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REGULAR PRESS BRIEFING BY THE INFORMATION SERVICE
5 November 2013

Corinne Momal-Vanian, Director of the United Nations Information Service in Geneva, chaired the briefing which was also attended by the Spokespersons for the United Nations Conference on Trade and Development, International Labour Organization, Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs, World Health Organization, Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights, United Nations Refugee Agency, International Organization for Migration and World Food Programme.

Syria

Ms. Momal-Vanian informed that the talks between Joint Special Representative Brahimi and Russian and American officials had started this morning. Asked to explain the participation in the talks of the UN Under-Secretary General for Political Affairs, Jeffrey Feltman, Ms. Momal-Vanian said that he had taken part in several previous meetings. There were still no announcements about a possible press conference, but the journalists would be informed promptly if the Joint Special Representative decided to speak to the press.

Jens Laerke, for the Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA), provided an update on Syria. He said that on the previous day, Valerie Amos, UN Under-Secretary-General for Humanitarian Affairs and Emergency Relief Coordinator, had briefed the Security Council on the situation in the country. It was estimated that 9.3 million people were now in need of assistance, out of whom 6.5 million were internally displaced. There had been a significant increase since June in number of both those in need of assistance and those internally displaced.

Between 1 January and the end of October, there had been 34 UN-led interagency relief convoys which had reached opposition-held and contested areas. In terms of presence in the country, there were 15 UN agencies and departments operating in Syria, along with 15 international NGOs registered with the Government. The humanitarian appeal for the response inside Syria requested USD 1.41 billion, and it was currently funded at 57.2 per cent.

In response to a question, Mr. Laerke clarified that 9.3 million persons were in need inside the country, and that this figure did not include refugees.

Democratic Republic of the Congo

Adrian Edwards, for the United Nations Refugee Agency (UNHCR), stated that in the North Kivu province, the fighting of the last days between the rebel M23 group and Government troops had seen an estimated 10,000 people fleeing across the border at Bunagana into south-west Uganda’s Kisoro district.

UNHCR staff in the border area had reported the previous day that bombs were falling very close to the border point that separated Bunagana town on the Uganda side from the rest of the town, which was in the DRC. Thousands of panicked people had run across the border, some carrying belongings, others with nothing.

Mr. Edwards informed that, amid the shelling, some areas in Uganda had also been hit. Many local residents had closed their homes and shops and moved away from the border area. Refugees arriving at the Nyakabande Transit Centre, some 20 kilometres away, had told UNHCR that they had seen bodies on the DRC side.

The previous day, UNHCR had begun transporting refugees from the border to the Nyakabande transit centre, and as of the previous night 3,624 people had been moved, the largest number in a single day since the fighting between the government and the M23 began in April 2012.

Many refugees were also making their own way by foot to the transit centre. People were out in the open and the weather in Kisoro was cold and rainy.

UNHCR estimated that there were now around 8,230 people in the transit centre. UNHCR was providing them with shelter, emergency relief items, and food supplied by the World Food Program. Many of the new arrivals were suffering from dehydration and diarrhoea.

Mr. Edwards informed that UNHCR currently had enough emergency relief items for a population of 10,000. In addition to several hundred family tents, there were 11 communal shelters which each held about 300 people, while a 12th was being erected to accommodate 600 people. However, supplying water to the transit centre remained a challenge as water pressure in the district was very low and UNCHR was working to connect an additional pipeline. UNCHR was also facing shortages in surgical supplies due to the high number of the injured.

The majority of the new arrivals, around 60 per cent, were young children, and many had been separated from their parents while running from the border. So far, UNHCR had received more than 100 children arriving on their own and they were housed in separate tents, providing extra items and assisting them in getting food.

The situation in eastern DRC remained very fast moving, tense and volatile with no one prepared to return and people still crossing. Security officials reported that the town of Bunagana was empty of civilians. As of this morning, UNHCR was moving people by bus from Nyakabande to a refugee settlement at Rwamwanja, to the north, where they would receive more comprehensive assistance.

Asked about confidence expressed by some that the rebel group M23 had been defeated, Mr. Edwards said that he was not in a position to confirm news reports that M23 had signed end of hostilities. On the question whether more supplies were being sent to the area, Mr. Edwards stated that UNHCR had been quite active in the area for a while, and additional supplies were being currently provided for new arrivals.

