REGULAR PRESS BRIEFING BY THE INFORMATION SERVICE
24 September 2013
Corinne Momal-Vanian, Director of the United Nations Information Service in Geneva, chaired the briefing which was also attended by the Spokespersons the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights, United Nations Refugee Agency, United Nations Children’s Programme, World Food Programme, Office for the Coordination for Humanitarian Affairs, World Health Organization, International Organization for Migration, International Labour Organization, World Metrological Organization and Human Rights Council.
The Secretary-General’s Special Representative for Somalia also participated in the briefing.
Nicholas Kay, Special Representative of the Secretary-General for Somalia and Head of the UN Assistance Mission in Somalia said that he was in Geneva on the occasion of the Human Rights Council's High-Level Dialogue on Somalia. Mr. Kay strongly condemned the recent terrorist attack in Nairobi and expressed condolences to the families of the victims. Despite that tragedy, Somalia had the best opportunity in a generation to move forward towards peace and eventual prosperity. There were signs for cautious optimism, such as a central, internationally recognized Government in Mogadishu and wide international support for Somalia. The Government was increasingly in control of the country. Large challenges remained, including in the field of human rights, but all the progress which had been made in Somalia was not going to succeed unless security challenges were met. Security remained the number one challenge.
Controlling and defeating Al-Shabaab was the precondition for that goal. The attack in Nairobi had showed once again that the threat from Al-Shabaab was international and that terrorism did not respect any borders. The UN believed that the campaign against the group ought to be intensified, and it had to be three-dimensional: military, political and practical. Efforts had to be redoubled, for which reason Mr. Kay was going to United Nations Headquarters in order to request more resources, in particular for the African Union Mission in Somalia (AMISOM). AMISOM was in need of helicopters (it did not have a single helicopter for a country which was roughly the size of Afghanistan), armed vehicles and possibly also a surge in troops. Somali national security forces also needed more support from the international community. Such small extra investment in Somalia should be seen in comparison to what had been spent in other countries, such as Afghanistan, Iraq or Mali. The price of walking away would be far higher.
Answering a question on the current estimated strength of Al-Shabaab and the presence of Kenyan and UN troops in the country, Mr. Kay said that most estimates would put the Al-Shabaab forces at about 5,000, but it was difficult to make an accurate assessment. Many of these troops were not hard-core ideologues, and had probably joined for economic and other reasons, which meant that the support for the group could be “peeled away” with the right approach. Mr. Kay explained that the UN had no troops in Somalia, while AMISOM was close to its mandated number of 17,731. UN’s yearly logistical support package to AMISOM cost around USD 520 million, while the European Union was providing EUR 16 million per month for stipends to AMISOM troops.
Asked whether there were plans for negotiations with Al-Shabaab, Mr. Kay reiterated that there should be a political dimension in the campaign against Al-Shabaab. Some of the leaders of the group had already splintered and surrendered, and the Somali Federal Government had its own ways of communicating with Al-Shabaab. Foot soldiers and rank-and-file members of the group had to feel comfortable about disarming and reintegrating, and one such national disarmament and demobilization programme was already under way. The Federal Government of Somalia had already announced that it was ready to talk to all those who would renounce violence.
On the question whether the attack at the Westgate shopping mall in Nairobi bore the signature of Al-Shabaab, Mr. Kay responded that there had been claims of responsibility by Al-Shabaab, but there were speculations on Al-Qaeda involvement as well. There were signs of cross-hatching and support among various groups of shared ideology. Definite answers would emerge soon enough. On the situation in Kismayo, Mr. Kay informed that Al-Shabaab had been pushed out of Kismayo, but was not very far from the city and was occasionally launching attacks on the city, which was being defended by Kenyan and Sierra Leonean AMISOM troops. The political agreement which had recently been signed in Addis Ababa between the Juba Interim Administration based in Kismayo and the Federal Government was a significant development for a way forward. Asked whether Kenyan troops might leave AMISOM soon, especially in the aftermath of the attack in Nairobi, Mr. Kay said that he had seen no indication of it. He believed that the events in Nairobi would actually strengthen the resolve of Kenya and other AMISOM troop contributing countries.
