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ACCESSIBILITY AT UNOG A A A A The United Nations in the Heart of Europe


6 March 2018

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

Human Rights Council

Rolando Gomez, for the Human Rights Council, said that on Tuesday, 6 March, at 9 a.m., the Council had heard a presentation of the report by the Special Rapporteur on the right to privacy, Joseph Cannataci, addressing the issue of oversight of government surveillance. The Council was then scheduled to hear a presentation of the report by the Special Rapporteur on the sale of children, child prostitution and child pornography, Maud de Boer-Buqquicchio, containing a thematic study on surrogacy and sale of children, and on her mission to the Dominican Republic; that presentation would in turn be followed by an interactive discussion.

At 12 p.m., the Council would consider the report of the Special Representative of the Secretary-General for Children and Armed Conflict, Virginia Gamba. It was then scheduled to consider the report of the Special Representative of the Secretary-General on Violence against Children, Marta Santos Pais; an interactive discussion would follow.

At 3 p.m., the Council would consider the report of the Special Rapporteur on the rights of persons with disabilities, Catalina Devandas Aguilar, presenting a thematic study on the rights of persons with disabilities to equal recognition before the law, and on her missions to the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea and Kazakhstan. The Council would then consider the report of the Independent Expert on the enjoyment of human rights by persons with albinism, Ikponwosa Ero, addressing access to health, as well as on an expert workshop on witchcraft and human rights, and on her mission to Tanzania.

On Wednesday, 7 March, at 10 a.m., the High Commissioner would present his annual report update; States’ responses would be heard on Thursday, 8 March.


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

“Yesterday, the UN and partners’ mission to deliver assistance to people in Duma, eastern Ghutah, was forced to be cut short due to escalating violence and insecurity. Airstrikes and shelling in Duma and shelling of Damascus continued for hours while the inter-agency convoy was delivering food for 27,500 people, in addition to health and nutrition supplies. After nearly nine hours inside, the decision was made to leave for security reasons and to avoid jeopardizing the safety of humanitarian teams on the ground. As a result, 14 of the 46 trucks in the convoy were not able to fully offload critical humanitarian supplies. Of the 14, four were partially offloaded.

The team found a desperate situation for people who have endured months of lack of access to humanitarian aid. Food for civilians was in short supply or prohibitively expensive and high rates of acute malnutrition were observed. The last convoy to reach Duma with humanitarian assistance was on 15 November 2017.

The UN condemns, in the strongest terms possible, the lack of respect for the cessation of hostilities, and the disregard of armed parties for guarantees of safe passage for the convoy. The UN urges all parties to fully implement Security Council Resolution 2401, which demands a cessation of hostilities, without delay, for at least 30 consecutive days throughout Syria, as well as unrestricted humanitarian access to those in need and unconditional medical evacuations of the critically sick and injured.

The UN and partners continue to be ready to deliver the second part of aid to Duma on 8 March, as planned, should the conditions allow. All security measures must be guaranteed in order for this to happen.”

Tarik Jašareviæ, for the World Health Organization (WHO), made the following statement:

“Yesterday, as a part of the inter-agency convoy WHO delivered 8 tones (7,941 kg) of medical supplies to Duma in eastern Ghutah, sufficient to provide 57,634 treatments. The shipment included medicines for non-communicable diseases, antibiotics, analgesics, local anesthetics, anti-allergy drugs, etc. WHO staff on the convoy visited the SARC medical center in Duma. In addition to this center, one more hospital remains functioning in Duma but could not be visited. The SARC medical center receives 400 to 800 people a day because it is the only facility where medicines are available. Part of the center is used as day care center for children. It is reported that people from the local community spend overnight inside the center.

At the distribution point there were many men, women and children lining up for distribution of materials. Health needs are enormous as the health system has been disrupted.

