REGULAR PRESS BRIEFING BY THE INFORMATION SERVICE
4 June 2013
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 Human Rights Council, the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights, United Nations High Commission for Refugees, World Food Programme, Office for the Coordination for Humanitarian Affairs, World Health Organization, International Organization for Migration, International Labour Organization, World Meteorological Organization and United Nations Environment Programme.
Corinne Momal-Vanian, Director of the United Nations Information Service in Geneva, answered questions about the tripartite talks between the United Nations, Russia and the United States due to take place at the Palais des Nations tomorrow, Wednesday 5 June. Ms. Momal-Vanian said that the press would have the opportunity to film the arrival of delegates early in the morning at Door 4 of the Palais. She said that a press stake-out might be arranged with the Joint Special Representative of the United Nations and the League of Arab States on the Syrian crisis, Lakhdar Brahimi, but it had not been confirmed yet. If a press opportunity was going to take place it would be planned for around lunchtime.
Melissa Fleming for the United Nations High Commission for Refugees (UNHCR), said that with the battle for Al Qusayr in Syria now into its third week, UNHCR had been seeing small numbers of Qusayri refugees arriving in eastern Lebanon. From the handful of interviews UNHCR had done so far, it appeared that a new route for displaced people had opened up from the Qusayr area towards Arsal in Lebanon, about 100 kilometres away. Some of those forced out of Qusayr by the fighting were fleeing into Lebanon as refugees, while others were being displaced internally to towns including Qara, Nabek, and Hasyah.
Refugees in Lebanon told of an extremely difficult journey, made on foot. Fighters were said to be targeting people as they tried to flee. No route out of Qusayr was considered safe, and there were continued reports of between 700 and 1500 injured civilians being trapped in Qusayr.
UNHCR was not in a position to verify those details, or to establish who was targeting whom, as there was no humanitarian access into the city. However, it could confirm that most of those who had fled so far were women and children. Those who UNHCR had spoken to worryingly said it was unsafe to flee with men, who were at heightened risk of being arrested or killed at checkpoints along the way. None of the refugees was able or willing to identify those who were manning the checkpoints. One woman told UNHCR that people in Qusayr were faced with a stark choice: "you leave and risk being killed by a bomb, or you stay and face a certainty of being killed." Ms. Fleming said that a UNHCR colleague in Lebanon said that refugees from Al Qusayr were absolutely terrified, even once they’d reached the safety of Lebanon.
Qusayr itself was described as a ghost town, heavily damaged, and filled with the sound of bombs. People were said to be hiding in bunkers or holes dug as shelters. One lady told UNHCR, “'we couldn't leave the hole for a week. We ate the little food had brought down with us. My children were crying constantly.” One of the few men to have arrived in Lebanon said he had fled after his home was bombed and his 20-year-old son had been killed. He had no belongings with him. All those UNHCR spoke to reported great fear of approaching any checkpoint.
UNHCR shared the grave concerns of other UN organizations and the International Committee of the Red Cross, who had spoken out in recent days, over the serious humanitarian situation and the risks to the civilian population. It was imperative that people seeking a route out of Qusayr, and other unsafe locations, be allowed access to safe areas.
Meanwhile, UNHCR continued to be concerned about impediments in the way of people seeking to reach safety in other border areas and parts of the region. This week in Jordan, 4,323 individuals managed to cross from Syria between Monday 27 May and Sunday 2nd June. However, that number was still sharply down on the numbers from earlier in May when 26,600 people crossed the border in the first 18 days of the month. Refugees continued to report difficulties in accessing the border. Access to safety and protection in neighbouring states was of life-saving importance given the reports of insecurity and violence in many areas.
