REGULAR PRESS BRIEFING BY THE INFORMATION SERVICE
12 March 2013
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 Human Rights Council, the United Nations Conference on Trade and Development, the United Nations Children’s Fund, the World Food Programme, the High Commissioner for Refugees, the World Meteorological Organization, the World Health Organization, the International Organization for Migration and the International Trade Centre.
Human Rights Council
Rolando Gomez for the Human Rights Council (HRC) said discussions continued this morning with the dialogue with the Special Rapporteur on Iran who was to hold a press conference at 12:30 in Press Room 1. There were 15 States remaining to speak from yesterday’s agenda who had now taken the floor and closed that part of the session.
This was followed by a report from the High Commissioner on Mali, which highlighted human rights violations that had taken place since January 2012. The statement was available in the report that had already been published. Following this came a general debate on Item 4, on country situations which required the consideration of the Council. Over 40 States and over 100 NGOs had registered to speak and so this was expected to last well into the afternoon.
After the country reports came the presentation by the Independent Expert on the rights of minorities, Ms. Rita Izsák, which would cover a summary of her work, including that to mark the 20th anniversary in 2012 of the Declaration on the Rights of Persons Belonging to National or Ethnic, Religious and Linguistic Minorities. A brief presentation from the Forum on Minority Issues followed, then presentations and reports from the Advisory Committee.
A second press conference was planned for 2:30 p.m. with the Special Rapporteur on the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea, also in Press Room 1.
The only draft resolution yet tabled was on Sri Lanka. The deadline for the submission of resolutions was Thursday (14 March).
He added that a side event entitled “Water for All,” was to take place on Thursday (14 March) at 10:30 a.m. in Room XXII. Taking part was the Special Rapporteur on the human right to safe drinking water and sanitation and the Crown Prince of the Netherlands.
Answering questions he said interviews with relevant persons on the situation in Mali could be organised on request.
Rupert Colville for the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR) said the Deputy High Commissioner Ms Kyung-wha Kang was this morning delivering a statement at the Human Rights Council introducing the High Commissioner’s report on the situation of human rights in Mali.
The report cautioned against the risk of reprisals and inter-ethnic conflicts in the event of military intervention in northern Mali. Unfortunately, as the Deputy High Commissioner said in her statement, these appear to have materialized since January, when the intervention took place. While the violations by the extremist groups had largely been stopped, there had been widely reported allegations of serious human rights violations taking place in the recovered territories.
In order to substantiate these reports and provide the Council with updated information, the High Commissioner for Human Rights, Navi Pillay, deployed a monitoring mission of human rights officers to Mali on 18 February. The team met with relevant national authorities, including government ministries, civil society organizations and United Nations agencies working in the country. It also conducted interviews with victims and witnesses of human rights violations, including IDPs in Bamako, Mopti, Sévaré and Timbuktu.
The preliminary findings of the mission suggest that the recent military intervention in the North of Mali was followed by a serious escalation of retaliatory violence by Government soldiers who appeared to be targeting members of the Peuhl, Tuareg, and Arab ethnic groups who were perceived to be supportive of the armed groups.
The situation had been exacerbated by the use of inflammatory messages, including in the media, stigmatizing members of these communities, thousands of whom have reportedly fled out of fear of reprisal by the Malian army. Those who remained in the country were afraid of being targeted not for what they have done, but for who they were.
The Deputy High Commissioner noted that among the human rights issues that required the most urgent attention were the displacement of populations from Northern Mali; the increase in incidences of ethnically motivated human rights violations, including violence; and the continuing insufficiency of the government’s response to human rights violations, including to the challenges in the administration of justice.
Patrick McCormick for the United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF) said UNICEF was launching its two-year report on Syria, entitled, “Syria’s Children: A lost generation.”
As the crisis in Syria entered its third tragic year without any end in sight, the risk of a lost generation grew every hour, day, month, he said. As a community, we cannot afford another year of the same carnage and destruction as at risk was the creation of future generations who had seen or know only fighting and could perpetuate that cycle of violence. For example, in Aleppo only 6 per cent of children were currently attending school and this lack of education would affect the country’s future.
