REGULAR PRESS BRIEFING BY THE INFORMATION SERVICE
28 February 2014
Corinne Momal-Vanian, Director of the United Nations Information Service in Geneva, chaired the briefing, which was also attended by the Spokespersons for World Health Organization, World Food Programme, Human Rights Council, United Nations Children’s Fund, International Organization for Migration, International Telecommunications Union, United Nations Population Fund, Inter-parliamentary Union, Economic Commission for Europe, United Nations Development Programme, and the Secretariat of the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora.
Central African Republic (CAR)
Philippe Leclerc, in charge of the protection cluster in Central African Republic for the United Nations Refugee Agency (UNHCR), informed that he had just returned from the Central African Republic after a two-month deployment. He shared information on extreme violence faced by civilians, the acceleration of violence and how, in particular, Muslims were targeted by the anti-Balaka. As the Seleka had been defeated and were leaving, the same scenario was repeated: Muslims were regrouped and exposed to violence. They were fleeing towards the north of the country or the neighbouring countries, essentially fleeing for their lives.
What was most important at the moment was that mediation take place in many places across the country. It was still possible for communities to continue to live together, but intensive mediation was necessary for that to happen. When mediation failed, the United Nations had no other possibility other than evacuating groups to safer places, or securing their safe passage to the north, Cameroon, Democratic Republic of the Congo and Chad. The state was increasingly re-exercising its power, and security was also provided by international forces – International Support Mission to the Central African Republic (MISCA) and the French mission Sangaris, which were not sufficiently large to ensure protection of civilians. It was extremely important that international forces be increased so that people be saved.
Mr. Leclerc, who had been working at UNHCR for 22 years, stressed that the violence in the CAR reminded him of that in the vicinity of Gorazde and Srebrenica in Bosnia Herzegovina in 1995. In such an extremely dire situation, people were relying on United Nations forces, and sometimes just on protection by their mere presence. A lot of protection could be done by being in the field, and the United Nations presence was an effective way of saving lives. United Nations was now present even in many places where the non-governmental organizations did not dare to go.
Asked if there were more peacekeepers, there would be fewer evacuations and ethnic cleansing, Mr. Leclerc said that if there were more international forces, there would certainly be fewer human rights violations and fewer reasons for people to flee. Efforts should be undertaken to deploy additional international forces and find a political solution.
Mr. Leclerc reiterated that ethno-religious cleansing was going on, targeting Muslims. People were trapped and trying to save their lives, after the Seleka had withdrawn. The number of people fleeing to Cameroon and Chad was relatively low simply because people could not move and was difficult for them to find a safe passage. Risks faced by people trying to leave were immense.
Patrick McCormick, for the United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF), informed on the situation of abducted children in the Central African Republic. Mr. McCormick stated that four children, two girls and two boys, had been reunited with their father by UNICEF and OCHA after having been abducted by militia groups four days earlier. The children had been threatened to death. After their abduction, the siblings, aged between 3 and 13, had been held for ransom by the militia. Following the negotiations for their release, in which no ransom had been paid, the four children had been handed over to UNICEF and OCHA. Child abductions represented a new and disturbing deterioration in the conflict. The example illustrated how the rights of children were being violated and why children continued to be the most vulnerable group in the CAR crisis.
Mandie Alexander, Emergency and Evaluation Coordinator in Iraq for the International Organization for Migration (IOM), said that the number of people displaced by escalating conflict in Iraq’s Anbar province between government forces and Sunni-backed rebels had risen to over 400,000, many of whom were in urgent need of humanitarian aid.
While up to now the conflict had been confined to Anbar, reports suggested that insecurity might now also be spreading to the South Central and Northern regions, including Ninewa, Salah-Al-Din and Diyala governorates. Four hundred families were reported to have left Saadiyah in North Diyala in the week due to military clashes and fled to Khanaqeen and Jalawla in the same governorate. Not only did the violence increase, but it was spreading throughout the country.
The Anbar crisis continued to evolve with no solution in sight. The previous week, hundreds of people demonstrated in Fallujah calling for an end to the government’s artillery bombardment of the city and for the government to allow in supplies. But a subsequent truce initiative and 72-hour ceasefire had been cut short by renewed mortar attacks.
Ms. Alexander said that IOM in Anbar was continuing to distribute essential non-food assistance to displaced families whenever security conditions permitted. The distribution day was carefully planned and started at 5:00 a.m. IOM staff left their homes by different routes every day for security reasons.