During the obligatory routine inspection conducted by Syrian national authorities before the convoy departed, around 70% of the supplies in the WHO shipment were rejected, including all trauma and surgical supplies, dialysis sessions and insulin. Despite the removal the feedback from local health workers remained positive on the remaining content of this shipment. Considering the critical situation inside Duma, WHO deems it necessary to re-submit the packing list of rejected items for the next convoy. One convoy is not enough given the dire conditions. Continuous and unimpeded humanitarian access is essential. Many people need to be evacuated. There would be less need for evacuations if patients could be treated where they are, with the supplies they need. WHO once again calls on authorities to stop removing critical medical supplies from convoys.

WHO has long spoken out against the removal or rejection of lifesaving treatments and medical items from aid convoys by national authorities. The health supplies provided by WHO in these convoys are selected after extensive consultations with health partners working in these areas and are desperately needed to save lives and reduce suffering. No justification has been received yet from the Syrian authorities regarding the removal or reduction. In 2017 WHO delivered 130 tonnes of medical supplies to besieged and hard-to-reach areas, while 50 tonnes of supplies intended to reach these areas were rejected by national authorities.

WHO maintains a detailed overview of all health items included as part of inter-agency convoys, including detailed information on all WHO supplies removed by national authorities from inter-agency convoys, including the number of treatment courses (planned, removed/reduced, loaded/dispatched), the weight, the types of removed supplies, etc. When health items are rejected or removed from UN convoys, WHO reports this to: the Syrian Ministries of Foreign Affairs and Health; the monthly report of the UN Secretary-General to the UN Security Council on medical items delivered cross border and cross line; monthly Whole of Syria health response updates; and the Humanitarian Task Force chaired by Jan Egeland, Special Advisor to the United Nations Special Envoy for Syria.”

Christophe Boulierac, for the United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF), said the inter-agency 46-truck convoy to Duma on 5 March had included five UNICEF trucks carrying health and nutrition supplies; UNICEF staff had also participated in the operation. The items removed from UNICEF trucks by the Syrian authorities had included some medical kits, especially surgical items, midwifery kits and, for the first time, items used for the treatment of diarrhoeal diseases.

While it had not been possible to carry out the assessment mission as intended, the colleagues who had gone into Duma had reported a dire situation, in which the fear and anger of the local population was palpable. Families had been living mainly underground for the past four weeks, with some basements now hosting almost 200 people. Scores of families from other locations had been displaced to Duma in order to escape active conflict. Families had little access to clean water and were looking for hand operated pumps to draw water from shallow wells. Sanitation was also an immense challenge, with families reportedly having to use makeshift toilets or even buckets in basements. Some communities were arranging for community learning sessions for children in basements. Using UNICEF’s self-learning curriculum, they had set up blackboards in basements and organized classes when possible.

Violence in other areas of Syria also continued to affect children, specifically in Idlib, Afrin, Deir-ez-Zor, Damascus and parts of Aleppo. The first two months of 2018 had been especially bloody for children in Syria; UNICEF had received reports that over 1,000 children had been killed or seriously injured. There were 5.3 million children in need of assistance in Syria, nearly 2 million of them living in besieged and hard to reach areas, mostly deprived of their basic rights and receiving no assistance.

Alessandra Vellucci, for the United Nations Information Service in Geneva, said the Office of the Special Envoy for Syria was in support of Resident Coordinator Mr. Al-Za’tari and the efforts of his team. The Office of the Special Envoy was working hard on follow-up not only to the Sochi declaration, but also to that mandated by United Nations Security Council resolution 2254 (2015), towards its full implementation.

Responding to questions from journalists, Mr. Jašareviæ, for WHO, said that while a convoy of supplies was planned for 8 March, there were no guarantees it would be allowed into Duma. The removal of supplies from trucks was not a new practice. Items that had been rejected or reduced were largely medical equipment and health kits, but went beyond trauma and surgical items to include life-saving and life-sustaining medicines and mental health-related medicines. Mr. Boulierac, for UNICEF, added that the situation remained dire and all the supplies originally on the trucks were crucial to the people, especially children, living there.

