REGULAR PRESS BRIEFING BY THE INFORMATION SERVICE
23 March 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-Arab League Joint Special Envoy, the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights, the Office of the High Commissioner for Refugees, the United Nations Children’s Fund, the Economic Commission on Europe, the Secretariat of the Rotterdam Convention for the United Nations Environment Programme, the World Health Organization, the World Trade Organization and the International Labour Organization.
Ms. Momal-Vanian read a statement from the Spokesperson of the United Nations-Arab League Joint Special Envoy (JSE), which said Mr. Annan was to travel this weekend to Moscow and Beijing to discuss the crisis in Syria with Russian and Chinese officials. On the other hand, the Mission that was sent to Damascus had returned, after three days of intensive talks with the Syrian authorities on urgent steps to implement the Annan proposals aimed at stopping the killing, securing humanitarian aid and launching a political process. Mr. Annan and his team were currently studying the Syrian responses carefully, and negotiations with Damascus continued, the statement said.
The spokesperson himself, Mr. Ahmad Fawzi, later added that the Mission that visited Damascus had intensive talks with the Syrian authorities on the proposals and ways to implement them. The Syrian responses to these were now being studied very carefully, he said, and negotiations continued by telephone. The JSE would decide at some point to return to the country, though the time was not yet right. He had decided now to talk to the Russians and the Chinese on these very same issues, he explained. Negotiations were at a very difficult stage, and would not be conducted in public. However, every minute counted and progress would need to be made soon. Mr. Annan was satisfied that he had a unified Security Council behind him.
Answering questions he said that the mission from Damascus had returned yesterday and had included political affairs officers and experts in peacekeeping, military planning and logistics. For the next steps, Mr. Annan would now travel to Moscow to meet the Foreign Minister and the President, while the programme for Beijing was still being worked on. For both these visits Mr. Annan would be travelling in a small delegation.
Adrian Edwards for the Office of the High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) said the United Nations and its humanitarian partners were today issuing an appeal for $84 million to help Syrian refugees in Jordan, Lebanon, Turkey, and Iraq. This appeal was to implement the Syria Regional Response Plan which outlined the response needs for Syrian refugees who have fled the country since March 2011, as well as anticipating the needs of future arrivals.
The plan is an inter-agency framework led by UNHCR and the result of a coordinated effort between seven UN agencies, 27 national and international NGOs and partners, and host governments, he said. It was based on an estimate that in the next six months assistance will be needed to support some 100,000 people. This will mainly comprise Syrian refugees, as well as some third-country nationals. The plan does not cover humanitarian needs inside Syria. For that, a separate appeal, led by the Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA), was expected in the near future.
The plan has three objectives, he continued. The first was to ensure that Syrians and other refugees had access to neighbouring countries and international protection. The second was to provide for the basic needs of the refugees, with special attention to the most vulnerable. The third was to ensure that contingency measures are undertaken in the event of a larger-scale outflow. The plan also outlined how agencies, host governments and local and international NGOs were uniting to provide a coordinated response to the needs of refugees and third country nationals.
He also gave an update on Syrian refugee numbers in the region saying, in Jordan, Lebanon and Turkey, a year after unrest began in Syria, refugee numbers had been increasing and signs of strain were showing among the communities that are hosting them. In Jordan, over 6,000 Syrians have registered with UNHCR since March of last year, with a further 2,500 awaiting registration. This figure was expected to increase significantly as UNHCR and partners expand their outreach efforts and level of assistance to Syrians.
In Lebanon, joint registration of refugees with the government was ongoing, he continued, and as with Jordan, many of the refugees were in a precarious situation, with little or no financial resources to rely on. UNHCR and partners were working with the Lebanese Government and local authorities to ensure that the needs of refugees and the affected communities are addressed. Over 16,000 refugees, including some 8,000 registered in the North, were currently receiving assistance.
In Turkey, 17,000 Syrians were currently registered with the Government, which has now set up nine locations, including eight tented camps and a 'container city' in Kilis to deal with the influx. The plan identified a need to increase support for the Turkish Government when requested, as the Government has assumed responsibility for assisting, sheltering and protecting the refugees in camps. He also answered a question saying 66 per cent of the refugee population in the country was composed of women and children.
In addition, for refugees who were previously hosted in Syria, such as Iraqi refugees who are now living in urban environments, the plan outlines a strategy to register and assist them. Iraq has recently seen a growing number of Syrians arriving though exact numbers were still being assessed.
Answering questions he said the plan wanted to ensure that the right to safe asylum was upheld, and noted that while neighbouring borders had generally remained open there were some instances where it had been a problem. On another point, he said there were somewhere close to 110,000 Iraqi refugees in Syria.