Crossing into Iraq was also difficult. Since May 19th, the Peshkapor border crossing in the Kurdistan region, where most Syrians had been entering Iraq, had been closed to refugees. Consequently, people trying to escape violence and conflict in Syria by seeking refuge in the Kurdistan Region were no longer able to do so. Nearly 150,000 refugees had been offered asylum in the Kurdistan Region. Given the level of insecurity many more were expected to come. In addition, the closure of the border at Al Qa'im, since October 2012, was impeding those Syrians seeking refuge in Anbar Governorate. That had, in part, led to the return of many registered refugees in to Syria as they had come without family members hoping to bring them in, and could no longer bring family members into Iraq, in addition to not being able to access the labour market in Al Qa'im town.
UNHCR was also hearing reports from refugees of increasing difficulties at many crossing points with Turkey. People seeking to approach the border from inside Syria reported controlled access, resulting in fewer people getting across. UNHCR had not been able to verify that information directly. All Syrians wishing to flee should be allowed to do so, and be given safe passage.
Tarik Jasarevic for the World Health Organization (WHO) said the WHO was deeply concerned about the increasing numbers of communicable diseases in Syria and among displaced Syrians in neighbouring countries in the region as summer approached. Lack of prevention and control measures created a potential risk of outbreaks. Over the past two years, Syria’s health system had been severely disrupted, with hospitals damaged and health workers not being able to work.
Since the start of the conflict WHO had put into place an early warning and response network system for disease outbreaks consisting of 154 sentinel sites – health centres, non-governmental organizations, physicians who reported from all parts of Syria about a number of diseases. Exact figures were provided to journalists separately.
There were increased rates of hepatitis A, typhoid, cholera and dysentery as well as significant increases in acute watery diarrhoea. Some of those diseases had been seen in the last year, but some were new, such as the increase in measles; previously national vaccination coverage for measles was from 95 per cent in 2010, but today it was an estimated 45 per cent in 2013. An additional concern was the movement of displaced Syrians moving to neighbouring countries.
Key measures being taken by WHO and partners including ICRC and UNICEF colleagues included supplying safe drinking water and sanitation. The provision of safe drinking water was one of the most important thing to do. The WHO representative in Damascus would be happy to answer any further questions.
Human Rights Council
Rolando Gomez for the Human Rights Council (HRC), said the Council started at 9 a.m. with a long list of non-governmental organizations speaking that should conclude around 11 a.m. Shortly after then Chairperson Paulo Pinheiro will present the report of the Independent Commission of Inquiry on Syria. Mr. Gomez would share Mr. Pinheiro’s statement with journalists, which should be checked against delivery. He would also issue a media advisory. Syria would then speak as the concerned country after Mr. Pinheiro, followed by an interactive dialogue with States. The dialogue should last approximately three hours and would be webcast live. Therefore the embargo on the report and yesterday’s press conference would also be lifted when the presentation takes place. The meeting could be monitored via webcast - http://webtv.un.org. [In response to questions by journalists about the embargo reportedly being broken this morning by a TV station, Mr. Gomez later announced that the embargo had been lifted as of 10.15 a.m.]
Later today, the HRC would be presented with the report of the Special Rapporteur on the situation of human rights in Belarus, Mr. Miklos Haraszti, followed by an interactive dialogue. That would be followed by a presentation of the report of the Special Rapporteur on the situation of human rights in Eritrea, Ms. Sheila Keetharuth, followed by another interactive dialogue.
Mr. Gomez highlighted that the report of Mr. Richard Falk, the Special Rapporteur on the human rights situation in the Occupied Palestinian Territories had just been published and would be presented on Monday 10 June. He also noted that the deadline for the submission of draft resolutions was 1 p.m. Thursday 6 June.
Mr Gomez confirmed that the press conference scheduled for 11.30 a.m. today with the Special Rapporteur on the rights to freedom of peaceful assembly and of association Mr. Frank La Rue had been cancelled. If any journalist would like to speak with Mr. La Rue or his assistant that could be arranged and they should contact Mr. Gomez directly.
