REGULAR PRESS BRIEFING BY THE INFORMATION SERVICE
31 May 2013
Corinne Momal-Vanian, Director of the United Nations Information Service in Geneva, chaired the briefing which was also attended by Spokespersons for the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights, United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees, the Office for the Coordination for Humanitarian Affairs, World Health Organization, International Organization for Migration, International Labour Organization, Human Rights Council, World Trade Organization, International Trade Centre and United Nations Economic Commission for Europe.
In response to questions, Ms. Momal Vanian said the United Nations could confirm that on 5 June 2013 in Geneva, US, Russian and UN officials would hold a three-way meeting to further the preparations for the international conference on Syria envisioned under the U.S.-Russian initiative. The senior United Nations officials for the meeting were Lakhdar Brahimi, the UN-LAS Joint Special Representative and Jeffrey Feltman, the Under-Secretary-General for Political Affairs. Asked who would be representing Russia and the United States, Ms. Momal-Vanian suggested that correspondents direct their questions to the permanent missions concerned.
Dan McNorton for the United Nations High Commission for Refugees (UNHCR), said that this week the number of Syrian refugees in neighbouring countries passed 1.6 million. UNHCR’s work also continued inside Syria amidst difficult operational and security challenges.
On Wednesday this week UNHCR together with the World Food Program (WFP), the United Nations Children’s Fund, Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs and the Syrian Arab Red Crescent (SARC), visited the town of Hasiya in central-western Syria in order to assess the situation and needs of Syrian families that had been forcibly displaced from Al-Qusair.
Since the intensification of the fighting in Al-Qusair three weeks ago, Hasiya, a small town of 16,000 people and located 25 kilometres from Al-Qusair has seen at least 700 families or 3,500 people arriving – most were women and children.
Others individuals crossed into Lebanon. Since 8 May, the UNHCR office in Lebanon had registered 3,000 refugees from Al-Qusair, although the actual number of refugees fleeing was likely to be higher. The inter-agency team visited various sites that were now home to an estimated 150 families. They had been staying in three schools and an unfinished building, and had put up tents donated by local people of Hasiya.
UNHCR was able to witness the dire humanitarian situation of those displaced families. Due to the poor sanitation and hygiene conditions in which people were living, many, especially children, were suffering from diarrhoea, respiratory problems, high fevers, ear infections and skin diseases. The nearest clinic was forty minutes away.
UNHCR had delivered essential relief items of blankets and mattresses three days ago to 500 families. The needs however remained huge, and UNHCR was currently looking at how it could deliver additional items to cover the needs of those new arrivals.
The families UNHCR spoke to said they urgently needed milk, diapers, medical supplies and adequate shelter. Water to the town was also in short supply and insufficient for the swelling population. Most of the host and displaced population were dependent on the water trucked in by the Syrian Arab Red Crescent once a week. In the course of the visit, and together with the local authorities, UNHCR had been able to identify a building that could act as a safer location to host those currently displaced by the fighting in Al-Qusair and to deliver additional essential items such as mattresses, sleeping mats, blankets, kitchen sets, plastic sheets and hygiene items – diapers, sanitary pads and hygiene kits.
Answering a question about increasing violence in Iraq, Rupert Colville, for the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR) said that like everyone else OHCHR was alarmed at the sharp increase in sectarian violence in Iraq, and that the High Commissioner had referred to it in her statement to the Human Rights Council on Monday.
Democratic People's Republic of Korea/Laos
Rupert Colville, for the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR) said that press releases were issued yesterday by the Special Rapporteur on the human rights situation in Democratic People’s Republic of Korea (DPRK), and by UNHCR about a group of North Korean defectors who had been returned from Laos to China. Unfortunately, since those press releases were issued OHCHR had received credible information that the nine young North Korean defectors were subsequently returned to DPRK via China. OHCHR was extremely concerned for the protection of this group, which includes up to five minors, who were at risk of severe punishment and ill-treatment upon their return.
OHCHR was dismayed that the Governments of Laos and China appeared to have abrogated their non-refoulement obligations, especially given the vulnerability of that group, all of whom were reported to be orphans. OHCHR urged the Chinese and Laotian authorities to publicly clarify the fate of the nine young North Koreans, as well as the conditions under which they were returned, and request the Government of DPRK to provide immediate access to the group by independent actors to verify their status and treatment.
