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REGULAR PRESS BRIEFING BY THE INFORMATION SERVICE

7 December 2018

Rhéal LeBlanc, Chief of the Press and External Relations Section, United Nations Information Service in Geneva, chaired the briefing, which was attended by the spokespersons for the International Telecommunication Union, the Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs, the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights, the United Nations Conference on Trade and Development, the United Nations Refugee Agency, the United Nations Children’s Fund and the World Health Organization.

Yemen

Rhéal LeBlanc, for the United Nations Information Service in Geneva (UNIS), said that, the previous day, the Intra-Yemeni Consultations had begun in Sweden.

Mr. LeBlanc, for UNIS, read the following statement by the Spokesperson for the United Nations Secretary-General:

“The Secretary-General welcomes the launch today of intra-Yemeni consultations in Sweden and urges the parties to make progress on the agenda for the consultations outlined by his Special Envoy, Martin Griffiths, by exercising flexibility and engaging in good faith and without preconditions.

The Secretary-General appeals to the warring parties to continue the de-escalation in Hudaydah and explore other measures to mitigate the life threatening economic and humanitarian situation. He reminds the parties that a negotiated political settlement through inclusive intra-Yemeni dialogue is the only way to end the conflict and address the ongoing humanitarian crisis.”

Mr. LeBlanc, for UNIS, added that, according to Mr. Griffiths, the talks offered an alternative to the narrative of conflict and were a critical opportunity to give momentum to the peace process to make progress towards a comprehensive agreement.

Shabia Mantoo, for the United Nations Refugee Agency (UNHCR), read the following statement:

“Nearly 1,500 civilian casualties were reported in Yemen in the period between August to October this year, according to the UNHCR-led Protection Cluster in Yemen. This means an average of 123 civilian deaths and injuries every week during this period.

Each new day of the conflict inflicts more suffering on an already battered and exhausted civilian population. Given the heavy human cost, UNHCR, the UN Refugee Agency, urges parties to the conflict in Yemen to improve the protection of civilians and civilian infrastructure.

According to data published in the latest Civilian Impact Monitoring Report (CIMP), an estimated 670 incidents of armed violence resulted in 1,478 civilian casualties during a three month period. Of this total, thirty-three per cent were women and children, of which 217 were killed and 268 injured.

Homes and hospitals also continue to be sites of violence. Twenty three per cent of all deaths and injuries during this period were reported in houses. Attacks on health infrastructure and first responders also resulted in 154 civilian casualties, while attacks on buses and vehicles resulted in 316 casualties.

The casualty totals during this period were driven both by the intensification of hostilities across active frontlines in Yemen and mass casualty incidents.

Sa’ada and Al Hudaydah governorates, which remain flashpoints of conflict in Yemen, accounted for the largest number of casualties within this period, while 26 mass casualty incidents, in which ten or more civilians were killed or injured, accounted for more than half of all overall casualties.

Almost four years of conflict in Yemen have resulted in the world’s largest humanitarian crisis, leaving 75 per cent of the population, 22 million people, in need of assistance and displacing more than 2.3 million people from their homes.

According to UN data, more than 65,000 Yemenis are estimated to have been killed or injured in the conflict of which the UN has documented 16,000 civilian deaths.

UNHCR is responding to the needs of displaced Yemenis with emergency cash assistance and other forms of aid. Since the beginning of the year UNHCR has provided almost 250,000 displaced and conflict affected Yemenis with cash assistance.

UNHCR reiterates however that only a peaceful resolution of the conflict can halt further suffering and stem humanitarian needs.”

Responding to questions from journalists on the figures quoted in her statement, Ms. Mantoo, for UNHCR, said that the figure of approximately 1,500 civilian casualties related to the period between August and October 2018. The figure had been obtained through a new data-collection method first introduced in late 2017 in three different hubs in Yemen and since rolled out nationwide. The data were based on the Civilian Impact Monitoring Report, which had been published within the framework of the activities of the humanitarian protection cluster led by UNHCR. UNHCR was unable to comment on responsibility for the casualties, but the full report, which was available online, contained a detailed breakdown of the data and further information on the methodology used. The number of 16,000 civilian deaths had been sourced from United Nations-certified figures.

Responding to further questions on the figures, Ms. Mantoo, for UNHCR, said the figure of more than 65,000 was not attributable to UNHCR. It was a figure that had been quoted by the humanitarian community. It included both deaths and injuries and referred to the previous three years of the conflict. It was possible that the figure originated with the Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs or the World Health Organization. She would suggest that any journalists interested in the source of that figure should contact the relevant United Nations entities and agencies.

