REGULAR PRESS BRIEFING BY THE INFORMATION SERVICE
5 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 Children’s Fund, the World Food Programme, the Office for the Coordination for Humanitarian Affairs, the World Economic Forum, the International Labour Organization, the World Meteorological Organization, the International Organization for Migration and the Water Supply & Sanitation Collaborative Council.
Jens Laerke for the Office for the Coordination for Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA) said the latest Syria Humanitarian Bulletin Issue was available on ReliefWeb.
The Bulletin described the effect on ordinary Syrians from two years of spiralling violence, displacement and increasing humanitarian needs. Four million needed assistance and close to one million had now fled to neighbouring countries and North Africa.
The United Nations and partners continued to provide life-saving assistance, but lack of funding was still a major constraint. Of the $519 million requested for response inside Syria, 21 per cent had been received. The $1 billion Refugee Plan was 19 per cent funded.
Of the $1.5 billion pledged in Kuwait on 30 January, about $200 million had been committed. This included $41.7 million to the Syria Response Plan (SHARP) and $100.8 million to the Refugee Response Plan (RRP).
Marixie Mercado for the United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF) said a UNICEF assessment showed that Syria’s education system was reeling from almost two years of conflict, with severe damage to infrastructure and plummeting attendance rates.
Findings of the assessment conducted in December 2012 showed that one fifth of the country’s 21,500 schools had sustained direct damage or were being used to shelter displaced persons. At least 2,400 schools had been damaged or destroyed, including 772 in Idlib (half of all the schools in that governorate), and at least 300 schools each in both Aleppo (8per cent) and Deraa (30per cent). Over 1,500 schools across the country were being used as shelters for displaced persons.
In cities where the conflict had been most intense, some children had already missed out on almost two years of schooling. Attendance had dropped to as low as six per cent in Aleppo, 38 per cent in Idlib, and 70 per cent in Deraa. Many students came to classes only twice a week.
In areas hosting high numbers of displaced families, such as Homs City, classes were overcrowded, sometimes hosting up to 100 students. Over 110 teachers and other staff had been killed in the conflict, and many others were not reporting to work. In Idlib, teacher attendance was 55 per cent. Some schools were being used by armed forces and groups involved in the conflict.
The assessment underlined the enormous importance Syrian families place on education, with many parents singling schooling out as their top priority, and it noted that many parents were now reluctant to send their children to school because of fears for their safety.
UNICEF Syria’s priorities in education include providing one million children with school materials; increasing access to education for 150,000 children, particularly among the internally displaced; providing 300,000 children with psychosocial support, and providing pre-fabricated classrooms to increase attendance and support the resumption of educational activities.
UNICEF was currently supporting more than 170 school clubs in Homs, Deraa, Rural Damascus, Tartous, Lattakia, Hama and Quneitra that allow some 40,000 children to receive much needed remedial education and take part in recreational activities. UNICEF was also providing teaching and learning supplies and was rehabilitating damaged schools.
Overall, UNICEF needed $20 million for its education programmes in Syria during the first six months of 2013, of which it had received $3 million.
Answering questions she said it was difficult to collect data in bad security conditions and needed to be verified and shared before distribution, hence the delay between the completion of the survey and this announcement.
Marixie Mercado for the United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF) said UNICEF was warning of a rising threat to communities in Central and Northern Mali from ammunition and explosive devices. Since April 2012, 60 victims of explosive remnants of war had been reported with children making up two-thirds of the total.
The 60 victims included 53 people injured, including 38 children and 15 adults, and seven people killed, including five children and two adults. This data was preliminary, she stressed, and it was presumed that the actual number of victims was quite a bit higher.
In December, UNICEF estimated that at least 100,000 people were exposed to the dangers of unexploded ordnance in Northern Mali. This estimate was made before the military intervention, which had involved air strikes and ground operations since January. It was now estimated that approximately 200,000 children in conflict-affected areas in Central and Northern Mali were at risk of injury or death due to explosive remnants of war.
To protect civilians from the explosive threat, UNICEF-supported partners held public events over the past five months in schools, markets and workplaces that had raised the awareness of an estimated 27,000 people. In 2013, UNICEF and its partners were planning to step up mine-risk education activities and radio sensitization campaigns, especially in Northern regions in order to raise the awareness of about 400,000 people in conflict affected areas.
