REGULAR PRESS BRIEFING BY THE INFORMATION SERVICE
27 April 2012
Corinne Momal-Vanian, Director of the United Nations Information Service in Geneva, chaired the briefing, which was also attended by Spokespersons for the Economic Commission for Europe, the World Meteorological Organization, the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights, the United Nations Refugee Agency, the World Food Programme, the United Nations Children’s Fund, the World Trade Organization, and the International Organization for Migration.
Ms. Momal-Vanian said available on the website of the United Nations Office at Geneva www.unog.ch as of today was the 2011 UNOG Annual Report. A limited number of paper copies were at the back of the room, but journalists would also find it on line. UNOG was following the United Nations greening policy and had cut paper distribution of the report by 44 per cent. It also used recycled paper. The report outlined, among other things, UNOG’s greening efforts and renovation plans. Among the interesting statistics that were in the report was that 1,550 staff were working at UNOG and 9,528 staff working in the United Nations system in Geneva.
Ms. Momal-Vanian reminded journalists that at 2 p.m. this afternoon, they would be briefed about the launch of the International Labour Office’s World of Work Report 2012. The speakers were Raymond Torres, Director, International Institute for Labour Studies, ILO; Steven Tobin, Senior Economist; and Marva Corley-Coulibaly, Senior Economist. Hans von Rohland of ILO was in the room if journalists had any questions.
The Committee on the Protection of the Rights of Migrant Workers and Members of Their Families would publicly conclude its session today after adopting its concluding observations and recommendations on the reports of Paraguay and Tajikistan. The concluding observations would be issued at the end of the day, as would the roundup.
The Committee on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights was starting its forty-eighth session on 30 April, during which it would review the reports of Slovakia, Peru, New Zealand, Spain and Ethiopia on how they were implementing the provisions of the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights. A background press release was sent out yesterday.
Clare Nullis of the World Meteorological Organization (WMO) said that WMO’s World Weather Information Service website had just exceeded 1 billion page visits since the website was launched in 2001. This website was developed and maintained on WMO’s behalf by the Hong Kong Observatory. This website provided the authoritative information based on all official sources and provided information on the weather in over 1,000 cities around the world.
Anaki Xu of the World Trade Organization (WTO) said that the Yemen membership negotiations (Accession Working Party) would be held on 30 April. On 1 May, the General Council would meet, and it might continue on 2 May. On 4 May, the Trade-Related Investment Measures Committee would meet. As for WTO Director-General Pascal Lamy, he would be meeting Josette Sheeran, Vice-Chairman of the World Economic Forum, and Carlos Lopes, newly-appointed Executive Secretary of United Nations Economic Commission for Africa (ECA), on 30 April. He would be attending the General Council meeting on 1 May, and he would meet with Supachai Panitchpakdi, Secretary-General of the United Nations Conference on Trade and Development on 3 May.
Bahrain and Mali
In response to a question on the situation in Bahrain as during the Formula One race police could be seen assaulting women and putting their hands on their mouths and taking them away, and whether OHCHR would be sending a mission to Bahrain, Mr. Colville said OHCHR hoped to be sending a mission to Bahrain quite soon, although there was no set date yet. It was being discussed with the Government.
Responding to another question on what the mission would do, Mr. Colville said that it would discuss a range of human rights issues that had been aired frequently over the past year or so. The mission would also give advice and follow-up on the various issues that were raised by the independent commission of inquiry in their report.
Ms. Momal-Vanian said the Secretary-General on 24 April said in a statement that he remained concerned about the situation in Bahrain, particularly with regard to the continuing clashes between security forces and protestors which had resulted in more casualties. He had reiterated his appeal to all sides for utmost restraint and an immediate end to the violence. The situation was being followed very closely by the Secretary-General and OHCHR.
Asked if there had been any reaction from the Secretary-General to the announcement from the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS) that it would send troops to Mali and Guinea-Bissau to help swiftly reinstate civilian rule after their coups, Ms. Momal-Vanian said that that there was no reaction from Secretary-General Ban yet, however, he had always supported the efforts of ECOWAS both in Mali and in Guinea-Bissau. If and when a statement was issued, she would send it to journalists.
Economic Commission for Europe
Jean Rodriguez of the Economic Commission for Europe said the ECE’s Group of Experts on National Accounts would be meeting in Geneva from 30 April to 4 May in Salle XI. On 30 April, from 2:30 p.m. to 4:30 p.m., there would be a session organized by the International Monetary Fund and UNECE on the 2008 System of National Accounts, which replaced the version from 1993 to better reflect statistics in modern societies.
