REGULAR PRESS BRIEFING BY THE INFORMATION SERVICE
30 October 2012
Corinne Momal-Vanian, Director of the United Nations Information Service in Geneva, chaired the briefing, which was also attended by Spokespersons for and representatives of the United Nations Institute for Training and Research, the World Meteorological Organization, the Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs, the World Food Programme, the High Commissioner for Refugees, the United Nations Development Programme, and the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights.
Ms. Momal-Vanian said the Committee against Torture had opened its four-week autumn session yesterday, during which it would examine the reports of Gabon, Peru, Mexico, Norway, Qatar, Russia, Senegal, Tajikistan and Togo. This morning, the Committee would start its consideration of the report of Peru. Tomorrow morning, it would start its review of the report of Mexico, and on Thursday morning, it would consider the report of Norway. The background release had been issued last week.
The Committee on Enforced Disappearances also started its autumn two-week session yesterday. This was the Committee’s third session and it would be mainly dealing with the organization and methods of work of the Committee. The Committee this morning was participating in a joint event with the Working Group on enforced or involuntary disappearances to mark the twentieth anniversary of the Declaration on the Protection of All Persons against Disappearance. The background release had been issued last week.
Ms. Momal-Vanian said the Human Rights Committee concluded its consideration of the reports of the Philippines, Turkey, Germany, Bosnia and Herzegovina and Portugal last week and this week was mostly meeting in private, except for a couple of meetings to discuss its methods of work. The Committee’s Chairperson and two Vice-Chairpersons would hold a press conference on Thursday, 1 November at 1:30 p.m. in press room one. The roundup would be issued on Friday, 2 November after the public closing meeting.
Akiko Perona of the United Nations Institute for Training and Research (UNITAR) said she had put at the back of the room a press release about the visit of the Governor of Hiroshima to Geneva at the invitation of UNITAR from 31 October to 1 November. Mr. Hidehiko Yuzaki would be giving a press conference at 3:30 p.m. on Thursday, 1 November in press room one. Earlier on Thursday, he would give a lecture in which he would be giving his personal perspective on the recovery of Hiroshima, the legacy and lessons of Hiroshima, and his new “Hiroshima for Global Peace” plan, which sought to contribute to global peace.
Ms. Momal-Vanian reminded journalists that United Nations Headquarters in New York would be closed today for the second day because of Hurricane Sandy.
Claire Nullis of the World Meteorological Organization introduced Geoff Love, Director of the WMO Weather and Disaster Risk Reduction Services and an expert on tropical cyclone in his own right, who would give a brief presentation about Hurricane Sandy.
Geoff Love, Director of the WMO Weather and Disaster Risk Reduction Services, said that the systems in place had forecast with great accuracy Hurricane Sandy. The forecast for Hurricane Sandy 48 hours ahead was virtually identical to the actual analysis yesterday. It was such a big storm because it was sitting on the Gulf stream, lots of moisture feeding in, and all the environmental conditions were perfect. The forecast had been very accurate and they had seen in the media that the United States emergency authorities had all responded exceedingly well. This would be seen as a textbook case in how well a country could do; it was unfortunate that there was still a loss of lives; and there would be a lot of property damage and it would take some time to tally up the bills. From a WMO perspective, it was important to make sure that forecasts and responses, which were the real critical factors, were always as good. As for the forecast for Thursday ex tropical storm Sandy would still be up over northern Canada, and it would probably still be bringing substantial rain to the east coast, and snow up north in Canada. It was still a big slow moving weather system and probably was not finished yet, and that would make recovery trickier than normal.
Jens Laerke of the Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs said there was a red alert in force all over Haiti, the highest level. Tropical storm Sandy did not hit Haiti directly, but heavy rain and winds had caused extensive damage. There were so far 29 confirmed deaths, 8 wounded and 4 missing. Some 18,796 people had been evacuated to 136 emergency shelters. Some 1,811 houses had been flooded, 1,885 houses destroyed and 2,089 houses damaged. Damage assessment was still ongoing and obviously Haiti would need a humanitarian response in sections such as food and shelter. With all the rainfall, the rivers in southern Haiti had burst their banks, flooding homes, farmlands and critical infrastructure. The Government of Haiti had disbursed almost $ 900,000 in emergency funds as an initial response to tropical storm Sandy.
Ms. Momal-Vanian said the United Nations peacekeeping operation MINUSTAH was heavily mobilized to support the Haiti Regional and National Emergency Operations Centres. Prior to and throughout the heavy rains, MINUSTAH security components assisted in providing security escorts for the relocation of internally displaced persons living in camps subject to flooding. The mission also conducted, at the request of the Haitian authorities, a number of reconnaissance flights to assess the situation in some of the departments and had provided logistical and security support to other agencies, in particular the World Health Organization for the distribution of cholera mitigation materials.
