REGULAR PRESS BRIEFING BY THE INFORMATION SERVICE
12 June 2012
Alessandra Vellucci, Chief of the Press and External Relations Section of the UN Information Service in Geneva, chaired the briefing, which was also attended by Spokespersons for the Joint Special Envoy (JSE) of the UN and the League of Arab States for the Syrian Crisis, the UN Conference on Trade and Development, the Human Rights Council, the International Labour Organization, the UN Refugee Agency, the Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs and the World Health Organization.
Mr. Ahmad Fawzi, Spokesperson for the Joint Special Envoy (JSE) of the United Nations and the League of Arab States for the Syrian Crisis, said (verbatim):
“Good morning everyone. I am sorry I wasn’t here last week but here I am. If you have any questions I’d be happy to take them. I have no announcements as such but as you know we have observed, as you all have, an escalation of violence in Syria over the past couple of days, which is of deep concern to all of us at the United Nations – Secretary-General, Joint Special Envoy, UNSMIS on the ground. And you’ve seen the three statements, I hope, issued yesterday. I don’t know if you’ve seen the one from UNSMIS, from the observers. If you haven’t, I’d be happy to provide it.
But let me just reiterate what they say, that they have reported heavy fighting in Rastan and Talbiseh, north of Homs, which, as you know, is a Syrian opposition stronghold, with artillery and mortar shelling, as well as firing from helicopters, machine guns and smaller arms. They also reported that the Free Syrian Army had captured Syrian army soldiers. They reported a large number of civilians – including women and children – trapped inside Khaldiyeh, in the city centre, and they’re trying to mediate their evacuation. UNSMIS has called – as has the Joint Special Envoy and the Secretary-General – on all sides to stop the killing and the human rights abuses, and to ensure the protection of civilians and to respect international law. And finally, we have all called on the parties to grant UN observers immediate and unfettered access to conflict zones. “
Mr. Fawzi then took some questions from the journalists as follows (verbatim):
“Question: Have you any information on the activities of the humanitarian workers? We’ve heard one or two stories from Heicham Hassan [a spokesperson of the International Committee of the Red Cross] about what they’re trying to do. Can you say how successful you think they’re being? Thank you.
Mr. Fawzi: I don’t have any details. I know you were briefed last week by John Ging who gave a very extensive briefing and informed us all that they have reached agreement with the Government. Finally they have a written agreement with the Government on providing access to humanitarian workers. But I have nothing further at the moment. I’d be happy to talk to our colleagues in OCHA – the Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs – and come back to you through the Public Information Office here in Geneva, if I may.
Thank you for that question and I’d like to welcome IOM to the briefing. The refugee crisis – well, I shan’t call it a crisis at the moment – the flows of refugees are alarming. They have increased from, I think, 24,000 to 27,000 only on the Turkish border from Aleppo. And it is a very relevant issue because it exemplifies the kind of spill-over that we fear the escalation of this crisis could cause. So if you have any questions please direct them to IOM or indeed UNHCR.
Question: Specifically, which parts of the six-point plan are being implemented at the moment? And do you have a point – we talked about tipping point last week – do you have a point at which you are ready to say it’s not working?
Mr. Fawzi: I don’t think that helps at all. I don’t think it will help if I say that it’s working or it’s not working, it’s failed or it succeeded. I really don’t think words here play a very important role. What we need to do is get the parties to respect the plan and implement the plan. The problem ain’t the plan. The problem is implementation of the plan. Kofi Annan has said this, Ban Ki-moon has said this, every Foreign Minister in the world has said this. So I’m not telling you anything new.
As you know, there are efforts going [on], intensified efforts. As the violence escalated, diplomacy has intensified, and Kofi Annan and others, and Ban Ki-moon, are working the phones trying to get Governments with influence to exercise their influence on the parties concerned in order to implement the plan. So, no, I’m not going to go through the plan point by point and tell you what’s being done and what’s not being done, because we all see what’s happening very clearly on the ground. There’s an escalation of violence that is reminiscent of the spike before the 12th April cessation of hostilities, and it is totally unacceptable and it must stop. And that is why Annan has invited Governments with influence to raise the bar to another level – to the highest level possible – and twist arms if necessary to get the parties to implement the plan.
Question: The failure to implement the plan – who do you blame for that?
Mr. Fawzi: Is this a blaming, naming, shaming game? There are people dying there. We have said very, very clearly – the Joint Special Envoy, the Secretary-General and many, many officials around the world – have said that violence in all its forms, by all parties, must stop immediately for the sake of the Syrian people. We’re not taking sides in this conflict. The only side we’re on is the side of the Syrian people – women, men and children – who are suffering in Syria. By blaming we’re not saving lives. So let’s stop this game, please, because it ain’t a game.
