REGULAR PRESS BRIEFING BY THE INFORMATION SERVICE
23 November 2012
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 United Nations Conference on Trade and Development, the United Nations Children’s Fund, the International Organization for Migration, the World Health Organization and the World Trade Organization.
Democratic Republic of Congo
Ms. Momal-Vanian said that, according to information provided by the Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA), while the situation remained relatively calm in Goma, the power outage and water shortages continued and small waves of people returning from west of Goma were reported in the IDP sites of Mugunga I and III, and Lac Vert.
Other progressive returns were observed in the airport area, likely to be residents who fled their houses during fighting that took place in the area. Goma airport remained closed and this constituted a great logistical challenge for humanitarian agencies hoping to bring in assistance and staff.
Around 140,000 people were displaced in Goma and its surroundings according to the Civil Protection Service and many of the displaced are staying in IDP sites, while others were occupying primary schools. Further assessments were underway.
Restoring power to Goma was a key priority given the high risk of a rise in cholera cases as access to clean drinking water remained limited due to power outage. Other important and urgent needs were for medical services and the replenishment of health centres that had been looted.
Humanitarian workers were, despite the very challenging environment, committed to staying and supporting those affected in the Kivus and neighboring areas. Some non-essential staff had been temporarily relocated but humanitarian operations will continue to the extent security and physical access allows.
This new escalation in fighting in and around Goma and elsewhere in the Kivus added to what were already extensive humanitarian needs in the DRC. Of the $791 million appeal for DRC in 2012, $443 million or 56 per cent had been funded so far.
Answering questions on the role and situation for UN peacekeepers on the ground Ms. Momal-Vanian drew attention to the resolution adopted by the Security Council which requested the Secretary-General to report on options for possible redeployments, in consultation with all partners, of MONUSCO personnel and materiel within the current authorized ceiling in order to better protect civilians.
She also said MONUSCO had some 1,500 ‘blue helmets’ in Goma, and another 6,700 and 4,000 in the provinces of North and South Kivu, respectively. MONUSCO had 17,500 staff in total. She was unsure whether negotiations were ongoing to reopen the airport but said it was clearly a priority.
Marixie Mercado for the United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF) said the major threats to children in the DRC included cholera, as many of the displaced come from other camps or villages where it was previously endemic. Running water in Goma had only recently been restored, and there were huge numbers of children collecting drinking water from Lake Kivu.
UNICEF and partners had set up 58 chlorination points along the lake, were trucking water to Don Bosco and displacements camps, and were working to provide fuel to the city to operate water pumps. UNICEF and partners were also working to construct latrines and bring hygiene awareness to displaced communities.
Other major risks came from a situation where families had been displaced very quickly and could have been separated. Here UNICEF confirmed at least 115 cases of separation, but estimated there were hundreds more. UNICEF was working to set up 'listening points' in areas with large numbers of displaced people. These were spaces that children can come to, where they can be provided with support and placed with host families while their families were traced (together with the ICRC).
Recruitment to armed groups was also a concern. M23 had grown significantly in numbers and there were numerous armed groups operating in the area. Schools were also closed, placing children at additional risk. UNICEF and partners had a longstanding programme that advocated with M23 and other groups not to recruit children.
Malnutrition was also a worry and a quick evaluation by Merlin had found several cases of acute malnutrition in and around Goma. The DRC was already home to over a million children suffering from acute malnutrition and work was being done to bring in supplies as quickly as possible.
Jumbe Omari Jumbe for the International Organization for Migration (IOM) said IOM was appealing to the international community for $5.3 million to provide urgent humanitarian aid over the next three months to an estimated 120,000 to 140,000 displaced people (IDPs) in the Orientale, North and South Kivu Provinces of the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC.)
IOM was currently working with OCHA and other agencies to assess immediate humanitarian needs. It was to use the new funds it received to track, register and profile IDPs. The data would then provide the humanitarian community with an accurate needs assessment which allowed agencies to deliver the right aid to those most in need.
The funds were also to be used to provide urgently needed water, sanitation and hygiene (WASH) services to displaced families at a time when there was already evidence of cholera in Goma. It would also pay for essential non-food relief items including hygiene kits, jerry cans, cooking sets, plastic sheeting and mosquito nets.
Answering a question on the possibility of getting land access to deliver aid he said the road to access Goma from Rwanda was open.
Adrian Edwards for the High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) said with recent fighting in and around Goma, UNHCR was extremely concerned about the situation of displaced people in Democratic Republic of the Congo's North Kivu province, especially children and other vulnerable groups.
