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REGULAR PRESS BRIEFING BY THE INFORMATION SERVICE

10 June 2016

Ahmad Fawzi, United Nations Information Service in Geneva, chaired the briefing attended by spokespersons for the United Nations Refugee Agency, the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights, the Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs,  the World Health Organization, the United Nations Children’s Fund, the International Labour Organization, the World Trade Organization and the Human Rights Council.  

Human Rights Council
Rolando Gomez, for the Human Rights Council (HRC), informed that the Council would hold its thirty-second session from 13 June to 1 July.  The session would open on at 10 a.m on 13 June, with the statement by the President of the Council, to be followed by the High Commissioner’s remarks.  The general debate would then follow.  At 3 p.m, the Council would hold a panel discussion to mark its tenth anniversary, which would feature nine past Presidents and the former Special Rapporteur on the Right to Water Catarina de Albuquerque.  The panel would be an opportunity to take stock of the past ten years and look into the future. 

The current session would go through some 80 reports, hear from 20 human rights experts and groups, and hold six panel discussions.  Mr. Gomez would send out a list of side events, which would be between 150 and 200 in total.  They would also be listed in the bulletin of meetings, to which access would be provided the night before.  Most statements would be uploaded on the extranet. 

Mr. Gomez stated that on 16 June, the Commission of Inquiry on Syria would release a thematic paper on the crimes committed by ISIS against the Yazidis, thousands of whom were currently kept captive inside Syria.  The thematic report would look into whether ISIS had committed a crime of genocide.  A press conference would probably take place on 16 June in the late morning.  The Commission would then provide an oral update to the Council on 21 June.

In response to a question on which dignitaries would address the Council, Mr. Gomez informed that at 10 a.m. on 13 June, the Swiss Foreign Minister Didier Burkhalter would take the floor.  An updated list of all high-level officials was being finalized.

Mr. Fawzi said that Deputy Secretary-General Jan Eliasson would address the Council session at 3 p.m, before which he would hold a stakeout in the vicinity of Room XX, at 2:40 p.m.

Syria
Jens Laerke, for the Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA), gave an update on the overnight convoy to Darayya, Syria.  He said that the joint UN - Syrian Arab Red Crescent truck convoy had delivered food for 2,400 people, adding that the food had been a standard WFP monthly ration, also containing wheat flour.  Other relief had included nutrition, health, water, sanitation, hygiene and non-food supplies for 4,000 people, the estimated population of Darayya.  The convoy had been a follow up to the June 1st convoy that delivered health supplies, including vaccines and nutrition for children.  He said that the operation had proceeded smoothly and had been finalized at 3:30 a.m. on 10 June.  He highlighted that it was the first food supply in Darayya in years, and stressed that it had been “quite a feat”.  He reiterated that OCHA was calling for unconditional, unimpeded and sustained humanitarian access to people in besieged and hard to reach areas.  About 4.6 million people were currently living under those conditions in Syria, and OCHA was calling for the lifting of all the sieges.

Asked about details on how those besieged people had been surviving over the past several years, Mr. Laerke said that he did not have many details yet.  The convoy had spent relatively little time inside Darayya, and there had been a very limited ability to conduct a proper assessment.  No staff members had been left behind to assess the needs.

On the question whether there would be further attempts to reach Darayya, Mr. Laerke stressed that OCHA wished that the sieges everywhere in Syria be lifted.  Darayya had now been provided with a one-month supply, but a sustained access to the besieged people was necessary, he stressed.

On the details regarding to whom aid had been delivered, Mr. Laerke stated that there had been prior agreements with local community groups, who had then taken care of distribution.  Mr. Laerke specified that the food had been provided for 2,400 people while other, non-food items had been provided for 4,000 people.  The total population of Darayya was estimated to be around 4,000.

Asked about the prospects of food deliveries to other besieged areas, Mr. Laerke stated that as part of the June convoy plan, the UN had requested to reach 17 out of the 19 besieged areas.  (The two others, not being dealt with in the convoy plan, were Deir ez-Zor, where there was ongoing access through the airdrops, and Yarmouk, managed by UNRWA.)  Up to now, approvals had been received for 15 of those, with two still outstanding, for which there had not been written approval: Al-Waer in Homs, and Zabadani in rural Damascus.  Efforts were continuing through the Resident and Humanitarian Coordinator in Syria.  Approval was just a first step, stressed Mr. Laerke.  Several journalists noted that the previous day the Special Envoy for Syria had informed them that access had been granted to all 19 areas.  Mr. Laerke responded that a correction had been included in the transcript of the press encounter.  Mr. Fawzi said that he would bring the issue up to the attention of the Special Envoy’s Office.

