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REGULAR PRESS BRIEFING BY THE INFORMATION SERVICE

21 November 2017

Michele Zaccheo, Chief of the Radio and Television Section, United Nations Information Service in Geneva, chaired the briefing, which was attended by the spokespersons for the United Nations Children’s Fund, the United Nations Refugee Agency, the United Nations Development Programme, the Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights, the Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs, the International Labour Organization and the World Health Organization.

World Television Day

Michele Zaccheo, for the United Nations Information Service in Geneva, reminder reporters that in recognition of the increasing impact television has on decision-making by bringing world attention to conflicts and threats to peace and security and of its potential role in sharpening the focus on other major issues, including economic and social issues, the United Nations General Assembly had proclaimed 21 November as World Television Day in 1996.

Security incident

Michele Zaccheo, for the United Nations Information Service in Geneva, said that, following the security incident that had occurred at the Palais des Nations overnight between 15 and 16 November, the Security and Safety Service and the Director-General of the United Nations Office at Geneva (UNOG) condemned acts of vandalism and pilfering, expressed solidarity with journalists and members of the resident press corps at the Palais and reiterated their willingness to discuss practical measures with representatives of ACANU, the Association of United Nations Correspondents, to improve the security of their premises while maintaining the spirit of openness that was the hallmark of UNOG.

On 16 November, the suspect involved in the incident had been handed over to the police in Geneva and the UNOG Security and Safety Service had filed an official complaint, triggering an investigation aimed at retrieving any items that may have been stolen. The UNOG Security and Safety Service was concurrently carrying out its own internal investigation, including a review of CCTV footage of the suspect in the Palais on the night in question, and was examining accreditation procedures and possible means to strengthen verification while maintaining crucial access to the Palais for bona fide representatives of civil society organizations who attended meetings on United Nations premises. The suspect, who had now been banned from entering the Palais, had been accredited as a temporary observer at a side event.

The results of the internal investigation would be shared with local law enforcement authorities. The Security and Safety Service invited UNOG personnel and members of the press corps to report possible intrusions as soon as they became aware of them. Further updates would be provided when more information became available.

Syria

Michele Zaccheo, for the United Nations Information Service in Geneva, said that at the invitation of the Saudi authorities, Special Envoy Staffan de Mistura was travelling to Riyadh on 21 November, where he would attend the opening ceremony of the Riyadh 2 meeting. The Special Envoy noted that the holding of the meeting was consistent with the provisions of Security Council resolution 2254 (2015) and hoped that its outcome would be a useful contribution ahead of the convening of the eighth round of intra-Syrian talks in Geneva on 28 November.

Bangladesh

Christophe Boulierac, for the United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF), said that UNICEF was deeply concerned at reports of high levels of E.coli bacteria in water drawn from wells inside the refugee camps in Cox’s Bazar. The latest figures from the World Health Organization suggested that 62 per cent of the water available to households was contaminated. UNICEF was also concerned about the increase in cases of acute watery diarrhoea, including several deaths. Between 25 August and 11 November, 36,096 cases had been reported, including 10 related deaths, with a total of 42 per cent of the cases involving children under 5 years.

While the exact cause of the increase had not been ascertained, it might be linked to contaminated food or water. Some tube wells inside the camps had been dug to a shallow depth and were poorly sited, and no safeguards were in place to prevent contamination at ground level. UNICEF was working with WASH partners to construct tube wells that met international standards, including being dug to a depth of at least 40 metres and equipped with an appropriate seal.

Another possible cause of the contamination was poor hygiene practices, such as the use of dirty containers and poor hygiene habits of the refugee population during water handling. Based on a risk analysis, UNICEF was working with the Bangladeshi authorities to urgently investigate levels of contamination and to ensure better construction of tube wells. It was stepping up measures to distribute water purification tablets to treat water at the household level, as well as promoting good hygiene practices.

The provision of safe drinking water had been one of UNICEF’s highest priorities in responding to the needs of Rohingya refugees since 25 August. UNICEF had been working with its partners to ensure the provision of safe drinking water, latrines and sanitation systems inside the refugee camps. It was currently distributing around 195,000 litres of water per day to over 50,000 people and had installed more than 420 tube wells serving 140,000 people.

