11 June 2013
Corinne Momal-Vanian, Director of the United Nations Information Service in Geneva, chaired the briefing which was also attended by Spokespersons for the Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs, UN Refugee Agency, World Food Programme, United Nations Population Fund, United Nations Children’s Fund, Human Rights Council, International Labour Organization, United Nations Economic Commission for Europe and World Health Organization.
Dan Baker, Syria Regional Humanitarian Response Coordinator for the United Nations Population Fund (UNFPA) said that as journalists probably knew UNFPA worked in terms of reproductive health, family planning, reproductive health and related issues. It also had a humanitarian component that was very important right now in the Syria crisis. The needs of women and girls in crisis situations often were overlooked, but he had some very important statistics to share today.
To date, among affected populations inside Syria, there were 270,000 pregnant women. There were 64,000 pregnant women among Syrian refugees outside the country. That meant that in the next nine months those 334,000 women would be delivering babies or suffering complications: often in the direst circumstances. And the numbers went up every day.
UNFPA faced a crisis in terms of maternal health. It was a smaller UN agency but was working as hard as it possible could to alleviate the situation and help maternal services inside Syria and among refugees. During the last two weeks of May, UNFPA supported deliveries for 1,300 women in Damascus and Aleppo – which was behind the fighting line, while in the country as a whole 4,800 women made use of reproductive and maternal health services sponsored by UNFPA.
Among refugees, in refugee camps in Jordan, for example, 3,075 women accessed reproductive health services made available through UNFPA, including delivery services, pre- and post-natal care, family planning, and prevention and treatment of STIs.
The other major issue was gender-based violence. UNFPA worked in preventing and responding to gender-based violence, especially violence against women. Inside Syria, during the last two weeks of May, UNFPA provided psychosocial services and psychological first aid for 2,000 women inside Syria. That may be the tip of the iceberg but it showed something was being done to help mitigate the effects of violence on women in Syria. Among all refugees outside Syria in neighbouring countries, 4,000 refugees received some gender-based violence services in the last two weeks of May.
Regarding funding, Mr. Baker said that of the billions of dollars being asked for, UNFPA was only asking for $40 million - $16 million for inside Syria and the rest for outside Syria – but that money was vital in giving women maternal health services, helping women sufferers of violence, and in providing contraceptives, which were often seen as a luxury but in fact were more vital in crisis situations than in any other situation.
Answering questions from journalists about statistics on how many women were losing their babies as a result of the conflict and for cases of gender-based violence , Mr. Baker replied that there was no way of knowing how many cases of gender-based violence there were, but that anecdotal evidence showed that cases were increasing. In the refugee camps there were indications that the levels of domestic violence had increased a lot.
UNFPA did not have statistics either to show whether the infant mortality rate was increasing as a result of the conflict, but Mr. Baker said that inside Syria right now, 35 per cent to 65 per cent, depending upon the location, of women were having caesarean sections, which was an incredibly high number. The maximum, according to WHO standards, was 15 per cent. And in many countries the caesarean section rate was lower. So 35 to 65 per cent was a very high number, and the reason for that was because both women and their providers – the midwives and the doctors – were afraid that under normal circumstances they wouldn’t be able to do a natural delivery, so they were doing ‘preventative caesarean sections’ so that the woman could be assured of having a safe delivery. UNFPA had worked in the refugee camps to ensure that only one woman had given birth unassisted since the crisis began.
Answering a question about the resettlement of Syrian refugees, Adrian Edwards for the United Nations Refugee Agency (UNHCR) said although the 1.6 million refugees from Syria had placed a huge pressure on neighbouring countries the priority was to maintain asylum in the region. Resettlement was a solution that UNHCR used only in a small number of places, as seen in annual statistics. It was really only for the most vulnerable groups and individuals. UNHCR was working with Governments, including European Governments, to examine ways in which further resettlement programmes for Syrians could be successfully used. UNHCR expected to hold a meeting with Governments in a couple of weeks time – probably in Geneva – to discuss it further, and especially to show solidarity with the countries most affected by the crisis. Responding to a request for figures, Mr. Edwards said it was difficult to speculate but UNHCR had had talks with the German Government looking at resettlement for up to 10,000 Syrian refugees. [Mr. Edwards later clarified that proposed resettlement by Germany related to 5,000 people.] Germany was one of the largest recipients of asylum seekers. Numbers had not been discussed with other Governments. Mr. Edwards would keep the press briefed on any updates.