Having said all that, and repeated it countless times, let me underline that also we have said the stronger party should send a strong signal in good faith and stop the violence. And the stronger party in this case is clearly the Government of Syria.
Question: Yes, well, it’s good to change the speech and say that the peace plan is not failing; there are others that are failing to hear… If you can elaborate a little bit about helicopters you mentioned. Is this a new thing? If you can elaborate on that. And also the High Commissioner once and again and again and again has asked to refer this case to the ICC Court and asked the Security Council. Is there another way to do that? I mean, maybe the General Prosecutor of the ICC, can he play a part here? I am not an expert on this, but…
Mr. Fawzi: On the helicopters yes, if they had been used before, it has not been documented; this time it has been documented. Our observers have videotaped helicopters in the skies with fire coming out of them; so whether the helicopters with machine guns on them, or helicopter gunships… we have not been able to make that distinction yet but yes, they are being used and we have observed them being used.
On who refers what to the ICC, I’d rather not get into that now, but normally it’s the Security Council; but I’d rather not get into that at the moment. Thank you.
Question: Three questions if I may. One is, given the use of helicopters and the lack of solutions, do you think - does the JSE think - that a no fly zone would be helpful over Syria? Secondly, there have been reports by activists on Twitter and Al-Jazeera that gas has been used. Can you shed any light on that? Do you have any information about the Syrian army using gas against the FSA or civilian population? Third question is, can you say to what extent you are worried about the sectarian nature of this conflict emerging? Is this now a sectarian conflict or are we not there yet? Thank you.
Mr. Fawzi: They are very serious questions, and thank you for raising them.
No, I have no information about gas, thank heavens, at the moment.
On the question of sectarian violence, yes, we have seen the specter of sectarianism rising in Syria and that is precisely what the Joint Special Envoy had been warning against, and the Secretary General and others: that the longer this violence continues, the more dangerous it becomes for not only the country and the Syrian people but the region. And the sectarian nature that is emerging, we see it’s spilling over into Lebanon as well. It’s dangerous and the red light is flashing. And that’s why we need to get Governments with influence to get the parties to stop this; otherwise, this element of sectarianism could very well increase.
No fly zone: you know, a ceasefire is a ceasefire, whether it’s from the air or the ground. We have been calling for all parties to stop the violence, whether it be from the air or from the ground. And of course, the capacity to use the air is only a Government capacity. Therefore we will continue to do so. Declaring a no fly zone is the prerogative of the Security Council, and that hasn’t happened yet.
Question: Just to follow up: the question is, would a no fly zone help stop the killing of women and children?
Mr. Fawzi: I have said what I had to say on that.
Question: I was wondering, Mr Fawzi, if there are any plans for an extended meeting in Geneva of a sort - like you had in the Bosnian conflict - of a contact group? Is that in the works by Mr. Annan? How advanced is it, if at all?
Mr. Fawzi: Thank you. That’s a very good question because as you all know that idea has been floated about a week or two ago by Mr. Annan himself and he is encouraged by signs that member states are taking it very seriously. In fact we have heard that the Russians are calling on member states with influence to get together. We hope that this contact group meeting will take place soon, but a venue, and a time, and a list of participants is yet to come together. It’s coming together. And as I said, diplomacy has intensified from all parties - the Joint Special Envoy… the Secretary-General has proclaimed also in his own statement yesterday that he remains ready to work with the entire international community and the Syrian government and the opposition to achieve a political solution to this crisis, and that is what we hope to achieve.
Question: Concerning that international contact group, could you elaborate a little bit on that group? How would this group be able to put pressure in order to implement the Kofi Annan plan? Because I suppose that is the goal: it is not to let the Kofi Annan plan on the side, and use another entity to put pressure on Syria.
Mr. Fawzi: Precisely, that is a valid point. The objective of creating this group is to give teeth to the plan, is to get the parties, to convince the parties to implement the plan in its entirety. It is not to create a new plan, because, as we have said before, this is the only plan on the table at the moment. What is lacking is implementation and that is why we count on these member states with influence on the parties - during this meeting, and as a result of this meeting - to put irrevocable pressure on the parties to implement the plan and stop the killing and begin a political transition.
Thank you very much.”
Responding to a question from a journalist, Adrian Edwards of the UN Refugee Agency said that 26,281 individuals were currently registered in Turkish camps which were not run by UNHCR. In total, around 74,000 refugees were registered in countries surrounding Syria, along with a significant number of unregistered refugees.
