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REGULAR PRESS BRIEFING BY THE INFORMATION SERVICE

5 June 2015

Ahmad Fawzi, Director, a.i, of the UN Information Service in Geneva, chaired the briefing, which was attended by the spokespersons for the World Health Organization, the United Nations Refugee Agency, the United Nations Children’s Fund, the Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs, the International Labour Organization, the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights and the World Trade Organization.

Secretary-General’s activities

Mr. Fawzi informed that the Secretary-General would meet Chancellor Merkel and Foreign Minister Steinmeier in Germany on Saturday 6 June. After that, the Secretary-General would travel to Central Asia and meet officials in Tajikistan, Kyrgyzstan, Turkmenistan and Uzbekistan.

Yemen

Mr. Fawzi said he could still not confirm reports that talks on Yemen would take place in Geneva, primarily due to the reluctance of one side. The UN Envoy for Yemen had been in Dubai the previous day and was likely to continue extensive consultations in the sub-region. The Secretary-General had repeated his call for another humanitarian pause, so that aid could reach Yemeni people.

Jens Laerke, for the Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA), provided an update on the tragic humanitarian situation in Yemen, where a permanent pause was highly hoped for. According to the OCHA, more than one million people had been displaced over the whole country from the escalation of the conflict on 26 March 2015 up to the end of May, half of whom were in only three locations; Hajjah, Al Hudaydah and Ibb. In total, 20 million people were in need of humanitarian assistance. Those figures were to increase in the upcoming weeks if the conflict did not end shortly.

Mr. Laerke reminded the journalists that 2,200 people had already lost their lives, half of whom were civilians, and 10,000 had been injured. However, those figures were preliminary and conservative.

The Yemeni victims needed food, shelters, hygiene, water and sanitation facilities. The public facilities and host families, already facing limited and resources were struggling to keep on giving. The UN agencies and NGOs were providing usual aid, such as education, nutrition, protection, food assistance, etc. Attention was drawn to the large-scale damage caused to health facilities and the Ministry of Health in Sanaa by bombings, fighting and attacks, especially on 3 June.

The strategic response plan was needing USD 748 million, which was only funded up to 22 percent for now.

Answering a question on the number and nature of victims, M. Laerke said that according to the World Health Organization and the Government, until 21 May there had been 2,288 casualties and 9,755 injured people, half of whom were civilians. On the threats to UN personnel and volunteers on the ground, he replied there was no specific threat to NGO and UN staff. The biggest challenge was the operational constraint in terms of food, fuel and commercial imports.

Mr. Laerke specified that since 26 March, five health care workers had been killed and five injured in Yemen while carrying out their duties.
Refugee arrivals to Greece

Melissa Fleming, for the United Nations Refugee Agency (UNHCR), declared that the figures of refugees arriving in Greece had increased dramatically to reach an average of 600 per day. That was exceeding the current almost non-existent capacities in many of the islands. In the first five months of 2015, 42,000 people had arrived by sea to Greece, most of them refugees. It amounted to five times the number recorded the year before.

More than 90 percent of the people were arriving from refugee-producing countries, principally Syria, Afghanistan, Iraq, Somalia and Eritrea. They crossed eastern Aegean Sea from Turkey in small, flimsy boats to land in 15 different Greek islands like Lesvos, Chios and Samos and the Dodecanese Islands (Kos and Leros). Then, they were walking long distances through the Balkans, and struggling to reach northern Europe.

That had led to tremendous bottlenecks as the authorities, mainly the local police, were struggling to regularize their arrivals by finger-printing them, identifying them, and registering them. Ms. Fleming mentioned that there were no regular provisions of food or drinking water to refugees and people were living in abandoned hotels. Humanity expressed by locals was too often ignored by the media which were reporting on tourists complaining instead. UNHCR was responding to that crisis, but also calling for the help of the European Union and NGOs.

The majority of migrants did not stay in Greece, similarly to the situation in Italy. They were moving on to northern Europe, where they had to take an irregular journey and put themselves in the hands of exploitative smugglers.