Manus Island refugee situation

Adrian Edwards, for the United Nations Refugee Agency (UNHCR), said that since 2012, Manus in Papua New Guinea had been one of the locations involved in Australia’s policy of offshoring refugees and asylum seekers arriving by boat. At the end of October, the Australian Government had announced the withdrawal of critical services to the site, leaving several hundred refugees and asylum seekers without support. UNHCR had appealed to Australia to stop a humanitarian situation unfolding on Manus.

Nai Jit Lam, UNHCR Deputy Regional Representative in Canberra, speaking by telephone from Manus, said that in the three weeks since the closure of the regional processing centre on 31 October, the situation on the ground had become very serious and was continuing to deteriorate. The group of refugees and asylum seekers remaining in the decommissioned centre refused to move, seeing it as an opportunity to express to the world their anger over the way they had been treated over the previous four years since they had been forcibly transferred to Papua New Guinea.

In hot and humid conditions, the centre was without food and clean water and a significant amount of waste and rubbish had accumulated. Existing supplies of regular medication had run out the previous week and the physical and mental health of the remaining refugees and asylum seekers was deteriorating. The group had dug wells due to the lack of clean water, and the associated risk of disease was a concern.

The replacement accommodation outside the decommissioned centre was still under construction and would not be completed for a number of weeks. Health-care and psychosocial support services were not in place. It had been reported that four case workers would be deployed for the 700 refugees and asylum seekers remaining in the area, but they had not yet begun their work due to ongoing contractual disputes locally.

Security was also a concern – there was a lack of interpreters to facilitate communication with the local population and community tensions remained high. In the previous few days, road blockades had ben erected and a local had switched off the refugees’ generator because of the amount of noise it made.

UNHCR had maintained a constant presence on Manus since before the centre had ceased operations and was concerned at the lack of progress in addressing the pressing issues. It called for Australia to continue to take responsibility for the care of the remaining refugees and asylum seekers and to play an active role in achieving solutions to this man-made and preventable situation.

In response to questions from journalists, Mr. Lam said that there were still approximately 380 people living at the decommissioned centre. A transit centre nearby was currently accommodating 200 people, while at the Hillside site there were 31 individuals and at the yet-to-be completed site at Lorengau there were a further 19. Despite the anxiety and unhappiness among the local population, no work had been done to build bridges between them and the refugees. The local security services were doing their best to maintain order but much work remained to be done.

CARICOM-UN High-Level Pledging Conference

Sarah Bel, for the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP), said that the Caribbean Community (CARICOM) and UNDP were holding a high-level donor conference in New York on 21 November to mobilize international support for the Caribbean States that had been affected by Hurricanes Irma and Maria.

Deodat Maharaj, Senior UNDP Advisor to CARICOM, speaking by telephone from New York, said that Hurricanes Irma and Maria had destroyed infrastructure and in some cases entire countries in the Caribbean. Dominica had lost a generation of development in a matter of hours, while the island of Barbuda had been almost totally destroyed: 90 per cent of houses had been lost and the entire population had been relocated to Antigua. The minimum estimated cost for rebuilding stood at USD 3 billion.

CARICOM had been mandated to convene a high-level conference supported by the United Nations system, including UNDP. The opening of the conference would be attended by the Secretary-General of the United Nations, the Chair of CARICOM, the prime ministers of Grenada and other affected countries and the President of the General Assembly. Later in the morning, the prime ministers would set out their vision for national transformation and partnerships and the Prime Minister of Saint Lucia would speak on the importance of resilience. The European Union Commissioner for development would also be in attendance and the former President of the United States, Bill Clinton, would make a statement of support. In his comments, the Secretary-General would say that the support of the United Nations system had played a very important role in the immediate response to the hurricanes as well as in the recovery and long-term resilience phases.
Pledges were expected from long-standing partners including the World Bank, the European Union, Canada and the United Kingdom. Romania, a newer partner, had pledged USD 1 million. The emphasis was on facilitating long-term partnerships for the Caribbean, which was one of the regions in the world most vulnerable to climate change. A key aspect was to find new sources of financing for middle- and high-income countries who could not rely on official development assistance to help them achieve the Sustainable Development Goals.