Gustavo Laurie for the United Nations Mine Action Service (UNMAS) said UNMAS was expecting to find large amounts of unexploded ordinance in Mali from weapons such as mortars and grenades. A coordination mechanism had been established in Bamako to ensure coordination of all actors involved in mine action. This involved education as well as clearance.
Answering questions he said an emergency deployment of mine clearance experts was about to begin work in Kona. He further clarified that UNMAS was mandated to support the African-led International Support Mission to Mali and Malian security forces. Safety assessments for humanitarian staff were also part of their work. He added that there was no current evidence of anti-personnel landmines.
Rupert Colville for the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR) said the High Commissioner was today issuing a press release on a series of shocking attacks and killings of people with albinism in Tanzania, calling on the Government to take stronger measures and tackle the underlying discrimination.
Four such attacks, three of them against children, took place during a 16-day period from 31 January to 16 February. The attacks were committed in particularly horrifying circumstances, and had involved cutting limbs off people, including children, while they were still alive.
On 31 January, Lugolola Bunzari, a 7-year-old boy with albinism was brutally murdered in Kanunge village, Tabora region. His attackers slashed his forehead, right arm and left shoulder, and chopped off his left arm just above the elbow. The boy’s grandfather, aged 95, was also killed in the attack as he tried to protect his grandson.
On 5 February, a 7-month-old baby, Makunga Baraka, narrowly escaped death after armed men attacked his home in the Simiyu region. Villagers chased the attackers away and surrounded the house to protect him. The baby and his mother were taken to the police station the following morning and given temporary sanctuary. On 11 February, at around 2:00 a.m., Maria Chambanenge, a 39-year-old woman with albinism was attacked by five armed men, allegedly including her husband, in Mkowe village, Rukwa region. They hacked off her left arm while she was sleeping with two of her four children. The five suspects were subsequently arrested and the victim’s arm recovered. Their trial was reported to be under way.
On 15 February, Mwigulu Matonange, a 10-year-old boy with albinism was attacked on his way home from school, and his left arm chopped off above the elbow by two unidentified men in Msia village, Rukwa region. Three men have been arrested in connection with the attack. Following the attack, the boy was reported to have asked his father to find him “a school where the bad men cannot find me and chop off my other arm.” The killing and mutilation of people with albinism was often linked to witchcraft and some practitioners allegedly believed that the witchcraft was more powerful if the victim screams during the amputation, which explained why the body parts were often cut from live victims.
In addition to the Maria Chambanenge case where trials were already underway, Tanzanian police had reportedly opened investigations in two of the other three cases that occurred since late January. However, in general, successful prosecutions were extremely rare: out of the 72 murders of people with albinism documented in Tanzania since 2000, only five cases were known to have resulted in successful prosecutions.
He added that the High Commissioner urged the Tanzanian authorities to strengthen their legal response to such crimes and increase their efforts to bring perpetrators of attacks and killings to justice. Noting that witchcraft beliefs and practices were entrenched in some segments of Tanzanian society, and he said Ms. Pillay called on the authorities to address the issue through a multi-pronged approach.
As well as physically protecting people with albinism, the Government needed to take a much stronger and more pro-active approach to education and awareness-raising campaigns to combat the stigma attached to albinism, she said. She also encouraged the authorities to guarantee the victims' right to redress, and to provide them with medical and psychosocial treatment, as well as legal support.
Rupert Colville for the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR) said the OHCHR was very concerned by the violent unrest which had been taking place in Guinea over the past week, which had led to several deaths and many injuries, although staff in Conakry reported that the situation was calmer first thing this morning.
The clashes started in the neighborhood of Hamdallaye, a suburb of the capital Conakry and then spread to other parts of the city on Friday and Saturday, resulting in casualties and considerable material damage. As of last night, at least five people, including one police officer, had been killed and 172 people had been treated in hospitals, after being injured by stones hurled by protesters, or by live fire from security forces. Three of the deaths, and at least 12 injuries, were caused by the use of live ammunition.
