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


24 November 2017

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

Syria talks

Alessandra Vellucci, for the United Nations Information Service in Geneva, introduced Vittorio Cammarota (vittorio.cammarota@un.org) , from the Department of Public Information, who would be assisting with the media arrangements for the upcoming Syria talks.

As stated by the Special Envoy for Syria, Staffan de Mistura, it was expected that there would be two rounds of talks in Geneva before the end of 2017, with the first beginning on 28 November. Details of the discussions would be announced by the Special Envoy when he briefed the Security Council on 27 November. [The Director of the Information Service later clarified that the Special Envoy would be briefing the Security Council from Geneva at 10 a.m. New York time – 4 p.m. Geneva time. Journalist would be able to follow the public part of the briefing on webtv.un.org].

It was hoped that a note with further details would be sent to correspondents as soon as possible, including the arrangements for a possible press briefing by Mr. de Mistura. Media accreditation would initially be issued for a period of two weeks and would be extended if necessary. Room V would be used as the Media Centre at the Palais as of 28 November 2017.

Security incident

Alessandra Vellucci, for the United Nations Information Service in Geneva, said that the individual who was suspected of being responsible for the security incident that had affected the press room at the Palais des Nations on 15 November had been apprehended for a second time while trying to gain access to other United Nations premises in Geneva. Some items of property that had gone missing from the Palais des Nations had been found in her possession. The investigation was ongoing and all leads were being actively pursued. The Information Service would meet with ACANU, the Association of United Nations Correspondents, to discuss proposals to enhance security for the press rooms.

In response to questions from journalists, Ms. Vellucci said that the administrative services were examining the insurance situation and discussions would be held individually with the journalists who had been affected by the incident.


Jens Laerke, for Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA), said that the United Nations had been notified through its contacts in Riyadh that the regular passenger flight operated by UNHAS, the United Nations Humanitarian Air Service, would be able fly to Sana'a from Amman starting on 25 November, at an as-yet undetermined time.

The United Nations was encouraged by the clearance of the flight, which might soon be followed by flights from Djibouti to Sana’a.

However, there had been no substantial change since 23 November regarding the requests for clearance to enter Hudaydah and Saleef seaports by boat with humanitarian supplies. The United Nations had requested to bring in to Hudaydah a shipment of wheat that was currently offshore. Another boat carrying cholera equipment was waiting in Djibouti in the hope of entering Hudaydah as well.

The United Nations stressed the critical importance of resuming commercial imports as well, in particular of fuel supplies for the humanitarian response and for water pumping.

Humanitarians were serving the needs of 7 million people who were completely dependent on aid and also supplying clean water to 4 million people at a time when there was a threat of famine in the country. With the cholera outbreak just starting to diminish in the country, the concern was that the gains that had been made in tackling cholera and famine would be reversed by the blockade. Thankfully some movement was starting to be seen.

In response to questions from journalists, Mr. Laerke said that as soon as the news of the lifting of the flight restrictions had been received, requests for access to Hudaydah and Saleef ports had been sent via the usual channels, but no response to those requests had been received as yet. With regard to the UNHAS flight, he did not have details of who or what would be transported by the plane. Large numbers of humanitarian personnel were waiting to enter and exit Yemen as part of the continuous rotation of staff.

Bangladesh and Myanmar agreement

Adrian Edwards, for the United Nations Refugee Agency (UNHCR), said that UNHCR had taken note of reports that the Governments of Bangladesh and Myanmar had reached agreement on the return of Rohingya refugees to Myanmar. Some 622,000 people had fled Myanmar’s northern Rakhine State since 25 August, triggered by a wave of violence underpinned by denial of citizenship and decades of deep discrimination.

UNHCR had not yet seen the details of the agreement. Refugees had the right to return, and a framework that enabled them to exercise that right in line with international standards would be welcome. First and foremost, that meant that return had to be voluntary and take place in safe and dignified conditions that paved the way for lasting solutions.

At present, conditions in Myanmar’s Rakhine State were not in place to enable safe and sustainable returns. Refugees were still fleeing and many had suffered violence, rape, and deep psychological harm. Some had witnessed the deaths of family members and friends. Most had little or nothing to go back to, their homes and villages destroyed. Deep divisions between communities remained unaddressed and humanitarian access in northern Rakhine State remained negligible.

It was critical that returns did not take place precipitously or prematurely and without the informed consent of refugees or the basic elements of lasting solutions in place. People had to have the option of returning home and not be confined to specific areas. Progress towards addressing the root causes of flight, including their lack of citizenship, as recommended by the Rakhine Advisory Commission, would also be crucial.

UNHCR looked forward to seeing details of the agreement between the two countries, and stood ready to help both Governments work towards a solution for the Rohingya refugees in Bangladesh that met international refugee and human rights standards.

In response to questions from journalists, Mr. Edwards said that UNHCR had yet to see the full text of the agreement between Bangladesh and Myanmar. The Agency had not participated in the discussions that had led to the agreement and it was not yet clear whether it would be involved in the return of the refugees. Neither was it clear when the returns might begin and whether the agreement would apply solely to those refugees who had fled since 25 August or also to those who had crossed into Bangladesh in previous years. The Agency had heard reports that some of the refugees wanted to return, while others were fearful of doing so. Before returns could take place, the high rates of trauma among the refugees and the issue of citizenship for the Rohingya had to be addressed. UNHCR had had staff in Maungdaw throughout the recent crisis but had been unable to undertake its regular work in Rakhine State.

