REGULAR PRESS BRIEFING BY THE INFORMATION SERVICE
1 July 2011
Corinne Momal-Vanian, the Director of the UN Information Service in Geneva, chaired the briefing which was also attended by Spokespersons for and Representatives of the Economic Commission for Europe, the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights, the UN Children's Fund, the International Organization for Migration, the World Health Organization and the Office for ECOSOC Support and Coordination, UN Department of Economic and Social Affairs.
ECOSOC 2011 Substantial Session
Ms. Momal-Vanian said that the UN Economic and Social Council would open its 2011 substantial session, held at the Palais des Nations from 4 to 29 July, on Monday at 9.15 a.m. in Room XX with the High-level Segment. Lasting for one week, the High-level Segment notably included a keynote by Swiss President Micheline Calmy-Rey (on Monday, 4 July at 2.45 p.m.) and an address by UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon (on Thursday, 7 July at 3 p.m.).
This year’s High-level Segment was dedicated to questions relating to education and more specifically to “Implementing the internationally agreed goals and commitment in regard to education”. A ministerial declaration would be adopted at the end of the High-level Segment. The Information Service had yesterday published a background release on the substantial session and a press kit was available at the back of the room.
Just before the opening of the ECOSOC High-level Segment on Monday, senior UN officials such as the UN Deputy Secretary-General, the President of the UN General Assembly, the President of the ECOSOC and the Director-General of UNESCO would meet with local pupils. The encounter would take place at about 8.20 a.m. on the Place des Nations, close to the gate leading to the Palais des Nations. The press was invited to participate.
Nikhil Seth, the Director of the Office for ECOSOC Support and Coordination, UN Department of Economic and Social Affairs, joining in by teleconference, said that the High-level Segment focused on education for all, a subject which was vital for the achievement of all Millennium Development Goals. A number of high-level representatives were participating to discuss how to accelerate progress regarding the education for all agenda.
As preparation for the High-level Segment, a series of global and regional preparatory meetings had been organized. The outcomes would be brought to the forthcoming ECOSOC session in the hope of accelerating a better understanding of and progress towards the education for all agenda. Regional meetings had been held in Argentina, Togo, Thailand and Qatar in the last six months.
Discussions on a ministerial declaration, the legislative outcome of the High-level Segment, were ongoing, said Mr. Seth. Eleven countries would also be giving national voluntary presentations -- including Bangladesh, Belarus, Germany, Malawi, Mauritius, Mexico, Pakistan, Qatar, Senegal, Turkey and Venezuela -- to present the lessons learned and the difficulties encountered in their development policies.
The headline statistics on education were not that great, Mr. Seth went on to say. In 2008, 67 million primary school children were out of school, 10 million children dropped out of school every year in the Sub-Saharan African region and 17 per cent of the world’s adults, or almost 800 million people, lacked basic literacy skills.
Responding to a question, Mr. Seth also indicated that a report on current trends and their impact on education was available on the website of ECOSOC www.un.org./en/ecosoc.
Codex Alimentarius Commission
Fadéla Chaib of the World Health Organization said that the annual meeting of the Codex Alimentarius Commission would be held from 4 to 9 July at the CICG. The meeting was open to journalists and a media advisory was at the back of the room.
Tom Heilandt, Senior Food Standard Officer, said that about 500 delegates were expected for the annual meeting, where several issues would be discussed including the risk of food-borne antimicrobial resistance, the control of campylobacter and salmonella spp in chicken meat and reducing the risk of contamination of foods, as well as the storage and transport of edible fats and oils in bulk and the labeling of foods derived from modern biotechnology.
Rupert Colville of the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights said that the OHCHR mission to Yemen was going well so far with cooperation from the Government which had allowed UNHCR’s team full access. The team had met the Vice-President in Sana’a as well as opposition leaders, NGOs and protestors in Sana’a and Taiz. They had conducted interviews, collected documents and visited the two key protest locations in Sana’a where anti-government and pro-government protestors had been gathering. The Government had informed the UNHCR team about the process they were undertaking to restart political dialogue.
The team would be able to give more details upon their return. But so far, in addition to the work they had conducted in Sana’a, they had also seen for themselves the situation in Taiz, including visiting the square that was attacked on 29 May. They had also visited two hospitals looted in the violence of late May. During the next few days the team was due to visit prisons and speak to internally displaced people elsewhere in Yemen as well, before their return to Geneva on 6 July.
Disturbances at Kenya’s Dadaab complex as Somali influx grows
Adrian Edwards of the UN High Commissioner for Refugees said that yesterday had seen serious disturbances in the Dagahley section of the Dadaab refugee complex in Kenya. Rioting broke out when police sought to disperse a crowd that was protesting an attempt to demolish illegal structures around a food distribution point. Teargas was used, and later live gunshot. UNHCR’s information was that two refugees were killed and around a dozen injured.
