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REGULAR PRESS BRIEFING BY THE INFORMATION SERVICE

6 April 2018

Alessandra Vellucci, Director of the United Nations Information Service in Geneva, chaired the briefing, which was attended by the Permanent Representative of India to the Conference on Disarmament, the Coordinator and Head of Strategic Programmes, Patient Safety, for the World Health Organization and the spokespersons for the Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights, the United Nations Refugee Agency, the World Health Organization, the World Meteorological Organization and the World Trade Organization.

Group of Governmental Experts on Lethal Autonomous Weapons Systems

Ambassador Amandeep Gill, Permanent Representative of India to the Conference on Disarmament, said that the Group of Governmental Experts on Lethal Autonomous Weapons Systems operated within the framework of the Convention on Certain Conventional Weapons (CCW). The following week would see its second formal meeting, which would involve two weeks of discussion. The first meeting had taken place in November 2017. It had been successful in underlining the importance of the CCW as the appropriate framework for handling the topic of lethal autonomous weapons systems, which had wide-ranging technological, legal, ethical, political and security implications. In 2017, the Group had succeeded in adopting a report by consensus. The report set out some basic principles. The first was that international humanitarian law continued to apply to all weapons systems, including the potential development and use of lethal autonomous weapons systems. The second was that responsibility for the deployment of weapons systems in situations of armed conflict remained with States. The third was that the work of the Group of Governmental Experts on Lethal Autonomous Weapons Systems should not hamper the development of civilian research. The fourth was that, as technology continued to develop rapidly, its potential military applications should be kept under review.

Ambassador Gill also said that, the following week, the Group of Governmental Experts would focus on four issues. The first was the issue of characterization, or the problem of defining autonomous systems. The second was the human element, or the various touchpoints in the human-machine interface and their significance in the development and use of autonomous systems. The third was the application of such technologies in the military domain. An expert panel would be held on that issue. The fourth and final issue concerned the possible options for dealing with the international security concerns to which the technologies in question gave rise. Those options could include legally binding instruments, politically binding documents or other ways of crafting an international governance regime.

Ambassador Gill added that, based on the bilateral and regional consultations that he had recently had and the number of working papers that High Contracting Parties continued to produce, he was confident that the forthcoming meeting would be an opportunity for high-quality discussion and that all stakeholders would continue to participate fully.

Responding to questions from journalists, Ambassador Gill said that all the working papers that had been submitted had been uploaded to the CCW website. The website had his food-for-thought paper from 2017, the full report of the November 2017 meeting, including a summary of the discussions held across the various panels, and links to relevant research. It was expected that a press event would be held towards the end of the meeting. He worked actively with industry to address issues relating to autonomous systems. The previous week, he had met with various stakeholders, including industry leaders such as Google and Apple. All stakeholders were struggling with the topic, as it involved very complex issues. The United Nations system, as the proper domain in which to address such issues, was working hard to make progress. The United Nations system was also looking beyond the military application of lethal autonomous weapons systems. The International Telecommunication Union (ITU), for example, was dealing with related issues, including health and the future of work in the context of artificial intelligence. In May 2018, ITU would host the AI for Good Global Summit 2018.

Responding to further questions, Ambassador Gill said that, in the face of considerable scepticism, the Group of Governmental Experts on Lethal Autonomous Weapons Systems had managed to adopt a report by consensus. In addition, it had secured consensus on specific agenda items, which was a not insignificant achievement. He was confident that the CCW was capable of curating the discussion. No other convention allowed for the same balance between military necessity and humanitarian principles. Indeed, it would not be possible to engage military stakeholders unless they were confident that due regard had been paid to military necessity. The rules of procedure of the CCW facilitated wide cooperation, not only with NGOs, but also with industry and academia. The participants in the meetings of the Group of Governmental Experts on Lethal Autonomous Weapons Systems included various researchers, entrepreneurs and technologists. In 2018, he hoped to work more closely with industry associations.

