PRESS BRIEFING BY THE UN INFORMATION SERVICE IN GENEVA
17 July 2012
Corinne Momal-Vanian, the Director of the UN Information Service in Geneva, chaired the briefing, which was also attended by Spokespersons for the World Meteorological Organization, the UN Development Programme, the UN Refugee Agency, the Inter-Parliamentary Union, the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights and the International Organization for Migration.
Secretary-General Ban visits Europe
Ms. Momal-Vanian said that the Secretary-General of the United Nations, Ban Ki-moon, would travel to Southeastern Europe. His first stop would be Slovenia, where he would arrive on Thursday, 19 July, before travelling onwards to Croatia, Montenegro, Serbia, Kosovo, the former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia, Bosnia and Herzegovina. Mr. Ban would wrap up his visit on Thursday, 26 July.
Increase in registered Syrian refugees, new camps planned in Turkey and Jordan
Adrian Edwards of the UN Refugee Agency (UNHCR) said that the number of Syrian refugees registered or assisted by UNHCR in Iraq, Jordan, Lebanon, and Turkey had almost tripled since April 2012 and now stood at 112,000. Three quarters were women and children. The actual number of Syrian refugees was thought to be significantly higher, as many people sought to be registered only when they ran out of resources.
In all four countries, many newly arriving Syrian refugees were entirely dependent on humanitarian aid, with some coming with only the clothes on their backs, and following many months of unemployment. The needs of those who arrived earlier in the year were also increasing as their savings had become depleted. At the same time, the communities supporting the refugees were feeling the strain, with the local infrastructure and resources under severe pressure.
In Jordan, 33,421 Syrians were now registered with UNHCR. Seventy-nine percent registered in the past 4 months. This exceeded the number of Iraqi refugees registered in Jordan.
UNHCR welcomed a decision of the Jordan Council of Ministers to establish camps to accommodate Syrian refugees. While UNHCR maintained that a camp situation in Jordan was the option of last resort, the number of refugees arriving in Jordan necessitated forward planning in the event that the capacity of the host community reached saturation point or that the numbers of new arrivals rapidly increased further.
UNHCR and the Jordan Hashemite Charity Organization had begun establishing the camp at Za’atri, Mafraq Governorate in northern Jordan. A site for 3,000 people had been prepared, including water and sanitation facilities installed by UNICEF. The nine square kilometer site had a potential capacity for around 113,000 people.
Ms. Momal-Vanian said that a statement on Syria by the Under-Secretary-General for Humanitarian Affairs and Emergency Relief Coordinator, Valerie Amos, issued on 16 July, was available at the back of the room.
Mr. Edwards said that Somalia's refugee exodus crossed a new threshold this past week, with more than a million people now having fled the country for the surrounding region, according to the latest UNHCR data. The most recent arrivals continued to cite insecurity and dwindling food resources as the main reasons for their flight.
Despite passing the one million mark, UNHCR’s data for the main arrival countries of Kenya and Ethiopia also showed lower but steady numbers of people leaving Somalia. In the first six months of 2012 some 30,000 refugee arrivals were registered in the region. The conflict and the worst drought in decades had forced more than 137,000 Somalis to leave their homes during the first six months of last year. For the year as a whole some 294,000 refugees had been registered in camps in the surrounding region.
The situation in most of the southern and central part of Somalia remained fluid and unstable, though there appeared to be relative calm in some areas. The drought had been less severe this year, yet the prospects for the harvest next month were currently not good. Many people struggled to cope, as livelihoods remained extremely fragile.
As part of the overall humanitarian effort, UNHCR alone had distributed aid to some 177,000 displaced inside Somalia since January. Together with its partners the organization had reached more than 526,000 displaced Somalis in need of assistance. Priority had been given to the border areas and Mogadishu as these areas received newly displaced people who had travelled significant distances.
Somalia was also going through a complex if tentative period of transition. In less than six weeks the difficult and slow political transition was scheduled to move into a new and yet more critical stage. Before the end of August the country was expected to have a new constitution, a new parliament, and a new president and government.
UNHCR believed that humanitarian crises must ultimately be solved through political solutions. The next few months were an important stage in the search for solutions to the suffering that had afflicted Somalia for two decades. Somali people carried the primary responsibility for bringing peace to their own country. UNHCR did note, however, that the international community had a significant responsibility to support Somalis in bringing about a positive outcome.
In the past decade only two other conflicts – the ones in Afghanistan and Iraq – had forced more than a million people to flee their homes, underlined Mr. Edwards. The pressure on communities hosting Somali refugees was massive as the Somali crisis continued to affect the entire Horn of Africa region and beyond.
