REGULAR PRESS BRIEFING BY THE INFORMATION SERVICE
24 July 2012
Corinne Momal-Vanian, Director of the United Nations Information Service in Geneva, chaired the briefing which was attended by Spokespersons for and Representatives of the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights, the United Nations Refugee Agency, the International Organization for Migration, the World Food Programme, the World Health Organization, and the Universal Postal Union.
Rupert Colville of the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights said OHCHR condemned the attack on a relocation camp for internally displaced persons in Nahibly, near the town of Duékoué in Côte d’Ivoire, that occurred last Friday (20 July) during which at least seven people were killed, 67 injured and the camp completely burned to the ground, causing its 5,000 inhabitants to flee in all directions. A United Nations investigation team, including human rights officers, was being dispatched to the area today for a ten-day mission to look into precisely what happened. The attack, which was clearly ethnically motivated, underscored the urgent need to combat impunity for past violations in Côte d’Ivoire. At the height of the post-electoral crisis in March last year, two massacres took place in the same Duékoué-Guiglo area. One reportedly resulted in the deaths of around 100 members of the Dioula ethnic community and, in another, approximately 244 mostly male members of the Guere ethnic group were found to have been killed during the capture of Duékoué on 28 March 2011 by the Forces Républicaines de Côte d'Ivoire (FRCI). It appeared that the attack on the internally displaced person camp in Nahibly was targeted at members of the Guere community, which was being blamed by the Dioula community for an armed robbery earlier in the day on Friday during which five Malinké (a sub-group of the Dioula people) were killed.
Mr. Colville said more than a year after the March 2011 Duékoué ethnic violence, little progress had been made in advancing justice and accountability in Côte d’Ivoire. While more than 176 members of the pro-Gbabgo camp, aligned with former President Laurent Gbagbo, had been indicted for violations committed during the post-electoral crisis, OHCHR understood that no arrests had been made of supporters of current President Alassane Ouattara in relation to these crimes. The High Commissioner has stressed the importance of fighting against impunity and OHCHR again encouraged the Government to prosecute perpetrators from all sides of the political divide, through a fair and impartial judicial process, to take the country forward. There could be no national reconciliation without justice and in the worst cases, the wounds festered and could result in violence of the kind that occurred in Nahibly last Friday. There were more details in the briefing notes. OHCHR welcomed President Ouattara’s unequivocal condemnation of the crimes in Duékoué and called on him to ensure that the investigation into the events of last week was independent, impartial and that perpetrators were held accountable in a court of law.
Ms. Momal-Vanian said the Secretary-General's Special Representative and head of the United Nations Operation in Côte d'Ivoire (UNOCI), Bert Koenders had also strongly condemned this criminal attack, which was a flagrant violation of international humanitarian laws. He underlined the gravity of the situation in the west of Côte d’Ivoire, and said that following the attack and according to its mandate to protect civilians, UNOCI had immediately started to reinforce its presence on the ground and had deployed additional United Nations military and police forces.
Responding to questions, Mr. Colville said that clearly there was a very long-standing enmity between the Dioula and the Guere, but when there was a very one-sided accountability process, that obviously did not help. Long term, to get rid of some of the tensions or at least reduce them, there was a need for a proper judicial process that both sides considered to be fair, even if they did not like what happened to members of their community through it.
Melissa Fleming of the United Nations Refugee Agency said that in western Côte d’Ivoire, there was an attack last Friday on a camp for internally displaced persons that left seven people dead and others seriously injured. The camp was badly damaged during the attack and its medical centre and all the family tents were destroyed. The camp was housing 5,000 people, pretty much the remaining internally displaced persons in Côte d’Ivoire. This was a sign that there were still tensions remaining among the groups affiliated with the different presidential candidates and the now president. UNHCR was urging the local and central Ivorian authorities to provide adequate protection and shelter for those forced from this camp and also in general to stay on alert that tensions remained and any event like this could trigger a wider spark with serious implications for the security of the country.
Mr. Colville, responding to questions, said that the Special Rapporteur on internally displaced persons was in Côte d’Ivoire now, and this was a particularly timely visit by him given the attack on the camp. He would have a final press conference in Abidjan on 31 July. In terms of the detention facilities and people detained, OHCHR had asked that question through their human rights colleagues, and they were told that the conditions of detained persons were being monitored regularly and that the treatment of prisoners was acceptable as were the conditions in the detention centres. He did not focus on the access to lawyers though but would try and find out more.