Asked whether he was surprised by the attack in Nairobi and if Al-Shabaab had gone off the radar of the international community due to the increased focus on Syria, Mr. Kay responded that he was not surprised as the group had been threatening and conducting numerous smaller scale attacks for a while. The UN itself had suffered a recent attack in Somalia. The eye of the international media had admittedly not been on Somalia in the recent period but attention had to increase. The UN and the African Union were on the verge of making a significant breakthrough in Somalia, but it was necessary to increase these efforts, the impact of which would be felt beyond Somalia, from Bangui to Bamako. Likewise, piracy, which used to be a major problem and cost the world economy an estimated USD 18 billion per year, had been effectively dealt with, and no ships had been pirated since May 2012. Sustaining such reduction required securing the situation on the ground as well.
Answering the question on the current food situation in Somalia, Mr. Kay said the response to the famine had been relatively effective, and for the first time in years, less than 1 million people were at risk. Resilience, nonetheless, was not strong and was weather-related, which meant that further concerted involvement was needed.
On the question whether there could possibly be aerial support from the US Fifth Fleet or other international actors in the nearby waters, Mr. Kay emphasized that AMISOM was supposed to be funded for 12 helicopters, but it did not have any. Troop contributing countries had to provide both attack and support helicopters; if these countries were not able to do so, other creative solutions would have to be found. Helicopters were essential because AMISOM, due to its successes, was now spread more thinly across the country.
As to who was financing Al-Shabaab, Mr. Kay responded that they were self-financing to a large degree, through taxation and trade, including by controlling three ports and exporting and importing materials, such as charcoal, which provided them with an estimated USD 35 million per year. At the same time, it would not have required a large investment to purchase hand grenades and other light weapons which had been used to murder civilians in Nairobi.
Mr. Kay informed that the African Union and UN had conducted a joint exercise to review AMISOM and the security situation on the ground in Somalia, on recommendations which would be forwarded to the Security Council, and might include an increase in troop numbers.
Gaëlle Sévenier, for the International Organization for Migration (IOM), said that IOM had teamed up with a Japanese company – Solar Partners Company Limited – to combat sexual violence against women in Somalia. Every time a customer in Japan installed a household solar panel through Solar Partners’ service, the company would donate the same amount (about USD 35) to buy a solar lantern and ship it to Somalia. Under the scheme, the company aimed to donate a total of 1,000 solar lanterns. The lanterns would be distributed in camps for internally displaced people, to protect vulnerable women from sexual and gender-based violence. A study on the effectiveness of lighting to reduce such attacks in IDP settlements was on-going and results would be issued in December 2013. According to UNDP, the prevalence of gender-based violence in Somalia was among the highest in the world, with migrants and IDPs being at the highest risk, due to lack of protection and the insecure environment in which they were living.
Elisabeth Byrs, for the World Food Programme (WFP), said that there had been a significant improvement in food security since 2011, but the situation remained fragile. More than 870,000 Somalis were in need of food assistance. WFP’s aid was set to reach more than 1,6 million most vulnerable people by the end of 2013.
Rupert Colville, for the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR), informed that on 3 September, OHCHR had condemned the attack on Camp Ashraf in which at least 52 camp residents had been killed, and called on the Iraqi government to quickly launch a full investigation to establish the facts and disclose the circumstances surrounding this attack. Three weeks later, OHCHR was reiterating its call on the Government to do its utmost to shed light on exactly what had happened and to identify the perpetrators of those killings.
OHCHR welcomed the fact that the remaining 42 residents of Camp Ashraf had in the meantime been safely transferred to Camp Hurriya, which was located near the Iraqi capital. OHCHR was, nonetheless, gravely concerned about allegations that seven former residents of Camp Ashraf, six of whom were reported to be women, had been kidnapped during the events of 1 September. Unconfirmed reports suggested they were being held at an unidentified location in Iraq and were at risk of being forcibly returned to Iran.
OHCHR was joining the UN Refugee Agency (UNHCR) and others in calling on the Government of Iraq to do all it can to ascertain the whereabouts of those seven persons, to ensure their safety and prevent their involuntary return to Iran. If they had indeed been kidnapped, all efforts should be made to secure their release unharmed.