Another journalist asked how many people affected by the 2010 earthquake in Haiti were still living in camps and if they had been affected by the hurricane. Jean-Philippe Chauzy of the International Organization for Migration said there were still currently about 370,000 internally displaced people still living in tents. He did not know how many of them had been affected, but IOM had been saying since last Thursday that people living in tents were obviously vulnerable. IOM had taken part in efforts to evacuate some of the most vulnerable persons from areas which could be flooded or could be threatened by land slides. IOM had evacuated about 1,200 people who were particularly vulnerable.
Mr. Laerke of OCHA said a United Nations humanitarian team had visited Homs last Saturday and Sunday in order to seek ways to deliver aid to some of those very difficult to access places that they were particularly looking at. Eighteen trucks with non-food items, including family supplies and hygiene kits, reached Homs as part of this effort. All parties contacted in advance about this mission expressed in principle willingness to allow aid through to the front lines. However, immediate delivery was prevented by active conflicts and logistical complications such as lack of safe locations to load the goods. The relief items were thus stored in the Syrian Arab Red Crescent warehouse in Homs, waiting for an opportunity to be delivered. The mission members had returned safely to Damascus on Sunday, and United Nations efforts to reach all parts of the country continued.
Elizabeth Byrs of the World Food Programme said WFP had been part of the mission to Homs with the aim of trying to make additional distributions to the areas most affected by the violence. WFP trucks carrying food assistance had reached Homs, but had not been able to reach the areas in the old city most affected by violence. WFP was in charge of United Nations’ logistics in Syria and they had also transported non-food assistance for UNICEF. WFP provided food aid to 225,000 persons every month. This was part of the emergency response operation aiming to reach 1.6 million people which WFP helped all over the country. WFP worked with the Syrian Red Crescent as well as a non-governmental organization in Homs. WFP also provided food rations in public shelters for internally displaced persons, which were prepared by non-governmental organizations. WFP had set up a presence in Homs.
Mr. Edwards said obviously this had been an opportunity and UNHCR had 20 trucks carrying family kits that managed to get to Homs.
In response to a question about the situation of Syrian refugees in Lebanon, Adrian Edwards of the High Commissioner for Refugees said there were more than 103,800 registered Syrian refugees in Lebanon. Lebanon was in a different situation compared to any of the other surrounding countries in that the Syrian refugee population was living outside camps, in communities, renting accommodation across the country. There were in all likelihood significantly higher numbers of refugees than those who had registered. UNHCR had been working to get assistance to people so that they could improve their accommodation. UNHCR’s concern was that resources were getting low for many of the people who had fled Syria. Lebanon was doing a remarkable job of hosting an enormous number of Syrian refugees, so the priority on asylum was being respected.
Asked if the United Nations’ agencies had any control over the aid that was stored in Syrian Red Crescent warehouses, Ms. Byrs said that they worked in total confidence with the Syrian Red Crescent as it worked in an impartial and neutral fashion in distributing the food aid to those who needed it in the area. Mr. Laerke said that the overall coordination of this was with the Humanitarian Coordinator.
Adam Rogers of the United Nations Development Programme said there was a big partners’ conference was being held at the Palais des Nations with 400 participants, including donor partners, bilaterals and multilaterals, discussing the future of Burundi. Yesterday, the Vice President of Burundi spoke with journalists. The meeting would be wrapping up in a couple of hours. UNDP was a close development partner for Burundi. The second development plan for Burundi, which was released at the conference, would be supported by UNDP.
Xavier Michon, the UNDP country director for Burundi, said Burundi had invited the international community that was supporting Burundi in its development path to take stock of the situation at this partners’ conference. Burundi was a post conflict country, after the peace agreement was signed seven years ago. This was a good moment to discuss openly where Burundi was coming from and where it was going. The partners’ conference had three objectives: to take stock of where Burundi was, what was the progress that had been made so far, and analyse together where Burundi was standing today in terms of opportunities, weaknesses and threats; to look at the future of Burundi; and to receive some support, not only financial pledges but also political pledges that Burundi was in the right direction. So far, the expressions of the international community had been positive, acknowledging that Burundi had made a tremendous effort and progress. However, Burundi was still one of the poorest countries in the world and there were still challenges in terms of governance and economic development.
