23 January 2018
Alessandra Vellucci, Director of the United Nations Information Service in Geneva, chaired the briefing, which was attended by the spokespersons for the United Nations Children’s Fund, the Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights, the United Nations Refugee Agency, the World Meteorological Organization, the International Organization for Migration and the International Telecommunication Union.
New Executive Director of the United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF): Update on her mission to South Sudan and upcoming Davos engagements
Henrietta H. Fore, Executive Director of the United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF), said she had recently completed a visit to South Sudan, which, in addition to being the youngest country in the world, had the largest proportion of children out of school and the highest proportion of children among refugees. The situation was not improving: the country was now facing a severe food shortage; the acute malnutrition rate, higher than in 2016, was already at the emergency threshold and was spreading. Three out of four households faced moderate to high food insecurity. She had visited several camps where testing of both children and mothers for malnutrition gave serious cause for concern.
Other concerns included gender violence, which was only getting worse and which was carried out by all parties, including the armed militia. Lastly, there were an estimated 2.5 million refugees and a large number of internally displaced persons within South Sudan. UNICEF was working to repatriate those individuals or to move them into livelihoods from the camps.
Currently 70 per cent of children were out of school and one third of all schools were closed, either because of the violence or because teachers or villagers had run away from the villages. The country had 17 per cent literacy.
There were some positive signs, including reports that some child soldiers would be released in the coming weeks, and the ongoing reunification of children with their families – a challenging, but ultimately rewarding process.
While attending the 2018 World Economic Forum in Davos, she would make sure to remember the ongoing crisis in South Sudan. Such places needed all the tools possible – education, health, immunization, water and sanitation, and protection against violence for children. UNICEF was working with partners in all those areas. In addition to engaging with current partners who would be present at the World Economic Forum, it was an opportune time for UNICEF to forge new partnerships.
In response to questions from journalists, Ms. Fore said a diplomatic solution was crucial in the political process. The agreement signed in December 2017 between the warring parties gave some hope that reconciliation was possible. However, the fact that violence had erupted soon after the conclusion of the agreement demonstrated that the path to peace would not be easy. The fact that some areas of the country were becoming peaceful once again was encouraging, as was the expected release of child soldiers. UNICEF had a two-year reintegration programme for child soldiers to smooth their transition to a “normal” life. All countries and bilateral and multilateral agencies could contribute to improving the situation in South Sudan. It was important to keep that crisis high on the radar because of the immense needs involved. Alessandra Vellucci, for the United Nations Information Service in Geneva, added that the Assistant Secretary-General for Peacekeeping Operations and the Assistant Secretary-General for Humanitarian Affairs and Deputy Emergency Relief Coordinator were scheduled to brief the Security Council on the United Nations Mission in South Sudan; consultations would follow.
Responding to questions about child soldiers, Ms. Fore said the peace agreement signed a few months previously provided for the stoppage of recruitment; whether or not the parties were making good on that commitment was unclear, but the agreement itself was a good starting point. Marixie Mercado, for the United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF), added that an estimated 19,000 children had been recruited into the conflict.
Responding to further questions, Ms. Fore said while the indicators did not point to a famine currently, malnutrition was a very serious concern. As crises had increased in number and intensity, so too had the demand for humanitarian donations. Therefore, it was not correct that donations had decreased; rather, they simply could not keep up with the needs. There was also donor fatigue. Therefore, in addition to engaging with its ever-generous current donors, UNICEF was reaching out to potential new partners including corporations, foundations and individuals. Any investment in a child’s life was an investment in development. In the same vein, any action taken in a crisis should lead to good development outcomes.
Democratic Republic of the Congo
Ms. Ravina Shamdasani, for the Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR), made the following statement:
“We are deeply concerned about what appears to be a recurring pattern of repression – including through the use of force – of demonstrations in the DRC in the context of rising political tensions. Last Sunday, the UN Joint Human Rights Office in the DRC* recorded at least six deaths during demonstrations in Kinshasa, with 63 people wounded, 115 people arrested and the firing of tear gas into churches in various parts of the Democratic Republic of Congo. The figures are likely to rise as more information is verified. Security forces also reportedly used live ammunition against demonstrators. Sunday’s events came after the killing of nine people and the injuring of at least 98 others during the 31 December 2017 protests.