Melissa Fleming, for the United Nations Refugee Agency (UNHCR), stated that UNHCR was concerned as recent waves of sectarian violence threatened new internal displacement of Iraqis fleeing the recent horrific bombings and other attacks.
Since the beginning of 2013, bombings and rising sectarian tensions had displaced some 5,000 Iraqis, with people mostly fleeing from Baghdad into Anbar and Salah Al Din governorates, as well as causing displacement within Diyala and Ninewa governorates.
Those displaced so far included all ethnic groups. UNHCR and its partners had conducted needs assessments of the newly displaced people and was advocating with the government of Iraq for their registration. The recent displacement added to the over 1.13 million internally displaced people inside Iraq who had fled their homes amidst the 2006-2008 sectarian violence. Close to a half of the IDPs remained in more than 382 settlements on public land or in public buildings, enduring harsh living conditions and with limited access to electricity, adequate sanitation, schooling or sufficient job opportunities. Many might be at risk of eviction. UNHCR with the IDP working group had been working with the government, particularly with the Ministry of Displacement and Migration, on a comprehensive plan to end displacement.
On the issue of Camp Ashraf, Ms. Fleming informed that, following the attack on 1 September, in which more than 50 residents had died, UNHCR, like OHCHR, remained gravely concerned for the safety of seven former residents of the site who remained unaccounted for. Those seven persons were all known to UNHCR as asylum-seekers, which is why UNHCR wanted to have an opportunity to interview them.
UNHCR was calling upon the Government of Iraq to locate them, to ensure their physical security and to safeguard them against return to Iran against their will. UNHCR also urged the Government to ensure the protection of the residents of Hurriya temporary transit location and called on the international community to find solutions outside Iraq as a matter of urgency. Resettlement of these persons was seen as the best solution.
Answering a question on who was providing security for Camp Ashraf and assisting the people there, Ms. Fleming said that the Government of Iraq was responsible for camp security, while UNHCR was in charge of refugee protection. UNHCR was conducting interviews with the refugees and making status assessments. UNHCR had been urging Governments around the world to take in the camp residents for resettlement. Most recently, 200 persons had been resettled to Albania. Ms. Fleming specified that there were about 3,000 persons remaining in the Camp. Asked whether these people were considered refugees or asylum seekers, Ms. Fleming said that they would be considered asylum seekers if they were interviewed and requested asylum. Identifying countries which would receive them was a significant challenge.
Asked whether there were any signs that a meaningful investigation had started, Mr. Colville responded that UN Assistance Mission for Iraq (UNAMI) was involved. A UNAMI team, headed by the Deputy Special Representative of the Secretary-General, had visited the Camp in the aftermath of the attack, establishing that a large number of persons had been killed, some apparently summarily, but did not identify the perpetrators. A serious investigation by the Government had to be opened, but there had not been any signs of it.
On the question why Camp Ashraf was in the focus now, Ms. Fleming answered that UNHCR had been issuing statements and press releases on the matter on regular basis. Likewise, Mr. Colville said that Camp Ashraf had been an important issue for many years, starting in the 1990s, but the killing of 53 persons had once again brought it to the fore. The only real solution would be resettlement, which required that there were countries willing to accept the Camp residents, but also that the residents were willing to resettle to particular countries.
Answering the question whether anyone from UNHCR had spoken to protesters outside of the Palais des Nations, Ms. Fleming said that UNHCR, including at the level of the High Commissioner, was in constant contact with their leadership. Protests like this were taking place in various places, and not only in Geneva.
Jens Laerke, for the Office for the Coordination for Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA), stated that OCHA was concerned about the humanitarian situation for nearly 158,000 people who had been affected by the fighting between a faction of the Moro National Liberation Front and the Armed Forces of the Philippines in Zamboanga city and Basilan province in southern Philippines.
Since 9 September, some 130,000 people had been displaced by the hostilities, which were still ongoing. More than 10,000 families had had their homes totally destroyed, and health centres and schools had also been destroyed. According to Government estimates, nearly a 100,000 people were in 33 evacuation centres, including in 16 schools.