Adding to the discussion, Tarik Jašareviæ, for the World Health Organization (WHO), said that WHO based its data on information received from health-care facilities. No distinction was made between civilians and combatants, but men and women were recorded separately. It had been a number of months since WHO had issued updated data on casualties. It was possible that the figure of 65,000 originated with WHO. According to the most recent available WHO data, there had been around 65,000 casualties, including 9,604 deaths, from the beginning of the conflict until 31 May 2018. He would check to see whether updated figures were available.

Responding to a question on the situation of children in Yemen, Marixie Mercado, for the United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF), said that, for 2018, the protection case load in Yemen was 1.8 million children, including 400,000 children believed to suffer from severe, acute malnutrition. Severe, acute malnutrition left children up to nine times more likely to die from diseases such as measles or cholera than well-nourished children. UNICEF also estimated that malnutrition was either a direct or underlying cause of up to 30,000 deaths of children aged under 5 years every year.

Jens Laerke, for the Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA), said that he would investigate whether the figure of 65,000 originated with OCHA. [He later clarified that OCHA relied on WHO data speaking of 65,000 Yemenis estimated to have been killed or injured in the conflict, of whom the UN has documented 10,000 deaths].

Joining the discussion of the casualty figures, Ravina Shamdasani, for the Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR), said that OHCHR had a country office in Yemen, which was part of the United Nations country team. OHCHR field monitors attempted to verify every reported death or injury. Victims suspected to have been fighters were excluded from the data. According to OHCHR data, between March 2015 and 6 December 2018, there had been 6,906 deaths and 10,861 injuries. Those figures were not comprehensive because, owing to security constraints, OHCHR field officers were not always able to conduct the necessary verifications. Deaths and injuries that could not be verified on site or by two or more sources were not included.

Responding to a question on a previous figure of approximately 10,000 civilian deaths, Ms. Shamdasani, for OHCHR, said that the figure in question must have originated with another agency. Different United Nations entities and agencies used different data-collection methodologies.

Responding to a question on the obligations of signatories to the Arms Trade Treaty, Ms. Shamdasani, for OHCHR, said that the High Commissioner had recently noted that States that offered support to either of the parties to the conflict had a responsibility to ensure that, whatever form that support took, it did not serve to facilitate the violation of international humanitarian law. OHCHR would call on those States to reassess their support in the light of the fact that, as documented by various United Nations entities, civilians had been killed and war crimes had been possibly been committed.

Migrant rescue ship

Responding to a question on the Aquarius migrant rescue ship, which was due to end its operations in the Mediterranean, Shabia Mantoo, for the United Nations Refugee Agency (UNHCR), said that the search-and-rescue capacity needed to be reinforced rather than diminished. UNHCR encouraged the establishment of predictable arrangements in the Mediterranean for the disembarkation of people rescued at sea and urged States to rapidly accelerate their efforts to improve those arrangements. UNHCR continued to call for increased search-and-rescue capacity in the central Mediterranean and for a role for NGOs that would enable them to contribute to those efforts in a coordinated manner. The primary concern was to save lives.

Responding to the same question, Ravina Shamdasani, for the Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR), said that OHCHR endorsed the position taken by UNHCR. OHCHR was deeply concerned by recent developments. The provision of support and assistance to migrants must not be criminalized. The decrease in search-and-rescue operations by humanitarian organizations and States’ failure to provide adequate search-and-rescue capacity was resulting in an increase in the vulnerability of migrants at sea. States must protect the lives and safety of migrants and ensure that all migrants who were facing a risk to their lives and safety were rescued and offered immediate assistance. She had been informed by colleagues that, in 2018, the death rate in the central Mediterranean was much higher than in previous years and that the highest rate ever had been recorded in September 2018.

Rhéal LeBlanc, for the United Nations Information Service in Geneva, said that journalists might also wish to contact the International Organization for Migration for further information on the current situation in the Mediterranean.

Measuring the Information Society Report

Monika Gehner, for the International Telecommunication Union (ITU), said that, on Tuesday morning, ITU would launch its Measuring the Information Society Report in the context of the 18th World Telecommunication/ICT Indicators Symposium, which would take place at ITU headquarters, Geneva, from 10 to 12 December 2018. The event was open to all non-United Nations and United Nations-accredited media outlets. For the first time in history, more than half of the world’s population was using the Internet. Indeed, by the end of 2018, 51.2 per cent of the world’s population would be using the Internet. Increased access to Internet resources could help to accelerate progress towards all 17 of the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals. The press release for the event included more detailed information.

Esperanza Magpantay, for the International Telecommunication Union (ITU), said that 51.2 per cent of the world’s population would be online by the end of 2018. In developing countries, the proportion of the population that was online had increased from 7.7 per cent in 2005 to 45.3 per cent in 2018. The strongest growth had been recorded in Africa and the lowest in Europe and the Americas. Penetration was much lower the Asia-Pacific region, at 47 per cent, but had increased in all regions. In addition to data on Internet usage, ITU was also releasing statistics on mobile and fixed broadband access, access to the Internet and computers, and mobile signal coverage. Mobile signal coverage stood at nearly 96 per cent, including widespread 3G coverage. That high figure helped to explain the overall increase in Internet usage: many people were using the Internet on mobile devices.