Adrian Edwards for the United Nations Refugee Agency (UNHCR) said the crisis in north eastern Nigeria had forced more than 6,000 people, mainly women, children and elderly people, to seek safety in neighbouring Niger. Those UNCHR had spoken to say they escaped for fear of being caught in the government-led crackdown on insurgents linked to the Boko Haram sect, particularly in the Baga area of northern Nigeria, close to the Niger border.
Refugees reported that air strikes by Government forces were continuing from time to time, and that planes were regularly flying over the states of Borno, Yobe and Adamawa where the state of emergency had been in effect since 14 May. People arriving in Niger also mentioned the increasing presence of roving armed bandits in several States in Nigeria. Rising commodity prices coupled with pre-existing food insecurity was also becoming a major concern.
Niger had so far received 6,240 people, comprising 2,692 Nigerian nationals and 3,544 returning Niger nationals as well as 94 people of other nationalities. New arrivals had settled mainly in Bosso, Diffa, Kablewa, Maine, Tam, Tcoukoujani and Garin Amadou. Once their families were secure in Niger, men were returning to Nigeria to work and to sustain their families' needs.
Many new arrivals had walked into Niger, taking refuge in villages located only a few kilometres away from the border. Others, who fled areas located as far as 300 kilometres away such as Maidougouri in Nigeria, had used cars or motor-cycles. New arrivals were either renting houses or staying with host families. UNHCR staff had who visited several border villages hosting new arrivals also met some Nigerian families living out in the open, under trees.
Although the local population had welcomed those who had newly arrived, the presence of newcomers was also putting a strain on meagre local food and water resources. Niger, a country in the Sahel, itself struggles with food insecurity due to years of drought. UNHCR planned to deliver some relief to the new arrivals as well as to the host community.
UNHCR had also seen arrivals in Cameroon and Chad in the past weeks. There were 155 Nigerian asylum seekers in Chad along with 716 Chadian nationals. In Cameroon there were 1,200 returned nationals.
Meanwhile in Nigeria, the security situation remained extremely difficult. UNHCR was not present in the parts of the northeast that were under a state of emergency, due to the prevailing insecurity. Information about the humanitarian situation and displaced people in the northeast was consequently very limited.
Adrian Edwards for the United Nations Refugee Agency (UNHCR), said the UN refugee agency was alarmed by the fighting that has been on-going in Jonglei State, South Sudan since March between government troops and armed groups. Tens of thousands of people had been displaced.
In Pibor County in particular there had been increased tension and serious allegations of a break-down in law and order, evidenced among other things by looting of civilian property and significant reports of human rights violations. Most of Pibor County's 148,000 people were affected and many had been displaced more than once by the hostilities. Many people had fled into the bush, into areas that are hard to reach.
The security constraints had made it difficult for UNHCR to monitor the situation and to respond. Finding and reaching people affected by fighting in Jonglei was a major concern. When UNHCR got access they had been conducting border monitoring missions to assess population movements and were sharing this information with neighbouring countries.
Many civilians were walking long distances to find sanctuary in Kenya, Uganda and Ethiopia. In the first five months of this year, UNHCR registered 5,397 refugees from Jonglei State at the Kakuma Refugee Camp in Kenya. Those numbers were significant: it was approaching the total that arrived there in all of last year. In Uganda, some 2,700 refugees from Jonglei State had arrived since the beginning of the year, averaging about 527 per month.
The recent fighting in Pibor had resulted in an influx into Ethiopia, but on a smaller scale than some recent reports have suggested. Around 16,000 people arrived mainly between February 2012 and February 2013, before the most recent fighting. UNHCR assessment teams had just returned from the border inside Ethiopia where they established the arrival of 2,178 refugees between 7 May and 7 June. Some new arrivals reported that more people were on their way to Ethiopia.