United Nations and NGO partners had conducted a rapid needs assessment in Zamboanga evacuation centres on 18 September. The assessment had found that large centres did not have sufficient family tents and water, sanitation and hygiene facilities, with people in need of emergency health services, emergency disease surveillance and immunization. Measles vaccination was being carried out by local authorities and 802 children aged 6 to 59 months had received measles vaccination and vitamin A. More than 12,000 children needed to be vaccinated for measles. In addition, 30,070 hygiene kits and 10,300 water kits had been distributed in the evacuation centres.
Mr. Laerke emphasized that UN agencies and international and national NGOs were supporting the response which was led by the Government, but there had not been a call for further international assistance.
Ms. Sévenier informed that IMO was providing an emergency assistance to hundreds of families who had fled the conflict in the west of Mindanao in the southern Philippines. Almost 140,000 people had been displaced by fighting between the Army and the Muslim MNFL rebels in and near Zamboanga City, which had a population of 775,000. Over 10,000 houses had reportedly been destroyed and the humanitarian situation was dire, particularly in evacuation centers, where IOM was directing its emergency aid. IOM was distributing and installing 380 tents and 300 laminated plastic sheets among evacuees in the Cawa-Cawa Shoreline evacuation center to the south of the city. The tents had been donated by the Rotary Club, whilst the plastic sheeting had been supplied by IOM.
Ms. Byrs announced that a ship carrying 22,000 metric tons of wheat from the United States of America had delivered its cargo. 7,000 metric tons of wheat had been offloaded in the port of Beirut on 20 September and the rest, 15,000 metric tons, had been offloaded on 23 September in the port of Mersin in Turkey. The wheat would be milled into flour in Lebanon and Turkey before being transported to Syria by road for distribution to vulnerable families. This wheat donation was worth more than USD 15 million and would suffice to help feed more than 3.5 million Syrians for one month. Each vulnerable family would receive a 25 kg bag of flour in addition to their monthly food ration typically composed of vegetable oil, pasta, canned beans, lentils and sugar.
Mr. Colville said that OHCHR welcomed the new law on transitional justice adopted by Libya's General National Council on 22 September. That was the most important and positive initiative thus far with regard to transitional justice.
The law established a Fact-Finding and Reconciliation Commission (to replace the existing and largely inactive one) which was charged with providing a comprehensive picture of human rights violations under the Gaddafi regime, as well as after its fall from power. It also set up a victims' reparations mechanism.
OHCHR also welcomed the fact that a controversial provision setting up a specialised prosecution department for the crimes of the former regime had been eliminated. The law was the fruit of several months of debate, during which the UN Support Mission in Libya (UNSMIL) had provided extensive comments, many of which were reflected in the text, specifically in the areas of truth-seeking and reparations.
OHCHR was looking forward to working with the Libyan counterparts on the challenging path of implementing the law.
Asked about the protests of people in Lybia who were asking for a release of Saif Gaddafi, Mr. Colville said that the legal process was underway, and there was an expectation that all those responsible would face justice.
Central African Republic (CAR)
Responding to previous queries, Ms. Momal-Vanian stated that the Special Representative for Children and Armed Conflict, Leila Zerrougui, was working closely with the United Nations Integrated Peacebuilding Office for the Central African Republic (BINUCA) and other partners on the ground, including UNICEF, to make sure that concerns about recruitment and use of children and other issues related to the protection of children remained a priority in their exchanges and work with CAR Government officials.
During the General Assembly which was about to begin, Ms. Zerrougui intended to raise those issues in person with Lieutenant General Babacar Gaye, Special Representative of the Secretary-General and Head of BINUCA. She had also requested a meeting with the delegation of the Central African Republic.
Ms. Momal-Vanian added that a Ministerial-level meeting on the humanitarian situation in the CAR would be held on 25 September in New York, which would be co-chaired by Ms. Valerie Amos.
Mr. Colville informed that within the space of one month, the structures – both residential and those related to livelihood – in three Bedouin and herder communities had been entirely, or almost entirely, demolished by Israeli authorities in the occupied West Bank.
Most recently, on 16 September, 58 structures had been demolished, including all residential structures and livestock shelters, in the herding community of Mak-hul in the northern Jordan Valley. All 10 families (48 people, including 16 children) had thus been rendered homeless. No alternative housing options were offered.