Normally, UNHCR oversaw 31 displaced camps in North Kivu, hosting 108,000 people. But the fighting had meant that UNHCR and partners had not been able to access most of these. Only Mugunga III, just to the west of the provincial capital Goma, can be currently visited.
The stepped-up fighting between government forces and rebel M23 fighters that was being reported from the town of Sake, 20 kilometres west of Goma, was causing thousands of civilians to flee the area. UNHCR protection monitors were reporting many incidents of violence affecting civilians.
In Goma, more than 60 incidents of assault on civilians had been reported by UNHCR partners. They say eight people had been killed, and houses and shops had been looted. Over the past few days reports had been received of children injured by gunfire and another 500 unaccompanied minors, who were receiving assistance in Goma before the city's takeover on Tuesday by the M23, were now newly displaced or refugees in Rwanda.
Answering questions he said it was too early to pin down the number of person displaced, thought OCHA figures suggested 1.6 million IDPs overall and 285,000 newly displaced between July and September. Fresh displacement had been reported in the past few days and the situation was fluid. The Mugunga III area was the only area where aid could currently be delivered and the situation was considered extremely volatile.
Tarik Jasarevic for the World Health Organization (WHO) said there were reports of looting of health centres between Goma and Sake, and a total of 51 bodies had been buried by volunteers of the Red Cross in the DRC.
Health structures were overstretched, and hospitals and centres had seen dozens of people wounded. In fact, the latest figures he had received suggested more than 100. Staff were therefore working in very difficult conditions. The level of displacement was particularly hard for those suffering from chronic conditions which required daily medication, such as retrovirals.
He also agreed that an increase in cholera was a concern, saying North Kivu had seen more than close to 7,000 cases since the beginning of the year, and 65 deaths. Five cases of death by cholera had been reported since the beginning of the conflict.
WHO and partners were trying to coordinate and organise urgent medical and sanitation interventions, MSF and the ICRC were to strengthen their medical teams and field surgeries and WHO and UNICEF were sending essential medical kits to Goma from Kinshasa as quickly as possible.
Rupert Colville for the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR) said the UN human rights team in Goma had managed to gather information on a number of alleged incidents.
These included the killing of four civilians, including a pregnant woman and a baby, and wounding of at least 50 civilians, during armed clashes between the FARDC and the M23 in and around Goma between 18 and 20 November. They also reported the killing of at least five women and wounding of at least 17 civilians during fighting between M23 combatants and FARDC in Sake (about 20 km West of Goma) on 22 November.
They had also found evidence of the wounding of three men, ill-treatment of a pastor, abduction of 14 civilians, including two women and seven children, and looting and destruction of villages by M23 combatants in Kibumba, in Rutshuru territory, on the night of 16 to 17 November, and the killing of a judicial inspector of the military auditor’s office by M23 in Goma on the night of 20-21 November.
Finally, alleged violations carried out by FARDC soldiers included the wounding of six civilians, including a child, in the Majengo quarter of Goma on 18 November; the wounding of a man by a FARDC soldier, in Mugunga, in Nyragongo territory, North Kivu , also on 18 November; and the looting and burning of houses by FARDC soldiers in Goma, on 19 November.
In response to a follow-up question on targeting of government officials in Goma he said the High Commissioner’s office was very concerned about a number of journalists, human rights defenders and local government official who are still in Goma. Many of these have received death threats, and as mentioned earlier one local official, the judicial inspector, has apparently been targeted and killed.
There were notes from the World Food Programme available at the back of the room, said Ms. Momal-Vanian.
Marixie Mercado for the United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF) gave details of a major operation to mobilise aid materials at a time when UNICEF colleagues on the ground were saying temperatures were falling fast, down to 5 degrees Celsius this week with expected lows around freezing point
The supplies included 100,000 children's clothing kits and 160,000 blankets, including baby blankets, along with other winter supplies for displaced children in Syria and surrounding countries. There was also to be delivery of midwifery kits and emergency health kits.
The supplies were to be delivered from next week, when they would be flown into Beiruit and then transported by land. The goal was to bring the supplies straight to distributing partners and to avoid warehousing where possible.
Adrian Edwards for the High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) said UNHCR had now delivered vital aid packages to some 60,300 families across the Syrian Arab Republic (Syria), benefiting more than 300,000 people. The goal was to provide such assistance to 500,000 people, or 100,000 families, by the end of this year.
UNHCR aid deliveries so far this month had been made to Hassakeh, Aleppo, Homs and in and around Damascus. The 42-kg family aid packages contained items ranging from blankets and kitchen sets to jerry cans and hygiene materials.