A growing trend of migrants was making the decision to risk their lives and cross the Mediterranean sea as their life in the neighbouring countries of Lebanon, Jordan and Turkey was becoming too miserable and untenable.

Answering a question on the origin of the 600 refugees arriving in Greece every day and the trajectory of those coming from Libya, Ms. Fleming said that most of them were coming via Turkey, such as the Afghans, the Iraqis and the Syrians. Some were coming from Libya to Turkey, particularly the Eritreans, but that was a smaller number, and some were coming directly from Syria. The direct journey from Libya to Greece was considered to be too long.

On the economic situation of Greece while facing this influx of migrants, and the assistance provided by the UN to the Greek Government, Ms. Fleming emphasized that Greece was in a major economic crisis, and many of its own people were suffering. It was heartwarming to see so many Greek people helping the refugees. Greece needed help from the international community to handle the amount of people arriving, she said.

Nigeria

Rupert Colville, for the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR), stated that the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights, Zeid Ra’ad Al Hussein, said that interviews with individuals who had fled or were rescued from towns previously held by Boko Haram painted a picture of “absolute terror and grave human rights violations” by the insurgents in northeast Nigeria, and also yielded reports of violations of international human rights and international humanitarian law by Nigerian armed forces.

The High Commissioner urged the new administration of Nigerian President Muhammadu Buhari to take measures to bring to justice perpetrators of human rights violations and abuses, whether non-State or State actors. He also called on the authorities to ensure that counter-insurgency operations did not result in deteriorating the human rights situation in the northeast part of the country.

Civilians in northeast Nigeria had been living through horrifying acts of cruelty and violence by Boko Haram. These include wanton killings, summary executions, forced participation in military operations – including the use of children to detonate bombs and as forced labour. They were also victims of forced marriage and sexual violence, including rape.

Eye witnesses described how, in an attack in April on Kwajafa village in Borno State, insurgents had asked villagers to gather and hear them preach. When the villagers gathered, the insurgents opened fire. The UN Human Rights Office also received a video recording an execution, allegedly of a girl who had refused to convert to Islam.

There were reports of children who had been suspected of theft and had their hands amputated, of a man stoned to death on accusations of fornication, mass executions of captives whose hands and legs had been bound before being dumped into rivers and wells. In one incident reported to have taken place in late 2014, Boko Haram had allegedly assembled and brutally killed at least 1,000, possibly many more, male inhabitants of Mararaba Madagali in Adamawa State. Those had been men and boys who had refused to join Boko Haram’s depraved cause.

The High Commissioner added that extremely worrying reports had also emerged about the actions of Nigerian armed forces. One victim recounted his ordeal when he had been mistaken for a Boko Haram member and detained by the military in Yola in Adamawa State. The man said he had spent five days without food or water, as detainees had drunk the urine of others to quench their thirst.

It was crucial to ensure that victims of Boko Haram’s crimes were not doubly victimized by their own Government.

The High Commissioner also stressed that the UN Human Rights Office stood ready to advise the Government on ensuring its counter-terrorism operations were in line with international law. The Office was currently advising the military authorities on a review of the rules of engagement and the code of conduct for counter-terrorism and military operations in the northeast.

Central African Republic

Mr. Fawzi informed that the UN Secretary-General had issued a statement on the allegations of sexual abuse in the Central African Republic. He had decided to set up an External Independent Review to examine the UN System’s handling of those allegations. An announcement with further details on the panel would be published shortly.

Mr. Colville provided an update on one of several incidents involving foreign troops from a number of different States operating in the Central African Republic (CAR) in 2014, which had still not been resolved and required further investigation with the aim of providing accountability for any crimes found to have been committed.

OHCHR was deeply concerned that more than 15 months after the enforced disappearance of at least 11 people, including 5 women and one child, by troops from the Republic of Congo, their whereabouts remained unknown and a full and transparent investigation had not been conducted by responsible authorities inside or outside the country.

According to numerous testimonies from local witnesses interviewed by UN human rights staff in Boali, a small town about 80 km north of Bangui, 11 people had been arrested after an exchange of fire between the anti-Balaka armed group and the Congolese contingent of the African Union-led peacekeeping force in the CAR, known as MISCA, which was not a UN peacekeeping force.