In a reply to another question, Mr. Laerke said that Darayya had last been reached with food in 2012.

Tarik Jašarević, for the World Health Organization (WHO), informed that three burn kits, weighing a total of 110 kg, which had been part of the convoy’s stock, had not been allowed into Darayya.

Sri Lanka
Mr. Laerke said that a tropical storm called Roanu had hit the country from 15 to 22 May, generating floods and landslides across the country.  Considered the worst in 25 years, the flooding was responsible for the destruction of homes and entire villages, affecting 403,000 people, forcing the displacement of 300,000 people currently living in temporary accommodation, and causing the death of more than 80 people.  He declared that the UN Central Emergency Response Fund (CERF) had released USD 4.6 million to humanitarian partners to respond to the needs of the people, collaborating with the Sri Lankan government and local NGOs.  He said the relief included emergency shelters, shelter repair kits, food packages, non-food items such as sanitary packs, as well as support to sanitation projects.

Iraq
William Spindler, for the United Nations Refugee Agency (UNHCR), stated that two years after fleeing Mosul, half a million people remained uprooted from their homes, while military activities in the north and south-east of Iraq’s second largest city were causing fresh displacement.

More than 14,000 displaced Iraqis had been registered in camps north and south-east of Mosul and across the border in Syria, since the Iraqi Security Forces had begun a new military offensive in late March. Many of those who had fled the city two years earlier had had to move several times in search for safety and a decent place to live. Most faced economic hardship, said Mr. Spindler.  A recent survey had found that unemployment was the greatest problem facing families uprooted from their homes and scattered across Iraq, a country where more than 3.3 million people – around 10 per cent of the population – had been displaced due to conflict since the start of 2014.

Eighty-two per cent of families from Mosul reported not having enough income to cover their basic needs. Such an economic pressure led to other problems and coping strategies, including high levels of child marriage, which was twice as prevalent among displaced people from Mosul compared to those from other parts of the country, according to the recent survey.

The UNHCR survey of 5,000 displaced families across Iraq, including 800 from Mosul, had found that people from Mosul were about three times as likely as other displaced families to consider moving to another location within Iraq, and about four times as likely to consider leaving the country.  Only a small minority of displaced people from Mosul, about 3 per cent, were considering returning home, compared to 21 per cent of displaced people from other areas.

Of the half a million people who had fled combat in Mosul two years earlier, over 300,000 had found shelter in Dohuk Governorate of the Kurdistan Region of Iraq, while others were scattered across the country. Local authorities in Iraq estimated that an additional 30,000 people could be displaced from the area in the coming months.  More details were available in the briefing note.

Asked how the displaced people in northern Iraq were receiving assistance and coping, Mr. Spindler said that their situation was precarious, and many of them were staying in IDP camps.  Others were just remaining at ad hoc locations, such as abandoned buildings.

On the extent of child marriages, Mr. Spindler explained that early marriages were coping strategies, when families could not feed their own children and would marry them away so that they could at least be fed.  Marriages were conducted mostly within their own communities, but there were cases of marriages to wealthy foreigners coming to Iraq just for that purpose.

Europe Funding
Mr. Spindler informed that the UNHCR was launching today an update of the regional Refugee and Migrant Response Plan (RMRP) involving 60 partner organizations and covering the Eastern Mediterranean and Western Balkans route.  The RMRP had been revised to take into account the new circumstances on the ground, following border closures along the Western Balkans route, and the entry into force of the European Union-Turkey agreement.

Those developments had had a significant impact on the numbers of refugees and migrants arriving, with a decrease in the number of people along the Western Balkans route and an increase in the number of people remaining in Greece.  While the measures adopted had significantly reduced the number of arrivals in Greece, over 57,000 refugees and migrants were currently dispersed across the country in several sites on the mainland and the islands.

In that context, UNHCR and humanitarian partners had redefined their engagement from a response primarily targeting people on the move, to focusing on a static population in Greece and on protection activities in countries in the Western Balkans. The financial requirements to implement the plan had been adjusted to reflect the change in circumstances, and they currently stood at almost USD 670 million for 2016, of which contributions of USD 328.8 million had been received.