Responding to further questions, Mr. Laerke, for OCHA, said the decision to leave eastern Ghouta before completing the delivery of humanitarian supplies had been taken as a result of airstrikes and shelling in the area and an overall high level of insecurity that had affected the convoy’s route from the checkpoint into eastern Ghutah and Duma and that had continued during the offloading of the trucks. Once the decision had been taken to retreat, all the trucks had exited eastern Ghutah, some of them still with cargo on board. There had been no reports of damage to trucks or harm to aid workers. It was important to deliver the remaining supplies that had been approved as part of that convoy, for 70,000 beneficiaries; it was hoped that would be possible on Thursday, 8 March. However, there were many stages of preparation and approval for convoys and it was difficult to say for certain whether delivery of aid would in fact be possible on any given day. In the case of the recent inter-agency convoy, clearance had been given for supplies to benefit 70,000 people, but in the end, facilitation letters had been provided for supplies for just 27,500 beneficiaries.

Asked a question about malnutrition, Mr. Laerke, for OCHA, said the malnutrition assessments originally planned had been very limited, as staff had focused instead on offloading aid. While there were no specifics, anecdotal evidence gathered by staff on the ground pointed to serious malnutrition.

Asked about the distribution of the aid delivered, Mr. Laerke, for OCHA, said the inter-agency convoy had involved the International Committee of the Red Cross and the Syrian Arab Red Crescent, which for years had acted as a reliable partner in distributing the aid through local networks.

Asked a question about medical evacuations, Mr. Jašareviæ, for WHO, said no medical evacuations had been planned as part of the recent inter-agency convoy into Duma. Triage of those in need of medical assistance was ongoing; the latest list of those critically ill, which was provided by partners working in the region, now stood at 84 persons. Some people had died since the initial lists had been drawn up in late 2017.

Responding to a question about reports of the Russian military offering immunity and free passage out of eastern Ghutah for rebel fighters, Mr. Laerke, for OCHA, said United Nations humanitarian agencies were in no way involved in such negotiations. Mr. Colville, for OHCHR, added that there should be no amnesty or immunity for anyone who commits international crimes and no statute of limitations applied in such cases.

Cox’s Bazar, Bangladesh

Andrea Dekrout, Senior Environmental Coordinator for the United Nations Refugee Agency (UNHCR), speaking by telephone from Cox’s Bazar, said that more than 670,000 Rohingya refugees had fled from Myanmar to Bangladesh since 25 August 2017. Bangladesh and its people had responded generously, providing safety, shelter and support to refugees. As a result of the crisis in Rakhine State, the Kutupalong refugee settlement in Cox’s Bazar now hosted more than 560,000 refugees. It was the world’s biggest refugee settlement. That in itself brought new challenges to the massive humanitarian response in Bangladesh that was under way.

The area now occupied by the Kutupalong refugee settlement had long been an important habitat for Asian elephants. There were about 40 elephants in the area and they moved between Bangladesh and Myanmar in search of food. When wild elephants attempted to pass through the camp they inevitably came into contact with people, which was where the danger arose. Tragically, ten refugees had been killed by frightened elephants inside the settlements. Other people had been injured and lost the little property they had. UNHCR was saddened by these incidents and was working hard to prevent further deaths and damage.

To protect refugees from more dangerous encounters, UNHCR had teamed up with the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN). IUCN had decades of experience working with communities in Bangladesh to help them live safely alongside wild elephants.

UNHCR was partnering with IUCN to bring about safe coexistence with wildlife in the refugee settlements. One project already under way was the creation of elephant response teams, composed of people who were trained to respond appropriately to an approaching elephant and who could deter it from entering the camp and keep everyone safe.

There were now already 17 elephant response teams on the watch in the camp and one team had successfully warded off an elephant just two days after being set up. In the long term, however, UNHCR and IUCN would like more partners to help address the underlying causes of dangerous encounters with elephants and other wildlife. Actions like the restoration of forest habitats globally were not just conservation efforts, but also help to protect people, their livelihoods and well-being in the long term.

Rupert Colville, for the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR), made the following statement:

“You will have received a press release this morning about the visit by our Assistant Secretary-General for Human Rights Andrew Gilmour to Cox’s Bazar from Friday to Sunday, where he interviewed Rohingya refugees who recently fled from Myanmar. Based on what he saw and heard in Cox’s Bazar, he said it was clear that the ethnic cleansing of Rohingya from Myanmar continues.

