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REGULAR PRESS BRIEFING BY THE INFORMATION SERVICE

1 June 2018

Alessandra Vellucci, Director of the United Nations Information Service in Geneva, chaired the briefing, which was attended by the spokespersons for the International Labour Organization, the International Committee of the Red Cross, the Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights, the World Health Organization, the World Food Programme, the United Nations Refugee Agency, the International Organization for Migration, the United Nations Environment Programme, the United Nations Conference on Trade and Development and the Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs.

Humanitarian situation in the Central African Republic

Jessica Barry, for the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC), said it was important to raise the alarm about the humanitarian situation in the Central African Republic. Displaced persons could not return home because they did not have enough food to last them until the next harvest, outbreaks of fighting had forced whole communities to flee urban areas and, despite the efforts of religious leaders, hate speech was being propagated on social media. The whole country was fragile, and events in Bangui often triggered unrest in other areas.

Respect for medical personnel, vehicles and facilities, and for patients themselves, was essential. On 1 May 2018, following an attack carried out at the Notre Dame de Fatima church in the PK5 neighbourhood of Bangui that had claimed the life of a priest, among others, a crowd armed with sticks and machetes had tried to storm the nearby hospital. ICRC had organized a workshop with representatives of local media, who had emphasized the need to spread the message that hospitals were for everyone and that the right to health care was universal.

In response to questions from journalists, Ms. Barry said there remained a high number of internally displaced persons in Bambari, where the Muslim and Christian communities wanted to live in harmony, but were being driven apart by violence. One death could have a snowball effect, partly because of incendiary rhetoric on social media, which was one of several factors behind the tensions in the country. As always, it was harder to bring people back together than it was to separate them. Fundamentally, communities in the country were tolerant and wanted peace. Its achievement however, was made more difficult by extreme poverty, poor health conditions and low education levels, as a result of school closures in the PK5 neighbourhood, for example.

Asked what the international community could do to help to resolve the situation, she said that ICRC needed unrestricted access to those in need. It was crucial for people to be aware that humanitarian institutions were impartial and sought to provide assistance to anyone who required it.

Protest-related deaths and the intimidation of human rights defenders in Nicaragua

Elizabeth Throssell, for the Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR), made the following statement:

“We are appalled at the ongoing violence in Nicaragua where this week at least 16 people are reported to have been killed and more than 100 injured amid anti-government protests, which are now in their seventh week. Reports that many of those killed were shot by police and armed pro-government groups are deeply worrying.
The majority of the deaths are reported to have happened on Wednesday, which was Mother’s Day in Nicaragua, when thousands of people took part in marches in the capital, Managua, and numerous towns across the country in support of mothers whose children had been killed during the demonstrations and to protest peacefully against the Government. Since the protests began on 18 April, at least 100 people have been killed and some 1,000 injured.
We are extremely concerned at the reported arrest and detention by the army of six human rights defenders, including two adolescents, near the border with Costa Rica, in the early hours of 30 May, who were then taken to a detention centre in Managua. We call on the authorities to ensure their prompt release, and to guarantee all legal safeguards, including access to lawyers, and to respect the absolute prohibition on torture and ill-treatment.
We urge the government to publicly express its support and respect for the important work of human rights defenders and to give clear instructions to the relevant authorities to prevent further aggression and intimidation. We are also extremely concerned at continuing reports of death threats, acts of violence and intimidation against journalists, students, and members of the Catholic Church, among others.
We welcome the Government’s announcement that it will accept an investigation into the deaths during the protests by a group of independent experts to be created by the Inter-American Commission for Human Rights (IACHR) and the Organization of American States. However, the Government’s failure to comply with its international obligations in protecting peaceful protestors from violence and ensuring accountability for the unlawful use of force, is deeply regrettable.
We urge the Nicaraguan authorities to carry out effective, prompt, independent, impartial and transparent investigations into all allegations of serious human rights violations that have occurred in the last few weeks. These include reports of killings, torture, disappearances and arbitrary detention after the IACHR visited the country in May. It is essential that those responsible for such serious human rights violations are held to account, and that victims and their relatives are accorded effective remedy, including equal and effective access to justice.
We reiterate our request made on 7 May to the Nicaraguan authorities to grant us immediate access to the country so that we can, in line with the UN Human Rights Office’s mandate, gather first-hand information about what happened during the protests and promote concrete actions to prevent further human rights violations.”

