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21 January 2020

Rhéal LeBlanc, Chief of the Press and External Relations Section, United Nations Information Service in Geneva, chaired the briefing, which was attended by the spokespersons for the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights, World Health Organisation and the United Nations World Food Programme.

Lebanon protests turn more violent

Marta Hurtado, for the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR), expressed concern about the increase in violent clashes between protesters and security forces in Lebanon in recent days. Some demonstrators had resorted to using violence to express their grievances, and security forces had responded, at times, with unnecessary or disproportionate use of force, she said. According to reliable sources, at least four young men had been shot at close range with rubber bullets leading to severe and irreversible damage to their eyes.

OHCHR called on actors to do their utmost to de-escalate the situation and upon authorities to deploy efforts to establish a meaningful and inclusive dialogue with all segments of society. The authorities should also conduct prompt, thorough, independent, transparent and impartial investigations into alleged use of force violations committed during the latest outbreaks of violence and ill-treatment during arrest and detention. OHCHR also encouraged political actors to respond to the legitimate aspirations of the people, to speed up their efforts to form a stable, all-inclusive and respected Government able to address the grievances and demands of the population who were suffering the effects of a severe and deepening economic crisis, Ms. Hurtado concluded.

Responding to questions, Ms. Hurtado underlined the responsibility of the authorities to investigate each incident and act of violence. So far, no deaths had been reported.

Rhéal LeBlanc, Chief of the Press and External Relations Section, United Nations Information Service in Geneva, added that the United Nations Special Coordinator for Lebanon, Ján Kubiš, was working with the authorities to bring more stability to the country and advance government formation.

Full text of the OHCHR briefing is available here.

Visit to the Democratic Republic of the Congo by the High Commissioner Bachelet

Marta Hurtado, for the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR), in response to questions, said that during her upcoming visit to the Democratic Republic of the Congo, the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights would focus on the problem of violence. She would use the report issued the previous week by the United Nations Joint Human Rights Office in the Democratic Republic of the Congo as an advocacy tool to urge the authorities to take steps to address the violence in Ituri.

Report by the Myanmar Independent Commission of Inquiry

A journalist noted that the Independent Commission of Enquiry set up by the Government of Myanmar had issued a report on 20 January, which had found that the Myanmar security forces had committed war crimes, but there was no genocidal intent.

Responding to questions, Marta Hurtado, for the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR), said that she would follow up with her Office’s reaction to the report, including on the credibility of the Commission and whether it was possible to deduce genocidal intent given such a short investigative period.

Libya conference

Answering questions, Rhéal LeBlanc, Chief of the Press and External Relations Section, United Nations Information Service in Geneva, said that the UN Geneva was waiting for a confirmation whether a conference on Libya would take place in Geneva, as some media outlets had reported following the Berlin Conference this weekend. He added the Secretary-General was expected to brief the Security Council this week and more information might come out of that.

Novel coronavirus update

Tarik Jašarevic for the World Health Organisation (WHO), said that the WHO Director-General had convened an Emergency Committee on the novel coronavirus on Wednesday, 22 January 2020, to advise him if the situation constituted a public health emergency of international concern. To date, 278 confirmed cases of 2019-nCoV had been officially reported: 274 in China, two in Thailand, one in Japan and one in the Republic of Korea. Six deaths had been reported. A team from WHO were concluding a mission with health officials in Wuhan, China who conducted the investigation into the outbreak.

Mr. Jašarevic stressed that much remained to be understood about the novel coronavirus in order to draw definitive conclusions about how it was transmitted, clinical features of the disease, its severity, the extent to which it had spread, or its source. An animal source seemed the most likely primary source of the outbreak; based on previous experience with respiratory illnesses and in particular with other coronavirus outbreaks, human to human transmission was likely occurring. WHO encouraged all countries to continue preparedness activities and had issued an interim guidance on the matter.

Answering questions, Mr. Jašarevic explained that there was a new Emergency Committee for each event, whose members were selected from the roster of experts. It would decide whether the outbreak constituted a public health emergency of international concern, in which case it had to issue a temporary recommendation; in any case, it might issue a public health advice, which might also include travel restrictions. At the moment, WHO did not advise any travel or trade restriction in this context. The decision to convene the Emergency Committee now had been made because little was known about the novel coronavirus and given the number of cases and their international spread, he explained.

WHO had declared a public health emergency of international concern five times previously: H1N1 in 2009; in 2014, polio had been declared programmatic emergency when a resurgence had been registered in a number of countries; the West Africa Ebola outbreak in 2014; Zika virus in 2016; and Ebola in the Democratic Republic of the Congo in 2018. There had also been situations in which the Emergency Committee had been convened but had not found the situation to qualify as a public health emergency of international concern, explained Mr. Jašarevic.

Different airports were imposing screening of travellers coming from China, but this did not represent a travel restriction, which WHO wished to avoid at this point. It was important to understand the transmission of the virus and the extent to which it could spread quickly; more data were needed before drawing a conclusion, Mr. Jašarevic insisted.

Asked about the estimated numbers, he said that, as with other diseases, the modelling of the spread and estimates of the number of infected was helping to build scenarios and preparing the responses. Mr. Jašareviæ stressed the importance of the strength of a health system, how efficiently it could detect, test and treat the infected person, and how it could help prevent the in-hospital transmission. That was why it was essential to prepare the health systems and to reduce, as much as possible, the number of people who might come into contact with the virus.

The Wuhan authorities had so far reported six deaths. They had rapidly reported the outbreak, provided daily reports on the number of cases and on measures taken, and had shared genetic sequence immediately.

More information on this situation can be found here.

HungerMap, new global hunger monitoring system for over 90 countries, goes live

Elisabeth Byrs, for the United Nations World Food Programme (WFP), said that HungerMap, WFP’s new global hunger monitoring system, which provided near real-time estimates of the food security situation in over 90 countries, was now accessible at https://hungermap.wfp.org/.

This tool took into account several parameters – such as macroeconomic data, natural disasters, climate, inflation, conflict, vegetation and others – to provide an extremely complete picture and help WFP identify areas that were currently food insecure or were sliding towards food insecurity. The tool enabled more informed and timely decision that could shorten emergency response times, optimize operations, reduce costs and bridge information gaps in the humanitarian community, concluded Ms. Byrs.

Geneva announcements

Rhéal LeBlanc, Chief of the Press and External Relations Section, United Nations Information Service in Geneva, said that the 2020 session of the Conference on Disarmament opened in Geneva today under the presidency of Algeria.

The Committee on the Rights of the Child had begun its eighty-third session the previous day.

Mr. LeBlanc reminded that the United Nations Secretary-General’s High-Level Panel on Internal Displacement will hold its first press conference at 2 p.m. today, 21 January, in Press Room 1.

A Note to Correspondents on the programme of activities for the International Day of Commemoration in memory of the victims of the Holocaust, celebrated on 27 January, had been sent the previous day. The highlights included a solemn ceremony at the Palais des Nations, which would feature a testimony by Auschwitz survivor Paul Sobol on 27 January; the “Second Generation”, a conversation between the descendants of Nazi officers and resistance fighters at Uni Mail, University of Geneva, on 29 January; and a photo exhibition “Lest We Forget” featuring one hundred close up portraits of Holocaust survivors, that would open on 24 January.

The list of upcoming meetings and press conferences at UN Geneva can be found here.

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The webcast of this briefing is available here: http://bit.ly/unog210120