In South Sudan, UNHCR was working both in Jonglei State and at the national level to advocate for better protection of displaced people. As part of the humanitarian community, UNHCR was engaging with the government, UNMISS (the United Nations Mission in South Sudan), key members of the diplomatic community and other stakeholders at different levels to ensure protection of civilians and improved humanitarian access.
Elisabeth Byrs, for the World Food Programme (WFP), said WFP was extremely concerned about the very serious situation of 1.5 million people in Haiti who were considered severely food insecure and needed external assistance, following extreme weather shocks and poor harvests. A further 6.7 million people in Haiti were struggling to meet their own food needs on a regular basis.
Prior to the hurricane season WFP had pre-positioned enough emergency stock to cover the needs of 300,000 people for two days with ready-to-use food and for four weeks with staple food rations. In view of the hurricane season from June to November 2013, WFP had stand-by agreements with 15 cooperating partners (mainly local NGOs) and the hubs also had storage for other humanitarian supplies and a dedicated fleet of all-terrain trucks. WFP had also begun emergency distributions of take-home rations to 200,000 beneficiaries through schools in the worst-affected communities.
In 2013 WFP planned to assist 1.1 million people, of whom 685,000 children would receive school meals this year, and provided specialized food to treat malnutrition, reaching 47,000 children aged from six to 59 months and 36,000 pregnant and nursing women. The National Coordination for Food Security (CNSA), had identified 44 communes in Haiti where the prevalence of severe food insecurity was above 50 per cent of the rural population. WFP also provided vulnerable people in rural areas with income opportunities via cash for assets programmes, reaching a total of 34,000 workers.
However WFP urgently needed US$ 17.2 million in funding to meet these needs. Ms. Byers said that WFP faced a shortfall of US$ 1.5 million to cover emergency preparedness.
Jens Laerke for the Office for the Coordination for Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA) said Yemen was an often-overlooked crisis, but today there was good news as he could report that more than 90 per cent of internally displaced persons (IDPs) from Abyan, southern Yemen, who have been living in Aden had returned to their homes. In absolute figures, the number of IDPs in southern Yemen has dropped from 68,533 in December last year to 6,133 in April of this year. They were returning because the fighting was subsiding, the overall situation looked better and there was an ongoing political process. There was resumption of some basic services and re-opening of markets.
However, that did not mean that Yemen was fine, on the contrary the message to the international donor community was to keep up support. Many of the returnees were living in damaged homes in need of reconstruction, and despite the overall improved situation, local authorities were struggling to provide adequate services. As some 80 per cent of the population in the south were farmers, it was critical to assist them in restarting their production.
Now was a critical time to sustain early recovery support to Yemen and underfunding of the sector was of concern. The overall humanitarian appeal for Yemen, asking US$716 million, was today 31 per cent funded. However, the early recovery sector was only 8.3 per cent funded of the $31.5 million needed.
As highlighted in May at a press briefing in Geneva by the Humanitarian Coordinator in Yemen (Mr. Ismail Ould Cheikh Ahmed), the country was at a crossroads that could either lead to increased stability or plunge the country back into conflict. He said that there could be no sustainable political transition and long-term development in Yemen – one of the Arab Spring countries – without the full support for a comprehensive humanitarian response through the 2013 Yemen Humanitarian Response Plan.
A journalist asked for UNHCR, OHCHR and IOM's views of a recent decision by the Supreme Court in Israel that the "anti-infiltration law" allowing the deportation of some 1.800 African refugees was legal, which, in his opinion, violated international humanitarian law.
Ms. Momal-Vanian said she would refer the question to spokespersons for the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights and the International Organization for Migration and ask them to respond to the journalist directly.