Israeli authorities had denied the provision of emergency shelter assistance to the community by humanitarian organisations. The absence of any form of shelter had obliged the women and children of the community to leave Mak-hul to seek temporary shelter in a neighbouring community, whilst the men had remained to tend to the livestock. The community remained vulnerable to further demolitions and repeated displacement due to lack of legal security of tenure and the consequent inability to obtain building permits.
Noting both the serious character of these recent events, and the sharp increase in the number of such demolitions this year, OHCHR was reiterating the concerns expressed on 27 August about the forced eviction and potential forcible transfer of the Bedouin community of Tel al Adassa following the demolition of all structures there on 19 August. Subsequently, on 11 September, Israeli authorities had demolished all but two residential structures in the Bedouin community of Az Za’ayyem on the edge of Jerusalem. The two surviving structures there remained at imminent risk of demolition.
Those mass demolitions raised serious concerns about the prohibition on forced eviction under international human rights law, and Israel’s obligations to respect, protect and fulfil the rights of Palestinians to adequate housing and freedom from arbitrary or unlawful interference with privacy, family and home. The obligations of Israel with respect to the right to adequate housing of Palestinians in the occupied Palestinian territory include ensuring access to basic shelter and housing, and refraining from interfering with the enjoyment of those rights. The permanent removal of families from those communities might amount to a violation of the prohibition of forcible transfer under article 49 of the Fourth Geneva Convention. There were also serious concerns that the recent wave of demolitions violated the prohibition on destruction of property under international humanitarian law. OHCHR was urging the Israeli authorities to halt all such demolitions.
Rolando Gomez, for the Human Rights Council (HRC), announced that HRC continued its activities at 9 a.m. with a general debate on item 8 – the Vienna Declaration and the Programme of Action. At 11 a.m. a report of the Working Group on the People of African Descent should be presented. At 1 p.m, a general debate should ensue on the issues of racism and xenophobia. A report of the Special Rapporteur on the situation in Cambodia could take place later in the day, time permitting.
At 3 p.m. there would be a stand-alone high level dialogue on Somalia, and would, inter alia, include the participation of Somali Prime Minister and Mr. Nicholas Kay.
On 25 September, the interactive dialogue with the Special Rapporteur on Cambodia would ensue, to be followed by a presentation of the report on human rights in Somalia, followed by the dialogue. An independent expert on Sudan would then present his report, which would also be followed by the dialogue. A statement on the Central African Republic would also be presented and discussed, possibly with the participation of the Central African Republic Minister of Justice. Finally, statements on Sri Lanka, Cambodia, Democratic Republic of the Congo and Yemen would be presented and discussed.
Ms. Momal-Vanian informed that the Committee on the Rights of the Child would examine two reports of Paraguay on Tuesday, 24 September, and the morning of Wednesday, 25 September, firstly on children in armed conflict, to be followed by discussions on sale of children. China would present its report on the afternoon of Thursday, 26 September, and on Friday, 27 September. The following week, the Committee would examine the reports of Luxembourg and Monaco.
Ms. Fleming informed that on 30 September, UNHCR would hold the annual session of its Executive Committee in Room XIX at the Palais des Nations, with a high-level segment on Syria. All the ministers from the refugee-hosting countries were expected, along with high representation from other countries. The morning session, which would be open to the press, would feature speeches from various involved UN agencies, including OCHA, UNICEF and WFP. A press conference with the High Commissioner and the President of the Executive Committee would follow in the morning of 1 October.
Glenn Thomas, for the World Health Organization (WHO), announced that in the evening of the following day, 25 September, there would be a virtual Press Conference on Middle East Respiratory Syndrome – Corona Virus (MERS-CoV). The purpose of the conference, which was a follow-up to a meeting held in July 2013, would be to provide updates on the global situation. Details of the conference would be sent out shortly, and the journalists from around the world would be able to call in.
Catherine Sibut, for the United Nations Conference on Trade and Development (UNCTAD), announced that the briefing on Review of E-commerce Legislation Harmonization in the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) had been moved forward from 3 p.m. to 11 a.m. on Wednesday, 25 September. The briefing would be held in Press Room 1.
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The representatives of United Nations Children’s Programme, World Metrological Organization and International Labour Organization also attended the briefing but did not speak.
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The webcast for this briefing is available here: http://bit.ly/1b9giPx