There had been a number of security incidents associated with the ongoing aid distribution, including the hijacking of three trucks during the last week of October carrying some 1,500 mattresses and a fire in an Aleppo warehouse apparently caused by shelling that resulted in the loss of aid materials.
Across the region, meanwhile, the number of Syrian refugees in surrounding countries now stood at 442,256 – an increase of more than 213,000 since the beginning of September. And this figure did not include the hundreds of thousands more Syrians who did not come forward for registration.
As of yesterday, the number of Syrian refugees either registered or awaiting registration in Lebanon was 127,420; in Jordan 125,670; in Turkey 123,747; in Iraq, 55,685; and in North African countries, 9,734.
Tarik Jasarevic for the World Health Organization (WHO) said that on 21 November, WHO made a field visit to Al-Zahrawi Hospital, one of the two public maternity hospitals in the centre of Damascus.
The purpose of the visit was to assess the capacity of the main referral hospital for maternity and gynecology in Damascus and to identify challenges and urgent needs caused by the ongoing conflict.
Presently, many hospitals and health facilities had been damaged and this led to an increasing number of women from Rif Damascus seeking care. The number of women seeking care had more than doubled since the same time last year.
The request for elective caesarean section had also dramatically increased as women were worried of not being able to reach the hospital in time for their delivery. This was consistent with findings in other governerates (e.g. Al Raga). It had also been seen that If a women presents herself at the hospital after 18h and she proves not to be in labiur she still had to be hospitalized, because it was unsafe for her to return home until daylight. A mothers' stay in hospital after giving birth had been drastically reduced due to severe shortage of maternity beds to cater for an increasingly larger catchment area.
Additionally although breastfeeding rates in Syria had traditionally been low presently more women wished to breastfeed as they cannot afford formula anymore, but the necessary support cannot be provided in hospital, due to the short stay, nor in the community. There was also a shortage in drugs, which the WHO was trying to remedy.
The recent updates on health infrastructures that have been provided by the MoH on 20 November 2012 showed that 44 out of 88 public hospitals have been damaged or affected, of which 23 were out of service. Furthermore, 186 out of 2,000 health centres have been damaged or affected, of which 106 were out of service.
While considerable efforts have been made to rehabilitate many of the hospitals and centres, the number of damaged or out of service health facilities was continuously increasing thereby jeopardizing the care and security of patients and providers. It was important to note that health workers continued to receive their salaries in all parts of the country.
During this difficult time, WHO was reiterating its concern for the safety of health facilities and was calling on all Parties to honour the Geneva Conventions. WHO pleads for a halt to the violence to ensure safe access of patients and providers to the health facilities and for adequate supplies of medicines, vaccines and medical equipment.
Tarik Jasarevic for the World Health Organization (WHO) said the WHO welcomed the ceasefire declared in Gaza as this would precvent further impacts on the lives and healths of people in Israel. The cumulative casualty figures reported by the Ministry of Health (MoH) in Gaza said 163 persons were killed.
Three hospitals (a Jordanian field hospital in Gaza city, Belt Hanoun operated by the MoH and al Quds operated by the Palestine Red Crescent) were damaged by airstrikes and six ambulances suffered collateral damage, injuring four workers.
During this period 46 patients who were approved permits during the hostilities exited Gaza via Erez to hospitals in East Jerusalem, Israel and West Bank; 34 patients exited Gaza via Rafah in ambulances.
He added that WHO had appealed to the international community for support in providing $10 million in needed essential medical supplies and to coordinating donations according to the MoH requirements in Gaza.
Answering a question Ms. Momal-Vanian said most of the families that had fled their house and entered shelters had now returned home and UNRWA schools would open again tomorrow.
International Day for the Elimination of Violence Against Women
Ms. Momal-Vanian announced this Sunday was the International Day for the Elimination of Violence Against Women (25 November), and added that the message from the Secretary-General were available at the back of the room.
The message detailed that from battlefield to home, on the streets, at school, in the workplace or in their community, up to 70 per cent of women experience physical or sexual violence at some point in their lifetime. As many as a quarter of all pregnant women are affected and all too often, perpetrators go unpunished.
In the wake of these figures the Secretary-General had launched a campaign called UNiTE to End Violence against Women, which tried to engage governments, international organizations, civil society groups, the media and ordinary citizens.
Also at the back of the room were copies of the Framework for Action Programme of United Nations Activities and Expected Outcomes 2008-2015 and the
Tarik Jasarevic for the World Health Organization (WHO) said there was a panel discussion on the topic at 13:00 in Room XXIII which correspondents were invited to attend.
