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REGULAR PRESS BRIEFING BY THE INFORMATION SERVICE

16 October 2018

Rhéal LeBlanc, for the United Nations Information Service in Geneva, chaired the briefing, which was attended by the spokespersons for the Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights, the World Food Programme, the United Nations Children’s Fund, the United Nations Refugee Agency, the International Organization for Migration, the World Health Organization and the International Labour Organization.

Saudi journalist Mr. Khashoggi

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

“Two weeks after the disappearance of Jamal Khashoggi, the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights Michelle Bachelet on Tuesday urged the Governments of Saudi Arabia and Turkey to reveal everything they know about the disappearance and possible extra-judicial killing of the prominent Saudi journalist after he visited his country’s consulate in Istanbul.

While welcoming the agreement that has allowed investigators to conduct an examination inside the consulate itself, and possibly also at the residence of the Saudi Arabian Consul-General in Istanbul, the UN Human Rights Chief urged the authorities of both countries ‘to ensure that no further obstacles are placed in the way of a prompt, thorough, effective, impartial and transparent investigation.’

‘In view of the seriousness of the situation surrounding the disappearance of Mr. Khashoggi, I believe the inviolability or immunity of the relevant premises and officials bestowed by treaties such as the 1963 Vienna Convention on Consular Relations should be waived immediately,’ Bachelet said. ‘Under international law, both a forced disappearance and an extra-judicial killing are very serious crimes, and immunity should not be used to impede investigations into what happened and who is responsible. Two weeks is a very long time for the probable scene of a crime not to have been subjected to a full forensic investigation.’

‘Given there seems to be clear evidence that Mr Khashoggi entered the Consulate and has never been seen since, the onus is on the Saudi authorities to reveal what happened to him from that point onwards,’ she added.

The High Commissioner noted that Saudi Arabia and Turkey are both party to the UN Convention against Torture and Other Cruel, Inhuman or Degrading Treatment or Punishment. As such, they are obliged to take all measures to prevent torture, enforced disappearances and other serious human rights violations, to investigate allegations of acts constituting these crimes, and to bring to justice those suspected of committing them.”

In response to questions from journalists, Mr. Colville said that irrespective of whether Mr. Khashoggi had been the victim of enforced disappearance or murder, both were very serious crimes and should be investigated and punished. OHCHR hoped that the Government of Saudi Arabia would lift the diplomatic immunity of any official to whom the Turkish authorities wished to speak in connection with their investigation. There was no reason to doubt the quality of the investigation; however, an independent international inquiry could be established should an international body or Turkey request it. OHCHR was watching developments and was of the view that anyone who had been involved in any way in whatever fate had befallen Mr. Khashoggi should be held accountable.

Yemen – operational update

Hervé Verhoosel, for the World Food Programme (WFP), said that Yemen was currently facing the world’s worst hunger crisis, with almost 18 million people not knowing where their next meal would come from, of whom 8 million were considered to be on the brink of famine. Some 570,000 people had fled Hudaydah since June, the currency had plummeted and the cost of food had risen by a third in one year. If the situation persisted, there could be an additional 3.5 million people in need of regular food assistance, for a total of 12 million. Since 2017, WFP had increased its assistance to Yemen by 25 per cent despite a difficult security situation, limited access and frequent attacks. It distributed food aid to 8 million inhabitants a month. Several boats were on their way to the various now functioning ports, a secondary route had been opened via Oman and there was currently enough foodstuffs to provide assistance to 6.4 million people for the next two and a half months. However, access to the 51,000 tons of grain stored in silos on the Red Sea – which could help a further 3.7 million people for a month – remained blocked. WFP was continuously adapting to the evolving conditions on the ground, but it would not be able to continue to do so much longer. It called once again for humanitarian actors to be allowed to operate and maintain their neutrality, for free access to ports and roads, and for an end to the manipulation of humanitarian aid. Otherwise, an already dire situation would become even more dramatic.

Replying to questions from journalists, Mr. Verhoosel said that the current situation was not the result of any one single issue but, rather, of an accumulation of economic, security and monetary problems. While WFP was carrying out tremendous work given the conditions on the ground, some areas remained inaccessible and not all children in need could receive long-term support, so some were dying on a daily basis. The situation was untenable and the international community had to step up and better support United Nations agencies and NGOs. The first step was to enforce humanitarian law and that was why WFP was, once again, raising the alarm.

