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REGULAR PRESS BRIEFING BY THE INFORMATION SERVICE
31 August 2012

Corinne Momal-Vanian, Director of the United Nations Information Service in Geneva, chaired the briefing which was also attended by Spokespersons for the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights, the United Nations Refugee Agency, the United Nations Children’s Fund, the International Organization for Migration, the Economic Commission for Europe, the International Labour Organization, the Inter-Parliamentary Union and the Universal Postal Union.

Geneva Activities

Ms. Momal-Vanian said the Committee on the Elimination of Racial Discrimination was today concluding its eighty-first session after adopting its concluding observations and recommendations on the reports of Austria, Ecuador, Fiji, Finland, Liechtenstein, Republic of Korea, Senegal, Tajikistan and Thailand. The situation in Belize was considered by the Committee in the absence of a report. The concluding observations and recommendations would be sent to journalists as soon as they were made public, which would not be until the end of the day on Monday, 3 September.

The Conference on Disarmament was meeting in a brief public plenary on Tuesday, 4 September and would then continue discussing its draft annual report to the General Assembly in private. The Conference’s third and last part of its 2012 session would be concluding on 14 September.

Ms. Momal-Vanian said there was a press release at the back of the room from the Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs about the end of the mission to Mali by Valerie Amos, the Under-Secretary-General for Humanitarian Affairs and the Emergency Relief Coordinator.

In response to a question on a visit by Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon to Switzerland in September in the week of the 10th, Ms. Momal-Vanian said the Swiss authorities had announced the visit, but she would not be able to give more details about the visit - other than that Mr. Ban would visit both Geneva and Bern – until more information was announced in New York.

WMO

Ms. Momal-Vanian said the World Meteorological Organization had asked her to announce that the Greater Horn of Africa Climate Outlook Forum, which grouped climate experts as well as representatives from disaster risk management, water resources, agriculture and food security, would be concluding a three-day meeting in Zanzibar today. This afternoon, WMO hoped to distribute the climate outlook for the forthcoming September to December rainy season.

Guinea

Rupert Colville of the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights said OHCHR was concerned about the excessive use of force by security forces in Guinea in a number of separate incidents over the past few weeks. Since 27 August, there had been violent clashes between security forces and demonstrators during an opposition protest rally in Conakry where security forces used tear gas within the compound of an opposition leader’s home. Reports suggested that live bullets were also used and that a number of people were arrested, severely beaten up and injured. This came just three weeks after six people were killed in the far southeast of the country by security forces. The OHCHR country office in Guinea had been investigating the circumstances surrounding those killings, which occurred after protesters vandalized the facilities of the mining company. The Government had launched an inquiry into the killings, which OHCHR welcomed. OHCHR called on the authorities to ensure that those responsible were held to account to bring justice to the victims and to send a clear message that security forces could not expect impunity for such breaches of international human rights law. There were more details in the briefing notes.

Death Penalty / OHCHR

Concerning the death penalty, Mr. Colville said there had been a sudden spate of executions taking place in a number of countries, including Gambia, Iraq and South Sudan, which was alarming. In late August nine prisoners were executed in the Gambia soon after a public announcement by the President that all people on the death row would be put to death by mid-September. This was a tremendous regression on the part of the Gambia, which had maintained a moratorium on the death penalty since 1985. Also in August in Iraq, a total of 26 people were known to have been executed, including 21 on a single day. Given the lack of transparency in court proceedings in Iraq, there were major concerns about due process and fairness of trials and the wide range of offenses that the death penalty could be opposed. OHCHR reiterated its appeal to all States, including Iraq, to introduce moratoriums on the use of the death penalty. In South Sudan on 28 August, two prisoners were hanged at the Juba Central Prison and OHCHR had particular concerns in that case with respect to the legal assistance provided to these men before they were hanged. OHCHR believed the two men did not have legal assistance.

Syria

Adrian Edwards of the United Nations Refugee Agency, said across the region UNHCR was continuing to see a steady rise in the number of people leaving Syria. There was an increase in particular in Lebanon’s Bekaa valley over the last week, with local charities and authorities reporting about 2,200 people settling in the east over the past week, almost double the recent weekly average. In northern Lebanon, the arrival rate remained steady at about 400 people arriving every week. UNHCR was adding new telephone hotlines to help the increasing number of refugees seeking to register. Across Lebanon, the squeeze on shelter remained one of their biggest concerns with many refugees still staying in schools that were supposed to open in a week or two for the new school term. There were more details in the briefing notes. In Turkey, two more refugee camps had been opened in the past week to accommodate new arrivals. Together, these camps could host 23,000 refugees. Another three camps with a capacity to host 10,000 refugees each were expected to open during September. There were some refugees staying in schools and dorms and gyms in seven cities in the south of Turkey and they would be transferred to these camps. The new camps would also receive refugees as they were transferred from the border. UNHCR understood from the Turkish authorities that a further 8,000 people were waiting as of yesterday to be admitted across the border gates. The local authorities had informed UNHCR that the border was not closed and there people were being admitted in smaller groups.

Mr. Edwards said inside Syria, UNHCR had received lists from authorities specifying which of the schools accommodating people displaced by the conflict would continue to shelter families once the academic year began in mid-September. UNHCR in Syria planned to undertake urgent work on refurbishing buildings that could be used as communal shelters to allow more displaced persons to move out of schools and into them. In Iraq, they had seen an increase in the number of Syrians fleeing to Kurdistan. There were now 18,682 Syrian refugees in Iraq. Large-scale destruction and indiscriminate bombardment in Damascus and its suburbs were reported by refugees as key reasons for their flight. Al-Qaem border crossing point was still closed and UNHCR continued to advocate with the Government to re-open it. Two other border points remained open. In Jordan, they were seeing about 1,400 people Syrians arriving every day at the Zaatri camp. Some 200 Syrians elected to return to Syria on Wednesday after signing voluntary repatriation forms prepared by the Government. UNHCR continued to work to expand the camp and improve conditions there.