Forum on Business and Human Rights

Jeremy Laurence, for the Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR), introduced Ulrik Halsteen, Secretary of the Working Group on Business and Human Rights.

Mr. Halsteen announced that on 27, 28 and 29 November, the Forum on Business and Human Rights would take place at the Palais des Nations in Geneva. The Forum enabled business and government leaders to come together on an equal footing and participate on panels with other actors including indigenous leaders and human rights defenders.

The Forum, which had been established by the Human Rights Council, had first taken place in 2012 and since then had seen increased levels of interest each year. More than 2,500 participants from all over the world had registered for the upcoming edition. The programme included many high-calibre speakers, including the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights, a Government Minister from Malaysia and the CEO of a major financial institution.

The overarching theme for this year’s Forum was access to justice for victims of business-related human rights abuses. In keeping with the focus on current trends, there would be country-specific sessions on respect for human rights in the mining and textile sectors and in the context of the preparations for the 2020 Olympic Games. It was encouraging to see increasing numbers of companies and governments engaging in open dialogue within the framework of the Forum.

In answer to questions from journalists, Mr. Halsteen said that parallel negotiations were ongoing regarding a legally binding instrument on business and human rights. A list of the Forum participants could be found on the webpage of the Human Rights Council. The Forum covered all geographic regions and provided a platform for companies and Governments to make important announcements and commitments.

Migration in the Mediterranean

Jorge Galindo, for the International Organization for Migration (IOM), said that on 24 November, IOM’s Global Migration Data Analysis Centre had released a new report entitled “Four Decades of Cross-Mediterranean Undocumented Migration to Europe”, which had reviewed the evidence and concluded that Europe’s Mediterranean border was “by far the world’s deadliest.”

Relying on analysis of IOM estimates from the Missing Migrants Project, the report stated that at least 33,761 migrants had been reported to have died or gone missing in the Mediterranean between 2000 and 30 June 2017. The report’s author, Professor Philippe Fargues of the European University Institute, had noted that the number likely under-reported the actual scale of the human tragedy, even as the record number of migrant deaths may have begun to subside in 2017 due in part to cooperation between the EU and both Turkey and Libya to stem migrant flows.

In the report, Professor Fargues had said that “Stopping migration and eradicating deaths at sea may [be] conflicting objectives. Shutting the shorter and less dangerous routes can open longer and more dangerous routes, thus increasing the likelihood of dying at sea.”

The report analyzed irregular migration across the Mediterranean since the 1970s. It highlighted that irregular arrivals to Europe had increased in response to more restrictive migration policies by some European countries.

The study also highlighted differences between the modern pattern of migration from Africa to Italy, mostly via Libya, and that from the Middle East to Greece via Turkey. For example, Professor Fargues concluded that since 2009, “arrivals to Greece from Turkey are primarily of nationals from origin states affected by conflict and political instability (Iraq, Afghanistan, and Syria), who would be likely to receive refugee status in the EU.” These asylum-seekers had no options for humanitarian visas or regular migration in their countries of origin, the report stated.

IOM Announcement

Jorge Galindo, for the International Organization for Migration (IOM), said that on 28 November, IOM would launch the Counter-Trafficking Data Collaborative. It was the first global repository for data on human trafficking and gathered together contributions from counter-trafficking organizations around the world.

WHO announcements

Fadela Chaib, for the World Health Organization (WHO), reminded journalists that 29 November would see the launch of the World Malaria Report at the Imperial Hotel in New Delhi, India, by Dr. Pedro Alonso, Director of the Global Malaria Programme, and the Indian Health Minister.

Ms. Chaib also announced the launch on 28 November of a report on falsified and counterfeit drugs. A strategy had been implemented in 2013 to collect data from individual countries with the aim of uncovering the reach of such products. A virtual press conference would be held at 3 p.m. on 28 November with Dr. Suzanne Hill, Director of the Department of Essential Medicines and Health Products, Dr. Michael Deats, an expert in medicine safety and vigilance, and Dr. Mariângela Simão, Assistant Director-General for Drug Access, Vaccines and Pharmaceuticals.

Geneva events and announcements

Alessandra Vellucci, Director of the United Nations Information Service in Geneva, said the Committee against Torture (which would meet in private this morning) would hear this afternoon the answers of Rwanda to the questions raised by Committee members yesterday morning.

Ms. Vellucci also said that the Committee on the Elimination of Racial Discrimination would achieve this morning the review of the report of Jordan (begun yesterday afternoon). During this session, the Committee would also consider reports from Australia, Slovakia and Belarus.

Press conferences

Permanent Mission of the Republic of Indonesia
Taking responsibility for the fish that we eat
Monday, 27 November at 1:30 p.m. in Press Room 1

OHCHR / Special Rapporteur on Torture
The Special Rapporteur gives details of his visit to Serbia from 13 – 24 November to investigate issues surrounding torture, cruel, inhumane or degrading treatment
Monday, 27 November at 3:00 p.m. in Press Room 1

Launch of the “World Social Protection Report 2017/19: Universal social protection to achieve the Sustainable Development Goals”.
Under embargo until Wednesday, 29 November at 9:00 p.m. GMT (10:00 p.m. Geneva time)
Wednesday, 29 November at 10:00 a.m. in Room III (under embargo)

The International Institute for Democracy and Electoral Assistance (International IDEA)
The Global State of Democracy: Exploring Democracy’s Resilience
Wednesday, 29 November at 11:00 a.m. in Room III

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The webcast for this briefing is available here: http://bit.ly/unog241117

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