REGULAR PRESS BRIEFING BY THE INFORMATION SERVICE
23 April 2013
Alessandra Vellucci, Chief of the Press and External Relations Section of the United Nations Information Service in Geneva, chaired the briefing which was also attended by Spokespersons for the High Commissioner for Human Rights, the United Nations Refugee Agency, the Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs, the United Nations Conference on Trade and Development, the United Nations Children’s Fund, the World Health Organization, the World Intellectual Property Organization and the International Organization for Migration.
Jens Laerke for the Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA) said that as of yesterday (22 April), 207 people were recorded dead and some 12,000 injured [this was later updated to the most recent figures as of 23 April as 193 people reported dead and 12,211 injured], while 25 were still missing from the devastating 7-magnitude earthquake that hit the Lushan County in China's Sichuan Province on 20 April, according to the UN Disaster Management Team in China. Many areas were difficult to reach, and the casualty figures may continue to rise as rescue workers gained access.
A total of over 1.5 million people [this was later updated to over 1.99 million people] were affected and 245,000 people had been evacuated in the disaster area. More than 70.000 houses, which locally were made of wood and earthen walls, had collapsed. At least 1,445 aftershocks had been recorded, [this was later updated with the most recent figures to 3,509], and at least 100 aftershocks were magnitude 3 or above. This had triggered additional land- and mud-slides in the area blocking roads and bridges.
Nearly 29,000 military, police and fire brigade staff had been sent to provide relief. National authorities, including Ministry of Civil Affairs (MoCA), had responded rapidly with distributions of relief items (tents, foldable beds, food and drinking water) to Ya’an, the nearest main city. Medical teams and ambulances had been dispatched and hospital beds were reserved at hospitals in surrounding areas to receive the injured people from the earthquake.
No request for international assistance had been received as of this morning. The UN Disaster Management Team in China was in close contact with the Ministry of Civil Affairs, helping to collate data on damage and loss, and supporting the national response.
Answering questions he said, the ability of China to mobilize 29,000 staff overnight showed that it had a strong national capacity to respond to emergency situations, and further more, it did not have a history of requesting international assistance. He added that the figures used had come from the United Nations disaster management team in China; in these situations, he noted, figures often changed as rescue teams remained on the ground.
Marixie Mercado for the United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF) said the full scale of devastation following the earthquake in the Lushan county, an extremely remote mountainous area, was now becoming clearer.
According to 2010 Census data, there were 26,000 children aged 0-17 in Lushan County. Some of the communities damaged by Saturday’s earthquake were also affected by the 2008 Wenchuan earthquake and it was thought that young children might be reliving the trauma of five years ago all over again.
Medical supplies were urgently required to treat survivors; it was thought that one million people were short of drinking water and temporary latrines were needed. No hospitals or schools were reported to have collapsed but people were being treated in tents due to concerns over structural instability. Psychosocial support to children was a priority.
She added that Lushan was an agricultural, labour-exporting area with up to half the children being raised by grandparents or just one parent as their fathers work away. UNICEF was increasing efforts in child protection and welfare, mother and baby health, young child nutrition, hygiene and sanitation. A press release from the country office was available at the back of the room. High-resolution photos were also available.
Answering questions, she said UNICEF had been working in the area that had been affected by the earthquake for some time and there were many child-friendly spaces so children could received psychosocial support. These would be re-opened, as part of a wider effort to beef up and accelerate existing operations in the area.
Central African Republic
Jens Laerke for the Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA) said as of 19 April the security situation in the Central African Republic continued to deteriorate, and law and order appeared to have frequently broken down in the capital Bangui.
This was to the detriment of the many people in need of assistance: across the country, some 4.6 million people, the entire population of CAR, were affected by the crisis and 173,000 people were internally displaced (March estimate). This insecurity restricted humanitarian access, which had led to most UN agencies scaling down or temporarily suspending their activities outside Bangui.
Most of the key humanitarian organizations continued to operate in the country with critical staff working out of Bangui. Most of the international NGOs were in the process of returning to Bangui.
Ms. Vellucci added that Jeffrey Feltman, Under Secretary-General for Political Affairs had visited CAR and appealed for urgent efforts to establish security and stop abuses against civilians. He had also expressed the grave concern of the United Nations about the deteriorating security and human rights situation.
Marixie Mercado for the United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF) said at least half of schools across the country remained closed, four months after a conflict that had disrupted lives and which was placing the future of Central African children in jeopardy.