Among those injured on Sunday was a UN human rights officer – a colleague of ours – who was kicked and punched by security forces in Kinshasa while he was trying to conduct human rights monitoring of the demonstrations. Military police also fired tear gas towards at least three UN patrols, thus restricting their movements and impeding them from carrying out the UN’s mandate of monitoring the human rights situation in the country. The UN mission in the DRC is taking up this incident with the authorities.
Throughout the country, Internet and SMS services have been suspended since midnight on Saturday, 20 January night, following a similar 48-hour suspension around the 31 December protests. Tear gas was fired into and around churches in Kinshasa, Goma, Kisangani, Lubumbashi and Bukavu, while heavy deployments of the Police Nationale Congolaise and the FARDC armed forces, were reported in Mbandaka, Beni, Mbuji-Mayi and Butembo, particularly around places of worship. In Mbuji-Mayi, security forces prevented people from accessing a number of places of worship.
We urge the Government to investigate all incidents where security forces may have used excessive force against demonstrators and UN personnel. Those held responsible for the killings and injuries must be brought to justice without delay. The rights to freedom of religion, expression and peaceful assembly must be fully respected, in line with the DRC’s obligations under international law. The authorities must also ensure that UN human rights personnel are able to carry out their essential monitoring work.
Violent dispersal of protestors will not resolve the political tensions but will only serve to heighten them. We call on the authorities to work constructively with political opponents, religious leaders and civil society to ensure that the right of all Congolese to participate in the public affairs of their country is upheld.”
Alessandra Vellucci, for the United Nations Information Service in Geneva, recalled that on 22 January 2018, the Secretary-General had once again called on Congolese political actors to work towards the full implementation of the 31 December political agreement, which remained the only viable path to the holding of elections, the peaceful transfer of power and the consolidation of stability in the Democratic Republic of the Congo.
In response to questions from journalists, Ms. Shamdasani said the United Nations Organization Stabilization Mission in the Democratic Republic of the Congo (MONUSCO) ensured that there was a large presence of the United Nations in the DRC. Furthermore, the UN Joint Human Rights Office, established in February 2008, was the Human Rights Division of MONUSCO and the Office of the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights in the DRC. OHCHR was in constant contact with the Government; following the attack on the human rights officer, OHCHR had gotten in touch with the Government immediately. OHCHR was also in contact with the Mission in Geneva.
Responding to further questions, Ms. Shamdasani said that following the huge spate of violence that had occurred between December 2016 and May 2017, and the concurrent discovery of mass graves, the High Commissioner had called on the Human Rights Council to establish a commission of inquiry. He continued to be personally engaged at the highest level. People had been injured and killed; the DRC had an obligation to lead investigations into the violence that had occurred. The security forces must handle protests in line with the law. OHCHR would continue to call for investigations and the holding accountable of those responsible for any human rights violations until the DRC had complied with its obligation. In 2017, following strong international condemnation of the events in Kassai, OHCHR had done considerable monitoring on the ground and a commission of inquiry had been established; the violence had eventually abated. It was therefore possible to have an impact by calling on the Government to cease human rights violations. As the elections and their repeated postponement were the root cause of current tensions, OHCHR was calling on the Government to work constructively with political opponents and civil society, among others. Violent repression would only make things worse.
Asked about the attacks carried out on 31 December, Ms. Shamdasani said although OHCHR had not access to a number of morgues, following a press briefing in early January, increased access had been granted. Concerning the more recent incidents, OHCHR had not experienced the same problems. It had had no access thus far and confirmation of the allegations was ongoing. The numbers in both incidents were likely to continue rising. The demonstrations related the elections had been sizeable, although it was difficult to give exact numbers. Many of the demonstrators had been churchgoers who had taken to the streets following mass. There had been a steady repression of civil society as a whole and members of the opposition had reportedly been arrested and detained. The situation, in any case, was clearly a political crisis. It was hoped that the agreement concluded between the parties, which laid out a number of steps, including confidence-building measures by the Government, would be swiftly implemented.
