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REGULAR PRESS BRIEFING BY THE INFORMATION SERVICE

16 February 2018

Alessandra Vellucci, Director of the United Nations Information Service in Geneva, chaired the briefing, which was attended by the spokespersons for the World Health Organization, the International Organization for Migration, the World Meteorological Organization and the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights.

Munich Security Conference

Alessandra Vellucci, for the United Nations Information Service in Geneva, said that the Secretary-General, António Guterres, had arrived in Munich the previous day and would give a keynote speech at the Munich Security Conference that day. The text of the speech would be circulated as soon as it had been received. The Director-General of United Nations Office at Geneva, Michael Møller, and the Special Envoy for Syria, Staffan de Mistura, would also be in attendance at the Conference. During his time in Munich, the Special Envoy would consult with the Secretary-General and a wide range of interlocutors.

Executions of juvenile offenders in Iran

Rupert Colville, for the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR), read the following statement:

“The United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights, Zeid Ra’ad Al Hussein, was urging Iran to stop violating international law by executing juvenile offenders. He noted a surge in the number of juvenile offenders being executed in Iran and called on the country ‘to abide by international law and immediately halt all executions of people sentenced to death for crimes committed when they were aged under 18 years’.

Already, during the first month of 2018, three people – two male and one female – have been executed for crimes they committed when they were 15 or 16 years old. This compares to the execution of a total of five juvenile offenders during the whole of 2017. A fourth juvenile offender, who was believed to be on the point of being executed on Wednesday, has reportedly received a temporary reprieve of two months. A number of other juvenile offenders are also believed to be in danger of imminent execution in Iran, with a total of some 80 such individuals reported to be currently on death row, after being sentenced to death for crimes they committed when they were under eighteen.

‘The execution of juvenile offenders is unequivocally prohibited under international law, regardless of the circumstances and nature of the crime committed,’ said Zeid. ‘The imposition of the death penalty on people who committed crimes when they were under 18 is in clear violation of Iran’s obligations under two international treaties that is has ratified and is obliged to uphold – namely the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights and the Convention on the Rights of the Child.’

‘I am sad to say that Iran violates this absolute prohibition under international human rights law far more often than any other State,’ he said. ‘No other State comes even remotely close to the total number of juveniles who have been executed in Iran over the past couple of decades.’

The High Commissioner also noted that Iran ascribes criminal responsibility to girls as young as nine years old, whereas boys are not considered criminally responsible until they reach the age of 15. He described the discrepancy between the two genders as ‘wholly unjustifiable on every level’, and the application of the death penalty to any person, female or male, under 18 as ‘illegal and unacceptable’.

Mr. Colville mentioned that, among the juvenile offenders executed in January, was

“Mahboubeh Mofidi, who was 16 years old when, with the help of her brother-in-law, she allegedly killed her husband, who had married her when she was just 13 years old. She had been aged 20 years at the time of her execution on 30 January.”

Mr. Colville continued:

“The Office of the High Commissioner is particularly concerned about the fate of Abolfazl Chezani Sharahi, whose planned execution in Qom on 17 January was postponed for unknown reasons (he is believed to have been scheduled for execution at least four times in all for a crime allegedly committed when he was 15); and Hamid Hamadi, whose trial is widely considered to have been grossly unfair, is also believed to be at risk of execution at any moment for a crime allegedly committed when he was 17. He is believed to have been scheduled for execution at least five times.

Omid Rostami, whose scheduled execution along with 12 other people on Thursday in Karaj was postponed after the family of his alleged victim agreed to pardon him in exchange for diyah or ‘blood money’, is still at risk if his family fails to raise the required funds within two months.”

Mr. Colville said that the relevant OHCHR press release contained more detailed information on the application of the death penalty in Iran, including information on a number of positive developments in that connection.

Responding to questions from journalists, Mr. Colville said that it was difficult to comment in detail on judicial processes by which executions were postponed in Iran, as those processes could be rather opaque. There were appeal processes, but, in some cases, the family of the convicted person and that of the victim entered into negotiations. OHCHR did not have a presence in Iran.