Since the onset of the crisis, IOM had delivered non-food aid kits to some 3,430 families, helping a total of over 20,000 people. Each kit contained essential items for a family of six, including mattresses, blankets, pillows, towels, kerosene heaters for cooking, carpets, washing powder and plastic storage boxes. Protection issues, such as unaccompanied minors and sexual based violence, had been observed.
IOM was appealing for funding from the international community to help thousands of other families affected by the Anbar crisis.
Tarik Jasarevic, for the World Health Organization (WHO), said that cholera vaccination was taking place in several camps near Juba. Vaccinations had started the previous week in the Minkaman camp, and in the first six days, almost 40,000 people had been vaccinated. The operation in the camp was led by Médecins Sans Frontières Switzerland, but the vaccines were coming from an emergency stockpiles that was managed by WHO, the International Federation of the Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies, Médecins Sans Frontières and UNICEF. It was the first time the stockpile, created in 2013 by WHO, had been activated.
On 27 February, the vaccinations had also started in the Tomping camp in Juba where on the first day more than 4,000 people had been vaccinated. In the operation led by the NGO Medair, nine vaccinations sites had been established across the camp. Such operations would continue for a few more days until everyone was reached, Mr. Jasarevic explained. The vaccine had to be taken in two doses, with the second dose injected two weeks after the first one.
Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC)
Elisabeth Byrs, for the World Food Programme (WFP), informed on severe funding constraints in the Democratic Republic of Congo. In the face of those constraints, the WFP was reducing the geographical coverage of its work in the DRC and prioritizing life-saving activities in acutely-insecure, conflict-affected areas. Ms.Byrs stressed that the lack of funding had obliged the WFP to start cutting rations to internally displaced persons in Uganda, North Kivu and to scale back some other operations.
WFP had announced the previous year that it was aiming to reach 4.2 million food-insecure people between July 2013 and December 2015, but a shortage of funds had already caused reductions in rations and a scaling back of some operations during recent months.
In December 2013, WFP had assisted 1.5 million food-insecure people in the DRC, including displaced, refugees, children and women. WFP urgently required USD 48.5 million for its operations to assist hundreds of thousands of conflict-affected and food insecure people through August. Up until now, WFP had only received USD 8 million, which represented 4 per cent of the required funding.
Ms. Byrs stressed that the situation in Katanga province was deteriorating and underlined that WFP was extremely preoccupied by the arrival of refugees from the CAR.
WFP had estimated that 11 per cent of the rural population in the DRC was food-insecure. Ms. Byrs said that WFP needed 15,000 tons of food for the following six months, but would not able to provide that food without the actual funding. WFP was also very preoccupied with chronic malnutrition which affected more than 43 per cent of the children in the DRC.
International Ear Care Day
Mr. Jasarevic said that hearing problems concerned many people and announced that 3 March was International Ear Care Day. WHO was releasing a report on national capacities, suggesting that countries had to deal more proactively with issues of hearing loss. He added that the problem was of great concern to the WHO because it affected a large number of people in the world and usually went unnoticed.
Dr. Shelly Chadha, from WHO Prevention for Blindness and Deafness Department, recalled that 360 million people across the world suffered from hearing loss. She specified that hearing loss not only pointed to deafness but also to people who were hard of hearing. She expressed WHO’s great concern for the problem and explained that the issue had a great impact on people’s lives.
Dr. Chadha gave an example of a baby born deaf in a rural area of Sri Lanka, and explained how, unless some measures were put in place, this baby would be unable to develop any speech skills. She also mentioned the example of a child born with normal hearing capacities in a rural area of the Republic of Malawi. Were such a child to develop an ear infection in its early childhood, it might fall behind at school and eventually drop out, and would never achieve its true academic potential. Another example was given of a 70-year old lady in Nicaragua who developed hearing loss due to her age, and who might become socially isolated or depressed, unless she received help.
In the view of the magnitude and impact of that condition, it had been essential to assess how countries were able to deal with the situation in order to answer questions such as whether there were measures in place to prevent hearing loss and whether countries had the capacity to deal with identification and treatment of hearing loss. Dr. Chadha specified that among the 76 countries which had participated in the survey, the report found that there was an overall lack of trained health personnel as well as education facilities, as well as an overall lack of national plans to prevent hearing loss. That gap was greater in the low and lower- middle income countries.
The report also highlighted that main causes of hearing loss could be prevented when identified on time, or with a simple vaccine. At the same time, there were some conditions which could not be prevented, but people could be helped. Facts showed that only 3 per cent of the hear care were met in those countries.
