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REGULAR PRESS BRIEFING BY THE INFORMATION SERVICE

3 May 2019

Alessandra Vellucci, Director of the United Nations Information Service, United Nations Office at Geneva, chaired the briefing, which was attended by spokespersons for the World Meteorological Organization, the United Nations Office for Disaster Risk Reduction, the World Food Programme, the Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights, the United Nations Children’s Fund, the United Nations Refugee Agency, the World Health Organization and the United Nations Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs.

Sand and sustainability: Finding new solutions for governance of sand resources

Pascal Peduzzi, Director of the Global Resource Information Database (GRID-Geneva), said that the United Nations Environment Programme would be launching a new report entitled “Sand and sustainability: Finding new solutions for environmental governance of global sand resources” at a press conference due to be held in Press Room I at 9.30 a.m. on Tuesday 7 May. Sand was second only to water as the world’s most extracted resource. The problem was not that sand and gravel resources were running out but that the sheer scale of extraction – 40–50 billion tonnes a year – and the almost universal use of sand as a construction material meant that its extraction was frequently associated with corruption, violence and organized crime.

Responding to a question from a journalist, Mr. Peduzzi agreed that the health implications of the use of sand in the fashion industry – specifically in sandblasting denim – might also be an area of concern.

Mozambique

Clare Nullis, for the World Meteorological Organization (WMO), said that Cyclone Fani had made landfall in the Indian state of Odisha two hours previously with maximum wind speeds equivalent to a category 3 hurricane, bringing high waves, a storm surge, coastal flooding and heavy rain. Like all storms, it had weakened when reaching land but was nonetheless one of the most intense storms to have hit Odisha in the previous 20 years. However, as a result of effective disaster mobilization, it was hoped that casualties would be kept to a minimum. A cyclone in Odisha in 1999 had claimed more than 10,000 lives but lessons had been learned and, when Cyclone Phalin had struck in 2013, fewer than 50 lives had been lost. The current forecast was that Cyclone Fani would now move north-northeast towards Bangladesh where there were concerns about the effects of potential coastal flooding. Nonetheless, the worst case scenario currently seemed less likely and, although there would be strong winds and rains, the impact was expected to be less severe in areas such as, for example, Cox’s Bazar.

Denis McClean, for the United Nations Office for Disaster Risk Reduction (UNISDR), said that the Indian Government had a zero-casualty cyclone preparedness policy. The almost pinpoint accuracy of the early warnings from the Indian Meteorological Department had enabled the authorities to conduct a well-targeted evacuation plan, which had involved moving more than 1 million people into storm shelters. Schools had been shut, airports had been closed and transport suspended and, although damage to infrastructure was expected to be severe, there were thus far no reports of any deaths.

Hervé Verhoosel, for the World Food Programme (WFP), read the following statement:

“World Food Programme staff in Cox’s Bazar continue to monitor Cyclone Fani’s movements very closely for any potential impact on the refugee camps.

There are extra stocks of food and prepositioned supplies in case of any impact

WFP has been completing engineering and disaster risk reduction work to make the camps safer and more accessible places during monsoon and cyclone seasons.

Teams are still out there working as Cyclone Fani is set to make landfall this weekend and potentially impact the refugee camps.”

High-level meeting on Syria

Alessandra Vellucci, for the United Nations Information Service in Geneva, said that the high-level meeting between the Secretary-General’s Special Envoy for Syria and senior officials from Egypt, France, Germany, Jordan, Saudi Arabia, the United Kingdom and the United States would begin at 11.30 a.m. that day in the Palais des Nations.

Juvenile executions in Iran

Ravina Shamdasani, for the Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR), read the following statement:

“The execution of two 17-year-old boys in Iran on charges of rape and robbery, after a trial that appears to have seriously breached fundamental due process guarantees, is deplorable, UN High Commissioner for Human Rights Michelle Bachelet said on Friday. She, once again, urged the authorities in Iran to ensure that executions of child offenders are immediately halted.