In response to questions from journalists, Ms. Throssell said that an OHCHR official had last visited Nicaragua two years previously. The violence in the country was ongoing. Most protesters had been doing so peacefully, though there had been reports of some people throwing stones and Molotov cocktails. OHCHR was deeply concerned at allegations that police and pro-Government groups had opened fire on demonstrators.

Violence and discrimination against the Roma community and other minorities in Ukraine

Elizabeth Throssell, for the Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR), made the following statement:

“We call on the Ukrainian authorities to act urgently to protect minority groups, including Roma communities and LGBTI activists, in the wake of a number of serious acts of violence and harassment against them in recent weeks.

We are aware of at least four attacks against Roma communities since 21 April.

On the night of 21 April, members of an extreme right-wing group reportedly used rocks and tear gas to force Roma people living in Kyiv’s Lysa Hora neighbourhood to flee, before setting fire to their homes. On 10 May, more than 30 masked men assaulted several Roma families living in temporary shelters in the Lviv region of western Ukraine. Again, they forced the inhabitants – five adults and 10 children, including a two-month-old infant – to leave before setting their homes on fire.

On 22 May, about 15 assailants set a Roma camp on fire in the Ternopil region of western Ukraine. And last week, on 24 May, in the Kharkiv region, a lawyer representing the families of a person killed and others injured during a 2017 attack on a Roma settlement in Vilshany village was reportedly violently attacked and threatened by a local prosecutor and three men wearing military camouflage. They reportedly beat the lawyer, searched his office and stole money. They also warned him that he would be killed if he did not drop the case.

To date, no one has been held accountable for any of this violence.”

Ms. Throssell said there had also been attacks against individuals advocating for the rights of women and the LGBTI community, including on 8 March in Kyiv, Lviv and Uzhhorod, and on 10 May in Kyiv. She then made the following statement:

“We urge the Government to pay closer attention to the actions of extreme right-wing groups throughout the country. In a number of cases, they have claimed responsibility for the recent attacks and intimidation against Roma, as well as the LGBTI community, and individuals promoting gender equality. The attacks, coupled with widespread social media posts that may amount to incitement to hatred and hate speech against Roma, the LGBTI community and other minority groups, are indicators of growing intolerance. This should be immediately addressed to prevent further violence against minorities in Ukraine.

The lack of accountability for attacks against minorities and evictions of Roma in previous years has fuelled an atmosphere of impunity. We urge the Government to demonstrate zero tolerance by publicly condemning such acts, by investigating all attacks against minorities, by bringing perpetrators to account and by guaranteeing the right to non-discrimination and equality.”

In response to questions from journalists, Ms. Throssell said there had been acts of violence and harassment against the Roma in Ukraine in previous years and that attacks frequently prompted Roma communities to flee their settlements. This made it difficult for non-governmental organizations to maintain contact with them.

Asked whether the staged ‘murder’ of Russian journalist Arkady Babchenko in Kyiv might call into question the integrity of journalists and leave them more vulnerable to attacks in future, she said that OHCHR was simply relieved that another journalist had not been killed. Fake news was a phenomenon that the media, governments and OHCHR were grappling with. The United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights had repeatedly stated that strong and independent journalism was vital to the promotion and protection of human rights.