On the occasion of the International Hear Care Day on 3 March 2014, Ms. Chadha called for greater investment in the field of hearing care, for raising awareness, building capacity, and reducing the overall prevalence of hearing loss. She stated that on 3 March, WHO would be undertaking earing screening, and the report would be officially launched. The press was invited to join the WHO in those efforts.
Asked about the level of awareness of hearing loss in developing countries, Ms. Chadha said that there were certainly many myths and misconception about ear diseases and hearing loss. The stigma associated with those issues might dissuade from seeking help and relief services. She pointed out that raising awareness was one of the critical component of any strategy to reduce the prevalence of hearing loss.
Symposium Future Networked Car
Sanjay Acharya, for the International Telecommunications Union (ITU), announced that the Geneva Motor Show would take place the following week. ITU would be holding a symposium on the future networked car, on 5 and 6 March. Registration was possible on ITU’s website, which would provide access to both the symposium and the Motor Show.
The symposium looked at advances and new technologies in the automotive sector, given by information and communication technologies as well as growing synergies energies between the two sectors, between the information technologies and automotive sectors. There was a trend of increasing convergence of communication technologies becoming standard equipment in cars, such as hands free, mobile phone, navigation systems, and wireless controls for steering.
A high level dialogue on innovation for the future car would take place on 5 March and be moderated by former racing driver and Fifth Gear presenter, Tiff Needell. Jean Todt, President of the Fédération Internationale de l'Automobile (FIA), would focus on motorsport as an incubator of innovation and technical advances, which were translated not only on the road cars but into the other sectors, such as intensive medical care.
In the partnership with FIA on promoting road safety, a session would take place at 9:30 on 6 March. Johan de Nyysschen, President of the Infiniti Motor Company, and Jeffrey J. Owens, Chief Technology Officer and Executive Vice President, would lead discussions on industry perspectives.
Jean Rodriguez, for the United Nations Economic Commission for Europe (UNECE), announced that the symposium would take place in response to many surveys as regards intelligent transport, embarked systems.
During the Geneva Motor Show, there would be two main themes: one regarding the intelligent systems (telecom, new software, equipment) and another one, which had been debated the previous week during the session of the Internal Transport Committee, regarding the automatic cars which could drive on their own, without any drivers. In Spain, the previous day, UNECE had presented a prototype which could be considered as a minibus and a solution in the zones where the public transport had been affected by budgetary reductions.
Mr. Rodriguez stated that, beyond the technology matters, one of the main aspects to debate was concerning the regulatory issues. Which ones would have to be improved? Which would have to be amended into the national and international regulations in order to commercialize those vehicles? The regulatory regulations would be done in the framework of the different UNECE conventions, whether in the framework of the WP29 as regards rules on the vehicles themselves, or in the framework of the international convention such as the convention of Vienna of 1969, which prescribed that the driver had to permanently remain in control of the vehicle. Therefore, the question was whether an automatic car could be driven on its own all the time. The debates during the following week would allow for more reflection on that issue.
Human Rights Council
Rolando Gomez, for the Human Rights Council (HRC), provided a few key updates with regards to the upcoming 25th regular session of the Human Rights Council, which was to begin on 3 March and last for four weeks until 28 March. The session would be opened by the Secretary General of the United Nations Ban Ki-Moon followed by statements from the President of the Council Ambassador Ndong Ella, the President of the United Nations General Assembly John Ash, the High Commissioner for Human Rights Navi Pillay and the President of the Swiss Confederation Didier Burkhalter in the capacity of a host country.
Mr. Gomez discussed a number of changes to the list of high-level speakers. The French Minister of Foreign Affairs Laurent Fabius would no longer be speaking on 3 March, and France would more likely speak during the general segment on 6 March. The Deputy Minister of Justice from Zambia would be speaking on 5 March. The Minister of Justice of the Central African Republic would speak on 6 March. The Iranian Deputy Foreign Minister would be replaced by the Iranian Foreign Minister, who would now speak on 12 March outside of the dates of the High Level Segment.
Mr. Gomez reminded about the press conference by the Commission of Enquiry on Syria in Press Room I on 5 March at 12:00 noon to launch the Commission’s newreport.
Referring to the grave human rights issue in the Central African Republic, Mr. Gomez informed that the topic would be among the many subjects in the High Level segment statement in the opening days of the session. The High Commissioner would be sending a report on the CAR on 26 March.
Other Geneva activities
Ms. Momal-Vanian informed that the United Nations Secretary-General, Ban Ki-Moon, would hold a press conference in Press Room III at 12:00 noon on 3 March.
