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REGULAR PRESS BRIEFING BY THE INFORMATION SERVICE

19 October 2018

Rhéal LeBlanc, Chief, Press and External Relations Section, United Nations Information Service in Geneva, chaired the briefing, which was attended by spokespersons for the United Nations Refugee Agency, the United Nations Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs, the International Telecommunication Union, the United Nations Conference on Trade and Development and the United Nations Children’s Fund.

Indonesian airlift

Charlie Yaxley, for the United Nations Refugee Agency (UNHCR), read the following statement:

“Earlier this morning, UNHCR, the UN Refugee Agency delivered 435 emergency tents to Balikpapan, Indonesia, for onward distribution to families made homeless by the recent earthquake and tsunami in Central Sulawesi. A total of 1,305 tents will be delivered within the course of the next few days.

Further aid, including more emergency tents, sleeping mats, mosquito nets and solar lamps, is set to be delivered in the coming weeks.

The tents were handed over to Indonesian authorities in Balikpapan who assisted with delivering the tents to neighbouring Sulawesi Island. There they will be distributed by UNHCR partners on the ground, Indonesia Red Cross (PMI/Palang Merah Indonesia) and Yayasan Kemanusiaan Muslim Indonesia (YMKI/ Indonesian Muslim Humanitarian Foundation)

An official assessment from the Indonesia National Agency for Disaster Management (BNPB) estimates that around 68,000 houses have been damaged by the earthquake and tsunami, while some 80,000 people have become internally displaced as a result. This initial consignment will help to provide much needed shelter to around 6,500 of the most vulnerable affected.

UNHCR applauds the Government of Indonesia and humanitarian workers who have been working tirelessly as first responders in the affected areas over the past three weeks.

Earlier this week, a UNHCR team travelled to Palu in Central Sulawesi, one of the areas most affected by the earthquake and tsunami, to coordinate with local government counterparts and partners, and make advanced preparations.

Our staff described the effects of the earthquake and tsunami as “beyond imagination” and “devastating”. Communities have seen their houses, schools and hospitals reduced to rubble. Entire villages have been decimated.

In Petobo and Balaroa, the twin disasters churned the areas into mud. Many people have not only lost their home, but even the land on which it once stood.

Many of the survivors are heavily distressed, though there remains a strong resilience, with people helping each other where they can and by sharing their stories. One woman said that she felt ‘lucky’ that she had only lost her father, as her husband and son had survived.

Another woman told our staff how she returned to her family home to see what possessions she could salvage but that everything was destroyed, with the exception of one sleeping mat. Others have reported that they feel too traumatized by the earthquake and tsunami to face returning to what’s left of their homes.

Sulawesi was struck by a series of strong earthquakes on 28 September, triggering a tsunami and resulting landslides, which have caused extensive damage. More than 2,000 people are estimated to have lost their lives, while at least 680 people remain unaccounted for.

During the coming weeks, UNHCR will support the BNPB Ministry of Social Affairs, Ministry of Foreign Affairs and local government in Sulawesi to meet the immediate humanitarian needs, in line with the priorities identified by the Government of Indonesia.”

In response to questions posed by journalists, Mr. Yaxley said that the initial consignment of tents would provide accommodation for around 6,500 persons. However, reports suggested that 68,000 houses had been destroyed or rendered unusable, so more shelter was urgently required. UNHCR was working to that end in cooperation with its partners and the authorities. The Government of Indonesia was leading and coordinating the response. Since there was no suitable airport on Palu, the aid from international organizations was flown into the neighbouring island of Balikpapan, and the Government had set up a bridge so that it could then be taken from there to Palu. UNHCR staff had reported no problems in accessing the affected areas.

Cyclone in southern Yemen

Jens Laerke, for the Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA), read the following statement:

“Three people are confirmed dead and more than 100 injured, according to local authorities in Yemen, following the Tropical Cyclone Luban that made landfall on the south-eastern coast of the country last Sunday 14 October.

The passage of Luban caused heavy rains and several districts have been flooded causing houses to collapse. Al-Mahrah is the most affected governorate and there's concern that continuing rains may trigger further flooding.

Initial needs assessments by Rapid Response Mechanism teams indicate that more than 3,000 households have been displaced. That number is expected to increase when the situation allows more comprehensive assessments into various affected areas.

