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REGULAR PRESS BRIEFING BY THE INFORMATION SERVICE

8 January 2019

Alessandra Vellucci, Director of the United Nations Information Service in Geneva, chaired the briefing, which was attended by the spokespersons for the United Nations Conference on Trade and Development, the International Labour Organization and the United Nations Refugee Agency.

Syria

Alessandra Vellucci, for the United Nations Information Service in Geneva, said that the new Special Envoy for Syria, Mr. Geir O. Pedersen, had taken up his duties, having arrived in Geneva on 7 January. Mr. Pedersen was already working with his team and planning his initial round of consultations with concerned parties within and outside Syria. The Office of the Special Envoy had launched a Twitter account (@UNEnvoySyria) and welcomed all to follow it closely.

Asylum claim of Saudi national Rahaf Mohammed Al-Qunun

Babar Baloch, for the United Nations Refugee Agency (UNHCR), said that UNHCR was relieved that the authorities in Thailand had allowed Ms. Rahaf Mohammed Al-Qunun to leave her airport hotel room in Bangkok. The Agency had been provided access to her and she had been taken to a safe location in the city. UNHCR officials had begun the process of examining her asylum claim. The support she had received from around the world was encouraging.

Asked about the time frame for processing Ms. Mohammed Al-Qunun’s claim, Mr. Baloch said that the procedure might take several days, as was routine in such situations. UNHCR had become involved was not a signatory to the 1951 Convention relating to the Status of Refugees and UNHCR does the refugee status determination for individuals claiming asylum. There were nevertheless had more than 100,000 refugees present in Thailand. When individuals arrived at any airport or border crossing point and claimed to be seeking safety from persecution, it was important for them to have access to the relevant procedures and for their claims to be examined carefully. In this case, the evolution of the situation in the media had helped to get the world’s attention; all individuals fleeing for safety should to be afforded the same degree of support that Ms. Mohammed Al-Qunun had received.

In response to questions from journalists, Mr. Baloch said that it was unclear whether Ms. Mohammed Al-Qunun was currently in possession of her passport. Many refugees lacked travel documents; such a situation did not prevent asylum requests being processed. Ms. Mohammed Al-Qunun’s wishes would be respected regarding any visitors. She was in the company of UNHCR officials; however, ensuring her safety was the responsibility of the Thai authorities. UNHCR had acted quickly by calling on Thailand not to deport her, and had received public assurances that that would not happen. The examination of her asylum claim was the first step; if it was determined that she was eligible for refugee status. Resettlement and finding a durable solution for refugees is a separate process.

In response to further questions, Mr. Baloch said that non-refoulement was part of customary international law and formed the cornerstone of the Convention relating to the Status of Refugees. Individuals who claimed that their lives were in danger in a particular location should not be returned there. As with any other case, UNHCR officials would make a careful examination of Ms. Mohammed Al-Qunun’s claims and establish whether she was at risk.

UNCTAD briefing on creative industries and other UNCTAD activities

Catherine Huissoud, for the United Nations Conference on Trade and Development (UNCTAD), said that on 14 January at 2 p.m., UNCTAD would hold a press briefing to coincide with the publication of the Creative Economy Outlook. The new Director of the International Trade and Commodities Division, Ms. Pamela Coke-Hamilton, would present an overview of the importance of the creative sector in countries seeking to boost economic growth. The creative economy encompassed areas including architecture, media and publishing, software, online and digital games, fashion, interior design and the jewellery sector.

Catherine Huissoud, for UNCTAD, also said that updated data on foreign direct investment would soon be released.

On 21 January, UNCTAD and the UN Economic Commission for Europe would present the World Economic Situation and Prospects report for 2019. The report had been prepared jointly by the UN Department of Economic and Social Affairs, UNCTAD, and the five Regional Commissions.

ILO Launch of the report of the Global Commission on the Future of Work

Rosalind Yarde, for the International Labour Organization (ILO), said that on 22 January at 9 a.m., ILO would hold the media launch of its landmark report on the future of work. The event would take place at the headquarters of the Organization in Geneva. The Chairpersons of the Global Commission on the Future of Work — the Prime Minister of Sweden, Mr. Stefan Löfven, and the President of South Africa, Mr. Cyril Ramaphosa — would be present at the launch, together with a number of Commission members. The Commission’s remit included areas such as the effects of technological innovation and issues surrounding youth employment, skills development and income and gender inequalities.

ILO Centenary year

Rosalind Yarde, for the International Labour Organization (ILO), said that 22 January marked the beginning of the Organization’s centenary year. ILO had been founded as part of the Treaty of Versailles, which had brought the First World War to an end. On 9 January, a new multimedia platform would be launched outlining the history of the Organization, and a series of commemorative events would be held around the world throughout 2019, including the centenary International Labour Conference in June.

Anti-racism initiatives

Asked by journalists to outline the response of the United Nations to the recent upswing in racism in many parts of the world, Alessandra Vellucci, for the United Nations Information Service in Geneva, said that a comprehensive plan to fight racism was in place across the United Nations System. Each year, the International Day for the Elimination of Racial Discrimination was marked on 21 March. The Secretary-General had issued numerous statements on the subject of ending racism and has repeatedly condemned this scourge. The Special Rapporteur on contemporary forms of racism, racial discrimination, xenophobia and related intolerance conducted missions and visits and submitted reports to a number of human rights bodies in Geneva. There were many other initiatives in place, including in relation to combating racism in sport.

International Commission Against Impunity in Guatemala

In response to questions from journalists, Alessandra Vellucci, for the United Nations Information Service in Geneva, read the following statement issued by the Secretary-General’s spokesperson on 7 January:

“The Secretary-General met this afternoon with Foreign Minister Sandra Jovel of Guatemala who presented him with a letter informing the United Nations of the Government’s intention to terminate the Agreement establishing the International Commission Against Impunity in Guatemala (CICIG) within 24 hours.

The Secretary-General strongly rejects the content of the letter addressed to him. The United Nations has been constructively engaged with the Government of Guatemala, at various levels, over the last sixteen months, in accordance with Article 12 of the Agreement creating CICIG. The mandate of the Commission is set to end on 3 September 2019. Until that date, we expect the Government of Guatemala to entirely fulfil its legal obligations under the Agreement.

The Secretary-General expects the Government of Guatemala to abide by its international undertakings to ensure the protection of the CICIG personnel, both international and national.

The Secretary-General recalls the important contribution of CICIG to the fight against impunity in Guatemala.”

Press conferences

Thursday, 10 January at 3:00 p.m. in Room III
Office of the UN Resident and Humanitarian Coordinator in Lebanon
Eight years into the Syria conflict, the UN Resident and Humanitarian Coordinator will brief on the latest developments including the socio-economic impact of the protracted crisis on host communities and refugees.
Speaker:
• Mr. Philippe Lazzarini, Resident and Humanitarian Coordinator for Lebanon

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The webcast for this briefing is available here: http://bit.ly/unog080119