REGULAR PRESS BRIEFING BY THE INFORMATION SERVICE
19 April 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 Refugees, the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights, the Economic Commission for Europe, the Human Rights Council, the United Nations Conference on Trade and Development, the United Nations Children’s Fund, the World Food Programme, the International Organization for Migration, the World Meteorological Organization, the World Health Organization and the International Labour Organization.
H7N9 China mission
Glenn Thomas for the World Health Organization (WHO) said there was a statement from Michael O’Leary, head of WHO's office in China, given at a recent briefing in Beijing at the back of the room, and some details of the naming of the virus.
There were now 87 laboratory-confirmed human cases, including 17 fatalities. This week, Chinese authorities and WHO were leading a mission to visit areas affected, in order to study the situation and provide recommendations on prevention and controlling the spread of the disease. The 15-man team included experts on epidemiology, laboratories, clinical management and would issue recommendations at the end of the mission, which could be released as early as next Thursday.
The mission was a good example of international cooperation and allowed experts the chance to learn from each other about the latest developments and findings on this virus. One of the key topics was to establish the virus reservoir, as although poultry had been suggested no clear link had been made. There was still no evidence of easy and sustained person-to-person transmission.
Answering questions, he said one of the first clusters identified, where a father and a son had died, was not confirmed as human-to-human transmission. He said there were three possible cluster cases that WHO was aware of and the circumstances of those deaths would be closely considered. The incubation period was thought to be around a week.
Adrian Edwards for the United Nations Refugee Agency (UNHCR) said UNHCR was renewing its appeal for funds to help meet the needs of Malian refugees and internally displaced people.
UNHCR needed $144 million to cover the basic protection and assistance needs, and so far had received only 32 per cent of this amount. The funding UNHCR was seeking was to allow for expansion and construction of transit centres, provision of supplementary and therapeutic food, shelters and other relief items, and delivery of basic services.
Currently, there were more than more than 175,000 Malian refugees in surrounding countries. This included 75,850 refugees in Mauritania, over 49,000 in Burkina Faso, and some 50,000 in Niger. The special appeal issued today covered the needs of this population plus up to 45,500 additional refugees anticipated during 2013 (based on existing rates of arrival).
In Mauritania, the largest hosting country of Malian refugees, at the end of last year there were over 54,000 Malians. In January, there was a new influx of refugees, with an average of 500 new arrivals per day. This number had dropped but new arrivals continued. The new influx required an expanded response in life-saving sectors, including in food and non-food items, water, sanitation, nutrition, health, education, shelter and environmental areas.
Several measures had been taken to treat and prevent malnutrition at the Mbera refugee camp, including distribution of nutritional supplements to infants, organization of awareness sessions for mother. This had led to a reduction in acute malnutrition rates of refugee children (under five years) from 20 per cent to 13 per cent. Additional funding was required to improve prevention and response mechanisms.
In Niger, the latest wave of refugees (some 2,700) who reached the inhospitable and remote north in late March and early April was mainly composed of women and children. Reception conditions were precarious, mainly owing to a lack of water and health facilities. UNHCR and WFP had already provided them with food and emergency non-food items (NFI) while also re-deploying staff and resources to this isolated area.
In Burkina Faso, the majority of the new arrivals had been settled in Goudoubo camp, where a recent nutrition survey organized by UNHCR, WFP and the national health authorities showed an alarming high Global Acute Malnutrition (GAM) rate of 24.5 per cent. UNHCR and its partners had completed individual screening of all children under 5 years of age and had started treatment of malnutrition cases. Preparation was underway for blanket feeding programmes.
One of the main protection priorities in Burkina Faso and Niger was to relocate refugees away from the formal and informal sites that were too close to the border.
Marixie Mercado for the United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF) said that with access improving tentatively in urban areas of northern Mali, UNICEF was working to support the immediate restoration of basic social and protection services for children who for the past 15 months have been at the forefront of suffering.
UNICEF’s priorities in northern Mali over the coming months were to get children back into classrooms, prevent malnutrition, and strengthen child protection systems.
