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REGULAR PRESS BRIEFING BY THE INFORMATION SERVICE
19 February 2013

Corinne Momal-Vanian, Director of the United Nations Information Service in Geneva, chaired the briefing, which was also attended by Spokespersons from the Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs, the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights,
the Office of the High Commissioner for Refugees, the United Nations Conference on Trade and Development, the United Nations Economic Commission for Europe, the Human Rights Council, the World Food Programme, the World Meteorological Organization and the International Labour Organization.

Syria Humanitarian Forum press conferences

Jens Laerke for the Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA) said today (19 February) at 13:00 in Hall XIV there was a press conference following the Syrian Humanitarian Forum. Speakers were: Ms. Valerie Amos, Under-Secretary-General and Emergency Relief Coordinator, United Nations Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA), Mr. Claus Sorensen, Director-General, European Commission Directorate-General for Humanitarian Aid and Civil Protection (ECHO) and Mr. Manuel Bessler, Vice-Director, Delegate for Humanitarian Aid and Head of the Swiss Humanitarian Aid Unit.

He added that he had distributed copies of the latest Syria Humanitarian Bulletin yesterday, which gave more details of the ongoing response.

Answering questions he said the Forum was not related to the pledging conference in Kuwait. The amounts pledged during that meeting were yet to be translated into disbursements of funding as discussions were ongoing with Member States on the technical modalities of their pledges. He further explained that the Syrian Government had been invited to take part in the Forum. The aid coordination unit of the Syrian Opposition was not participating.

Answering a question about distribution on the ground he said the Bulletin gave more information on how aid had been delivered across conflict lines, assisting 60,000 people with aid deliveries organised by the United Nations in February alone. He added that names of three new implementing NGO partners approved by the Syrian Government would be announced shortly.

Ms. Momal-Vanian added that the United States Mission also planned a press conference on the Syrian Humanitarian Forum, today (19 February) at 3.00 p.m. in Press Room 1. Speakers were Nancy Lindborg, Assistant Administrator, Bureau for Democracy, Conflict and Humanitarian Assistance (DCHA), USAID and Kelly Clements, Deputy Assistant Secretary, Bureau of Population, Refugees, and Migration, US Department of State.

Syria

Elisabeth Byrs for the World Food Programme (WFP) said WFP participated in a UN inter-agency mission led by OCHA which delivered critical and lifesaving relief items on 16 February to thousands of internally displaced Syrians in Karameh camp in Syria’s northwestern Idleb Governorate near the community of Bab Al-Hawa and not far from the Turkish border. As part of this mission WFP had dispatched 1,000 food rations (around 34 metric tons), enough to feed 5,000 people for one month to the displaced people who are residents of Al Karameh camp on Friday.

WFP staff who took part in the mission reported that the food situation in Karameh camp is difficult, with displaced Syrians telling them that they skip meals to share the little food they have. Local charities have been sending food to the camp even though not systematically.

She also said that the Emergency Director of the WFP would also be available at the press conference, following the Humanitarian Forum, as was an expert logistician who could give concrete details of Syrian operations on the ground. Also attending and available for interview was the head of the WFP office in Ankara who was responsible for assistance given in the camps on the Turkish border set up by the local authorities.

Marixie Mercado for the United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF) said despite an intensification in violence, UNICEF had been able to reach more people in Aleppo, Deir-Ezzour, Al-Hasaka, Homs, Idlib, Al-Raqqa and Damascus with tens of thousands of blankets, children’s clothing sets, hygiene items, plastic sheeting, high-energy biscuits and other critical supplies over the past weeks.

Many of these deliveries were made as part of cross-line operations in areas that had experienced prolonged and severe conflict. This included including an inter-agency mission on Saturday which delivered a first batch of supplies to Karameh, in Idlib.

A UNICEF colleague who was part of the mission to Idlib said there were very few men, mostly women and children. There were some tents sheltering the displaced and some heaters, but very little fuel. The entire camp of around 4,500 people were sharing eight toilets and children were walking around barefoot in mud. One 15 year-old said his youngest brother was just eight days old when his family fled from rural Damascus. They first went to relatives in Idlib, but were then forced to move again to Karameh. He said he missed school and wished he could work to support his family. Some days ago, another family of eight moved in to his tent, and now there were 16 people sharing one tent. They ate one meal a day.