Responding to a question on the recent attack of a UN human rights officer, Ms. Shamdasani said the individual in question had clearly been wearing a MONUSCO vest and that there was a long-established mandate for observers. There was no question that he had been targeted. If UN staff could be attacked so brazenly, it was seriously worrying to consider how protestors might be treated.
Ms. Vellucci added that the Security Council Committee established pursuant to resolution 1533 (2004) concerning the Democratic Republic of the Congo would hold an open briefing on Friday by the Coordinator of the Group of Experts on the Group’s mid-term report and statements from countries in region. The briefing would be webcast.
Ms. Ravina Shamdasani, for the Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR), made the following statement:
“You may recall that last week we welcomed Ethiopia’s decision to release 115 federal detainees. Well now regrettably, we are extremely concerned that there has been the use of force by security officials against worshippers celebrating the Ethiopian Orthodox festival of Epiphany this weekend and this has left at least seven people dead and a number injured.
The incident, in Woldiya City in Amhara Regional State on 20 January, reportedly took place when the security forces tried to stop people from chanting anti-government songs and allegedly opened fire on them. Protesters reportedly later blocked roads and destroyed a number of properties.
This incident is all the more regrettable, as it comes just two weeks after Ethiopia’s ruling coalition, the Ethiopian People’s Revolutionary Democratic Front, officially announced its intention to undertake reforms.
We call on the authorities to ensure that the security forces take all feasible measures to prevent the use of force.
We understand that the President of Amhara Regional State, who confirmed that there had been deaths and injuries, said there would be what he termed a “careful examination” of the incident.
We urge for this to be a prompt, independent, impartial and effective investigation to ensure those responsible for any violations are held accountable. We also call on the Government to undertake the necessary legal and policy reforms, along with guidance and training, to create the conditions for law enforcement officials to operate in line with international standards.”
Central African Republic
Adrian Edwards, for the United Nations Refugee Agency (UNHCR), said the situation in the Central African Republic (CAR) was measurably the least visible refugee crisis in the world, with funds in 2017 of barely over USD1 for every USD10 needed. The ongoing violence, particularly in the country’s north-west, had pushed forced displacement to the highest levels that UNHCR had seen since the start of the crisis in 2013. Data as of the end of December showed that 688,700 people had been displaced internally – 60 percent more than just one year previously. Meanwhile, the number of CAR refugees in neighbouring countries, at 542,380, was also up, by 12 percent in comparison to the previous year. For a country whose population was estimated at around 4.6 million, those two figures combined represented an astonishing level of suffering and people in need.
The recent surge in violence in the country’s north-west had led over 17,000 Central Africans to flee to Chad since end December – 10 times more than during the whole of 2017. The flow had abated somewhat, but it was nonetheless the biggest refugee influx from CAR to Chad since 2014. UNHCR and the authorities were identifying host villages away from the border in Chad to relocate the refugees. Food and other relief items were being provided. Conflict was being seen in other areas of CAR.
There was real alarm at the displacement situation, not just in CAR, but across the entire region, including in the Democratic Republic of the Congo and South Sudan. In total, there were 11 million forcibly displaced persons; one fourth of the population of CAR was affected.
Responding to a question about the resettlement of migrants in Libya to the European Union, Adrian Edwards, for the United Nations Refugee Agency (UNHCR), said resettlement was needed to ease the pressure and reduce the suffering of people in Libya. UNHCR was still working on arrangements for evacuating people to Niger and to Europe; the volatile situation in Libya in recent weeks had created further obstacles.
Adrian Edwards, for the United Nations Refugee Agency (UNHCR), made the following statement:
“Two months ago, as you probably recall, the governments of Myanmar and Bangladesh agreed an arrangement for the return to Myanmar of the hundreds of thousands of Rohingya refugees currently in the Cox’s Bazar area in Bangladesh. As of today, the necessary safeguards for potential returnees are absent, and there are continued restrictions on access for aid agencies, the media and other independent observers. At the same time, refugees from Rakhine State continue to arrive in Bangladesh. We had around 500 arrivals between 14 and 20 January.