Question on the Rohingyas in Myanmar
A journalist said that concerning the Rohingyas, there had been no comment from UNHCR to the suggestion by Myanmar’s President Thein Sein that he wanted to hand them all over to UNHCR for resettlement. What was the United Nations reaction to this?
Ms. Fleming said UNHCR had just explained that it did not resettle citizens from their own country. Third country resettlement was reserved for refugees in another country whose cases were so seriously of concern that they were deemed to not be able to return home. Basically, UNHCR just pointed out that it was not an accurate solution and that UNHCR considered that these people were citizens and should be accommodated in Myanmar within the existing citizenship law that needed considerable work, and that at the meantime, other legal arrangements should be made for these people so that they could have some kind of status inside Myanmar.
Mr. Colville said there would probably have a press statement on Myanmar later this week, focusing on Rakhine state and what had been going on there.
Mr. Colville said OHCHR remained concerned about the continuing dispute between the Legislative Assembly and the Constitutional Chamber of the Supreme Court in El Salvador. On 19 July, the High Commissioner Navi Pillay sent a letter to the President of the Legislative Assembly expressing concern at the situation and calling on him to put an end to the conflict with the Judiciary in a manner consistent with the international human rights obligations of El Salvador, safeguarding the independence of the judiciary. OHCHR understood that President Funes had summoned all political parties represented in the Legislative Assembly to a meeting today to discuss the situation. OHCHR hoped that a solution would be found that would enable El Salvador to preserve the rule of law, in line with the country's own constitution and relevant international treaties which El Salvador had ratified and was bound by.
Ms. Fleming said she had an update on the situation of refugees in Syria, particularly on the Iraqi refugees. She had reported that there were 80,000 registered Iraqi refugees inside Syria. They now had calculations that 10,000 had already returned home since last Wednesday. Many of the refugees returning were expressing their fear regarding the ongoing risks to their safety in Syria and in Iraq, but said that they felt they had little choice to return. For those remaining, UNCHR had increased the number of people manning the hotline. They were overloaded with calls seeking advice and help and aid. They had heard from refugees that although the situation had become a bit calmer over the weekend, they continued to fear for their lives and were running short of basic foods and other needs, including cooking gas. There was also a need for medical care as many of the clinics had been closed. She had just received a note that a rough estimate was that only 25 per cent of medical facilities were open in Damascus. As she had said last Friday, thousands of Iraqi refugees had had to relocate within Damascus to other suburbs. Again, they were hearing on the hotline that some of these people were saying that they were getting direct threats to their personal safety. The Government was returning systematically Iraqi citizens with dedicated flights and UNHCR was working with a regular transport bus company to help those who wanted to return. For those who remained, UNHCR was offering financial assistance and enough so that they could stockpile essential items to prepare themselves in case shops closed down or other services were interrupted as had happened last week.
Ms. Fleming said UNHCR was also very concerned about displacement among Syrians.
UNHCR believed that according to the Syrian Red Crescent, the number of internally displaced Syrians within Syria could be 1.5 million, many of whom were increasingly in need of humanitarian assistance. Inside Damascus, displaced Syrians were housed in 58 schools and many were hosted by Syrian families. Also parks were now becoming makeshift camps. Many of these people were now being displaced for the second time. UNCHR was helping them with the basic blankets, mattresses, and household items.
Back to the Iraqi front, Ms. Fleming said that Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al Maliki had now announced that Syrians fleeing the violence would be allowed free access to cross into Iraq. There were 7,500 Syrians already inside Iraq, living in the Kurdistan region. In Lebanon, last week there had been a figure of between 8,500 and 30,000, it was actually 18,000 Syrians crossing into Lebanon. The numbers decreased over the weekend, but on Monday, there were 6,000 new arrivals coming into Lebanon. These people were telling UNCHR that they were coming in cars and staying in hotels and apartments and were saying they planned to stay for three or four weeks until they saw what was happening in Damascus. Many were hoping to go back. Many of those Syrians in Lebanon had means and were not necessarily being registered by UNHCR and were not necessarily asking for humanitarian assistance. In Jordan, the figure was now 36,000, with another 2,500 waiting to be registered. According to the Jordanian authorities, there were additionally tens of thousands of Syrians in Jordan who had not come forward to register. There was quite a backlog at the transit facilities. UNHCR was building a camp. In Turkey, the number of Syrian refugees now stood at over 44,000. Turkey had taken full responsibility for the camps and their construction. UNHCR and other humanitarian organizations had been providing shelter and other household items as needed. Significant numbers of ethnic Syrian Turkmen had arrived in the past week.