Adrian Edwards for the United Nations Refugee Agency (UNHCR) said the Israeli anti-infiltration law had many implications for many people. A prime concern for UNHCR was indeed the dangers along the route taken by people – mainly Eritreans – travelling through Ethiopia and Sudan, across the Sinai, in order to reach Israel. It was a long journey along a mixed migration route, with high rates of criminality along the way and high levels of trafficking activities. There was poor law enforcement through some countries, and also impediments to access. There was a need for a region-wide strategy to address the question.
Another journalist asked the United Nations Children’s Fund how many children were in prison in Israel, and whether UNICEF supported calls for an international enquiry into the treatment of Palestinian prisoners in Israeli prisons. Marixie Mercado for the United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF) said that Palestinian children who came in contact with the Israeli military detention system were reportedly not treated in line with international standards and laws. While the Military Advocate General had enacted several positive reforms since 2009, UNICEF’s recent report presented an analysis by experts of evidence available, concluding that the ill-treatment of children in the system appeared to be widespread, systematic and institutionalized, from the moment of arrest until the child’s prosecution and eventual conviction and sentencing. Ms. Mercardo said she would send out the latest figures to journalists.
Ms. Momal-Vanian said that the Conference on Disarmament would hold a plenary session this morning in which it would continue to examine consider a programme of work.
The Committee on the Rights of the Child would meet in public at 12 p.m. on Friday, 14 June, to close its session. The Committee's concluding observations on the reports reviewed during its session should be made public early next week.
Rolando Gomez for the Human Rights Council (HRC) gave an update on the activities of the HRC. Today at 9 a.m. the Special Rapporteur on contemporary forms of racism, racial discrimination, xenophobia and related intolerance, Mr. Mutuma Ruteere, would present his annual report on the glorification of Nazism and his missions to Bolivia and Spain, which would be followed by an interactive dialogue. At 11 a.m. the Intergovernmental Working Group on the effective Implementation of the Durban Declaration and Programme of Action on its tenth session would present its report, which would be followed by a general debate on racism and racial discrimination. And at 1 p.m. today the Independent Expert on the situation of human rights in Côte d’Ivoire, Mr. Doudou Diène, would present his report.
The United Nations Deputy High Commissioner for Human Rights, Ms. Flavia Pansieri, would at 2 p.m. present the High Commissioner’s progress report on technical assistance for South Sudan and on the situation of human rights in Mali, followed by the annual report of the High Commissioner on technical assistance and capacity building efforts with focus on successes, best practices and challenges. The thematic annual report of the United Nations Voluntary Fund for Technical Assistance in the Field of Human Rights would be presented at 2.30 p.m. followed by a general debate on technical assistance. From 3 p.m. to 6 p.m. the HRC would hold a panel discussion on common challenges facing States in their efforts to secure democracy and the rule of law, with opening remarks delivered by High Commissioner Navi Pillay.
Mr. Gomez added that four additional draft resolutions – on Syria, Myanmar, Violence against Women, and Climate Change - had been tabled today, bringing the total number of draft resolutions tabled to 28. All were available on the extranet and would be acted upon on Thursday and Friday this week.
A press conference with the Special Rapporteur, Richard Falk, on the Situation of Human Rights in the Palestinian Territories Occupied Since 1967 was to take place today, Tuesday 11 June, at 11.30 a.m. in Press Room III. The Special Rapporteur would talk about his annual report to the Human Rights Council on Israel’s Operation “Pillar of Defence” and the general human rights situation in the Gaza Strip.
A press conference with the Special Rapporteur, Mr. Mutuma Ruteere, on Contemporary Forms Of Racism, Racial Discrimination, Xenophobia and Related Intolerance would take place on Wednesday 12 June at 3 p.m. Press Room 1. Mr. Ruteere would also present his findings on the implementation of the General Assembly resolution on the Glorification of Nazism.
Mr. Gomez also highlighted side events taking place this week, including one on Women In Conflict: a close look at the Syrian Arab Republic, from 12 p.m. to 3p.m in Room XXI hosted by the Dutch Mission. Brazil and Russia would host an event on promoting human rights through Olympic Ideals in Room XIV. The United Kingdom Mission was also hosting an event on Sexual Violence in Conflict that would take place in the unique inflatable art installation that had been erected outside the Palais, The Luminarium, at 2 p.m. today. The Luminarium was also open to visitors all week.
