REGULAR PRESS BRIEFING BY THE INFORMATION SERVICE
11 October 2013
Corinne Momal-Vanian, Director of the United Nations Information Service in Geneva, chaired the briefing which was also attended by the Spokespersons for the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights, United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees, Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs, World Health Organization, International Organization for Migration, World Trade Organization, International Trade Centre and the International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies.
Adrian Edwards, for the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR), informed that in Lampedusa, 311 bodies had so far been recovered from the sea following the previous week’s boat tragedy. There was still no final figure for the number who had died. From the 156 survivors, OHCHR understood that the bodies of between 50 and 70 people had yet to be found. Nonetheless, with 311 confirmed deaths, that tragedy was already one of the deadliest incidents on recent record.
UNHCR welcomed the statements and actions earlier in the week by the European Commission and some European states on the need to prevent such tragedies in future. Only a collective and comprehensive response to the Lampedusa disaster that would properly take into consideration the situation in countries from which people were fleeing and along asylum routes, the sea journey, and the actions on and after arrival, could reduce the risk to lives. Without that, there would be further disasters like Lampedusa’s.
Mr. Edwards said that the phenomenon of people travelling on small boats across the Mediterranean to Europe was age old and involved issues of asylum as well as migration. Those on board the boat which had sunk off Lampedusa the previous week had nearly all been Eritrean, and many were likely to have been in need of international protection. Among the survivors were people who had previously been at the Shagarab refugee camp in eastern Sudan and the Mai Aini camp in northern Ethiopia. Anger at the Lampedusa deaths among the population in Mai Aini seemed to have been a factor in disturbances there the previous weekend in which one person had been killed.
UNHCR welcomed the statement made on 9 October by President of the European Commission Jose Manuel Barroso on the need for measures including strengthened capacity for rescue at sea, and better surveillance to track boats. It was important that all available means were used to mitigate the root causes of flight in refugee producing countries. More information needed to be made available about the hazards of irregular sea movements to Europe; there needed to be better gathering and sharing of information about the routes and means that people are taking in flight; and there needed to be improved rescue at sea detection and response, and better care arrangements on arrival after their disembarkation, including improved facilities. For example, in Lampedusa there was at present serious overcrowding – in accommodation facilities with the capacity of 250, there were more than 1,200 persons. With the processing of asylum claims, finding lasting solutions for people in need of international protection, and for assisted return of people not in need of international protection, OHCHR believed that wider responsibility-sharing among EU member states could help.
Asked about reports that the Government of Eritrea would not recognize that there had been any Eritreans on the sunken boat and would not even authorize the repatriation of bodies, Mr. Edwards said that he did not have such information. Eritrea was a refugee-producing country, which requested a deeper, more comprehensive look into the root causes. He informed that UNHCR had an office in Eritrea, which was in regular contact with the Eritrean authorities.
Asked if there was readiness by other European countries to take in any refugees currently staying in Lampedusa, Mr. Edwards said that some of them had already been moved from the island to other areas, but it was still early to predict how the situation would develop further.
On the issue of Libya, Mr. Edwards said that the country was in a challenging situation, was traditionally used as a transit route and had to be looked at as a part of the larger issue.
Mr. Rupert Colville, for the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR), informed that over the previous two days (9-10 October), the Iraqi authorities had executed at least 42 individuals, including one woman, on terrorism charges. The UN High Commissioner for Human Rights, Navi Pillay, had repeatedly stressed, after earlier mass executions in 2012 and 2013, that the justice system in Iraq was “too seriously flawed to warrant even a limited application of the death penalty, let alone dozens of executions at a time.” Large-scale executions of the sort that had been carried out on a number of occasions over the previous two years in Iraq were not only obscene and inhuman, but they were most probably in contravention of international law. They were also undermining efforts to build a more stable, less violent society in Iraq. OHCHR believed that the mass execution carried out over the past two days was particularly perverse given that 10 October was World Day Against the Death Penalty.
The Government of Iraq maintained that it only executed individuals who had committed terrorist acts or other serious crimes against civilians, and had been convicted under the Anti-Terrorism Law No. 13 of 2005. OHCHR believed that the claim that using the death penalty could help deter terrorism was clearly exposed as a fallacy, given the soaring casualty rate in Iraq, which had occurred over roughly the same period as the dramatic and shocking increase in the use of the death penalty.
