REGULAR PRESS BRIEFING BY THE INFORMATION SERVICE
4 May 2012
Corinne Momal-Vanian, Director of the United Nations Information Service in Geneva, chaired the briefing, which was also attended by Spokespersons for the Joint Special Envoy of the United Nations and the League of Arab States on Syria, the United Nations Economic Commission for Europe, the International Labour Organization, the World Health Organization, the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights, the International Organization for Migration and the United Nations Refugee Agency.
Q & A with the Spokesperson for the Joint Special Envoy on Syria
Ahmad Fawzi, the Spokesperson for the Joint Special Envoy of the United Nations and the League of Arab States on Syria, said that General Mood had assumed command of UNSMIS – which was now UNSMIS, and no longer an advanced team – and the numbers of observers and civilians were growing every day. Yesterday General Mood had given a press conference out of Homs. He had visited Hama in the morning, and went to Homs, and there, after his tour, he had given a press conference. Mr. Hervé Ladsous had also given a press conference on Tuesday in New York.
A journalist noted that General Mood had made it clear that there had been violations by both sides – Government forces and the opposition rebel forces. Could Mr. Fawzi give an update on how many violations had occurred in the last two weeks by the warring factions?
Mr. Fawzi said he could not as he had not yet seen a graph of precisely how many violations there had been. What would be called a violation? Armed violations, human rights abuses, violence in its many forms? What the Joint Special Envoy said, was that violence in all its forms, by all parties, should stop. If talking about armed hostilities, that is, the firing of heavy weapons and/or conventional weapons, that was extremely difficult to document in terms of numbers of violations. And then, if all other forms of violence were added in, one got into some difficulties in totaling up the figures.
Another journalist asked how many observers there were at the moment, and whether the Joint Special Envoy was in general satisfied with the way things were going or whether he was still very worried about the fragility of the situation?
Mr. Fawzi said that UNSMIS would give a daily tally of numbers deployed from Damascus. But in general terms he had said that they were increasing every day, and that was what was happening. The last time he had looked, there had been over 35. More had arrived yesterday and more had arrived today. Mr. Fawzi suspected that they would have reached about 50 today. He was also taking into account the fact that they had civilians on the ground as well, not just military personnel, and the civilian component was also growing. They had them based in Damascus but also in Homs, Hama, Daraa and Idlib, and he understood that General Mood’s policy was to spread them out as much as possible in all the flashpoints around Syria.
As for whether the Joint Special Envoy was satisfied, he said this was a difficult and complex mediation effort. There were days when things were progressing in a satisfactory manner, and there were days when they felt that it was a rough ride, that things were so difficult that they needed a lot of patience and perseverance to see the day through. However, even on the days when they felt that there was satisfactory progress – albeit in inches, not in feet or miles – on those days as well, they were horrified by the extent of violence that they saw on the ground. They had said it time and time again: the violence must stop. They were all getting tired of repeating the same phrase over and over again, but when the Joint Special Envoy had accepted this assignment he had made three things very very clear, and it was the ABC of conflict resolution: stop the killing, get humanitarian aid to those in need, and start talking. And that was what he was trying to achieve.
A journalist then asked how many international journalists there were in the field. General Mood had held a press conference, but which media had been present?
Mr. Fawzi said they had been informed by the Syrian authorities that they had given visas to a total of 98 media organizations although this could not be verified. If it had happened, it was indeed a step forward in implementing paragraph 5 of the six-point plan, which was to give journalists freedom of access and movement and access to the country. The press conference by General Mood yesterday had been impromptu, he thought, it had been arranged quickly, on the spot, in a center where you did not have a full complement or congregation of journalists but the major wire services had been there, as well as one or two television stations, and the local media.
A journalist asked what hope there was for the Annan plan. Based on the progress since the ceasefire deadline, apart from getting some observers into the country, it did not seem that anything was really changing. Was there any thing that was changing? Was there a need for Kofi Annan to pursue a new round of international diplomacy to exert new pressure? What was the outlook for the Annan plan?
Mr. Fawzi responded that this crisis had been going on for over a year. The Joint Special Envoy had been given this assignment a couple of months ago because nothing else had been working – the levels of violence had not been decreasing and there had been no international consensus about how to proceed. Mr. Fawzi thought that one of the biggest achievements so far was that Mr. Annan had been able to unify the international community around a single plan. Two Security Council resolutions – not one, two – were adopted in the space of one week, 2042 and 2043.
Mr. Fawzi agreed that there were no big signs of compliance on the ground. There were small signs of compliance. Some heavy weapons had been withdrawn, some heavy weapons remained, some violence had receded, some violence continued. And that was not satisfactory, but there were signs on the ground of movement, albeit slow and small. There were also signs behind the scenes, this mediation process being by definition conducted under the radar. They were seeing, for example, the opposition organize itself. As has been said time and time again, the political process should be a Syrian-owned and Syrian-led process, so they were observing and facilitating, at times, the opposition to get together and unite their ranks.