Unmet needs remained significant, as living conditions in the sites in Greece, both on the islands and the mainland, had deteriorated as a result of congestion and the rapid nature in which sites had been established on the mainland. The affected population included many people with specific needs, such as unaccompanied or separated children, single women, pregnant or lactating women, the elderly, people with disabilities, as well as the sick and the injured.  The number of children in this movement had been on the rise, reaching 38 per cent of the total arrivals from Turkey to Greece in 2016.  More details were available in the briefing note.  There would be a briefing for donors on 10 June at 2 p.m. in Room V.

Asked about previous financial requirements, Mr. Spindler said that they had definitely been lower, because it was much more expensive to establish accommodation than just handle aid to people on the move.  While they were fewer people coming in than the previous year,  most of them were now staying in Greece as the borders were closed.  UNHCR was against the detention of asylum seekers and was concerned about the overall conditions.  In many islands, the restrictions had been lifted and people were allowed to move out of the “hot spot” centres, but they could not leave the islands.  

On whether Greece was actually sending refugees back to Turkey, Mr. Spindler informed that as of 3 June, there had been only 441 returns from Greece to Turkey, while 383 refugees had been resettled to various European countries.  Since UNHCR was not part of the return operations, Mr. Spindler advised journalists to check the European Union website which contained the latest statistics.

Mr. Spindler added that UNHCR had been advocating for the resettlement of refugees, not only from Turkey, and was still appealing to countries to come forward and offer more resettlement places.  There were still not enough durable solutions for refugees, who could not go back.  They were finding it more and more difficult to integrate in host countries, such as Turkey, Lebanon and Jordan, as they were becoming increasingly saturated.  More efforts would definitely need to be made on securing durable solutions.

Israel/Occupied Palestinian Territories
Ravina Shamdasani, for the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR), stated that the High Commissioner condemned the gun attack in Tel Aviv on 8 June, in which four Israelis had been killed and a number injured.  That was the largest loss of Israeli life in a single attack since the current surge of violence.

OHCHR was also deeply concerned at the response of the Israeli authorities, which included measures that might amount to prohibited collective punishment and would only increase the sense of injustice and frustration felt by Palestinians in this very tense time.   The response had included the cancelling of all 83,000 permits granted to West Bank and Gaza residents to travel during Ramadan, the suspension of 204 work permits of individuals in the alleged attackers' extended families, and the sealing off of their entire home town by the Israeli security forces.

Ms. Shamdasani stressed that Israel had a human rights obligation to bring those responsible to account for their crimes, which it was doing.  However, the measures taken against the broader population punished not the perpetrators of the crime, but tens, and maybe even hundreds, of thousands of innocent Palestinians.

Responding to a question, Ms. Shamdasani said that “collective punishment” was a legal term in international law, but whether it was being exercised would need to be established by a court.  OHCHR was not making a legal qualification here.  Ms. Shamdasani would provide the exact source in international humanitarian law which defined collective punishment.

Yemen
Ms. Shamdasani said that the OHCHR strongly condemned a series of rocket and mortar attacks against several residential areas and markets in Taizz between 3 and 8 June 2016, which had killed 18 civilians, including seven children, and had injured 68 others. Several markets had been hit while full of people shopping ahead of Ramadan.  According to several victims injured during an attack near the Delux Market on 3 June, the shelling had originated from the Tabat Al-Sofitel hill, in the eastern part of the city of Taizz, which was currently under the control of the Popular Committees affiliated with the Houthis and forces loyal to former President Saleh.  The shelling on civilian areas had continued until the evening of 4 June and had restarted on 6 June, when several houses in the Al Ta’iziyah and Al-Qahirah districts had been hit, killing three civilians and injuring twelve others, including nine children.

Another very serious incident had taken place in the early hours of 8 June when a school near the Al-Thawrah hospital had been hit, killing five people, including three children. All victims had belonged to a marginalized community, the Al-Muhamasheen, and had taken refuge in the school after having been forced to flee their homes due the ongoing violence.  According to eyewitnesses, the shelling had also come from the Tabat Al-Sofitel Hill.

Since 26 March 2015 and up to 8 June 2016, the OHCHR had documented a total of 3,539 civilians killed and 6,268 injured.

Responding to a question, Ms. Shamdasani confirmed that the OHCHR was still sticking to the numbers of the civilian casualties it had provided earlier.  They had a well-established methodology in place, and only the confirmed casualties were counted.  Since 26 March 2015, the OHCHR had documented 3,539 civilian casualties.