Mr. Colville stated that figures compiled by the UN Assistance Mission in Iraq Human Rights Office revealed a sharp rise in civilian casualties in the country in 2013. At least 5,740 civilians had been killed from January to September 2013, which was more than double the number of civilian casualties in 2011 and already much higher than the 3,238 civilians killed in the whole of 2012. The number of people being executed in Iraq had risen from 18 in 2010 to 67 in 2011, 123 in 2012 and 140 so far in 2013, with almost a quarter of the year still to go.
OHCHR was calling on the Government of Iraq to halt all executions immediately, and to review and commute the sentences of the hundreds of other people who were believed to be on death row in Iraq.
Asked if there was a direct contact with the Iraqi Government and what their response was, Mr. Colville said that the human rights component of UNAMI had raised this issue on numerous occasions with the Iraqi Government and the High Commissioner would engage Iraqi authorities on that issue in the coming days.
On the questions whether those executions were or were not against the international norms, Mr. Colville responded that the Human Rights Committee had given very firm guidelines on permissible circumstances if a State was to keep the death penalty. Fair trial was essential, otherwise executions would be considered illegal. Given the high number of executions in recent period, Mr. Colville said that it was likely that some of them had been illegal. Asked if OHCHR had some responsibility because there had been a delay in the publication of a periodic report on Iraq, Mr. Colville said that it would be difficult to establish a causal link there.
On the question on the follow-up into the killings at Camp Ashraf the previous month, Mr. Edwards said that it was a continuing situation, and UNHCR was still working on it.
Mr. Colville stated that OHCHR welcomed the National Constituent Assembly of Tunisia’s unanimous adoption on 9 October of a law establishing a national body to prevent torture, which marked a significant step forward towards eradicating torture in the country.
Tunisia was the first country in the Middle East and North Africa to create such a national preventive mechanism, after ratifying, in June 2011, the Optional Protocol to the Convention against Torture and Other Cruel, Inhuman or Degrading Treatment or Punishment, which provided for the creation of such a preventive mechanism against torture in each State Party.
The National Body to Prevent Torture was an independent body with a broad jurisdiction, including the power to visit all places of detention. It should become operational as soon as the law is published, and ensure the respect and implementation of procedural safeguards for those deprived of their liberty.
The Subcommittee on Prevention of Torture, the biggest UN Committee and the only one with a visiting mandate, would provide assistance and advice to that newly-established body. Under the Optional Protocol, the Subcommittee not only played an advisory role, but also had unrestricted access to all places of detention in States that had ratified the Protocol. Its experts visited police stations, prisons, detention centres, mental health and social care institutions and other places where people were, or might be, deprived of their liberty.
OHCHR Office in Tunisia, which had been established two years earlier in the wake of the revolution, had played an important role in the establishment of that national body through debates and consultations which brought together governmental actors, including the Tunisian Ministry for Human Rights and Transitional Justice, and key non-governmental actors, including national and international civil society organisations.
Mr. Colville reiterated that the adoption of the law was an important milestone during the ongoing transition in Tunisia, and in particular in the effort to bring the country in line with international rule of law and human rights norms and standards.
On the question if OHCHR had any information on Egypt’s deposed President Morsi’s whereabouts, Mr. Colville said that he had no update, but that Mr. Morsi was entitled to due process and a fair trial, like anyone else.
Nobel Peace Prize
Asked about the awarding of the Nobel Peace Prize to the Organisation for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons (OPCW), Ms. Momal-Vanian said that OPCW was not a UN agency, but had a strong working relationship with the UN and that a formal relationship agreement had been signed between the two organizations in 2000. The award certainly highlighted the very difficult work which was being conducted by the OPCW experts, particularly in Syria at the moment, as part of the joint OPCW-UN mission there.
Mr. Colville said that OHCHR welcomed any efforts to eliminate chemical weapons, which were among the most vicious means of war.
Jens Laerke, for the Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA), informed about the new humanitarian bulletin on Syria, which was covering the period 24 September-7 October and was now available. Among other issues, it looked at the deteriorating nutrition situation; assessment missions in Hama and Homs governorates; and humanitarian convoys to Ar-Raqqa.
Soaring food prices, unavailability of complementary food for children, displacement and loss of income had resulted in difficulties to provide healthcare and nutrition for children. The number of children admitted to hospitals with severe or acute malnutrition had increased primarily in Aleppo, Dar’a and rural areas, Deir-ez-Zor, Hama, Homs, Quneitra, and Rural Damascus, according to reports.