UNICEF was particularly concerned about children that were due to take state exams for progression from primary to secondary school. At present, there was still a small chance that state exams could take place in June, but remedial and make-up classes were required.
An obstacle to school reopening was that teachers who had fled conflict affected areas had yet to return to their communities. Many public institutions, including schools, had been looted of even the most basic supplies. The security situation was not only impeding children and teachers from accessing schools, but it was also preventing emergency distributions to schools for fear of further pillaging.
UNICEF was exploring options to provide safe spaces for children to learn and play in areas as they become accessible and was identifying areas that can be prioritized for resumption of educative activities. She added that UNICEF was now calling on the authorities and all parties to continued conflict to ensure safe access of children, parents and teachers to schools in order to enable their immediate re-opening.
Answering questions, she said there was an $11 million funding gap for immediate needs.
Cécile Pouilly for the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR) replied to a question saying the situation had not improved since their call to the authorities for action last week.
Responding to a question, Ms. Vellucci said the United Nations was concerned by events in Myanmar and the spokesperson of the Secretary-General had reiterated yesterday that there was a need for inter-communal dialogue, which was essential to rebuild confidence. The United Nations was on hand to deliver assistance, though better access was needed.
Cécile Pouilly for the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR) added that the High Commissioner had spoken about this situation several times and a recent press release by the Special Rapporteur on Myanmar had mentioned allegations of murder and systematic discrimination against the Muslim minority.
She then reiterated calls to bring an end to the discrimination of the Rohingya minority and reminded the national government of its obligation to protect the entire population and throw light onto what was happening on its territory. Those committing acts should be brought to justice and swift action needed to be taken by the government.
[Later on she added that the High Commissioner was eager to study the findings of the Investigation Commission, set up by the President of Myanmar, and see the extent to which it addresses these allegations. It was due to publish its findings in the coming days.]
Answering a question, Jens Laerke for the Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA) said that following the disbursement of $300 million from Kuwait the Syria Humanitarian Assistance Response Plan was now 62.1 per cent funded.
Adrian Edwards for the United Nations Refugee Agency (UNHCR) said the UNHCR Syria response was now 55 per cent funded. Planning was being revised and a renewed appeal was to go out at the end of May.
Asked about unrest in the Za’atari camp, he said the work of humanitarian agencies had been disrupted, though the situation had now returned to normal. Work was being done to make sure security in the camp was fit for purpose.
Cécile Pouilly for the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR) replying to a question on the invitation to the Special Representative on sexual violence in conflict to visit Syria, said that any invitation to shed light on what was happening in the country and collect information was welcome.
She also replied to a question about the kidnapping of two religious figures she said this was just one of numerous kidnappings seen, some involving civilians and children.
Ms. Vellucci added that a number of readouts had been issued about meetings the Secretary-General had attended on Syria. These could be distributed.
Jens Laerke for the Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA) said Emergency Relief Coordinator Valerie Amos wrapped up a visit to Haiti yesterday with the Co-chairs of the Political Champions for Disaster Resilience, UNDP Administrator Helen Clark and UK Secretary of State for International Development Justine Greening.
The group of Political Champions was formed in 2012 to promote a resilience-based response to climate-related crises. Three years after the 2010 earthquake that devastated Port-au-Prince, the Political Champions for Disaster Resilience were calling on the international community and the Haitian Government to take action to make Haiti more resilient to disasters.
With the upcoming rainy season only weeks away and the hurricane season approaching, they stressed the urgency of integrating disaster risk reduction into better coordinated and locally driven initiatives to prepare and recover from disasters.
On Sunday, the group visited the Jean Baptiste neighbourhood in Port-au-Prince, which was damaged in the 2010 earthquake and now undergoing rehabilitation.
Cécile Pouilly for the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR) said on 21 April, a state tribunal in Sao Paulo, Brazil convicted by jury 23 military police officers to long prison sentences for their responsibility in the death of 13 inmates during the repression of a prison riot in Carandiru on 2 October 1992. A total of 111 inmates lost their lives during the suppression of the riot. Investigations revealed that many prisoners were shot at close range.
Prior to this conviction, the only person to have faced trial for the killings in Carandiru was the commander of the operation, Colonel Ubiratan Guimaraes, who in 2001 was convicted for excessive use of force, but acquitted on appeal in 2006. Some 53 military police officers were expected to stand trial in the coming months in connection with the deaths of the other detainees in Carandiru.