Dan McNorton for the United Nations High Commission for Refugees (UNHCR), said the UN High Commissioner for Refugees, António Guterres, expressed grave concern in a statement issued yesterday over the safety and security of nine North Koreans who were reportedly deported from Laos to China. UNHCR believed that the group of nine included five minors and was in contact with the Governments of Laos and of China to establish their age and the initial facts behind the incident and to prevent any future deportation of people of concern.
Papua New Guinea
Rupert Colville, for the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR), said OHCHR regretted that Papua New Guinea had taken legislative action towards resuming implementation of the death penalty through amendments to the Criminal Code passed by Parliament on 28 May. The amended Code provides for five methods of execution and extended the application of the death penalty to three additional crimes: sorcery-related killings, aggravated rape and robbery with violence.
Papua New Guinea (PNG) had maintained a long standing de facto moratorium since 1954 which was subsequently passed into law in 1970. Given the global trend toward abolition of the death penalty, the latest move by the Government marked a significant step backwards.
OHCHR strongly urged the Government not to proceed with any executions under the new law without first undertaking inclusive and meaningful consultations on the whole issue of the death penalty. OHCHR also categorically rejected calls by some political leaders in Papua New Guinea for the introduction of other cruel and inhuman punishments such as castration or amputation.
The use of capital punishment had never been proved to be a more effective deterrent than other forms of punishment. While recognising the Government’s commitment to achieving a safer and more secure society, OHCHR urged it to consider other alternatives in line with international human rights standards. Such efforts must address the root causes of the rampant violence and corruption reported in the country, including through the creation of awareness programmes. More detail would be provided in the briefing note.
Dan McNorton for the United Nations High Commission for Refugees (UNHCR) said that UNHCR would shortly complete the pre-positioning of humanitarian relief supplies in South Sudan ahead of the rainy season, which in the coming weeks would make many of the country’s roads impassable.
More than 190,000 refugees from Sudan were currently living in Unity and Upper Nile states in the north of South Sudan. In Unity, which was home to 73,097 refugees, most of them living in the Yida camp, relief items for up to 110,000 people were either already in warehouses or moving in truck convoys that were expected to arrive within the next week. Once the final deliveries had been made, pre-positioned supplies in Unity state would include: 52,052 plastics sheets; 58,308 blankets; 56,926 sleeping mats and 2,404 family tents. Other items included mosquito nets, jerry cans, kitchen sets and soap.
The last truck carrying those items departed Juba on Thursday. Since the logistics operation began in mid-April 144 trucks had delivered materials to UNHCR operation in the north of the country. In Upper Nile where there were 117,065 refugees living in five camps, relief items for up to 120,000 people would be in place ahead of the anticipated floods. As well as truck convoys, UNHCR was using boats with the capacity to carry up to 60 metric tonnes to deliver shelter and relief supplies to operations in both Unity and Upper Nile. The boats were travelling along the Nile river, which remained navigable throughout the rainy season. Supplies in Upper Nile state will include: 62,429 plastic sheets; 95,306 blankets; 85,617 sleeping mats and 5,143 family tents as well as other items.
With the ground operation to deliver humanitarian supplies nearly complete, there were no plans to use airlifts. In the week ending 26 May, the number of new refugees from Sudan registering with UNHCR in Upper Nile state was 378, while in Unity state the figure was 92.
Democratic Republic of the Congo
Jens Laerke for the Office for the Coordination for Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA) said the UN Assistant Secretary-General for Humanitarian Affairs, Kyung-wha Kang, ended her four-day visit to the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC). She had visited North Kivu and South Kivu, met representatives of the internally displaced people (IDP) and also visited the Panzi Hospital in Bukavu founded by Dr. Denis Mukwege. “There could be no human welfare, human dignity or human rights in this prolonged state of insecurity and violence,” Ms. Kang said. Mr. Laerke would issue a press release later today.
Middle East respiratory syndrome coronavirus (MERS-CoV)
Glenn Thomas for the World Health Organization (WHO) gave an update on coronavirus. He said that the Ministry of Health in Saudi Arabia had notified WHO of an additional laboratory-confirmed case with Middle East respiratory syndrome coronavirus (MERS-CoV). The patient was a 61-year-old man with underlying medical conditions who became ill on 20 May 2013. The patient was from Al-Ahsa. Additionally, three patients earlier reported from Al-Ahsa had died. The government was continuing to investigate the outbreaks in the country. Mr. Thomas added that globally, from September 2012 to date, WHO had been informed of a total of 50 laboratory-confirmed cases of infection with MERS-CoV of which 30 had been fatal.