Jans Laerke of the Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA) said that two earthquakes had yesterday hit Afghanistan’s Hindu Kush Region in Baghlan Province. OCHA was in contact with the Afghan National Disaster Management Authority, which was rushing to the area and has confirmed that at least three people have died. This figure may and probably will go up as unconfirmed reports suggest that several people were still under the debris. The Afghan authorities have not yet asked for international assistance.
Democratic People’s Republic of Korea’s humanitarian needs plan
Mr. Laerke said that the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea has unveiled a plan to address the country’s critical humanitarian needs for this year. The overall plan, which was being unveiled today in Beijing, was budgeted at USD 198 million. A press release was available at the back of the room.
UNHCR relocating Sudanese refugees to decongest crowded sites
Adrian Edwards of the UN Refugee Agency said that over the weekend UNHCR and humanitarian partners had moved 8,000 Sudanese refugees from a transit site in northeastern South Sudan following several deaths, and potential new arrivals of up to 15,000 refugees into Upper Nile state.
Last week, MSF had reported seven deaths among recent arrivals at the transit site of Hofra, about 25 kilometers from the border with Sudan. The deaths were believed to be linked to the weak state the refugees had arrived in, after walking for weeks from Blue Nile State. These risk factors were amplified by the dwindling supply of water in Hofra, also known as Rum.
The weekend emergency relocation began after food and other relief items had been distributed to all 32,000 refugees in Hofra. UNHCR had taken the refugees to another transit site called Kilo 18, where an estimated two weeks of water supply was available. MSF has moved its water treatment facility and field medical centre and was maintaining a 24-hour presence there. UNHCR had airlifted high-energy biscuits and soap from Malakal while ACTED was constructing emergency shelters for the most vulnerable.
From Kilo 18, the refugees would be relocated permanently to the newest camp in Upper Nile, called Yusuf Batil. Two recently-drilled boreholes in Yusuf Batil had produced a promising yield of water. The first borehole was producing 7.5 cubic metres of water per hour. The second one was expected to produce the same quantity. The combined volume of water could sustain a population of 20,000. The other camp in the area, Doro, was filled to capacity while Jammam camp had been plagued by inadequate water supply as refugee numbers had multiplied.
Rwanda, Uganda seeing new arrivals from violence in DR Congo
Mr. Edwards said that violence in eastern Democratic Republic of Congo was continuing to cause people to flee to neighbouring countries.
In Rwanda, and to relieve congestion at the Nkamira Transit Centre, a new site had been opened at Kigeme in the country’s south. On Sunday UNHCR had transferred a first group of 141 refugees there, and a second group of 149 was moved on Monday.
The Nkamira Transit Centre was also continuing to see new arrivals. 618 people had been registered there over the weekend, bringing the camp population to 12,549.
In southwest Uganda, UNHCR was seeing steady arrivals at the Nyakabande Transit Centre, and the population there now stood at 9,053 people. Most of these new arrivals were people fleeing existing centres for internally displaced people in the Democratic Republic of Congo itself.
Fighting between Government troops and renegade fighters in North Kivu
since April had left more than 100,000 people displaced, including those
who had fled to Rwanda and south-west Uganda’s Kisoro district.
Amid violence in Myanmar, UNHCR calls on Bangladesh to keep its borders
Mr. Edwards said that UNCHR was very concerned about media reports quoting a statement of the Bangladeshi Border Guard force that it had turned away a number of boats carrying people from Myanmar following the rapid escalation of violence in Myanmar’s northern Rakhine State. UNHCR was seeking clarification from the Bangladeshi authorities about these and other similar reports.
UNHCR was advocating with the Bangladeshi authorities to allow safe
haven on its territory for those who needed immediate safety and medical
assistance. Previously people had been allowed in to Bangladesh for medical treatment. The UN Refugee Agency hoped that such good practices would be maintained.
World Blood Donor Day
Gregory Härtl of the World Health Organization said that Wednesday, 14 June was World Blood Donor Day.
Neelam Dhingra-Kumar, Coordinator of the Blood Transfusion Safety of the World Health Organization said that World Blood Donor Day had changed the landscape of blood services across the world. It had underlined that safe blood must be available, and countries around the world were looking into the need of safe blood, which was crucial to save people’s lives.
14 June was a day to recognize the role of people who saved our lives – blood donors. The theme of this year’s World Blood Day – “Every blood donor is a hero” – referred to the unsung heroes who save lives just with the intention of helping others.
There was a global need for blood, and it was increasing: in the developed world, where more and more sophisticated procedures required blood transfusions, along with people’s increasing life-span; and in the developing world, where lives were being saved through blood transfusions, too, notably in the context of pregnancy and child birth complications.
