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REGULAR PRESS BRIEFING BY THE INFORMATION SERVICE

14 August 2015

Ahmad Fawzi, Director a.i. of the United Nations Information Service in Geneva, chaired the briefing, which was also attended by Spokespersons for the United Nations Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs, United Nations World Food Programme, Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights, and International Organization for Migration.

Geneva Activities

Ahmad Fawzi, Director a.i. of the United Nations Information Service in Geneva, informed the press that the Committee against Torture was concluding its fifty-fifth session today. Claudio Grossman, the Committee Chairperson, would discuss the Committee’s concluding observations on the reports of Iraq, Slovakia and Switzerland at a press conference at 12.30 p.m. today, Friday 14 August, in Press Room 1. A roundup press release for the session would be issued this afternoon. A background press release was available here.

The Committee on the Elimination of Racial Discrimination was meeting today in private. Next week it would consider the report of Norway, at 3 p.m. on Monday, 17 August, and the Netherlands at 3 p.m. on Tuesday, 18 August, in Room VII of the Palais des Nations. A background press release was available here.

The Committee on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities would begin a new session at 10 a.m. Monday, 17 August, at Palais Wilson in Geneva. During the session it would consider the reports of Kenya, Ukraine, Gabon, Mauritius, Brazil, Qatar, and the European Union. A background press release was released yesterday and is available here.

Next week the Conference on Disarmament had scheduled three public meetings, to take place Monday, 17 August, Tuesday, 18 August, and Friday, 21 August. More details could be found on the website.

Tarik Jasarevic, for the World Health Organisation, announced that the WHO would hold a press conference at 10 a.m. on Tuesday, 18 August, on research and studies in vaccine hesitancy and its impact on immunization coverage.

70th Anniversary of the United Nations

On Sunday, 16 August, the United Nations Office at Geneva would launch a “70-day Countdown” social media campaign to the 70th anniversary of the creation of the United Nations, on 24 October 2015. The campaign would take place on the Facebook, Twitter and Instagram accounts of the United Nations Office at Geneva, including historic events, facts and rare archive photos. The campaign would also feature video messages from the Secretary-General, Heads of State and celebrities about the United Nations at 70. The hashtag #UN70 would be used for the campaign. The social media accounts can be found @UNGeneva on Twitter, https://www.facebook.com/UN.Geneva and https://instagram.com/UNGeneva.

To celebrate the 70th anniversary on Saturday, 24 October 2015, the United Nations Office at Geneva would hold an Open Day, said Mr. Fawzi. The doors of the Palais des Nations would be opened to the public, there would be exhibits and cultural events, and the inauguration of a major piece of art donated by Italian artist Maestro Michelangelo Pistoletto.

Internship programme at the United Nations

Ahmad Fawzi, Director a.i. of the United Nations Information Service in Geneva, referred to recent news stories regarding internships at the United Nations. He said the United Nations took the issue very seriously, and that everyone in the United Nations Office at Geneva (UNOG) and all international civil servants worldwide believed interns should be remunerated. The UN Secretariat tried its best to assist interns in all ways possible.

Mr. Fawzi emphasized the difference in governance between the UN Secretariat and other members of the UN family. The United Nations Office at Geneva and the United Nations Headquarters in New York were UN Secretariat entities, and Member States defined what they could and could not do. Other members of the UN family, such as the World Health Organisation (WHO), International Labour Organization (ILO), World Meteorological Organization (WMO) and many more, had their own rules and regulations, and thus could make decisions about payment to interns.

Mr. Fawzi clarified that the conditions of internships in the UN Secretariat were set out in an Administrative Instruction, rather than a General Assembly resolution. The Administrative Instruction (ST/AI/2014/1) established the rules and regulations for internships, said Mr. Fawzi, quoting from Section 7, which stated that interns were not financially remunerated by the UN, and that costs related to their travel, visa, accommodation and living expenses were the responsibility of interns or their sponsoring institutions.

It remained the responsibility of Member States to provide a budget for the payment of interns, as such payment was not included in the budget of the Secretariat, which Member States approved on a biannual basis. There were 275 interns with the UN Secretariat in Geneva, including 162 interns at UNOG. Mr. Fawzi noted that the UN Secretariat included the United Nations Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (UNOCHA), the United Nations Economic Commission for Europe (UNECE) and the United Nations Conference on Trade and Development (UNCTAD). More information on which UN bodies are included in the Secretariat can be found here.

Mr. Fawzi noted that UN organizations which were not part of the Secretariat could make their own rules about paying interns, and those that did provide some form of remuneration included the World Trade Organization (WTO), International Labour Organization (ILO), International Road Transport Union (IRTU) and the World Intellectual Property Organization (WIPO). Other Organizations, such as the World Health Organisation (WHO), United Nations Children Fund (UNICEF), Council of Europe, and the World Meteorological Organization (WMO) did not provide any payment. The list was not yet complete and the United Nations Office at Geneva would continue its research.