NGO activities in Hungary

Rupert Colville, for the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR), read the following statement:

“The Hungarian Government submitted a legislative package to Parliament this week that, if passed, is likely to further affect and stigmatize civil society groups, which are already under great pressure in the country, and reduce their ability to carry out their often indispensable work.

The proposed laws refer to organizations ‘supporting migration’ and detail a range of activities that this covers, including advocacy, campaigning, monitoring borders, producing information material and recruiting volunteers, as well as using funds received directly or indirectly from abroad. The legislation thus appears to be a further tightening of government controls on civil society groups working on issues the Government regards as against State interests, such as migration and asylum.

We understand that the laws will require organizations to apply for a licence to operate from the Ministry of the Interior and be cleared by the national security services – a process that may take up to nine months. They must also provide information about their level and source of funding. If an organization fails to apply for a license or if its application is refused, and it continues its activities, this could result in the organization’s dissolution. Those that receive foreign funding also face a 25 per cent tax on these funds. Such a tax is likely to result in reduced budgets and disrupt fundraising, thereby undermining NGOs’ to carry out their activities and services.

The package also sets out ‘immigration restraining orders’ under which people considered to ‘support the unlawful entry and residence of a third-country national in Hungary’ may be banned from going within 8 km of border areas, while third-country nationals may be banned from the whole of the country.

We recognize the responsibility of the Hungarian State to control its borders but the proposed legislation not only threatens the work of the country’s civil society, but also may have a serious effect on the rights of those who rely on the services of NGOs and charities, including refugees and asylum-seekers, many of whom rely on such NGOs for support, as Government assistance has dwindled over time.

The proposed legislation represents an unjustified restriction on the right to freedom of association and is a worrying continuation of the Government’s assault on human rights and civic space. The ability of civil society organizations to access funding and other resources from domestic, foreign and international sources is an integral part of the right to freedom of association. We call on the Hungarian Government to review these proposed laws to ensure that freedom of association is fully guaranteed.

In this respect, we note that Hungary is a State Party to the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, which protects the right to freedom of association. As a State party, Hungary is due to be reviewed on its implementation of the Covenant by the United Nations Human Rights Committee in March. Hungary has also acceded to the 1951 Refugee Convention.”

Responding to a question on the distinction between legal and illegal migration, Mr. Colville said that groups of migrants often included refugees, who had the right to claim asylum and were protected under international law. In line with recent advances in international law and standards, other migrants who were not technically refugees, for example victims of trafficking, were also considered to be in need of international protection. The restriction of the activities of NGOs risked having a devastating effect on people whom Hungary was required to protect. It should be noted that NGOs faced similar pressures in a number of other countries. Anti-terrorism laws were often used as a pretext to curtail NGO activities, and NGOs in receipt of foreign funding were affected particularly severely.

Abortion in El Salvador

Rupert Colville, for the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR), read the following statement:

“We welcome the news that El Salvador has freed a woman from prison where she was serving a 30-year sentence for ‘aggravated homicide’ after her baby was stillborn.

Teodora Vásquez was one of four women the High Commissioner met during his mission to El Salvador last November, who were all serving 30-year prison terms for ‘aggravated homicide’ as a result of a miscarriage or other obstetric emergencies.

Zeid said at the time that he had rarely been as moved as he was by their stories and the cruelty they had suffered, and he called for the cases of all women detained as a result of El Salvador’s absolute prohibition on abortion to be reviewed.

Vásquez, who had spent more than 10 years in prison, was released yesterday after El Salvador’s Supreme Court commuted her sentence.

This is a positive development that could pave the way for the release of other women who are in a similar situation. In this regard, we urge the authorities to continue to review the cases of the at least 25 women still serving similarly long sentences in connection with pregnancy complications or abortion-related offences. As Zeid proposed during his mission, such a review of cases could be carried out by an Expert Executive Committee composed of national and international members.

We also reiterate the call he made that El Salvador should comply with its international human rights obligations and lift the absolute prohibition on abortion.

We are encouraged that the Salvadoran authorities, including the Supreme Court of Justice and the Ministry of Justice and Public Security, are currently considering some of the recommendations made by the High Commissioner, as well as the Special Rapporteur on Extrajudicial Killings, who visited El Salvador from 24 January to 5 February, and urge them to continue to do so.”