"The prohibition of executions of child offenders is absolute under the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights and under the Convention on the Rights of the Child," Bachelet said. "Iran is party to both human rights treaties and obliged to abide by them. These two cases are particularly outrageous because it appears that both boys were reportedly subjected to ill-treatment and a flawed legal process."

Mehdi Sohrabifar and Amin Sedaghat were 15 years old when they were arrested and accused of rape and robbery in 2017. According to information received by the UN Human Rights Office, they were held in a police detention center for two months, where they were initially deprived of their right to a lawyer, beaten and reportedly coerced into making false confessions. The boys had originally denied all charges. They were later convicted and sentenced to death.

Their families and lawyers brought their case to the Supreme Court, which overturned the lower court’s sentence of capital punishment and ordered a retrial. The lower court again convicted the boys and sentenced them to death. Apparently, neither the victims nor their families were aware that the executions were going to take place. They were executed on 25 April 2019 in Shiraz in the southern Fars Province.

Sohrabifar and Sedaghat were reportedly flogged prior to their execution. Flogging is also prohibited under the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights as well as the Convention on the Rights of the Child as an act that amounts to cruel, inhuman and degrading treatment and possibly torture.

It is understood that none of the courts involved took into due consideration the medical evidence of Sohrabifar’s mental health, including the fact he had attended a school for children with special needs for a decade. Article 91 of the amended Islamic Penal Code gives judges the discretion to exempt children from the death penalty if the judge assesses that the child did not realize the nature of the crime or if there is uncertainty about his or her mental development.

"I am appalled," Bachelet said. "My Office has been engaging with Iran to advocate for a total ban on executions of people who were minors at the time of the offence. I once again call on the authorities to halt all executions of juvenile offenders, and to immediately commute all such death sentences.”

Christophe Boulierac, for the United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF), said that he wished to draw attention to a statement by the UNICEF Regional Director for the Middle East describing recent executions of minors in the Islamic Republic of Iran and in the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia as a clear violation of children’s rights. The Convention on the Rights of the Child was celebrating its thirtieth anniversary in 2019 and it was vital for States parties to the Convention to adhere to its core principles in relation to detention, punishment and the death penalty

Situation in Venezuela

Answering questions from journalists, Ravina Shamdasani, for the Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR), said that OHCHR was following the situation in Venezuela with great concern. According to information received, five persons had lost their lives over two days of demonstrations: three boys aged between 15 and 16, a 24 year-old man and a 27 year-old woman. OHCHR had reminded the State authorities of their duty to protect citizens, to use commensurate force and to ensure that only official bodies carried out law enforcement activities.

In response to further questions, Ms. Shamdasani said that she understood that Mr. Leopoldo López had been released by the State authorities and was currently in the Spanish Embassy. Mr. Babar Baloch, for the United Nations Refugee Agency (UNHCR), said that, according to information his Agency had received, Mr. López was in the Embassy as a guest and had not applied for asylum. Ms. Shamdasani said that she wished to draw attention to the case of parliamentarian Gilber Caro, who had been detained by members of the intelligence services on 26 April and whose fate and whereabouts remained unknown. He had not been brought before a tribunal and his detention appeared to constitute an enforced disappearance under international law. She called on the Venezuelan Government to reveal Mr. Caro’s whereabouts. Mr. Caro had previously been arrested in January 2017 when the Working Group on Arbitrary Detention had declared his detention arbitrary.

Answering queries about violence against journalists in Venezuela, Ms. Shamdasani said that OHCHR, which did not have a presence on the ground in the country, had received credible reports of violence against ten journalists covering the demonstrations on 1 May, including five who had been injured by buckshot.

In response to a request for clarification from a journalist, Mr. Baloch said that UNHCR was closely monitoring the situation along the borders of Venezuela. Current indications seemed to suggest that the number of persons leaving the country fluctuated between 3,000 and 5,000 per day. Cross-border transit moved in both directions, with people leaving Venezuela while others returned. Between 2014 and 2018, nearly 84,000 Venezuelans had filed applications for asylum in Brazil, while 40,000 had benefited from alternative forms of residency there.