UNICEF was committed to keeping Syria’s children from becoming a lost generation , though they were on the precipice after two years of seeing their country fall into rack and ruin. To carry on its work inside Syria and in the affected neighbouring countries, UNICEF needed urgent funding or its life-saving operations were to grind to a halt.
Millions of children inside Syria and across the region were witnessing their past and their futures disappear amidst the rubble and destruction of this prolonged conflict. They must be rescued from the brink, for their sake, he said, and for the sake of Syria and its future generations.
Elisabeth Byrs for the World Food Programme (WFP) said renewed violence in Baba Amr, a district in the central city of Homs, had pushed thousands of families into displacement fleeing the fighting that hit the area over the last two days.
Partners’ initial estimates showed that some 3,000 families were now displaced as a result of the recent clashes. More than 1,000 of the displaced families have taken refuge in six schools and some 2,000 families were staying in public shelters or with relatives in different parts of the governorates. Families with small children left their homes arriving to public shelters walking on foot.
WFP had dispatched 3,000 food boxes - enough to feed 15,000 people (3,000 families) – yesterday (11 March) from its warehouses in Tartous for immediate distribution to the displaced families by the Syrian Arab Red Crescent. Distribution of the food started last night and was continuing today to cover the immediate food needs of all displaced families.
WFP was also prepositioning more food in Homs Governorate as the number of displaced families was expected to increase in the next few days from places near Baba Amr if the clashes spread out of the neighbourhood.
This was the second time that families in Baba Amr had become displaced and found themselves forced to leave their homes. The neighborhood experienced heavy fighting in mid-2012 pushing the majority of its residents to leave. Some had recently returned to Baba Amr to rebuild their shattered homes after a lull in fighting for few months in the area.
WFP sent monthly food baskets to over 223,000 people in Homs every month making it the second largest governorate receiving food assistance after Rural Damascus. The UN food agency maintained a sub-office in Homs. WFP had reached 1.7 million people inside Syria in its most recent round of monthly distributions and was scaling up food assistance to reach 2.5 million in the country in coming months. WFP had reached both opposition and government-controlled areas.
WFP started its emergency operations in Syria in August 2011 and had since distributed over 83,000 metric tons of food to millions of Syrians in over 400 different locations across the country, using 5,000 trucks and 55 ships.
Answering questions, she said that 40 to 45 per cent of areas receiving assistance were opposition-controlled. However, control of areas was fluid, she said, as was the resulting access.
Adrian Edwards for the Office of the High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) said High Commissioner for Refugees, António Guterres, was in the region neighbouring Syria this week. Over the past couple of days he had been in Turkey, visiting urban and camp refugees in the Gazantiep region, and meeting government officials. Tomorrow (13 March) he was travelling to Jordan, and will be visiting the Za’atri camp and a registration site in Irbid, before heading onwards to Lebanon on Thursday (14 March).
An important new development was that Turkey had begun registering Syrian refugees living outside refugee camps and in urban settings. Previously it had included in its official figures only those refugees living in the 17-government run camps – numbering some 186,000 people. Following this change 40,000 refugees in urban areas had been registered to date under the new policy with a further 30,000 waiting for appointments to register. A consequence was that the number of registered refugees in Turkey was being revised upwards by some 70,000 people and now stands at 258,200.
Answering questions he said refugees were in towns close to the border, in many cases not far from refugee sites. It was not thought that this change would have an impact on refugee inflows, but would allow those registered more targeted assistance and leverage help from potential donors. He also explained that registration became a more attractive option for government and refugees as pressures increased.
During his visit to Turkey the High Commissioner had signed a cooperation agreement with the Prime Minister's Disaster Relief Agency (AFAD) to fund 10 registration centres. He also signed an accord with the Turkish Red Crescent on cooperation in logistics, emergency and contingency support to UNHCR's operations globally. UNHCR was funding an additional 18,500 tents through the Red Crescent.
Including the revised numbers from Turkey, there were now 1,100,579 Syrians in the region who had either registered as refugees or who were being assisted as such. This comprised 340,524 in Jordan, 339,187 in Lebanon, 258,200 in Turkey, 110,663 in Iraq, 43,743 in Egypt, and 8,262 in other parts of North Africa.