Gaëlle Sevenier for the International Organization for Migration (IOM) said that with the 2013 hurricane season officially starting tomorrow (1 June) and already predicted to be “active or extremely active,” IOM Haiti was preparing its emergency response by stockpiling non-food items, including water purification tablets and other supplies to combat waterborne diseases. It was also working closely with government and local authorities, partners and vulnerable populations to undertake flood mitigation work and prepare for possible evacuations.
With more than 320,000 internally displaced Haitians still living in 385 camps, of which about 100 remained at particular risk of flooding, landslides or other environmental challenges, Haiti remained particularly vulnerable to extreme climatic events.
Since the cholera outbreak in October 2010, camp residents remained very exposed to the risk of contagion, which always increased at this time of year, Mr. Sevenier said. IOM had used funds provided by the Canadian International Development Agency (CIDA) and the Office of U.S. Foreign Disaster Assistance (OFDA) to purchase new cholera prevention kits, including aquatabs, oral rehydration salts, hygiene items. It was also carrying out awareness raising sessions on cholera prevention and water, sanitation and hygiene in camps. But the total number of kits currently pre-positioned in emergency shelters was not enough to cope with a serious outbreak.
IOM was appealing to donors for additional funds to increase the stock of cholera prevention kits and other non-food items to be prepared for the next six months. It also needed funding to support emergency response activities in affected camps, including medical referrals and training for health care workers in the camps.
Human Rights Council
Rolando Gomez for the Human Rights Council (HRC) said that the HRC had an early start this morning continuing its interactive dialogue with the Special Rapporteur on the rights to freedom of peaceful assembly and of association, and with the Working Group on the issue of human rights and transnational corporations and other business enterprises. At approximately 12:30 p.m. today the Special Rapporteur on the right to education, Mr. Kishore Singh, would present his report, which focused on the justiciability of the right to education, as well as his reports on his missions to Ecuador and Tunisia. Next the HRC would hear from the Independent Expert on human rights and international solidarity, Ms. Virginia Dandan, including on her mission to Brazil. An interactive dialogue would follow. At approximately 4.30 p.m. the HRC would be presented with a report from the Special Rapporteur in the field of cultural rights, Ms. Farida Shaheed, with focus on artistic expression and creativity, and including on her missions to Russia and Saint Vincent and the Grenadines. Time permitting the Working Group on the issue of discrimination against women in law and in practice would present their report which focused on discrimination against women in view of their participation in public and political life, including political transition, and with special attention to the right to education.
On Monday there was a great deal of interest in the next report from the Independent Commission of Inquiry on Syria. The report would not now be presented on Monday due to a change in schedules. Instead the report would now be presented at around 10 a.m. on Tuesday 4 June. As the four Commissioners would not be available on Tuesday, a press conference with the Independent Commission of Inquiry on Syria would take place under embargo on Monday 3 June from 4:00 to 4:45 p.m. in Room XXIII. Mr. Gomez would share the report with journalists at approximately 10 a.m. on Monday 3 June, and would remain under embargo until its presentation on Tuesday 4 June.
Mr. Gomez also announced that a press conference would take place on Monday 3 June from 10:30 to 11:30 a.m. in Press Room 1 with the Special Rapporteur on the rights to freedom of peaceful assembly and of association. Organized by the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights, Mr. Gomez said that the Special Rapporteur, Mr. Maina Kiai, would talk about his annual report to the Human Rights Council on the funding of associations and the holding of peaceful assemblies, and his report on his country visit to the United Kingdom conducted in January 2013.
Ms. Momal Vanian announced that the Director-General Mr. Tokayev would host on Monday 3 June a one-day conference entitled "Opportunities and Challenges for the 21st Century – Need for a New Paradigm". The conference would take place in the Council Chamber at the Palais des Nations and in Room III and would consider a comprehensive framework for global economy, ecology, education, health, security and governance. Speakers at the event would include Dr. Ivo Šlaus President of the World Academy of Art and Science, Dr. Rolf Heuer, Director-General of CERN, Peter Maurer, President of the International Committee of the Red Cross, Rev. Dr. Olav Fykse Tveit, General Secretary of the World Council of Churches in addition to leading academics, members of civil society, UN officials, Ambassadors and Permanent Representatives. The programme was available on the UNOG website and journalists wishing to attend were requested to register at email@example.com.