Ms. Momal-Vanian informed that Mary Robinson, UN Special Envoy to the Great Lakes region, and Martin Kobler, the Special Representative of the Secretary-General in the DRC, along with a number of other envoys, had issued a joint statement the previous day, expressing concern about the new outbreak of violence. The announced end of violence between the Government and the M23 had been welcomed as the first and necessary step to end the violence. They had again called on the M23 to renounce its rebellion as agreed and called upon the Government to restrain from further military action at this stage.

Mali

Ms. Momal-Vanian stated that UN Secretary-General had arrived to Bamako the previous day, along with the President of the World Bank, Chairperson of the African Union, President of the African Development Bank, and the EU Commissioner for Development. The goal of the visit was to demonstrate solidarity with and pledge support to the Government of Mali and the wider Sahel region.

Jumbe Omari Jumbe, for the International Organization for Migration (IOM), informed that, according to the IOM’s latest figures, 45,526 households (283,726 individuals) were still internally displaced as a consequence of the 2012 crisis in the north of the country. Those figures meant that the number of internally displaced people (IDPs) in Mali had decreased by 50,824 from 334,550 reported by the DTM three months earlier.

The report indicated that Bamako, the capital, hosted the largest number of IDPs (67,250), followed by the northern regions of Gao (47,562), Timbuktu (45,082) and Kidal (36,800). The vast majority of the IDPs registered in the southern regions had come from Timbuktu (49 per cent) and Gao (38 per cent) – the regions most affected by the crisis in the north.

The data showed that the decrease had been due to people returning home, which had been observed during verification exercises carried out in the field by IOM, in coordination with the General Directorate for Civil Protection (DGCP) and the National Directorate for Social Development.

The return trend had also been confirmed by data collected at flow monitoring points (FMPs) established in January 2013 at the main crossroads of Bamako, Mopti, Gao and Timbuktu cities.

In order to better understand the IDP’s return intentions, the IOM had recently conducted a return intention survey in the southern regions of Ségou, Koulikoro and Bamako. Out of the total 1,486 households surveyed, 84 per cent had said that they were willing to return to their places of origin.

The FMP data showed that more individuals were travelling north than south. Between January and September this year, 78,912 IDPs had travelled from the south to the north, while 39,309 travelled from the north to the south. The improvement of security conditions in the north had been the main reason for return, according to 78 per cent of the households surveyed in the FMP. Additionally, most of the returning IDPs said that they needed financial support (47 per cent), and food assistance (33 per cent), according to the report.

Asked how recent the data was, Mr. Jumbe said it had been just released in early November and contained the tracking report.

Elisabeth Byrs, for the World Food Programme (WFP), paid tribute to the two French journalists who had been recently killed in Mali.

Myanmar/boat tragedies

Mr. Edwards stated that 3 November had seen the latest in a series of recent boat tragedies, this time off the western coast of Myanmar. Dozens of people, including women and children, were still missing and feared dead.

According to available information, some 70 people, presumed to be Rohingya from Myanmar’s Rakhine State, had been on the boat when it had capsized on Sunday morning off the coast of the state capital Sittwe. Eight survivors had been reported so far.

Mr. Edwards said that, as with the recent boat disasters on the Mediterranean, UNHCR’s worry was that similar tragedies would follow unless actions were taken by concerned countries to address the causes and reduce the risks for those involved in dangerous journeys by sea. 2013 was by all accounts one of the worst years in terms of deadly incidents at sea.

Some 140,000 people remained internally displaced in the Rakhine State following waves of inter-communal violence that had started in June 2012. Those displaced included the Rohingya, ethnic Rakhine, Kaman and other communities. While most had moved into temporary shelters, the environment remained tense and longer-term solutions to displacement still needed to be implemented.

Most Rohingya did not hold Myanmar citizenship and were continuing to face severe restrictions on their movements and were suffering from discriminatory practices and denial of basic human rights. Many were struggling to make a living and access services such as healthcare and education.

Mr. Edwards emphasized that it was unacceptable that people were driven by such desperation into life-risking journeys, often falling into the hands of ruthless smugglers. UNHCR stood ready to assist the Government of Myanmar to address the root causes of this outflow, including seeking ways to resolve the statelessness of the Rohingya population.

