Surge Support for Polio Eradication.
Mr. Jasarevic said that another press conference would take place tomorrow at 10 a.m. in Press Room 1 to present the World Health Statistics 2012. A note to journalists and the report had been sent out to the media today, under embargo until tomorrow at 10 a.m. Speaking at the press conference would be Ties Boerma, Director, Health Statistics and Information Systems and Colin Mathers, Coordinator, Mortality and Burden of Disease.
The WHO Global Malaria Programme and the Roll Back Malaria Partnership were today publishing a global plan to urge malaria-endemic countries and donors to tackle emerging mosquito resistance through insecticides. The report would be available from the website of WHO’s Global Malaria Programme as of this afternoon.
Hans von Rohland of the International Labour Organization (ILO) said that the ILO would launch a report entitled "Global Employment Trends for Youth 2012", under embargo until 21 May at 23:00 GMT, at a press conference to take place on Monday at 2.30 p.m. in Room III. As a follow-up, a global forum on youth employment would run from 23 May to 25 May, with some one hundred youth from around the world gathering for a discussion on the global job crisis and the resulting challenges confronting youth. Accreditation for the forum, to be held at the ILO, would be available for the press. More information would follow in a note to correspondents.
Mr. von Rohland said that the new ILO Director-General would be elected at a closed-door meeting starting on 28 May at 10 a.m. This meeting would probably be followed by address by the new Director-General.
Ms. Byrs said that the Executive Director of World Food Programme would be in the United States from 17 to 22 May to participate in several high-level food security and nutrition events on the margins of the upcoming G8 summit.
Ms. Momal-Vanian said that the Conference on Disarmament was continuing its 2012 session this morning. As she spoke, the Conference was hearing an address by the President of the General Assembly, Mr. Nassir Abdulazi Al-Nasser.
The Committee against Torture, for its part, was meeting a delegation from Rwanda which was presenting the country report this morning. This would be followed by answers from the Czech Republic this afternoon. Tomorrow, the Committee had planned to examine a special report it had asked for from Syria. That report had not yet been received but the Committee would nonetheless examine the situation in Syria in the morning. Committee members would present information on the situation in a public meeting, and the Committee would then meet in private. Next week the Committee would review the reports submitted by Canada and Cuba.
The Committee on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights was meeting in private this week to adopt its concluding observations on the reports examined over the course of this session. The concluding observations would be made public after the closing ceremony this Friday.