In response to questions from journalists, Mr. Maharaj said that it was expected that the European Union would pledge EUR 100 million and the World Bank USD 100 million. It was important to change the narrative in order to include vulnerability in the criteria for accessing official development assistance, not just for Caribbean States, but also for those in the Pacific and Indian Oceans that were also vulnerable to climate change.

Attacks and threats by States against UN human rights experts

Rupert Colville, for the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR), said that the Office was concerned by continuing efforts by certain States to undermine and denigrate important mechanisms established by the 47 Member States of the Human Rights Council.

Most recently, in New York, during the interactive dialogue on the report of the International Commission of Inquiry on Burundi at the Third Committee of the United Nations General Assembly, the Ambassador of Burundi had stated that the Government categorically rejected the report of the Commission of Inquiry, declaring it to be biased and politically motivated. He had also threatened to “bring to justice” to the authors of the Commission’s report for defamation and attempted destabilization of Burundian institutions.

The High Commissioner had informed the Government that he found it unacceptable that the members of a Commission mandated by the Human Rights Council had been threatened with prosecution for performing the task set for them by the Council. The threat by the Government of Burundi constituted a clear violation of article VI of the 1946 Convention on the Privileges and Immunities of the United Nations, which applied to experts performing missions for the United Nations. He had urged the Government of Burundi to review its policy of refusing to cooperate with the independent International Commission of Inquiry and to cease threatening its members.

The High Commissioner also deplored the repeated insults and threats of physical violence against the United Nations Special Rapporteur on extrajudicial, summary or arbitrary executions, Agnes Callamard, by the President of the Philippines and his supporters.

The previous week, Mr. Duterte had threatened to slap Ms. Callamard if she investigated him for alleged extrajudicial killings. He had made the same threat against her in June after she had criticised his “war on drugs” campaign, which had left thousands dead.

Ms. Callamard, who had clearly been acting fully in line with her mandate when commenting on the situation in the Philippines, had also been subjected to a tirade of online abuse, including physical threats, during what appeared to be a prolonged and well-orchestrated trolling operation across the Internet and on social media.

This campaign, coupled with the repeated personal attacks on Ms. Callamard by President Duterte, seemed to be designed to intimidate her into not carrying out the mandate bestowed on her by the Human Rights Council. The Office condemned this treatment of Ms. Callamard, and the disrespect it shows to the Human Rights Council that appointed her, in the strongest terms.

The Special Rapporteur on the situation of human rights in Eritrea, Ms. Sheila Keetharuth, had also faced considerable hostility in conducting her work, including a personal attack by the Eritrean Ambassador during her interactive dialogue at the Human Rights Council session in June. The Ambassador had referred to her as a “naked Empress with no clothes” and accused her of acting like a “Viceroy over Eritrea” and carrying out a witch-hunt.

Once again, it must be stressed that Ms. Keetharuth had been faithfully carrying out the mandate given to her by the United Nations Human Rights Council, and she should not be subjected to this type of vitriolic personalized attack by Government officials.

All States should cooperate with the mandates established by the Council. None of them had been established without good cause.

In response to questions from journalists, Mr. Colville said that situations that amounted to reprisals or attempted reprisals were reported to the President of the Human Rights Council, who then discussed the matter with the Member State concerned. In the case of Burundi, the High Commissioner had written to the Government the previous day to make it clear that he found the attacks on the Commission of Inquiry unacceptable. Verbal abuse from the president of a country could lead to real harm and the High Commissioner took the matter very seriously.

In response to further questions, he said that the previous Secretary-General had placed the Assistant Secretary-General for Human Rights in charge of the portfolio on reprisals. Given that Burundi was a member of the Human Rights Council, the Council could decide to take action but there had been no precedent for that.

Asked when the list of companies doing business in the Occupied Palestinian Territories would be released by the High Commissioner, Mr. Colville said that he understood that the list would be prepared by the end of 2017 and might be published in January or February 2018.