Rupert Colville for the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR) said the OHCHR welcomed the promulgation, on 9 March 2013, of the Comprehensive Law to guarantee women a life free from violence in Bolivia (Law 348), which broadened protection of women against various forms of violence and established the eradication of violence against women as a priority of the State.
The law also included the crime of femicide in the penal code, with a prison term of 30 years without pardon.
The draft was elaborated over the past three years, with the participation of the main women’s organizations and State institutions, and the technical assistance of the UN human rights office in Bolivia. The High Commissioner had earlier recommended adopting the necessary legal framework to protect women against violence, trafficking and gender-motivated killings of women.
Jumbe Omari Jumbe for the International Organization for Migration (IOM) said government leaders from 51 countries had convened in Bangladesh for a two-day consultation co-hosted by Bangladesh and Switzerland on future global trends in population dynamics.
IOM Director General William Lacy Swing was attending the meeting, which was part of a series of 11 United Nations thematic consultations organized globally, as part of his three-day visit to Bangladesh.
The global thematic consultation on population dynamics sought to establish how population dynamics, including migration, were to affect development challenges, and how a broad-based consensus should be addressed in the post-2015 development agenda that was to succeed the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs).
Migration lay at the heart of population dynamics, he said, and remittance flows to developing countries reached $406 billion in 2012 making them a significant tool for poverty eradication.
Jumbe Omari Jumbe for the International Organization for Migration (IOM) said as part of the national consultations on the UN post-2015 development agenda, IOM and UNDP Morocco had organised a special session tomorrow (13 March) to allow the diaspora to contribute to the process. An online discussion had also taken place ahead of the meeting.
He explained there were five million Moroccans residing outside the Kingdom that played an important role in the development of the country, not least in terms of the remittances that they sent home. In 2011, Moroccans abroad sent home over $6.5 billion – the equivalent of $220 for each of Morocco’s 30 million-strong population. Morocco ranked third in Africa in terms of remittance receipts per capita.
Trafficking victims in Cambodia
Jumbe Omari Jumbe for the International Organization for Migration (IOM) said IOM was warning of a rise in trafficking of Cambodian men into the Thai fishing industry. Its Phnom Penh office had already helped as many male trafficking victims in the first two months of 2013 as it did in the whole of 2012.
IOM Cambodia had assisted 26 men since the beginning of the year compared to the 100 Cambodian male victims of trafficking 2011 and 2012.
Elisabeth Byrs for the World Food Programme (WFP) said Ms. Ertharin Cousin, Executive Director of the WFP was to visit Burkina Faso, from 13 to 15 March 2013.
During her visit, Ms. Cousin was to take the opportunity to visit several WFP activities in the field and meet the communities who were beneficiaries of these projects. To date, Burkina Faso hosted more than 47,000 Malian refugees.
She would also meet representatives and teams managing and coordinating the United Nations system as well as authorities in the country.
UN Conference on Arms Trade Treaty
Ms. Momal-Vanian said from next week (18 March) the General Assembly was convening a final United Nations conference on the Arms Trade Treaty. This was to negotiate a legally binding instrument on the highest possible standards for the transfer of conventional arms. This hoped to conclude the ATT process, following the failure of efforts to do this in July 2012. The United Nations Office for Disarmament maintained a dedicated website at www.un.org/disarmament/att, and had prepared a series of information materials, of which copies of some were available at the back of the room. Quoting from the factsheet, she said that crime and armed violence perpetrated by illegal weapons continued to divert public resources away from key services and capital investment. Developing countries may spend 15 per cent of the GDP on law enforcement, as compared to five per cent in more affluent states.
Ms. Momal-Vanian said the Committee on Human Rights this morning examined
the report of Paraguay and this afternoon reviewed China’s report on Hong Kong.
On Thursday, it examined the first report ever submitted by Angola.
The Conference on Disarmament was currently holding a debate on a treaty banning the production of fissile material.
The United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) held a press conference today (12 March) at 3:30 p.m. in Room IV on the UNDP Human Development Report 2013 - The Rise of the South: Human Progress in a Diverse World. This was to be held via video conference with NY with questions taken from Geneva.
