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REGULAR PRESS BRIEFING BY THE INFORMATION SERVICE
28 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 Human Rights Council, International Labour Organization, United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees, World Food Programme, Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs, International Organization for Migration and the United Nations Children’s Fund.

Human Rights Council and urgent debate on Syria

Rolando Gomez for the Human Rights Council (HRC), first confirmed that an urgent debate on Syria will take place on Wednesday, 29 May, beginning at 12 noon.

Turning to today’s events, Mr. Gomez announced that the HRC would hold debates on the reports of the Special Rapporteur on the right to health, Mr. Anand Grover, and of the Special Rapporteur on the human rights of migrants, Mr. François Crépeau, who would brief journalists at 2.30 p.m. today in Press Room I (details below).

At 1 p.m. the HRC would hold a clustered dialogue with the Special Rapporteur on trafficking in persons, Ms. Joy Ngozi Ezeilo, including reports from her country visits to Gabon, the Philippines and the United Arab Emirates. There would also be a presentation by the Special Rapporteur on extreme poverty, Ms. Maria Magdalena Sepúlveda with a focus on the right to participation of people living in poverty, including on her country visits to Mongolia and Namibia. Also on Monday afternoon there would be a presentation by the Special Rapporteur on the Human Rights of Migrants François Crépeau, particularly on his study on European Union external borders and their impact on migrants.

If time permitted the HRC would also hear today from the Independent Expert on the effects of foreign debt Mr. Cephas Lumina including on his mission to Latvia. It may additionally hear the presentation of a report from the Special Rapporteur on the independence of judges and lawyers, Ms. Gabriela Knaul on the possibilities of providing legal aid to individuals who come into contact with the law but cannot afford the costs of legal advice, counsel and representation, as well as reports on her missions to El Salvador, Maldives, Pakistan and Panama.

On Wednesday, 29 May, prior to the urgent debate on Syria at noon, the HRC would hear from a pre-scheduled panel discussion on the contribution of parliaments to the Universal Periodic Review process from 9 a.m. to 12 p.m. At 12 p.m. sharp the urgent debate on Syria and the killings in Al-Qusayr, which was requested by the United States, Turkey and Qatar last week and confirmed yesterday by the President of the Human Rights Council, would take place.

The scenario would be as follows: opening remarks by the High Commissioner Navi Pillay at 12 p.m. then joint statements on behalf of special procedures delivered by Mr. Christof Heyns, Special Rapporteur on Extrajudicial, Summary and Arbitrary Executions, and by Dr. Chaloka Beyani, the Special Rapporteur on the Human Rights of Internally Displaced Persons. Thereafter the HRC would hear from the co-sponsors of the debate, Qatar, Turkey and the United States. Then Syria would speak as a concerned country, followed by a long list of speakers. The list of speakers had just opened so Mr. Gomez said he did not yet know how many countries would speak and how long the debate would last. It was expected to be around three to four hours in duration. The interactive dialogues would continue afterwards.

A draft resolution tabled by Qatar, Turkey and the USA had now been tabled prior to the urgent debate on Syria, which would be negotiated at a public informal consultation today at 3 p.m. in Room XVI – that meeting was public and open to the media.

Mr. Gomez said given that urgent debate on Syria the whole programme of work for this session had shifted. The previously scheduled interactive dialogues with Mr. Heyns and Mr. Beyani on summary executions and internally displaced persons, which were scheduled to take place tomorrow (Wednesday 29 May) would now take place on Thursday 30 May. Everything else would change, including the Commission of Inquiry report on Syria which had been scheduled for the afternoon of Monday 3 June. That report would be moved to the following day, Tuesday 4 June. Mr. Gomez would send an updated programme out to journalists.

A press conference with the Special Rapporteur on the Human Rights of Migrants, Mr. François Crépeau, would take place on Tuesday 28 May 2013 at 2.30 p.m. in Press Room 1. The Special Rapporteur would talk about his annual report to the Human Rights Council on the management of the external borders of the European Union and its impact on the human rights of migrants, and his reports on the four fact-finding missions to Tunisia, Turkey, Italy and Greece, which he undertook in 2012 in the context of his annual report.

A second press conference with the Special Rapporteur on Extrajudicial, summary and arbitrary executions, Mr. Christof Heyns, would take place on Thursday 30 May 2013 at 3 p.m. in Press Room III. The Special Rapporteur would talk about his annual report to the Human Rights Council on lethal autonomous robotics, and his reports on the country visits to Turkey and India, conducted in 2012.

Mr. Gomez also highlighted other interesting side events taking place today: an event at 2 p.m. on killer robots and at 4 p.m. on human rights in Japan.