Answering journalists’ questions Hervé Verhoosel, for the World Food Programme (WFP), explained that WFP was active along the border between Venezuela and Colombia but did not have a presence in Venezuela itself. It was ready to mobilize there but was awaiting an invitation from the Venezuelan Government.
Tarik Jašareviæ, for the World Health Organization (WHO), said that WHO, which did have a presence in Venezuela, was also assessing the situation and its possible impact on WHO activities and the safety of its staff. He had no official data on casualties.

Answering a question raised by a journalist, Jens Laerke, for the Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA), said that, supported by its partners, the United Nations was continuing its discussions with the Government with a view to expanding its programmes in the country.

In answer to journalists’ questions, Christophe Boulierac, for the United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF), said that UNICEF was also active in Venezuela and along its border with Colombia where it was providing vaccines and antimalarial treatments as well as midwifery kits.

Press freedom

Answering questions from journalists, Ravina Shamdasani, for the Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR), said that the High Commissioner had consistently and forcefully condemned the brutal killing of the journalist Jamal Khashoggi and had made clear her concern at the lack of justice in the case and at the fact that the whereabouts of Mr. Khashoggi’s body remained unknown. In the case of Julian Assange, OHCHR expected all the authorities involved to respect his due process rights including in any extradition proceedings that might be launched. The High Commissioner had issued a video statement for World Press Freedom Day and Mr. David Kaye, Special Rapporteur on the right to freedom of opinion and expression, would be issuing a statement on the same subject later that day.

Alessandra Vellucci, for the United Nations Information Service in Geneva, also reminded that a commemoration of World Press Freedom Day 2019, organized by UNIS and UNESCO Geneva office, would take place in Room XXV with several speakers. She also recalled the words of the Secretary-General who had called “on all to defend the rights of journalists, whose efforts help us to build a better world for all”.


Deprivation of food for migrants in Hungary

Ravina Shamdasani, for the Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR), read the following statement:

“We are alarmed by reports that migrants in detention centres in Hungary have been deliberately deprived of food in contravention of international laws and standards.

According to the existing laws in Hungary, migrants and asylum seekers without the right to stay in Hungary are immediately detained in transit zones during their asylum procedure, or until they can be returned. In these transit zones, they are subjected to asylum and deportation procedures, which fail to effectively assess each individual’s situation. We are concerned by the absence in these transit zones of meaningful individualised procedures.

If the Hungarian Immigration and Asylum Office starts a procedure with a view to expel a rejected applicant from the country, these migrants are no longer provided with food. Pending the enforcement of the expulsion, adults – with the sole exception of pregnant or nursing women – are deliberately deprived of food, which can lead to malnutrition and is both detrimental to their health and inherently inhumane.

According to reports, since August 2018, at least 21 migrants awaiting deportation had been deprived of food by the Hungarian authorities – some for up to five days.

We note that the Hungarian authorities had promised to end this practice following an interim measure by the European Court of Human Rights. However, we regret that reports suggest the practice is continuing.

The UN Human Rights Office reminds States that they have an obligation and heightened duty of care towards migrants who are deprived of their liberty, including through the provision of food. The deliberate deprivation of food is prohibited under the Mandela Rules, and violates the rights to food and to health, as well as the prohibition of torture or other cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment.

We encourage Hungary to ensure it fulfils its human rights obligations towards those deprived of liberty, regardless of whether they are in transit zones or any other place where migrants are detained.

We reiterate the right of all migrants to seek asylum, as well as the fundamental human rights principle of non-refoulement, which prohibits the return of any person to a situation where they would face a real and foreseeable risk of persecution.”

Responding to questions from journalists, Ms. Shamdasani said that OHCHR had information about 21 persons who had been deprived of food, most recently in April 2019. In all cases, they had eventually been given food but only after an appeal had been lodged with the European Court of Human Rights. Her understanding was that, although the migrants were in detention facilities, the Hungarian authorities did not consider them to be in detention because they could “voluntarily” leave the transit zones towards neighbouring Serbia. However, that would place the migrants in contravention of Serbian law and, therefore, was not an adequate solution.