Some 550 households found temporary accommodation in schools in Al-Ghaydah district after the flooding and humanitarian partners provided assistance including rapid response kits, shelter supplies, a mobile clinic and support to Al-Ghaydah main hospital.

Two planes sent by Saudi Arabia landed on 17 October in Al-Ghaydah airport with 440 food baskets from the King Salman Relief Centre. Another 125 metric tonnes of food baskets have been sent on trucks from across the Saudi border.

Also national NGOs are actively responding, distributing meals and food baskets to affected people.

The flood damage is still preventing road access to many affected people in several coastal districts. The main bridge that connects Al-Mahrah and Hadramaut governorates has been seriously damaged. Humanitarian partners are working on finding alternative access roads from Al-Mukalla west of the worst affected area.”

Responding to questions from journalists, Mr. Laerke said that unfortunately the war in Yemen was still ongoing. OCHA considered that the situation in the country currently constituted the world’s worst humanitarian crisis and urged all the parties to the conflict to seek a solution through the relevant United Nations mechanisms. Most of the fighting was taking place in the west of Yemen, which was also the most densely populated part of the country. The storms and floods had affected coastal areas in the east, which was much less heavily populated.

Talks on Syria and Afghanistan

In response to a question from a journalist, Jens Laerke, for the Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA), said that he had no details about the plans of France, Germany, Turkey and Russia to hold a summit in Istanbul on 27 October in order to pursue a ceasefire in Idlib. However, the situation in Syria remained a matter of the gravest concern and any and all attempts to find a peaceful solution to the conflict were welcome.

In response to a question from a journalist, Rhéal LeBlanc, for the United Nations Information Service in Geneva, said that a two-day conference on Afghanistan was due to take place on 27 and 28 November 2018. The first day would be dedicated to workshops with representatives from civil society and other groups, and the following day to the conference proper. More detailed information would be available soon. The conference was a regular event that took place every two years – previous editions had been held in Brussels and in London. It served to monitor progress made in stabilizing Afghanistan and brought together the States most heavily involved in supporting the country.

Possible closure of the United States – Mexican border

Journalists raised questions regarding the possible reaction by national authorities to reports that a convoy of migrants from Central America was seeking to cross Mexico to reach the border with the United States. In response, Charlie Yaxley, for the United Nations Refugee Agency (UNHCR), said that UNHCR was concerned that the mobilization of so many persons in a single group might overwhelm the capacity of the authorities to deal with them. Nonetheless, persons within the group who were fleeing persecution and violence had to be allowed to exercise their fundamental human right to seek asylum and to be given access to refugee status determination procedures. Such provisions were envisaged in the domestic legislation of all the countries concerned.

In response to additional questions, Mr. Yaxley stated that UNHCR had repeatedly called on the authorities of the United States not to separate migrant families and not to hold migrants in detention. The Agency was continuing to work with the United States to ensure that it fulfilled its obligations under international law.

Comments by Brazilian presidential candidate

In response to journalists’ questions regarding comments reportedly made by a presidential candidate in Brazil that he would favour teaching 5-year old children to use firearms, Marixie Mercado, for the United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF), said that she was not aware of the remarks but clearly it was important to keep all children safe and as far away as possible from harm.

Regarding the language in the Convention on the Rights of the Child (CRC) relating specifically to weapons and / or guns, she later added there was none. The CRC is of course very clear about a child’s right to protection from violence and their right to life. And the best interests of children is a key principle. The Optional Protocol to the Convention on the Involvement of Children to Armed Conflict relates only, as its name suggests, to situations of armed conflict, and also has no language on weapons / guns.

Update on the ITU Plenipotentiary Conference

Jennifer Ferguson-Mitchell, for the International Telecommunication Union (ITU), said that the ITU Plenipotentiary Conference was held every four years, and the 2018 edition was due to take place in Dubai from 29 October to 16 November. Media registration was currently open and digital media kits were available for journalists who would be unable to attend in person. In addition to its 193 member States, ITU – uniquely for a United Nations agency – had a large private sector membership including over 800 commercial companies, academic institutions and regional and international bodies. Around 3,000 persons were expected to attend the Conference, including Heads of State and VIPs.