The rate of killings and sexual violence in Northern Rakhine State has subsided since August and September last year. But recently arrived refugees interviewed by Gilmour and other UN officials in Cox’s Bazar provided credible accounts of continued killings, rape, torture, and abductions, as well as forced starvation. With Maungdaw township on the border of Bangladesh already largely emptied of its Rohingya population, those arriving now are coming from townships further inside Myanmar.

“It appears that widespread and systematic violence against the Rohingya persists,” Gilmour said. “The nature of the violence has changed from the frenzied blood-letting and mass rape of last year to a lower intensity campaign of terror and forced starvation that seems to be designed to drive the remaining Rohingya from their homes and into Bangladesh.”

A number of people told Mr. Gilmour that Rohingya who try to leave their villages or even their homes are taken away and never return. One man described how his father was abducted by the Myanmar military in February. He was instructed a few days later to collect the body. He said he was too afraid to ask the military what had happened to his father, but that the corpse was covered in bruises. Another man described being tied up by Border Guard Police in his own home in January as his 17-year-old daughter was abducted. When he screamed, they pointed a gun at his head and kicked him repeatedly. When he later tried to find her, he was picked up by them and badly beaten again, this time with gun butts. His daughter has not been seen since 15 January. This is a recurring theme – of women and girls abducted, never to be seen again. Their relatives obviously fear the worst – that they have been raped and maybe killed.

“The Government of Myanmar is busy telling the world that it is ready to receive Rohingya returnees, while at the same time its forces are continuing to drive them into Bangladesh,” Gilmour said. “Safe, dignified and sustainable returns are of course impossible under current conditions. The conversation now must focus on stopping the violence in Rakhine State, ensuring accountability for the perpetrators, and the need for Myanmar to create conditions for return.”

Responding to questions from members of the press, Mr. Colville, for OHCHR, said the High Commissioner for Human Rights had repeatedly stated that there were strong indications that the ethnic cleansing of Rohingya from Mynamar constituted genocide. The burden of proof was exceptionally high for genocide and the ultimate decision had to be taken by a qualified court. No body of the United Nations could unilaterally declare that a State was guilty of genocide, but could only strongly recommend that a case be examined. While it was difficult to collect exact data on victims inside Myanmar, owing to lack of access, the ethnic cleansing of Rohingya appeared to be quite widespread and extended beyond Maungdaw. Additional Rohingya refugees continued to arrive in Bangladesh, although in smaller numbers than during the peak of the crisis; most came by land, some by boat, and all painted a consistent picture of the situation inside Myanmar. OHCHR had repeatedly requested access to Myanmar in order to assess the situation of those still displaced inside the country. No refugees had as yet returned to Myanmar from Bangladesh.

Responding to further questions, Mr. Mahecic, for UNHCR, said UNHCR continued to have concerns over reports of pressure by Myanmar officials on refugees to vacate the area border area considered as no-man’s land. The right to seek asylum and also the right to return home when circumstances allowed must be upheld. Any decision to return home must be freely taken.

Response from the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights to criticism by the Foreign Minister of Hungary

Rupert Colville, for the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR) made the following statement:

“Last week, at the Human Rights Council here in Geneva, the Hungarian Foreign Minister, Péter Szijjártó, said it was ‘slanderous’ and ‘unacceptable’ of the High Commissioner to infer that the country’s Prime Minister Victor Orbán is a racist. The Foreign Minister claimed the High Commissioner had ‘accused Hungary of being comparable to the worst dictatorships of the last century’ and demanded he resign. He subsequently repeated the criticism and the call to resign in a formal letter to the High Commissioner.

Today we are publishing an op-ed by the High Commissioner in response.

Zeid starts by recalling what he actually said in his speech to the Council: ‘The security state is back, and fundamental freedoms are in retreat in every region of the world. Shame is also in retreat. Xenophobes and racists in Europe are casting off any sense of embarrassment – like Hungary's Viktor Orbán who earlier this month said “we do not want our colour... to be mixed in with others”.’ Zeid continued: ‘Do they not know what happens to minorities in societies where leaders seek ethnic, national or racial purity?’