Marixie Mercado for the United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF) said a large proportion of the refugees crossing borders were children, with 46 per cent of the Syrian population under 18 years old. It was clear from those that had already fled that children had not been spared from the violence, she said, and in the next few months the UNICEF response plan would cover three main areas; education, child protection and water, sanitation and hygiene. In this context, the fund was appealing for $7.4 million.
In detail this would mean ensuring that Syrian children can continue their schooling in the countries that are hosting them and additional educational, recreational and cultural activities were being organized. Children suffering psychosocial distress would also receive the support they need. UNICEF and its partners planned to set up child-friendly spaces, in schools and in other settings, designed to allow teachers, caregivers and social workers the opportunity to identify children needing additional psychosocial care, and provide venues for a range of activities to help children come to terms with their experiences.
Assessments of water and sanitation conditions were also to be carried out in areas sheltering displaced Syrians, and hygiene kits provided to newly arrived families, she said.
Rupert Colville for the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR) said the High Commissioner for Human Rights was today warning that there must be no reprisals against Sri Lankan human rights defenders in the aftermath of yesterday's adoption by the Human Rights Council of a resolution on Sri Lanka.
During this Human Rights Council session, there had been an unprecedented and totally unacceptable level of threats, harassment and intimidation directed at Sri Lankan activists who had travelled to Geneva to engage in the debate, including by members of the 71-member official Sri Lankan government delegation, he said. Intimidation and harassment of Sri Lankan civil society activists had also been reported in other locations around Geneva. On the other hand, the Sri Lankan ambassador in Geneva received an anonymous threatening letter which was being followed up by the police and United Nations security.
At the same time in Sri Lanka itself, newspapers, news websites and TV and radio stations had since January been running a continuous campaign of vilification, including naming and in many cases picturing activists, describing them as an “NGO gang” and repeatedly accusing them of treason, mercenary activities and association with terrorism. Some of these reports had contained barely veiled incitement and threats of retaliation, he said. At least two comments posted by readers of articles of this type have called for burning down of the houses of the civil society activists named in the articles, and at least one such comment called openly for them to be killed.
The High Commissioner has noted that some of the attacks on human rights defenders were carried in Sri Lankan state media and Government websites or were filed by journalists who had been officially accredited to the Human Rights Council session by the Sri Lankan permanent mission. He explained that she was therefore calling on the Government to ensure the protection of human rights defenders, to publicly disassociate itself from such statements, and to clearly uphold the right of Sri Lankan citizens to freely engage in international debate of this kind.
The High Commissioner had also noted that Sri Lanka's own Lessons Learned and Reconciliation Commission, in its report published in December, made extensive and positive references to the role civil society can play in reconciliation and rehabilitation efforts, and stressed this would require greater tolerance towards differing views within Sri Lankan civil society and the protection of Sri Lankan human rights defenders.
Answering questions he said intimidation had taken the form of intimidating photographs and behaviour, text messages and verbal abuse, among others. On another point Ms. Momal-Vanian said there were guidelines for the staging by non-governmental organizations of side events within the Palais, which was available on the OHCHR website.
Ms. Momal-Vanian drew attention to the statement attributable to the Spokesperson for the Secretary-General on Mali released last night (22 April) which said the Secretary-General strongly condemned the rebellion by elements of the Malian armed forces and called for the immediate restoration of constitutional rule. She also mentioned that the Security Council had issued a press statement on the crisis in Mali.
Adrian Edwards for the Office of the High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) said UNHCR is monitoring developments following the announcement and so far had not seen new population movement either inside the country or to neighbouring countries.
However the concern for UNHCR was the potential for continued political uncertainty to create further population movements at a time when there is already considerable displacement inside and beyond Mali's borders, he said. On these grounds UNHCR was revising contingency plans to respond to possible new influxes in surrounding countries, he said.
The High Commissioner, António Guterres, was to visit Mauritania in the next few days for a ceremony marking the end of involuntary repatriation from Senegal and would take the opportunity to survey the situation.
Rupert Colville for the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR) said the situation was being monitored though there was no evidence as yet of human rights violations taking place. There were, however, some concerns over the whereabouts of the President.
World Tuberculosis Day
Tarik Jasarevic for the World Health Organization (WHO) said tomorrow (24 March) was World Tuberculosis Day and thanked correspondents for attending a recent briefing on rates of the disease in children.
Dr. Mario Raviglione then gave details of a recent WHO meeting on reports of tuberculosis (TB) cases with severe patterns of drug resistance. Reports of such cases are increasing and the global TB community must make greater efforts to prevent drug resistance and scale up provision of appropriate care. The meeting concluded that there is currently insufficient evidence to adopt new case definitions for drug-resistant TB, he said, but agreed that figures were increasing and this posed a formidable challenge for clinicians.