Responding to other questions, Ms. Shamdasani said that OHCHR believed that the majority of civilian deaths so far - some two-thirds of them - had been caused by the Coalition air strikes.  However, the past week’s attacks which had led to all of the civilian casualties had been launched by the Houthis.

Christophe Boulierac, for the United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF), stated that the latest UNICEF statistics had been provided in the 29 March UNICEF report “Children on the brink” as well as in a press release of the same day, documenting 1,516 grave violations against children, with more than 900 killed and more than 1,300 injured in 2015.  On average, at least six children had been killed or injured every day.  Those numbers were almost seven times higher than for the whole of 2014.  Mr. Boulierac said that he would check if a percentage of the children who had lost their lives due to the Coalition air strikes was available.

On whether the OHCHR had a reaction towards Saudi Arabia being taken off the black list of violators of children’s rights, Ms. Shamdasani said that the Secretary-General had stood by the report and had addressed the issue at length. OHCHR also stood by its figures, which were an estimate of the bare minimum.

Ms. Shamdasani stated that the United Nations often faced pressure from States, and colleagues in the field had been declared personae non gratae for doing their jobs. The OHCHR was mandated by States to document and object to human rights violations around the world. This was done in strict adherence to human rights methodology. Where OHCHR was unable to verify information adequately, it did not report on casualty figures. For example on Syria, when it was no longer possible to uphold high standards of verification, OHCHR stopped providing casualty figures.

Mr. Fawzi referred the journalists to the noon briefing summaries by the United Nations Spokesperson in New York, where the issue had been covered in depth.

Mr. Boulierac added that the issue of children in conflict in Yemen still needed a lot of attention.  The priority was to put an end to this brutal conflict which was devastating the lives of millions of children in Yemen.

In a response to another question, Ms. Shamdasani categorically stated that funding provided by Member States did not hold OHCHR back from reporting on human rights violations.

Geneva Activities and Press Conferences
Mr. Fawzi informed that the Committee on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights was ending today its review of the reports presented by Burkina Faso under the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights and its Protocol, on individual complaints.  After France, Sweden, Honduras and Burkina Faso, which had all been reviewed this week, other reports due to be reviewed during the current session were those of the former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia, Angola and the United Kingdom.

The Conference on Disarmament would hold two plenary meetings in the coming week:  one at 10 a.m. on 14 June, to hear delegations on the first four items of the agenda, and another at 10 a.m. on 16 June, which would focus on the remaining three items of the agenda.

Mr. Fawzi informed that, on the occasion of the upcoming World Refugee Day, at talk would be held at the UNOG Library under the title "The Lasting Legacy of a Man of Action: Fridtjof Nansen, First High Commissioner for Refugees", on 13 June from  1 to 2:30 pm in the Library Events Room.

Jessica Hermosa, for the World Trade Organization (WTO), announced some highlights of the WTO meetings focusing on services for the following week.  One discussion would focus on finding new commitments for domestic regulation of services (qualification, licensing, rules set for professionals, etc.), which were feared to affect the ease of trade.  An email would be issued with the detailed programme.  There would also be meetings on investment and technical barriers through trade.  Ms. Hermosa said that the European Union and the United States would raise questions on Russia’s preferences for locally made machinery for mining, oil and gas exploitation, automotives, farm machinery and IT.  China would be questioning the European Union’s and the United States’ measures on energy efficiency which could affect labelling and certification of certain imports.  Ukraine would be raising the issue of Russia’s import measures.

Roberto Azevêdo, WTO’s Director-General, would be in Brazil the following week to attend the International Chamber of Commerce World Council and meet with Government officials and representatives of the private sector.

Hans von Rohland, for the International Labour Organization (ILO), said that the Committee on Global Supply Chains had held a nine-day discussion to explore how global supply chains could effectively contribute to decent work and sustainable development. The Committee was expected to adopt consensus-based conclusions this afternoon and to give the ILO a strong mandate to lead the global call for action to bridge governance gaps in sector, national, regional and international supply chains. The next step would be to hold a tripartite meeting to discuss further action, including possible standard setting. Workers were still hoping for standards, a convention and/or recommendations. The employers, the workers and the Governments had decided to have the meeting to discuss the issue further.

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The webcast for this briefing is available here: http://bit.ly/unog100616