The Executive Body for the Convention on Long-range Transboundary Air Pollution Thirtieth Session would also be meeting from 30 April to 4 May in Salle V. They would be taking up the Protocol to Abate Acidification, Eutrophication and Ground-level Ozone, which set emission ceilings for a number of pollutants. The Executive had been involved for the past 18 months in discussions on revising the Protocol to adopt new emission ceilings and they hoped to finalize this at the meeting.
OHCHR on Papua New Guinea, Brazil and the United States
Mr. Colville of the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights said United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights Navi Pillay was today expressing concern about the situation in Papua New Guinea, where the Government had taken a number of measures in recent months that undermined the rule of law, breached international human rights standards, impinged on the independence of the judiciary – and could lead to serious instability in the country. Since the August 2011 change of Government in Papua New Guinea, and the subsequent dispute over who was the legitimate Prime Minister, the Executive and Parliament had taken very worrying steps which seriously affected the ability of the judiciary to operate independently. The enactment of a new Judicial Conduct Act in March 2012 was of particular concern, as it established a new parallel system to deal with misconduct of judges, contrary to constitutional provisions on the issue. Parliament immediately implemented the new Act by referring Chief Justice Salamo Injia and Justice Kirriwom to the Governor-General for further investigation, during which time they would not have been able to hear cases. The Supreme Court ruled on 11 April that the referral of Chief Justice Injia was unconstitutional. On 17 April, the Government then introduced a new bill into Parliament to impose criminal sanctions – up to seven years’ imprisonment – on judges who did not comply with the Act. It appeared that the Judicial Conduct Act was being used to interfere in particular with the legal proceedings to determine the legality of the current administration, related to a Supreme Court ruling on 12 December 2011 that the Government of Prime Minister Peter O’Neil was unconstitutional. The opinion of the High Commissioner’s Office was that the judiciary must be allowed to operate free from external pressures, threats or executive or legislative interference – international law was clear on this matter. There were more details in the press notes.
On Brazil, Mr. Colville said OHCHR was alarmed that yet another journalist had been killed in Brazil, bringing to at least four the number of journalists murdered in the country so far this year. Mr. Décio Sá, an investigative journalist reporting on local politics, corruption and organized crime, was gunned down in a bar on Monday, 23 April. OHCHR condemned his murder and was concerned at what appeared to be a disturbing trend of killing journalists that was damaging the exercise of freedom of expression in Brazil. OHCHR had long been concerned about the need for Brazilian human rights defenders, including journalists, to be able to conduct their work without fear of intimidation or worse. They welcomed the fact that state authorities had committed to conducting a thorough investigation and called for this and other similar cases to be treated as a major priority so that perpetrators were not emboldened by the prevailing lack of accountability for such crimes. At the same time, OHCHR urged the Government to immediately implement protection measures to prevent any more such incidents. One measure which could help was a bill introduced into Congress in 2011, which ordered police investigations into crimes against journalists to be conducted at a Federal level. This would be a step in the right direction. OHCHR hoped this and other measures to protect journalists would be adopted as a matter of some urgency.
Concerning the United States, Mr. Colville said the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights welcomed the signing of a law in the State of Connecticut, in the United States on Wednesday that abolished the death penalty in that state. Including Connecticut, 17 states in the United States had now formally repealed capital punishment. California would consider a similar measure in November, and OHCHR urged the State authorities there to follow the Connecticut example. They would also like to take this opportunity to encourage other states, as well as the Federal authorities, to move towards the abolition of capital punishment altogether. Even though the imposition of the death penalty fell by around half between 2001 and 2011, the United States was still ranked by human rights NGOs among the top five countries carrying out executions last year. The other four were China, Iran, Saudi Arabia and Iraq.