Marleen Temmerman, Director, Department of Reproductive Health and Research, added that three out of 10 women globally experienced violence regularly and the problem was even increasing, with sexual violence often being used in war. The panel discussion was to go into detail into issues around violence as a violation of human rights but also the public health consequences for women and children.
The WHO had issued documents on a number of related issues such as female genital mutilation (FGM), intimate partner violence, human trafficking and sexual violence.
Answering questions she said FGM was a serious problem, which recent figures seemed to show was decreasing thanks to the actions of many partners in the world. There were efforts in prevention and also politics, she explained, which had led to more laws and policies to fight this violation to women’s rights. Around two million girls a year are at risk of FGM, often used as a rite of passage. On the topic of fistula she said most cases were the result of a complication of labour and actions were being taken to offer better care.
Cases of sexual violence were often underreported, she said, and days like this should be an opportunity to call for the end of the hypocrisy of this situation. She also mentioned that in these cases only around 10 per cent of incidents were reported.
Rupert Colville for the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR) said that on the invitation of the Government of Bahrain, the High Commissioner for Human Rights was sending a team of four human rights officers to Bahrain from 2-6 December to conduct a needs assessment mission.
Among the areas agreed with the Government, the team was to discuss the judicial system and accountability for present and past human rights violations and abuses, as well as the measures undertaken by the Government to implement the recommendations of the Bahrain Independent Commission of Inquiry, and those agreed at the recent Universal Periodic Review of Bahrain by the Human Rights Council in Geneva. This was a long-awaited follow-up to a preliminary mission that took place last December.
The team was scheduled to hold discussions with the Ministries of Foreign Affairs, Justice, Interior, Human Rights, Health, Labour, and Education, as well as with the National Human Rights Institution and civil society organizations.
The High Commissioner regretted the decision taken by Bahraini authorities on 7 November to revoke the nationality of 31 citizens for “having undermined state security”. Such a decision may leave around 16 of them stateless. She urged the Government to reconsider this decision, which stood in clear violation of article 15 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, which stated that, “everyone has the right to a nationality” and, “no one shall be arbitrarily deprived of his nationality.”
States were expected to observe minimum procedural standards in order to ensure that decisions concerning the deprivation of nationality do not contain any element of arbitrariness. In particular, States should ensure that a review process can be carried out by a competent jurisdiction of an administrative or judicial nature in conformity with national law and the relevant international human rights standards - in particular those provided in legally binding instruments such as the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights to which Bahrain had been a party since 2006.
The High Commissioner was also deeply concerned about the restrictions on public demonstrations and other public gatherings declared by the authorities in Bahrain on 30 October 2012. Bahrain should fully comply with its international human rights commitments, including respect for freedom of expression and peaceful assembly and association.
She was also concerned by the sentencing of 23 medical professionals on 21 November, and reiterated her call on the authorities to release all individuals who had been detained or sentenced simply for exercising their right to demonstrate peacefully.
Adrian Edwards for the High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) said a first airlift of UNHCR tents to the victims of recent violence in Myanmar's Rakhine state left Dubai this morning and was expected to arrive in Myanmar shortly. This followed an appeal this week by the UN refugee agency and partner agencies for additional funds to cover humanitarian needs in the affected areas.
The plane that left Dubai today was the first of two planned flights for this weekend. Dubai was home to UNHCR's emergency stockpiles. In all 3,500 family-sized tents were being provided for 17,500 internally displaced people.
Since the unrest erupted in June, UNHCR had already distributed over 500 tents from in-country stocks and 700 tents donated by the Korea International Cooperation Agency. But the shelter needs were immense, with renewed violence in late October bringing the number of IDPs in Rakhine state to more than 115,000.
The existing relief camps were overcrowded, and host families were struggling to support themselves. Some people were living on the sites of their burnt-out homes, while others were sleeping on boats or taking refuge on islets. The displaced population was in urgent need of a safe place to stay.
While UNHCR worked to deliver urgent humanitarian aid, the protection needs of the affected population remain a priority for the agency. Since the June unrest, there had been increased restrictions on movement, which was affecting people's livelihoods and food security. Access to basic services had also been difficult. If not addressed, these problems could trigger further displacement.
The longer-term solution lay in promoting community reconciliation and addressing the underlying causes of inter-communal tensions in Rakhine state, namely the lack of citizenship which was affecting a significant number of the population of Rakhine State. UNHCR was ready to support the government and to provide expertise on issues relating to citizenship laws.
Answering questions he said the restrictions on movement stemmed from the security situation and from the communities themselves rather than authorities. He also mentioned that UNHCR was calling on countries in the area, and to which there were established migration flows, to keep their borders open. Efforts were ongoing to provide shelter but access remained a problem.
