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REGULAR PRESS BRIEFING BY THE INFORMATION SERVICE

13 September 2019

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 Human Rights Council, the World Food Programme, the United Nations Refugee Agency, the International Organization for Migration, the World Health Organization, the Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs and the United Nations Conference on Trade and Development.

Human Rights Council

Rolando Gomez, for the Human Rights Council, said that on Friday, 13 September, at 10 a.m., the Council would continue its interactive discussion with the Independent Expert on international order, Livingstone Sewanyana. At 10.30 a.m., the Working Group on arbitrary detention would introduce its report on the deprivation of liberty in the context of conscientious objection to military service; the use of registers to avoid arbitrary detention; the use of the Working Group’s opinions in domestic proceedings; and comprehensive reparations to victims of arbitrary detention. It would also report on its mission to Bhutan. An interactive discussion would follow.

Following a break between 1 and 3 p.m., the Council would hear a briefing by the President of the Economic and Social Council, Ambassador Mona Juul (Norway), on the challenges and progress in the implementation of the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development, which would also be a dominant theme at the upcoming session of the General Assembly to begin on 17 September at United Nations Headquarters in New York. A number of thematic reports would then be introduced by the Secretary-General and the High Commissioner, to be followed by the introduction of reports by the Working Group on the right to development and the intergovernmental working group on drafting a framework regulating and monitoring the activities of private military and security companies.

At 3.30 p.m., the Council would hold a general debate on item 3 of the agenda – civil, political, economic, social and cultural rights. The meeting would end at 6 p.m.

On Monday, 16 September, the Council would continue its debate on item 3. It would then hear oral updates by the Commission on Human Rights in South Sudan and the
Special Rapporteur on Myanmar, respectively.

On Tuesday, 17 September, the Council would hear the introduction of reports by the Fact-finding Mission on Myanmar, the Commission of Inquiry on the Syrian Arab Republic and the Commission of Inquiry on Burundi.

Responding to questions from journalists, Mr. Gomez said that the thematic reports, to be introduced very briefly on Friday afternoon, were all mandated and were a regular feature of the sessions of the Human Rights Council. The report of the Fact-finding Mission on Myanmar was a general report on the activities carried out during the Mission.

In response to a question about the presidency of the Human Rights Council, Mr. Gomez said that while details were not yet available, it was expected that the president of the next cycle of the Human Rights Council would be nominated by the Group of Western European and other States. Furthermore, the election of candidates for 2020 would take place on 16 October 2019, by which point the regional groups were expected to have put forward their candidates for all positions, including the presidency.

Responding to concerns expressed by journalists about the lack of coverage of the work of the Human Rights Council, Michele Zaccheo, for the United Nations Information Service in Geneva, said that it was indeed unfortunate that, owing to budgetary restrictions, UNIS was no longer able to cover the sessions of the Council as it had in the past. It was important to recall that the meetings were webcast; it was hoped that such webcasts would be available in all six United Nations official languages in the near future. Mr. Gomez, for the Human Rights Council, added that the President of the Council took the lack of press coverage very seriously and had raised the issue with the Fifth Committee and the United Nations Controller, among others.

Cox’s Bazar

Hervé Verhoosel, for the World Food Programme (WFP), stressing that the extreme flooding of the past week had made a difficult situation much worse, read out the following statement:

“WFP has launched its biggest emergency response for the Rohingya refugees this year, after heavy rains and flooding this week. In one 24-hour period, 16,000 people were reached by WFP with food assistance following the flooding. That’s more than the total amount of people we have reached since the start of the monsoon season.

The area of Teknaf, which was worst affected, recorded the highest rainfall for 24 hours all year. Heaviest rains happened on Tuesday, Wednesday and Thursday of this week.

WFP has also extended its support to the host community in Cox’s Bazar, providing food assistance to more than 800 people who were temporarily displaced by the flooding. This is the first time emergency food support for the host community has been requested.

WFP is well prepared for the monsoon with food stocks prepositioned at strategic locations around the camps and can be distributed quickly.

We count on the support of the international community to help us sustain our response and continue improving the lives of the Rohingya refugees in Cox’s Bazar.

It costs WFP USD16 million every month to feed almost 900,000 refugees. Without continued support from the international community their situation will rapidly deteriorate.”