Responding to questions from journalists, Mr. Colville said that recent developments in El Salvador reflected some degree of progress on the issue of abortion. There were signs that a dialogue had been initiated. However, it remained the case that women who had undergone abortions remained in prison in El Salvador for “aggravated homicide”. OHCHR believed that some of the women who were currently serving prison sentences for that offence in El Salvador had in fact suffered a natural miscarriage or other obstetric emergency.

Child migrant deaths

Joel Millman, for the International Organization for Migration (IOM), said that IOM had released a report prepared by its Global Migration Data Analysis Centre (GMDAC) on child migrant deaths since 2014. Much of the data on which the report was based related to the migrant situation in the Mediterranean. The Missing Migrants Project, which was hosted by GMDAC, had recorded 1,202 child migrant deaths since 2014. The age of the child at death was known in only 22 per cent of cases. However, surveying and other data analysis indicated that, of the child migrants whose age at death was known, the average age at death was 8 years, 58 had been aged under 1 year, and 67 had been aged between 1 and 5 years. The data confirmed the great danger that child migrants faced in many parts of the world.

Truck accident in Libya and voluntary humanitarian return assistance

Joel Millman, for the International Organization for Migration (IOM), said that, on Wednesday, a truck carrying approximately 180 people, most of whom had been from the Horn of Africa, had crashed in Libya. The truck was thought to have been heading towards Tripoli. Eritreans had made up the largest national group on board. Some 49 people had been injured in the crash, and at least 19 had died. It was noteworthy that, over the previous month, Eritreans had once again made up the largest national group leaving Libya for Europe in smuggling zones. Over 1,000 people from Eritrea had entered Italy by sea to date in 2018.

Mr. Millman said that, that week, IOM had assisted in voluntary humanitarian returns to countries including Bangladesh, Guinea, Ethiopia and the Gambia. IOM had provided voluntary humanitarian return assistance to 2,705 people in 2018, as at 14 February, and to over 20,000 people since the beginning of 2017.

Migration in Latin America

Joel Millman, for the International Organization for Migration (IOM), said that IOM had completed a major report providing a migration profile of the Dominican Republic. The full report was available in Spanish and an executive summary in English.

Responding to a question on migration from Venezuela to Brazil, Mr. Millman said that, according to the IOM regional coordinator, patrols had been increased in zones that had not been designated as official crossing zones. The aim of that measure had been to ensure the safety of migrants. There had also been reports that Venezuelan migrants entering Colombia faced dangers. He would investigate the situation further in advance of a future briefing.

IOM Director General

Responding to a question on the election of the IOM Director General, Mr. Millman said that some of the countries who had put forward a candidate for the position lobbied on his or her behalf. All but one of the former IOM Director Generals had been citizens of the United States of America. Whatever the outcome of the election, IOM staff members, as impartial international civil servants, would welcome their new Director General.

Greater Horn of Africa Climate Outlook

Clare Nullis, for the World Meteorological Organization (WMO), read the following statement:

“WMO supports an extensive network of regional climate outlook forums. The Greater Horn of Africa Climate Outlook Forum is one of the oldest and best established climate outlook forums and met this week in Mombasa, Kenya to deliver the seasonal forecast for the forthcoming March to May rainy season.

The March to May period constitutes an important rainfall season over the equatorial parts of the Greater Horn of Africa region, which is vulnerable to extreme weather and climate conditions.

The regional consensus rainfall outlook for the March to May 2018 season indicates the increased likelihood of normal to above normal rainfall over much of the region.

However, there are higher chances of above normal to normal rainfall over parts of South Sudan, western Ethiopia, southwestern Uganda, northeastern Rwanda and southern Tanzania.

There is an increased likelihood of normal to below normal rainfall over much of Somalia, southeastern Ethiopia and eastern Kenya. These areas are likely to experience a further deterioration of pasture and crop conditions, increased water stress, migration of pastoralists, loss of livestock, human wildlife-conflict, and increased tension in pastoral areas among others, according to the IGAD Climate Prediction and Application Centre (ICPAC).