To ensure the right of refugees to return voluntarily, and in safety and in dignity, we are calling again on Myanmar to allow the necessary unhindered humanitarian access in Rakhine State and to create conditions for a genuine and lasting solution. Access would allow for assessment of the actual conditions and the long-term viability of the returns, as well as help address the legitimate safety concerns for any refugees contemplating their return there. Those of you who have been following the situation in Cox’s Bazaar would have seen there has been considerable anxiety among the population. Refugees need to be properly informed and consulted about such conditions in order for returns to be safe, voluntary and sustainable.
A key step towards a lasting solution has been Myanmar’s commitment to implementing the recommendations of the Rakhine Advisory Commission and this has to be done. Turning these into a reality on the ground is essential to building confidence for returns and addressing the tense inter-communal situation. Without this, the risk of dangerous and rushed returns into a situation where violence might reignite is simply too great to be ignored.
UNHCR does remain prepared to work with both governments towards finding a long-term solution to the crisis in the interest of the refugees themselves, of both governments, the host community in Bangladesh and all communities in Rakhine State.”
In response to questions from journalists, Mr. Edwards said that based on media reports of public statements by the Bangladeshi Government, the return of Rohingya refugees had been postponed because the conditions were not in place for their optimal return. Refugees wishing to return should have the right to do so, but it had to be in conditions that were voluntary, safe and sustainable. Currently anxiety was high in the refugee community, especially in Cox’s Bazaar. The solutions to the crisis ultimately lay with Myanmar. The guaranteed safeguards must be in place for the returns to happen. UNHCR did not have sufficient access to Rakhine State to assess the situation properly. Although it had had a presence there since the early 1990s, UNHCR had enjoyed very little access beyond Maungdaw and Sitwe over the past few months.
Responding to further questions, Mr. Edwards said the Bangladeshi Government was reported to have stated that lists of people wishing to return still had to be drawn up and that consultation with refugees still had to be organized. The only information available on the refugees was based on the initial registration by the Bangladeshi authorities upon the refugees’ arrival into the country and the family counting exercise, which had been carried out jointly by UNHCR and the Bangladeshi authorities and only applied to part of the population. No lists of names for repatriation had been drawn up to his knowledge.
Clare Nullis, for the World Meteorological Organization (WMO), said parts of western Europe had seen unusual and extreme weather in the past week, ranging from hurricane force winds, to torrential rain and snow fall as well as unseasonably mild temperatures. One of the main reasons was that the jet stream, the fast-moving band of air which regulated the climate, had been more southerly than usual and had brought in a succession of storms. Thus on Sunday, 21 January, it had been 1°C in Glasgow (above the jet stream) and snowy and 26.4°C in Valencia in Spain (setting a new January heat record). In Montpellier, France, it had been 14.5°C during the night of 21 January – a new minimum temperature record for January.
Precipitation had been well above average. For instance many parts of France had received double the average rainfall since 1 December. According to Météo-France, as of 23 Jan, 223 departments had an amber alert – the second-highest level – for floods. In northern Switzerland, there was an elevated flood alert for the Rhine in the city of Basel.
Remarkable quantities of snow were being seen in the Alps. The French station of Aiguilles Rouges (2365 m in the Mont Blanc range) had measured 378 cm of snow on Monday, 22 January, close to the record set in 1987-1988 (421 cm). The resort of Courchevel reported a snow depth of 549 cm. In the Swiss Alps, there had been widespread snowfall of 100 to 200 cm the previous week and an additional 100 cm had fallen over a wide area since Saturday, 20 January. At the weekend, large parts of the Swiss Alps had been at very high risk of avalanche. The risk was now estimated at “high” by the Swiss Avalanche Research Institute. Snow depths were well above average for the current time of year. In southern Valais, northern Grisons and northern Lower Engadin, in some cases they were close to the extreme values measured at the end of February 1999.