The damage done had been extensive, she said. Most schools had been looted, and infra-structure damaged. Half of health facilities were not working. Water supply was poor and of poor quality. The vast majority of teachers and health workers were still not at their posts, especially outside of urban zones.
More than 300,000 children had been out of school for over a year. A measles outbreak had seen double the number of cases reported, and far more deaths, in the first quarter of this year than the same period last year. No cholera cases had been reported so far, but the capacity to treat an outbreak had serious gaps.
All of this was happening against a backdrop of a chronic nutritional crisis that killed children every day, the vast majority of them in the south of the country, where 90 per cent of Malians live. UNICEF estimated that 210,000 children were to suffer from life threatening malnutrition this year, and 450,000 were to suffer a less severe, but also debilitating form of malnutrition.
There was an up side, she said. One in five schools was now open. Parents, teachers, community members UNICEF spoke to were unanimous in their appeal for putting a priority on getting children back in school, and UNICEF was encouraging the return to classrooms with a massive supply of education material. A measles campaign was underway, with over 44,000 children reached in Gao so far.
And last month, for the first time, seven children associated with armed groups who were detained during combat operations in the north had been released and handed over to UNICEF and the government agency in charge of child protection. The children were being cared for in a transit centre in Bamako.
Across the north, UNICEF was resuming work with the technical staff of different ministries to support the resumption of services. In the south, the fund was building on work to scale up treatment to severe malnutrition that saw a doubling in the number of children provided with lifesaving treatment last year. But the crisis was far from over, access and security remain tenuous, the humanitarian needs were immense, and funding was a constraint, she said.
UNICEF had appealed for $82 million to meet emergency needs for 2013, and had received just over $20 million, leaving a funding gap of 76 per cent.
Central African Republic
Elisabeth Byrs for the World Food Programme (WFP) said insecurity continued to hold back humanitarian agencies in the Central African Republic (CAR), with access being a key issue. Planned distributions on 8 April had been postponed due to the deteriorating security situation.
In the coming weeks WFP planned to distribute 900 metric tons of food around the country as security allows, including to conflict-affected people in hospitals and nutrition centres in Batangafo and Kabo in the north, 8,000 internally displaced people (IDPs) and 2,600 Sudanese refugees in Bambari in the centre of the country, 5,990 Congolese refugees in Batalimo in the south-west and 2,500 people in the hospital in Bangui.
WFP was committed to providing food assistance to those in need in conflict-affected areas. The WFP-managed UNHAS was operational to 27 locations in the country. UNHAS was also flying at least once a week from Bangui to Yaoundé though the operation faced a shortfall of $5.24 million.
More details on a Rapid Food Security Assessment, which took place in February 2013, was available in the WFP briefing note, she added.
Marixie Mercado for the United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF) said UNICEF
and partners had just completed delivery of emergency medical and hygiene supplies, clothes and school material for children to Aleppo.
She also read some impressions from a colleague who was on the mission to Aleppo describing the difficult journey and the destruction observed on the way. In Aleppo, one could hear sounds of sounds of shelling in Aleppo all the time and the fear was palpable.
In opposition-controlled areas, the team saw very few civilians on the road, but a lot of children selling little containers and bottles of fuel because fuel stations were not working. There was no electricity and very little running water so people had started to dig their own wells.
In Aleppo, the biggest IDP centre was at the university campus, with some 32,000 people crowded into 22 buildings. Conditions were horrific – almost medieval. The population was getting food and water, but sanitation was non-existent.
There were many other shelters including one with 70 girls – one to 17 years old in four bedrooms with two toilets. All of the children had been abandoned. Protection was a big concern and making sure education continued was another big concern. But especially worrying with summer coming was water and hygiene. Reaching the rural areas especially was to be a challenge.
She also said that new figures showed there were now 6.8 million people in need, including 3.128 million under the age of 18. In addition, 4.25 million people were displaces, including just under two million children under 18.
Elisabeth Byrs for the World Food Programme (WFP) added that the inter-agency mission had stocked warehouses of the Syrian Red Crescent in Talbiseh for immediate distribution in the following days. This was to help 23,000 people who were affected by violence in the area, where access had been very difficult. This was the first delivery since January.
