REGULAR PRESS BRIEFING BY THE INFORMATION SERVICE
19 July 2013
Corinne Momal-Vanian, Director of the United Nations Information Service in Geneva, chaired the briefing which was also attended by Spokespersons for the International Organization for Migration, United Nations Refugee Agency, Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights, World Health Organization, World Meteorological Organization and World Trade Organization.
Gaëlle Sévenier for the International Organization for Migration (IOM) began by saying that since August 2012 IOM had delivered essential non-food relief items (NFI) to 260,000 internally displaced persons (IDPs) in 11 Syrian governorates.
However, an estimated 6.8 million people remained in need of humanitarian assistance in Syria, including 4.25 million IDPs. As the fighting intensified, the community’s coping mechanisms, including resources, were now nearly exhausted. Access to vulnerable displaced families was deteriorating, resulting in dire shortages of food, water and medical supplies.
IOM was partnering with local NGOs to ensure that aid reached affected communities in areas where international organizations had limited access. IOM staff had been able to personally monitor 80 per cent of the distributions.
This week IOM and its partners distributed NFI kits to nearly 9,300 beneficiaries in Aleppo and Homs. The kits included blankets, mattresses, pillows, underwear, insecticides, jerry cans and cleaning items.
IOM had also been distributing hygiene kits to reduce the risk of water-borne diseases, as displaced communities in many urban areas had increasingly limited access to clean water. Displaced families were also in desperate need of shelter and IOM was working to rehabilitate public buildings to house them. It had already completed three shelters for 1,850 people. Some 80 others were currently being assessed or rehabilitated.
In addition to helping Syrian IDPs, IOM was continuing to resettle mainly Iraqi refugees from Syria to third countries. Some 13,875 had already been resettled abroad and a further 489 were expected to leave by the end of August. Since November 2011 some 3,625 stranded migrants had also been returned from Syria to their countries of origin.
For 2013, IOM had appealed for a total of US$ 94 million to respond to the Syrian crisis. Some US$ 41 million of the appeal was for operations inside Syria and US$ 53 million for operations to help Syrian refugees in neighbouring countries. To date it had received US$ 18.6 million for emergency response and emergency life-saving activities in Syria and US$ 9.7 million for activities in Jordan, Lebanon, Turkey, Iraq and Egypt through to the end of the year.
Ms. Momal-Vanian drew journalists’ attention to the latest OCHA Bulletin on the Humanitarian Situation in Syria, which was available on line. Copies were also available at the back of the room.
Violence in Guinea
Rupert Colville for the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR), said calm seemed to have been restored after three days of violent inter-communal clashes between members of the Guerze and Konianke tribes in Koule, 45 km from Nzerekore, which started on 15 July.
The clashes allegedly broke out following an altercation between three individuals, with two members of the Guerze tribe beating a young Konianke to death after accusing him of stealing from the gas station where they worked. Members of the two communities then formed gangs and attacked each other. The violence spread to other parts of the Forestière region in Guinea, with those involved reportedly fighting each other with machetes, stones and sticks. There had also been incidents of looting, road-blocks, and destruction of places of mosques and churches, as well as houses and damage to other property.
The clashes had resulted in the killing of at least 57 people, three of whom were beheaded with machetes, with others hacked to death or burnt alive. Over 163 people were injured, and hundreds of others were displaced and sought refuge in military camps in Nzerekore and Beyla.
The Government declared a curfew on 16 July and sent a ministerial delegation to the area to facilitate mediation talks between the two groups. In the meantime, the President issued a statement calling for calm. Security and defence forces were deployed to restore order, with the support of additional troops from Macenta and Gueckedou, and continued to patrol the Nzerekore area.
OHCHR commended the efforts made by the government and security and defence forces to restore calm, while also reminding them of the necessity to uphold human rights principles during law enforcement operations. OHCHR had quite a substantial office in the country and was closely following the situation.
Ms. Momal-Vanian added that the United Nations Secretary-General Ban Ki-Moon issued a statement yesterday expressing deep concern about the reports of violent intercommunal clashes. The Secretary-General urged national and community leaders to ensure the security of persons and property, to uphold the rule of law and to pursue the path of dialogue with a view to addressing any concerns among the communities. He also stressed the importance of maintaining conducive conditions for peaceful and democratic legislative elections to be held, as scheduled, on 24 September 2013.
Death of Human Rights Activist in Cameroon
Rupert Colville for the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR) said they were shocked by the death of prominent human rights defender and journalist Eric Lembembe in Cameroon. Mr. Lembembe was found dead in his house on July 15. His body reportedly showed evidence of physical mistreatment possibly amounting to torture.
The case was taking place amid a general climate of fear amongst Cameroonian human rights defenders, some of whom had received death threats by phone or email for defending the rights of lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (LGBT) people.
In June, three local NGOs launched a report together with Human Rights Watch on human rights violations linked to arbitrary arrests and detentions on the grounds of homosexuality in Cameroon.