The worst violence was in Hamdallaye, where stone-throwing protestors clashed with security forces who responded with tear gas and live fire. At least 128 people were injured there, including a police officer who later died.
According to OHCHR sources, some demonstrators were attacking people based on their ethnicity, with young ethnic Peuhls and Malinkes allegedly formed into groups and attacked each other’s homes in Hamdallaye. Based on these reports the OHCHR condemned the violence and destruction of property by some demonstrators and urge them to refrain from resorting to such methods. It also strongly condemned targeting of people and property based on their ethnicity and the reported disproportionate use of force by security forces in some cases, resulting in loss of life.
Jens Laerke for the Office for the Coordination for Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA) said in Yemen, the safe return of internally displaced persons (IDPs) was at risk due to landmines and other explosive remnants of war (ERWs).
He said OCHA estimated that 140,000 formerly displaced people have returned to Abyan Governorate in southern Yemen. More than three out of four depended on agriculture for their livelihoods. Clearing agricultural land was therefore critical to ensure their sustainable return. While most urban areas, connection roads and public areas have been cleared of ERWs, much agricultural land was still contaminated.
Operations for ERW clearance were on-going in five out of 15 districts in the northern Sa’ada Governorate and eight out of 11 districts in Abyan in the south. The Yemen Mine Action Programme, with the Government and supported by the UN, was the dominant implementing agency. But their operations were in danger of being delayed by a budget shortfall of some $7.9 million. Overall requirements for their activities were $10 million.
The programme had so far destroyed 2,685 IEDs, 4,045 unexploded ordinance, 41 anti-tank mines and 76 anti-personnel mines. In total 4,398 km2 of the initial 10,057 km2 of suspected contaminated land in Abyan Governorate had already been released to the population.
Democratic Republic of the Congo
Adrian Edwards for the High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) said UNHCR was today appealing for a further $69.6 million for its operations in 2013 to help thousands of displaced civilians in the Great Lakes region. The money was for people uprooted last year by conflict in Democratic Republic of Congo’s North and South Kivu provinces as well as anticipated displacements this year, and returns of internally displaced people (IDP).
The funding included $22.6 for the DR Congo, $7 million for Burundi, $17.7 million for Rwanda and $22.3 million for Uganda. This was on top of the $282.4 million budget for 2013 approved last October by UNHCR’s governing body for all operations in these four countries.
The money was vital for meeting the basic needs of the estimated 453,600 Congolese civilians displaced within the DRC and across borders because of the violence last year in North and South Kivu provinces, including 5,600 refugees in Burundi, 23,000 in Rwanda and 35,000 in Uganda.
The appeal also covered the needs of 50,000 newly displaced people and 50,000 IDP returnees forecast for this year as well as an anticipated 5,400 refugees in Burundi, 11,000 in Rwanda and 40,000 in Uganda.
The supplementary funding covers the costs of registering refugees, protection activities for refugees and IDPs, construction of a new refugee camp in Burundi, infrastructure improvement at sites for the displaced and transit centres in all four countries; distribution of shelter and non-food aid; and support for basic services in IDP and refugee sites, including health, education, and water and sanitation.
The supplementary budget appeal came amid rising political uncertainty and tension – and fresh displacement – in eastern DR Congo following a power struggle within the rebel M23 movement. Thousands of people had been displaced within North Kivu province, including some 3,000-4,000 who took refuge around the MONUSCO base in Kitchanga, while more than 4,000 had fled to Uganda over the past week.
The UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA) estimates that there were currently some 914,000 internally displaced people in North Kivu and 912,000 in South Kivu. Most lived with host communities, but some 114,000 lived in camps.
Answering questions he said the situation remained extremely volatile and this posed problems for access. It was expected that, in these conditions, displacement would continue.
Elisabeth Byrs for the World Food Programme (WFP) said the situation was very fluid in the eastern DRC. There had been clashes between the army and a coalition of rebels in the strategic town of Kitchanga, south west of Goma, North Kivu.
Over 80 people have been killed and over 100 injured. The rebels were allies of the army in their fight against M23 but had now turned against them and were believed to have taken control of the town. On 1 March, there were about 400 people seeking refuge in the Monusco compound. Another 3,000 were still outside the compound.