Responding to questions from journalists, Mr. Verhoosel said that the little that refugees had managed to rebuild of their lives had been washed away in the floods, resulting in situations that were both physically and psychologically trying. While most houses were still standing, their contents had disappeared. Climate change played an important role in such weather-related events, with the week’s flooding being particularly heavy. Emergencies such as the current one called for the distribution of special food requiring little to no preparation; WFP had started distributing such food, which it had predisposed around the camp, within 24 hours after the flooding. WFP was also managing the logistics for repairs to access and the infrastructure of the camps.

Asked about a recent decision by the Bangladeshi Government to cut mobile Internet connectivity in Cox’s Bazaar, Mr. Verhoosel said that while that decision did not affect the ability of humanitarian assistance teams to communicate among themselves, since they had their own system, it did impact on those teams’ ability to provide information to those in need. Mr. Andrej Mahecic, for the United Nations Refugee Agency (UNHCR), added that the Government of Bangladesh had overall responsibility for ensuring the security and safety of Rohingya sheltering in Cox’s Bazar. Given the humanitarian nature of the Rohingya refugee settlements, UNHCR recommended the adoption of security measures that did not impact on the ability of refugees to access basic services and rights. Regarding restrictions on mobile connectivity, specifically, technology was an important way for refugees to communicate with family and friends and for humanitarian agencies to disseminate and access information, including in emergency situations, such as the recent heavy monsoon rains.

Order of United States Supreme Court on enforcement of new asylum rules

Responding to a question by a journalist about a recent order of the Supreme Court of the United States of America, which allowed broad enforcement of a new policy that generally forbade asylum applications from migrants who had travelled through another country on their way to the United States without being denied asylum in that country, Mr. Andrej Mahecic, for the United Nations Refugee Agency (UNHCR), said that UNHCR had taken note of the order, which allowed the policy to be implemented while challenges to it moved forward in lower courts. Referring to a press release of 15 July 2019, he said that UNHCR had stated its views on the new policy clearly and publicly, and that it regretted the impact that implementation would have on asylum-seekers. Any person fleeing violence or persecution must be able to access full and effective asylum procedures and international protection. UNHCR was concerned about the people – families, unaccompanied children and other individuals – who were currently moving through Mexico from Central America and elsewhere and who were in urgent need of safe haven. It was imperative that those people be identified quickly and afforded the safety and assistance that they needed and deserved, including the right to seek asylum. The Supreme Court order did not address the substance of the policy in question. It had been issued with specific reference to proceedings that were in progress in lower courts and that would continue to move forward. UNHCR trusted that United States courts would make the final determination on the merits of the case that reflected consciousness of the protection risks involved.

Responding to further questions, Mr. Mahecic said that Mexico had its own asylum procedure and people had applied and continued to apply for asylum there. Joel Millman, for the International Organization for Migration (IOM) added that some 36,500 people were believed to be in the border area, but the number of those who had applied for asylum was unknown.

Latest voluntary humanitarian return flights from Misrata, Libya

Safa Msehli, for the International Organization for Migration (IOM), made the following statement:

“This week, the International Organization for Migration (IOM) assisted 127 stranded migrants – 103 men, 14 women and 10 children – to return to their homelands via a charter flight under IOM’s Voluntary Humanitarian Return programme, VHR. Many of them had already spent months, even years enduring difficult conditions in Libya.

The migrants departed from Misrata and Tripoli making their way to 15 different countries of origin in either Africa or Asia. Due to the current conflict in Tripoli and the closure of the city’s Mitiga airport after being targeted by multiple airstrikes over the past few months, IOM coordinated with Libya’s Directorate for Combating Illegal Migration (DCIM), ensuring the migrants safely departed from the Misrata Airport, east of Tripoli. Passengers flew to Istanbul, where they boarded continuing flights to their final destinations.

‘Providing stranded migrants wishing to return home with a safe and dignified way to do so is one of our main priorities, especially amid the escalation of the conflict in the capital, Tripoli,” said Ashraf Hassan, IOM Libya Operations Officer, who added: “This complex operation took real coordination between 15 IOM missions.’

Indeed, these men, women and children set out for an array of destinations stretching in a chain reaching over 10,000 kms from Africa to South Asia. For that, IOM also coordinated with consular officials and other national authorities.

Within Libya, amid an increasingly challenging security situation, IOM continues to provide safe passage for migrants stranded in the country and who wish to return home. So far in 2019, over 7,200 stranded migrants have left with IOM’s assistance. Returnees reached Tuesday’s charter from Misrata after three other movements by both land and air. Some arrived on a charter flight from Zwara. Others came by bus from Tripoli and surrounding areas.