She said that OHCHR commended the Brazilian authorities, after more than two decades of impunity for one of the most brutal incidents of violence in a prison, for bringing justice for some of the victims of Carandiru, and would follow closely the on-going trials regarding the other alleged perpetrators.
She said OHCHR also encouraged the Brazilian authorities to urgently address the dire situation in prisons in which nearly half a million people were detained.
Answering questions she said, these developments were welcome as they showed there was no impunity for crimes, although justice sometimes took time. On another point, she said an appeal process was still possible and the case would be followed closely by her Office. A long process of consultations had already taken place, she said, with the High Commissioner and committees visiting the country.
[Later on she clarified that the 23 military police officers were sentenced to 156 years in jail each. No high-ranking officials were convicted in the context of this trial. The 23 officers were members of the ROTA (Ronda Ostensible Tobias de Aguiar) elite group of the military police of Sao Paulo.]
Jumbe Omari Jumbe for the International Organization for Migration (IOM) said IOM began an airlift on Monday (22 April) to help over 700 vulnerable South Sudanese returnees currently waiting for transport in South Sudan’s Upper Nile State to return to their places of origin.
The returnees were part of a group of 1,303 transported by the Africa Inland Church from the Sudanese capital Khartoum to Malakal, South Sudan, at the end of March.
They were among an estimated 40,000 South Sudanese living in makeshift shelters in Khartoum. Conditions in these open areas remained precarious, with limited access to food, water, healthcare and sanitation.
Some of the returnees who arrived in Malakal decided to stay. But the majority decided to settle in their places of origin in the Bahr el Ghazal region, Lakes State or Unity State. The airlift was to ease congestion at the Malakal transit site, which had exceeded its limited capacity.
Two flights per day were to depart from Malakal during the course of the week, taking passengers to three reception sites in Western Bahr el Ghazal, Northern Bahr el Ghazal and Lakes states. Each flight would carry 75-80 passengers and was to be met by IOM staff in Wau, Aweil and Rumbek, where the returnees were to be offered temporary accommodation in transit centres, as well as health and social services, in cooperation with humanitarian partners.
The remaining 600 returnees from the Africa Inland Church group in Malakal were to be offered road and river transport to other nearby destinations. IOM expected to provide transport to some 6,000 stranded returnees in 2013. Most of it was to be provided in Renk, where some 20,000 returnees remain stranded in increasingly bad conditions.
Answering questions he said, a framework agreement had been put in place between Sudanese and South Sudanese governments which allowed people choices in where they lived. However, conditions were currently still dire. Many people had thought they would receive swift assistance to return to their place of choice, which was not the case, and so had been stranded for some time, without the right to work. The crisis had really been exacerbated, he said, by the closing of the border, which meant people needed assistance to return, rather than leave of their own volition.
Jumbe Omari Jumbe for the International Organization for Migration (IOM) said IOM was this week organizing training on migration management for 26 immigration officers from Libya’s Ministry of Interior. The three-day workshop was part of IOM’s European Union (EU)-funded START project.
Answering questions, he said the training was very useful for the new Libyan authorities, and the EU had a stake in reinforcing human rights law. He added that migrants leaving the country said that those remaining were being rounded-up, detained and then forced to leave the country. It was possible that central government was not aware of everything that was happening, he said.
Jumbe Omari Jumbe for the International Organization for Migration (IOM) said the situation of immigrants in Yemen remained dire and perilous. Some migrants ahd staged a peaceful demonstration in front of IOM offices in Haradh, demanding food and quick transport. Repatriation was currently not possible due to a lack of funding.
Cécile Pouilly for the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR) answered a question saying the visit of the High Commissioner to Angola was to better understand the human rights situation in the country. She was to give a press conference tomorrow (24 April) and meet migrants and the local community in the north of the country.
[Later on she added that the High Commissioner would meet with President Eduardo dos Santos, the Ministers of Foreign Affairs, Justice and Human Rights, Interior, Women and Family Protection and the Attorney General. The High Commissioner would also meet with Angola’s Ombudsman and the President of the Constitutional Court, as well as with members of the civil society. A number of field visits were also planned. Yesterday, the High Commissioner visited the Lunda Norte region, where she met with local communities and migrants. The High Commissioner would hold a press conference in Luanda on Wednesday.]
Cécile Pouilly for the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR) answered a question saying an independent expert was soon to spend a week in the country to understand better the situation. More details on this would be released as the arrangements became clearer.