In response to previous questions from journalists who had inquired about arrivals of Iraqis in Europe, Mr. Edwards said that beyond Turkey, there were Syrians arriving in Europe but in small numbers. Sweden had reported the highest increase with 2,911 having sought asylum since January, compared to 640 in all of 2011. There were other figures in the briefing notes.

Patrick McCormick of the United Nations Children’s Fund said in Syria, this past week had witnessed an escalation of violence, particularly in the Damascus area, with a record death toll of 1,600 persons, including children. It was estimated that 1.2 million persons were now internally displaced across the country, with more than 150,000 in Damascus and rural Damascus, half of whom were under 18. UNICEF was deeply concerned that in Syria and the surrounding region, one of the biggest humanitarian emergencies of the last decades was unfolding. Children were meant to be getting back to school in a couple of weeks, but he doubted that that was going to happen. They would be stuck in refugee camps or would be internally displaced in Syria. There were many other challenges, including shelter, water and sanitation, which made up a big emergency. Obviously they could not tackle the emergency in the way they would like to until there was a political solution.

Jumbe Omar Jumbe of the International Organization for Migration said IOM’s operations in Syria had received a shot in the arm from the United Nations Central Emergency Response Fund of nearly $ 1 million. This would help up to 650 stranded and vulnerable migrants with no other means of returning home to escape the escalating conflict. These migrants would include female domestic workers. IOM was continuing to receive requests from embassies to help many stranded migrants in Syria. At least 120,000 migrants were in Syria, but probably not all of them would need assistance. To date, IOM had helped 1,535 migrant workers from 17 countries to return home through the provision of transport and pre-departure assistance. Another 83 had finalized their departure procedures and were scheduled to leave Syria once flights became available. The money from CERF would also go towards funding the non-food relief items to an estimated 14,000 internally displaced Syrians and a small number of non-Syrians who were now sheltering in collective centres in Damascus, including schools and sports centres.

Jemini Pandya of the Inter-Parliamentary Union said IPU’s Executive Committee concluded an extraordinary session yesterday and called on the Syrian parliament to fulfill its legal responsibility to protect the Syrian people and urgently take a lead in ending the conflict in the country, particularly because there had been a complete absence of success for all political efforts attempting to end the conflict.
IPU called on the Syrian parliament to fulfill its function and hold the Government to account, especially in the oversight of the security and military forces and ensuring the safety of innocent civilians. The Committee also stated its intention to take the question of Syria’s suspension from the IPU to its next assembly in Quebec City in October this year. There were more details in the press release.

Economic Commission for Europe

Jean Rodriguez of the Economic Commission for Europe said there were three interesting meetings being held next week. On Monday, 3 September, an urban transport and mobility workshop would be held from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. in Salle XXIII. The detailed programme of work would be sent to journalists. The sixth session of UN-HABITAT’s World Urban Forum was being held in Naples and UNECE would be participating in several sessions and would also have a stand there. The fifteenth meeting of the Working Group of the Parties to the Aarhus Convention would be held from 3 to 5 September in Salle XI. The session would address, inter alia, the promotion of the principles of the Convention in the lead up to and at the United Nations Conference on Sustainable Development (20–22 June 2012, Rio de Janeiro) and would explore future steps and initiatives to promote the universal application of the Convention’s principles. He would be sending the programme to journalists.

International Labour Organization

Jean-Luc Martinage of the International Labour Organization said an update on figures on global youth unemployment would be launched on Tuesday, 4 September. There would be an embargoed press briefing on Tuesday at 2:30 p.m. and the update would be embargoed until 4 p.m. Geneva local time on Tuesday. The study would be sent to journalists under embargo on Monday.

Universal Postal Union

Rheal LeBlanc of the Universal Postal Union said the twenty-fifth Universal Postal Congress would be held from 24 September to 15 October in Doha, Qatar. A press release was available at the back of the room announcing a major ministerial conference which would be held on 8 October, including 20 Ministers from Italy, Japan, Russia and China, among others. There were more details in the press release.

International Organization for Migration

Mr. Jumbe of the International Organization for Migration said 195 refugees who had fled from Libya and had been waiting in Shousha transit camp on the Tunisia-Libya border would depart on 3 September to Germany to start new lives. The refugees had initially fled to Libya before being uprooted against last year because of the Libyan civil war. Most of the refugees originated from Sudan, Somalia, Eritrea and Ethiopia. There were currently 2,211 refugees in Shousha, and some 1,320 had already been conditionally accepted by a resettlement country. Another 635 refugees were awaiting a decision by a resettlement country. Most of the refugees who fled to Shousha from Libya would be resettled to the United States. There were more details in the briefing notes.

In Southern Sudan, lack of funds would probably cause the movement of barges carrying returnees from Renk to stop. Today, the last of eight barges transporting over 2,700 returnees and their luggage would dock at Juba port after three weeks passage from Renk. Unless more funding was provided, the movement of barges would now stop. There were still more than 15,000 people in Renk waiting for transport to South Sudan. There were more details in the briefing notes.

UNICEF/Chad

Mr. McCormick said UNICEF Goodwill Ambassador, Paul Gazol, who was a Spanish basketball player, had just visited Chad and a press release would be released later in the day.