The need to ensure human rights for all and to respect the principles of non-discrimination, including for people belonging to sexual minorities, was also raised with the Cameroonian authorities by the High Commissioner during her recent visit to Cameroon from 30 June to 2 July 2013.
The OHCHR office in Cameroon had approached the National Commission on Human Rights and Freedoms and requested that the Commission takes necessary steps to ensure that the case is properly investigated by the police so that Mr. Lembembe's murderers were brought to justice.
Somalia Media Law
Rupert Colville for the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR), said OHCHR was concerned about a draft media law prepared by Somalia’s Ministry of Information, Posts, Telecommunication and Transport. It urged the Somali authorities to review the draft in order to ensure its conformity with international human rights standards.
Despite earlier promises made by the Somali government that broad consultations would be organised prior to its enactment, the draft media law was submitted to the Council of Ministers, which adopted it on 11 July.
It was expected that the draft legislation would now be submitted to the Somali legislature where a media sub-committee would review it. Once adopted, the draft law would be submitted to the President for assent. That entire process was likely to be completed within less than two months, which left insufficient time for wide-ranging consultations to take place and for necessary improvements identified during that process to be made to the draft legislation.
OHCHR was particularly concerned that the draft legislation contained vague language and extremely broad categories that could easily be used to curtail freedom of expression, for instance requiring media not to contravene or disseminate information that was against Islam, or Somali traditions or traditional ethics.
The draft also required journalists to reveal their sources if published information ‘stirred up public sentiments’ and provided for the suspension of journalists and other representatives of media organisations accused of violating the media legislation – a provision which itself violated the presumption of innocence.
OHCHR was also concerned about the composition of the proposed regulatory body, the National Media Council, and the selection process for its members, neither of which guaranteed its independence.
Rupert Colville for the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR), said on Monday 10 July the High Commissioner met the Egyptian Ambassador here in Geneva and requested the following information:
First, a list of names of persons against whom arrest warrants had been issued in connection with the events on and after 3 July 2013, indicating who among those persons was now in detention, and information about the legal basis upon which the warrants were issued;
Secondly, information regarding the total number of people who were currently detained in connection with the events on and after 3 July 2013, whether on the basis of a specific arrest warrant or otherwise;
Thirdly, information regarding the legal basis upon which the former president and his presidential team were detained;
Fourthly, information regarding the terms of reference and composition of the commission established by the interim authorities to investigate the killings that took place on 8 July outside the Republican Guard compound.
The same requests were transmitted in a written note verbale to the Egyptian government two days later, on Friday 12 July. OHCHR had not yet received a reply.
The High Commissioner had also informed the Egyptian authorities that she would like to deploy a team to follow the developments on the ground. OHCHR was waiting for the approval of the authorities, and a team was on standby, ready to be deployed immediately as soon as such approval was received.
Congolese refugees in Uganda
Adrian Edwards for the United Nations Refugee Agency (UNHCR), said a week after Congolese refugees began fleeing into western Uganda from the fighting just across the border, UNHCR’s efforts were focused on trying to reach the thousands of people still spread across the hills along the border, and simultaneously to manage the situation at an increasingly crowded transit facility some 25 kilometres deeper into Uganda.
As of yesterday evening (July 18), 15,500 refugees had been transferred away from the unsafe border to the Bubukwanga transit centre, where there were protection and other services. The transit centre was managed by the Ugandan Red Cross and had maximum capacity of 25,000 people, even with a new 4.5 acre land allocation by the Ugandan government. The Uganda Red Cross Society estimated that there were 66,000 Congolese refugees from the new fighting.
UNHCR and government partners were running 15 trucks non-stop all day transferring refugees and their possessions to the facility. They had moved refugees entirely from four of five primary school sites where they had initially been staying. The main site where some 5,000 refugees remain was Butogo primary school.
At Bubukwanga, after the Ugandan Red Cross erected 229 tents for individual families, UNHCR had switched to putting up communal shelters to provide shelter for more people more quickly. So far, 13 large communal shelters had been erected. Some refugees were setting up their own makeshift homes out of blankets they were given at the site. UNHCR were seeing people using mosquito nets they brought with them as “roofing”.
The refugees began fleeing a week ago, on 11 July, after an attack on Kamango in Eastern DRC. From the accounts UNHCR had heard, many fled for their lives bringing nothing with them, and then spending several nights in the bush, where there were cases of women giving birth. People walked about 15 kilometres to reach Butogo primary school, just across the border, where they had little food and were waiting for transfer to the transit centre.
At the transit centre, two communal kitchens had been set up, supplying three hot meals a day with food provided by WFP. A third kitchen was under construction. Nearly 80 individual pit latrines had been dug. So far there had been no outbreaks of disease.
Through contributions of partners including UNICEF, Médecins Sans Frontières (France), Oxfam and the Lutheran World Foundation enough water tanks were arriving in the transit centre. However, UNHCR remained concerned about water supplies as the number of refugees in the centre grew. UNHCR was using three trucks but were only able to bring in a bare minimum amount of water and needed a fourth truck.