In response to a question on foreign nationals who were still in Syria, Ms. Fleming said that the last figure for other refugee populations that she had was that there were around 8,000, the majority being from Somalia and Afghanistan, many of whom were also quite fearful.
Jumbe Omari Jumbe of the International Organization for Migration said that IOM estimated that there were about 125,710 third country nationals according to embassies, but that figure could be more. There were some other countries like the Republic of Moldova and Morocco which had nationals in Syria, but did not have embassies there. To date, IOM had assisted 641 third country nationals to leave Syria through Lebanon and Jordan, back to their countries, mainly back to the Philippines and Bangladesh. Now, IOM was forming a task force to go to Jordan to try and find out how many wished to leave. IOM had in the pipeline 2,109 confirmed third country nationals who wanted to leave Syria.
Elizabeth Byrs of the World Food Programme said that concerning the Sahel, between January and June, WFP had supported nearly 6 million persons in the Sahel. WFP hoped to reach 10 million persons. The situation remained serious, but some progress had been made. Out of the $ 888 million that needed for the Sahel, WFP was still missing $ 373 million. There were more details in the briefing notes.
In Senegal, Ms. Byrs said that last Thursday, WFP had launched the third round of cash vouchers in the Casamance region, distributing them to 1,000 heads of families. WFP was also launching the restocking of cereal banks. In Senegal, WFP hoped to reach 862,000 persons.
Ms. Fleming of the United Nations Refugee Agency said torrential rains had flooded South Sudan’s Upper Nile State and UNHCR was concerned that the rains could lead to diseases. There had already been incidents of bloody diarrhea and malaria and respiratory tract infections. UNHCR was working with its partners to expand medical care and to do whatever it could. There was information that thousands more were readying to cross the border into Blue Nile State.
World Hepatitis Day
Glenn Thomas of the World Health Organization said World Hepatitis Day was commemorated on 28 July. To mark the day, WHO was releasing a note to the media and a framework for global action which outlined some of the actions need to control the epidemic. On million persons died from hepatitis every year and one in 12 people were infected with hepatitis.
Sylvie Briand, Coordinator of the WHO Pandemic and Epidemic Disease Department, said many viruses caused hepatitis and they were named by alphabetic letters. Unlike other infectious diseases, hepatitis could produce cancer. Hepatitis was transmitted by blood through unsafe injections or transfusion and by sexual fluid. A lot of progress has been made in the last 10 years, especially in the treatment of hepatitis B and C, and there were new antivirals available to treat the diseases. People should know about their status concerning hepatitis so that they could protect themselves and those they contacted and so that they could be treated. The theme of the commemoration this year was “closer than you think, know it and confront it”. WHO wanted to raise awareness of hepatitis so that governments could develop strategies to make sure that people could be tested and treated.
Universal Postal Union
Rhéal LeBlanc of the Universal Postal Union said the twenty-fifth Universal Postal Congress would be held from 24 September to 15 October in Doha, Qatar. Every four years, representatives of the 192 Member States of the Union attended the Congress to take stock of the state of the global postal sector and decide on its future. Posts worldwide were facing major challenges and opportunities in the wake of a global economic crisis and as a technological revolution transformed the communication industry. Changing consumer habits, increased competition, liberalization, evolving communication needs and technological innovations were all shaping the changing nature of the postal business, a public service that touched the daily lives of billions of citizens and businesses. A ministerial conference would be held on 8 October, attended by around 20 ministers including from Russia, Japan, Brazil, South Africa and many others. On October 10, Member States would elect a new Director General and Deputy Director General. Candidates from Kenya and Uruguay were running for the post of Director General and candidates from Switzerland and the United States were running for the post of Deputy Director General. There were press releases at the back of the room with more details.
Ms. Momal-Vanian said the Human Rights Committee was concluding its summer session on Friday 27 July when it would release its concluding observations and recommendations on the reports of Iceland, Lithuania, Maldives, Armenia and Kenya which it reviewed during the session. The Committee was scheduled to give a press conference on Thursday, 26 July at 1:30 p.m.