On humanitarian aid, Mr. Fawzi noted that his colleagues in the Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs had yesterday met in Damascus with the Deputy Foreign Minister in order to map out access and delivery so he did believe that some progress had been made on that front. They had yet to see it on the ground but they were working very very hard, again behind the scenes, to increase the flow of aid to the needy.
There were other efforts being conducted on the other points on the plan – by other actors in the international community – that they did not publicize, and the other organizations did not wish to publicize their efforts at the moment. So, in conclusion, he would say that the Annan plan was on track, but a crisis that had been going on for over a year was not going to be resolved in a day or a week. Sadly, time was a luxury that they did not have. But realistically, it was going to take a little more time to pull all the strings together.
A journalist noted that Mr. Fawzi had recently said in an interview that civilians who had spoken to observers had been harassed, attacked or killed once the observers had left. Did he still receive such reports, and if so, from which cities? And how did he advise the observers to speak to civilians if the latter risked their lives by just speaking to them?
Mr. Fawzi said that he had no further information and could not comment any further. He hoped that people would continue to speak to the observers. They were doing a brilliant job under very difficult circumstances, and, as General Mood had said, where they appeared they had a calming influence.
A journalist said that he had read about a pledge of 150 observers, asking Mr. Fawzi for the latest figure. Also, as suicide blasts had taken place close to the observers, did Mr. Fawzi reckon that observers were actually being targeted?
Mr. Fawzi said that the latest figure seen by the journalist were the ones that Under-Secretary-General Ladsous had also mentioned. He had pledges of 150, 150 observers. Mr. Fawzi said that the United Nations observers had not been targeted. The blasts happened to occur nearby but the observers had not been a target.
A journalist asked about the different functions performed by the civilians and whether there ware more civilian or military personnel in Syria?
Mr. Fawzi said that the civilians were not outnumbering the military – there were more military observers than civilians at the moment. The civilians’ jobs were to monitor implementation of the non-military points of the plan which meant human rights, detainees, humanitarian affairs. So there was a group of experts in the fields of political affairs, human rights, civil affairs, etc. They were mainly in Damascus at the moment.
IOM Prepares Airlift of South Sudanese Stranded in Kosti
Jumbe Omari Jumbe of the International Organization for Migration (IOM) said that IOM had yesterday received confirmation from the Government of Sudan that it would facilitate an IOM airlift from Khartoum to Juba of 12 – 15,000 South Sudanese currently stranded in Kosti, 200 kilometers south of the capital. The South Sudanese, many of whom had been in Kosti for months waiting for transport to South Sudan, would travel by bus to Khartoum and then board IOM charter flights to Juba, the South Sudanese capital. IOM was currently developing an operational plan to start the movements as soon as possible.
Almost 20,000 flee fresh fighting in eastern Congo's North Kivu province
Mr. Edwards said that pressure was mounting on Goma, in the Eastern Democratic Republic of Congo, with more than 19,000 sheeking shelter in nearby areas since Sunday to escape fighting between Government forces and renegade troops. As of Thursday evening, 4,100 people had crossed the border to seek shelter in Rwanda, where UNHCR was providing basic aid. UNHCR field staff said that people were still coming toward the North Kivu capital, Goma, and its environs from their homes in the affected Masisi and Walikale territories, but the flow had eased a bit. UNHCR staff had registered 10,300 people at a spontaneous site 25 kilometres from Goma and another 9,000 in Mugunga III, one of 31 UNHCR-run settlements for internally displaced people in North Kivu. Hundreds were sleeping in a school and church at the spontaneous site at Sake, while about 1,000 people were heading to South Kivu. UNHCR was working with its partners to provide assistance, including shelter and other non-food items.
The latest figures add to the already massive displacement numbers recorded in North Kivu and neighbouring South Kivu so far this year. Conflict in the first quarter of the year was estimated to have displaced around 300,000 people, according to figures compiled by the United Nations Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs. With the latest figures, more than 2 million people were now uprooted countrywide, including 1.4 million people in the two Kivus.
UNHCR was appealing to all sides to urgently allow humanitarian access to these vulnerable groups and to respect their rights, including the rights to safety, medical help and freedom of movement. The agency also stressed how important it was to maintain the civilian character of the camps and urged the provincial authorities to increase security in and around the camps where possible.
Agency chiefs to visit Niger 4-7 May
Adrian Edwards of the United Nations Refugee Agency (UNHCR) said that the Executive Director of the United Nations World Food Programme (WFP), Ertharin Cousin, and the High Commissioner for Refugees, António Guterres, were today beginning a visit to Niger, West Africa. The two senior United Nations officials were to fly to the capital, Niamey, and would meet some of the tens of thousands of refugees in Mangaize, northern Niger, who had fled from fighting in neighbouring Mali.
The WFP had launched an emergency operation to provide food assistance to nearly 4 million people in Niger, and was working in partnership with UNHCR to support some 160,000 Malian refugees throughout the Sahel region. The High Commissioner and Executive Director aimed to raise public awareness of the issue with a view to seeking stronger international support for the needs of the people there.