Responding to a question on the goals of the Group of Governmental Experts on Lethal Autonomous Weapons Systems, Ambassador Gill said that he hoped that, by the end of the year, a report would have been adopted by consensus and that a foundation would have been laid to facilitate the identification of autonomous systems and those aspects of the human-machine interface that offered an opportunity for adding value. In addition, he hoped that High Contracting Parties would conduct an ongoing evaluation of technology. Similar efforts had been made within the framework of the Chemical Weapons Convention. Lastly, he hoped that, by the end of the year, it would be clearer what political options were available.

Gaza

Alessandra Vellucci, for the United Nations Information Service in Geneva, recalled that the Secretary-General had issued the following statement on the situation in Gaza:

“In light of the tragic events of the “Great Return March” last Friday, I reiterate my call on all concerned to refrain from any act that could lead to further violence or place civilians in harm's way, especially children.

I call upon all parties on the ground to avoid confrontation and exercise maximum restraint. I particularly urge Israel to exercise extreme caution with the use of force in order to avoid casualties. Civilians must be able to exercise their right to demonstrate peacefully.

I again stress the urgency to accelerate efforts to return to meaningful negotiations that will eventually allow Palestinians and Israelis to live in two democratic states side by side in peace and within secure and recognized borders. I reaffirm the United Nations’ readiness to support these efforts.”

Ms. Vellucci also recalled that the United Nations Special Coordinator for the Middle East Peace Process, Nickolay Mladenov, had recently issued a statement on the situation in Gaza.

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

“Given the deplorable killing of 16 people and the injuring of reportedly more than 1,000 others during protests in Gaza, mostly on 30 March, we are gravely concerned that further violence could occur during demonstrations today and in the coming weeks.

The 16 people were killed by live fire during protests, with reports indicating that of the more than 1,000 others injured, hundreds were also hit by live ammunition. Given the large number of injuries and deaths, the ominous statements made by Israeli authorities in the days leading up to the protest, as well as indications that the individuals killed or wounded were unarmed or did not pose a serious threat to well-protected security forces – and in some cases were actually running away from the fence – there are strong indications that security forces used excessive force.

In policing the green-line fence, Israeli security forces are required by international human rights law to respect the rights to peaceful assembly and expression and to use, to the extent possible, non-violent means to discharge their duties. In accordance with international human rights law, firearms may be used only in cases of extreme necessity, as a last resort, and in response to an imminent threat of death or risk of serious injury. While a minority of protestors reportedly used means that could be dangerous, the use of protective gear and defensive positions by law enforcement officials would have mitigated the risk and should not have led to recourse to lethal force. An attempt to approach or cross the green-line fence by itself certainly does not amount to a threat to life or serious injury that would justify the use of live ammunition.

We remind Israel of its obligations to ensure that excessive force is not employed against protestors and that in the context of a military occupation, as is the case in Gaza, the unjustified and unlawful recourse to firearms by law enforcement resulting in death may amount to a willful killing, a grave breach of the Fourth Geneva Convention.

We echo the call by the UN Secretary-General for an independent and transparent investigation into these incidents, with a view to holding accountable those responsible. We also call on leaders on both sides to do all in their power to prevent further injuries and loss of life.”

Responding to questions from journalists, Ms. Throssell, for OHCHR, said that, according to information received by OHCHR, it seemed that the Israeli security forces had used lethal force in a situation in which there had been no threat of death or serious injury. OHCHR had sought to draw attention to the situation because further protests were planned for later that day and the coming weeks and it hoped to prevent further loss of life. OHCHR took the position that the Use of Force and Firearms by Law Enforcement Officials was the applicable legal framework in the current situation and that, if there had been an unjustified and unlawful recourse to firearms that resulted in death, it might amount to wilful killing, which was a grave breach of the Fourth Geneva Convention.

Guatemala

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

“The parallel trials of Guatemala’s former military leader, General Efraín Ríos Montt, and the former intelligence chief, José Mauricio Rodríguez Sánchez, on charges of genocide against the indigenous Ixil people and crimes against humanity were due to resume today after the Easter break.

Obviously given Rios Montt’s death on 1 April, only the trial of Rodríguez Sánchez is set to resume. We urge the Guatemalan authorities to ensure that the trials of those accused of violations committed during the country’s 36-year internal conflict proceed without undue delay. Ríos Montt’s death should not prevent the authorities from fulfilling their obligations regarding the rights to truth and justice, reparation, and guarantees of non-repetition.