Elizabeth Throssell, for the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR), a new media officer who covered the treaty bodies on human rights as well as the work of the High Commissioner, announced a press conference to take place on Friday, 31 May 2013 at 2 p.m. in Press Room 1 on the Committee Against Torture’s fiftieth session which ends today, during which reports of the United Kingdom, Mauritania, Guatemala, Netherlands, Kenya, Bolivia, Japan, Estonia were reviewed. Speaking would be Mr Claudio Grossman, Chairperson of the Committee Against Torture and other Committee members.
Jean-Luc Martinage for the International Labour Organization (ILO) announced a press conference to take place on Monday, 3 June 2013 at 9.30 a.m. in Press Room 1 to launch the World of Work Report 2013, launched this year just before the opening of the International Labour Conference on Wednesday 5 June. Speaking at the event would Raymond Torres, Director of the ILO International Institute for Labour Studies and main author of the report. Guy Ryder, ILO Director-General may also be present but his attendance is awaiting confirmation. Journalists have been sent an electronic version of the report, under embargo until 12 p.m. on Monday, and hard copies will be distributed at the press conference.
Mr. Martinage highlighted the International Labour Conference, which opens next Wednesday, 5 June, at the Palais des Nations. He confirmed that Ms. Nkosazana Dlamini-Zuma, Chairperson of the African Union Commission will attend on 17 June and that the President of the Dominican Republic, Danilo Medina Sanchez would also attend. He said he would confirm other high-level attendees at the next regular briefing on Tuesday.
Regarding the ILO’s work in Bangladesh Mr. Martinage said that Dan Rees, Chief of the ILO Better Work Programme, had confirmed that there would be a second technical meeting of the signatories to the Agreement on fire safety and building in Bangladesh on Monday, 3 June at noon, at the ILO. The meeting would end at approximately 5 p.m. The purpose of that meeting would be to agree practical details to allow the implementation of the agreement. It would be followed by similar meetings in the coming weeks. Monday’s meeting would be strictly technical and internal, it would not be open to the press and there would be no official communication from the ILO. Mr. Martinage emphasized that the ILO simply acted as an independent facilitator to the initiative. However, it was possible that some participants of the meeting may decide to communicate with the press in their own capacity, following the meeting. ILO would inform journalists if there was to be any last-minute press briefing or statement.
Glenn Thomas for the World Health Organization (WHO) announced that today was World No-Tobacco Day and to mark it WHO was calling for countries to ban on all tobacco advertising, promotion and sponsorship to help reduce the number of tobacco users. Tobacco use killed nearly six million people every year. WHO had issued a press release on Wednesday. A press event would take place in the WHO Executive Boardroom this afternoon from 12.30 to 2 pm. hosted by the by Assistant Director-General of WHO and a keynote speaker would be the Secretary of Department of Health and Ageing in Australia, a country that had taken tough action on tobacco recently. Mr. Thomas also mentioned that the WHO campus in Geneva was now entirely smoke-free.
Mr. Thomas also announced that a press conference would take place on Wednesday 5 June on undernutrition and obesity, in Press Room I at 11.00 a.m. Speaking at the event would be Dr. Francesco Branca, Director, Department of Nutrition for Health and Development at WHO. If journalists preferred, however, Mr. Thomas would look into moving the event to Thursday 6 June.
Jarle Hetland for the International Trade Centre (ITC) announced that Ms Patricia Francis would on Monday 3 June have her last day in office as Executive Director of the International Trade Centre. Ms. Francis has held the position since 2006. Until a successor was appointed, Mr Jean-Marie Paugam, ITC’s Deputy Executive Director, would serve as Acting Executive Director, and would assume that role as of Tuesday 4 June. Mr. Hetland added that as most of the journalists would know, the process to find Ms Francis’s successor was still on-going, and was led by the Secretary-General of the United Nations Conference on Trade and Development and the Director-General of the World Trade Organization. As was announced some time ago, they would be joined by their respective successors in the search and Mr. Hetland hoped to have more information for journalists on that soon.
