REGULAR PRESS BRIEFING BY THE INFORMATION SERVICE
4 April 2014
Alessandra Vellucci, Chief, Press and External Relations of the United Nations Information Service in Geneva, chaired the briefing which was also attended by the Spokespersons for the International Labour Organization, International Organization for Migration, Office for the Coordination for Humanitarian Affairs, Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights, United Nations Conference on Trade and Development, United Nations Mine Action Service, World Health Organization, World Meteorological Organization and the World Trade Organization.
Chris Lom, for the International Organization for Migration (IOM) reported that on Wednesday 2 April IOM airlifted non-food aid including wheelchairs, hygiene kits, blankets, jerry cans and cleaning materials from Damascus to Al-Hasakah governorate in the northeast of the country. Distribution of the aid to some 23,000 internally displaced people (IDPs) and other vulnerable people in Qamishli city, Derbaseh, Amouda, Tal Hamis, Al Kahtaneye and other areas began yesterday, 3 April.
The distribution would be monitored by IOM staff in Qamishli, with close cooperation from local non-governmental organizations, including the Syrian Arab Red Crescent, the Al Birr Association and the Armenian Association.
It was IOM’s fourth delivery of aid to Al-Hasakeh in the past two months. Earlier deliveries included an inter-agency airlift from Erbil in Iraq on 19 February; an inter-agency road convoy, including 11 IOM trucks, from Turkey on 21 March; and an inter-agency airlift from Damascus on 14 March. The aid had reached an estimated 95,500 IDPs and affected individuals in various locations in Al-Hasakah. There were more details in the press release, as well as some infographics which provided an overview of IOM activities in Syria and the neighbouring countries up until the end of March.
Answering a question about the safety of road convoys, Mr. Lom said the UN agencies moved according to the advice of the UN security department, which currently advised them not to run road convoys between Damascus and Al-Hasakah. Some of the aid was quite specific, for instance it included 300 wheelchairs, Mr. Lom added in response to another question.
Syria – Humanitarian Funding
Jens Laerke for the Office for the Coordination for Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA) announced a press conference for Monday, 7 April at 12 p.m. in Press Room III on behalf of the State of Kuwait on humanitarian funding to the Syria crisis, as a follow-up to the pledging conference hosted by the Emir of Kuwait of January 2014 where countries pledged US$2.4 billion.
The following would speak at the press conference: Dr. Abdullah Al-Matouq, Special Advisor to His Highness the Amir of the State of Kuwait and the UN Secretary-General's Humanitarian Envoy; High Commissioner for Refugees Antonio Guterres; Rashid M. Khalikov, Director, United Nations Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA) in Geneva; and Ambassador William Lacy Swing, Director General of the International Organization for Migration (IOM). Other representatives from organizations including WFP and WHO would also be in the room to take questions on humanitarian funding for Syria.
Mr. Laerke also announced that, prior to the press conference on Monday 7 April, at 11 a.m. there would be a ceremony with the Kuwaiti delegation, UN agencies and the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC). The ceremony would take place in the Salon Français at the Palais des Nations. The press were invited to attend, along with cameras, photographers and reporters, but were asked to keep their questions for the press conference at noon.
A journalist asked about the US$2.4 billion pledged at the Kuwait conference in January, and how much of it OCHA had received so far. Mr. Laerke replied as of today US$1.57 billion was still yet to be received.
Central African Republic
Rupert Colville, for the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR), said OHCHR had received more detailed information on the incident involving Chadian soldiers in Bangui on March 29, following an initial investigation carried out by a human rights team on the ground. Earlier this week, the team from the Human Rights and Justice Section of BINUCA visited two medical centres (the Hopital Communautaire and the Hopital General) where most of the survivors were being treated and also visited the site where the shooting took place at a neighbourhood known as PK 12, in the North of Bangui.
According to the information they had collected so far, on March 29, Chadian national army soldiers in a convoy consisting of several military pick-ups entered Bangui, and went to this neighbourhood. Several sources told the investigating team that they believed the Chadian force had entered Bangui to extract remaining Chadians and other Muslim inhabitants, in order to save them from further attacks by anti-Balaka.