Despite the valiant efforts of the victims and Guatemalan civil society, to date, very few of the prosecutions for grave human rights violations - especially of high-level officials -- have resulted in convictions.

Ríos Montt himself was found guilty in May 2013 of genocide and crimes against humanity, only for his conviction to be annulled days later on procedural grounds. It took four years for him to be tried again.

Such delays increase the risk of depriving people of their right to justice, especially given the advanced age of many of the victims and defendants, as demonstrated by the death of Rios Montt at the age of 91. Delaying justice can also amount to a violation of the obligation of the State to investigate and prosecute serious crimes under international law. To this end, we call on the authorities to enact a legal framework that effectively prevents and punishes the malicious use of injunctions (amparo) and other delaying tactics employed by defendants.

We also urge the Guatemalan Government to ensure the protection of independent judicial authorities and others involved in the prosecution of cases, given the threats made against them.

It is important that the new Attorney General due to be elected next month demonstrates a strong commitment to continue the fight against impunity for crimes of the past.”

Responding to a question on the independence of the judiciary, Ms. Throssell said that transitional justice was one of the issues that the High Commissioner had raised during his mission to Guatemala in November 2017. The election of the Attorney-General was critical, as the Office of the Attorney-General played a crucial role in bringing prosecutions in Guatemala. During the High Commissioner’s visit to Guatemala, he had met a victim of the genocide. The victim had been aged 8 years when soldiers had entered his village. They had killed his father, his mother and all his siblings. OHCHR was highlighting such cases in order to secure justice for victims.

Human Rights in Brazil

Responding to questions regarding the human rights situation in Brazil, Elizabeth Throssell, for the Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR), said that OHCHR was monitoring the case of Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva as it developed. The case was currently going through the appeals process. If grave human rights concerns were brought to the attention of OHCHR, they would be investigated. OHCHR stressed that, in the context of the developments currently taking place, it was important that due legal process was respected.

Migration in Latin America

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

“UNHCR, the UN Refugee Agency, working with the Brazilian Government and partners is ramping up the humanitarian response for the growing number of Venezuelans arriving in the north of the country with increasing needs.

According to the Government’s latest estimates, more than 800 Venezuelans are entering Brazil each day. As the complex political and socio-economic situation in their country continues to worsen, arriving Venezuelans are in more desperate need of food, shelter and health care. Many also need international protection.

More than 52,000 Venezuelans, including 25,000 asylum seekers and 10,000 who held temporary resident visas, have arrived in Brazil since the beginning of 2017. An estimated 40,000 have entered through the isolated northern state of Roraima and are living in Boa Vista, the state capital.

With numbers growing, public services such as health care and sanitation are becoming stretched. Authorities recently declared a state of emergency and have allocated approximately US$ 58 million for emergency humanitarian assistance for people coming from Venezuela.

UNHCR has been working closely with the Brazilian Federal Government to register Venezuelans and ensure all arrivals have proper documentation. Once documented, Venezuelan asylum-seekers, as well as those with special stay permits, have the right to work, and access health, education and other basic services.

Brazil’s Federal Government Committee on the Emergency Response to the Venezuelan influx, which is coordinating the humanitarian response in Roraima, is working with UNHCR to ensure Venezuelans have access to health care and proper shelter, and that they are being provided with basic aid items such as personal hygiene kits and mattresses.

UNHCR and the Brazilian Authorities are increasingly concerned by the growing risks faced by those Venezuelans who are living on the streets, including sexual exploitation and violence. To meet shelter needs and mitigate these risks two new shelters in Boa Vista have been opened in the last two weeks. The new shelters can house 500 people each, and are nearly at capacity. Priority is given to families with children, pregnant women, elderly people and others with specific needs.

UNHCR is managing the new shelters, and our staff are doing biometric registration and issuing identification cards for food and aid distributions there. At the same time, the Federal authorities through the Brazilian army are providing three warm meals a day as well as physical security. The municipal government is conducting vaccinations on site.
Meanwhile, we are working with the authorities to identify Venezuelans willing to relocate voluntarily from Roraima to other parts of Brazil. Relocation will provide longer-term solutions for people in need and ease the strain on local communities and services in Roraima state. Two flights, operated by the Brazilian Air Force are leaving Boa Vista this week. One left yesterday, flying 104 Venezuelans to Sao Paulo. The second is expected today to Sao Pablo and Cuiabá, the capital of the Mato Grosso state located in the centre of the country. This is expected to carry a further 120 Venezuelans.