The 11 individuals, including the local anti-Balaka leader, General Maurice Kounouno and his family, had been detained at General Kounouno’s house on 24 March 2014. They had been transferred to the Congolese MISCA base and were being detained there.

A witness who had been at the MISCA base at the time reported hearing crying, screaming and gunshots at the premises occupied by the Commander of the Congolese contingent. Another witness also reported hearing several gunshots. A third witness said that several hours later, the Commander had knocked on his door and requested two shovels, which he said were needed to reinforce the contingent’s defensive positions.
Two other local witnesses said they had noticed traces of vehicles and displaced soil in the
Usine Boali 3 area around that time. Other local sources also said they believed the 11 detained individuals had been killed and buried in that area on the evening of 24 March 2014. Upon visiting the area, human rights staff noticed visible undulation in the land, supporting the contention that the land had been disturbed at one point.

Victims’ families had lodged official complaints to the gendarmerie in May 2014, but there was yet to be an effective investigation. The Commander of the Congolese contingent had reportedly claimed that the 11 individuals had escaped during their transfer to Bangui. MISCA repeated this claim to the UN’s International Commission of Inquiry on the CAR, which also investigated the incident in its report. However, local authorities interviewed by UN human rights staff denied they had ever received a request from the Congolese MISCA force to accompany the detainees to Bangui (the normal procedure).

OHCHR strongly urged the relevant authorities, including the Government of the CAR, the African Union and the Republic of Congo, to ensure without further delay that an impartial, effective and transparent investigation was conducted to clarify the fate of the people involved, in particular by investigating the
Usine Boali 3 area, where a number of separate witness accounts, as well as other circumstantial evidence, suggested the bodies of the missing people might have been buried. The investigation should be conducted with a view to ensuring that the perpetrators of any crime were brought to justice and victims had access to adequate reparation.

The High Commissioner had also stressed that the role of international forces in halting the worst of the fighting and sectarian slaughter in the CAR had been invaluable, and their presence had unquestionably saved a large number of lives. Yet, in some cases, the longed-for protectors might have themselves seriously breached international human rights law.

The High Commissioner was sending a team from Geneva to the CAR to look into possible further measures to address human rights violations. He had also been engaging directly with States which provided troops that are the subject of serious allegations, requesting more information about the steps they had taken to investigate those allegations, and urging prosecution of anyone found to have committed crimes.

Answering a question, Mr. Colville confirmed that the High Commissioner had met the Under-Secretary General for Peacekeeping Operations during his visit to Geneva a few weeks earlier.

Responding to a question on the sexual abuse of children in the CAR, Christophe Boulierac, for the United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF), said that on 16 July, UNICEF headquarters in New York had shared information on reported cases of abuse of children in the CAR with the UN Special Representative of the Secretary-General for Children and Armed Conflict.

Liberia

Mr. Boulierac said that today UNICEF had begun distributing the first batches of 700,000 teaching and learning kits to thousands of schools across Liberia.

Those kits would help ensure the continuity of education and learning for students in Liberia, post Ebola. The 700,000 kits would be distributed to 4,460 schools in all counties and districts of Liberia.

The education of over one million children was affected by the closure of schools during the peak of the Ebola outbreak in Liberia. UNICEF had provided infection prevention and control kits to help schools reopen and was now providing those materials to assist students and teachers return to school, teach effectively, and learn effectively using basic resources.

Mr. Boulierac informed that UNICEF, with funding from the US Agency for International Development (USAID), had purchased the teaching and learning material for 4,460 schools. UNICEF had been exclusively responsible for packing 700,000 kits, and was working with Liberia’s Ministry of Education to distribute those materials to all of the identified schools across Liberia.

UNICEF would distribute the teaching and learning kits using trucks and four-wheel drive vehicles to ensure timely delivery of materials to schools before the height of the rainy season. The distribution process was expected to continue for the following12 weeks.

Finally, Mr. Boulierac reminded media that schools had reopened in Liberia on 16 February 2015 after a six-month closure due to Ebola. Preliminary details showed that over 800,000 children had returned to school since the reopening in February.