Ms. Magpantay said that 18th World Telecommunication/ICT Indicators Symposium was a global event held every year. Its purpose was to discuss issues relating to information and community technology (ICT) statistics. In 2018, there would be 10 separate sessions touching on the measurement of such variables as the social impact of ICTs, ICT skills, progress towards the Sustainable Development Goals and the affordability of ICT services.

Responding to a question on broadband usage by commercial entities, Ms. Magpantay, for ITU, said that ITU was responsible for monitoring the use of ICTs by households and individuals. However, ITU and the United Nations Conference on Trade and Development (UNCTAD) had a partnership to coordinate the collection of data on a range of sectors. ITU did not collect data directly from companies. UNCTAD collected comprehensive data on companies, including on ICTs in relation to commercial entities specifically.

Responding to the same question, Catherine Huissoud, for the United Nations Conference on Trade and Development (UNCTAD), said that estimates of the number of e-commerce companies in the world varied greatly, from 100,000 to between 2 million and 3 million.

Syria

Rhéal LeBlanc, for the United Nations Information Service in Geneva, said that, on 20 December 2018, the Secretary-General’s Special Envoy for Syria, Staffan de Mistura, was due to brief the United Nations Security Council under the presidency of Côte d'Ivoire.

Mass arrests in Papua, Indonesia

Ravina Shamdasani, for the Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR), read the following statement:

“We are concerned about the large number of arrests – more than 500 – during peaceful demonstrations held to commemorate West Papuan National Day in various locations across Indonesia on 1 and 2 December. We have received reports of security forces using blockades to prevent demonstrators from conducting peaceful rallies in various cities and disrupting prayer services organised by indigenous Papuan students, resulting in several individuals being arrested and detained. We understand that the majority of arrests took place in the city of Surabaya where we have received worrying reports of excessive use of force and violence by security forces during a protest where fighting erupted between the protestors and counter-protestors shouting anti-Papua slogans. Security forces also conducted search operations at student dormitories. These resulted in the arbitrary arrest and detention of at least 300 individuals. All of those detained have since been released without charge.

While we acknowledge the complexities of the situation in Papua, we are troubled by the crackdown on peaceful demonstrations and increasing reports of excessive use of force by security forces, harassment, arbitrary arrests and detentions in Papua. Such acts may serve as a means of restraining the legitimate exercise of the rights to freedom of association, peaceful assembly, freedom of expression and risk undermining these fundamental human rights.

We call on the Indonesian authorities to ensure that the security forces exercise restraint when policing demonstrations, and that the rights to peaceful assembly and freedom of expression for all are respected. As the previous High Commissioner, Seid al-Hussein, said at the end of his visit to Jakarta in February this year, development can certainly bring with it access to fundamental services and goods that vastly improve many people's well-being. But if they cannot voice their concerns and participate in decisions, the resulting development may not increase their overall welfare.

We urge the Government to act to constructively address the grievances in line with Indonesia’s international human rights obligations.

We will continue to closely follow developments.”

Responding to a question on the origins of the situation, Ms. Shamdasani said that it had been going on for many decades. Every year, on 1 May and 1 December, political activities, rallies and demonstrations took place in Papua, and the authorities always responded with a crackdown. The people of Papua had yet to see the benefit of the enormous economic development that Indonesia had undergone. She could not say how many people had been injured, but more than 500 had been arrested on 1 and 2 December 2018. Although they had all been released, they should not have been arrested in the first place.

Poll of refugee and migrant children and young people

Marixie Mercado, for the United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF), said that UNICEF had conducted an online poll of nearly 4,000 refugees and migrants aged between 14 and 24 years. The results pointed to a huge gap in the availability of services and support. The timing of the poll was particularly important as it came just ahead of the Intergovernmental Conference on the Global Compact for Migration. Conducted in September and October 2018, the poll was intended to make sure that the concerns of extremely vulnerable children and young people were heard at the Marrakech migration conference.

Ms. Mercado said that she wished to draw attention to three sets of findings. First, 57 per cent of respondents had said that they left their home countries because of war, conflict or violence; 14 per cent because of poverty; 10 per cent for education; and 10 per cent for work. Second, 38 per cent of respondents said that they had not received any assistance in terms of shelter, legal assistance, access to health or other services. Only about 1 in 5 said that they had received help from the United Nations or governments, and 13 per cent said that they had received help from local communities or NGOs. The rest had relied on personal networks and fellow travellers. Third, nearly 3 in 5 of all respondents said that they had lost one or more years of schooling. Among those who had left their home countries due to war, conflict or violence, 4 in 10 said that they had lost four or more years of schooling. Nearly half of all respondents said that they had not seen a doctor when they had needed to.