The three key points from this meeting were that the WHO had been asked to take the lead on production of guidance on the evidence which national TB control programmes need to collect on patients being treated for drug-resistant TB; the WHO should encourage drugs companies to collaborate in the development of combination treatment regimens and facilitate their introduction into clinical settings; and the organization should issue guidance on the “compassionate” use of drugs in development where other treatment options were limited.
Answering questions he said details of the meeting and the experts attending were available on request.
Ms. Momal-Vanian said the Committee on Enforced Disappearances would hold its second session from 26 to 30 March 2012. The session would focus mainly on issues of the organization of its work. The opening session would be held at 10:00 on Monday (26 March) in the presence of the High Commissioner for Human Rights and a background press release was distributed last night. Meanwhile, the Conference on Disarmament would hold its next public meeting on Tuesday. This would be the last week of the first part of the session.
She also gave details of upcoming press conferences saying this afternoon (23 March 2012) at 13:30 in Room III there was a press briefing with the President of the United Nations Human Rights Council on the conclusion of the 19th session of the Human Rights Council. She also mentioned that on Friday (23 March) at 14:30 in Room III the Inter-Parliamentary Union and United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) would hold a press conference on, “The Global Parliamentary Report,” which was to be embargoed until 09:00 (local time) on 2 April. Speakers included the Secretary General of the IPU and the UNDP Geneva Director. Finally, this afternoon at 15:30 in Room III the WTO would hold a briefing on the Dispute Settlement Body
Ankai Xu for the World Trade Organization (WTO) said on Tuesday (27 March) there was a seminar on exchange rates and trade (to Wednesday) from 09:30 which would be followed by a briefing at 18:00 in Room X at WTO Headquarters. At 10:00 on the same day was the United Arab Emirates trade policy review and Ethiopian membership negotiations were also planned from 15:00. On Thursday (29 March) there were Serbian membership negotiations at the same time and Friday’s schedule held a Government Procurement Committee at 10:00.
Meanwhile the WTO Director-General was to be in Geneva on Tuesday (27 March) to address opening remarks at the seminar on exchange rates and trade and on Wednesday (28 March) meet with the Minister of Foreign Trade for the United Arab Emirates. On Saturday (31 March) he was in Dhaka, Bangladesh to attend the 46th convocation of Dhaka University and on Sunday (1 April) meet with the Prime Minister, Minister of Foreign Affairs, Minister of Finance and the Minister of Commerce of Bangladesh. He was also to speak to the Bangladesh Economic Association (BEA) and meet with the Federation of Bangladesh Chambers of Commerce and Industry (FBCCI).
She also said the WTO was to release its trade statistics on 12 April and more details would be available shortly.
Michael Stanley Jones of the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP) said United Nations chemical experts had recommended that three industrial chemicals and one hazardous pesticide formulation containing paraquat dichloride be included in the Rotterdam Convention's Prior Informed Consent (PIC) procedure, considered a country's first line of defence against toxic chemicals. The recommendations will now be forwarded to the sixth meeting of the Conference of the Parties to the Rotterdam Convention in 2013. In addition, one new candidate pesticide was recommended for inclusion in the PIC procedure, he said.
Hans von Rohland for the International Labour Organization (ILO) said his organization had signed an accord with the International Social Security Association on providing social security to the over 80 per cent of the world’s population not currently covered. Recommendations on the work going forward from this were to be discussed at the upcoming 101st Session of the International Labour Conference in June.
Jean Rodriguez for the Economic Commission on Europe (UNECE) gave details of a press conference to be held on Tuesday (27 March) at 12:00 in Room III for the launch of the UNECE/Food and Agriculture Organization North American Forest Sector Outlook Study 2006-2030.
He continued by saying a new report prepared by a number of United Nations agencies, coordinated by UNECE and UNDP, as an input for the United Nations Conference on Sustainable Development (Rio+20) showed that a growth model for the pan-European region which increased human development, advanced equality and reduced the ecological footprint was both necessary and possible. The report, "From Transition to Transformation: Sustainable and Inclusive Development in Europe and Central Asia," attempted to take an integrated look at sustainable development in the pan-European region and presented new policy proposals to help manage the needed change to a greener and more inclusive economy with benefits for people throughout the region, he said.
Janomir Cekota added that the ECE region accounted for 20 per cent of the world population, and 50 per cent of greenhouse gas emissions, which was clearly an unsustainable development path. In this context, the report had shown that the challenge for the region was to bring the levels of human development commonly seen in the region in line with environmental responsibility. Sustainable development has three dimensions, he explained, the social dimension, the environmental dimension and the economic dimension and the report made suggestions for transition processes and financing across each of these areas.
Answering questions he said the report argued that subsidies for fossil fuels should be completely removed and this could be replaced with income support from governments for poorer households. This would create a more efficient economy and a healthier population, he said.