During the previous week, a low pressure system had crossed the United Kingdom, bringing strong winds to many areas. As it had moved off the east coast of the United Kingdom into the North Sea, it had brought very strong winds to north-east France and northern Europe, causing a number of casualties and widespread disruption to transport. Central Germany had seen winds of around 130 km/h, the strongest in 11 years. In mountain peaks gusts had been 203 km/h in Brocken and 158 km in Zugspitze. In the Netherlands, the highest gust had been 143 km/h and even far inland De Bilt had seen 122 km/h.
Migration and the Mediterranean
Joel Millman, for the International Organization for Migration (IOM), said that for the first time in months, the traffic of migrants and refugees from North Africa into Italy had surpassed the rate of one year previously. Close to 3,000 individuals were estimated to have arrived so far in 2018, which was significantly more than had been recorded during December 2017. Furthermore, nearly 1,500 migrants, 81 of them children, had been intercepted or rescued off the coast in Libya by the Libyan Coast Guard or other authorities. In addition, on 22 January, a man’s body had been found tangled in fishing nets off the coast of Libya – the second such incident in recent days.
There had been a number of recent deaths attributable to cold weather and storms, including on the US/Mexico border (5 migrants) and on the border between Syria and eastern Lebanon (16 refugees). More than 300 deaths had been recorded during migration in 2018 thus far, a statistic that was equivalent to the previous year’s monthly average but in a slow period, which raised concerns for the year ahead.
Over the previous weekend, local authorities in Curacao had reported finding human remains that could be connected to the shipwreck of 10 January, in which 5 Venezuelan migrants had lost their lives and which might have had as many as 34 people on board when the vessel departed South America. At least 13 migrants remained missing.
In response to questions from journalists, Mr. Millman said IOM led a very active repatriation programme from Libya: it had repatriated almost 17,000 individuals in 2017 and hoped to double that number by February 2018, thanks to the agreement at the European Union-African Union Summit held in November 2017 in Abidjan.
Asked specifically about migration from Venezuela, Mr. Millman said that for Venezuela, as for much of the Andean region, the same risks did not apply as in other regions of the world, because they could circulate freely without visas and therefore did not need to take risky underground routes. That also meant that statistics on migrants from countries like Venezuela were difficult to obtain. Anecdotally it was known from press reports that numbers were going up in other Latin American countries; however, the Venezuelan shipwreck was the first major one with migrants and it was a deep concern.
Launch of the ITU/UN-OHRLLS Report: ICTs, LDCs and the SDGs: Achieving universal and affordable Internet in the least developed countries (ITU)
Jennifer Ferguson-Mitchell, for the International Telecommunication Union (ITU), made the following statement:
“In our increasingly digital world, having access to the Internet is becoming more critical than ever before for people in all regions of the globe. Without Internet access, people cannot reap the social and economic benefits of digital resources. Digital connectivity links people to mobile banking, e-commerce, employment, education – and even knowledge on key topics such as farming, health and climate.
In Least Developed Countries, Internet access is the difference between night and day. With Internet access come capacities that will enable these countries to “leap-frog” into a new era. And a new report being issued tomorrow by ITU shows exciting progress to bring Internet access to Least Developed Countries. In fact, the report says that all 47 Least Developed Countries have now launched 3G services and over 60% of their population are covered by a 3G network -- with more than 80% of the population in these countries living within range of a mobile cellular network. And, that by the end of 2017, the number of mobile-cellular subscriptions in Least Developed Countries has increased to about 700 million, with a penetration rate of 70 per cent.
The report also notes that, by 2020 – which the target date for Internet Access to be brought to Least Developed Countries under Sustainable Development Goal 9.c – that these countries are on track to reach on average 97% mobile broadband coverage and to make Internet prices relatively affordable. So what this report is stating that SDG9c is expected to be achieved. Which is really great news, for the SDGs.
The report though, also very importantly highlights that Access is only one part of the equation to enable people to harness the benefits of the Internet. That people need digital skills to do so. As such, the report loudly calls for increased efforts by policy makers, industry leaders and educational systems to work together to increase digital skills across Least Developed Countries.”