This scenario is compounded by the fact that most of these areas received rainfall deficits between October 2017 and January 2018. The failed rainy seasons and the likelihood of continued below normal rains in the coming months is likely to erode further the coping capacities of communities.

Extreme Climatic conditions have increased vulnerabilities due to loss of crops, livelihoods and livestock. Poor rainfall is expected to continue to drive humanitarian needs over the coming months, according to ICPAC.”

Ms. Nullis said that the seasonal forecast delivered by the Greater Horn of Africa Climate Outlook Forum should be seen as a warning. In addition to its forecasts for rainfall, the Greater Horn of Africa Climate Outlook Forum had forecast that temperatures in the region were likely to be warmer in the coming season. The forecasting process was highly complex and involved models and expert analysis. It was based on the evolution of global sea surface temperatures, major climate drivers such as El Niño and La Niña and local climate conditions. The world was currently exiting a weak La Niña and moving towards neutral conditions. However, owing to local climate drivers, major climate impacts were likely. The climate outlook forums brought together not only meteorological services and experts, but also representatives of climate-sensitive sectors, including disaster risk management, health care, agriculture and water resources.

Winter Olympics

Clare Nullis, for the World Meteorological Organization (WMO), said that the WMO World Weather Research Programme was supporting a number of international projects in connection with the Winter Olympics in PyeongChang, South Korea, with the aim of improving forecasts for the event and gathering more general information on weather. The projects included collaborations involving the national meteorological services of various countries.

WHO announcement

Tarik Jašareviæ, for the World Health Organization (WHO), said that the WHO consultation and information meeting on the composition of influenza virus vaccines for use in the 2018-2019 northern hemisphere influenza season would take place from 19 to 22 February. On 22 February, there would be a public meeting held from 9 a.m. to 12 p.m. Media representatives who wished to attend the public meeting were requested to contact Mr. Jašareviæ in advance to register.

OCHA 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 the Assistant Secretary-General for Humanitarian Affairs and Deputy Emergency Relief Coordinator, Ursula Mueller, would visit the Central African Republic, Cameroon and Chad from 18 to 27 February. The visit would be conducted jointly with the Assistant High Commissioner for Operations of the United Nations Refugee Agency, George Okoth-Obbo. Vanessa Huguenin of OCHA was available to answer any questions regarding the visit.


Geneva events and announcements

Alessandra Vellucci, for the United Nations Information Service in Geneva, said that, owing to a demonstration taking place that afternoon on the Place des Nations, it was possible that entry to the Palais des Nations via the Place des Nations entrance would be blocked. Visitors were advised to use the Prégny entrance as an alternative.

Ms. Vellucci also said that, that morning, the Conference on Disarmament would hold a public plenary meeting. It would be the last under the presidency of Sri Lanka. From Monday until 18 March, the Conference would be under the presidency of Sweden. The presidency had submitted a draft proposal to establish five subsidiary bodies on, inter alia, the cessation of the nuclear arms race, the prevention of nuclear war, the prevention of an arms race in outer space and an international arrangement to assure non-nuclear weapon States against the use or threat of use of nuclear weapons.

Ms. Vellucci also said that the Committee on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities, which had opened its nineteenth session on Wednesday at the Palais des Nations, Room XVII, would conclude its review of the report of Haiti that afternoon. On Monday afternoon, the Committee would begin its review of the report of Nepal.

Ms. Vellucci added that, on Monday, the Committee on the Elimination of Discrimination against Women would open its sixty-ninth session, which would run until 9 March at the Palais des Nations, Room XVI. During the session, the Committee would review the reports of Malaysia, Chile, the Republic of Korea, Fiji, Saudi Arabia, Suriname, Luxembourg and the Marshall Islands.

Press conferences

UNICEF
Pre-embargo launch of EVERY CHILD ALIVE - The urgent need to end newborn deaths
Monday, 19 February at 2:00 p.m. in Press Room 1
http://bit.ly/2HlPDBt


OHCHR
Human Rights Council, 37th regular session (26 February-23 March)
(A light breakfast will be served outside the Press Room.)
Wednesday, 21 February at 9:30 a.m. in Press Room 1
http://bit.ly/2EGSSoN

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The webcast for this briefing is available here: http://bit.ly/unog160218