Ms. Mercado added that the poll had also captured less quantifiable but nevertheless crucial aspects of their experience: profound loneliness; being discriminated against and taken advantage of; and a burning desire for a better, safer life. The results aligned quite closely with what UNICEF knew from more rigorous data collection: that millions of migrant and refugee children were living precariously, in the shadows, exposed to hardship and abuse. However, the findings were not representative, strictly speaking, and UNICEF could not verify the responses received. To better protect young refugees and migrants, UNICEF was calling for more investment in data on their movements and welfare; the provision of essential services including education and health care in their countries of origin, transit and destination; stronger cross-border cooperation; and a more active role for uprooted children and young people in the process of making migration safer for all.

70th anniversary of the Convention for the Prevention and Punishment of the Crime of Genocide

Rhéal LeBlanc, for the United Nations Information Service in Geneva, said that, in a message issued to mark the 70th anniversary of the Convention for the Prevention and Punishment of the Crime of Genocide on 9 December 2018, the Secretary-General had noted that, in the aftermath of the Holocaust and the Second World War, the world had come together to adopt a convention to prevent genocide and punish those who committed that heinous crime. The Secretary-General had urged the 45 States who had yet to sign the Convention to do so without delay, noting that, at a time of rising anti-Semitism, anti-Muslim bigotry and other forms of hatred, racism and xenophobia, it was important to reaffirm our commitment to upholding the equality and dignity of all.

Anti-Corruption Day

Rhéal LeBlanc, for the United Nations Information Service in Geneva, said that, in a message issued to mark Anti-Corruption Day, the Secretary-General had noted that corruption was present in all countries, that it was an assault on the values of the United Nations and that the United Nations Convention against Corruption was among the primary tools used to combat it. The Secretary-General had said that, through the peer-review mechanism provided for under the Convention, it would be possible to work together to build a foundation of truth and accountability and to educate and empower citizens, promote transparency and strengthen international cooperation to recover stolen assets.

Human Rights Day

Rhéal LeBlanc, for the United Nations Information Service in Geneva, said that, in a message issued to mark Human Rights Day on 10 December 2018, the Secretary-General had noted that, for 70 years, the Universal Declaration of Human Rights had been a global beacon, shining a light for dignity, equality and well-being and bringing hope to dark places. The Secretary-General had noted that the rights proclaimed in the Declaration applied to everyone, without any distinction, and that human rights were universal and eternal. The Secretary-General had honoured the human rights defenders who risked their lives to protect people in the face of rising hatred, racism, intolerance and repression and called on everyone, everywhere, to stand up for human rights.

Mr. LeBlanc added that, on 10 December, the United Nations Information Service in Geneva, the Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights and the Gabarron Foundation would announce the winners of Kids 4 Human Rights, an international drawing competition to which children from 71 countries on all continents had submitted more than 17,000 entries. Those entries had offered an insight into children’s understanding of human rights and of their ability to contribute to their protection and promotion. On 13 December, in Room XX, OHCHR would hold a ceremony to honour the winners in the presence of Michelle Bachelet and other dignitaries.

UNCTAD announcements

Catherine Huissoud, for the United Nations Conference on Trade and Development (UNCTAD), said that, on Monday, UNCTAD would publish its new Business-to-Consumer (B2C) e-Commerce Index. On the same day, two press releases would be released, including one with a focus on Africa, in the context of the first Africa e-Commerce Week. The publication of the Creative Economy Outlook would be postponed until the third week of January 2019. More details would be given nearer the time.

Geneva announcements

Rhéal LeBlanc, for the United Nations Information Service in Geneva, said that, the previous day, the Committee on the Elimination of Racial Discrimination had concluded its consideration of the last report for the current session. That morning, it was holding an informal meeting with States parties. At its current session, which would end on 14 December, the Committee had been due to consider the reports of Albania, Honduras, Iraq, Norway, Qatar and the Republic of Korea.

Mr. LeBlanc said that, later that day, the Committee against Torture would close its current, 65th session and would issue its concluding observations on the reports considered at the session, namely those of Canada, Guatemala, the Maldives, the Netherlands, Peru and Viet Nam.

Press Conferences

Friday, 7 December at 1 p.m., Press Room 1
OHCHR
Committee Against Torture Concluding Observations on Canada, Guatemala, Maldives, Netherlands, Peru, and Viet Nam.
Speakers:
• Mr. Jens Modvig (Chairperson)
• Ms. Felice Gaer (Vice-Chairperson)
• Mr. Claude Heller (Vice-Chairperson)
• Mr. Sébastien Touzé (Rapporteur)
• Mr. Abdelwahab Hani
• Mr. Diego Rodríguez-Pinzón

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The webcast for this briefing is available here: http://bit.ly/unog071218