Responding to questions from journalists, Ms. Ferguson-Mitchell said that in recent months, ITU had launched projects with ILO to train youth in digital skills; with the World Bank and the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation on mobile banking in developing countries; with WHO on scaling up the use of digital technology in Africa’s public health sector; with FAO to advance e-agriculture in developing countries; and with WMO on the use of the latest radio satellite technology to enable lifesaving weather predictions. In addition, ITU was spearheading, with more than 50 international industry, UN and government partners, action to bring tech to women and women to tech – both in developing and developed countries – through the global EQUALS network partnership.
Launch of 2025 Target by the UN Broadband Commission for Sustainable Development
Jennifer Ferguson-Mitchell, for the International Telecommunication Union (ITU), said that on 23 January at 2 p.m., at the 2018 meeting of the World Economic Forum in Davos, ITU and other members of the UN Broadband Commission for Sustainable Development would be announcing the Commission’s new 2025 Targets. The Commission was co-chaired by industry leader Carlos Slim, and the President of Rwanda Paul Kagame.
The new 2025 Targets were specifically focused on helping to bring the Internet and digital skills to the 3.8 billion people worldwide – some 50% of the world population – that were still not online. The Commission sought to go beyond the SDG 9 target to bring Internet access to all and make it possible for everyone everywhere not just to have access to the Internet, but to be using the Internet and benefitting from its resources.
Asked about the role of Carlos Slim in the Commission, Ms. Ferguson-Mitchell said Mr. Slim, as one of the co-chairs of the Commission, had a strong leadership role. The Commission featured only high-level heads of foundations, corporations and other actors. She was not sure whether or not his foundation contributed funds to the Commission but could inquire on behalf of interested members of the press.
Geneva events and announcements
Jennifer Ferguson-Mitchell, for the International Telecommunication Union (ITU), announced that the 2018 World Summit on the Information Society (WSIS) would take place from 19 to 23 March. It represented the world's largest annual gathering of the “ICT for development” community.
Ms. Ferguson-Mitchell also announced that ITU would hold its 2018 Artificial Intelligence for Good event from 14 to 17 May.
Responding to a question from the press about recent allegations that Apple had manipulated software to impair its operation, Ms. Ferguson-Mitchell, while confirming that Apple was one of the nearly 800 industry members in addition to the 193 member States of ITU, said that ITU took up issues only at the request of its members. In the particular case in question, there had been no such request. Further, it was not the role of ITU to monitor ethical or other business propositions; however, that did not mean that it did not have an interest in corporate social responsibility.
Alessandra Vellucci, for the United Nations Information Service in Geneva, speaking on behalf of Rolando Gomez for the Human Rights Council, said that at 9 a.m. on 23 January, the Universal Periodic Review Working Group had begun its review of the human rights record of Israel; the review was expected to end at around 12.30 p.m.
In the afternoon of 23 January, the UPR Working Group was scheduled to adopt the reports of its reviews of Burundi, Luxembourg and Barbados, which had been carried out the previous week.
Ms. Vellucci said the Committee on the Rights of the Child would review the reports of the Solomon Islands, Palau and the Marshall Islands before concluding its current session on 2 February.
Ms. Vellucci also said that on the morning of 23 January, the Conference on Disarmament was holding the first public plenary meeting of its current session.
Ms. Vellucci announced that the International Day of Commemoration in Memory of the Victims of the Holocaust would feature, in Geneva, the screening by Ciné-ONU of the documentary film “No Asylum: The Untold Chapter of Anne Frank’s Story” on 28 January; an official ceremony on 29 January; and an exhibition entitled “Let Me Be Myself: The Life Story of Anne Frank”, which would run from 29 January to 9 February. She furthermore referred the press to the remarks of the Secretary-General delivered on 20 January at the ceremony marking the International Day of Commemoration, at the Park East Synagogue in New York.
Tuesday, 23 January at 12:45 p.m. – Room XX stakeout area
Permanent Mission of Israel
Israel’s presentation at the Universal Periodic Review (UPR)
The webcast for this briefing is available here: http://bit.ly/unog230118
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