Asked whether the 2018 attacks against the Roma community and other minorities in Ukraine had all been carried out by the same group and what links existed between the Government and the group or groups responsible, she said there were believed to be a number of far-right groups involved, one of which was C14, a youth nationalist organization established in 2010. Possible links with the Government would need to be investigated. OHCHR had raised the Lviv arson attack of 21 April 2018 with the human rights department of the National Police, whose chief was expected to meet with representatives of the human rights monitoring mission in Ukraine in due course. The attacks she had mentioned would be addressed in the upcoming quarterly report of OHCHR on the human rights situation in Ukraine.

Ebola in the Democratic Republic of the Congo

Tarik Jašareviæ, for the World Health Organization (WHO), said that, according to the most recent figures provided by the Ministry of Health, 682 people had received the Ebola vaccine since 21 May 2018: 499 in Mbandaka, 113 in Bikoro and 70 in Iboko. The vaccination of contacts in Mbandaka was coming to an end. A meeting had been held with around 300 motorcycle taxi drivers in the city to raise awareness of measures to prevent the spread of Ebola.

As at 30 May 2018, there had been 50 reported cases of Ebola in the Democratic Republic of the Congo – 37 confirmed, 13 probable and none suspected. Of those 50 cases, 25 had resulted in death. Currently, 13 people were hospitalized in treatment centres. The number of reported cases had decreased because some suspected cases had tested negative.

In response to questions from journalists, Mr. Jašareviæ said more than 700 contacts were being monitored. It was too early to predict how the outbreak would unfold. In any event, it was important for the response to continue and for partners to provide the necessary funds and other support in that regard. The International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies, the United Nations Children’s Fund and Médecins sans frontières were all cooperating with the Ministry of Health to organize awareness-raising events with the participation of community leaders. For each confirmed case of Ebola, approximately 150 contacts would be eligible to receive the vaccine. The identification of contacts was ongoing. The number of vaccines available in the country was sufficient for the time being.

South Sudan

Bettina Luescher, for the World Food Programme (WFP), said that WFP and its partners hoped to reach up to 4.8 million hungry people in South Sudan at the height of the lean season in June and July. Without a sustained, comprehensive response, millions of people would be at risk during what was a fifth straight year of conflict.

As many as 7.1 million people – more than half the population – would not know where their next meal was coming from in the absence of humanitarian assistance. Of particular concern were Southern Unity state and Pibor County in Jonglei state, as rising hunger there had the potential to reach catastrophic levels without a concerted emergency response. WFP was doubling its activities in Pibor County from what had been planned at the start of the year. Conflict in Southern Unity state was stopping WFP from reaching all those in need.

WFP had been pre-positioning food before vast areas of the country became inaccessible by road. It had also been conducting airdrops. To prevent famine, WFP required sustained access and funding. The international community had stepped up when famine had been declared in South Sudan in February 2017 and had funded a huge response that had ended the famine by June. To date, in 2018, WFP had received just 37 per cent of the total funding it needed for its work in South Sudan. Consequently, it was calling for USD 354 million for its emergency operations in the crucial period from June to November.

Humanitarian assistance alone could not solve the problems in South Sudan. Only a political solution could provide the peace needed for people to rebuild their lives and livelihoods.

In early 2018, monitoring had showed that people in some areas had been employing harmful survival tactics to weather tough times, including skipping meals, eating less, rationing and reducing the diversity of their food intake. Some had foraged for wild food. The situation had only worsened since then.

According to the Integrated Food Security Phase Classification (IPC), large-scale humanitarian assistance in the last quarter of 2017 had prevented food insecurity from deteriorating for people in 17 counties and had halted a real risk of famine in the Greater Baggari region. In January 2018, it had been predicted that, without incoming aid, some 155,000 people would be in IPC Phase 5, which was just short of a full famine.

Christophe Boulierac, for the United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF), said that, according to the most recent figures, in 2017, 210,000 children in South Sudan had been admitted for treatment for severe acute malnutrition by UNICEF and its partners. Of those children, 86 per cent had been nursed back to health. Children with severe acute malnutrition were nine times more likely to die than well-nourished children. In 2018, UNICEF planned to provide therapeutic care to over 215,000 severely and acutely malnourished children. Overall, more than 1 million children were acutely malnourished in South Sudan, and hundreds of thousands were at risk of dying.