Tomorrow (13 March) at 3 p.m. in Press Room 1 the World Health Organization (WHO) would hold a press conference on the release of the Global status report on road safety 2013 (under embargo for Thursday 14 March at 10:00 Geneva time).
On Thursday (14 March) at 9.45 a.m. in Press Room 1 the United Nations International Strategy for Disaster Reduction (UNISDR) would hold a press conference on the new record for economic losses from disasters in 2012.
Clare Nullis for the World Meteorological Organization (WMO) said next week (23 March) saw World Meteorological Day, though the ceremony in Geneva was to be held on 21 March, as the later date would clash with World Water Day. This was planned for 2:30 p.m. and more details were to be issued.
She also said the High-Level Conference on National Drought Policy continued today with its scientific segment. The main aim of the conference was to move away from crisis management towards a proactive approach. The High-Level segment began on Thursday, and there was a press conference planned for 11 a.m. in Room IV of CICG given by the heads of WMO and the UN Convention to combat desertification and a Special Representative of FAO. Around 20 ministers were to attend the High-Level segment, she said.
Catherine Sibut for the United Nations Conference on Trade and Development (UNCTAD) said tomorrow (13 March) at 11 a.m. in Press Room 1 UNCTAD held a press conference on the Global Commodities Forum 2013. She added that next week (15 March) at 2013 at 3 p.m. in Hall XIV there was a press conference on the United Nations Forum on Sustainable Standards, where there would be one short presentation and questions would be answered by representatives of the five United Nations agencies taking part.
Jarle Hetland for the International Trade Centre (ITC) said the ITC had signed a funding agreement with Australia which would go towards improving opportunities for women business owners and entrepreneurs in the Pacific region. This was to be channelled through the ITC’s Women and Trade programme and would run for a three-year period. One of the issues to be addressed was to increase export opportunities, as most trade was currently done informally. Two countries were to be chosen to pilot the project and would be selected shortly.
He also mentioned a technical paper released last week on how trade can be enhanced between Commonwealth Member States to improve their export opportunities. Then he announced that on Thursday (14 March) the ITC, together with six other organizations, was to launch a practitioner’s guide called “Sustainable Sourcing of Agriculture: Raw materials,” aimed at the food and beverage industry. These were downloadable from the website. He added that the annual meeting of the ITC Joint Advisory Group was to take place on 6 and 7 May at the Palais des Nations.
Answering questions, he said the election of the ITC Executive Director was in the hands of the Secretary-General of UNCTAD and the Director-General of the World Trade Organization.
Fadéla Chaib for the World Health Organization (WHO) said the European Health Report, charting health trends, risks, well-being and mortality for the 53 WHO Member States in Europe was to be launched at the Royal Society in London today. Links to summaries of the report and press releases had been distributed under embargo for midnight tonight and if interviews were required on this topic then correspondents should contact WHO.
She also mentioned a press conference for next Monday (18 March) at 10:00 a.m. in Hall XIV, ahead of World Tuberculosis Day, which this year fell on 24 March. Further details were to be sent. Margaret Chan was to attend and the materials provided were under embargo until the press conference itself.
Rupert Colville for the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR) said the High Commissioner for Human Rights, Navi Pillay, was to deliver the opening address at a Geneva event marking the 2013 International Day for the Elimination of Racial Discrimination. The theme this year is Racism and Sport, and the event would take place on Thursday 21 March from 13:15 p.m. to 14:45 p.m. in Room XIX.
The panel discussion was to feature professional football players and representatives from football’s governing bodies including Mr. Kevin-Prince Boateng, professional footballer, AC Milan; Mr. Patrick Vieira, Football Development Executive, Manchester City Football Club; senior officials from UEFA and FIFA, Ambassador Mohamed Siad Douale, Chairperson, Inter-Governmental Working Group on the Effective Implementation of the Durban Declaration and Programme of Action; and Mr. Piara Powar, Executive Director, FARE Network.
The spokespersons for the International Labour Organization (ILO) and the Office for the Coordination for Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA) also attended the briefing but did not speak.
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Webcasts of the regular press briefings will not be available for the next few weeks due to renovation work in the Palais des Nations.