[Later on, she added that the High Commissioner had repeatedly said that there should be no impunity for the crimes committed during the conflict in Côte d’Ivoire. In several reports, she had recommended that the Government of Côte d’Ivoire conduct in-depth, independent and impartial investigations into all politically-related violence. She had urged the Government to implement the recommendations of the International Commission of Inquiry on Côte d’Ivoire mandated by the Human Rights Council in 2011 through concrete action designed to break the cycle of impunity and bring perpetrators to justice.
The Independent Expert on the situation of human rights in Côte d’Ivoire, who will visit Côte d’Ivoire next week, had reiterated the same concerns about the lack of impartiality in the current strategy for the pursuit of justice in Côte d’Ivoire. He had highlighted the fact that no serious proceedings had yet been brought against members of the FRCI and their associates. Although measures had been taken to try detainees and provisionally release a significant number of figures from the former regime, the Independent Expert insisted on the necessity to make such measures more credible through greater impartiality on the part of the judiciary towards those recognized as being responsible for massive violations of human rights of all political persuasions, including those seen as being close to the ruling power.]
Cécile Pouilly for the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR) answered a question saying detainees of the camp who were held without charge and who have been cleared for release should receive their freedom as soon as possible, or be transferred.
In addition, those accused of serious crimes should be quickly tried as they had been held captive for some years already waiting a judgment or information on their case.
The OHCHR continued to call on, and was regularly in contact with, the American authorities for them to evaluate the situation in the camp and for it to be closed, access to justice accelerated and the prisoners cleared for release released.
Ms. Vellucci said the Committee on the Rights of Migrant Workers ended its session on Friday (26 April), in which it had examined the reports of Colombia, Bolivia and Azerbaijan.
Next week, the Committee on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights began a three-week session. The countries in the programme of the session, in chronological order, were Japan, Iran, Jamaica, Azerbaijan, Togo, Rwanda and Denmark
Tomorrow (24 April) at 11 a.m. in Press Room 1 the International Labour Organization held a press conference on the launch of the book: "Public Sector Shock: The Impact of Policy Retrenchment in Europe." The speaker was Daniel Vaughan-Whitehead, ILO Senior Economist and main author of the book.
She added that the message of the Secretary-General for World Malaria Day (25 April) was available at the back of the room.
Glenn Thomas for the World Health Organization (WHO) said there was a press event tomorrow (24 April) at 10 a.m. in the press room of the National Health and Family Planning building in Beijing. The press conference would give and update on the recent mission to investigate the outbreak of H7N9 influenza and findings related to China’s response. The full report was to be shared at a later date.
Answering questions, he said the press conference was local time, and a transcript, statement and press release were to be issued just afterwards. The address of the building could be sent on request. One of the key reasons for the mission was to find the source of the virus, he said.
He continued by saying that in relation to World Malaria Day a press release was to be issued under embargo on drug resistance in south-east Asia. A second press release on polio was to be issued later in the week, related to the presentation of a six-year plan to deliver a polio-free world by 2018. This was linked to a meeting taking place in Abu Dhabi this week.
Samar Shamoon for the World Intellectual Property Organization (WIPO) said WIPO was hosting a panel discussion on, “3-D Printing – the future of manufacturing?” on Thursday (April 25), from 12.00 noon on in WIPO’s New Building. This was part of their activities to mark World Intellectual Property Day. The theme this year was “Creativity – the next generation”.
The panel discussion, chaired by WIPO Director General Francis Gurry, would bring together a group of experts from industry and academia to explore the potential impact of 3-D printing technologies on the global manufacturing landscape as well as related policy challenges. Those wishing to attend needed to get in touch to register.
She also mentioned that anyone interested in World Intellectual Property Day (April 26), more generally could contact her for interviews. Finally, the Intergovernmental Committee on Intellectual Property and Genetic Resources, Traditional Knowledge and Folklore was currently in session and she could be contacted for more details.
Catherine Sibut for the United Nations Conference on Trade and Development (UNCTAD) said there was a press conference today (23 April) at 2.30 p.m. in Press Room 1 on a new study on promoting local IT sectors through public procurement.
Speakers were Torbjorn Fredriksson, UNCTAD, Chief - ICT Analysis Section.
She added that figures on foreign direct investment were to be released. There was no briefing planned for this, but a media alert was to be issued and experts were available for interview.
The representatives of the International Labour Organization and the World Food Programme also attended the briefing but did not speak.
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The webcast for this briefing is available here