Rupert Colville for the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR) added that the issue of minorities in the countries were regularly dealt with within the UN and it was one of the key issues. He also mentioned that a request had been received for the first time for OHCHR to open a country office.
Jumbe Omari Jumbe for the International Organization for Migration (IOM) said the number of internally displaced Haitians (IDPs) living in camps at the end of October 2012 was now estimated at 357,000 - down 77 per cent from a peak of 1.5 million registered in July 2010.
These figures come from the latest IOM's Displacement Tracking Matrix (DTM) report, which was vital in providing information for reconstruction and finding suitable solutions for the displaced population, he said. The IOM believed it was essential that it remained active and up to date and that it was transitioned to be implemented by the government in 2013. IOM was therefore looking to its donors to secure a minimum of US$ 800,000 in funding to maintain the DTM in 2013
He also mentioned that cholera was still present in the camps and the IOM was working on supporting Haitians, together with the Government, to help people back into housing. This process had slowed and further reconstruction was needed to deal with the problem.
Jumbe Omari Jumbe for the International Organization for Migration (IOM) said funds had been received from Japan and the United Kingdom for the IOM response to flooding in Pakistan. The UK had given $4.2 million and the Japanese, $1.2 million which would be used for roofing and to assist 9,500 in the hardest-hit areas.
Tarik Jasarevic for the World Health Organization said as of 22 November, 537 cases of Yellow Fever had been reported with 127 deaths. On 20 November, the vaccination campaign began in Geneina, West Darfur and continued in Zalingei on 22 November and in North Darfur on 24 November.
In response to a question about a recent declaration by the Egyptian President exempting all his decisions from legal challenge, Rupert Colville for the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR) said OHCHR was obviously concerned about the possible ramifications of this declaration for human rights and the rule of law and feared that this might lead to a very volatile situation over the next few days.
Ms. Momal-Vanian said that the Committee against Torture was currently holding the closing session of its work which began on 29 October. There was press conference planned for this afternoon (23 November) at 14:00 where the findings and recommendations on the reports submitted by Peru, Mexico, Norway, Qatar, Tajikistan, Senegal, Gabon, Russia and Togo would be discussed.
The Committee on Economic, Social and Cultural was to end its session (which was still being held in private) next Friday (30 November).
Catherine Sibut for the United Nations Conference on Trade and Development (UNCTAD) announced a press conference this afternoon (23 November) for the Least Developed Countries Report 2012 at 14:45 in Press Room 1. The report was under embargo until Monday at 18:00 Geneva time.
On Tuesday (27 November) came the presentation of the Information Economy Report 2012 at noon in Press Room 1, she added. The report looked at on the software industry and imports and exports to and from developing countries.
Ankai Xu for the World Trade Organization (WTO) said on Monday 26 November there was a Goods Council meeting as well as that of the, Trade, Debt and Finance Working Group. On Tuesday (27 November) came the Technical Barriers to Trade Committee (to Thursday) and on Thursday (29 November) was the meeting of the Market Access (industrial products) Negotiating Group. On Friday (30 November) came the Dispute Settlement Body.
Data Day, was to be held on 12 December and during this event conclusions from a joint WTO-OECD study on global value chains would be shared.
She also issued a correction to a previous announcement saying the General Council meeting on the accession of Tajikistan was to be held on 10 December at 14:00, not 3 December.
Next week WTO Director-General Pascal Lamy was on Monday (26 November) in Australia to give a lecture on "The Future of the Multilateral Trading System" at the Australian Productivity Commission. On Tuesday (27 November) he was in New Zealand to meet with members of the New Zealand industries and on Wednesday (28 November) in Samoa to meet with the Deputy Prime Minister of Samoa, members of the Samoa Chamber of Commerce and the Secretary-General of the Pacific Islands Forum Secretariat.
On Thursday (29) and Friday (30 November) he was in Vanuatu to meet with the Prime Minister of Vanuatu, the Deputy Prime Minister and Minister of Trade of Vanuatu, the Vanuatu Chamber of Commerce and the Minister of Finance of Vanuatu.
Hans Von Rohland for the International Labour Organization (ILO) said that as part of marking World AIDS Day, an event on a campaign to have a zero level of AIDS in the world of work was to be held on 28 November at 14:00 at the ILO building. There was also an exhibition of work based on living and working with HIV in Africa.
He added that on 7 December at 9:00 in Room III there would be a press conference to mark the release of the ILO’s global salary statistics. On 11 December at 11:30, also in Room III there was a second press conference on a report into global employment trends for women, which would be attended by the head of UN Women, Ms. Bachelet.