Jumbe Omari Jumbe for the International Organization for Migration (IOM) said that a situation report from IOM was available. Last week the organization had provided non-food items to 8,500 people.
Rupert Colville for the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR) said the High Commissioner was today (19 April) issuing a press release condemning the execution of 21 individuals in Iraq earlier in the week, which brought the total to 33 in the past month. She was also deploring reports that the Ministry of Justice had announced that a further 150 people may be executed in the coming days.
In her view, the justice system in the country was too seriously flawed to warrant even a limited application of the death penalty, let alone dozens of executions at a time, he said. Numerous convictions were still believed to be based on confessions obtained under torture and ill-treatment, a weak judiciary and trial proceedings that fall short of international standards.
The application of the death penalty in these circumstances was unconscionable, as any miscarriage of justice as a result of capital punishment cannot be undone. A total of 1,400 people were believed to be currently on death row in Iraq, and 129 people were executed in 2012 alone.
The High Commissioner was also deeply concerned at Iraq’s lack of compliance with its international human rights obligations in relation to the imposition of the death penalty, in particular under the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, to which Iraq had been a State Party for more than 40 years.
The High Commissioner was emphasizing the need for transparency and stringent respect of due process. She was calling on the Government to halt executions, conduct a credible and independent review of all death row cases and disclose information on the number and identity of death row prisoners, the charges and judicial proceedings brought against them, and the outcome of the review of their cases.
The High Commissioner was also questioning why the presidential authority to pardon or commute death sentences (granted by article 286 of the Criminal Procedure Code) was hardly ever exercised. One part of Iraq – the Kurdistan Region – was already upholding an unofficial moratorium on the death penalty, and the High Commissioner was urging the central Government to follow suit.
Answering questions, he said although there were still large amounts of violent acts in the country, executions (on this scale or otherwise) were not warranted. He added that the President never signed death warrants and executions tended to happen when he was out of the country. He added that the United Nations Assistance Mission for Iraq (UNAMI) had a human rights component and just yesterday the Special Representative of the Secretary-General had spoken out.
Adrian Edwards for the United Nations Refugee Agency (UNHCR) said African countries hosting large numbers of Rwandan refugees and Rwanda itself had reiterated their commitment to resolving the protracted Rwandan refugee situation in line with a Comprehensive Strategy announced by UNHCR in October 2009.
At a Ministerial meeting in Pretoria, delegations reviewed progress in promoting the voluntary repatriation and reintegration of Rwandan refugees. Included in the discussion was extending the possibility of local integration or alternative legal status in the country of asylum. The Strategy also provided for the cessation of refugee status for Rwandan refugees remaining in exile, and who fled their country before 31 December 1998.
The first Ministerial meeting on the Strategy, in Geneva on 9 December 2011, had agreed with a recommendation for States to consider giving effect to the so-called cessation clauses of refugee status as of 30 June 2013. Cessation clauses were built into the 1951 Refugee Convention and the 1969 Organization of African Unity Refugee Convention. They provided for refugee status to end once fundamental and durable changes had taken place in the country of origin and the circumstances that led to flight no longer exist.
The 1994 Rwanda genocide and its aftermath and armed clashes in north-western Rwanda in 1997 and 1998 – produced more than 3.5 million Rwandan refugees. Most had since returned to Rwanda, including recently, 12,000 mainly from Democratic Republic of Congo. An estimated 100,000 Rwandan refugees remained in exile.
Some States had been implementing steps towards applying the cessation clauses by end June, others underscored that for various considerations, they were not in a position to apply the cessation clauses by the end of June, or will in any case not do so. Others specified that for the time being they will concentrate on taking forward other components of the strategy, namely voluntary repatriation and local integration.
Adrian Edwards for the United Nations Refugee Agency (UNHCR) said UNHCR was calling for urgent action and increased financial support to improve conditions for displaced people in Myanmar’s Rakhine state to avert a humanitarian catastrophe when seasonal rains start in just a few weeks time.