So far, some 600 Venezuelans have been relocated to other cities, where local authorities and civil society groups are helping them integrate and become self-reliant. A UNHCR survey conducted by the Federal University of Roraima revealed that 77 per cent of Venezuelans currently living in Roraima hope to relocate to other parts of Brazil.
UNHCR is grateful to the actions of the Brazilian Government, including in keeping its borders open to Venezuelans and ensuring that all refugees and asylum-seekers in Brazil have access to basic rights and services.”

Responding to questions from journalists, Mr. Spindler, for UNHCR, said that there were 10 shelters in total in Brazil. UNHCR was trying to move people to other parts of the country. Many of them had indicated that they were willing to do so. Although UNHCR did not anticipate a need to build refugee camps in the region, it should be stressed that those affected were still in need of help. Brazil was currently receiving 800 arrivals per day. The number had fluctuated over time. He would verify the statistics that had been given in his statement after the press briefing. The Venezuelans who were fleeing their country were doing so for a large number of reasons, including economic reasons. They included men, women and children and reflected a broad section of Venezuelan society. UNHCR had a presence in Venezuela because the country had once had a large migrant population of its own.

Responding to questions from journalists, Tarik Jašareviæ, for the World Health Organization (WHO), said that he did not have precise figures on the health situation in Venezuela. The Food and Agriculture Organization and the Pan American Health Organization had issued a report on food and nutrition security in Latin America and the Caribbean, which showed that hunger affected a large proportion of the population. The economic situation in Venezuela had an impact on access to health services and the availability of medicines. Under the WHO International Health Regulations (2005), countries had an obligation to report on the prevalence of a number of specific diseases that presented a major public health risk. In order to improve the situation in Venezuela, WHO was working to provide essential medicines to treat a range of diseases and to strengthen hospitals in the region.

WHO announcement

Tarik Jašareviæ, for the World Health Organization (WHO), said that 7 April 2018 was World Health Day. It was also the 70th anniversary of WHO. In 1948, WHO had been founded on the principle that the enjoyment of the highest attainable standard of health was one of the fundamental rights of every human being without distinction of race, religion, political belief, economic or social condition. The establishment of WHO had been approved in 1945. The WHO Constitution had been drafted by a committee chaired by Dr. Brock Chisholm, who had later, in 1948, become the first WHO Director-General. The Constitution had been approved by Member States during the International Health Conference in New York, United States of America, in 1946, had been signed on 22 July 1946 by the representatives of 61 States and had entered into force on 7 April 1948.

Mr. Jašareviæ added that, on the occasion of its anniversary, WHO was promoting the principle of the enjoyment of the highest attainable standard of health. That principle was as valid in 2018 as it had been in 1948 and lay at the heart of the Sustainable Development Agenda. WHO was calling for universal health coverage because the evidence showed that all countries, at all income levels, could make progress with the resources that they had. At least half of the world’s population did not receive necessary essential health services. Payments for health services were pushing around 100 million people into extreme poverty. Over 800 million people (almost 12 percent of the world’s population) spent at least 10 percent of their household budgets on health expenses for themselves, a sick child or another family member. Countries were approaching universal health coverage in different ways. There was no single path. All countries had to find their own way, in the context of their own social, political and economic circumstances. But every country could do something to advance universal health coverage.

Dr. Edward Kelley, Coordinator and Head of Strategic Programmes, Patient Safety, World Health Organization (WHO), said that more progress had been made in health over recent decades than in almost any other sphere. Globally, there had been an enormous increase in life expectancy. Some of the greatest gains had been made in children’s health. Between 1990 and 2016, the number of children who died before reaching the age of 5 years had fallen by 6 million. In cooperation with other stakeholders, WHO had played a leading role in improving the world’s health. It had made efforts to eradicate diseases, including smallpox, and to fight damaging habits, such as tobacco use. The Framework Convention on Tobacco Control and the Expanded Programme on Immunization were two examples of those efforts. The latter had averted an estimated 2 to 3 million deaths per year. WHO had also worked with partners to issue HIV recommendations for earlier and simpler treatment, which had helped 21 million people to access life-saving treatment for HIV, and had contributed to the development of vaccines to meningitis and Ebola. WHO had also made enormous conceptual contributions. Without the International Classification of Diseases, for example, there would be no common language with which to talk about diseases. In addition, the Global Health Observatory served as a gateway to health-related statistics from around the world.

