REGULAR PRESS BRIEFING BY THE INFORMATION SERVICE
15 June 2012
Corinne Momal-Vanian, the Director of the UN Information Service in Geneva, chaired the briefing, which was also attended by Spokespersons for the UN Conference on Trade and Development, the Economic Commission for Europe, the Human Rights Council, the International Organization for Migration, the UN Refugee Agency and the World Health Organization.
Toolkit for prevention of human rights abuses of people with mental health conditions
Tarik Jasarevic of the World Health Organization said that WHO was today launching a Quality Rights Tool Kit aimed at preventing human rights abuses of people with mental health conditions.
Michelle Funk, Coordinator, Department of Mental Health Policy, World Health Organization, added that the toolkit established the quality and human rights standards that needed to be met in all inpatient and outpatient mental health facilities around the world. It was a reality that poor quality care and human rights violations were pervasive in mental health facilities in all countries. The World Health Organization knew this from NGO reports and UN documents, Government and news reports, as well as from scientific publications and its direct contact with facilities.
Some of the violations were obvious and extreme, said Ms. Funk. For example, people were being kept in restraints, locked up in cells or subjected to physical and sexual abuse. Other violations were much more subtle – for example people being given medication systematically without their informed consent, or health workers failing to treat people with the dignity and respect they deserved.
A large number of countries were aware of this situation and wanted to address it but many countries did not have the know-how or tools to do this. The Quality Rights Tool Kit provided this know-how. It would help countries conduct a comprehensive assessment of quality and human rights in facilities and improve the situation through the application of standards that met best practice and international human rights standards. The toolkit would also help determine whether conditions were improving over time as well as putting in place corrective measures if they were not.
The toolkit had several unique features, said Ms. Funk. It could notably be applied in low-, middle- and high-income countries, could be implemented in both inpatient and outpatient facilities, and allowed for a comparison between mental health and general health care services. It was often seen that general health services tended to be of higher quality than mental health services but, for the first time, the World Health Organization would be able to measure this.
The organization was encouraging all countries to use the toolkit to end centuries of abuse and to ensure that people with mental health conditions were provided with good quality care, said Ms. Funk.
IOM Starts Relocation of Sudanese Refugees to New Camp in Ethiopia
Jumbe Omari Jumbe of the International Organization for Migration said that IOM had begun relocating Sudanese refugees from the Al Damazin Transit Center, located on Ethiopia’s western border with Sudan, to a new camp in Ethiopia’s north-western region of Benishangul Gumuz. The decision had been made after the transit centre reached its accommodation capacity of 14,000 people. The first group of 438 refugees had arrived at the Bambasi refugee camp – the third of its kind in the region – at the beginning of June.
The outbreak of fighting at the beginning of September 2011 in Sudan’s Blue Nile State had led to the displacement of tens of thousands of people who crossed into Ethiopia, seeking safety and security. Since then IOM had provided buses and trucks to move over 27,000 refugees to safety, in close coordination with the UNHCR and the Ethiopian government’s Administration for Refugee and Returnee Affair.
More Sudanese were arriving in Ethiopia as the violence continues. Last month, more than 2,500 refugees had arrived in Benishangul Gumuz region, bringing the total arrivals since the beginning of 2012 to over 9,500, according to a UNHCR report.
IOM Supports Mexican Government Dissemination at State Level of New Counter-Trafficking Law
Jumbe Omari Jumbe said that the Mexican Government had this week promulgated the General Law to Prevent, Sanction and Eradicate Crimes Related to Trafficking in Persons and for the Protection and Assistance of Victims of these Crimes.
Under the new legislation, a victim’s consent is no longer required to prosecute the crime, and for the first time, clients or consumers could be prosecuted for soliciting services derived from the exploitation of victims.
IOM Mexico, with funding from the US State Department’s Office, had carried out several workshops to strengthen the capacities of State authorities in Mexico for implementation of the new Law and the National Action Plan to Prevent and Combat Trafficking in Persons.
According to Mexico’s National Human Rights Commission, an estimated 20,000 people were trafficked annually in Mexico, which is a country of origin, transit and destination for trafficking victims.
Shortage of funds threatens UNHCR operations for displaced Malians
Andrej Mahecic of the UN Refugee Agency said that a dire lack of funds was seriously threatening UNHCR efforts to help more than 300,000 Malians uprooted by conflict and insecurity in the north of their country. To date, the organization had received only 13 per cent of the USD153.7 million needed to assist desperate Malians displaced inside and outside their country.
UNHCR’s appeal came amid reports of more people fleeing instability and fighting in Mali. Over the past four weeks alone some 20,000 Malians had crossed into Burkina Faso, Niger and Mauritania, and more were coming. Mauritania, for example, was currently receiving an average of 460 people every day.
The efforts of the UN Refugee Agency focused on providing live-saving assistance to more than 170,000 Malian refugees in the three countries. But the funding shortfall meant that the provision of even the most basic assistance, such as water, sanitation, shelter and primary education, was far below the minimum humanitarian standards. Water supplies in the arid Sahel region were particularly low and most refugees were not receiving the emergency standard of 10 litres per person per day. The usual humanitarian standard per person was 20 litres of water per day.
