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REGULAR PRESS BRIEFING BY THE INFORMATION SERVICE

9 March 2018

Alessandra Vellucci, Director of the United Nations Information Service in Geneva, chaired the briefing, which was attended by the spokespersons for the Human Rights Council, the World Health Organization, the International Organization for Migration, the Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs, the World Food Programme and the World Trade Organization.

Human Rights Council

Rolando Gomez, for the Human Rights Council, said that the interactive dialogue with the High Commissioner for Human Rights had concluded the previous day. Some 99 States had participated in the process, which was the highest number ever to have done so. Later that day, there would be a general debate on agenda item 3 on civil, political, economic, social and cultural rights. There were about 40 States participating and over 100 NGOs.

Mr. Gomez also said that, on Monday, the Special Rapporteur on the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea, Tomás Ojea Quintana, would present a report. Following the presentation of the report, the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea would be given an opportunity to respond, and an interactive discussion would be held with States and NGOs. The report of the Special Rapporteur on the Islamic Republic of Iran, Asma Jahangir, would then be presented. As Ms. Jahangir had tragically died after the submission of her report, the chair of the Coordination Committee, the Special Rapporteur on the rights of persons with disabilities, Catalina Devandas Aguilar, would present the report on her behalf. It would be necessary to extend the mandate of the Special Rapporteur on the Islamic Republic of Iran, and to appoint a new mandate holder, in order to follow up on the outcomes of the subsequent discussion. There would also be an oral update from the Fact-Finding Mission on Myanmar. It would be followed by the presentation of a written report by the Special Rapporteur on Myanmar. The report had been uploaded to the Human Rights Council website. Also on Monday, there would be an interactive discussion on Eritrea. The Special Rapporteur on Eritrea, Sheila Keetharuth, would participate in that dialogue, as would members of civil society from Eritrea.

Mr. Gomez added that, on Tuesday, there would be a panel discussion on Syria with a focus on children’s rights. Syrian witnesses would be present on the panel. The Commission of Inquiry on Syria would present its report on Tuesday afternoon. The Commission on South Sudan would also present its report on Tuesday afternoon.

Responding to questions from journalists, Mr. Gomez said that the report of the High Commissioner on the situation of human rights in Libya would be presented on 20 March. He was not sure when the report would be made available online. Whenever a report concerning the situation in a particular country was presented, representatives of that country were invited to participate.

The meeting with Myanmar would take place at around noon on Monday. It was expected that a representative from Myanmar would be in attendance at the meeting. It was often not possible to publish in advance the names of the government representatives who would participate in a particular meeting, as they were not always communicated beforehand. On 21 March, the High Commissioner would give an update on the situation in Yemen. The details would be confirmed closer to the date.

Syria

Christian Lindmeier, for the World Health Organization (WHO), gave the following statement:

“There has been a marked increase in violent attacks on health care in Syria, according to a monthly report from the health cluster based in Gaziantep, Turkey.

In February, a total of 43 incidents of violence against health care facilities, services and workers were reported, of which 39 were verified by external monitors and 4 are still being verified. That compares to 31 incidents last month, of which 28 were verified.

In all, the 67 verified attacks on health facilities and workers in the first two months of this year amount to more than 50% of verified attacks in all of 2017, which totaled 112.

Of February’s verified incidents, 28 were in eastern Ghouta, 10 in Idleb and 1 in Homs. The attacks targeted 20 hospitals, 16 health facilities, two ambulance stations and one medical supplies warehouse.

These unacceptable attacks resulted in the deaths of 19 people, among them four health workers. The attacks also left 28 people injured, 7 of them medical staff.

And as always, the impact is devastating: in the month of February, we can estimate that these attacks disrupted 15,000 medical consultations of people in desperate need of care and nearly 1,500 surgeries, many of which could have been life-saving.

Medical facilities and medical personnel have special protection under International Humanitarian Law.