Mr. Edwards of UNHCR said UNHCR was alarmed by the renewed escalation of violence in western Myanmar’s Rakhine state over the past week. According to government estimates, there had been more than 28,000 people displaced. It was clearly urgent that law and order were restored to prevent further violence, and that access was facilitated so that aid could be provided to those in need. Since the inter-communal unrest began on 21 October, the Rakhine state authorities estimated that dozens of people had been killed and over 4,600 homes burnt. Last weekend, UNHCR joined an inter-agency visit to some of the affected areas. UNHCR saw widespread destruction and displacement and staff noted that many of the internally displaced people were in extremely hard-to-reach areas. More than 3,000 people had fled in boats towards the state capital Sittwe to seek assistance in existing camps for internally displaced persons. The camps in and around Sittwe were already hosting most of the 75,000 people who remained displaced from the wave of violence that broke out in Rakhine state in June this year. With the new influx, these already overcrowded camps were being stretched beyond capacity in terms of space, shelter and basic supplies such as food and water. Food prices in the area had doubled and there were not enough doctors to treat the sick and wounded. Many displaced people had also found shelter with communities near and in the camps for internally displaced person at Sittwe, while unknown numbers had fled into the hills in locations such as Pauk Taw and Myebon. It was estimated that another 6,000 people were stranded on boats or on islets along Myanmar’s western coast. They were looking for safe access to places where they could receive assistance. Some affected people remained in their villages, living in poor conditions and waiting in hope that they could rebuild their homes. There were reports that people were receiving threats that their homes would be burnt, prompting some to flee in fear. As part of the overall UN response and as an immediate measure to address the urgent humanitarian needs, UNHCR was sending tarpaulin supplies to provide shelter for 2,000 people in the villages of Minbya township. More plastic sheets, blankets and mosquito nets were on their way to Sittwe. This was in addition to relief supplies and basic aid items for around 54,000 people in sites for internally displaced persons which UNHCR teams had distributed over the past few months. Meanwhile, UNHCR was appealing to neighbouring countries to keep their borders open for those people seeking safety from the ongoing unrest in Rakhine state. UNHCR stood ready to assist governments in addressing this evolving humanitarian emergency.
Mr. Laerke of OCHA added that when the violence started in early June, OCHA had launched a Rakhine response plan in July for $ 32.5 million. Up until now, about
$ 15 million had been dispersed or pledged against this plan. This plan would need to be revised in light of the renewed violence in the past few days.
In response to a question, Mr. Edwards said the situation in Sittwe and surrounding towns remained very tense, with communities living in fear of reprisals. Clearly the law and order situation was not what it should be and a considerable effort needed to be undertaken to address that at the moment. The security situation had to be addressed.
Mr. Chauzy of IOM said IOM was appealing for $ 6 million to continue to provide a range of emergency relief services to internally displaced people and impoverished host families in Mali, who had to share their meagre resources with displaced persons. There were more than 200,000 internally displaced persons in the country, most of whom fled their homes in northern Mali after rebels occupied the area. The majority of the internally displaced persons were either sheltering with host families in the north or had crossed the dividing line to the south, where they were living with local families, or in temporary settlements. Others were living in the open with very little food, water and sanitation. Some host families were supporting as many as 30 internally displaced persons, placing a huge burden on their limited and already stretched resources. To date, IOM Mali had received some $ 1.3 million for its emergency response in Mali. The money would in part go towards helping at least 35,000 internally displaced persons with water, sanitation and hygiene and the provision of basic health services.
Mr. Chauzy said that in South Sudan, a convoy of river barges carrying some 900 returnees with their possessions was leaving today from the port of Renk in South Sudan’s Upper Nile State on a two-week voyage to Juba, the capital of South Sudan.
The river convoy was IOM’s sixth this year from the border town of Renk to assist South Sudanese nationals returning from the Republic of Sudan to reach their final destinations. While the convoys had reduced the numbers of vulnerable returnees in Renk, there were still an estimated 13,660 in transit camps in the town. IOM had assisted a total of 36,000 stranded returnees with transport from Renk and other entry points since the beginning of 2012.
Attacks on Journalists in Somalia and Bolivia
Rupert Colville of the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights said OHCHR was extremely alarmed by the continuing assault on Somalia’s media workers and journalists by Al Shabab and other elements. Yesterday, a well-known musician and poet working for Radio Kulmiye, Mr. Warsame Shire Awale, was shot dead in what appeared to have been yet another targeted killing of media workers. The previous day (Sunday, 28 October) Mohamed Mohamud Turyare, a journalist and producer with another radio station, Radio Shabelle, died as a result of wounds received a week earlier on 21 October, when in a similar attack near his home he was reportedly shot by two men with pistols. The National Union of Somali Journalists had said that Warsame Shire Awale had received threats linked to critical comments he had made about gunmen targeting civilians, and added that it believed his murder may also be the result of his public commentaries. According to the National Union of Somali Journalists, these two latest deaths took the number of media workers killed this year in Somalia to 18, the second highest toll in the world after Syria. Nine of them were killed in the past six weeks, including three in separate incidents in the past seven days alone. OHCHR urged the new Government of Somalia to take urgent steps to protect journalists and other media workers, and to end the complete impunity that had been enjoyed by their killers. Each death should be properly investigated. Al Shabab had allegedly claimed responsibility for around 10 of the killings, but the remainder may have been committed by other elements easier to investigate and arrest. The role of the media was crucial as Somalia tried to get back on its feet, and the continued regular slaughter of the country’s journalists risked stifling the media’s ability to contribute to an improvement in law and order and good governance.
Mr. Colville said that OHCHR also roundly condemned the vicious and brazen attack yesterday on Bolivian radio journalist Fernando Vidal, who reportedly had petrol poured over him and was set on fire while in the studio in the town of Yacuiba near the border with Argentina. Early reports suggested that he and the studio technician, who also suffered burns, had survived the attack. At a press conference in Geneva 12 days ago, the High Commissioner said she was shocked by the number of journalists who were killed because of their work.