As soon as the convoy reached the market area in PK 12, around 3 p.m., it reportedly opened fire on the population without any provocation. At the time, the market was full of people, including many girls and women buying and selling produce. As panic-stricken people fled in all directions, the soldiers allegedly continued firing indiscriminately.
According to information the human rights team has gathered so far, it seemed the Chadian force’s action was totally disproportionate as they were shooting in a crowded market full of unarmed civilians. According to the team’s preliminary findings, around 30 people were killed as a result of the shooting and over 300 were seriously injured, including children, people with disabilities, pregnant women and elderly people, as they were less able to run for their lives.
Answering a question about the identity of the soldiers, Mr. Colville said they were not Chadian MISCA forces but regular Chadian army forces. It seemed they have gone straight back to Chad without being apprehended. It was a bit early to ascribe motivation, Mr. Colville cautioned in response to another question. He said the Commission of Inquiry on the ground in Bangui would obviously look into this incident, as well as others.
Answering a question, Mr. Colville said that the Secretary-General had made very clear that there was a desperate need for a good-sized peacekeeping force, and had requested 10,000 troops. There were nowhere near that number at the moment, although some European Union troops were due to arrive soon.
A journalist asked what OHCHR’s sources were. Mr. Colville replied that the OHCHR team on the ground had visited three sites related to the incident and interviewed survivors in the two medical centres as well as in the neighbourhood where it happened.
Answering a question regarding the departure of the Chadian forces from the International Support Mission, MISCA (the African-led International Support Mission in the Central African Republic), Ms. Vellucci quoted remarks of the Deputy Spokesperson to the Secretary-General, Farhan Haq, made yesterday at the daily briefing in New York. The force was an African Union-led force and so any questions on that would need to go to the African Union. Therefore the United Nations would not comment on their departure, but there were preparations for a UN presence, which depended on decisions by the Security Council, who would discuss the issue.
Rupert Colville, for the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR), said it had received confirmation of the execution of a man in Kismayo, Somalia, on 3 April, after he was accused of killing an elder in the city on 24 March. The man was found guilty last week – it was not clear by whom exactly, but possibly not even by a court. He was executed by firing squad in public on 3 April. The UN Mission in Somalia, UNSOM, had urged a stay of execution, including at the highest levels within the regional Interim Jubba Administration which appeared to have been heavily involved in the sentencing and execution.
Under international law, the death penalty should only be applied after the most rigorous judicial process. OHCHR was concerned that the hasty judicial process in Kismayo – just nine days between the murder and the execution – meant that the suspect did not enjoy full fair trial guarantees, including the right to legal representation and the right to appeal. Someone sentenced to death should also have the right to seek pardon or commutation of the sentence.
According to reports, more than 34 people had been executed in Somalia since January 2013, Mr. Colville said. OHCHR called upon the Somali authorities to place a moratorium on the death penalty, as it committed to do during its 2011 Universal Periodic Review process conducted by the Human Rights Council here in Geneva.
In 2012, the UN General Assembly, for the fourth time adopted a resolution (A/RES/67/176) urging UN Member States to establish a moratorium on executions with a view to abolishing the death penalty. Somalia was one of the sponsors of that resolution and voted in its favour. The recent executions in Somalia therefore directly contravened Somalia’s commitments at the international level, said Mr. Colville.
Gregory Härtl, for the World Health Organization (WHO) said the latest figures from Guinea were 137 suspect and confirmed cases of Ebola, of whom 86 had died. In Liberia there were 14 suspect cases of whom seven had died.
Answering a question about suspected cases in Mali, Mr. Härtl said the WHO had sent samples for testing and were waiting for the results. Regarding WHO’s work in Guinea, Mr. Härtl said they had done a lot of work in tracing people who could have possibly been contaminated, as well as in other areas, and were seeing the cases reduced. However, he would not go so far as to talk about the situation being contained at this moment. The most important issues were the control in hospitals – both clinical management of cases and infection control. In Guinea’s capital city Conakry there had been 16 cases of Ebola, including both suspected and confirmed, of whom five had died.