Hans von Rohland for the International Labour Organization (ILO) announced that the ILO’s latest report on child domestic labour would be launched at a press conference on Tuesday, 11 June at 2 p.m. in Press Room 1. Constance Thomas, Director of ILO’s International Programme on the Elimination of Child Labour (IPEC) would speak at the launch. Mr. Rohland noted that the report was under embargo until 11 June at 10 pm GMT (midnight in Geneva on 12 June).
Mr. Rohland gave an update on the International Labour Conference’s programme for today. The Committee on the Application of Standards would continue its work all day, and at 1.30 p.m. in Room XVI at the Palais des Nations there would be an information session on a new structure for the ITUC’s Arab region. Also at 1.30 p.m. there would be a panel discussion on a new normative instrument to complement the ILO Forced Labour Convention, taking place in Room XII.
Marking the World Day Against Child Labour on Wednesday 12 June, there would an information session on the ILO’s work in Malawi featuring an address by President Joyce Banda, which would take place at 1.30 p.m. in the ILO cinema, R2 south, of the ILO building. The session would include brief presentations by the Ministry of Labour of Malawi as well as by social partners and the short film From Child Labour to Decent
Work would also be screened. Mr. Rohland also confirmed hat on Thursday 13 June, in the afternoon, the President of the European Council, Mr. Van Rompuy, would address the Conference. No press conference by Mr. Van Rompuy was foreseen.
Fadéla Chaib for the World Health Organization (WHO) announced that to mark World Blood Donor Day 2013 tomorrow, a press conference would be held also on Wednesday, 12 June at 10.00 a.m. in Press Room 1. The slogan for the day was “Give the gift of life: donate blood”. Two experts from the WHO Blood Transfusion Safety Unit would speak; Dr Neelam Dhingra-Kumar Dr Yetmgeta Eyayou Abdella. A press release would be sent out to journalists.
Conference of European Statisticians
Jean Rodriguez, for United Nations Economic Commission for Europe (UNECE) said that on 12 June, the Conference of European Statisticians (CES) held under the auspices of UNECE in Geneva, was expected to endorse a set of recommendations for a framework to measure sustainable development and associated sets of indicators. That framework was a key step towards harmonising the various approaches and indicators already used by countries and international organisations to measure sustainable development. It was expected to contribute to the UN processes for setting Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) and defining a post-2015 development agenda. The report on framework for measuring sustainable development had been developed by a Task Force set up jointly by UNECE, the Statistical Office of the European Commission (Eurostat) and the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD).
The proposed framework would build on the definition of sustainable development in the Brundtland Report (1987), prepared by the United Nations World Commission on Environment and Development. In keeping with the Brundtland Report, it also argued that sustainable development is essentially about distributional justice, in both time and space. That meant that the distribution of well-being between the present and future generations, as well as differences in well-being between countries were key parameters.
Mr. Rodriguez said that conceptually, the classification built on three dimensions of human well-being: the human well-being of the present generation in one particular country (‘here and now’); the well-being of future generations (‘later’); and the well-being of people living in other countries (‘elsewhere’). The framework also proposed three sets of indicators for each dimension. The selection of themes and indicators was based on an analysis of the sustainable development themes and indicators currently used in several national and international datasets. The availability of data for the selected indicators for 46 countries (EU and OECD member countries and Brazil, Russia, India, Indonesia, China, and South Africa) in international databases was also analysed.
The framework did not propose a one-size-fits-all approach, but rather presented a flexible tool that could respond to a variety of needs. The way forward in particular including measuring the international aspects of sustainable development and constructing better indicators in the areas of human, social, financial and natural capital. The Report also links to on-going policy initiatives on the development agenda post-2015. More details were available in the press release, which was available in Russian as well as English and French. The Chair of the Task Force would be available for media interviews tomorrow.
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The representative of the International Organization of Migration also attended the briefing but did not speak.
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The webcast for this briefing is available here: webtv.un.org/media