Bahrain

Mr. Colville said that the OHCHR was concerned about the harsh treatment of detainees at the Jaw Prison in Bahrain following a riot there in early March. The riot had been put down by security forces using rubber bullets, tear gas and shotguns, resulting in many injuries but no deaths. After the riot had been quelled, the detainees had been allegedly forced to spend 10 days out in the open courtyard of the prison before eventually being placed in two large plastic tents (reportedly around 300 detainees per tent). Around 100 other detainees - those accused of instigating the unrest – had been subsequently transferred to another section of the Jaw prison, and there were allegations that they were subjected to ill-treatment and torture.

OHCHR urged the authorities to conduct impartial, speedy and effective investigations and to ensure that any victims of torture or ill-treatment had access to appropriate remedies. OHCHR reminded the authorities in Bahrain that there was an absolute prohibition of torture under international law. There were no exceptions whatsoever to that prohibition in any circumstances.

OHCHR was also particularly concerned about two individuals currently in detention in Bahrain: Sheikh Ali al-Salman, the Secretary General of al-Wefaq political party and Nabeel Rajab, one of Bahrain’s most prominent and respected human rights defenders.

Sheikh Ali al-Salman had been arrested on 28 December 2014. His pre-trial detention had been repeatedly extended since then, and he was expected to be sentenced later this month. Al-Salman and his lawyers said that they had consistently been prevented by the court from presenting oral arguments. Nabeel Rajab had been arrested on 2 April on charges related to insulting a statutory body (in other words, for reporting publicly on what was going on inside the Jaw prison) and spreading rumours during wartime. If convicted, Rajab might face up to ten years in prison.

Mr. Colville stressed that a lasting resolution to the instability that had plagued Bahrain was not going to be reached solely through reliance on security means or through repressive measures aimed at silencing critical voices. It needed to be through a genuine dialogue between the Government and the opposition without preconditions.

Myanmar

Mr. Boulierac informed media that 51 children and young people had been discharged yesterday from the Myanmar Armed Forces, known as the Tatmadaw.

This second batch for the year brought the total to 93 children discharged from the Army since the beginning of 2015.

Since June 2012, when the Myanmar Government had committed to ending the recruitment and use of children in its armed forces by signing a Joint Action Plan with the United Nations, 646 children had been released from the Army.

UNICEF and its partners were involved at many levels: identification of suspected minors; preparation before the ceremony with provision of health check; liaison with the Army; supporting the transition to civilian life; provision of kits to children, etc.

Children received the visit of a social worker once a month to accompany them to go back to school and attend vocational training and access income-generating activities

Currently, UNICEF and its partners were supporting more than 700 children formerly associated with armed forces/groups

Mr. Boulierac stressed that, as children continued to suffer from the ongoing conflict in Myanmar, such efforts had to continue, intensify and be more systematic to provide children with effective protection against any form of abuse.

MERS

Christian Lindmeier, for the World Health Organization (WHO), said that 41 cases in China and the Republic of Korea, including 4 deaths, had been reported so far. Those cases were all linked to one chain of transmission, which implied that it was not possible to talk about a sustained human-to-human transmission. The global figures now stood at 1,193, including 446 deaths, a total made up not only by Korean and Chinese cases, but also by other Middle Eastern countries, such as Saudi Arabia.

Mr. Lindmeier reported a press release sent by the WHO office in Manila, which said that the WHO and the Republic of Korea’s Ministry of Health and Welfare would conduct a joint mission to the Republic of Korea. The mission came after close consultation between WHO and the Government. The WHO team would be led by Assistant Director-General for Health Security Dr. Keiji Fukuda. The pressing objective of that joint mission was to gain information and review the situation in the Republic of Korea, including the epidemiological pattern, the characteristic of the virus and clinical features. The team would also assess the public health response efforts and provide recommendations for response measures going forward. The team would be composed of more than 10 people and include partners from other agencies and possibly from the neighbouring countries.

WHO had also been notified by the Republic of Korea that now 1,820 contacts were being monitored, 1,636 of whom were at home and self-monitored, while the other 184 were in facilities and facility-monitored. By now, 159 cases had been released from monitoring.