In response to questions on the reporting period for the upcoming report of the Commission of Inquiry on Syria, the dates covered in the report were 15 January to 15 May (although the report did not repeat information covered in the oral update presented to the HRC in March which covered developments up to the end of February). Mr. Gomez indicated that the report was now set to be presented on Tuesday, 4 June (time to be confirmed). The report would be shared with the media on Monday under embargo and a press conference would also take place on the day of the presentation. More details to follow.

Answering a question about the media availability of Mr. Anand Grover, Special Rapporteur on the right to health, Mr. Gomez said that Mr. Grover was available to meet with interested members of the media at 3.30 p.m. today near Room XXVII. Journalists should contact Mr. Gomez if they were interested. He noted that Mr. Grover would participate in a side event to be held in Room XXVII at 4 p.m. on "Human Rights in Japan", organized by Human Rights Now.

Jumbe Omari Jumbe, for the International Organization of Migration (IOM), announced that IOM would co-host a Human Rights Council side event with the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR) on Wednesday 29 May on the Health of Migrant Workers - Realizing Rights and Inclusive Development. The event would take place from 3.00 to 5.00 p.m. in Room XXVI at the Palais des Nations in Geneva.

An estimated 105 million people worked in countries other than their countries of birth. They frequently did so in dangerous, difficult and demeaning conditions, experiencing discrimination, insecurity, and facing multiple health risks. IOM said the issue needed to be addressed in global debates, including the post-2015 UN development agenda, the UN High Level Dialogue on International Migration and Development, and the annual Global Forum on Migration and Development
The event would bring together distinguished speakers including the UN Special Rapporteur on the Human Rights of Migrants, François Crepeau; the UN Special Rapporteur on the Right to Health, Anand Grover; Ambassador Denis Y. Lepatan from the Philippines Permanent Mission to the United Nations; Ana Iphais, Coordinator Healthy Municipalities and Communities National Programme from the Argentine Ministry of Health, and Michele LeVoy, Director of the European NGO network Platform for International Cooperation on Undocumented Migrants.

Syria

Adrian Edwards for the United Nations High Commission for Refugees (UNHCR), said that in Syria, UNHCR aid deliveries over the past week had focused on people affected by the recent fighting in the Al Wa’er suburb of Homs.

On Saturday (25 May) blankets, mattresses and other household items supplied by UNHCR were distributed to 200 families displaced from Al Wa’er to Homs City. Yesterday, a UNHCR truck carrying humanitarian relief items for 10,000 persons arrived in Al Wa’er itself. The supplies consisted of 5,500 diapers for babies and the elderly, 4,000 sanitary napkins, and 2,000 water jerry cans. Two additional trucks, carrying 3,000 hygiene kits, had to turn back because of the security situation. Al Wa’er was home to an estimated 400,000 people, of which half were people who had been displaced from other areas of Homs Governorate – mainly Baba Amer and the old city of Homs.

Heavy clashes between government and opposition forces in Al Wa’er broke out on May 16th and were interrupted by a two day lull that started on Saturday. Conflict had since resumed. In the course of the recent fighting, at least five buildings hosting hundreds of Internally Displaced Persons (IDPs) had been seriously damaged. In one, Alarabaeen tower, a family of seven was killed during mortar attacks. At least seven other persons were killed in separate incidents, and UNHCR knew of 32 persons having been injured.

The fighting had displaced around 5,000 people, with 250 families having fled to other parts of Homs City where they were staying with relatives. Many of those people had been displaced multiple times. Other displaced people crossed into Lebanon last week: ten families, comprising 33 people, had registered with UNHCR Lebanon

A UNHCR team visited one of the IDP shelters in Al Wa’er on May 26th. The shelter, in Western Al Wa’er, was hosting 2,100 individuals. UNHCR were told that the shelter had been receiving five families a day since the recent conflict escalation. People living there had minimal sanitation, little water, and no electricity. Food and medicine were in short supply, and there was an urgent need for mattresses, blankets, and hygiene kits. In addition to UNHCR’s focus on trying to deliver additional humanitarian relief to the affected population in and around Al Wa’er, UNHCR was also prepositioning relief items in other areas of Homs itself as a contingency measure for the area.

UNHCR once again called on all parties to safeguard the safety and security of the civilian population affected by the conflict. It also reiterated its call for all parties to the conflict to guarantee unhindered access for all humanitarian actors, UNHCR included.