On 1 October 2013, a team from the UN Hub in Homs had participated in an assessment mission with the Syrian Arab Red Crescent (SARC) to the Al Wa’er neighbourhood of Homs, a key flashpoint of fighting in recent months. The mission had found that some 400,000 people residing in Al Wa’er, of whom 200,000 were displaced from other areas, had become more vulnerable. People's freedom of movement was limited and garbage was piling up in the streets where collective shelters were located.
Another inter-agency mission to Hama had confirmed a dramatic increase in displacement placing additional burden on basic services. A preliminary estimate showed an increase of 40,000 families (90,000 to 130,000 people) residing in Hama. The inter-agency assessment had identified an urgent need for winterization programming and for a response to the deteriorating nutritional situation of women and children.
Mr. Laerke said that the water pipeline serving some 1.3 million people in Homs and Hama governorates had in the meantime been repaired by the Syrian water authorities after seven weeks’ disruption. During that period, UNICEF had been trucking water into the area while ICRC and SARC had rehabilitated water wells and established boreholes.
Humanitarian agencies in Syria were preparing to winterize their response. Partners working in the shelter sector had begun stocking items such as warm clothes, thermal blankets and hot water bottles. They were also preparing to assist the displaced families living in damaged and collective shelters by insulating the shelters against the freezing temperatures during winter.
Gaëlle Sévenier, for the International Organization for Migration (IOM), informed that IOM was stepping up its humanitarian assistance to Mindanao in the Southern Philippines after receiving USD 1 million from the Government of Japan. Those funds would be used to help almost 20,000 families affected by the crisis triggered by the recent armed conflict in Zamboanga City. The Japanese funding came on top of an initial USD 1 million drawdown from the UN Central Emergency Response Fund (CERF) the previous week. Over 100,000 women, men and children originally displaced by the armed conflict were now being displaced again by the continuing rains and floods in the evacuation sites in Zamboanga City.
E3/UE +3 Iran talks
The E3/UE +3 Iran talks would take place on 15 and 16 October at the Palais des Nations. The talks would commence in the morning, but questions for more details should be addressed to the Spokesperson of the European External Relations Service. Ms. Momal-Vanian referred journalists to the Note to Correspondents which had been circulated the day before.
Asked why there would be no photo opportunity at least at the beginning of the talks, Ms. Momal-Vanian said that the UN was not the organizer of the talks and was simply lending the space to the negotiators. Any press conference or briefing would take place at the CICG. Journalists accredited to the UN would continue to have regular access to the Palais des Nations.
Ms. Momal-Vanian informed that the Committee for Elimination of Discrimination against Women examined the report of Cambodia, Tajikistan and Seychelles in the course of the week. The session of CEDAW would finish its work on 18 October.
The Human Rights Committee would commence its session on 14 October and would analyze the reports of Bolivia and Djibouti during the first week of work. In the second week, the Committee would discuss reports of Mauritania, Mozambique and Uruguay. Consideration of the report of the US, which had been scheduled for this session, would be discussed in March 2014; the delay was due to the current Government shut-down. The Human Rights Committee session would finish on 1 November. A media advisory had been distributed the previous day.
Ms. Momal-Vanian informed that GAVI Alliance CEO would update the journalists on the plan to immunise a quarter of a billion of children by 2015 and prevent 4 million deaths. This briefing, during which breakfast would be served, would take place on 14 October at 10 a.m. in Press Room 1.
Ms. Momal-Vanian informed that there would be no press briefing on 15 October, as that day was a UN holiday.
Jean Rodriguez, for the Economic Commission for Europe (ECE), announced that the first Global round table on access to information, public participation and access to justice regarding LMOs/GMOs would take place on 16 and 17 October in Room VIII. The round table would be a joint event of the United Nations Economic Commission for Europe Convention on Access to Information, Public Participation in Decision-making and Access to Justice in Environmental Matters (Aarhus Convention) and the Cartagena Protocol on Biosafety to the Convention on Biological Diversity, and was being organized under the leadership of the Government of Austria. The event would come at a time of growing public concern over issues related to loss of biodiversity and citizens' environmental rights, and would coincide with the tenth anniversary of the entry into force of the Cartagena Protocol on Biosafety.