He stands by every single word of what he said last week. I will continue in Zeid’s own words from the op-ed:

‘Mr Orbán's speech on 8 February to a group of city councils was a clear-cut statement of racism. It is an insult to every African, Asian, Middle Eastern or Latin American woman, man and child. The belief that mixing races creates an ineradicable and damaging taint was once widespread in many countries; in parts of the US, as well as South Africa, miscegenation laws were integral to the humiliation and oppression of people termed of "lesser races". But that era is long dead ¬– or should be. To hear it unabashedly expressed by the leader of a modern, European Union country should outrage every one of us.’

‘But we are growing accustomed to the stoking of hatred for political profit. And this is Viktor Orbán's stock in trade. The latest census indicates 1,064 men and 260 women from Africa living in all of Hungary; a total 10,559 people from all of Asia; and apparently so few from the Middle East that they were not even counted. But Mr Orbán has managed to portray Muslims and Africans as an existential menace to Hungarian culture – a threat he alleges is masterminded by the Hungarian-American financier George Soros. Last year a so-called consultative survey by the Hungarian government propagated a series of falsehoods in the form of questions such as ‘George Soros wants to convince Brussels to resettle at least one million immigrants from Africa and the Middle East annually on the territory of the European Union, including Hungary: Do you support this?’ and ‘The goal of the Soros plan is to diminish the importance of the language and culture of European countries to make the integration of illegal immigrants happen sooner: Do you support this?’’

I continue in the High Commissioner’s own words:

‘Mr. Orbán's racial rhetoric is increasingly delusional: in his State of the Nation Address of 18 February, he claimed that Nils Muižnieks, the Council of Europe's Commissioner for Human Rights, “recently let slip that some years ago they secretly launched a programme to breed a Soros-like human race, or, as they modestly put it – if I can pronounce the term – Homo sorosensus... I realised that from their point of view, from the viewpoint of the Soros types, we indigenous people who have our own countries, our own culture and our own religion – things for which we will fight tooth and nail – are individuals beyond redemption.”

‘Cultivation of a siege mentality among majority populations is a marker of today's ethno-populism. It creates a sense of overwhelming grievance, with an indicated outlet for that rage. And it shores up power. According to a 2016 Pew Research Centre study, 72% of Hungarians have an unfavourable view of Muslims – the highest rate in Europe [and that’s despite so few actually living there]. This support for Orbán's posturing on migrants helps him to advance his vision of an “illiberal democracy” […].

‘The Orbán government has dismantled checks and balances, politicized the country's Constitutional Court and restricted its powers, and undermined the independence of the judiciary and the press. Recent legislative proposals will further curtail an already restricted space for civil society activism, giving the Interior Ministry the right to ban any group which works on behalf of migrants; subjecting them to punitive taxes if they receive foreign funding (which could include EU funds); and potentially banning them from going within 8km of border areas. Even before this latest package, the European Union had instituted multiple infringement proceedings against Hungary for measures potentially violating the rule of law and fundamental freedoms.

‘So yes’, says the High Commissioner, he did call the increasingly authoritarian – though democratically elected – Viktor Orbán a racist and xenophobe. He did not, in point of fact, compare him to 20th century dictators [as claimed by the Foreign Minister] because there are plenty of examples around us today of the horrors that awake when minorities are vilified or abused. And no, he will not resign ‘with no delay’, as the letter from the Foreign Minister demanded. ‘Because,’ Zeid says in the op-ed, ‘it is time to stand up to the bullies of Mr Orbán's ilk. Hatred is a combustible force.’

You are free to publish this op-ed, which is being sent out electronically, in whole or in part.”