The security situation was still being evaluated late yesterday. Sadly, this incident was symptomatic of the pressures at the camp amid overcrowding compounded by the very high number of arrivals seen recently from Somalia. More than 61,000 Somalis had sought safety in Kenya since the start of the year. As of 6 June UNHCR had opened three emergency centres in Dadaab. Since then a further 27,000 people had approached the reception centres at these sites.
The same outflow was being seen in Ethiopia, which had seen 55,000 Somali refugees arriving since the start of this year. Twenty-six per cent of new arrivals were malnourished, while among children this rate was higher. UNHCR had introduced a blanket feeding programme for children below the age of five. Urgent funding was needed to deal with this situation.
To provide protection and shelter for new Somali arrivals to Ethiopia, a new camp had been opened last Friday in cooperation with the Ethiopian authorities at Kobe, some 50 kilometers from Dollo Ado. This was the third camp for Somalis in southeast Ethiopia and the sixth in the country. At present Ethiopia hosted 130,000 Somali refugees.
As of yesterday UNHCR had transported 7,500 Somali refugees from the transit centre at Dollo Ado to the camp at Kobe, which could accommodate up to 20,000 people. However, with the mass influx continuing there was significant congestion and Kobe was expected to reach full capacity in a matter of days. Ethiopian authorities had already allocated land for a fourth camp near Kobe.
Humanitarian agencies inside Somalia said that they remained concerned about mines and other continuing security threats, making access extremely dangerous and difficult. UNHCR was also receiving reports that people displaced by drought, lack of food and insecurity in the Bay, Bakool and Lower Shabelle regions were arriving in Mogadishu in search of food and other humanitarian assistance.
UNHCR issues recommendations as Poland assumes EU Presidency
Mr. Edwards said that UNHCR had made recommendations to Poland on taking forward the EU asylum agenda, upon the commencement of its European Union Presidency today. The UNHCR recommendations focused on four areas. First, the need for Europe to keep its borders open to people fleeing the crisis in Libya, and to show solidarity with Tunisia and Egypt, as the countries of first refuge. Second, the importance of continued efforts to build asylum capacity and protection space in countries at the EU's Eastern border as well as in the Western Balkans. Third, the work which remained to be done in order to build a truly Common European Asylum System, in view of continued major discrepancies in the practice of EU countries. And fourth, the EU's potential contribution to UNHCR's commemorations in 2011.
Long-term psychological problems affecting migrants fleeing Libya need addressing
Jean-Philippe Chauzy of the International Organization for Migration said that migrants fleeing Libya and suffering psychological stress would not be able to fully recover without continuous care once they returned home or were resettled to another country. These migrant workers, who had arrived in streams of hundreds of thousands in Tunisia and Egypt, were often traumatized after witnessing scenes of violence.
The help provided by IOM has been limited to transit centres. But the organization intended to underline the psychosocial needs of affected persons, notably in the countries of origin, and work with authorities to try to provide the necessary support. An IOM expert in this area was available for interviews and press conferences on this often neglected aspect.
Horn of Africa
Marixie Mercado of the UN Children's Fund, providing data on the malnutrition situation among children in some of the countries worst hit by drought in the Horn of Africa, said that UNICEF estimated an expected caseload of 480,000 severely malnourished children in Somalia, Kenya and Ethiopia this year, compared with 320,000 children in 2009, which was an increase of about 50 per cent.
In the south of Somalia, which was among the worst affected areas and where humanitarian assistance was most restricted, at least one in three children was severely malnourished. Humanitarian conditions were the worst they had been in a decade, with 2.85 million people, or 1 in 3 Somalis, being in crisis. That meant a lack of safe water, sanitation and health services, being vulnerable to illness and at risk due to the conflict.
In drought-affected areas of Kenya, monthly admissions for the treatment of severe malnutrition were 78 per cent higher than last year. In the Turkana district, global acute malnutrition rates were the highest ever recorded in the district, at 37.4 per cent.
The numbers of people fleeing to refugee camps in Kenya and Ethiopia for food and help are unprecedented. Almost half of the children arriving in Ethiopia were malnourished. In the Melkadida refugee camp crude death rates for young children were above the emergency threshold of four deaths per 10,000 children per day.
At therapeutic feeding centres in refugee camps in Kenya there had been more deaths among Somali children in the first quarter of 2011 than in all of last year. The camps were extremely overcrowded, and the basics – safe water, sanitation, food and shelter – were less than adequate.