WFP had airlifted in 3.7 tons of emergency rations for 4,000 people. WFP emergency team from Goma flew to Kitchanga by helicopter to oversee the distribution on Saturday. So far, 1,500 beneficiaries had been assisted with 1.7 tons of emergency rations. Today two (ECHO funded) helicopters were airlift 2.3 tons of High energy biscuits to Kitchanga.
Meanwhile, there was significant population movement in neighboring Maniema province as a result of clashes between the army and Raia Mutomboki rebels. As a result WFP had airlifted 20 tons of High Energy Biscuits to Punia two weeks ago, of which 16 tons were distributed to 1,600 households. However, four tonnes (out of 20) were looted by armed groups.
More than half the inhabitants of the town were apparently made up of IDPs and because of the difficult logistics and lack of security, WFP had not been able to bring in any more food for them.
She added that according to her figures there were now 10,000 IDPs in the area.
Jumbe Omari Jumbe for the International Organization for Migration (IOM) said IOM, UNOCHA, UNHCR and UK government representatives had visited two open areas in the Sudanese capital, Khartoum, where an estimated 40,000 South Sudanese were living in makeshift shelters, waiting to eventually return to South Sudan.
The tour saw shanties made of plastic sheeting, wood and scavenged materials provide them with little protection from the elements, particularly during the rainy season. With no sanitation facilities, defecation in the open is common, which posed huge health risks especially when flooding occurs.
There were 40 of these areas in Khartoum, hosting 40,000 vulnerable individuals. In November last year, 2012, IOM in close coordination with UNHCR airlifted 1,370 extremely vulnerable South Sudanese ton South Sudan.
Thousands of South Sudanese originally moved out to the open areas in late 2010 to take advantage of planned return movements organized by the two governments. However, the suspension of those movements left many stranded in the open, waiting for transportation. Many women were risking arrest by generating income from brewing and selling alcohol – a crime in Sudan.
As well as those stranded in Khartoum, another estimated 3,500 South Sudanese returnees remain stranded at Kosti railway station in the border state of White Nile. Most have been there for over a year, living in extreme hardship, with little or no access to basic services.
One of the few return routes that remained open throughout 2012 is the border town of Renk, in South Sudan’s Upper Nile State. Renk currently hosts an estimated 20,000 stranded returnees. The Organization had appealed for $25 million to provide ongoing humanitarian support to returnees in Sudan and South Sudan. To date, it was only sparsely funded.
Human Rights Council
Rolando Gomez for the Human Rights Council (HRC) said the interactive dialogue with the United Nations Special Rapporteur Mr. Juan Mendez continued this morning. Following this came discussions with the Working Group on arbitrary detention including its mission to El Salvador.
After this came the Special Rapporteur on counter-terrorism’s presentation, followed by a stake-out with him around 5 p.m. Tomorrow’s session featured the Special Rapporteurs on enforced disappearances; freedom of religion; and the sale of children. Thematic rapporteurs were also presenting reports covering human rights and environment, the independent expert on foreign debt as was the Secretary-General’s Special Representative on violence against children. A panel discussion was planned for tomorrow lunchtime.
No resolutions had yet been tabled in this session, and the deadline for these was 14 March. There were many side events taking place on issues including the death penalty, human rights defenders and Sri Lanka and human rights in China. He added that this Thursday the report from the country Rapporteur on Myanmar was to be published.
Answering questions he said that on Monday (11 March) there were four country-specific reports to be presented and it was possible that the schedule for these may be pushed back as it was currently running late. For this reason press conferences were not yet confirmed. Further details would be shared as the situation became clearer.
Other Geneva activities
Ms. Momal-Vanian said the Conference on Disarmament was currently holding its public meeting. The list of speakers had been distributed.
The Annual Report of the United Nations Office at Geneva had been released, giving statistics on the activities of the office in 2012. Copies were available in the room and on request.
She also announced the launch in Geneva of the United Nations Integrated Technical Guidance Notes on Security Sector Reform. The reception would be held in the Salon Genève, 8th Floor Delegates Restaurant today Tuesday, 5 March 2013, from 5 to 7 pm. Press were invited.
