REGULAR PRESS BRIEFING BY THE INFORMATION SERVICE
8 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 International Organization for Migration, the World Food Programme, the United Nations Refugee Agency, the Joint United Nations Programme on HIV/AIDS and the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights.
Press Stakeout with the Joint Special Envoy for the crisis in Syria
Ms. Momal-Vanian said Mr. Kofi Annan, the Joint Special Envoy of the United Nations and the League of Arab States for the crisis in Syria, would speak to the press this afternoon after briefing the Security Council by video conference. The press stakeout would take place around 5.30 p.m. Geneva time in Hall XIV (access will only be possible from the Salle des Pas Perdus, close to Room X).
Somali refugee survivors land on Malta beach, 7 reported dead
Adrian Edwards of the United Nations Refugee Agency (UNHCR) said that exhausted survivors from a boat carrying Somali refugees that landed on one of Malta’s most popular beaches this weekend told UNHCR that five men and two women aboard perished during the week-long voyage from Libya. The boat came ashore at Riviera Bay on Saturday, and the emergency services were alerted by families spending the evening at the beach.
This was the fourth-such boat to have arrived in Malta this year, bringing a total of some 210 people, said Mr. Edwards. A further 45 boats had arrived in Italy. According to UNHCR’s regional office in Italy the latest deaths brought the number of reported or confirmed dead among people attempting to reach Europe from Libya to 81 this year - or two people every three days on average.
Compared to last year, which had seen tens of thousands of people travelling from Tunisia and Libya, the number of arrivals in Malta and Italy from North Africa was down, with around 2,200 people having arrived in 2012, most in Italy. Last year an estimated 1,500 people were reported missing or dead attempting to reach Europe.
UNHCR reiterated its call to ship masters in the Mediterranean for heightened vigilance and continued adherence to the longstanding maritime obligation of aiding those in distress.
Distribution of Aid to Growing Numbers of Syrian Refugees in Northern Iraq
Christopher Lowenstein-Lom of the International Organization for Migration (IOM) said that Domiz was now home to some 2,835 registered Syrian refugees, over half the estimated 4,200 who had fled the Syrian governorates of Hasaka, Halab, Damascus, and Reef Dimashq and had sought refuge in Dahuk.
IOM was monitoring the needs and concerns of camp residents and one major issue – access to education for children – had now been addressed. Syrian children aged 6-12 were now allowed to attend primary schools in the area, with the approval of the Dahuk authorities.
Aid for stranded migrants arrives in Haradh, Yemen
Mr. Lowenstein-Lom said that IOM in Haradh, on the Yemen-Saudi Arabia border, had yesterday taken delivery of a consignment of essential medicines and medical supplies donated by the Italian government. The consignment included three supplementary health kits, each designed to treat 10,000 people for three months.
The Haradh delivery came at a critical time when some 3,000 migrants, mainly from the Horn of Africa and stranded en route to Saudi Arabia, were struggling with an outbreak of dengue hemorrhagic fever spread by mosquitoes in the town and its surroundings. The outbreak had spread due to lack of shelter and mosquito nets, and malnutrition among the migrants, which weakened their immune systems. IOM’s Haradh clinic and partner hospitals had treated 76 people for the disease since the beginning of April, two of whom subsequently died.
IOM Haradh had also received its first referral of land mine injuries among migrants. Three people had tried to enter Saudi Arabia through Sa’ada governorate, which was littered with land mines as a result of fighting between the Houthi clan and government forces. Two of the three had been severely injured and all three were currently being treated by Doctors without Borders, said Mr. Lowenstein-Lom.
Food airlift to flood-hit Comoros
Elisabeth Byrs of the World Food Programme (WFP) said 28 metric tons of high energy biscuits were today being airlifted from Dubai to Comoros. Distributions, with the Red Crescent as a partner, would commence on Wednesday, and onward transport by barge to the Anjuan and Moreli islands would begin immediately upon the aircraft’s arrival. A rapid assessment conducted by the World Food Programme and its partners had determined that 12,000 people on all three islands were in need of immediate food assistance. The operational needs had been included in a request for USD 2.2 million from the Central Emergency Response Fund.