UNHCR was seriously concerned about the risks facing over 60,000 displaced people in flood-prone areas and in makeshift shelters. From May to September, the monsoon season was expected to unleash heavy rains and possible cyclones in Rakhine state, where more than 115,000 people remained uprooted after last year’s inter-communal violence.
The most critical sites were in Sittwe, Pauktaw and Myebon, where the displaced were living near the coast and were vulnerable to tidal surges. Some had camped in paddy fields or low-lying areas that were to flood once the rains started. Flooding will exacerbate the already fragile conditions of shelter and sanitation, and increase the risk of water-borne diseases. In addition, several thousand people were still living in tents and flimsy makeshift shelters.
UNHCR and its partners had urged the Myanmar Government to address shelter needs as a matter of priority. Adequate land should be identified promptly and challenges related to water and sanitation facilities suitably addressed. These points were discussed with authorities and partners during a recent high-level visit.
UNHCR welcomes the progress made so far in identifying suitable land. At the request of the Government, UNHCR had committed to build temporary shelters for some 24,000 displaced people In Myebon and Pauktaw, while the Government will provide accommodation to those displaced in Sittwe’s rural areas.
Since the displacement started in Rakhine state last June, UNHCR had constructed temporary shelters for 14,400 displaced people. It had also built permanent homes for nearly 500 people who have returned to their areas of origin. Additional funding was urgently needed to allow UNHCR to meet its commitments within the very short time period left before the rains.
The high-level UNHCR delegation to Myanmar also stressed the need for reconciliation between communities and other tangible actions. Since June last year, an estimated 27,800 people – the majority of them believed to be from Rakhine state – had left on boats from the Bay of Bengal. Hundreds were believed to have drowned en route and many more had landed in countries like Thailand, Malaysia and Indonesia.
Rupert Colville for the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR) said OHCHR was concerned at the suspension of the trial of former head of state Efraín Ríos Montt, and former head of intelligence José Mauricio Rodríguez Sánchez for genocide and crimes against humanity.
The suspension was ordered by a different Guatemalan court to the one hearing the trial. This was a blow to the numerous victims of the atrocities committed during Guatemala’s civil war, who had been waiting more than 30 years for justice to be done and for remedies; as well as to the courageous lawyers, judges and prosecutors who have struggled for decades to see it was done.
The trial gave victims the opportunity for the very first time to testify in the same room as the high-ranking officers accused of ordering the burning of villages, and the rape and the execution of more than 1,770 Ixil Maya Indians in 1982 and 1983. The occurrence of this major setback a few days before the expected judgement was a real slap in the face to the many indigenous women and men who had courageously participated as witnesses in the public hearings.
He reiterated the High Commissioner’s 18 March call to the authorities to uphold their responsibility to guarantee a fair and independent trial, in accordance with due process guarantees, including by taking all necessary measures to guarantee that judges and other judicial personnel can carry out their duties free from threats, reprisals or undue inducements.
Answering questions, he said that the Constitutional Court had ruled that the original judge on the case should be reinstated, while it had also ruled that the trial should continue. This had created some confusion, though OHCHR considered it to be vital that the trial continued. On another point, he said the case was unique in bringing a head of state before a national court on a charge of genocide and it was important that it continued.
Jean Rodriguez for the Economic Commission on Europe (UNECE) said a recent explosion in a factory in Texas had underlined the importance of conventions on the reduction of industrial risk, such as that of the UNECE. The Convention in question considered trans-boundary impacts of such accidents and looked at the prevention, and reaction, to incidents in installations.
Next week (22 to 24 April) saw the Europe-Central Asia Housing Forum in Room XVII, which was to deal with promoting sustainable housing futures for all. In the framework of this seminar, there was a workshop on the linkage between the prevention of security aspects linked to hazardous industrial plants and land planning. The programme was to be distributed.
He also mentioned that a number of other organizations were involved in the Organization of the forum. The UNECE Executive Secretary was to give the closing speech at 11:30 on 24 April.