Hans von Rohland for the ILO said the 317th Session of the ILO Governing Body was to be held from 6-28 March 2013. Among the VIPs invited to attend the session during its High-Level session on 22 March were the European Parliament President, Martin Schulz.
Clare Nullis for the World Meteorological Organization (WMO) announced a press conference on Thursday 7 March at 11 a.m. in Press Room 1 on a high-level conference on national drought policy to be held 11-15 March in a bid to create more drought resilient societies. The speaker was Mr. Mannava Sivakumar, WMO Climate Prediction and Adaptation Branch. There will then be a formal press conference with the heads of WHO, FAO and UNCCD on Thursday 14 March at the CICG at 11 am.
Oliver Cann for the World Economic Forum said the bi-annual Travel and Tourism Competitiveness Report was to be launched on Thursday, considering the effectiveness of how countries had developed their travel and tourism industries. This year’s focus was on how the industry could contribute to global economic recovery.
Today (5 March) at 1.15 p.m. in Press Room 1 the UN Special Rapporteur on Torture was to talk about his annual report to the Human Rights Council on health care settings and torture, and his reports on the two fact finding missions to Tajikistan and Morocco as well as his follow-up visit to Uruguay which he conducted in 2012. The speaker was Juan E. Méndez, Special Rapporteur on torture and other cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment.
Thursday (7 March) at 2 p.m. in Press Room 1 the UN Special Rapporteur on Freedom of Religion or Belief, Mr. Heiner Bielefeldt, will talk about his annual report to the Human Rights Council on the need to respect the right to freedom of religion or belief of persons belonging to religious minorities.
Tomorrow (6 March) at 3 p.m. the Global Fund held a press briefing on health investments in Mali in Press Room 1.
Thursday (7 March) at 3.30 p.m. the United States Mission held a press conference Freedom of Expression on the Internet in Press Room 1.
International Women’s Day
Friday (8 March) was International Women’s Day, Ms. Momal-Vanian said, and the theme this year was “a promise was a promise: it’s time to put an end to violence against women,” which was also the theme of the 57th session of the Commission on the Status of Women being held in New York. The message of the Secretary-General on the day was available at the back of the room.
She also mentioned a statement from the Secretary-General yesterday stating, “The Secretary-General was gratified by the 3 March Appeals Court ruling in Mogadishu overturning the conviction of an alleged rape victim accused of maligning the reputation of the state. He regrets, however, that the sentence against a journalist charged in connection with the case, while shortened, had been upheld … The Secretary-General urges the Government of Somalia to ensure that allegations of sexual violence were investigated and perpetrators were brought to justice.”
Hans von Rohland for the International Labour Organization (ILO) said that on the occasion of International Women’s Day a round-table was planned on the topic of violence at work and ways to stop it. The panel discussion was to be held at 11:30 in the Governing Body room at ILO headquarters. Among those taking part were the wife of the Vice-President of Zambia, Dr Charlotte Harland Scott, and the ILO Director-General.
He also asked whether there was interest for a press briefing on 22 March with Martin Schulz, President of the European Parliament, who attends the same day a high-level ILO Governing Body session on responses to the social and economic crisis in Europe.
Also relating to International Women’s Day she said today (5 March) the Inter-Parliamentary Union (IPU) presented its annual analysis of statistics and trends on women in parliament. This was scheduled to follow the press briefing in Hall XIV and the speaker was Mr. Anders B. Johnsson, IPU Secretary-General,
Amanda Marlin for the Water Supply & Sanitation Collaborative Council (WSSCC) said the Council was holding an International Women’s Day event on menstrual hygiene management at the Palais des Nations Palais on 8 March. She said that 335 million menstruated on a monthly basis in India and only 12 per cent of these had access to hygiene products, meanwhile 23% of Indian girls left school when they reached menstruating age, so the issue had a considerable impact.
A press briefing was scheduled for tomorrow (6 March) at 2 p.m. in Room IX, ahead of the event on Friday, she said. A range of Government, private and public sector actors were to attend the event which would present new research in the area.
The spokespersons for the United Nations Conference for Trade and Development (UNCTAD) and the World Health Organization (WHO) also attended the briefing but did not speak.
* * * * *
Webcasts of the regular press briefings will not be available for the next few weeks due to renovation work in the Palais des Nations.