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REGULAR PRESS BRIEFING BY THE INFORMATION SERVICE
20 July 2012

Corinne Momal-Vanian, Director of the United Nations Information Service in Geneva, chaired the briefing, which was also attended by Spokespersons for the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Flora and Fauna, the World Trade Organization, the Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs, the International Organization of Migration, the United Nations High Commission for Refugees and the Office of the High Commissioner of Human Rights.

Geneva Activity

Ms. Momal-Vanian noted that next Friday, 27 July the Human Rights Committee would close its 105th session and publish concluding recommendations on the five country reports examined during the session: Iceland, Lithuania, Maldives, Armenia and Kenya.

Ms. Momal-Vanian reminded journalists that they were invited to a UNTV screening in Room III at the Palais des Nations, 1 p.m. on Monday 23 July, of features from United Nations Television's award-winning monthly news magazine programme 21st Century. The following films would be shown: "Streets Not Paved With Gold", on street-kids in Mexico City (in English); "Les Gens des Forets", on the pygmies' struggle for citizenship in Gabon (in French); and "Second Chance for Saudi Terrorist", on a reformed terrorist in Saudi Arabia (in English).

CITES Standing Committee

Juan-Carlos Vasquez of the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Flora and Fauna (CITES) said elephant poaching levels were the worst in a decade and recorded ivory seizures were at the highest levels since 1989, according to a new report published by CITES today. CITES Secretary-General Mr. John E. Scanlon said in a press release: “We need to enhance efforts to reverse the current disturbing trends in elephant poaching and ivory smuggling. Enforcement efforts to stop wildlife crime must not just result in seizures – they much result in prosecutions, convictions and strong penalties to stop the flow of contraband.” China and Thailand were the two primary destinations for illegal ivory consignments exported from Africa, mostly through Indian Ocean seaports in East African countries, primarily Kenya and Tanzania.

The findings of the report, which was largely based on information submitted by Governments, would be presented and discussed at the 62nd meeting of the CITES Standing Committee to be held in Geneva from 23 to 27 July 2012. Journalists wanting to attend should contact the United Nations Information Service for accreditation.

Mr. Vasquez invited journalists to a screening of new film ‘Rhinos Under Threat’ which was produced and directed by UNTV. The screening would take place on 24 July 2012 at 5.30 p.m. at Room 3 of the Centre International de Conférences Genève (CICG). High-level authorities from Rhino-range States would be in attendance and the screening would be followed by a discussion.

World Trade Organization Schedule

Ankai Xu for the World Trade Organization (WTO) outlined next week’s schedule. On Monday 23 July the Dispute Settlement body would meet followed by a briefing, and the same day membership negotiations for Yemen would begin. The Singapore trade policy review would take place on Tuesday 24 July, and that afternoon membership negotiations for Kazakhstan would continue. The General Council would meet on Wednesday 25 July 2012 and were expected to conclude their meeting with a press briefing. Director-General Pascal Lamy would on Tuesday meet with the Secretary-General of the International Telecommunications Union, as well as the Permanent Secretary of the Ministry of Trade and Industry of Singapore. On Wednesday the Director-General would meet the Deputy Prime Minister of Vanuatu.

Democratic Republic of the Congo

Jens Laerke of the Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs said OCHA was deeply concerned about the impact of recent fighting on thousands of families in the eastern province of North Kivu in the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC). The volatile situation had consequences for humanitarian access and the ability of aid organizations to deliver assistance. The events of the past two weeks had displaced an unknown number of people and disrupted livelihoods. There were reports of child soldier recruitment, sexual violence and communal violence. Since April 2012 armed fighting between the national armed forces (FARDC) and the M-23 rebel group (break-away soldiers from the national army) had provoked the displacement of at least 220,000 people within the province of North Kivu. More than 43,000 had crossed into neighbouring Uganda and Rwanda. The fighting was exacerbating what was already one of the world’s worst and most complex humanitarian crises. The fighting had also forced the relocation of some 60 humanitarian workers to the provincial capital Goma. Fidele Sarassoro, Humanitarian Coordinator for DRC called, in a press release, on all fighting parties to take all precautions to avoid civilian injury and loss of life, and attacks on non-military targets.

OCHA Consolidated Appeal Process (mid-year review)

Mr. Laerke announced that the mid-year review of OCHA’s Consolidated Appeal Process showed the number of people needing humanitarian aid around the world has increased from 51 million to 62 million – an increase of more than 20 per cent – during the first half of 2012. More than 18 million people in nine countries in the Sahel region faced a severe food and nutrition crisis, worsened by conflict in northern Mali. More than one million children under five were at risk of dying from severe acute malnutrition and over 200,000 people had fled into neighbouring countries. Conflict, food insecurity and malnutrition have also steeply worsened in Yemen. Sixty per cent of children under five were chronically malnourished, a rate second only to Afghanistan. South Sudan was coping with increasing numbers of refugees from Sudan, as well as the return of hundreds of thousands of people of South Sudanese origin from Sudan, amid mounting food insecurity and malnutrition.

Some 560 humanitarian aid organizations had reached at least 21 million people with humanitarian aid within the framework of the Consolidated Appeal Process. To reach everyone in need within the next six months those partners had raised their funding requirements, from US$7.8 billion, at the beginning of the year, to $8.8 billion. So far 45 per cent of the funding required had been received but this leaves a gap of $4.8 billion for the remainder of the year.