Asked about the transmission chain, Mr. Lindmeier explained that what qualified a sustained human-to-human transmission was a wide range of transmissions, while the 40 cases WHO had been notified of so far were all directly linked back to the initial Chinese traveller to Korea.

In response to a journalist who suggested a specific technical briefing on MERS-CoV, Mr. Lindmeier said that it would probably be possible to schedule it once the experts had returned from their mission in Korea.

Regarding the closure of schools by the Government of the Republic of Korea, Mr. Lindmeier underlined that such individual measures were a prerogative of national authorities.

With regards to the difference in the amount of cases between Korea, where there had been 40 cases so far, and the other countries that counted only a few cases, Mr. Lindmeier explained that it was an ongoing situation since there were additional cases every week, even in Saudi Arabia and in the Middle East. He added that one of the reasons for the initial spike in the amount of cases was due to the time required to identify the MERS-CoV in the initial patient. Given that the symptoms of MERS-CoV were flu-like, they were not immediately detected, and the doctors only recognized them when the health authorities in the country had been informed of the spread of the new virus in the area. The spike was detectable in the initial days, but then the amount of individual infections followed an almost regular decreasing path.

International Labour Conference

A high-level side event on better protection of migrant workers and better governed labour migration would take place in Room XVI of the Palais des Nations at 1 p.m. today. Panelists would include: Guy Rider, ILO Director-General, Cecilia Rebong, Ambassador of the Philippines to the United Nations Office at Geneva, Jean-Marie Ehouzou, African Union Ambassador to the United Nations Office at Geneva, Peter Sorensen, European Union Ambassador to the United Nations Office at Geneva, and Volker Turk, UNHCR’s Assistant High Commissioner for Protection. A light lunch would be provided.

Geneva activities

Mr. Fawzi announced that the Committee on the Rights of the Child was concluding its three-week session this afternoon.

The Committee on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights was considering the initial report of Thailand today.

The Conference on Disarmament was meeting at 3 p.m. today. The President was expected to table a proposal on the organization of work.

Mr. Colville informed that the Commission of Inquiry on Eritrea would present its report on 8 June. The press conference would take place in Press Room III at 10.30 a.m. Sheila B. Keetharuth, Member of the Commission and Special Rapporteur on the situation of human rights in Eritrea, would speak.

Mr. Lindmeier announced that the Global Health Summit would examine the post-2015 development agenda and set priorities and recommendations for health measurements during the week of 9 to 11 June. A media briefing was set for 8 June from 4 to 5 p. m. and it was accessible by phone. The first day of the conference, on 9 June, would be open to the media.

Mr. Lindmeier announced that on 12 June, the WHO and the World Bank would launch the first global report on tracking progress in the world health coverage. An event would be organized at the UN office in New York and it would be broadcasted. All details were available on the advisory distributed by the WHO.

Melissa Begag, for the World Trade Organization (WTO), informed media that the WTO would host an Open Day on 14 June, from 10 a.m to 5 p.m, under the title Merci Genève. The programme is already available on the website "Merci Genève". Many activities would be offered, including visits, exhibitions, presentations, and activities for children. Food and beverage stalls would also be organized by the WTO Member States throughout the day. Roberto Azevêdo, WTO Director-General, Ambassador Fernando De Mateo, President of the WTO General Council, Ambassador Didier Chambovey, Permanent Representative of Switzerland to the WTO, Serge Dal Busco, Geneva State Councillor, and Esther Alder, Mayor of Geneva, would attend the opening ceremony.

A press briefing would be organized today at 12.30 p.m. in Press Room I on the session of the Committee on Agriculture that took place this week.

Ms. Begag also reminded media about the 20th and last meeting of the working group on WTO accession of Kazakhstan on 10 June, in the morning. That meeting would include two parts, the second one being in late June, at a date yet to be confirmed. In the first part, a new text on phyto-sanitary measures was to be added to the other texts related to that accession. In the second part, all those texts would be submitted to the formal approval of WTO members.

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The webcast for this briefing is available here: … http://bit.ly/unog050615