To promote reconciliation and peaceful co-existence in Rakhine state, the Government and international community also needed to address challenges such as the lack of development, as the Rakhine State was Myanmar’s second-poorest.

In parallel, UNHCR was appealing to countries in the region to strengthen search and rescue operations to prevent further loss of life at sea. UNHCR was also urging regional governments to harmonize disembarkation and reception conditions and to offer temporary protection to people in need of international protection while durable solutions were sought.

Asked to which countries they were heading, Mr. Edwards said that that particular route had been used over many years, and people fleeing Myanmar were heading mostly to Malaysia. There were a number of routes around South East Asia, and some people were heading to Indonesia and further to Australia.

On whether UNHCR and other aid agencies were helping those migrants, Mr. Edwards said that UNHCR had been present in all the countries in the area, but each of the Governments had to deal with rescue at sea and disembarkations. Better measures to save lives were needed, which required a comprehensive approach – including source countries, rescue at sea, disembarkation on arrival, and other aspects.

Nigeria

Cécile Pouilly, for the Office of High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR), stated that OHCHR strongly condemned the last weekend’s atrocious attack on a wedding convoy in Nigeria’s Borno State.

On November 2, some 30 guests arriving from a wedding had been ambushed and killed along the Bama-Mubi-Banki road, in Borno State. That road, which was located close to the border with Cameroon, was notorious for attacks by Boko Haram. During the attack, a Joint task Forces post had been burned down and four soldiers killed. A bridge link to the nearby town of Mubi had also been bombed.

According to information which OHCHR had received, there were attacks almost on a daily basis in the North East of Nigeria, especially in Borno and neighbouring areas.

OHCHR strongly condemned the cowardly attacks by Boko Haram, who continued to target civilians, including students and worshippers, politicians, members of Government institutions, foreign nationals as well as security forces.

Members of Boko Haram and other groups and entities, if judged to have committed widespread or systematic attacks against a civilian population, including on grounds such as religion or ethnicity, could be found guilty of crimes against humanity.

Ms. Pouilly said that OHCHR was following up closely with the Nigerian authorities allegations of abuses and human rights violations which might have been committed by security forces when conducting operations. A report of a panel established by the Chief of Defence Staff to audit and review the cases of people held in connection with the insurgency was about to be finalised. OHCHR requested the Government to disclose the outcome of the audit. OHCHR also called on the Nigerian Government to ensure that security forces acted in conformity with the law and avoided excessive use of force when conducting operations.

Asked about the extent of abuses, Ms. Pouilly said that there had been unconfirmed reports of abuses by state forces, which was why the Government had formed a panel to find out if those had indeed occurred. The outcome of the audit should then be disclosed. The President had tried to establish a committee on dialogue in May 2013, which would be in charge of initiating a dialogue with Boko Haram, and which should try to set up a framework to promote disarmament and sustainable options for dialogue. OHCHR was repeatedly urging religious and political leaders to look into root causes of violence.

On the question on how many people were in detention, Ms. Pouilly stated that OHCHR did not have exact figures, but a human rights advisor was present on the ground and in contact with the authorities on the follow-up on the panel.

Uganda

Mr. Jumbe stated that IOM Uganda, in coordination with the government and civil society partners, had safely returned 21 child victims of trafficking to their communities of origin.

The children had been trafficked from Karamoja, a remote region in remote northeastern Uganda, to Kampala for the purpose of street begging.

Before the return process, the children had received various services in Kampala, which included medical assistance, nutritional feeding, and shelter. Normally, the IOM would take them for six months into a safe place before providing them with transportation.

IOM and its NGO partners had worked in Karamoja to locate the families of the children and determine if it was in the children’s best interest to return. Simultaneously, IOM had offered training in sustainable agriculture and integrated animal management to the children’s families and communities.

Since November 2011, IOM had assisted with the rehabilitation of 179 children from Karamoja (north-eastern region of Uganda which suffered significantly during the civil war), who had been trafficked to Kampala for labour exploitation. 163 of those children were under the age of 14, and 98 were girls. In addition, IOM Uganda had assisted 30 children under five years old.

IOM planned to publish its research into the causes and mechanisms of trafficking of children from Karamoja to urban centres to assist stakeholders to develop evidence-based policies.

