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


11 December 2015

Michele Zaccheo, Chief, Radio and Television Section and Officer in Charge, United Nations Information Service in Geneva, chaired the briefing, which was also attended by spokespersons for the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights, United Nations Refugee Agency, International Organization for Migration, International Committee of the Red Cross, International Labour Organization, United Nations Conference on Trade and Development, World Intellectual Property Organization, and World Health Organisation.

Security situation in the Geneva Region

Security situation in the Geneva region was on the mind of many, said Mr. Zaccheo who
briefed the media on the communiqué from Director-General Michael Møller on Thursday 10 October, concerning the increased security measures at the Palais des Nations

Director-General Møller said that, following the attacks of Paris, the Security and Safety Service of the United Nations Office at Geneva (UNOG) increased security measures at the Palais des Nations and other premises during the past weeks and more visibly on 10 December 2015.  Those measures were preventive and were commensurate with the information that had been received from the Host Country and other sources about police operations being conducted in the city of Geneva and the region.

It was worth noting that the Director-General had said that there was no indication of any specific increased risk against United Nations staff, highlighted Mr. Zaccheo.

Asked about the increased security measures and what had prompted them, Mr. Zaccheo said that it was not possible to go into details about numbers.  “We are not talking about an increase in security personnel; we are talking about a more robust posture, heightened vigilance and heightened security measures” he said.  Some of those measures were not visible, he added. 

Those measures were prompted by the 13 November Paris attacks, following which it was to be expected that countries and regions neighbouring France would review their security arrangements.  The more robust security posture was linked to specific information about the presence in the Geneva region of people linked to extremist movements.  The UNOG Security Services and authorities of the Host Country would keep the security measures in place for as long as they deemed necessary.  

“This is not a specifically a UN security issue, it is something that is happening in the context of the security situation affecting the city of Geneva and the region surrounding Geneva.  We are an important part, of course, of the Geneva community and our measures are commensurate with what is happening around us”, stressed Mr. Zaccheo.

Answering question on whether the security situation impacted the Syrian preparatory meeting, Mr. Zaccheo said that the meeting had not been scheduled to take place at the Palais, and it could not be said that it had been moved because of security situation. 

The UNOG Security Services were in constant touch with the Diplomatic Security Forces, Federal security authorities, as well as the security forces of the City and Canton of Geneva.  There was a constant exchange of information of what the adequate security posture for the United Nations should be. 

Responding to a question concerning coordination between the UNOG Security Services and the security authorities of Geneva concerning the alleged accreditation of a journalist linked to a jihadist movement, Mr. Zaccheo said that the issue of accreditation was not linked to the situation of individuals the police was searching for, and clarified that the case in question involved an NGO accreditation, not a media accreditation.   The United Nations Information Services accreditation procedures were reviewed on a regular basis, and UNOG was now working with the Federal authorities to further refine them.

A journalist asked for a clarification of the necessity of prohibiting photography and filming of security at the Palais on 10 December, and Mr. Zaccheo said that there was no blockage or prohibition but the Guidelines for Media at Palais des Nations clearly stated the need for a prior permission for all pictures and filming of security installations.  It was reasonable that, in the current situation, this permission was not being granted.  The UNIS was facilitating the work of journalists to the extent possible and had shared video images filmed in collaboration with UN security to ensure that these images had met their parameters.  Visual documentation of security personnel in action was also a question of media responsibility, he said, and it was important to understand that some information related to security might be sensitive. 

There was not much that the UN could do about media crews filming the Palais des Nations from the outside of the premises, said Mr. Zaccheo, inviting media to nonetheless take  common sense precautions about what their photos and videos can inadvertently reveal.  The UNIS supported the work of journalists, but there were situations in which the provision of footage of security personnel and security activities needed to be negotiated with the UNOG Security and Safety Service, and sometimes their comfort level in working internally, with the UN Information Services, was greater than working with external media.

In response to a question, Mr. Zaccheo reiterated that there was no specific threat to the UN or its personnel; that the UN was an important part of the Geneva community and that UN security measures were commensurate with what was going on in the city and the region.

Asked about the "evacuation" of the Palais des Nations the United Nations on the evening of Wednesday 9 December, Mr. Zaccheo said that the UNOG Security Services had been informed by local authorities about the need for heightened security therefore took  precautionary measures, such as asking people who were still working on UN premises at 11:00 p.m. to leave the grounds.  “I would not qualify it as an evacuation”, Mr. Zaccheo said.

OHCHR alarmed at the recent state of violent attacks against human rights defenders in Vietnam

Ravina Shamdasani, for the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR), expressed alarm at the recent spate of violent attacks on human rights defenders in Viet Nam and were concerned by the apparent failure of the authorities to investigate and prosecute the perpetrators.  Three violent incidents had occurred since September.  On 6 December the police had attempted to halt the forum for human rights defenders in Nghe An Province, but the participants refused to leave.  Police then stayed on to monitor the session. After the course ended, the four activists were beaten by a group of about 20 men armed with sticks. 