Asked about the situation of migrants in Libya, Mr. Colville said that OHCHR continued to be concerned about the reports of rape, abuse and slave auctions. He had heard no indication that the Human Rights Council would hold a special session on the issue. The High Commissioner had travelled to Libya in October and raised human rights concerns directly with the Government in Tripoli.

Michele Zaccheo, for the United Nations Information Service in Geneva, drew attention to the statement on Libya that the Secretary-General had made the previous day. Mr. Zaccheo said that on 21 November, the Security Council was holding an open debate, organized by Italy, on trafficking in persons in conflict situations. The Security Council would be briefed by the Secretary-General, the Executive Director of the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime and the Special Rapporteur on trafficking in persons, especially in women and children.

Publication of Syria Humanitarian Needs Overview 2018

Jens Laerke, for the Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA), said that the Humanitarian Needs Overview 2018 for Syria had been published overnight. The report was a reflection of the humanitarian community’s shared understanding of the crisis, including the most pressing humanitarian needs. The number of people requiring international humanitarian assistance had remained relatively stable and currently stood at 13.1 million, including 5.6 million who were in acute need due to displacement, exposure to hostilities and limited access to basic goods and services.

Launch of the World Social Protection Report

Hans Von Rohland, for the International Labour Organization (ILO), said that on 29 November, ILO would launch the World Social Protection Report 2017-19. The report, which was issued every three years, looked at global, regional and national progress in social protection. The upcoming edition would examine issues including pension systems and the rising cost of health insurance.

Event - The Sharing Economy and its Challenges

Hans Von Rohland, for the International Labour Organization (ILO), said that on 21 November, ILO would hold an event on The Sharing Economy and its Challenges, which would be attended by representatives of Uber.

WHO announcements

Fadela Chaib, for the World Health Organization (WHO), said that 29 November would see the official launch in New Delhi of the World Malaria Report 2017. A summary of the report would be circulated on 21 November and a virtual press conference would be held later that day, although the report was under embargo until 01.01 a.m. Geneva time on 29 November.

The report was being launched in New Delhi because India had the highest levels of malaria in South East Asia and the third highest in the world after Nigeria and the Democratic Republic of the Congo. India also had lessons to share with the scientific and international communities on tackling malaria.

Ms. Chaib also said that on 22 and 23 November, WHO would hold an extraordinary session of its Executive Board. The session would bring together 400 delegates, including many health ministers, to hear the Director-General of WHO present the draft general programme of work 2019-2023. The draft programme was fully aligned with the Sustainable Development Goals and outlined WHO’s proposed vision, mission and strategic priorities, including organizational shifts. It was also in step with the Director-General’s agenda for change and reflected the new working methods of the Organization.

In response to questions from journalists, Ms. Chaib said that the Executive Board, States, civil society organizations and NGOs would have the opportunity to submit their comments on the draft programme of work. The comments would be considered and a revised version of the draft would be presented in January 2018, with a view to its adoption at the World Health Assembly in June 2018.

Geneva events and announcements

Michele Zaccheo, for the United Nations Information Service in Geneva, said that the Committee against Torture (which meets in private this morning) woud hear this afternoon the answers of Bulgaria to the questions raised by Committee members yesterday morning.

Mr. Zaccheo added that the Committee on the Elimination of Racial Discrimination – which opened yesterday its ninety-fourth session (Palais Wilson, until the 8th of December) – would be hearing this morning representatives of the civil society on the application of the International Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Racial Discrimination in the countries whose reports will be reviewed this week, ie Serbia, Algeria and Jordan. This afternoon, the Committee would begin the examination of the report of Serbia.

Press conferences

UN Environment / Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora (CITES)
69th meeting of the Standing Committee of the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora (CITES) - 27 November-1 December 2017, CICG, Geneva
Thursday, 23 November at 9:00 a.m. in Press Room 1
https://www.unog.ch/unog/website/calendar.nsf/(httpInternal~Media~Daily~en)/5FF56287D2A18C5EC12581DA003E1EB9?OpenDocument

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The webcast for this briefing is available here: http://bit.ly/unog211117


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