Other press conferences included one at 10 a.m. on Wednesday 5 June in Press Room 1 convened by the Permanent Mission of Costa Rica and the non-governmental organization The Foundation for Peace without Borders. Spanish artist and co-founder of the foundation Miguel Bosé would speak on the right to peace. Later the same day a side event on the same subject would take place at 1 p.m. in Room XXII.
On Wednesday 5 June the Special Rapporteur on Eritrea, Ms. Sheila Keetharuth, would speak to journalists in a press conference to take place at 2.30 p.m. in Press Room I.
The Permanent Mission of Russia would host a side event titled ‘Syria, the Path to Peace’ on Friday 7 June at 2 p.m. until 4 p.m. in Room XIX, which will feature speakers including the Grand Mufti of Syria and Nobel Peace Prize winner Mairead Maguire.
Cécile Pouilly for the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR), said that they were concerned about reports of excessive use of force by law enforcement officers against protestors who initially gathered to express their dissatisfaction with the redevelopment of the historic Taksim square - an important venue for political protests - and Gezi Park, and against others who joined demonstrations to support them throughout Turkey.
OHCHR welcomed the acknowledgment on the part of authorities that disproportionate force may have been used and their call for an investigation of law enforcement officers who were alleged to have broken the law and violated international human rights standards. Such investigations should be prompt, thorough, independent and impartial, and perpetrators should be brought to justice. There had also been reports that a high number of people had been arrested and dozens had been injured throughout Turkey. All those injured must have prompt access to medical care, while human rights safeguards during arrest and detention must be upheld to avoid unlawful or arbitrary detentions.
OHCHR called on the Government of Turkey to ensure that the right to freedom of peaceful assembly was fully respected and urged protestors to ensure that demonstrations remained peaceful. OHCHR encouraged the authorities to enter into a genuine dialogue with the civil society, including neighbourhood associations, on the urban projects in the Taksim square and Gezi park.
Melissa Fleming for the United Nations High Commission for Refugees (UNHCR), said that in southeast Chad, UNHCR was speeding relocation of refugees from Tissi to a site some 30 kilometres northwest at Ab Gadam. That was because of the impending rainy season and security concerns about Tissi itself, which lay in a very volatile border area. It was a result of worrying clashes continuing in Darfur that continued to drive people across the border in Chad. More details were available in the press release.
Central African Republic
Jens Laerke for the Office for the Coordination for Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA) said that in the Central African Republic (CAR), health partners had managed to reach and vaccinate nearly 123,000 children in the capital Bangui despite continued insecurity. The immunization campaign took place from 22 to 24 May and reached 99 per cent of the targeted beneficiaries.
However, the Humanitarian Appeal, which asked for US$139 million for the overall humanitarian response, continued to be underfunded at 31 per cent. The Central Emergency response Fund (CERF) had now injected $7.1 million to urgently support life-saving interventions for 1.1 million people by UN agencies and partners.
Mr. Laerke said a press release about the Central Emergency response Fund (CERF) would be sent out to journalists later today.
Seasonal climate outlook
Clare Nullis for the World Meteorological Organization (WMO) said that the meteorological summer in Europe started at the weekend on 1 June. Much of Europe, the United States of America, north-west Russia and parts of Japan had a much colder than average spring (1 March to 1 June), which ended with heavy rain in some European countries. By contrast, the Arctic region was considerably warmer than normal, as was a large area of central and northern Africa (except Morocco and western Algeria), the Eastern Mediterranean, southern Russia and much of China.
Highlighting key facts Ms. Nullis said that Germany had its second wettest May since the beginning of records in 1881, with 178 per cent of the average May rainfall. The United Kingdom reported its fifth coldest spring on national records dating back to 1990 and the coldest since 1962. Austria received as much rain from Thursday to Sunday as it would normally receive in one and a half to two months. A red alert continued in the Czech Republic, especially Prague, for flooding. According to the Finnish Meteorological Institute, May was unusually, in many places even exceptionally, warm. The anomalies were particularly great in Lapland.