Dr. Kelley added, however, that there remained many challenges, often of an intersectoral nature. One was the rise of non-communicable diseases, which killed 40 million people per year, amounting to 70 per cent of all deaths. Some 80 per cent of those deaths occurred in low- and middle-income countries. Urbanization was another such challenge. WHO had worked very closely with the United Nations Refugee Agency and the International Organization for Migration on migration and refugee health and had recently approved relevant principles and priorities. Other threats included microbial resistance, the risks to health of climate change and the possibility that innovation in medicine would worsen inequalities. In the context of those various challenges and threats, WHO had identified universal health coverage as an overarching aim for the future. That aim was set out in the draft general programme of work that would be approved at the World Health Assembly. It was at the heart of the efforts being made to combat, inter alia, communicable diseases, non-communicable diseases and antimicrobial resistance. WHO had placed emphasis on extending essential health coverage to an additional 1 billion people by 2023. Political leadership would be critical. It was fitting that 2018 was the 40th anniversary of the 1978 Declaration of Alma-Ata, which placed primary care at the heart of essential health coverage. WHO had produced branded t-shirts to mark its 70th anniversary.

Alessandra Vellucci, for the United Nations Information Service in Geneva, said that, ahead of of World Health Day, the Secretary-General had issued a statement calling for all people to have access to the health services that they needed.

Responding to questions from journalists, Dr. Kelley for WHO said that there was no one path towards universal health coverage. Different countries would work towards that aim in different ways. For that reason, the term “progressive realization of universal health coverage” was often used in that context. In addition, there was no single metric for universal health coverage. To give one example, in Cambodia, primary-care services for hypertension and basic cancer screening were currently being expanded, which made its progress difficult to capture in a single metric. One possible source of statistics was the report that came out of the Universal Health Coverage Forum 2017. Progress was being made towards achieving the target set under the draft general programme of work, but efforts would need to be stepped up significantly. Impressive progress had been observed in many African countries in recent years.

Responding to a question on health care in the United States of America, Dr. Kelley for WHO said that the variations within countries were often greater than the variations between them. The United States of America had pockets of excellence in a number of fields, including health-care delivery and digital health. At the same time, WHO experience showed that countries such as the United States of America could benefit from the experience of countries such as Uganda.

OHCA announcement

Alessandra Vellucci, for the United Nations Information Service in Geneva, speaking on behalf of the Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA), said that OCHA, the Netherlands, the United Arab Emirates and the European Union would host a Humanitarian Conference on the Democratic Republic of the Congo on Friday, 13 April, at the Palais des Nations. Mark Lowcock, Under-Secretary-General for Humanitarian affairs and Emergency Relief Coordinator, would be chairing the event. Other speakers would include Sigrid Kaag, Minister for Foreign Trade and Development Cooperation, Netherlands; Reem Ebrahim Al Hashimy, Minister of State for International Cooperation, United Arab Emirates; and Christos Stylianides, European Commissioner for Humanitarian Aid and Crisis Management. Further information, including the final programme, would be announced by the beginning of the following week. There would be a media opportunity at a time to be confirmed.

WMO March briefing

Clare Nullis, for the World Meteorological Organization (WMO), said that March 2018 had been the third warmest on record, according to the European Centre for Medium Range Weather Forecasting Copernicus Climate Change service. However, it had not been as warm as March 2016 or March 2017. Large differences had been observed within Europe in March 2018. Spain had experienced 163 mm of rainfall, which was more than three times the long-term average. In France, Mediterranean regions had seen two to four times more rain than average. Temperatures had been substantially above average over a large region stretching from north-eastern Africa through the Middle East and into China and the Indian sub-continent. Pakistan, for instance, had experienced a heatwave with temperatures of up to 45°C. At least 34 meteorological stations broke temperature records for March. Bahrain had experienced a mean temperature of 24.6°C, which was 3.6°C above the long-term average. WMO would publish and distribute a round-up on March 2018 later that day.