Elsewhere in the Syria region, UNHCR continued to be concerned about reported impediments in the way of people seeking to cross borders as refugees. UNHCR’s Jordan representative reported this morning that some 230 refugees had arrived at Za’atari camp yesterday, with similar numbers at the weekend. However crossings were still significantly down from the levels of two weeks ago. Recent problems with border crossings had also been reported along the Syria-Iraq border. UNHCR was not in a position to determine the full reasons. It nonetheless remained essential that civilians seeking to flee insecurity, whether they were internally displaced people or refugees, had safe passage to areas that were outside of harm’s way.

Answering questions about Geneva II peace conference on Syria, Ms. Momal-Vanian said she could not confirm when the peace conference would take place: stakeholders still had to agree on the participants, modalities, date and agenda. Ms. Momal-Vanian said that there were no calendar restrictions on when it could take place.

Mali

Jens Laerke for the Office for the Coordination for Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA) said there were severe humanitarian needs in Gao in eastern Mali, where for example the amount of drinking water available to people had declined by 60 per cent over the past weeks.

The Humanitarian Coordinator for Mali, Aurélien Agbénonci, was on mission in Gao 25 May with OCHA, WFP and WHO. He said after the mission that the rehabilitation of water supply was imperative to urgently assist the population of some 70,000 people in the town. He also said that food assistance needed to be increased. There was food distribution ongoing to about a third of the population in Gao, but that covered only part of the needs, according to the mission participants.

Water was a main issue: some neighbourhoods in Gao did not have water at all due to dysfunctional pumps and lack of electricity. Outside of the city the situation was even worse because the Niger River was the only source of water and there were concerns about cholera outbreaks. Twenty-two cases of cholera had been registered in May, and two people had died. No new cases had been reported in the past five days, however, but the risk of cholera remained high.

The Humanitarian Coordinator met some ten national and international NGOs currently in Gao, as well as UN agencies, International Organization for Migration and International Committee of the Red Cross. OCHA had deployed two staff to Gao and was in the process of opening an office. In total, there were more than 100 humanitarian organisations in Mali. The humanitarian appeal for Mali asked for US$410 million and was, as of today, 29 per cent funded. Mr. Laerke had made a ‘humanitarian snapshot’ breakdown of appeal figures available to journalists.

Adrian Edwards for the United Nations High Commission for Refugees (UNHCR), said that with the first round of presidential elections in Mali due on July 28, consultations were under way between the interim Malian government and refugee hosting countries on including refugee populations in the voting. These consultations were expected to be followed by bilateral agreements that would form the basis of the electoral process in each of the main refugee-hosting countries.

While details of the out-of-country electoral process were still being worked out, UNHCR was ready to facilitate the exercise by refugees of their right to vote. Some 174,000 Malians had found refuge in neighbouring countries since current conflict erupted in the northern part of their country in January 2012. Burkina Faso hosted 50,000 refugees, Mauritania 74,000 and Niger 50,000. Smaller groups of Malian refugees were also in Algeria.

UNHCR supported the voluntary participation of refugees in those elections, although its role would be limited to a strictly humanitarian and non-political one. In conjunction with refugee-hosting countries and refugees, it would facilitate space for dialogue on the electoral process, and for registration of voters. It was expected that registration of voters in camps and outside camps would be the responsibility of the Malian electoral commission, who would work with host governments to establish voting lists.

On UNHCR's part, it would make sure that refugees understand that their participation in the electoral process was voluntary and it would warn against any pressure or intimidation. It would also provide practical information on the electoral process to refugees as well as facilitate meetings between refugees in the context of the upcoming elections. UNHCR would work with the asylum countries to ensure a free, fair and secure process. Discussion of voting locations was on-going, but voter registration and voting itself should in principle take place outside of camp settings. Special arrangements would be made for modalities such as transportation by country authorities to voting stations. Host governments would be responsible for security.

UNHCR had previously facilitated out-of-country voting by refugees in South Sudan in 2011, in Iraq in 2010 and in Afghanistan in 2004.

Marixie Mercado, for the United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF), gave an update on schools in the north. UNICEF now had 42 per cent of schools in Gao, Kidal and Timbuktu functional, with 100,000 students being taught by 2,300 teachers. That was happening mostly in the urban areas because there was still a high level of insecurity in the rural areas, and across the region the lack of infrastructure and logistical resources was still a major constraint. Ms. Mercado reminded the press that there was still a major chronic nutritional crisis across the country, particularly in the south were 90 per cent of the population lived. UNICEF expected that in 2013, some 210,000 children would require life-saving treatment for malnutrition and that 450,000 children would also suffer from a less severe but still debilitating form of malnutrition.

UNICEF’s US$82 million appeal for Mali was still only 28 per cent funded today.