Turning to the seasonal climate outlook for West Africa and Sahel, Ms. Nullis said the regions were not expected to experience severe precipitation deficits during the July to September rainy season. In fact near or above average rainfall was expected. Ms. Nullis would send a briefing note to journalists with more details, figures and maps.
International Labour Conference
Hans von Rohland for the International Labour Organization (ILO) briefed on the 102nd Session of the International Labour Conference which would start tomorrow, Wednesday June 5 at the Palais des Nations and run until 20 June. Nearly 5,000 delegates from 185 ILO member states would participate in the 102nd Session of the International Labour Conference. Every Member State of the ILO was represented by a delegation consisting of two government delegates, an employer delegate, a worker delegate and their respective advisors.
On Wednesday June 5 ILO Director-General Guy Ryder would open the conference and present his report which would feature facts, proposals and more on issues including changes in the workplace, institutional challenges to provide the ILO with means necessary for its work and initiatives to commemorate the ILO’s centenary. Four other reports or commissions to be considered that day would be on the application of standards, employment and social protection in the new demographic, sustainable development, decent work and ‘green jobs’ and on social dialogue.
On Thursday, 6 June there would be a media launch of the report on the situation of workers in the Occupied Arab Territories, at 10 a.m. in Press Room 1. Speaking at the event would be Mr. Kari Tapiola, Special advisor to the ILO Director-General. Also on 6 June the VCT@WORK initiative would be launched. The initiative sought to provide voluntary and confidential HIV counselling and testing to five million workers in the world. Discussing HIV in the workplace would be ILO Director-General Guy Ryder and Executive Director of UN AIDS Michel Sidibé. The launch would take place in Room XVI of the Palais des Nations at 1.15 p.m. and a note would be sent to correspondents with more information later today.
Highlighting other key events in the programme of work, Mr. Rohland said that on Wednesday 12 June, the Conference would be addressed by the President of Malawi marking the World Day against Child Labour. An ILO report on child domestic labour would also be presented. On the afternoon of Friday 14 June the Conference would hear from the President of the European Council, Mr van Rompuy. On Monday 17 June there would be a World of Work summit. It would include a panel discussion on ‘Regaining Trust: jobs, growth and social progress’ featuring ILO Director-General Guy Ryder, and four other participants: Mr. Carlos Lopes, Executive Director of the United Nations Commission for Africa, Mr. Franck Vandenbroucke, Professor of Economics at University of Antwerp and the former Labour Minister of Belgium as well as representatives of other social partners involved. The same day the Conference would hear a statement from the President of the African Union.
Hans von Rohland for the International Labour Organization (ILO) said that yesterday the ILO hosted the first meeting of the Accord Implementation Team. That was the 12 person body appointed by all signatories of the Accord on 23 May to develop an implementation plan for fire and building safety in Bangladesh. The meeting discussed and developed action plans on a range of issues such as the establishment of a legal entity for the accord, governance arrangements for the steering committee, finance and the hiring of staff including the Chief Labour Inspector. Task teams had also been established to action those matters and arrangements for an interim secretariat to service the teams had also been made. The contact details of the interim secretariat had been requested and Mr. Rohland hoped to get names and contact details for the press.
Gaëlle Sevenier for the International Organization for Migration (IOM) said IOM Director General William Swing would leave Kabul today after an overnight visit to show support to staff and thank the Afghan Government for their actions during and after the recent attack last week on an IOM compound. The attack resulted in three deaths: one policeman and two civilians in neighbouring houses, and two injured IOM and UN staff. His visit emphasized the message that after 21 continuous years of humanitarian work in Afghanistan, IOM would not be deterred from its mandate by the attack.
Gaëlle Sevenier for the International Organization for Migration (IOM) said IOM has helped 42 Ethiopian migrants stranded in Hargeisa, Somaliland, to voluntarily return home. Many of the group, who sought shelter at IOM’s Migration Response Centre in Hargeisa, were sick or had suffered serious violations at the hands of smugglers and traffickers.