Jumbe Omari Jumbe for the International Organization for Migration (IOM) said a delegation of humanitarian agencies, including IOM, led by the top UN official in Yemen Resident Coordinator Ismail Ould Cheikh Ahmed, yesterday (18 April) visited the Yemeni-Saudi border and witnessed the harrowing conditions facing thousands of migrants from the Horn of Africa.
The visit followed recent raids conducted by Yemeni authorities on smugglers and traffickers camps around the border town of Haradh. These resulted in the rescue of 1,987 migrants from traffickers, who extorted money from them and often tortured those who could not pay. Just this morning the Saudi authorities had raided a camp on the border and freed 205 people, he added.
Recent changes in Saudi labour laws for foreign workers, the resumption of a project to fence off the 1,800 km border with Yemen, and the raids on traffickers’ camps had exacerbated the situation of an already overflowing population of destitute migrants stranded at the border in Haradh.
The Government of Yemen had stepped in and begun military flights to return hundreds of Ethiopian migrants to Addis Ababa. Many were being housed in government facilities in Amran and Sana’a pending their return.
A total of 1,163 migrants, including 121 women and girls, were currently being accommodated at an Immigration, Passport and Naturalization Authority (IPNA) facility in Sana’a, while another 535, including 90 women and girls, were waiting at the Amran Central Prison. Both holding facilities were already filled beyond their maximum capacity.
To date, only one of the three scheduled military flights has left Sana’a, carrying a total of 318 Ethiopian migrants. A situation report on this subject was available from IOM, he said.
Answering questions, he said the Saudi reinforcement of the border, together with a clampdown on migrants both side of the border was causing a build up of migrants, which the Yemeni authorities were trying to clear with these flights. In the area of Haradh it was thought that there were 20,000 migrants. He also said there was an issue of burial for migrants with 40 bodies to be dealt with, and IOM unable to fulfil Yemen’s request to bury them due to a lack of funds.
Clare Nullis for the World Meteorological Organization (WMO) said large-scale summer monsoon rainfall for South Asia and the June-September season as a whole was most likely to be within the normal range, with a slight tendency to be – in the higher side of the normal range, according to the South Asian Climate Outlook Forum.
The consensus statement on the 2013 southwest monsoon rainfall over South Asia was developed through an expert assessment at a meeting of the Forum held 18-19 April in Kathmandu, Nepal, she explained.
In terms of spatial distribution of rainfall, there was a likelihood for below normal rainfall over some areas of northwestern parts of South Asia, including much of Pakistan, and above normal rainfall over some areas along Himalayan region, including Nepal and Bhutan. Below-normal rainfall conditions were also expected in the southernmost parts of India. Rainfall conditions close to the long-period average are more likely over the remaining parts, including most of India, according to the outlook.
She added that the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) had recently announced that the globally averaged temperature for March tied with 2006 as 10th warmest March on record.
Rupert Colville for the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR) said the High Commissioner was to arrive in Angola on mission late Sunday (24 April). A media advisory with more details was to be issued.
WFP Executive Director
Elisabeth Byrs for the World Food Programme (WFP) said the WFP Executive Director Ertharin Cousin was to visit Paris on 22-23 April to hold several high-level meetings. She was to talk with representatives from the ministry of agriculture, the private sector, the ministry of foreign affairs and two popular Malian singers who had offered their support to the WFP.
Answering a question, Ms. Momal-Vanian said Assistant Secretary-General for Peacekeeping Operations, Edmond Mulet, briefed the Security Council on Wednesday, (21 April) where he had mentioned areas such as national reconciliation where progress was too slow.
Ms. Momal-Vanian said the Committee on Enforced Disappearances ended two weeks of work this afternoon with a closing session from 4.p.m. The concluding observations on the reports of Uruguay and France should be made public Monday (22 April) afternoon.
The Committee on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities also finished this afternoon at 17:30. The only country in the programme of the session was Paraguay. Based on the previous sessions, the concluding observations should also be published on Monday (22 April). Any changes would be notified.
The Committee on the Rights of Migrant Workers considered this week reports of three countries in the programme of the session: Colombia, Bolivia and Azerbaijan.