Internally Displaced People in the Philippines
Jens Laerke for the Office for the Coordination for Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA) recalled that in September 2013 over 100,000 people were displaced by fighting between the Moro National Liberation Front and the Armed Forces of the Philippines in Zamboanga City. Six months later, some 64,600 internally displaced people (IDPs) were still living in evacuation centres, transition sites and with host communities, according to the Department of Social Welfare and Development in the Philippines.
There was an urgent need to find shelter solutions for those IDPs. They currently lacked access to adequate and safe water and sanitation and there were serious health concerns due to overcrowding in the two largest evacuation centres hosting some 20,000 IDPs, including the Joaquin Enriquez Sports Complex in Zamboanga. Those concerns included acute respiratory infections, diarrhoea and skin diseases.
There was for example a need for 940 extra latrines to meet global standards. There was also water shortage because of rationing imposed last month as reservoirs were low in the dry season. General food distribution to the affected ended in December last year. However nearly 12,000 IDPs and returnees had continued to benefit from food-for-work programmes, and some 11,000 children had received emergency food in their schools.
Local authorities had begun implementing their recovery and rehabilitation plan looking at longer-term livelihoods programmes. City officials had requested support from humanitarian agencies to assist the families who were still in evacuation centres and transition sites.
New Rainfall Record
Clare Nullis for the World Meteorological Organization (WMO) said a WMO panel had concluded that Cherrapunji in India now held the world record for two-day (48-hour) rainfall, with 2 493 millimetres (98.15 inches) recorded on 15–16 June 1995. The awards, which Ms. Nullis said were the WMO’s own version of the ‘Guinness Book of Records’, recognized extreme rainfall. The rainfall total exceeded the previous world 48-hour rainfall record of 2,467 mm associated with the passage of a tropical cyclone over the Indian Ocean island of La Réunion in April 1958. La Réunion, which was frequently hit by tropic cyclones and received large amounts of rainfall over its mountains, continued to hold the record for the most rainfall over periods of 12-hours and 24-hours in 1966, as well as 72-hours and 96-hours in 2007.
Death of AP Photographer Anja Niedringhaus
A minute of silence was held in the memory of Anja Niedringhaus, the internationally acclaimed German photographer who was working for news agency AP. Ms. Niedringhaus was shot dead this morning by an Afghan police commander in Afghanistan, where she was covering the elections this weekend.
Yvette Morris, Chief of TV and Radio Section at the Information Service expressed the deep condolences of the Information Service to her family and all of her friends, and said she had the greatest respect for Ms. Niedringhaus and her work. Ms. Morris highly commended Ms. Niedringhaus for her work in Afghanistan, especially with Afghan women. Ms. Vellucci and other spokespersons also paid tribute to her.
Clare Nullis for the World Meteorological Organization (WMO) paid a moving tribute to her friend and former colleague Anja Niedringhaus. She was the ultimate professional and a dear friend, who dedicated much of her life to her work in Afghanistan, Ms. Nullis said.
Alessandra Vellucci, Chief, Press and External Relations of the United Nations Information Service in Geneva, announced that today the International Day of Sport for Development and Peace will be celebrated for the first time at the Palais des Nations. At 10 a.m. this morning a high-level panel discussion on the power of sport to advance development and peace was held, attended by the Director-General and Wilfried Lemkre, the Special Representative of the Secretary-General on Sport. At 12 p.m. today a symbolic run/walk would take place around the Palais des Nations and Ariana Park, and all were invited to take part. Copies of the message of the Secretary-General for the day were at the back of the room.
Ms. Vellucci also said the Committee on the Rights of Migrant Workers and their families would complete its review of the report of the Philippines this morning, the last country report scheduled for this session which would end next Friday 11 April. The reports of Uruguay, El Salvador and Mali were also reviewed this session. Ms. Vellucci also announced that the Committee on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities had now considered the three country reports scheduled this session (Sweden, Azerbaijan and Costa Rica) which would also close next Friday 11 April.