Return and reintegration assistance to trafficked children was one of the key components of the Coordinated Response to Human Trafficking in Uganda (CRTU) project funded by the Norwegian Embassy in Kampala. IOM Uganda worked closely with the Ugandan government, more specifically with the Ministry of Gender, Labour and Social Development, as well as the Ministry of Internal Affairs in the provision of direct assistance to trafficking victims.

On the question whether it was known who was trafficking the children, Mr. Jumbe responded that there was a variety of factors at play. Sometimes, parents would send their children to their extended families in other areas, hoping that the children would have better opportunities elsewhere. At times, people were bringing small children from impoverished areas in the north to large cities for reasons of racketeering.

Tanzania

Mr. Jumbe said that Tanzania, with the support of IOM’s Capacity Building for Border Management (CBBM) project, had rolled out an a biometric enrolment system for residence permits at Immigration Department Headquarters in Dar es Salaam.

The new system, built on the IOM Border Management Information System and customized to Tanzanian needs, would allow the immigration department to capture biometric samples from the applicants and to register the applicants’ data in an electronic database.

The system would speed up the delivery process, reduce human error and provide more transparency during the process, with the final objective of having an automated and paperless permit application process. The roll-out would also facilitate better management of migration through border support.

Global Forum on Human Resources

Glen Thomas, for the World Health Organization (WHO), informed that on 10 November, the third Global Forum on Human Resources would commence in Brazil. It would be a three-day event, which would be opened by the President of Brazil. Media advisory would be released later in the day. A press conference with the focus on workforce shortages and projections for the future would take place on 11 November at 5 p.m. Brazil time, which would be 9 a.m. Geneva time.

Geneva activities

Ms. Momal-Vanian said the 25th round of the Geneva International Discussions would take place on 5-6 November. After the meeting, on 6 November, three press conferences would take place one after another in Room XI, with an approximate start at 5 p.m. The press conferences would last approximately 30 minutes each, and would feature the Co-Chairs of the discussions, followed by the Georgian Deputy Foreign Minister, and then the Russian Deputy Foreign Minister.

The Committee against Torture was continuing its work, and was examining the report of Belgium on 5 November, the report of Burkina Faso on 6 November, and the report of Portugal on 7 November.

The Committee on Enforced Disappearances had started its session on 4 November. It was now considering the report of Argentina, and would then look into the report of Spain in the afternoon of 5 November, and in the morning of 6 November.

The Committee on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights had also commenced its session on 4 November. It was examining reports of Kuwait on 5 November, Albania on 6 November, Belgium on 7 November, and Bosnia and Herzegovina on 8 November.

Ms. Momal Vanian announced the press conference by the World Meteorological Organization on the occasion of the release of WMO’s annual Greenhouse Gas Bulletin. The press conference, which would feature Michel Jarraud, WMO Secretary General, and Okasana Tarasova, Scientific Officer, would take place on 6 November at 10:30 a.m. in Room III.

Catherine Sibut, for the United Nations Conference on Trade and Development (UNCTAD), informed that the following day, on 6 November, the 30th meeting on International Standards of Accounting and Reporting would take place. UNCTAD was working to help governments, particularly in developing countries, harmonize their accounting standards for public and private companies, either national or international. That would allow to find specific tools to define standards for development. At the dawn of defining the post-2015 development goals, such a meeting was very important, and it would include participation of more than 300 accountants from more than 100 countries. On 6 November, an information note on the opening of the meeting and the topics which would be discussed would be available. The meeting would take place in Room XVIII, from 6 till 8 November.

Hans von Rohland, for the International Labour Organization (ILO), announced the release of an ILO study on the social dimension of free-trade agreements on 7 November. He reminded that there were currently 258 free-trade agreements in the world among which 58 contained special social clauses. The release of the report would provide an occasion to make an assessment of the situation and of what had been done in that area since 1995, date of the discussion on the social clause at the World Trade Organization. Mr. von Rohland specified that it would be possible to speak directly with the author of the report. The press release and the link to access it online would be sent to journalists.


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The representative of the United Nations Children’s Fund also attended the briefing, but did not speak.

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The webcast for this briefing is available here: http://bit.ly/18VqB28.