Colombia

Jumbe Omari Jumbe, for the International Organization of Migration (IOM), said Colombia had been in the news since Sunday when the Colombian Government and the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC-EP) had reached an agreement on land reform. It was little known that IOM had been working with the Colombian Reintegration Agency, and had successfully assisted 749 ex-combatants to reintegrate into civilian life by providing training, job placement assistance or facilitating their return to school.

There was still much work to be done: a backlog of a further 55,000 combatants who mainly came from former right-wing self-defence forces of Colombia, and the needs for reintegration would escalate if the main rebel group FARC-EP reached a complete agreement.

Colombia currently had about three million displaced people, most of whom were vulnerable, in need of support to reintegrate into their communities. IOM’s CORE programme was funded by the United States Agency for International Development (USAID) and the governments of Canada, Sweden, Spain, the Netherlands and the United Kingdom among other donors.

Ms. Momal Vanian read out a statement made yesterday by Secretary General Ban Ki-moon welcoming the agreement between the Colombian Government and the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC-EP) on rural development. “This is a significant achievement and a step forward”, the Secretary-General had said.

Uganda

Jumbe Omari Jumbe, for the International Organization of Migration (IOM), said Uganda was becoming a pioneer among African countries not only by signing and ratifying the Palermo Protocol on combating trafficking in persons but because it had localised, and indigenized, the protocol into the local laws. Uganda was now issuing a blueprint, or a national action plan for future counter-trafficking efforts, which had been developed with assistance from the IOM during a three-day workshop. Mr. Jumbe added that Uganda was a source, transit and destination country of trafficking. In the past three years, IOM Uganda had assisted 127 victims of trafficking, mostly children.

Geneva activities

Ms. Momal-Vanian announced that tomorrow 29 May was the International Day of United Nations Peacekeepers. A commemoration would be held at the Palais des Nations on Thursday 30 May, led by Mr. Kassym-Jomart Tokayev, Director-General of the United Nations Office at Geneva. A wreath-laying and flag-raising ceremony would be held at 3 p.m. at the United Nations Memorial in the Ariana Park (or in front of Council Chamber in case of bad weather), followed by a panel discussion at 3.45 p.m. in Room XIX, with English and French interpretation. Journalists were invited. The United Nations Secretary General’s message for the day was online and at back of room.

On Monday 3 June the Director-General Komart Tokayev would host on Monday, 3 June a one-day conference entitled, "Opportunities and Challenges for the 21st Century – Need for a New Paradigm" that would be held in the Council Chamber. A number of major international organizations, non-governmental organizations, think tanks and universities were invited. A full list of speakers was available on line (http://bit.ly/11knEnO) Requests for registration should be emailed to libraryevents@unog.ch.

Ms. Momal-Vanian said that the Conference on Disarmament was currently in plenary session.

The Committee on the Rights of Child yesterday opened a three-week session. Today it would meet in private, and tomorrow begins consideration of the report of Armenia. The Committee will begin on Thursday afternoon consideration of the report of Rwanda.

The Committee Against Torture was meeting in private this week and would close its session on Friday and adopt its concluding observations on the country reports reviewed in its four week session: United Kingdom, Mauritania, the Netherlands, Guatemala, Kenya, Bolivia, Japan and Estonia.

Hans van Rohland, for the International Labour Organization (ILO), announced the launch of its annual World of Work report would take place on Monday 3 June. A press conference would be held on Monday 3 June at 9.30 a.m. in Press Room 1. Guy Ryder, the Director-General of ILO, would speak at the event.

Marixie Mercado, for the United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF), announced that embargoed copies of UNICEF’s flagship State of the World’s Children report were available at the back of the room. The report would be launched at an event in Viet Nam on 30 May. All media meterials were available on a password-protected website, details of which had been circulated to journalists. The materials were available in English, French, Spanish, Chinese, Arabic and Russian. Additionally, some national officers were producing materials in other languages so any specific requests should be sent to Ms. Mercado, who would help in any other way she could.

Ms. Momal-Vanian announced that the World Health Organization (WHO) would hold a press conference for World No Tobacco Day on Wednesday, 29 May at 10.30 a.m. in Press Room 1 on the theme for 2013 which was `the ban of tobacco advertising, promotion and sponsorship”. Speaking at the event would be Dr. Douglas Bettcher, WHO, Director, Prevention of Noncommunicable Diseases and Dr. Armando Peruga, WHO, Programme Manager, Prevention of Noncommunicable Diseases. Ms. Momal-Vanian added that there would be no report, only a general brochure on the advertisement of tobacco products, and the brochure and the press release would not be under embargo.

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The representative of the 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.