The Conference on Disarmament would hold a high-level debate the following week. The tentative schedule included addresses by the President of the General Assembly, John Ash, and Foreign Ministers, or other high representatives, of Slovakia, Argentina, Italy, Lithuania, Malaysia, Japan, Kazakhstan, Canada, Hungary, Romania, Czech Republic, Finland, Spain and the Republic of Korea. The full updated schedule of speakers was available on the webpage of the Conference on Disarmament.
The Committee on the Elimination of Discrimination against Women (CEDAW) would conclude its session today, after which a press conference would be held in Press Room I at 1:15 p.m. The Committee would present its concluding observations on Bahrain, Cameroon, Qatar, Kazakhstan, Iraq, Sierra Leone, and Finland.
The Human Rights Council Advisory Committee was also concluding its session today, and the roundup would be distributed shortly.
Fernando Puchol, for the Inter-Parliamentary Union (IPU), informed that a press conference would take place in Press Room 1 at 2 p.m. on 4 March, for the launch of IPU’s Annual Statistics and Trends on Women in Parliament, 2013. Anders B. Johnsson, Secretary General of the Inter-Parliamentary Union, would address the journalists. Copies of the report would be sent out on 3 March.
Ms. Momal-Vanian informed that on 3 March, the Acting Director-General of the United Nations Office at Geneva and the Foreign Minister of Lithuania would sign a collaboration agreement for the digitization of over 50,000 pages on the history of Lithuania. The project would contribute to the preservation of the heritage of the League of Nations.
Ms. Momal-Vanian also informed about the launch in London of an International Narcotics Control Board (INCB) report highlighting the extent of economic and social costs of drug abuse; warning of abuse of prescription drugs exceeding rates of “illicit” drug abuse in some countries; including regional trends; and shedding light on the spread of ‘legal highs’ now in almost all regions. The report, which the Information Service could make available, would be under embargo until 12:00 noon on 4 March.
Leyla Alyanak, for the United Nations Population Fund (UNFPA), stressed that child marriage existed in all parts of the world. In 2010 globally, 34 per cent of young women between the ages of 20 and 24 had been married before the age of 18. If present trends continue, 142 million more girls would be married before their 18th birthday by 2020. 14.2 million girls were married each year, which equated to 39,000 girls married every day.
In order to showcase the issue, the UNFPA and their partners had brought to Geneva a photographic exhibition called “Too young to Wed.” The formal inauguration would take place in the Salle des Pas Perdus on 3 March, along with a high level debate. The speakers included Meriam Micalo of Zambia, herself a former child bride, who thus knew first-hand what it was like to marry too young; the Executive Director of UNFPA Dr. Babatunde Osotimehin; Minister of Human Rights of Yemen Hooria Mashhour; Minister of State for Foreign Affairs of Canada Lynne Yelich; and the Chair of Plan International and the Global Coordinator of Girls not Brides Lakshmi Sundaram.
Juan Carlos Vasquez, for the Secretariat of the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora (CITES), reminded that the General Assembly’s resolution 68/205 adopted in December 2013 had established 3 March as the World Wildlife Day. He reminded that the previous year, over 1,000 rhinos had been killed in South Africa only and more than 25,000 elephants in the whole of Africa. On 3 March, at 12:30, an exhibition on the third floor of E building would be opened by the United Nation Secretary-General Ban Ki-Moon and the President of the General Assembly John Ash. The exhibition was supported by the United Kingdom, Switzerland and Thailand. Media advisory and brochures highlighting the current situation on a number of species were available.
Adam Rodgers, for the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP), stated that the Executive Steering Committee of the World Alliance of Cities against Poverty had met in Geneva the previous day, hosted by the Mayor of Geneva. Among the issues discussed was how to better replicate successful practices from cities of the global south to those in the north, and not only the vice-versa. Mr. Rodgers also informed that the City of Geneva would organize an exhibition along the waterfront on city-to-city cooperation on fighting social exclusion and reducing poverty. Journalists and photographers were asked to contribute photos and stories on the subject matter from both developed and developing cities.
Aziyadé Poltier, also for UNDP, informed that the following week, on 4 March, the Match against Poverty would take place in Bern. There were some 35 players on the list, including Zinedine Zidane, Ronaldo and Marta Vieira da Silva. The final list would be released in the afternoon. More than 15,000 tickets had already been sold, and were available for purchase at www.stadedesuisse.ch/tickets or www.ticketcorner.ch and at the Palais des Nations, at the Kiosque Culturel at Door 6. All the proceeds would be given to a programme in the Philippines to help those affected by typhoon Haiyan.
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The representative of the International Labour Organization also attended the briefing, but did not brief.
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The webcast for this briefing is available here: … http://bit.ly/1fvZROS