WHO calls on all parties in Syria to immediately halt attacks on medical and humanitarian personnel, their means of transport and equipment, as well as hospitals and other medical facilities.

Every attack on health represents a loss that shatters families and communities and ripples through health systems.

Health workers and health facilities are not a target. It has to stop.”

Alessandra Vellucci, for the United Nations Information Service in Geneva, said that, earlier that week, the Special Envoy for Syria, Staffan de Mistura, had conducted consultations with representatives of the Islamic Republic of Iran, the Russian Federation and Turkey, among other key interlocutors. They had discussed the follow-up to the Sochi Final Statement and the further advancement of the Geneva political process towards the full implementation of Security Council resolution 2254. In addition, in the light of Security Council resolution 2401, emphasis had been placed on the immediate priority of de-escalation, also in view of the forthcoming Astana meeting. The discussions in question also addressed the situation of detainees, abductees and missing persons. The Special Envoy had also given an emergency briefing to the Security Council in a closed-door meeting on Wednesday and had participated in the ceasefire task force meeting on Thursday.

Responding to questions from journalists, Mr. Lindmeier, for WHO, said that the verification process occasionally presented challenges. At WHO, it was not necessary to hold a specific meeting on the situation in Syria, as briefings on that situation were given in WHO every morning.

Migration in Latin America

Joel Millman, for the International Organization for Migration (IOM), said that, the previous week, IOM had released a report on migration in Latin America. More recent data was not available.

Iraq

Joel Millman, for the International Organization for Migration (IOM), said that IOM Iraq was appealing for USD 26.7 million to assist internally displaced persons and returnees in Iraq. It was part of its 2018 Crisis Funding Appeal. IOM had highlighted the urgent needs of more than 700,000 Iraqis across the country, including returnees, host community members and internally displaced persons. According to data from IOM Iraq, 2,317,698 people remained displaced and 3,511,602 people had returned since the beginning of the conflict in January 2014. Returns of displaced people to their areas of origin currently exceeded 100,000 per month.

Deaths of migrant women

Joel Millman, for the International Organization for Migration (IOM), said that a new report had been released on deaths of migrant women. Since 2014, IOM had been collecting data through the Missing Migrants Project. It had recorded the deaths of 1,234 women, more than half of whom had died while attempting to cross the Mediterranean. However, information on the sex of the missing person was available in only 31 per cent of recorded cases. The data showed that women were much more likely than men to drown at sea. The report was intended to highlight the migrant status of victims. For that reason, it had not focused on deaths of migrant women due to abduction, rape or sexual assault. The report concluded that a lack of precise data would impede the work of humanitarian agencies.

Migrants crossing the Mediterranean

Joel Millman, for the International Organization for Migration (IOM), said that IOM had prepared an infographic showing that the number of migrants arriving in Europe by sea had fallen sharply since 2015. The per-day average had fallen from 2,142 in the first nine and half weeks of 2015 to 163 in the same period of 2018. The infographic challenged the dominant narrative in the European media.

Democratic Republic of the Congo

Olivia Headon, for the International Organization for Migration (IOM), said that, since late 2017, violence carried out by armed groups in the Democratic Republic of the Congo had led to a steep rise in the number of people displaced in the country. Their humanitarian needs had also increased. Owing to a lack of funding and access, most displaced people had not yet received aid. In the first week of February, attacks by armed groups in the Beni Territory of North-Kivu had led to more than 2,200 people being displaced from their homes. As at 14 February, more than 12,000 displaced people were sheltering in that locality. There were over 1.3 million displaced people in Beni Territory alone. The recent violence and displacement had led to a heightened need for humanitarian assistance in the territory in question. The most basic needs of the population were currently not being met. There had also been a surge of inter-ethnic violence in Djugu territory, and 28,634 people had been displaced to Bunia, the provincial capital of Ituri, in the previous few weeks.
The greater Kasai region had previously been considered calm, but, since 2016, intercommunal and land-related conflicts had been escalating. During the worst days of 2017, there had been approximately 1.3 million internally displaced people in the region. Currently, the region had nearly 900,000 internally displaced people and had seen the largest number of people returning to their areas of origin. Some internally displaced people were returning to villages that had been burned to the ground and did not have adequate shelter. They were also in need of humanitarian assistance.