Every year thousands of Ethiopian migrants try to cross the Gulf of Aden to reach Yemen, Saudi Arabia, and the Gulf states, mostly in search of work. According to the multi-agency regional Mixed Migration Task Force, in 2012 over 107,000 irregular migrants made the journey. Over 80 per cent came from Ethiopia.
IOM was planning to help ten more Ethiopian migrants to voluntarily return home from Bossaso in Puntland later this month. But it has very limited funds to help stranded migrants in the Horn of Africa and Yemen and was appealing to donors for additional funding.
World Environment Day
Ms. Momal Vanian announced that World Environment Day would take place tomorrow, 5 June and that the Secretary General’s message for the day was available at the back of the room and online.
Isabelle Valentiny, for United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP) said that this year the theme of World Environment Day focused on food waste and food loss. The new “Think. Eat. Save. Reduce Your Footprint” campaign launched earlier this year in Geneva by UNEP and the Food and Agricultural Organization (FAO) in conjunction with public and private partners, drew attention to the issue of high volumes of edible produce never made it from the farm to the fork. Special events would taking place in Geneva on Wednesday 5 June would be held at International Environment House and other locations, details of which were on www.jme-ge.ch.
Gaëlle Sevenier for the International Organization for Migration (IOM) invited media to a “brown bag lunch” event for World Environment Day on Wednesday 5 June from 12 p.m. until 1.30 p.m. A short film and presentation on displacement and migration due to climate change would be given. Details to be sent separately.
Ms. Momal Vanian said that the Committee on the Rights of the Child this morning began its consideration of the report of Uzbekistan. Yesterday the Committee considered the report of Israel. On Thursday and Friday this week the Committee would examine the reports of Slovenia and Guinea-Bissau respectively, completing their country report reviews for the session, which ends next Friday 14 June.
Ms. Momal Vanian advised that the Conference on Disarmament would hold a plenary session this morning.
Elisabeth Byrs, for the World Food Programme (WFP) announced that a press conference would be held on Thursday, 6 June at 11.00 a.m. in Press Room 1 on the Revised Appeal for Syria, which would detail WFP’s response to the on-going humanitarian crisis in Syria. Speaking at the event would be Amir Abdulla, Deputy Executive Director and Chief Operating Officer and Muhannad Hadi, Syria Regional Emergency Coordinator. Ms. Byrs noted that the press conference would be under an embargo until 1 p.m. on Friday 7 June. Ms. Byrs said that the United Nations Children’s Fund may also make a presentation at the event, to be confirmed by Marixie Mercado in a separate correspondence.
Tarik Jasarevic for the World Health Organization (WHO) announced a press conference that would take place on Wednesday, 5 June 2013, at 11.00 a.m. in Press Room 1 on the WHO consolidated package of guidance to address both undernutrition and obesity.
Dr. Francesco Branca, Director of the Department of Nutrition for Health and Development would speak at the event. The consolidated package of guidance documents would be published on Thursday 6 June by the Lancet series on Nutrition. WHO would provide the press with a summary of those very lengthy documents later today, to be found in Press Room I.
Gaëlle Sevenier for the International Organization for Migration (IOM) also highlighted the first Diaspora Ministerial Conference would take place in Geneva from Tuesday 18 June to Wednesday 19 June, at the International Conference Centre Geneva (CICG). Participants would include ministers, senior officials, experts and other interested stakeholders, particularly from countries with or hosting a large diaspora. Some 75 countries had already formally accepted to take part. Journalists were invited to attend the regular press briefing on Friday 14 June when Peter Schatzer, Senior Advisor to the Director-General and Diaspora Ministerial Conference Coordinator would be speaking. All journalists with a press card could access the conference but would need to fill out a registration form to enter the CICG available via www.diaspora.iom.int
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The representative of the United Nations Children’s Fund also attended the briefing but did not speak.
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The webcast for this briefing is available here: webtv.un.org/media