Speaking about the activities of ECE Executive Secretary, Mr. Sven Alkalaj, Mr. Rodriguez informed that he would be attending the High-level International conference "Energy Security and Sustainability - the OSCE Perspective", organised under the auspices of the Ukraine's OSCE chairmanship and Government of Turkmenistan, in Ashgabat on 17-18 October, where he would deliver a key-note statement. Mr. Alkalaj would also attend, and deliver an opening statement, at the 5th Turkmenistan Investment Forum, which would also take place in Ashgabat between 17 and 19 October.
Ms. Sévenier announced the opening event of the Swiss week against trafficking in persons, which would take place at the International Conference Center of Geneva (CICG) on 18 October. The event would be jointly organized by the IOM, International Labour Organization (ILO), the Swiss Confederation, OHCHR and UNHCR. The event would aim to raise awareness in the international community and amongst the general public on the different types of exploitation that existed around the world, including slavery, bonded labour, domestic servitude, forced labour, forced marriage, and removal of organs. Journalists were invited to participate at the High-Level Event between 2:30 and 3:15 p.m. in CICG Room 2, and the Press Meeting between 3:15 and 3:30 p.m. in CICG Room 13.
Mr. Colville informed that the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights, Navi Pillay, would be visiting Auschwitz on 13 October at the start of her two-day visit to Poland.
Mr. Colville stated that, as part of the activities to celebrate OHCHR’s 20th anniversary, the UN Human Rights Office was launching a special website, which would include an interactive timeline of key events in the human rights field over the past 20 years. The website would feature background information about the World Vienna Conference in 1993 and the Vienna Declaration and Programme of Action, which had called for the establishment of a UN High Commissioner for Human Rights. The website would also provide information on special events planned all over the world to celebrate the 20th anniversary and Human Rights Day 2013, and would offer an easy access to a range of tools and promotional material.
Benoit Matsha-Carpentier, for the International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies (ICRC), introduced himself as a new Senior Communication Officers in lieu of Jessica Salabank, and announced a presentation of the World Disasters Report 2013 on 14 October 2013 at 11:30 a.m. in Press Room 1. Advanced copies were available, but the report was under embargo until 17 October at 1:01 a.m. CET.
Mr Jarle Hetland, for the International Trade Centre (ITC), announced that the ITC would provide training for journalists in the trade data and statistics tools. A first breakfast workshop would take place on 30 October, when media representatives would get a chance to learn more about the four market analysis and research tools, which were Trade Map, Market Access Map, Investment Map and Standards Map. The journalists should also learn how to use the key features of the tools – and Trade Map in particular – and how to take advantage of them to weave data into their stories.
Mr. Hetland thanked for the feedback from those who had attended the breakfast briefing with Ms. Gonzales and invited journalists to a second breakfast workshop on 14 November, where ITC experts would provide an overview of what trade facilitation was and what was at stake. They would also provide case studies setting out what challenges exporters and importers faced and what better trade facilitation would mean for them.
Tarik Jasareviæ, for the World Health Organization (WHO), announced a press conference by the International Agency for Research on Cancer on air pollution and possible cancerogenic effects, which would take place on 17 October at 10:30 a.m. in Room III.
During a week-long meeting at IARC in Lyon, a panel of leading international experts was reviewing the latest scientific literature to evaluate the carcinogenicity of ambient air pollution. The experts would present the results of the evaluation and address journalists’ questions about the Monograph and the impact of ambient air pollution on cancer.
Melissa Begag, for the World Trade Organization (WTO), informed about the activities of WTO Director-General, Mr. Roberto Azevêdo in Geneva the following week. On 14 October, he would chair the Trade Negotiations Committee (which would be followed by a press briefing at 1 p.m) and meet ILO Director-General, Mr. Guy Ryder; on 15 October he would give the opening statement at the Committee on Trade and Development - Session on Aid for Trade; and on 17 October he would meet with French Minister of Foreign Trade, Ms. Nicole Bricq.
Ms. Begag informed that a WTO Press Briefing on the Council for Trade-Related Aspects of Intellectual Property Rights (TRIPS) and Informal Agriculture Committee meeting would take place on 11 October at 5 p.m. in Room C at the WTO.
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The representatives of the International Labour Organization, United Nations Conference on Trade and Development, United Nations Children Fund, and World Food Programme also attended the briefing, but did not speak.
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The webcast for this briefing is available here: http://bit.ly/1bLzW4f