A young mother, Amina, as she was boarding her flight, told our staff: ‘Today we get to see our family again. I plan to go back to school, finish my studies, and take care of my boy.’

Prior to the migrants’ departure, IOM teams screened for vulnerability and completed medical assessments to assure all passengers were fit for travel. For medical cases and unaccompanied minors, IOM provides operational escorts. Migrants received hot meals and refreshments prior to boarding, also clothing and hygiene kits.

On Wednesday, IOM Libya continued to assist other migrants returning home by organizing an additional charter for 158 Nigerian migrants bound from the Misrata airport for Lagos. Migrants on that flight travelled from Tripoli to the airport, for which they received security escorted land transportation.”

In answer to questions from journalists, Ms. Msehli said that the expression “stranded migrants”, in the context of Libya, could refer to migrants either in urban settings or in detention centres, with some 5,000 migrants currently in detention. Of the estimated 600,000 migrants currently in Libya, many had no solution to their current situation, hence the expression “stranded migrants”. In addition to the assistance provided by IOM to the migrants who returned to their countries of origin, the receiving missions of countries had reintegration programmes, which mostly consisted of in-kind assistance. Although the situation of each migrant was different, a lot of optimism had been observed for the future.

Over 240 refugees resettled from Egypt to Germany

Safa Msehli, for the International Organization for Migration (IOM), said that more than 240 refugees had recently been resettled from Egypt to Germany. The resettled group comprised refugees mainly from Syria, South Sudan, Sudan, Eritrea and Somalia.

Mali

Jens Laerke, for the Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA), said that, unfortunately, the situation in Mali was not getting better, but worse. The number of people in need of humanitarian assistance in Mali had shot up by 22 per cent, from 3.2 million at the beginning of the year to 3.9 million today, the equivalent of one in every five Malians. During the same period, the number of internally displaced persons had doubled, reaching 168,500 on 31 July.

Behind the deterioration of the humanitarian crisis in Mali was a surge in intercommunal conflicts and rising food insecurity. Currently, nearly 550,000 people were severely food insecure in Mali.

The humanitarian community in Mali had revised their Humanitarian Response Plan for 2019. Up from USD 296 million at the beginning of the year, the requirements currently stood at USD 324 million. Despite the increasing number of vulnerable people, the plan was only 30 per cent funded. There was an urgent need to increase the overall funding levels.

Responding to questions from the press, Mr. Laerke said that the deteriorating security situation was also a concern for aid workers and made the response to the situation more difficult. As for the consequences of underfunding, programme scope or beneficiaries sometimes had to be cut back. Some sectors suffered more than others. In the current situation in Mali: Health had received 2.8 per cent of the USD 17 million required, Education, 5.1 per cent of the USD 32.5 million required and Protection, 8.5 per cent of the USD 37.5 million required. The Humanitarian Response Plan had been carefully designed and prioritized according to lifesaving needs; all the needs included were truly critical. With the 30 per cent funding that had been received, humanitarian organizations had provided food assistance to some 500,000 people, as well as water, sanitation and hygiene assistance to 144,000 people. In addition, some 150,000 children suffering from acute malnutrition had been treated.

Ebola update

Asked for an update on the Ebola situation, Tarik Jasarevic for the World Health Organization (WHO), said that, as at 11 September, a total of 3,099 Ebola virus disease cases had been reported, including 2,077 who had died and 941 who had been cured of the disease. There were currently about 80 new cases per week; measures continued to be taken to halt the spread of the disease. In the Democratic Republic of the Congo, a vaccine against Ebola had been in use since the start of the outbreak. WHO had issued recommendations, but it was the national authorities that were responsible for taking decisions on and establishing protocols for the introduction of any new vaccines.

World Health Organization announcements

Tarik Jasarevic for the World Health Organization (WHO) recalled that World Patient Safety Day would be celebrated for the first time on Tuesday, 17 September. In addition, a virtual press conference would be held on Wednesday, 18 September, in connection with the Tracking Universal Health Coverage: 2019 Global Monitoring Report. Lastly, on Thursday, 19 September, a press conference would be held jointly by the United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF) and WHO on new estimates on child and maternal deaths. Detailed information would be provided, including the most recent figures and an analysis of countries where progress had been observed and where work still needed to be done.