Food security assessment in the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea

Hervé Verhoosel, for the World Food Programme (WFP), read the following statement:

“At the request of the Government, a joint FAO/WFP rapid Food Security Assessment Mission visited the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea from 29 March to 12 April 2019. The overall objective of the mission was to conduct an independent assessment of the 2018 production shortfall and the food security situation in the country”.

Mission teams were granted access to a wide variety of locations and stakeholders, including cooperative farms, rural and urban households, nurseries, public distribution centres, farmers, government officials and humanitarian partners.”

This new food security assessment in the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea has found that following the worst harvests in 10 years, due to dry spells, heatwaves and flooding, more than 10 million people currently suffer from severe food insecurity.

The joint assessment shows that agricultural production in the country is estimated at 4.9 million metric tons, which is the lowest since the 2008-2009 season.

The reduced harvest, coupled with increased post-harvest losses, has led to a food deficit of 1.36 million metric tons – pushing vulnerable families deeper into food insecurity.

Limited dietary diversity is of serious concern, especially among households that already suffer from chronic malnutrition.

Prospects for the 2019 early season crops are worrisome, with communities at risk as the lean season gets underway in June. The effects of repeated climate shocks are compounded by shortages of fuel, fertilizer and spare parts crucial for farming.

Operational planning is under way to meet immediate humanitarian needs, while building community resilience over the medium term. The findings of this assessment will assist in determining the way forward. Without humanitarian support, millions more could face hunger.

WFP has the experience and capacity to scale up and deliver humanitarian assistance as needed. Any scale-up will need sustained funding from donors to save lives. Funding shortfalls put families at risk and threaten an entire generation of children.”

Answering questions posed by journalists, Mr. Verhoosel said that the reason the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea required additional support was because of a shortfall in domestic food production. That did not depend upon choices made by the Government but upon external factors such as adverse climate, technical problems and shortage of fertilizer. It was important to build a medium- and long-term food strategy to help the country feed itself. The current situation could not yet be described as a famine but, with upwards of 10 million people facing food insecurity, the international community was under an obligation to act. Rations provided by the country’s Public Distribution System had fallen from 380 grams per person per day in 2018 to 300 grams per person per day currently. That amount seemed likely to fall further in June with the onset of the lean season. Moreover, it was important to note that 300 grams was an average figure and that some people were receiving even less. As a humanitarian organization, WFP existed to help people in need, irrespective of political considerations. It was currently running an Interim Country Strategic Plan for 2019–2021, which focused on providing assistance to 770,500 women and children in the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea.

Responding to further questions, Mr. Verhoosel explained that the USD 160 million budget of the Interim Country Strategic Plan was funded by several States. They did not include the United States of America or the People's Republic of China.

Democratic Republic of the Congo – North Kivu displacement

Babar Baloch, for the United Nations Refugee Agency (UNHCR), read the following statement:

“Insecurity in the North Kivu province of the Democratic Republic of the Congo led to more than 100,000 people fleeing their homes in April.

As attacks continue to terrorize the population, UNHCR is extremely worried about the safety of civilians. The displaced are in a desperate situation, and access to them is being hampered by the volatile situation.

It is estimated that up to 60,000 people fled in April as a result of fighting around Kamango near the town of Beni. In the same month, an estimated 50,000 people fled in neighbouring Lubero Territory, where the Congolese Army was fighting Mai-Mai armed groups.

While a string of attacks by armed groups within Beni town has now ceased, these have moved to rural areas. Fighting continues in southern parts of North Kivu and towards the provincial capital of Goma. Kidnappings and killings have traumatized the population. Often, displaced people are the targets. Last week, five mutilated bodies were found in a river in Masisi Territory, around 60 kilometres to the northwest of Goma. The bodies included those of three children. Four of the dead were people who had been kidnapped from Kashuga, a nearby displacement site.

In the same area, over 20,000 newly displaced civilians have arrived over the past months in just three small towns. UNHCR teams visiting the area have received reports of rape, and of child recruitment by armed groups.