In Tanganyika province, IOM was organizing the relocation of displaced people from collective centres, most of which were in schools, to displacement sites. Over 1,000 people had been moved in the previous few weeks. IOM had put out an appeal for USD 75 million, but only USD 4.7 million had so far been received. The DRC had the largest number of displaced people of any African country.

Jens Laerke, for the Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA), said that the Under-Secretary-General for Humanitarian Affairs and Emergency Relief Coordinator, Mark Lowcock, would visit the Democratic Republic of the Congo from 11 to 13 March. It would be his first visit to the country in his current capacity. OCHA had launched an appeal for the Democratic Republic of the Congo and was calling for USD 1.68 billion. Mr. Lowcock would be joined by Sigrid Kaag, Minister for Foreign Trade and Development Cooperation of the Netherlands.

Responding to questions from journalists, Ms. Headon, for IOM, said that most displaced people and the vast majority of newly displaced people were not receiving humanitarian aid. Access remained an obstacle, but the greatest challenge was a lack of funding. With additional funding, IOM would be able to provide more comprehensive support to a larger number of people. In the last few months, IOM had supported around 70 women who were survivors of sexual assault.

Responding to questions from journalists, Mr. Laerke, for OCHA, said that the population was facing a wide range of humanitarian challenges. More than 2 million children in the Democratic Republic of the Congo were estimated to be at risk of dying from acute, severe malnutrition. That was the overall figure provided by the humanitarian country team. There were 4.5 million displaced people across the country. It was difficult, at such an early stage in the year, to estimate how much of the funding sought had been received so far. There would be a Pledging Conference on 13 April. The international community had an obligation to help the country’s population.

Responding to questions from journalists, Bettina Luescher, for the World Food Programme (WFP), said that WFP remained extremely concerned by the situation in the Democratic Republic of the Congo. It needed USD 61 million to operate in the country until July. In the Kasai region alone, 3.2 million people experienced extreme hunger, and 300,000 malnourished children were at risk of dying. In addition, 762,000 people remained displaced in the Democratic Republic of the Congo. In 2017, WFP had assisted 450,000 people in the country. Despite the severity of the situation on the ground, it did not seem to be at the top of the humanitarian agenda. WFP had so far been funding its operations by borrowing from its internal funds. In the Kasai region, WFP had fed 390,000 people in December 2017 versus only 130,000 people in January 2018. The reduction in the number of people fed was due to logistical challenges, increased fighting and limited funding. In November 2017, it had been necessary to halve the rations distributed to the population. The Democratic Republic of the Congo had been categorized as a Level 3 emergency. WFP was extremely grateful for the funding that it had received to date. WFP currently had to focus its efforts only on those areas in which the needs were greatest.

Update on trade issues

Dan Pruzin, for the World Trade Organization (WTO), said that the WTO Director-General, Roberto Azevêdo, would travel to Brazil and, on Monday, would meet with the President of Brazil and other senior Government representatives in Brasília. On 13 March, the Director-General would participate in the World Economic Forum on Latin America in São Paulo. On the same day, the first meeting of the Investment Facilitation for Development initiative would be held in Geneva. It had been launched in 2017 at the Eleventh Ministerial Conference in Buenos Aires. The Committee on Government Procurement and the Committee on Trade in Civil Aircraft would both meet on 14 March.