2019 Trade and Development Report to be released by the United Nations Conference on Trade and Development

Catherine Huissoud, for the United Nations Conference on Trade and Development (UNCTAD), said that on 19 September, at 2.30 p.m., UNCTAD would present its Trade and Development Report 2019: Financing a Global Green New Deal. In the light of the bleak global economic situation, meeting the Sustainable Development Goals by 2030 seemed a difficult task. The 2019 report recast the Great Depression era’s signature policy on a global scale – a Global Green New Deal – as the right policy framework to make a clean break with years of austerity and insecurity. In it, UNCTAD made a series of reform measures to make debt, capital and banks work for development and finance a sustainable future for all.

Geneva announcements

Michele Zaccheo, for the United Nations Information Service in Geneva, drew attention to the messages of the Secretary-General on the occasion of, respectively, the International Day of Democracy (15 September) and the International Day for the Preservation of the Ozone Layer (16 September).

Mr. Zaccheo announced that a special guest would attend the press briefing on 17 September: Marie-Claire Graf, a young Swiss activist who had launched the Sustainability Week Switzerland, the largest student action movement for sustainable development in the country. She was also one of the 100 young climate champions selected from around the world by the United Nations to participate in the Youth Climate Summit at United Nations Headquarters in New York on 21 September.

Mr. Zaccheo also said that the Committee on the Rights of the Child would hold a public meeting on Monday afternoon, at 3 p.m., to celebrate the thirtieth anniversary of the Convention on the Rights of the Child. During its current session, the Committee would consider the reports of seven countries on the implementation of the Convention.

Mr. Zaccheo also said that the Committee on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities was concluding, on Friday, 13 September, its review of the report of Australia, the last report scheduled for consideration by the Committee at its current session. It would then hold closed meetings for the remainder of the session and would issue concluding observations on the reports of the nine States parties it had considered.

Mr. Zaccheo further said that the Committee on the Protection of the Rights of Migrant Workers and Members of Their Families, which had concluded its thirty-first session on Wednesday, 11 September, would issue, on Friday, 13 September, its concluding observations on the three reports reviewed during its session.

Finally, Mr. Zaccheo recalled that the Conference on Disarmament – which had held its last public plenary meeting ten days earlier and had adopted its annual report to the General Assembly – was officially closing its 2019 session on Friday, 13 September. In 2020, the Conference would be held in three parts: from 20 January to 27 March; from 25 May to 10 July; and from 3 August to 18 September. Under the rotating presidency system, Algeria would hold the presidency at the beginning of its 2020 session.

Press conferences

Friday, 13 September 2019 at 12:30 p.m. in Press Room 1
WHO
World Patient Safety Day (17 September)
Every year, 2.6 million patients die due to patient safety issues in low- and middle-income countries. It means that every minute, 5 people die from errors of all sorts while receiving health care. Most of these deaths are avoidable.
In May 2019, the World Health Assembly passed a resolution on Patient Safety calling for “Global action on Patient Safety” and for establishment of World Patient Safety Day to be observed annually on 17 September.

Speaker:
· Dr Neelam Dhingra-Kumar, Coordinator, Patient Safety and Risk Management WHO

Friday, 13 September 2019 at 5:00 p.m. in Room III
Permanent Mission of the Bolivarian Republic of Venezuela
Visit and activities of the Minister of the People´s Power for Foreign Affairs of the Bolivarian Republic of Venezuela, Mr. Jorge Arreaza Montserrat, during the 42nd session of the Human Rights Council

Speaker:
· Jorge Arreaza Montserrat, Minister of People's Power for Foreign Affairs of Venezuela


Tuesday, 17 September 2019 at 12:00 p.m. in Room III
OHCHR
Sharing of the main findings of the UN Special Rapporteur on human rights in Myanmar and the Independent International Fact-Finding Mission on Myanmar.

Speakers:
· Yanghee Lee, UN Special Rapporteur on human rights in Myanmar
· Marzuki Darusman, Chair of the Independent International Fact-Finding Mission on Myanmar
· Radhika Coomaraswamy, Member of the Independent International Fact-Finding Mission on Myanmar
· Chris Sidoti, Member of the Independent International Fact-Finding Mission on Myanmar

Thursday, 19 September 2019 at 2:30 p.m. in Press Room 1
UNCTAD
Presentation of the Trade and Development Report 2019: Financing a Global Green New Deal (Embargoed until 25 September at 5:00 p.m. GMT)

Speakers:
· Mukhisa Kituyi, UNCTAD Secretary-General
· Richard Kozul-Wright, Director, Division on Globalization and Development Strategies, UNCTAD

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The webcast for this briefing is available here: http://bit.ly/unog130919