Jean Rodriguez for the United Nations Economic Commission for Europe (UNECE) said that Executive Secretary Mr. Alkalaj would today, Friday 31 May, participate in the 4th Meeting of Parties to the Framework Agreement on the Sava River Basin, Sarajevo, Bosnia and Herzegovina, where Mr. Alkalaj would make a statement. On the margins of that meeting Mr. Alkalaj would hold meetings with members of Presidency of Bosnia and Herzegovina, and bi-lateral meeting with Minister of Foreign Trade and Economic Relations of Bosnia and Herzegovina, Mr. Sarovic.
Mr. Rodriguez also announced a meeting of the UNECE and the Parliamentary Assembly of the Mediterranean to increase cooperation to support economic development in the Mediterranean.
The message was that economic development in the Mediterranean region would require increased regional integration and the implementation of international best practices in legislation and regulations. UNECE was ready to play its role in helping Member States access international legislation, best practice and more.
On 30 and 31 May 2013 parliamentarians from the region gathered in Geneva to discuss how the UNECE and the UN Inter-Agency Cluster could work with the Parliamentary Assembly of the Mediterranean (PAM) and the PAM Panel on Trade and Investment in the Mediterranean as well as its Standing Committee on Economic, Social and Environmental Cooperation to support regional trade development priorities. Potential areas of cooperation between UNECE and PAM (17 out of PAM’s 28 members were UNECE member States) included energy and water resources management, innovation and entrepreneurship, public private partnerships, secure property rights, technical regulations and standardization policies, trade facilitation and electronic business and transport policy and agreements. Opening the Conference, Mr. Francesco Amoruso, President of PAM and a member of the Italian Parliament, said that the Mediterranean countries faced many challenges included high unemployment levels.
Mr. Rodriguez had sent the programme to journalists and could help with any requests for interviews.
Melissa Begag for the World Trade Organization (WTO) briefed on the WTO schedule for next week. On Monday 3 June 2013 at 10 a.m. the Trade Negotiations Committee would hold an informal meeting, followed by a briefing at 1 p.m. (venue to be confirmed). On Tuesday 4 June at 10 a.m. there would be a meeting of the General Council followed by a briefing at 1 p.m. (venue to be confirmed). On Wednesday 5 June at 10 a.m. there would be membership negotiations for Kazakhstan by the Accession Working Party. The same day, also at 10 a.m. the Committee on Trade and Environment would meet. On Thursday 6 June at 3 p.m. there would be membership negotiations for Bosnia - Herzegovina by the Accession Working Party. On Friday 7 June at 10 a.m. there would be an informal meeting of the Trade Facilitation Negotiating Group.
Ms. Begag reported that WTO Director-General Pascal Lamy would on Monday 3 June attend the informal Trade Negotiations Committee meeting with Heads of Delegations in Geneva. On Tuesday 4 June Mr. Lamy would attend the WTO General Council. On Wednesday 5 June he would speak at the Roundtable on The Place of Social Rights in International Law at The Graduate Institute, and on Thursday 6 June the Director-General would speak at a IMF/World Bank/WTO Trade Workshop.
Gaëlle Sevenier for the International Organization for Migration (IOM) announced details of the first Ministerial Conference Diaspora taking place in Geneva next week on 18 and 19 June 2013 at the International Conference Centre in Geneva. Several ministers, senior officials, experts and other stakeholders, in particular from countries sending or hosting a large diaspora, would participate in the Conference, and so far 41 Ministers and Senior Representatives had confirmed their participation. A press conference could be held on Wednesday, 19 June at 1 p.m. with the Director-General and the Coordinator of the conference if journalists were interested.
Ms. Momal-Vanian also announced that the Committee against Torture has now completed its work after a four week session and will close the session at 6 p.m. today. The concluding observations on the reports reviewed during the session – United Kingdom, Mauritania, the Netherlands, Guatemala, Kenya, Bolivia, Japan and Estonia – should be available from this evening on the Committee’s website.
The Committee on the Rights of the Child today examines the report of Rwanda. Next week the Committee will review the reports of Israel, Uzbekistan, Slovenia and Guinea-Bissau, having completed its review of Armenia earlier this week.
The Conference on Disarmament holds its next plenary session on Tuesday 4 June.
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The representatives of the United Nations Children’s Fund and World Food Programme also attended the briefing but did not speak.
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The webcast for this briefing is available here: webtv.un.org/media