Mr Bruno Donat, Incoming Chief of the United Nations Mine Action Service (UNMAS) in Geneva, reminded journalists that today was the International Day for Mine Awareness and Assistance in Mine Action. To mark the day UNMAS was screening four films on the theme of "Empowering Women in Mine Action", some of which were narrated by James Bond actor Daniel Craig. The screenings would take place today, on Friday, 4 April, from 1 p.m. to 2 p.m. in the Cinema of the Palais des Nations (Room XIV). Copies of the message of the Secretary-General were available at the back of the room.
Gregory Härtl, for the World Health Organization (WHO) announced that a press conference would take place at 2 p.m. on Tuesday 8 April in Press Room 1 to launch the first ever WHO Hepatitis C guidelines. The guidelines were important because there were an estimated 350,000 to 500,000 deaths annually from Hepatitis C and an estimated 150 million people who were chronically infected with the virus. The guidelines and report were under embargo until 1 p.m. Wednesday (Geneva time), he noted.
Catherine Sibut for the United Nations Conference on Trade and Development (UNCTAD) announced a series of meetings on commodities taking place next week. The Global Forum on Commodities would take place from 10 a.m. on Monday and Tuesday 7 and 8 April in Room XXVI of the Palais des Nations. On Wednesday 9 and Thursday 10 April the sixth session of the Expert Meeting on Commodities and Development would take place from 10 a.m. in Room XXVI of the Palais des Nations. Finally on the morning of Friday 11 April there would be a special event to mark 50 years of work on commodities titled ‘50 Years of Research and Policy Advice on Commodities and Development: The Role of UNCTAD’. The programme and further information was available on the UNCTAD website.
Hans von Rohland for the International Labour Organization (ILO) announced that a Special Tripartite Committee established under the ILO’s Maritime Labour Convention - 2006 would meet next week from 7 to 11 April at the ILO to address the abandonment of seafarers, and ship-owners liability in case of death or disability of seafarers. The meeting would include a special event on Monday, 7 April with the presentation by the International Seafarers’ Welfare and Assistance Network (ISWAN) of the International Seafarers’ Welfare Awards 2014 for Seafarers’ Centre of the Year, Shipping Company of the Year, Port of the Year, and Welfare Personality of the Year.
Ankai Xu, for the World Trade Organization (WTO), listed the WTO meetings and the Director-General’s agenda for next week. On Monday 7 April Director-General Roberto Azevêdo would chair the Trade Negotiations Committee at 10 a.m. followed by a briefing (time and venue to be announced). On Tuesday 8 April the Director-General would be in London, United Kingdom, where he would meet with Lord Livingstone, Minister of State for Trade and Investment, Justine Greening, Secretary of State for International Development and Vince Cable, Secretary of State for Business, Innovation and Skills, as well as business representatives. On Friday 11 April the Director-General would be in Stockholm, Sweden to speak at the Global Child Forum
The WTO meeting schedule was as follows, Ms. Xu announced: at 3 p.m. on Monday and Wednesday 9 April, the Preparatory Committee on Trade Facilitation would meet in public. The Committee on Regional Trade Agreements would meet in public on Tuesday and Wednesday at 10 a.m. and similarly the Informal Preparatory Committee on Trade Facilitation would meet Tuesday and Wednesday at 3 p.m. On Wednesday 09 April the Council for Trade in Goods would meet at 10 a.m., and at 3 p.m. there would be a meeting of the Committee on Trade and Development on Aid for Trade. The Committee on the Rules of Origin would meet from 10 a.m. on Thursday 10 April. Finally the Working Group on Trade and Transfer of Technology would meet from 10 a.m. on Friday 11 April.
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The representatives of United Nations Children’s Fund, World Food Programme and United Nations Refugee Agency also attended the briefing but did not speak.
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The webcast for this briefing is available here: http://bit.ly/1i77R4S