REGULAR PRESS BRIEFING BY THE INFORMATION SERVICE
7 September 2012
Corinne Momal-Vanian, Director of the United Nations Information Service in Geneva, chaired the briefing which was also attended by Spokespersons for the United Nations Conference on Trade and Development, the United Nations Human Rights Council, the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights, the United Nations Refugee Agency, the United Nations Children’s Programme, the International Organization for Migration and the World Health Organization.
The Secretary-General of the United Nations, Ban Ki-Moon, would visit the United Nations Office at Geneva and the Swiss Parliament next week, primarily to mark the ten year anniversary of Switzerland’s accession to the United Nations. Outlining his provisional programme, Ms. Momal-Vanian said on Monday 10 September the Secretary-General would address the Human Rights Council at 10:00 a.m. At 11 a.m. he would visit the International Committee of the Red Cross and at 14:40 p.m. he was scheduled to attend a dedication of the John D. Rockefeller, Jr. League of Nations Archives Room and Opening of the Exhibition on International Philanthropy at the League of Nations Museum, located in the Library of the Palais des Nations. The Secretary-General would attend a Public Lecture organized by the University of Geneva at 16:45 p.m., and at 19:10 would take a tour of the Swiss Apiary in the Ariana Park, which would include a photo opportunity. At 19:30 p.m. Mr Ban was expected at an Official Reception hosted by the Government of Switzerland at the Palais des Nations. On Tuesday 11 September the Secretary-General would travel to Bern to address the Swiss Federal Parliament at 12 p.m. His address would be broadcast live on Swiss TV channel SF Info. At 15:00 the Secretary-General would hold a press conference with Swiss President Eveline Widmer-Schlump at the Media Centre, Bundesgasse 8-12, Bern, which would be webcast on www.tv.admin.ch. All other meetings arranged during the Secretary-General’s visit to Switzerland were internal or private.
Human Rights Council
Rolando Gomez of the United Nations Human Rights Council reminded journalists that the background press release had now been published. The agenda of the Council, which would open its three-week, twenty-first session at 10 a.m. on Monday 10 September, included presentations by 13 special procedures as well as subsidiary bodies including the Commission of Inquiry on Syria. The Commission of Inquiry would present an oral update to its report (published last month) on the morning of Monday 17 September to be followed by a press conference (details to be announced closer to the date). In addition the Council would hold four panel discussions, including one on reprisals. The Council would adopt Universal Periodic Review reports for 14 new States.
United Nations Secretary-General Ban Ki-Moon would make the opening address to the Council at 10a.m. on Monday 10 September, followed by brief remarks by the President of the Council Laura Dupuy Lasserre, and then a statement by High Commissioner for Human Rights Navi Pillay on her Office’s activities and pressing human rights situations around the world deserving of her and the Council’s attention. The statements would be provided to journalists as soon as possible, and Ms. Momal-Vanian said she would look into making paper copies available for journalists in Room XX, for Monday morning uniquely.
Five dignitaries were scheduled to attend the session. On Monday 10 September the Minister of Foreign Affairs of Uruguay and the Minister of Justice of Sudan would address the Council. On Tuesday 11 September the President of Slovakia was scheduled to speak, followed by speeches by the Minister of Foreign Affairs of Australia and the Vice-Minister of External Affairs of Colombia later that week. Towards the end of the Monday 10 afternoon meeting the Secretary-General’s new Special Representative on Children in Armed Conflict, Leila Zerrougui of Algeria, would present the department’s annual report, which was prepared by her predecessor Radhika Coomaraswamy.
Mr. Gomez highlighted a side event scheduled from 1pm to 3pm on Monday 10 September called ‘Bearing Witness’, which would take place in Room 18. It was a special discussion forum on ‘Human Rights and Accountability in Syria’ featuring direct testimonies by Syrians, journalists, bloggers, activists and a member of Human Rights Watch reflecting the experiences of victims. The High Commissioner would make an introductory address.
All meetings would be webcast. The paperless policy was still being pursued but statements would be made available on the extranet: some documents were already live.
Rupert Colville of the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights, said they were seriously concerned about the case of Ramil Safarov, an Azerbaijani military officer who was sentenced to life in prison in Hungary for the brutal 2004 murder with an axe of an Armenian officer, Gurgen Markaryan, who was taking part in the same NATO training programme in Hungary. The murder was particularly gruesome and clearly ethnically motivated. Safarov immediately confessed to the crime, expressed no remorse, and defended his actions on the grounds that the victim was Armenian. The concerns related to the fact that, around a week ago, Safarov was extradited from Hungary to Azerbaijan, where instead of serving out the rest of his sentence, he was pardoned by the President, publicly praised and promoted by the Defence Ministry. An international furore had broken out. Ethnically motivated hate crimes of that gravity should be deplored and properly punished – not publicly glorified by leaders and politicians. The Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights was also in full agreement with the Co-Chairs of the OSCE Minsk Group who earlier in the week expressed deep concern about “the damage the pardon and any attempts to glorify the crime have done to the Nagorno-Karabakh peace process and trust between the two sides.”