Help for survivors after traffickers in Libya kill 12 people

William Spindler, for the United Nations Refugee Agency (UNHCR), made the following statement:

“Human traffickers in Libya reportedly killed more than a dozen people and wounded many others after a group of some 200 Eritreans, Ethiopians and Somalis, being held captive, attempted to escape. The incident happened on Wednesday, 23 May in Bani Walid, approximately 180 kilometres southeast of the capital Tripoli.

According to the survivors, people were shot while trying to escape and during attempts to recapture them. The survivors spoke of torture abuse and exploitation at the hands of traffickers - some being held in captivity for up to three years.

The local Libyan authorities have transferred 140 people who managed to escape from the traffickers to an official detention centre in Gaser Ben Gashir, 28 kilometres south of Tripoli.

In Gaser Ben Gashir, UNHCR has been distributing relief items, providing psychosocial support and undertaking protection screening to identify and register those in need of international protection. Following this, UNHCR has identified a large number of unaccompanied children among the group. We are currently identifying the most vulnerable cases in order to find appropriate solutions for them. UNHCR believes that many refugees and migrants may still be hiding or in captivity in or near Bani Walid.

This latest deadly incident demonstrates, once again, the huge challenge of providing protection to refugees in Libya, where many people fleeing war and persecution fall prey to criminal networks who exploit and abuse them or later often perish at sea while searching for safety in Europe.

UNHCR advocates for legal pathways for refugees to travel safely. We continue to call on resettlement countries and the international community to step forward, open more resettlement places and identify ways to protect vulnerable refugees in Libya, and beyond, who need international protection.”

Joel Millman, for the International Organization for Migration (IOM), said that IOM, in collaboration with the Libyan and Somali Governments and with support from the European Union, had facilitated the voluntary return to Mogadishu of 150 Somali migrants stranded in Libya. A second chartered flight to Mogadishu was planned before the end of June to ensure the return of a further 300 migrants. Between 2014 and 2018, almost 30,000 Somali nationals had arrived in Italy by sea. It was noteworthy, however, that the total for 2018 stood at 154.

In response to questions from journalists, Mr. Spindler said there had been many documented cases of people being held in horrific conditions by traffickers in Libya. UNHCR had a programme to evacuate refugees to Tunisia and other third countries.

UNHCR and Médecins Sans Frontières, among others, had visited survivors of the incident of 23 May in Bani Walid in hospital. One of the issues faced in Libya was that both economic migrants and refugees were held in detention centres until their status had been determined. UNHCR had received approval from the Libyan authorities to construct an open centre for migrants, which was under construction.

Asked about the status of the Balkan migration route, Mr. Millman said that IOM was receiving statistics from Vienna on a biweekly basis. The route was becoming increasingly popular, though the number of people passing through was not high compared to 2015.

Assistance on the island of Socotra following the devastating cyclone Mekunu

Joel Millman, for the International Organization for Migration (IOM), said IOM was supporting the island of Socotra after it had been devastated by cyclone Mekunu on 23 May 2018. Working with inter-cluster partners and local authorities on the ground, IOM had determined the most urgent needs to be food and water, sanitation and hygiene. Around 1,000 households had reportedly been displaced, with significant damage to their homes. As an immediate response, IOM was providing shelter materials to nearly 3,000 people. IOM called on the international community to take note of the situation and to provide as much assistance as possible.

William Spindler, for the United Nations Refugee Agency (UNHCR), said that an inter-agency mission led by the Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs had arrived in Socotra. UNCHR was participating in the mission. The humanitarian community was dispatching emergency relief items from UNHCR. Kits had been handed over to the logistics cluster to be transported and stored in Socotra with a local partner and would be distributed in due course.