Responding to questions from members of the press, Mr. Colville said that while the High Commissioner for Human Rights had not mentioned antisemitism in his original statement, the response from the Hungarian Foreign Minister had in fact dwelled on the subject. The High Commissioner’s criticism, however, had related to the Hungarian Prime Minister’s inappropriate reference to “colour”. He himself was not in a position to say whether the Prime Minister’s campaign against George Soros contained elements of antisemitism, as it could be aimed at Mr. Soros’ policies or funding-related decisions. In any case, Prime Minister Orbán had made similar comments in the past. The High Commissioner had repeatedly stated that the singling out and demonizing of particular groups of people was extremely dangerous.

Asked a question about measures that might be taken by the European Union, Mr. Colville said the accession process required candidate countries to uphold quite a comprehensive raft of European Union legislation; it was for the European Union to analyse the current situation and see what steps needed to be taken. Infringement proceedings had already been initiated against Hungary.

Mr. Colville added, in his individual capacity, that Hungarians had been one of the first major populations to benefit from the first World War refugee law. Following the 1956 uprising, some 180,000 Hungarians refugees had been resettled from Austria and the former Yugoslavia in a total of 37 different countries, the first 100,000 of them in under 10 weeks. Hungary had therefore been the beneficiary of immense solidarity and an extraordinary international effort to protect their refugees; their current hostility to refugees now was all the more extraordinary.

Democratic Republic of the Congo

Aikaterini Kitidi, for the United Nations Refugee Agency (UNHCR), made the following statement:

“UNHCR, the UN Refugee Agency, remains deeply concerned at the situation in the Kasai, where continuing instability poses a grave risk to civilian safety, including for several hundred refugees recently returned to Kasai from Angola. Congolese government forces have regained control of large areas of the Kasai, nonetheless there is sporadic fighting between the armed forces and militia groups. Meanwhile, tensions remain high between different ethnic groups, threatening to plunge the region into new violence. UNHCR staff in Tshikapa, a city some 60 kilometres from the border with Angola, report that several internally displaced people, as well as those who have returned from Angola, have been unable to return to their communities because of inter-ethnic hostility.

In February, the tensions led to the internal displacement of over 11,000 people further north in the region, in Mweka Territory. These are in addition to the approximately 900,000 Congolese who have been internally displaced since the Kasai crisis erupted in 2016.

The Kasai conflict has also forced over 35,000 Congolese to seek refuge in Angola. Since September 2017 some of them have spontaneously returned to DRC – only to find that reaching their former homes is impossible. Many are today living in churches and mosques, while others were forced to move to different provinces.

Support for the returnees to rebuild their houses is often absent, as humanitarian funding does not at present allow for a major rebuilding programme. For 2018, UNHCR has requested approximately US$ 369 million to help those affected by the DRC crisis. So far we have received just 1 per cent of this.

Among Congolese refugees in Angola, many say that they are unwilling to return to their areas of origin at present, because of the fragile situation. UNHCR also believes that returns are not yet possible in a safe, dignified and sustainable manner, since peace and security are lacking.

UNHCR was therefore deeply concerned to learn a few days ago of the forced return of some 530 Congolese from Angola to the DRC between 25 and 27 February. Among them, 52 were registered refugees living in Dundo town close to the DRC border, and about 480 were unregistered refugees staying at the Cacanda reception centre in Dundo. The returns were carried out despite UNHCR’s requests to the Angolan authorities to undertake joint screening of the unregistered group.

UNHCR urges the Angolan authorities to refrain from further forcible returns of Congolese to their country. Should conditions change, UNHCR stands ready to assist the authorities in DRC and Angola in voluntary repatriation discussions.”

Responding to questions from members of the press, Ms. Kitidi said that while she could not speculate on the reasons behind the actions of the Government of Angola, UNHCR was working with its representatives to ensure that similar situations would not reoccur in future. UNHCR had reiterated the need to respect international principles and continued to monitor the situation closely. As for the spontaneous return of some refugees, in interviews some had cited family reunification reasons and sustainable living as reasons for their decision to return; however, it was clear that the vast majority would not be able to start their lives over again as they’d hoped.