DRC’s North Kivu province remains one of the country’s most displacement affected regions with an estimated displaced population of over a million. It also has the highest number of reported incidents of sexual and gender-based violence in the country.”

New milestone on UNICEF work in education for Rohingya refugee children

Christophe Boulierac, for the United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF), said that UNICEF had just opened its 2000th learning centre for children in the Rohingya refugee camps of Cox’s Bazar. More than 180,000 children between 4 and 14 years of age were now learning in the centres, taught by 4,000 teachers, trained by UNICEF partners. The initial focus of UNICEF had been to scale up its education programme and to provide safe learning environments. Now that that had been achieved, it was shifting to focus on quality education, and children were being enrolled on the basis of their competency level where previously they had been placed in learning centres according to age. In January 2019, UNICEF had rolled out a new structured learning programme, the Learning Competency Framework and Approach (LCFA), which defined learning competencies comparable to those children would achieve through a formal school curriculum.

A survey conducted in December 2018 had revealed the extent of the need for education. It indicated that the majority of Rohingya children had not had regular access to education in Myanmar. Thus, they were in need of elementary or basic level education. More than 90 per cent were shown to have learning competencies at the pre-primary to grades 1-2 level. Just 4 per cent were at grade levels 3-5, and 3 percent at grades 6-8. Adolescents were also in urgent need of support as only 7 per cent of 15-18 years old were accessing education. Overall, one third of the 416,000 school age Rohingya children (3-18 years old) was still not accessing basic education.

In the light of that situation, UNICEF was appealing for USD 152 million in 2019. As of February, if had received 46 per cent of that amount with a funding gap is USD 82 million USD, including USD 28.5 million on education.

WHO press conferences on Ebola and on snakebite prevention strategy

Tarik Jašareviæ, for the World Health Organization (WHO), said that, at 2 p.m. on Friday 3 May in Press Room III, Dr. Michael Ryan, Executive Director of the WHO Health Emergencies Programme, would be providing an update on WHO Ebola operations in the Democratic Republic of the Congo.

The following week, WHO would be rolling out its snakebite prevention strategy. A summary of the strategy would be made available to journalists, and experts would be on hand to answer questions. The strategy was important in the light of the fact that 7,400 people around the world were bitten by snakes every day.

Announcements from OCHA

Jens Laerke, for the Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA), said that Ursula Mueller, OCHA Assistant Secretary-General for Humanitarian Affairs, would undertake a mission from 5 to 15 May. From 5 to 9 May, she would be in Jakarta where she would represent OCHA at the ASEAN-UN Partnership meeting; then, from 9 to 15 May, she would be in Myanmar where she was due to visit Kachin State and Rakhine State.

At 11.45 a.m. on Wednesday 8 May, OCHA would be holding a press conference in Press Room I with Jamie McGoldrick, Coordinator for Humanitarian and Development Activities in the Occupied Palestinian Territory, who would focus particularly on the situation in Gaza. At 4.15 on the same day in Press Room III, a conference would be held with high-level speakers from the Sahel including Mbaranga Gasarabwe, Deputy Special Representative of the Secretary-General, Resident and Humanitarian Coordinator for Mali and Metsi Makhetha, United Resident Coordinator for Burkina Faso.

Geneva announcements

Alessandra Vellucci, for the United Nations Information Service in Geneva, reminded journalists that a press conference would be held at 10 a.m. on Monday in Press Room I to present the ILO–EUROFOUND joint report entitled “Working conditions in a global perspective”. Speaking at the conference would be Manuela Tomei, Department Director of ILO WORKQUALITY, and Juan Menéndez-Valdès, Executive Director of EUROFOUND.

Press conferences

Tuesday, 7 May at 2.30 p.m. in Press Room I
UNCTAD
Presentation of the Programme of the UN Commission on Science and Technology for Development (13-17 May, Palais des Nations)
Speakers:
• Shamika Sirimanne, Director, Division on Technology and Logistics, UNCTAD
• Angel Gonzalez-Sanz, Chief, Science, Technology and ICT Branch, UNCTAD

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The webcast for this briefing is available here: http://bit.ly/unog030519


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