Adrian Edwards of the United Nations Refugee Agency said heavy rains had hit Somali refugee camps in Ethiopia and Kenya, damaging tents, flooding roads and affecting aid delivery to these camps. This came as the refugee population in southern Ethiopia had swelled to more than 150,000. In recent weeks, Dollo Ado in southern Ethiopia had been receiving a weekly average of 450 new Somali refugees. New arrivals continued to cite insecurity inside Somalia as their reason for flight. Some refugees said that they fled in fear of possible forced recruitment or military conscription. Others feared potential revenge killings in the wake of renewed fighting. Heavy rains in mid-April had damaged an estimated 700 tents in Dollo Ado. Access to one of the camps had been flooded, which had slowed down the delivery of services, including water provision. In north-eastern Kenya, the Dadaab refugee complex had also been affected by the recent rains. Since mid-April, UNHCR had been distributing plastic sheets and tents to refugees whose shelters had been damaged or collapsed because of the rain. There were more details in the briefing notes. Decades of conflict and drought had driven nearly 983,000 Somali refugees into the region, most of them hosted in Kenya, Yemen and Ethiopia. Another 1.36 million Somalis were internally displaced within their country.
Responding to a question on Syrian refugees, Mr. Edwards said the number of Syrian refugees in the region receiving assistance had reached 61,000 persons; of those, 21,000 were in Lebanon, 13,700 were in Jordan, nearly 24,000 were in Turkey, and 2,370 were in Iraq. UNHCR was providing tents and blankets to the refugees. There was more information on the UNHCR website.
Mr. Edwards said UNHCR and the Government of Switzerland were co-sponsoring a two-day international conference next week in Geneva on Afghan refugees. There were more details in the briefing notes.
Elizabeth Byrs of the World Food Programme said WFP was tomorrow launching a food distribution operation in the rural commune of Oukout in Ziguinchor region in Senegal. This region was one of the worse affected by the drought in Senegal. There were six regions in Senegal where half the population suffered from food insecurity. The lean season had started early this year after the harsh drought. That had caused WFP to adapt its aid to Senegal accordingly. WFP would provide assistance to 739,000 people in rural areas and 67,000 in urban areas in Senegal. It would be delivered through various activities including targeted distributions of food and cash vouchers, cereal banks and food-for-assets activities, which helped build the resilience of vulnerable households through supporting agricultural projects. In addition to these food assistance activities, WFP would provide nutritional support to more than 100,000 malnourished children and mothers. Overall more than one million people were estimated to be food insecure in Senegal. There were more details in the notes at the back of the room.
In response to a question on this food aid, which would cover the needs until October, Ms. Byrs said the total amount needed was 27 billion CFA or $54.4 million. Some 14 billion CFA or $28.2 million had been received and 13 billion CFA or $26.2 million were still needed.
International Organization for Migration
Jumbe Omari Jumbe said that last week’s clashes and air raids on South Sudan’s Unity state forced more than 700 people to leave their homes and walk for 20 kilometres to seek refuge in the disputed Sudanese region Abyei, which itself was facing insecurity and the arrival of returnees. Because of these complicated conditions, IOM had prioritized the provision of basic emergency hygienic kits in order to prevent the outbreak of water borne diseases. The distribution of aid, including jerry cans, buckets and water purification tablets, started on Monday, 23 April 2012. IOM was also disseminating hygiene messages among the displaced written on T-shirts and posters. IOM was also providing water, sanitation and hygiene (WASH) services to Misseria and Ngok Dinka communities in Abyei, following an earlier humanitarian needs assessment. The relief operations were being funded by the European Union's Common Humanitarian Fund and the Government of Japan.
Mr. Jumbe said IOM was ready to start its integration programme in Chad after receiving funding from the German Government for social reintegration assistance for 75,000 former Chadian migrants who had returned from Libya empty handed to their communities. A recent IOM assessment funded by the Humanitarian Aid Department of the European Commission found that most Chadians who had returned from Libya were in urgent need of reintegration support in their communities. It noted that returnees had often become estranged to the traditional ways of life in a rural Chadian community after having lived and worked in Libya for years. The study also found that social tensions in communities of high returns, between returnees and host communities, were increasing.
In Haiti, Mr. Jumbe said IOM was delivering replacement tarps and new tents to families inundated by recent rains and was continuing its efforts to minimize flooding in camps occupied by earthquake victims since 2010.
In response to a question on whether UNICEF planned to come to the aid of school children in Greece, following reports of malnourished Greek children and teenagers at schools, Marixie Mercado of the United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF) said that a report had been issued by the UNICEF National Committee in Greece, which was a different organization from UNICEF itself. Their report looked at the impact of the financial crisis on children in Greece. The UNICEF National Committee in Greece was working with partners and the Government in a variety of ways to provide support and protection to children who were affected by the crisis.