Jemini Pandya of the Inter-Parliamentary Union (IPU) said that the IPU was urging greater protection for Somali MPs as another parliamentarian had been killed in a car bomb attack just weeks before the period of transitional government was due to end. Mohamud Ibrahim Garweyne, MP and former Minister for Humanitarian Affairs, had been killed and up to six had been injured in the attack claimed by Al Shabab on Monday, 16 July in Mogadishu.
IPU believed that with much at stake for the country’s future, those working to represent the interests of the people in an extremely challenging environment needed particular support and protection. IPU had always been committed to protecting the rights of MPs the world over, especially through its Committee on the Human Rights of Parliamentarians.
Rupert Colville of the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR) said that High Commissioner Navi Pillay was today calling for international standards of due process to be fully respected during the appeal trial in the case of the murder of Congolese human rights defender Floribert Chebeya Bahizire, and the disappearance of his driver, Fidèle Bazana Edadi. Mr. Chebeya had been a pioneer of the human rights movement in the Democratic Republic of the Congo and his murder had sent a devastating blow to human rights defenders across the country.
His body had been found on 2 June 2010 on the outskirts of Kinshasa. On 23 June 2011, the Military Court of Kinshasa/Gombe had convicted five policemen, three of them in absentia, of murder, illegal arrest and detention, as well as abduction. The Inspector-General of the National Congolese Police had been suspended in connection with the case in 2010, but had never been formally charged. The next hearing of the ongoing appeal trial was scheduled to take place today.
Asked why MONUSCO, the United Nations peacekeeping force in the DRC, was using force and lethal weapons, Ms. Momal-Vanian said that MONUSCO had a mandate to protect civilians and could use force to do so if necessary. She stressed that the Security Council had issued a press statement the day before reiterating its full support for MONUSCO and its operations in the eastern part of the country, including its efforts to assist the Congolese government in protecting civilians displaced or threatened as a result of the violent activities of armed groups.
United Arab Emirates
Mr. Colville said that OHCHR was concerned about what appeared to be an accelerating crackdown on human rights defenders in the United Arab Emirates through harassments, denial of travel, termination of work contracts, arrests, denaturalization and expulsion from the country.
On Monday, one prominent activist, Ahmed Abdul Khaleq, had been deported to Thailand. Abdul Khaleq had been found guilty in November 2011 along with four other human rights defenders of “publicly insulting” senior officials, but was later pardoned by the President. He had been detained once again in May this year.
His case was of particular concern because he was a Bidoon, or stateless person, which made him extremely vulnerable. OHCHR staff in Bangkok had met with Mr. Khaleq already, and reported that he had arrived in Thailand with just the clothes he was wearing after being taken straight from prison to the airport. He had no luggage, and just a small sum of money. He said that he had never been told why he had been arrested for the second time, and had never been taken to court. The OHCHR office in Bangkok was holding further talks with him to find out more about this very disturbing case.
Late last night, another human rights defender and head of the union of jurists in the United Arab Emirates, Mohamad Al Roken, had been detained along with his son and brother-in-law.
It appeared that national security is increasingly being used as a pretext to clamp down on peaceful activism, to stifle calls for constitutional reform and on human rights issues such as statelessness. A number of activists openly critical of the Government had been arbitrarily deprived of their Emirati nationality.
OHCHR called on the Government to guarantee that human rights defenders were able to carry out their work without fear of reprisals, and urged them to release those who have been detained for peaceful exercise of their fundamental human rights.
Mr. Colville said that OHCHR was concerned by reports of violent protests over the weekend in the Maldives and excessive use of force by security forces in response. Instances of apparent brutality had been captured on camera. These included the seemingly deliberate and uncalled-for use of some kind of spray on former President Nasheed, and the driving of police vehicles at high speed into crowds of protestors. Such actions deserved immediate investigation, and firm action should be taken by the authorities against those responsible for excessive use of force. OHCHR appealed to all parties to refrain from violence and create conditions for political dialogue and reconciliation.
Mr. Colville said that 28 Ethiopians, including journalists, opposition figures and a prominent blogger, had been sentenced to lengthy jail terms in Ethiopia last week. The High Commissioner would issue a press release shortly on the deteriorating situation of human rights defenders and journalists in the country as a result of using overly broad laws on terrorism and civil society registration.
IOM DG and UNHCR High Commissioner Visit Refugee Camp in Western Ethiopia
Mr. Jumbe said that IOM Director-General William Lacy Swing, UNHCR High Commissioner António Guterres, and Ethiopia’s Deputy Director for Refugee and Returnee Affairs, Ato Ayalew Awoke, had yesterday visited Bambasi refugee camp in Ethiopia’s Benishangul Gumuz region.
Bambasi camp, which had been opened last month, was the third established in the region. It already housed over 8,000 refugees moved by IOM with UNHCR funding from the crowded Al Damazine transit camp near the Sudanese border in mid-June.