Michael Møller, Director-General of UNOG, had met with interns earlier this year, as well as the year before, to discuss ways of strengthening and improving the internship programme, said Mr. Fawzi. The outcome of the meetings was a list of actions that included seeking reduced rates for public transport in Geneva, providing more support on finding affordable accommodation, including through the network of UNOG staff who may be able to provide cheap or free rooms to interns, and establishing a network of interns at UNOG in order to have a forum in which they could raise concerns.

The intern in this week’s news reports had admitted that the whole story (of his living in a tent) was a publicity stunt to draw the attention to the situation of interns, said Mr. Fawzi. He expressed concern that the publicity had shed a negative light on how things were being handled at UNOG.

Responding to questions, Mr. Fawzi said that he was not aware of any initiative by a UN Secretariat entity to lobby Member States to change the administrative instruction, but such lobbying was mainly carried out by interns themselves. The Director General and Mr. Fawzi had spoken out publicly, underlining their support for the initiatives and stressing that, in order to change the rules, there was a need to change the minds of Member States. There were 162 interns in UNOG, and 275 in the UN Secretariat entities in Geneva, he re-confirmed.

Syria and Lebanon

Ahmad Fawzi, Director a.i. of the United Nations Information Service in Geneva, drew journalists’ attention to the statement by the Special Envoy for Syria Staffan de Mistura in which he condemned the continued use of indiscriminate weapons in civilian areas in Syria. In the statement Mr. De Mistura said that the shelling of Damascus neighbourhoods and suburbs, as well as other areas in Syria, which continued to indiscriminately kill and injure civilians, had no justification, but only further terrorized the population.

Jens Laerke, for the Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (UNOCHA), said that the United Nations Under-Secretary for Humanitarian Affairs, Stephen O’Brien, had arrived in Lebanon on the first day of the trip that would also see him visiting Syria. It would be Mr. O’Brien’s first official mission to Syria in his capacity as Emergency Relief Coordinator of the United Nations.

The humanitarian needs in Syria were enormous, with 12.2 million people needing humanitarian assistance; about half of them are children, said Mr. Laerke. During his mission the Under-Secretary would meet with government officials and humanitarian partners in Damascus and Beirut. He also hoped to meet displaced and refugee families in Homs and the Beka’a Valley.

The full text of the media advisory is available here.

A journalist asked whether any Member State had answered yesterday’s appeal by the World Food Programme for help for refugees in Lebanon and Jordan.

Responding to the question, Bettina Luescher, for the United Nations World Food Programme (WFP), said that the appeal was one WFP often had to make, and had indeed made too many times. The WFP had been forced to cut assistance to displaced people who lived outside camps, up to 50 per cent in some countries. The world was facing an unprecedented number of humanitarian crises, recognized Ms. Luescher, stressing that the WFP needed financial support to continue its life-saving work on the ground in many areas of the world.

Burundi human rights situation

Ravina Shamsadani, for the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights, said that the human rights situation in Burundi continued to deteriorate, with at least 96 people killed, mostly among the opposition, since the beginning of election-related violence in late-April. At least 600 people had been arrested and detained during this period, and there had been at least 60 cases of torture and many more cases of other ill-treatment in police and intelligence detention facilities. There were worrying signs that some parts of the opposition were increasingly resorting to violence.

OHCHR had documented that more than 181,000 people had sought refuge in neighbouring countries. OHCHR called on leaders on all sides to take concrete steps to renounce the use of violence and to resolve differences peacefully, to bring the perpetrators to account and justice for victims. So far, no trials had taken place in relation to the violence, killings, torture and ill-treatment since April, although the authorities repeatedly indicated that investigations were under way and that some police elements have been arrested.

The OHCHR briefing note can be found here.

Responding to questions, Ms. Shamsadani said that refugee flows had spiked since April 2015 and were clearly related to elections and fear of violence.

Mediterranean migrants

Joel Millman, for the International Organization for Migration (IOM), said that the latest analysis of migrants crossing the Mediterranean showed that the number of arrivals was approaching a quarter of a million. That figure could possibly be surpassed, as the numbers kept rising. We were just two-thirds into 2015 and already the total numbers for 2014 (290,000 migrants) had almost been exceeded, said Mr. Millman. So far in 2015, 2,300 deaths had been recorded of migrants in the Mediterranean, he said.

The IOM briefing note can be found here.

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The webcast for this briefing is available here: http://bit.ly/unog140815