International Labour Conference update

Hans Von Rohland, for the International Labour Organization (ILO), said the President of Colombia, Juan Manuel Santos, would address the plenary session of the International Labour Conference from 11.30 a.m. that day.

The Conference Committee on the Application of Standards would discuss the case involving Brazil on Tuesday, 5 June, in the presence of the Brazilian Minister for Labour and Employment.

UNCTAD announcement

Catherine Huissoud, for the United Nations Conference on Trade and Development (UNCTAD), said the World Investment Report would remain under embargo until 7 p.m. Geneva time on Wednesday, 6 June. A press conference would be held at 3 p.m. on Monday, 4 June in Press Room 1. The sixty-fifth session of the Trade and Development Board would commence on the morning of Monday, 4 June. A press conference would be held at 5 p.m. on Wednesday, 6 June.

WTO announcement

Fernando Puchol, for the World Trade Organization (WTO), said WTO Director-General Roberto Azevêdo would deliver a keynote speech at the International Monetary Conference in Washington. Later in the week, he would meet with the Canadian Minister of Employment, Workforce Development and Labour, Patty Hajdu, in Geneva, and would make opening remarks at the WTO Trade Dialogue. On Friday, he would speak before the Working Group on Trade, Debt and Finance. On Tuesday and Wednesday, the Council for Trade-Related Aspects of Intellectual Property Rights would meet to discuss intellectual property and innovation. On Thursday, the Committee on Trade and Development would dedicate a meeting to small economies. On Friday, there would be a meeting of the Informal Working Group on MSMEs.

In response to questions from journalists, Mr. Puchol said that it was understood that the European Union would request a consultation on the steel and aluminium tariffs announced by the United States of America. WTO did not comment on specific measures by WTO members.

UNEP announcement

Alejandro Laguna, for the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP), said the CleanSeas campaign was for everyone. Each year, 365 million tonnes of plastic were produced, of which more than 8 million ended up in the oceans, affecting in excess of 600 species.

The main theme of the 2018 edition of World Environment Day would be beating plastic pollution. The host would be India, whose Prime Minister would announce specific policy measures related to single-use plastic on 5 June. More than 1,500 events had been officially registered, and some of the videos produced by UNEP for the occasion had gone viral.

On 5 June, UNEP would publicly announce a partnership with the International Olympic Committee. At an event in Lausanne the previous week, around 70 kilograms of waste had been dredged from Lake Geneva in the space of a few hours.

On 2 June, the first ever Geneva Ecotrail would take place with the participation of hundreds of runners. On 4 June, Tesla would host an exhibition on air quality and electric vehicles at the International Environment House in Châtelaine. On 5 June, at 2 p.m., UNEP would co-host an event alongside the Solar Impulse Foundation in the cinema room in the Palais des Nations. At the event, private-sector innovators would present inventions designed to replace plastic in everyday life and remove it from the ocean. There would be a reception at the end of the event, hosted by the Government of Switzerland.

Also on 5 June, UNEP would release a report entitled “The State of Plastics: World Environment Day Outlook 2018”.

WHO announcement

Tarik Jašareviæ, for the World Health Organization (WHO), said the WHO Independent High-level Commission on Noncommunicable Diseases would launch a report later that morning in the WHO Executive Board meeting room. It would be followed by a press briefing in the same room at 1.15 p.m. On 4 June, WHO would launch its global action plan on physical activity in Lisbon. On 6 June, it would present its Mental Health Atlas 2018. There would be a press briefing in the Palais des Nations at 11 a.m. A media advisory on the matter would be issued on Monday, 6 June.

Other Geneva events and announcements

Alessandra Vellucci, for the United Nations Information Service in Geneva, said the Committee on the Rights of the Child would close its seventy-eighth session at 3 p.m. that day, while the Committee on Enforced Disappearances would close its fourteenth session at 5 p.m. that day. The next public plenary meeting of the Conference on Disarmament was scheduled for Tuesday, 5 June, at 10 a.m.

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The webcast for this briefing is available here: http://bit.ly/unog010618


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