UNHCR had been trucking water to remote refugee sites, a costly undertaking because of high fuel prices and long distances over bad roads. Also, it had been digging wells, but because of several years of drought in the Sahel, some of these dried up within three months. UNHCR’s solution was to dig more boreholes, which yielded larger quantities of water. But this required the use of heavy and expensive equipment, which it could not currently afford. These boreholes also needed to be maintained, said Mr. Mahecic.
Asked for an update on the situation in Myanmar’s border region, and what action UNHCR had taken with Bangladesh to keep access, Mr. Mahecic said that a press release addressing this subject was being sent to journalists as he spoke. The UN Refugee Agency had first-hand reports of boats from Myanmar not being allowed to access Bangladeshi territory and there were now a number of boats in the mouth of the Naf River.
UNHCR had been liaising with the Bangladeshi authorities and hoped that Bangladesh – in line with its long tradition of hospitality for the people of Myanmar – would allow access to a safe haven and assistance for these people. Bangladesh had been bearing the brunt of the different crises in Myanmar for years, said Mr. Mahecic. There were some 30,000 Rohingyas in the two camps at Cox's Bazar and an estimated 200,000-400,000 people of concern from Myanmar in this area.
Meanwhile, UNHCR had been able to visit the affected areas in Myanmar on Wednesday and Thursday as part of the UN team. The team had seen smoldering villages and, based on what it saw, UNHCR considered that the displacement could be considerable.
The Government estimated that some 30,000 people had been displaced. Efforts were underway to calm the still tense situation. UNHCR was encouraged by statements from all levels of the Myanmar Government, from the President down, which called for calm and restraint, and it hoped that law and order would be re-established soon. That would allow UNHCR to re-deploy the staff it had to remove temporarily from the area as a precautionary measure.
Study on money transfers through cell phones in East Africa
Catherine Sibut-Pinote of the UN Conference on Trade and Development announced the publication of a new study on money transfer through mobile phones in East Africa. The project in this pilot region – where USD 500 million were exchanged among the region’s five countries per month – offered insights into developing money transfers for people with little access to traditional banking services. An information note would be sent to the press corps later today, and experts were available for telephone interviews.
Twentieth session of the Human Rights Council
Rolando Gomez of the Human Rights Council said that almost all of the documents to be presented during the Council’s twentieth regular session, running from 18 June to 6 July, were now available on the website.
A number of press conferences by Rapporteurs had already been scheduled in connection with the forthcoming session, starting on Wednesday, 20 June with freedom of expression and summary executions at 11.30 a.m. in Room III, to be followed by the Special Rapporteur on the Promotion and Protection of Human Rights while Countering Terrorism at 4.30 p.m. in Press Room I. The Special Rapporteur on the right to freedom of peaceful assembly and association would give a press conference on Thursday at 10.30 a.m. and the Special Rapporteur on the human rights of migrants on Friday, 22 June at 11:30 a.m. in Room III.
An additional press conference which had not yet been announced was that of the Mission of Inquiry on Syria. The Mission would present its report to the Council on June 27 and would hold a press conference at around 1.30 p.m.
Responding to a question about the update by the Commission, Mr. Gomez said that the Special Session and the resolution adopted at the last session had asked the Commission to provide a regular update, and, in the case of El-Houlah, a full report. This would be manifested in a written document which would be available beforehand and then be presented. The presentation would not only be on El-Houlah but also on the Commission’s activities over the past months.
Agenda of the Economic Commission for Europe
Jean Rodriguez of the Economic Commission for Europe said that a UNECE delegation would participate in the Rio Conference taking place from 20-22 June, taking part in events on forests, water management and urbanism housing, as well as in a joint session of the regional commissions. A detailed programme would follow shortly.
In Geneva, the Committee on Trade would hold its fifth session on 18-19 June, discussing how to increase the participation of transition economies in international trade. The keynote address would be delivered by Professor Lauri Ojala of the Turku School of Economics who, together with the World Bank, has developed the “Logistics Performance Index”. On Tuesday, the Committee would discuss the findings of a joint UNECE/ITC study on procedural and regulatory barriers to trade in Kazakhstan.
Ms. Momal-Vanian said that the Committee on the Rights of the Child was this afternoon concluding a three-week session during which it had examined reports from Cyprus, Vietnam, Turkey, Nepal, Australia, Greece and Algeria. The concluding observations would be made public on the website of the sixtieth session on Monday (link to be provided in the roundup press release to be issued this afternoon).
The Conference on Disarmament would reconvene in public on Tuesday, 19 June to continue its thematic discussion on nuclear disarmament.
Ms. Momal-Vanian invited journalists to participate in today’s lunch-time seminar entitled “20 Years of an ‘Agenda for Peace’: A new vision for conflict prevention?”. Organised by the UN Office at Geneva and the Geneva Peacebuilding Platform, the seminar would be opened by UNOG Director-General Tokayev and moderated by Ambassador Fred Tanner, the Director of the Geneva Centre for Security Policy, in the presence of Ambassador Elissa Golberg, the Permanent Representative of Canada.