Agenda of the High Commissioner for Human Rights
Mr. Colville said that the High Commissioner for Human Rights, Navi Pillay, was to make her first visit to South Sudan from 8-12 May. During her mission to the world’s newest State, the United Nations Human Rights Chief would meet President Salva Kiir Mayardit, a number of Government ministers and others. Topics to be discussed would include concerns about the protection of civilians amid the hostilities that had flared up along the border with Sudan, as well as other disputes between the two countries.
Ms. Pillay would also on 20 May begin the first ever mission by a United Nations Human Rights Chief to Zimbabwe, at the invitation of the Government. During the five-day mission, Ms. Pillay was due to meet President Robert Mugabe, Prime Minister Morgan Tsvangirai, as well as other Ministers, representatives of civil society and other actors. The High Commissioner was considering a number of field visits within and outside Harare, including to the Marange Diamond Fields. A more detailed media advisory would follow.
Comoros flash floods
Ms. Momal-Vanian said that official figures indicated that more than 46,000 people had been displaced by the floods which had followed torrential rains. National Government and the humanitarian community, including the Red Crescent, had started responding to the immediate needs of those affected. A United Nations Disaster Assessment and Coordination Assessment team was on the ground since 30 April and a flash appeal was under preparation. A note was at the back of the room.
Rupert Colville of the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR) said that OHCHR was concerned at Venezuela's announcement that it was establishing a State committee to evaluate the possibility of withdrawing from the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights (IACHR). Regional human rights bodies played a very important role in the promotion and protection of human rights and reinforced universal human rights standards and treaties.
The IACHR, which was more than 50 years old and was a highly respected body, had a very positive impact in the region, and had been crucial in obtaining justice for victims of human rights violations, particularly during the period when dictatorships ruled many countries in the region.
OHCHR would like to encourage the Venezuelan Government, and all other States in the Americas, to continue to cooperate with both regional and international human rights mechanisms, and urge them not to take any measures that would weaken human rights protection – not just in Venezuela itself but also with potentially negative ramifications for people all across the continent.
Jean-Luc Martinage of the International Labour Organization (ILO) said journalists would shortly receive an article on the job situation in the United States, which was related to the “World of Work Report 2012” published on Monday. This would come shortly after the publication of a report by the U.S. Department of Labor on the situation in April.
The ILO would also shortly publish its “Global Employment Trends for Youth” report, which would provide updated global figures on youth unemployment, regional statistics, as well as ILO recommendations on youth employment. There would be a press conference for the launch of this publication, to take place on 21/22 May.
Hand Hygiene Day
Tarik Jasarevic of the World Health Organization (WHO) said that tomorrow (5 May) was Hand Hygiene Day. This year, 15,000 health-care facilities from 156 countries were participating in WHO’s “SAVE LIVES: Clean Your Hands Initiative” by committing to improve patient safety by practicing better hand hygiene.
Each year, hundreds of millions of patients around the world were affected by health-care associated infections. For example, of every 100 hospitalized patients, at least 7 in developed and 10 in developing countries would acquire health care-associated infections. In intensive care units, that figure rose to around 30 per cent, according to a recent WHO report
Most of the health-care associated infections were preventable through good hand hygiene, cleaning hands at the right times and in the right way. WHO would shortly send a press note on this subject and could organise interviews with patient safety experts.
Human Rights Committees
Ms. Momal-Vanian said that the Committee on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights had this morning started to examine the report of New Zealand, to be continued until Monday noon, before commencing the review of Spain’s report on Monday afternoon and that of Ethiopia on Wednesday morning.
The Committee against Torture would open a four-week session on Monday. During this session it would elect its President and the other members of its office (on Monday) and examine the reports of Albania (starting on Tuesday morning), Armenia, Greece, the Czech Republic, Rwanda, Canada, Cuba and Syria. Syria would present a special report that had been requested by the Committee on Wednesday 16 May. A background release had been issued yesterday.
WTO Information Technology Agreement marks 15th anniversary with two-day symposium
Ms. Momal-Vanian said that a symposium would be held on 14-15 May 2012 at the World Trade Organization to mark the 15th anniversary of the WTO Information Technology Agreement (ITA). Speakers would include representatives from Microsoft, Hewlett-Packard and Nokia. Journalists were invited to attend. They did not have to register but would need to present their United Nations or World Trade Organization press badges at the entrance. They were also invited to a cocktail reception for all participants at 6:15 p.m. on the opening day.
UNECE/FAO policy debate on wood energy
Jean Rodriguez of the United Nations Economic Commission for Europe (UNECE) said that there would be a UNECE/FAO policy debate on wood energy next week, to take place on 8 May in Room XII. The objective of the policy debate was to provide policymakers in the ECE region with a set of views from a wide group of involved sectors to address the economic, social and environmental aspects of the growing demand for and use of wood for energy. The programme of the debate would be sent to journalists shortly.
On another note Mr. Rodriguez said that the negotiations on the revision of the Gothenburg Protocol were continuing today.