UNICEF also continued to bring in 1000 metric tons of water treatment supplies into Syria to supply safe water to around 10 million people, however, funding remained a major constraint as the fund had received less than 20 per cent of it's $68 million appeal.

On another point raised by a correspondent, Babar Baloch for the High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) said the estimate recently given of 1.1 million Syrian refugees was drawn from the new Regional Response Plan, first presented on 19 December. The current concrete figures were of 850,000 refugees registered, or waiting to be registered.

Answering a question on the mention of referring the situation in the country to the International Criminal Court, which was made in a press conference held by the Commission of Inquiry, Rupert Colville for the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR) said this was not the first time it had been mentioned. Rolando Gomez for the Human Rights Council, added that this had also been heard in Council deliberations. He said the message was becoming more amplified as the situation became more serious.

Human Rights Council

Rolando Gomez for the Human Rights Council (HRC) said the 22nd session of the Human Rights Council began on Monday (28 February). This four week session was considered the main meeting of the Council. A background press release had been issued this morning.

The meeting on Monday was to open with remarks from the President of the General Assembly, then the the High Commissioner for Human Rights, then the President of the Human Rights Council. In its capacity as host country, the Swiss Foreign Minister was also to speak.

The high-level segment of the session was to continue for three days with over 80 speakers due to intervene, most of which were ministers, though some were at vice-presidential or presidential level. The full list was to be issued shortly, subject to possible amendments.

He added that a panel discussion was planned for Monday to mark the 20th Anniversary of the signing of the Vienna Declaration) and Programme of Action. This discussion (between midday and 15:00) would include a video message from the Secretary-General. This was the first of six panel discussions on a number of topics and concept papers were available online.

The session was to hear presentations on 19 special procedures, thematic and country presentations and reports such as that from the Commission of Inquiry on Syria which was released yesterday. This report was to be officially presented on 11 March and one on the human rights situation in Mali was scheduled for 20 March.

Answering questions he said that some Member States had taken the opportunity of a pre-session organizational meeting to advise of their interest in putting forward a draft resolution suggesting the creation of a Committee of Inquiry on the human rights situation in the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea. The deadline for submission of resolutions was 14 March and they would be considered in the last two days of the session.

Ms. Momal-Vanian added that the Secretary-General of the Council of Europe, Mr Thorbjørn Jagland, was to be in Geneva on 25 and 26 February and was available for interviews on request. Mr Jagland had recently been vocal on the state of human rights in the Council of Europe member states, judicial reforms and media freedom in Hungary and Turkey; aswell as corruption, she said.

Egypt

Rupert Colville for the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR) expressed regret that the draft law on demonstrations approved by the Egyptian Cabinet on 13 February did not sufficiently take into account comments submitted by OHCHR and other human rights organizations.

Freedom of assembly, which was one of the cornerstones of democracy, was enshrined in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights as well as in the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (article 21) and the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights (article 8), both of which were ratified by Egypt in 1982.

Although freedom of assembly could be subject to certain restrictions, freedom should be considered the rule, and restrictions the exception. In its current form, the draft law raised concern with regard to the type and scope of limitations imposed.

In particular, the draft law imposed criminal sanctions on organizers who failed to comply with legal requirements for organizing an assembly. It also imposed broad restrictions on public-order grounds and unduly limited the choice of places where assemblies may occur, while giving too much discretion to the Ministry of Interior to object to assemblies.

No one should be criminalized or subjected to any threats or acts of violence, harassment or persecution for addressing human rights issues through peaceful protests. It was strongly advised that there should be further consideration of the content of the draft law so to ensure it complied with international human rights law standards.

Answering questions he said the objections were only to parts of the draft law, too vaguely worded, and there were elements which could certainly be agreed with. He added that it was appreciated that input had been sought from OHCHR had been sought in the drafting though this seems to have been only marginally considered. He also raised concern at the speed in which laws were being passed, before the full democratic parliament was sitting.

Western Sahara

Rupert Colville for the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR) said his office was concerned by the use of a military court to try and convict 25 Saharan civilians charged in relation to violence during and after the dismantling of the Gdim Izik protest camp near Laayoune, Western Sahara, in November 2010, when 11 members of the Moroccan security forces and two Saharans were killed.