World Suicide Prevention Day
Dr Shekhar Saxena, Director of the World Health Organization’s Department of Mental Health and Substance Abuse, said every year World Suicide Prevention Day was marked on 10 September. Suicide killed more people than homicide and war and conflict put together, but was usually hidden from public view and surrounded by stigma and silence. Almost one million people committed suicide every year, and 20 times that number attempted it, which led to serious physical and mental consequences. Those figures amounted to a completed suicide every 40 seconds. The problem was huge and carried a very large health and social burden. Dr. Saxena highlighted gender and age differences, as well as major concerns about increasing numbers of suicide among young adults; suicide was a leading cause of death for people aged 15 to 25 years of age. Those rates were linked to the economic downturn, increasing unemployment and socio-economic factors, including urbanization and migration. More women attempted suicide than men, Dr. Saxena said, but less succeeded in killing themselves because women usually attempted suicide using less lethal methods, such as over-medication, rather than using a gun, taking a large amount of pesticides or jumping from a bridge, which were frequent methods used by men.
Dr. Saxena highlighted World Health Organization media guidelines promoting a responsible representation of suicide in social and other media which sought to reduce stigmatization of mental illness and suicide and not pre-dispose people to read reports and then commit suicide themselves. Regarding preventative methods Dr. Saxena said sometimes the causes were too large to be tackled by the health sector, but the reduction of the means by which suicide was carried out was a key area, for example making drugs, alcohol and guns less easily available, reducing the means to purchase pesticides or putting barriers on bridges to stop people jumping off. It was also important to identify depression and anxiety in vulnerable people. In answer to a question about country and regional suicide rates, Dr. Saxena said generally Eastern European countries and Asian countries, such as India, China, Viet Nam and Sri Lanka, had higher rates of suicide.
Ms. Momal-Vanian read out an announcement by Ahmad Fawzi, spokesman for the Joint Special Representative for Syria Lakhdar Brahimi, which announced the appointment of Mokhtar Lamani as Head of the Office of the Joint Special Representative for Syria in Damascus. Mr. Lamani brought a wealth of experience to the role, having held a wide range of diplomatic positions, most notably as the Organisation of the Islamic Conference Representative to the United Nations in New York (Jan 1998 - Dec 2002) and as the Representative & Special Envoy of the League of Arab States to Iraq in 2006-2007. A Canadian national of Moroccan origin, Mr. Lamani had also held a number of academic positions with several Canadian think tanks.
Marixie Mercado, spokesperson for the United Nations Children’s Programme (UNICEF), spoke about the re-opening of schools for Syrian children in Syria and across the region. Schools in Syria were scheduled to re-open on 16 September. The latest Ministry of Education estimates were that 2072 schools out of 22,000 across the country had been damaged or destroyed, and over 600 were occupied by displaced persons. The worst affected districts were Idlib, Deraa, rural Damascus and Homs. UNICEF was supporting repairs at 64 schools in Deraa, rural Damascus and Lattakia. In Jordan, schools opened this week. It had been initially planned for Syrian children to go to local schools, but the sheer numbers of refugees called for a change in strategy. UNICEF was working to set up a school in Za’atari camp to cater to an estimated 5,000 school-aged children, and to bring in 15 prefabricated classrooms for Syrian students in Ramtha camp. In Lebanon, schools would re-open on 24 September, and were would accept Syrian refugee children, with support from UNICEF through education kits, remedial education, recreational and psychosocial activities. In Iraq, there was not a precise date for the re-opening of schools, and Syrian refugee children were not planned to be integrated into local schools but UNICEF was providing support including prefabricated classrooms, WASH facilities and education supplies. In Turkey, the school year started on 17 September and refugee children were being educated in camps set up by the Government.
Syrian children had been through a 17-month long nightmare. For many of these children, school represented not just learning but stability, security and hope. UNICEF appealed to the international community for financial support to protect the future of these children through education. Of the $10 million required for education within Syria, UNICEF had received just $1.1 million. As the numbers of refugees was going through the roof, the humanitarian community, led by UNHCR, was working on a revised funding figure.
Adrian Edwards, spokesperson for United Nations High Commission for Refugees (UNHCR), said it was scaling up its emergency response for displaced persons inside Syria. The total number of Syrian refugees registered or awaiting registration was now 246,267. UNHCR’s share of the budget in a revised Syria Humanitarian Response Plan being presented to donors today had more than doubled to $41.7 million (the plan was separate to the Regional Response Plan for neighbouring countries). Help being sought included household items, financial assistance for 200,000 people considered vulnerable, medical assistance, counselling of displaced populations, rehabilitation of shelters and support to encourage refugee and displaced Syrian children to return to school. With the academic year due to start in mid-September the relocation of people living in schools was urgent. Many buildings identified as alternative communal shelters needed work done before people could be relocated.