In Somalia, UNICEF was already the sole or largest provider of supplies and technical expertise for nutrition services, and in Kenya UNICEF was providing 100 per cent of the therapeutic foods through funding of partners and technical support. UNICEF was also working with UNHCR to scale up assistance to children in the refugee camps in Kenya and Ethiopia.
The funding requirements across the region were being revised to reflect needs. Immediate needs for Somalia alone over the next month were at least USD 10 million. Without additional funding – not just for UNICEF but for the whole humanitarian response to the food crisis – many more children would die of hunger.
Mr. Colville said that the UN human rights staff in the DR Congo had confirmed that large-scale rape, pillaging and cruel and degrading treatment had been committed in Nyakiele in South Kivu province between 11 and 13 June by troops of the Armed Forces of the DRC (FARDC).
The UN Joint Human Rights Office staff on the mission interviewed, among others, medical personnel of the local health centre, local administrative and police authorities and alleged victims of these human rights violations, including rape victims. According to their statements, the troops raped 121 women, stole 157 goats and looted other goods, including approximately USD 90,000 in cash and gold. Thirteen villagers had allegedly been forced to transport the looted goods.
More in-depth investigations would be undertaken to further verify what happened during this deplorable event, and to identify the perpetrators. A second mission was planned to Nyakiele in the next few days.
Mr. Colville said Mr. Humberto Leal Garcia had been sentenced to death for murder in Texas in February 1998 and his conviction was confirmed by the Texas Court of Criminal Appeals in October 1999. OHCHR understood that Mr. Leal Garcia was due to be executed on 7 July, but that the Governor of Texas had the power to commute the sentence to life imprisonment. The High Commissioner was writing to him directly requesting him to do so.
This case raised particular concerns, as Mr. Leal Garcia had not been granted consular access, which – as a foreign national – was his right under Article 36 of the Vienna Convention on Consular Relations. The lack of consular assistance and advice raised concerns about whether or not Mr. Leal Garcia’s right to a fair trial was fully upheld.
The conduct of his case also raised questions regarding compliance with the International Court of Justice judgment in the 2004 case of Avena and Other Mexican Nationals (Mexico v. United States of America). In this judgment the ICJ ruled that, as a remedy for the violations of Article 36 of the Vienna Convention on Consular Relations, the United States must provide “review and reconsideration” of Mr. Leal Garcia’s conviction and sentence.
Jean Rodriguez of the Economic Commission for Europe said that UNECE Executive Secretary Jan Kubis would deliver opening remarks on Monday, 4 July at a workshop on equitable access to water and sanitation. On Wednesday, Mr. Kubis would meet with UNODC Executive Director Yury Fedotov and on Thursday he would open the UN CEFACT seminar and meet with the UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon. On Friday, Mr. Kubis would participate in an ECOSOC debate along with the Executive Secretaries of the other Regional Commissions and hold a bilateral meeting with the four other Executive Secretaries.
The workshop on equitable access to water and sanitation would take place on Monday and Tuesday 4 and 5 July in Room IX, Mr. Rodriguez went on to say. Studies showed that in the pan-European region 140 million people were without access to safe drinking water, and even more without access to sanitation. And yet these figures hid important inequities. There were geographical disparities, as people living in rural or remote areas had significantly lower levels of access to safe water and improved sanitation in many countries. Adding to this were affordability constraints because people with low incomes often found access to water and sanitation unaffordable, and vulnerable and marginalized groups also suffered inequities.
In the context of this workshop an exchange on Roma people would be held at 3.15 p.m. on Tuesday with the participation of the Executive Director of the European Commission’s office for Roma people. Also on Tuesday, the Deputy Mayor of Paris would speak about the activities undertaken by the Paris Mayorship to enhance fair access to water and sanitation.
Ms. Momal-Vanian said WHO would give an embargoed press conference on the 2011 WHO Report on the Global Tobacco Epidemic this afternoon at 2.30 p.m. in Press Room I.
Joseph Deiss, the President of the UN General Assembly, would give a press conference on his activities on Monday, 4 July at 12.30 p.m. in Room III. Mr. Deiss would also meet with Kassym-Jomart Tokayev, the Director-General of UNOG, and they would jointly meet representatives of NGOs in consultative status with the ECOSOC.
Ms. Momal-Vanian said that the World Economic and Social Survey 2011 was at the back of the room, embargoed until its launch on Tuesday, 5 July at 12.30 p.m. in Room III, in the presence of the Under-Secretary-General for Economic and Social Affairs. A summary in the six official languages was available from the Information Service. Both the survey and the Millennium Development Goals report 2011 were launched in Geneva.
Journalists had yesterday received a summary of next week’s activities and the Information Service would be sending out the daily programmes on the evening before.