Responding to questions from journalists on the announcement made the previous day by the administration of the United States of America, Dan Pruzin, for the World Trade Organization (WTO), drew journalists’ attention to the following remarks made by the Director-General, Roberto Azevêdo, at the informal heads of delegation meeting held on Monday:

“We now see a much higher and real risk of triggering an escalation of trade barriers across the globe. We cannot ignore this risk and I urge all parties to consider and reflect on this situation very carefully. Once we start down this path, it will be very difficult to reverse direction. An eye for an eye will leave us all blind and the world in deep recession. We must make every effort to avoid the fall of the first dominoes.”

Mr. Pruzin said that he would transmit journalists’ requests for a press conference and an updated statement from the Director-General. Following his visit to Brazil, the Director-General would attend an informal meeting of trade ministers organized by the Indian Government. The Director-General had no immediate plans to travel to Washington.

Responding to questions on the potential impact of the US announcement on WTO, Mr. Pruzin said that, at the General Council meeting held on Wednesday, 18 delegations had taken the floor to raise their concerns. Going forward, member States would decide how they wished to proceed. If a WTO member State so wished, it could raise a concern within the framework of WTO, its councils and its committees, and could also seek recourse under the dispute mechanism system. If a member State wished to seek recourse under that system, there would first be a consultation period of a minimum of 60 days. If a solution could not be found, one of the parties to the dispute could request the establishment of a panel. There had never been a panel or Appellate Body ruling concerning the national security exception provided for under Article XXI of General Agreement on Tariffs and Trade 1994. However, in November 2017, Qatar had requested the establishment of a panel to resolve a trade dispute with the United Arab Emirates, and the issue of national security had been raised in that context. The panel was established in November 2017, but its members had yet to be appointed. In a number of other cases, a request for consultation had been made, but no further action had been taken.

Responding to further questions from journalists, Mr. Pruzin said that, as far as he understood, the measures that had been announced the previous evening would not enter into force for a number of days. There was thus still time in which the matter could be discussed. He could not comment on whether the United States had an obligation to notify WTO of its intention to introduce the measures that had been announced, as it would depend on their legal basis. It was relatively simple for a member State to leave WTO. It simply had to notify WTO of its intention to do so. If a non-member State wished to become a WTO member, it would have to go through the formal accession process, even if that State had previously been a member.

With regard to the composition of the Appellate Body, consultations were ongoing, and WTO hoped that a solution could soon be found.

Geneva events and announcements

Alessandra Vellucci, for the United Nations Information Service in Geneva, said that, that afternoon, the Committee on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities would close its 19th session and the Committee on the Elimination of Discrimination against Women would close its 69th session.

Ms. Vellucci also said that, on Monday, 12 March, at 10 a.m., the Human Rights Committee would open its 122nd session, which would run from 12 March to 6 April at the Palais Wilson. During the session, it would review the reports of Guatemala, El Salvador, Norway, Lebanon, Hungary and Liberia. The same day, 12 March, at 10 a.m., the Committee on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights would open its 63rd session, which would run from 12 March to 29 March at the Palais Wilson. During the session, it would review the reports of Mexico, Niger, Bangladesh, the Central African Republic, Spain and New Zealand.

WHO announcement

Christian Lindmeier, for the World Health Organization (WHO), said that the Director General was sending a message to the Commission on Narcotic Drugs, which would hold a session in Vienna from 12 to 16 March. The session was organized by the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime. He would circulate the relevant link in due course.

Press conferences

OHCHR / HCDH
The report of the Special Rapporteur on the situation of human rights in the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea (DPRK) to the 37th session of the Human Right Council
Monday, 12 March at 11:30 a.m. in Room III
http://bit.ly/2oVJggA

OHCHR / HCDH
Interim Report of the Independent International Fact-Finding Mission on Myanmar
Monday, 12 March at 3:15 p.m. in Room III
http://bit.ly/2HgLLku

OHCHR / HCDH
Situation of human rights in Myanmar
Monday, 12 March at 4:00 p.m. in Room III
http://bit.ly/2oYMIGp

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The webcast for this briefing is available here: http://bit.ly/unog090318