There was a general debate on Monday (22 April) on the issue of migration statistics.
The session ended next Friday.
Ms. Momal-Vanian said the Preparatory Committee (PrepCom) for the 2015 Review Conference of the Parties to the Treaty on the Non-Proliferation of Nuclear Weapons (NPT) was to hold its second session from 22 April to 3 May 2013 at the United Nations Office in Geneva.
Documents were not to be issued in hard copy but would be uploaded onto the website, which already had a number of interesting documents. The meetings were to be held in the Assembly Hall. The first speaker on Monday (22 April) was to be Iran on behalf of the Non-Aligned Movement. Statements would be made available on to the website immediately after delivery.
Answering questions, she said the list of speakers would be available on Monday and the meeting (as well as side events9 was public. The meeting was scheduled to start at 10.a.m. She also reminded those attending that for convenience, television reporters should bring HF microphones. For radio journalists, there were boxes in the gallery on the fifth floor.
Today, (19 April) at 5 p.m. in Room III there was a press conference on the outcome of the Conference of the Nuclear-Weapon States: “On the Way to the 2015 NPT Review Conference.”
Speakers were Grigory Berdennikov, Ambassador-at-Large, Ministry of Foreign Affairs, Russian Federation; Sen Pang, Director-General, Arms Control and Disarmament Department, Ministry of Foreign Affairs, People's Republic of China; Patrick Maisonnave, Director for Strategic, Security and Disarmament Affairs, Ministry of Foreign Affairs, France; Robert Hannigan, Director General, Defence and Intelligence, Foreign & Commonwealth Office, United Kingdom; and Rose Gottemoeller, Acting Under Secretary of State for Arms Control and International Security, Department of State, United States of America.
Jean Rodriguez for the Economic Commission on Europe (UNECE) said the UNECE Executive Secretary was on Tuesday (23 April), to participate in a round table on global environmental change and the implications for food security, at 11.a.m.
Catherine Sibut for the United Nations Conference on Trade and Development (UNCTAD) said there was a list at the back of the room of upcoming UNCTAD publications and reports for 2013. The first was 26 June, for the report on investment in the world. She added that wherever possible these press conferences would be held in Geneva and using the UNCTAD virtual press room documents would be made available under embargo a week before publication.
She added that Tuesday (23 April) at 2.30 p.m. in Press Room 1, there was a press conference on a new study on promoting local IT sectors through public procurement based on a three-country study. The speaker was Torbjorn Fredriksson, UNCTAD Chief of the ICT Analysis Section. Copies of the report were available on request.
Hans von Rohland for the International Labour Organization (ILO) said on Wednesday, (24 April) at 11 a.m. in Press Room 1, there was a press conference on the launch of the book, "Public Sector Shock: The Impact of Policy Retrenchment in Europe." The speaker was Daniel Vaughan-Whitehead, ILO Senior Economist and main author of the book.
He also said that ILO was to launch a report on 29 April on child workers and social protection, on 12 June another on child workers and domestic labour, and in October there would be an international conference in Brasilia, which would discuss global figures for child employment. He asked that journalists with an interest in a briefing get in touch with him. A copy of the first report, under embargo, could be distributed on 26 April.
Rolando Gomez for the Human Rights Council (HRC) said a background press release had been issued on the upcoming 16th Session if the Universal Periodic Review. The session began Monday (22 April) through to 3 May.
The countries due to be examined were: Turkmenistan, Burkina Faso, Cape Verde, Colombia, Uzbekistan, Tuvalu, Germany, Djibouti, Canada, Bangladesh, the Russian Federation, Azerbaijan, Cameroon, and Cuba. Country reports were already available on the HRC website, he said, and briefing notes and statements would also be made available.
Glenn Thomas for the World Health Organization (WHO) invited correspondents to an information session on Monday (22 April) at 10:30, in the Kofi Annan conference room at the WHO. This was an opportunity to comment and ask questions on World Immunization Week. This was also to be live webcast.
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The webcast for this briefing is available here.