IOM has also started work on constructing 420 shelters in Bambasi with funding provided by UNHCR. The construction of the shelters is progressing and IOM plans to complete them within three months.
Since September 2011, IOM had provided emergency transport and pre-departure medical checks to over 27,000 Sudanese fleeing the violence in the Blue Nile State, working in close coordination with UNHCR and Refugee and Returnee Affairs.
As Former Migrants Try to Return to Libya, IOM Appeals for Reintegration Funds
Jumbe Omari Jumbe of the International Organization for Migration (IOM) said that as growing numbers of Chadian migrants tried to re-enter Libya in search of jobs, IOM was urging donors to provide badly needed funds to implement reintegration and community stabilization programmes, especially in areas of high return.
Since the return of more than 120,000 Chadian migrants from Libya, IOM programmes to help returnees reintegrate in their communities, sometimes after decades, remained desperately under-funded. Only Germany had so far provided funding to help IOM to provide psychosocial assistance and social reintegration to Chadian returnees.
Few options for the returnees had led to dissatisfaction and despair and some were now attempting to re-enter Libya, often without documents.
Netherlands Backs IOM Aid to Stranded Migrants in Yemen
Mr. Jumbe said that the Netherlands had contributed USD 2.1 million towards IOM’s efforts to help vulnerable migrants from the Horn of Africa stranded in Yemen en route to Saudi Arabia.
The contribution, the largest by the Netherlands for IOM activities in the Middle East, would be used to provide humanitarian aid to thousands of stranded migrants in Yemen, who often suffered terrible conditions and abuse on their journey to find jobs and security in the Gulf States.
Irregular migrant flows from the Horn of Africa continued unabated, through unscrupulous and increasingly vicious trafficking networks. At least 4,000 migrants remained stranded at the Saudi border near the town of Haradh.
The Dutch funding was the first contribution towards the stranded migrant assistance component of the 2012 Yemen Humanitarian Appeal. IOM had been operating migrant assistance and humanitarian interventions in Yemen since 2007.
These included assistance to displaced families and conflict-affected communities in the marginalized governorate of Al Jawf and the restive southern governorate of Abyan, where, since June 2011, IOM had been providing life-saving support, including emergency water and sanitation infrastructure, essential shelter, and mobile health services to families displaced by the violent conflict between Government of Yemen forces and Al-Qaida linked militants.
June Global Temperatures Fourth Highest on Record
Clare Nullis of the World Meteorological Organization (WMO) said that the U.S. National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration had yesterday released its June 2012 climate report, showing that June global temperatures were the fourth highest on record.
According to the U.S. National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, the globally averaged temperature for June 2012 marked the fourth warmest June since record keeping began in 1880. The combined average temperature over global land and ocean surfaces had been 61.03°F (16.12 degrees Celsius), 1.13°F (0.63 degrees Celsius) above the twentieth century average.
Human Rights Committee
Ms. Momal-Vanian said the Human Rights Committee was this morning concluding its review of the report submitted by Armenia. As of this afternoon, the Committee would examine the report of Kenya, the last report scheduled for consideration at this session. The remainder of the session would mainly consist of private meetings.
Tarik Jasarevic of the World Health Organization announced that, in the context of the XIX International Aids Conference, there would be a news briefing entitled “The strategic use of antiretrovirals to help end the HIV epidemic”, with Gottfried Hirnschall, Director, HIV Department, WHO, and Yves Souteyrand, Coordinator, HIV Department, WHO.
Ms. Momal-Vanian said that ahead of the main launch of the report “Together we will end AIDS” in Washington there would be an embargoed briefing on 18 July at 10.30 a.m. in Press Room I in Geneva.
Ms. Momal-Vanian said that Said Djinnit, Special Representative of the Secretary-General for West Africa, would give a press conference on the situation in West Africa on Thursday, 19 July at 9.30 a.m. in Room III.
Ms. Pandya said that there would be a press conference on Monday at 2 p.m. in Press Room I following the forthcoming meeting of the Committee on the Human Rights of Parliamentarians.
Inauguration of a Geneva Declaration Exposition
Adam Rogers of the UN Development Programme referred to the Geneva Declaration on Armed Violence and Development, a high-level diplomatic initiative designed to support States and civil society actors to achieve measurable reductions in the global burden of armed violence in conflict- and non-conflict-settings by 2015 and beyond. To date, 112 countries had signed the declaration.
To support this initiative, the Geneva Declaration Secretariat and the Small Arms Survey, together with UNDP, had installed 100 panels at the Geneva lakeside to illustrate the Geneva Declaration.
The vernissage of the exhibition would start at 6.30 p.m. today at the Palais Wilson in the presence of the Mayor of Geneva, a representative of the Federal Department of Foreign Affairs and the Director-General of UNOG. Journalists were invited to participate.