The Conference – which would determine the course of ITU activities, approve its financial plans and set standards for the technology sector for the following four years – would focus on a number of pressing issues, from strategies to promote digital inclusion and bridge the digital divide, to ways to leverage emerging technologies such as artificial intelligence, the Internet of things and 5G. It would also consider the impact of technology on finance and business and how it could be used to serve the 2030 Sustainable Development Agenda.

Despite predictions that half the world would be online by 2017, news had emerged recently of a slowdown in the growth rate of Internet access across the world. The part of the global population that was not yet connected to the Internet was mostly located in remote or rural areas, often in developing countries, and the Conference would consider how to create an enabling ICT environment where the benefits of digital connectivity could reach all people and economies, everywhere. New data to be published in December would provide an updated forecast for when half the world was expected to be online.

Four or five days after the start of the Conference, elections would take place to choose the five top ITU executives for the coming four years: the Secretary-General, the Deputy Secretary-General, the Director of the Radiocommunication Sector, the Director of the Telecommunication Standardization Sector and the Director of the Telecommunication Development Sector.

Responding to questions from journalists, Ms. Ferguson-Mitchell confirmed that one reason for the slowdown in the growth rate of online access lay in the fact that the areas with lowest levels of access also had the highest levels of demographic growth. Ways needed to be found to increase investment and find new technologies capable of reaching large populations in remote areas. One solution being considered by some companies was micro-satellite constellations. Another factor that had to be taken into account was the affordability of Internet access and the IT skills of the intended recipients. The United Nations Broadband Commission for Sustainable Development was a consortium of private sector actors, UNESCO and ITU, which looked at how to create an enabling regulatory environment in developing countries where companies wishing to invest could cost-effectively develop infrastructure while ensuring that the services they provided remained affordable for the end users.

World Investment Forum

Catherine Huissoud, for the United Nations Conference on Trade and Development (UNCTAD), said that the World Investment Forum would be meeting in Geneva from 22 to 26 October 2018. Participants would include 1,500 persons from the private sector, 1,900 from the public sector, 78 parliamentarians, 560 academics, 220 inter-governmental organizations and 290 representatives of civil society. The high-level events would all be taking place during the first three days of the Forum, from 22 to 24 October. A final list of the names of the Heads of State and Government who would be attending would be available by Saturday 20 October.

Responding to questions from journalists, Rhéal LeBlanc, for the United Nations Information Service in Geneva, said that he could confirm that the President of the United Nations General Assembly would be attending the Forum. He had no information about the possible attendance of the Secretary-General of the United Nations.

In response to journalists’ questions, Ms. Huissoud said that she hoped that she would soon be able to distribute a list of nominees for the awards that were due to be presented during the Forum. At the end of each day of the Forum, reception events organized by member States would be held at various locations in the Palais des Nations.

In reply to additional questions, Ms. Huissoud said that UNCTAD had no power to oblige States to act in a certain way or to compel them to introduce particular policies. The Forum was a free and open platform where States, private sector companies and other development actors could meet face to face and discuss how to mobilize investment and resources with a view to achieving the Sustainable Development Goals. The more than 70 events scheduled to take place during the Forum covered many vital themes – ranging from family businesses to multinationals to new technologies – and the success of the event would not lie in a final binding document but in the ideas and initiatives that emerged from the discussions.

Announcements

Rhéal LeBlanc, for the United Nations Information Service in Geneva, said that the Human Rights Committee would be holding a public meeting that morning to continue the examination of its draft general comment on article 6 of the Covenant, on the right to life. It was due to hold two further public meetings on the draft general comment, on 30 October and on 1 November. The Committee’s 124th session would come to an end on 2 November when it would issue its concluding observations and recommendations on the reports of the five countries reviewed during the session: Belarus, Belize, Bulgaria, Guinea and the Sudan.

Mr. LeBlanc said that the Committee on the Elimination of Discrimination against Women would open its seventy-first session on Monday 22 October in Room XVI of the Palais des Nations. During the session, which would last until 9 November, the Committee would review reports from eight countries: Nepal, Republic of Congo, Bahamas, Samoa, Mauritius, Tajikistan, former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia and Lao People’s Democratic Republic.

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The webcast for this briefing is available here: http://bit.ly/unog191018