The OHCHR expressed its concerns to Vietnamese authorities and urged them to take urgent measures to ensure the security of all human rights defenders and to undertake prompt, thorough and impartial investigations of all the reported incidents involving human rights defenders.

Further information in the briefing note.

The first group of Syrian refugees arrives to Canada

Andrian Edwards, for the United Nations Refugee Agency (UNHCR), said that the first group of 163 Syrian refugees had arrived to Canada, part of the recently announced humanitarian initiative which would provide a new life for 25,000 Syrian refugees.  As the situation in Syria continued to deteriorate with many falling below the poverty line, UNHCR urged other states to engage in similar programmes, in addition to the 30 that had pledged more than 160,000 places for Syrian refugees under resettlement and humanitarian admission schemes to date.  It was estimated that ten per cent of the 4.1 million registered refugees in in countries neighbouring Syria were vulnerable and in need of resettlement or humanitarian admission to a third country.

Details in this briefing notes.

Asked whether the resettlement of Syrian refugees in the United States had stalled, how the vetting process worked and whether the UNHCR was really sure it was not allowing terrorist to enter the country, Mr. Edwards said that the United States was the world’s leading resettlement country and a very important actor in the search for solutions for refugees.  60 million people have been forcibly displaced worldwide, and of these, 20 million were refugees and the need to find answers to their plight was absolutely critical.  The vetting process was extensive and it was harder to enter the United States as a refugee than as any other category of persons.  “It has to be remembered that refugees don't produce terror - they flee terror.  They are the people who really do need help.”, he said.

Responding to question about the selection of vulnerable individuals selected for resettlement, Mr. Edwards said that those were the people in acute need of help, people in real difficulties.  Some had been tortured, some had health difficulties, and they were in urgent need of prioritizing. 

Answering questions raised about the European Resettlement programme, Mr. Edwards said that this scheme had not yet been substantially implemented, and this was the question for participating governments.
Concerning new refugee routes, a question was asked about Syrian refugees in North Africa, specifically routes passing through Algeria and Mauritania, and the group who had asked for asylum in Mali.  Mr. Edwards had no figures as to this specific route but that there were multiple routes Syrian refugees were taking to different countries.  This was the biggest crises in the refugee world of our time, and more refugees than any other were Syrians, Mr. Edwards expanded.  UNHCR was very concerned about individuals on the move who could not afford the journey or who literally run out of funds along the way.  These people were unable to cope and were in danger of being left behind along the way.  This was happening in all regions. 

Leonard Doyle, for International Organization for Migration (IOM) said that the Canadian resettlement programme was going to evolve rapidly and that Canadians were very welcoming, with the Prime Minister himself welcoming the first group that had arrived to Toronto. 

Mr. Edwards said that to date 944,909 people had arrived to Europe this year and that despite slight decline, a significant numbers had arrived to Greece in December.

Under-Secretary-General O’Brien to visit Syria

Jens Laerke, for the United Nations Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA) said that the Under-Secretary-General for Humanitarian Affairs and Emergency Relief Coordinator, Stephen O’Brien, would visit Syria from 12 to 14 December.  Mr. O’Brien would see for himself the situation on the ground and the activities of the United Nations agencies, and would try to refocus the world’s attention on the 13,500 million people inside Syria who were in desperate need of aid and protection.

Asked about the evacuation from Homs and the role of the United Nations played in those negotiations, Mr. Laerke said that ceasefire was what United Nations Special Envoy Staffan de Mistura tried to achieve.  From a humanitarian perspective, ceasefires were very much welcomed as they gave people a relief and created an opportunity in which aid delivery could be increased.

Responding to question  on technical preparatory talks for the next International Syria Support Group meeting, Mr. Zaccheo confirmed that they were taking place today 11 December in Geneva.

International Organization for Migration welcomed inclusion of climate migrants in draft climate agreement

Leonard Doyle, for the International Organization of Migration (IOM), welcomed the inclusion of the notion of mobility and the importance of climate migrants and climate migration in the COP 21 talks in Paris.  This was an important development because it focused on the victims of climate change, he said.

December 18 was the International Migrants Day said Mr. Doyle announcing that IOM would light a global candle in remembrance of the 3,671 migrants who had died in the Mediterranean so far this year, and almost 5,000 worldwide; this was a shocking figure by any standards, said Mr. doyle.

He encouraged the support to the IOM‘s perception change campaign I am a Migrant which was important because of the drift to the far-right in the politics in Europe.  There would be surprise profiles appearing in this campaign next week, who would help the pushback against far-right, he said,

A reporter asked who were the far-right people fomenting xenophobia in Europe, Mr. Doyle said that it was enough to open any newspapers, and see, for example, the results of the round of the French parliamentary elections.