More and more donors were needed, said Ms. Dhingra-Kumar. She was here to call countries to action, to encourage them to renew their efforts and commitment to make safe blood available to all people around the world, and to achieve 100 per cent voluntary blood donations across the world by 2020.
Human Rights Council
Rolando Gomez of the Human Rights Council said that journalists would have received by now the background press release for the upcoming 20th session of the Human Rights Council which would run from 16 June to 6 July. In addition to the background press release there was the website, where journalists could find relevant information, including the programme of work.
As per the programme of work, the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights Navi Pillay would provide an update to her annual report on Monday. Almost 20 special procedures – both thematic and country rapporteurs – would make presentations during the three-week session, said Mr. Gomez.
The Independent Commission of Inquiry on Syria would present its report on 27 June. This was an oral update required of them, but there would be a written document some time in advance. The idea was for them to provide an update through this written report, including on the events at El-Houleh, as prescribed by the Human Rights Council Special Session on 1 June.
During the forthcoming session there would also be between 70 and 80 side events, Mr. Gomez went on to say, adding that he already had indication of some 20 resolutions or proposals thereon which would be tabled during this session.
International Labour Organization Agenda
Hans von Rohland of the International Labour Organization (ILO) said that the President of Panama, Ricardo Martinelli Berrocal, would today address the plenary of the International Labour Conference at 11.30 a.m. At 4.30 p.m. in the Assembly Hall, a high-level panel would speak about the crisis in and a global work agreement adopted by ILO in 2009.
Also today there would be a discussion of union liberties and protection contracts for union workers facing death, taking place from 1 to 2.30 p.m. in Room 4 at the ILO, and tomorrow at noon Italian President Giorgio Napolitano would be at the conference, said Mr. von Rohland.
Conference on Disarmament
Ms. Vellucci said that the Conference on Disarmament was this morning holding a plenary meeting for a thematic discussion on the subject of “Effective international arrangements to assure non-nuclear-weapon States against the use or threat of use of nuclear weapons”.
Committee on the Rights of the Child
Ms. Vellucci said that the Committee on the Rights of the Child was convening in closed-door meetings this week to adopt its concluding observations on the seven countries it had examined during its 67th session. The concluding observations would be made public at the end of the session, on Friday 15 June, around 5 p.m.
International Media Seminar on Peace in the Middle East
Ms. Vellucci said that a two-day meeting entitled “International Media Seminar on Peace in the Middle East” was kicking off this morning at the CICG at a critical moment for the Middle East and North Africa. The message from Secretary-General to the seminar participants was available at the back of the room, along with the seminar programme.
SG report on children and armed conflict and interview possibilities
Ms. Vellucci said that the Secretary-General had yesterday published his report on children and armed conflict. A press release had been sent to journalists by email and was also available at the back of the room. The Special Representative of the Secretary-General for Children and Armed Conflict, Radhika Coomaraswamy, was available for interviews. Interested journalists could contact either the Information Service or Muriel Gschwend, whose contact details were available from the press release.
Ms. Vellucci said that UN High Commissioner for Refugees António Guterres would present the findings and implications of UNHCR’s 2011 Global Trends Report at a press conference to take place today at 4 p.m. in Press Room 1.
Catherine Sibut-Pinote of the United Nations Conference on Trade and Development said the principal launch of the 2012 report “Economic Development in Africa” would take place at today at noon in Press Room 1, with the participation of UNCTAD Secretary-General Supachai Panitchpakdi and Taffere Tesfachew, Director of UNCTAD’s Division on Africa, Least Developed Countries and Special Programmes.
Gregory Härtl invited journalists to participate in a virtual press conference at 6 p.m. today after the IARC-convened meeting on diesel and petrol exhaust fumes.
Ms. Vellucci said that the Special Advisor to the Director-General of the International Labour Organization, Kari Tapiola, would give a press conference on “The ILO and Myanmar” on Wednesday, 13 June at 10 a.m. in Press Room 1. (ILO accreditation alone is not sufficient for participation – UNOG accreditation is also needed.)
The day after, on Thursday 14 June, Aung San Suu Kyi, the Chairperson of the National League for Democracy in Myanmar, would give a press conference at 11.30 a.m. in Room III. (ILO accreditation alone is not sufficient for participation – UNOG accreditation is also needed.)
WFP-organized piano concert
Elisabeth Byrs of the World Food Programme said that there were a few remaining seats for the piano concert by Sergei Babayan, which would take place at 8 p.m. tomorrow in Geneva, to celebrate the fiftieth anniversary of the World Food Programme. Interested journalists should contact her.