Asked about the living conditions of refugees in Angola, Ms. Kitidi said that upon arrival, the majority of refugees had stayed in transit centres, from which some of the forced returns had taken place. UNHCR had gradually transferred refugees from transit centres to a refugee settlement in Lóvua, about 100 km from the border, where they were interacting with the local population and mutually empowering each for sustainable living. There were 13,000 people living in Lóvua. Many others were living in cities like Dundo.

Responding to further questions, Ms. Kitidi said it was important for those individuals who returned to DRC for the elections to be registered by the authorities in order to ensure their protection. UNHCR teams, together with partners, had tried to gain access to refugees for the purpose of interviewing them, but the highly insecure border situation had made it difficult. Another challenge was that some refugees’ papers had been taken from them when they were forcibly returned. It was therefore necessary first to identify those refugees who had been returned, then to assess their situation.

Asked a question about the role of the United Nations Organization Stabilization Mission in the Democratic Republic of the Congo (MONUSCO), Ms. Kitidi said the situation in DRC was very complex and currently deteriorating as local conflicts escalated. The situation in Kasai, which had the largest population of returnees, was particularly volatile, with fighting ongoing between the armed forces and militias. UNHCR continued to call on all those involved to ensure the safety and security of the population, both local and displaced, in order to allow refugees to return home. In addition to the militias active in the region, inter-ethnic tensions continued to be very high. The multiple actors simply added to the complexity of the situation.

Mediterranean migrant deaths

Joel Millman, for the International Organization for Migration (IOM), said that over the previous weekend, a rescue operation had been carried out involving two separate incidents. The first of the two incidents had involved a wooden boat with 51 persons aboard; the other involved a larger boat, with 132 people on board. A total of 42 persons had been rescued off the larger boat and had arrived in Italy on the morning of 6 March. The other 90 had been rescued and were being taken back to Libya by the Libyan Coast Guard. Of those persons travelling on the smaller boat, 30 had been rescued and had arrived in Italy also on the morning of 6 March. The remaining 21 persons were missing, and had probably drowned. It was also reported that two infant corpses had been discovered on one of the boats. The two incidents combined were the largest event to have occurred in the Mediterranean since 2 February. It had been nearly a month since any casualties had been reported on the Central Route, pointing to an encouraging trend for the winter of 2017/2018. All arrival figures were down, and fatalities were at least 100 fewer than they had been a year previously. One notable exception to that trend was the Western Route, along which 105 deaths had already been reported for 2018, as compared to 44 at the same time in 2017.

Geneva events and announcements

Jean-Luc Martinage, for the International Labour Organization (ILO), said that ILO would hold the thirty-second session of its Governing Body session from 8 to 22 March 2018; plenary meetings would commence on Monday, 12 March. On Wednesday, 14 March, it would discuss ILO cooperation with the tobacco industry; on Thursday, 15 March, the complaint concerning Guatemala; and on Wednesday, 21 March, the complaint concerning Venezuela. The meeting dates and times indicated on the ILO website were subject to change.

Responding to questions from members of the press, Mr. Martinage said that during its discussion of the complaint concerning Venezuela, which had been submitted by employers, the Governing Body was expected to consider the possibility of setting up a commission of inquiry, composed of three independent members, which would be responsible for carrying out a full investigation of the complaint, ascertaining all the facts of the case and making recommendations on measures to be taken to address the problems raised by the complainant. The complaint against Guatemala related to the State’s non-observance of the Freedom of Association and Protection of the Right to Organise Convention.

Press Conferences

Human Rights Council / Independent Commission of Inquiry on the Syrian Arab Republic
Launch of report of the Commission of Inquiry on the Syrian Arab Republic
Tuesday, 6 March at 1:00 p.m. in Room III

Launch of the study “World Employment and Social Outlook: Trends for Women 2018 – Global snapshot”
Wednesday, 7 March at 10:00 a.m. in Press Room 1

Update on the Central Mediterranean situation
Wednesday, 7 March at 2:00 p.m. in Press Room 1

Follow-up to the High Commissioner for Human Rights’ annual report at the Human Rights Council
Friday, 9 March at 9:15 a.m. in Press Room 1

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The webcast for this briefing is available here: http://bit.ly/unog060318

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