Food situation in South Sudan is alarming, says International Committee of the Red Cross

Aurélie Lachant, Public Relation Officer for Africa, the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) announced the release of a series of stories, photos and videos, illustrating the humanitarian situation in South Sudan.  For many people, the past two years were a life on the run, in search for food, healthcare and away from the dangers of warfare.  More than two million had been forced to flee their homes and hundreds of thousands faced a critical food situation.  Life in South Sudan was both chaotic and dangerous and many families were separated.

Asked to provide an eyewitness account, Florence Gillette, ICRC Operations Coordinator for South Sudan who just returned from Juba in South Sudan, said that unfortunately what was going in South Sudan was not news.  There were still some 1.7 million people displaced in remote areas and hiding, they were not feeling safe to return to their homes.  Some of them were getting food, from ICRC and other organizations, but there were people who were surviving only on what they could collect from the nature as they were not accessible to humanitarian organizations.  People were still fleeing the violence and ICRC was still seeing war traumas two years after the peace agreements.  Medical care was being delivered to some, but existing hospitals, even those in remote areas, were not covering the needs of all the population in hard-to-reach areas.  Because of the needs, ICRC was restarting, after many years, its primary health care programme. 

Asked about the fate of the peace agreement, Ms. Gillette said that people were affected by armed violence, which was partly linked to armed conflict, and some to inter-communal clashes which were recurrent in South Sudan.  

Responding to a question on the worsening situation in South Sudan, Ms. Gillette said that the main reason was armed conflict but also the harvest had failed in many areas of South Sudan this year.  There was no short-term solution, because progress in livelihoods recovery had been delayed by a year.  It was important to keep attention on the situation in South Sudan, stressed ICRC.

The United Nations

The United Nations Security Council was meeting today 11 December on Ukraine and Libya.

The Climate Change Conference COP 21 was expected to wrap up today in Paris, but according to the President of the COP 21, it would continue to Saturday.

Geneva Activities

Mr. Zaccheo said that the Committee on the Elimination of Racial Discrimination was closing its session on 11 December and would hold a press conference at 1.30 p.m. to present concluding observations on the reports considered during the session: Egypt, the Holy See, Lithuania, Mongolia, Slovenia, and Turkey.

The Special Representative of the Secretary-General for Children and Armed Conflict Leila Zerrougui would brief the press on Children and armed conflict: taking stock of the year 2015, on Tuesday, 15 December at 9.45.

Mr. Zaccheo also said that the discussions taking place in Geneva today, 11 December between representatives of the United States of America, the Russian Federation and the United Nations consist of technical preparatory talks for the next International Syria Support Group meeting.  The meeting was not taking place at the Palais des Nations, and no media events - photo opportunities or press statements – were planned before, during or after the meeting.

Adrian Edwards, for the United Nations Refugee Agency (UNHCR) said that eighth UNHCR High Commissioner's Dialogue on Protection Challenges would take place on 16 and 17 December, and would focus on understanding and addressing root causes of displacement.  A press conference would take place on at 1 p.m. on 17 December with the High Commissioner for Refugees António Guterres. 

The plenary session on 16 December, with a keynote address by Arjun Appadurai, Professor in Media Culture and Communication and the Debate on Protection and Prevention, co-chaired by High Commissioner Guterres and the Emergency Relief Coordinator O’Brien would be open to the media and live streamed.  Details here.

Mr. Zaccheo said that the Human Rights Council might hold a special session on Burundi on Wednesday 16 December, subject to confirmation.

Hans Von Rohland, for the International Labour Organization (ILO) announced the launch of the Labour Migration Report at a press conference on 16 December at 10 a.m. in Press Room 1, which would provide the statistic on the proportion on migrant workers in the global workforce.  The report was under strict embargo until 9 p.m. on 16 December.  Mr. Von Rohland also said that the ILO Working Group on global supply chains would meet from 15 to 17 December.

Catherine Huissoud, the United Nations Conference on Trade and Development (UNCTAD) spokesperson, said that a study on the World Trade Organization (WTO) on the information technologies and their impact on development would be put online on 15 December.  It would be discussed on the side-lines of the WTO Nairobi Ministerial Conference.  

Ms. Huissoud also said that UNCTAD would present the Technology and Innovation Report 2015: Fostering Innovation Policies for Industrial Development at a press conference on Monday 14 December at 3 p.m. in Press Room 1.

Edward Harris, for the World Intellectual Property Organization (WIPO) announced the launch of the 2015 World Intellectual Property Indicators report at a press conference on Monday 14 December at 11 a.m. at Press Room 1.

Tarik Jašarević, for World Health Organisation (WHO) announced a press briefing on the current health situation in Yemen on Tuesday, 15 December at 11.30 a.m. in Room III by Dr Ahmed Shadoul, WHO Representative in Yemen.

Additional information in the news release.

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The webcast for this briefing is available here: http://bit.ly/unog111215