The 25 civilians were sentenced to between two years and life in prison by the Permanent Military Tribunal of the Royal Armed Forces in Rabat during the night of 16 to 17 February 2013.

As noted by the Human Rights Committee, the use of military or special courts to try civilians raised serious problems as far as the equitable, impartial and independent administration of justice was concerned.

He also stated concerns related to reports that most of the accused alleged they were tortured or ill-treated during their pre-trial detention, but that no investigations into these allegations appeared to have taken place. This was a very serious event, involving substantial loss of life, and it was important that justice was done, but it was also important that the judicial processes scrupulously abided by international fair trial standards.

Niger

Jens Laerke for the Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA) said a press release was available on yesterday’s launch of the 2013 appeal for Niger which called for $354 million to provide emergency aid to three million people. He also reminded correspondents that that the country had suffered a food security crisis last year.

Japanese vehicles

Jean Rodriguez for the Economic Commission on Europe (ECE) said Japan was to bring into force United Nations Economic Commission for Europe (UNECE) Regulation No. 13 on "motor-vehicle braking systems," effective in the country from 24 February 2013. This decision brought the number of countries applying UNECE Regulation No. 13 to 43.

With the entry into force of Regulation No. 13, the fitment of the Electronic Vehicle Stability Control feature was to gradually become mandatory for all new trucks and buses manufactured in the country. This feature improved the safety of a vehicle by detecting and reducing loss of traction. When it detected loss of steering control, it automatically applied the brakes to help guide the vehicle where the driver intended to go. It also helped to reduce the' risk of roll-over. This feature had been gradually introduced in Europe over the past decade.

Some 1,048 accidents with casualties involving trucks and buses occurred in Japan from January to November 2012, according to the National Police Agency. Over the same period, more than 400 fatal accidents occurred on curves on extra-urban roads, where Electronic Vehicles Stability Control features have a high potential to considerably enhance safety.

In addition to increasing safety, the entry into force of Regulation No. 13 will also facilitate trade on those vehicles between Japan and the other 42 countries applying the regulation, he said.

He also mentioned that the Working Group related to this subject met this week and the Japanese Delegation was to be present.


Geneva activities

Ms. Momal-Vanian said the Conference on Disarmament was currently holding its weekly public meeting.

Meanwhile, the Committee on the Elimination of Discrimination against Women today considered the report of Greece, on Wednesday (20 February) was to examine the report of Angola, and on Thursday (21 February) the report of the former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia. This was the last country considered in the programme of this session.

The Committee on the Elimination of Racial Discrimination this morning finished reviewing the report of Kyrgyzstan. This afternoon came consideration of the report of Slovakia, on Wednesday (20 February) that of Mauritius, on Thursday (21 February) was New Zealand, then the Dominican Republic on Friday and until Monday morning.

Catherine Sibut for the United Nations Conference on Trade and Development (UNCTAD)
announced the UNCTAD Commodities Forum was to be held on 18 and 19 March. This would include government representatives, small producers, academics and representatives from the private sector. Topics under discussion on the first day included price fluctuations and speculation and the reduction of poverty. The second day was to consider energy issues, with a number of representatives from players in the sector present. The Director-General of the World Trade Organization, Pascal Lamy, was to open the forum, alongside the UNCTAD Secretary-General, she added. A background briefing could be organised one week before.

Clare Nullis for the World Meteorological Organization (WMO) said there was a meeting on national drought policy starting on 11 March. A media advisory was to be issued this week. She also mentioned that the Greater Horn of Africa Climate Outlook Forum was currently taking place in Burundi. This assessed the outlook ahead of the rainy season in Kenya, Uganda, Tanzania and Somalia.

Hans von Rohland for the International Labour Organization (ILO) said a three-day meeting held at the ILO was to look at the impact of the financial crisis on the civil aviation sector, and at the same time the structural problems of increasing traffic, trade union action and sought to find a communal approach to these problems with both workers, employers and governments.

Answering questions he said the report behind the meeting focused on industrial relations and the problems currently seen in the workplace. There were to be more than 50 people attending, including a spokesperson for the employers, (working for Swissair), as well as a spokesperson for the workers.

The spokesperson for the World Health Organization (WHO) 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.


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