Palestinian hunger strikers
In response to a question on the Palestinian hunger strikers, Ravina Shamdasani of the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights said that OHCHR was very concerned about the situation as it understood that some prisoners were currently in a critical condition. The key issue for OHCHR was administrative detention, which it had raised time and again with Israel. Israel’s use of administrative detention was a cause for concern not only to OHCHR but also to a number of Special Rapporteurs and Treaty Bodies, including the Human Rights Committee.
International law was clear: administrative detention should only be used in exceptional cases and for imperative reasons of security, and administrative detainees should have the right to challenge the lawfulness of the detention. The Human Rights Committee had clearly stated that fair trial guarantees, included in the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, should apply to both civilian and military tribunals.
Asked for information about the health situation of the Bahraini hunger striker Abdulhadi al-Khawaja, Ms. Shamdasani said OHCHR had not received any updated information. Again, its concern has been the fairness of the trial. Mr. al-Khawaja, a civilian, had been subjected to a military trial, which had been questioned by OHCHR time and again.
Another Bahraini activist, Nabeel Rajab, had been arrested and charged with “insulting a statutory body”. That was serious cause for concern as it appeared that Mr. Rajab was being penalized simply for exercising his freedom of expression. This had been raised with the Bahraini authorities several times and had been discussed by the Bahrain Independent Commission of Inquiry called by the King.
Ms. Shamdasani also said that the dates and exact modalities of the next OHCHR mission to Bahrain were still being discussed.
New campaign to end HIV infections among children
Saya Oka of the Joint United Nations Programme on HIV/AIDS said that UNAIDS was today launching a new advocacy campaign entitled “Believe it. Do it.” The initiative aimed at ending new HIV infections among children by 2015 and keeping their mothers alive and healthy. Every day around 1,000 babies were born with HIV, adding up to nearly 400, 000 children becoming infected per year, and 42,000 women living with HIV died from complications relating to HIV and pregnancy. This could be prevented quite simply: when pregnant women were given access to antiretroviral drugs, the risk of transmitting HIV was less than 5 per cent.
The campaign was focusing on mothers who could make a difference. The initiative, with the theme “It’s Mother’s Day every day”, was launched this week because many countries were celebrating Mother’s Day this Sunday. The new campaign was supported by a number of celebrities, including UNAIDS Goodwill Ambassadors Naomi Watts and Annie Lennox. It asked people to take several actions like getting the facts, sending a message about the issue to others, or supporting a mother living with HIV.
Piano concert by Sergei Babayan
Ms. Byrs said that the World Food Programme was organizing a piano concert by Sergei Babayan, to take place on 13 June at 8 p.m. at the Victoria Hall in Geneva, to celebrate its fiftieth anniversary. The event was co-hosted by the World Food Programme and the Ambassador of Armenia, with the support of the Swiss Agency for Development and Cooperation and the City of Geneva. Tickets would be available as of next week and the donations raised would be used to support school feeding activities in Armenia.
Other Geneva Activities
Ms. Momal-Vanian said that the Committee on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights has been examining the report of Spain since yesterday and would tomorrow morning start reviewing the report of Ethiopia, the last country on its programme. The rest of the session would be held in private meetings until the closing ceremony, to be held on 18 May.
The Committee against Torture had opened its session yesterday and had this morning started to examine the report of Albania. The review was slightly different from those in other Committees: in the morning the delegation would present the report and take questions from the Committee, and it would then return on the next day in the afternoon to respond to questions. Greece was to present its report tomorrow morning, and Armenia on Thursday morning, to be followed by the Czech Republic, Rwanda and Syria next week.
The Conference on Disarmament would continue its 2012 session next week.
Ms. Momal-Vanian said that the UNESCAP publication “Economic and Social Survey of Asia and the Pacific 2012” would be presented at a press conference tomorrow, at 3 p.m. in Press Room 1, under embargo until 10 May 2012 at 0500 GMT. Speaking would be Alfredo Calcagno, Head of the Macroeconomic and Development Policies Branch at the United Nations Conference on Trade and Development.