WMO Hurricane Committee

Clare Nullis, for the World Meteorological Organization (WMO), said that the WMO Hurricane Committee would meet the following week in Martinique. The year 2017 had been exceptionally active. For that reason, the meeting would last five days instead of the usual four. The 2017 Atlantic hurricane season had been one of the most destructive on record. Damage costs had exceeded USD 250 billion in the United States of America alone, whilst recovery for the worst-hit Caribbean islands, such as Dominica, would take years. For the first time on record, three category 4 hurricanes had made landfall in the United States of America, and six category 5 landfalls had occurred across the Caribbean basin. Several hundred people had died, but the death toll would have been much higher without a warning system. The Hurricane Committee worked to improve the operational procedures in place. It was also responsible for naming hurricanes. More information would be made available once it had made its naming decisions the following week.

Responding to a question on the work of the Hurricane Committee, Ms. Nullis said that the hurricane season ran from May to November in the Atlantic. A meeting was usually held in late March or early April to review to previous season and to ensure that all necessary operational plans were in place for the following one.

WTO announcement

Fernando Puchol, for the World Trade Organization (WTO), said that, on Thursday, 12 April, WTO would release its world trade statistics. The figures would provide an overview of trade in goods and services in 2017 and the WTO’s 2018 and 2019 forecasts for world trade. A detailed press release containing the 2017 figures and projections for 2018 and 2019 would be distributed to the press under embargo at 10 a.m. on Thursday in Room D at WTO headquarters during a two-hour lock-down. Journalists would be required to stay in the room and would not be able to communicate any materials related with the statistics with anyone outside during the embargo period. WTO Director-General Roberto Azevêdo and Chief Economist Robert Koopman would hold a press conference at 11 a.m. The embargo would be lifted at noon Geneva time. The press release would be available online from 1 p.m. Geneva time. Audio outlets would be available at the back of room D. Full audio from the press conference would be posted online approximately 1 hour after the end of the press conference.

Mr. Puchol added that the video of the event would also be posted on YouTube by early afternoon. Journalists were able to attend with United Nations press badges but, if they intended to bring a camera crew or photographers, they should notify WTO in advance if they wished to organize space or if they or their colleagues did not have a WTO or a United Nations press badge. The WTO would distribute video of the press conference, including soundbites from Roberto Azevêdo and Robert Koopman and additional footage from the press conference and WTO exteriors. The video was free of rights for use by broadcasters. Files would be available after 2 p.m. Geneva time at the WTO broadcast video page. Journalists could obtain further details by contacting WTO TV staff.

Responding to questions from journalists, Mr. Puchol said that the Director-General would be present for the duration of the press conference. At the Dispute Settlement Body meeting scheduled for Monday, 9 April, issues that were not on the agenda could be raised.

Geneva events and announcements

Alessandra Vellucci, for the United Nations Information Service in Geneva, said that day, the Human Rights Committee would close its 122nd session and issue its concluding observations on the reports of the five countries reviewed during the session, namely Guatemala, El Salvador, Norway, Hungary and Lebanon.

Ms. Vellucci also said that the 28th session of the Committee on the Protection of the Rights of All Migrant Workers and Members of Their Families would begin on Monday, 9 April, at 10 a.m. During the session, the Committee would review the reports of Algeria, Guyana and Saint Vincent, and the Grenadines.

Ms. Vellucci added that, the following week, Erik Solheim, Executive Director of the United Nations Environment Programme, would come to Geneva. His schedule did not allow for a press conference. However, he was available for one-to-one interviews with journalists, and those interested should contact Alejandro Laguna to request an interview.

Press Conferences

UNCTAD
Wednesday, 11 April at 11:00 a.m. in Press Room 1
Subject: Pre-view on the Global Commodities Forum - 23 & 24 April 2018
https://goo.gl/weMFTT

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The webcast for this briefing is available here: https://goo.gl/V8kFEu