In the last week, 4,165 Syrian refugees entered Kurdistan in Iraq, joining the 14,410 Syrian Kurds already seeking refuge in the region. Some 1,100 of those arrived yesterday – a record for daily arrivals. 22,847 Syrians had fled to Iraq since the conflict began, with more than 80 per cent in Kurdistan. The Al-Qaem border point was still closed and UNHCR continued to advocate that it be opened for all Syrian civilians. The pace of arrivals from the Syrian border to Za’atri camp in Jordan had dropped in recent days, with only 243 people crossing last night compared to 1,286 people on Wednesday night. That decrease was due to refugees having trouble crossing the border due to reported bombardment on the Syrian side and limited access to escape routes. There were now 26,664 people in the Za’atri camp in Jordan, and as thousands more refugees were expected UNHCR was looking at alternative sites for new camps in Jordan. In Jordan 81,000 people had now been registered or sought registration with UNHCR, of those registered 75 per cent were women and children.
UNHCR planned to open a new registration centre in the south of Lebanon, in response to increasing numbers of displaced Syrians there. Initial assessments showed that many Syrians now wishing to register had arrived in Lebanon some time ago, expecting only to stay a couple of weeks, but were realising that they were increasingly likely to be displaced for some time to come. The group in the south, numbering some 7,000, would add to the 65,000 Syrians already registered in Lebanon. An increasing number of refugees arriving in Lebanon’s north were reporting difficulties in fleeing to safety. Several families reported being shot at while crossing the border into Wadi Khaled, while others said Syrian authorities at the formal border crossing permitted only men to cross and turned away women and children. The refugees resorted to crossing the border illegally through a river after paying $1,000 to militia on the Syrian side. There had been a slight decline in the number of Syrians residing in camps and schools in Turkey, with some 2,750 people returning to Syria in the past week. The total number of refugees in Turkey was currently about 78,500, in 11 camps, schools and a transit centre.
Jumbe Omari Jumbe, spokesperson for the International Organization for Migration (IOM), said they had distributed aid to Syrian nationals residing in camps in Turkey, via the Turkish Red Cross. The aid was distributed in eight tent cities, one temporary reception centre and a container city established by Turkish authorities. The aid included 5,000 bed linens, 2,000 mattresses and 5,000 pillows, as well as 1,000 kitchen kits and 15 container showers. The provision of basic non-food items was extremely important during the initial settlement stages of the displaced population, the majority of whom arrived in Turkey without any personal possessions. IOM procured the items using funds provided by the United Nations’ Central Emergency Relief Fun and the United States government. Mr. Jumbe said that so far IOM had evacuated 1,035 third country nationals from inside Syria, 168 were awaiting departure and 978 people were in the process of registration. For security reasons full reports couldn’t be given until after people had left Syria.
Adrian Edwards, spokesperson for United Nations High Commission for Refugees (UNHCR), said they were seriously concerned over reports that China had sent back groups of Myanmar nationals to insecure parts of Kachin state in northern Myanmar. They estimated that 5,000 ethnic Kachins – many of them children – had returned since mid-August and were living in makeshift camps. Those people had fled to China’s Yunnan province after fighting broke out in June 2011 between Myanmar government troops and rebels in Kachin state. Despite repeated requests to the Chinese authorities UNHCR had not been able to reach or assist those groups living along the China side of the border. On the Myanmar side UNHCR had provided some aid for returnees near the Chinese border, and was urging the Government of China to offer temporary protection to those who fled the fighting and to respect their humanitarian needs until the situation stabilized in their home areas, and stood ready to support China in that.
Ms. Momal-Vanian made a number of announcements to journalists. At approximately 1:00p.m., in Room III, there would be a press stakeout following the Syrian Humanitarian Forum. At 2:30 p.m. in Press Room 1 the United States Mission would brief press on United States humanitarian assistance in response to the crisis in Syria, with details provided by Mark Bartolini, Director of the Office of United States Foreign Disaster Assistance, who would also speak about his recent visits to Turkey and Jordan.
Journalists were invited to attend a media briefing by Filippo Grandi, Commisioner-General of the United Nations Relief and Works Agency (UNRWA), titled “UNRWA: Serving Palestinian Refugees in the Middle East at a time of crises”. The event would take place on Wednesday 12 September from 10:45 a.m. to 11:30 a.m. at Press Room 1. Contact Chris Gunness, UNRWA Spokesperson, on +972 54240 2659, for more details.
The Conference on Disarmament concludes the third and final part of its 2012 session on 14 September. The Conference would hold its final public plenary on Tuesday 11 September at 10 a.m., in which it was scheduled to adopt its annual report to the General Assembly. The Committee on the Protection of the Rights of Migrant Workers and Members of their Families would meet from 10 to 14 September at the Palais Wilson, during which it would consider reports from Rwanda and Bosnia and Herzegovina. A background press release was now available.
Catherine Sibut Pinot of the United Nations Conference on Trade and Development reminded journalists that on Monday 10 September, at 2:30 p.m. in Press Room 1 a press conference would be held with Heiner Flassbeck, UNCTAD Director of the Division on Globalization and Development Strategies, on the launch later that day (7:00 p.m. CET) of the Trade and Development Report 2012.