International AIDS Conference

Chris Lom of the International Organization of Migration (IOM) highlighted IOM’s forthcoming message about access to HIV services for migrants at the XIX International AIDS Conference which would start this weekend in Washington D.C. Migrants continued to lack adequate access to HIV services in most countries, usually because of a misguided pandering to public fears about migrants being a burden on social services.

IOM would organize two satellite events at the Conference. The first would be co-hosted with the Canadian Public Health Agency, the US Centre for Disease Control and the European Centre for Disease Prevention and Control and focus on HIV and mobilized populations in industrialized countries. The second event was organized in partnership with the Southern Africa Development Community and the World Health Organization’s Stop TB Partnership and would focus on mine workers in southern Africa, where there was an incredibly high rate of Tuberculosis which combined with HIV was a lethal combination.

Syria

Melissa Fleming of the United Nations High Commission for Refugees said the High Commissioner for Refugees António Guterres had expressed growing concern over the dramatic numbers of people displaced by violence in Syria. The High Commissioner said: “With the spread of deadly violence, I am gravely concerned for the thousands of Syrian civilians and refugees who have been forced to flee their homes”. Yesterday thousands of Syrians crossed into Lebanon. Reports of numbers of people who may have crossed in the past 48 hours varied between 8,500 and 30,000. Those figures were currently being verified. With the rapidly evolving situation, it was not possible to give an accurate figure of the numbers of displaced persons in Syria, but as of last week, it was estimated that one million people had been displaced and forced to flee inside the country because of the increasing and spreading violence. Many Syrians in general were running low on resources and were increasingly turning to the Syrian Arab Red Crescent (SARC) and other organizations, including UNHCR, for help.

Concerning the refugee population in Syria, which consisted of over 88,000 registered Iraqi refugees, the majority of whom resided in Damascus, Ms. Fleming said thousands had fled their homes due to the violence in recent days. UNHCR had received hundreds of calls from desperate refugees who had received death threats and feared being caught up in the fighting. At least two thousand had taken shelter in the Damascus suburb of Jaramana in schools and parks, as well as Syrians. Rents were becoming formidable with people charging as much as $100 per night. According to reports last week an entire Iraqi family of seven were found murdered in their apartment in Damascus, while three other refugees were killed by gunfire. In the past two days UNHCR distributed urgent grants to refugees who needed cash to rent apartments if they could find them and to buy basic household items, such as mattresses and blankets, which was challenging as many shops were closed. There were reports that many banks had run out of money which prevented UNHCR’s innovative urban refugee policy of providing refugees with ATM cards to withdraw cash transfers from UNHCR in order to pay for their needs rather than move.

UNHCR was helping the growing numbers of displaced Syrians wherever it could, mostly through SARC, which had better access to the country. UNHCR Syria had over 250 national and international staff, operating from offices in Damascus, Aleppo and al Hassakeh. Two weeks after the launch of the Revised Regional Response Plan for Syrian Refugees, which encompassed the needs of seven UN Agencies and 36 NGO partners to support Syrian refugees, the plan (amounting to US$193 million) was only 26 per cent funded. The Syria Humanitarian Assistance Response Plan, an inter-agency appeal led by OCHA to support affected Syrians inside their country, had only received US$38 million of the US$180 million required.

Answering a question, Ms. Fleming said it looked like the borders remained open and people continued to arrive into Jordan, Turkey, flood into Lebanon and increasingly into Iraq. Recently 80 buses filled with Iraqis returned refugees to Iraq while two Iraqi Government airplanes evacuated their citizens from Damascus this week.

Rupert Colville for the Office of the High Commissioner of Human Rights said High Commissioner Navi Pillay strongly urged all sides to make all possible efforts to ensure civilians were not killed or injured by the conflict now taking place across Syria, which was especially dangerous to Syrians in urban areas. Far too many innocent men, women and children had already been killed and injured, and one million persons were displaced. It was a very worrying situation.

Nepal

Rupert Colville for the Office of the High Commissioner of Human Rights said the High Commissioner was concerned by the reported request to the Government of Nepal by the Nepal Army to promote Colonel Raju Basnet to the rank of Brigadier-General. On 26 May 2006 OHCHR released the report of its investigation into alleged arbitrary detention, torture and disappearance of persons at Maharajgunj Barracks between 2003 and 2004. During the investigation, OHCHR received consistent, credible and corroborated testimony of arbitrary detention, torture and disappearance. The report stated that “most of the hundreds of individuals who were arrested by the RNA (Nepal Army) in 2003 and detained for varying periods in Maharajgunj barracks were subjected to severe and prolonged ill-treatment and torture.” Throughout that period the barracks were under the control of the Bhairabnath Battalion, commanded by then Lieutenant Colonel Raju Basnet.

The human rights community, including the National Human Rights Commission of Nepal and OHCHR, had repeatedly called for a credible, competent, impartial and fully independent investigation into the alleged violations committed in Maharajgunj Barracks and other similar incidents which occurred during the conflict period in Nepal. OHCHR urged the Government of Nepal to ensure that no further decisions regarding extension in tenures or promotions of officials implicated in such cases were taken until the completion of full, transparent and impartial investigations.

Tunisia

Rupert Colville for the Office of the High Commissioner of Human Rights reported that the Deputy High Commissioner for Human Rights, Kyung-wha Kang was currently participating in the National Consultation on the Constitution, Rule of Law and Human Rights in Tunisia. The Deputy High Commissioner stressed that the new constitution must be based on a firm foundation of human rights, including civil, political, economic, social and cultural, so that it adequately responds to the aspirations of the Tunisians who so famously took to the streets last year and had such a colossal impact in the region and beyond. OHCHR would continue to support national efforts towards that end.