Children between the ages of nine months and 15 years – most of whom had never been to a doctor in their lives – were now being vaccinated against measles and receiving Vitamin A supplements and deworming tablets. Medical teams were also going tent-to-tent to identify sick refugee children and find anyone whose nutrition might have suffered from going a week or more without a proper meal during their flight or stay on the border.
Médecins Sans Frontières was going along the border providing medical care and providing a nutritional supplement to refugee children among those still waiting to be transferred. The Ugandan Ministry of Health was also beefing up numbers of medical staff and medical supplies in the area to help refugees.
The transit centre itself was intended to be a temporary facility and the refugees’ home for no more than three weeks. It was considered safe, but UNHCR and Uganda’s Office of the Prime Minister were identifying other possibilities for relocation to places where they could get protection, plots of land to farm for themselves, as well as shelter materials and food rations.
Although planning for a possible lengthy stay of refugees was happening, at the Lamiya Bridge in Busunga, UNHCR staff saw hundreds of refugees returning to Eastern DRC yesterday, carrying mattresses, ducks and jerry cans, and bringing goats. Many other refugees were living with friends and relatives on the Ugandan side, and it was not clear how many remained along the border. As time went on UNHCR was getting more precise numbers.
Answering questions, Mr. Edwards said that according to information from the UNHCR office in Kigali, the last group of people to cross the border with Rwanda was on 15 July, and there were now 660 people still on the Rwandan side of the border.
Clare Nullis for the World Meteorological Organization (WMO) briefed on global temperatures between January and June 2013. Ms. Nullis said that the US National Atmospheric and Oceanic Administration, which was one of WMO’s Members, last night issued its global report for the first six months of the year.
The report found that June 2013 marked the 340th consecutive month — a total of more than 28 years — with a global temperature above the 20th-century average. The report also found that global average temperatures for the first half of 2013 tied with 2003 as the seventh warmest such period on record.
Melissa Begag for the World Trade Organization (WTO) announced the schedule for the coming week. On Monday 22 July, the Trade Negotiations Committee would meet at 3 p.m. Director-General Pascal Lamy would attend the meeting, which would be followed by a briefing at 5 p.m., at WTO. On Tuesday 23 July at 11 a.m. there would be a launch of a new publication titled ‘The History and Future of the World Trade Organization’ with opening remarks by Director-General Pascal Lamy. Two further meetings would take place at 10 a.m. that day: the Dispute Settlement Body and the Working Party on the Accession of Kazakhstan. The General Council would meet at 10 a.m. on Wednesday 24 and Thursday 25 July, following by a briefing (date and time to be announced), at WTO. Director-General Pascal Lamy would attend the opening meeting on the Wednesday. Finally, on Thursday 25 July the Working Party on the Accession of Afghanistan would meet at 3 p.m.
Fadéla Chaib for the World Health Organization (WHO) announced that World Hepatitis Day would take place on Sunday 28 July 2013. The slogan for the day was ‘This is Hepatitis: Know It, Confront It’. Hepatitis affected hundreds of millions of people worldwide, causing acute and chronic disease and killing close to 1.4 million people every year. This year WHO would focus on the fact that hepatitis remained largely ignored or unknown to many policymakers, health workers and the public.
A press conference would probably be held next Wednesday morning, and details for that would be given next week. A press release would be issued later today, and there was more information online. Ms. Chaib drew journalists’ attention to the new publication of the “WHO Global Policy Report on the Prevention and Control of Viral Hepatitis in WHO Member States”. The publication was the result of an extensive questionnaire sent to Member States. She noted that the report had no embargo.
Ms. Momal-Vanian announced that the Committee on the Elimination of Discrimination against Women was today considering the report of Bosnia and Herzegovina, which would be the final country to be reviewed this session. The Committee, which would meet in private next week, would adopt its concluding observations for that and the other States parties reviewed - Cuba, Afghanistan and the Democratic Republic of Congo, the Dominican Republic, Cape Verde, the United Kingdom and Serbia – on the last day of the session, Friday 26 July.
The Human Rights Committee on Wednesday completed the review of all the reports scheduled for this session - Ukraine, Tajikistan, Indonesia and Finland, Albania and the Czech Republic – and would adopt concluding observations for them on its final day, next Friday. The Committee would also meet mostly in private next week, but would hold a public meeting with States parties to the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights.
The Economic and Social Council (ECOSOC) would consider today, among other issues, the situation of the Palestinian people, coordination issues and the schedule of meetings for 2014 and 2015 in the economic and social fields. Next week is the last of the 2013 substantive session of the Council and it will close on Friday 26 July.
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The representatives of the International Labour Organization and the United Nations Conference on Trade and Development also attended the briefing but did not speak.
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The webcast for this briefing is available here: http://bit.ly/1aXk2Dm