In response to the same questions, Christophe Boulierac, for the United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF), said that Yemen was the crisis with the biggest proportion of child victims. Some 400,000 children suffered from severe acute malnutrition and nearly 2 million from acute malnutrition. Children died daily owing to food shortages and lack of access to life-saving health care services.

In response to a request by a journalist for a more robust reaction to the conflict from the United Nations, Rhéal LeBlanc, for the United Nations Information Service in Geneva, said that the Secretary-General was extremely concerned about the protracted conflicts in Yemen and elsewhere and his Special Envoys were doing their utmost to bring the parties together to find political solutions to these conflicts. That being said, the Member States also had to do their part.

World Food Day (A/RES/35/70)

Hervé Verhoosel, for the World Food Programme (WFP), said that, on the occasion of World Food Day, WFP was launching the second edition of its plate of food index, which compared the cost of a basic but nutritional meal in New York to the cost in 52 countries worldwide. The results were interesting but troubling: food was more inaccessible than ever in countries in crisis or at war. Far more telling was the ratio between the cost of the meal and daily income, which ranged from 0.6 per cent in New York to 200 per cent in South Sudan. Other factors such as climate change and natural disasters influenced the cost of food, but political and social stability was key to keeping costs down. In many countries, without the work of WFP and other organizations, even more people would be unable to eat every day.

Sulawesi earthquake and tsunami affected communities

Christophe Boulierac, for the United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF), said that 30 tons of emergency education material, including 65 tents designed to house temporary classrooms, had arrived by UNICEF plane on the Indonesia portion of the island of Borneo. Each tent included two classrooms that could welcome 40 children each. The supplies would be deployed to the affected areas in central Sulawesi in the coming days, and half had already reached their destination. At least 1,185 schools, servicing 164,000 students, had been directly affected by the earthquake and tsunami. The Ministry of Education and Culture, in partnership with UNICEF, intended to open 450 temporary classrooms. In the light of education’s significant role in recovery efforts, a further 135 tents and 200 school kits would arrive on Wednesday and Thursday.

Mass returns from Angola to the Democratic Republic of the Congo

Babar Baloch, for the United Nations Refugee Agency (UNHCR), made the following statement:

“UNHCR, the UN Refugee Agency, is concerned by a fast-developing humanitarian situation in the Kasai region of the Democratic Republic of the Congo sparked by mass returns from Angola over the last two weeks.

Congolese government officials estimate that some 200,000 nationals have arrived in Kasai Province alone, with more arrivals reported in neighbouring Kasai Central Province. Their arrivals follow an expulsion order by the authorities in Angola targeting migrants. The Congolese were working in the informal mining sector, in the northeast of Angola, before being asked to leave.

UNHCR is appealing to the governments of Angola and the DRC to work together to ensure a safe and orderly population movement. Mass expulsions are contrary to obligations under the African Charter and we ask both sides to respect the human rights of those affected. Without such cooperation the returns could easily create a humanitarian crisis in the already fragile Kasai region.

There have been reports of violent clashes in some areas of Angola as law enforcement agents have attempted to enforce the leave order. The deadline for compliance with this order expired yesterday (Monday 15 October 2018).

With the deadline having passed, thousands of returnees are on the Congolese side of the border. More were seen walking towards the DRC border or arriving by cars, bus, minibuses or trucks on the Angola side of the border from where they walk to cross taking their belongings with them.

People have been arriving in DRC through different border points with whatever belongings they can bring. We have heard complaints of violence, including sexual violence and harassment, bodily frisking and theft of belongings, at the hands of security forces on both sides of the border.

The Congolese are returning to a desperate situation, looking for safety and aid. With more arriving every day, thousands are reported to be stuck at and near the border, with limited means to travel onwards to their home places. In addition, many are likely to face difficulties due to destruction caused by recent conflict in the area. Ethnic tensions still run high since the Kasai conflict in 2016 and 2017.

The town of Kamako in Kasai Province, on the border with Angola, is over-crowded with people staying overnight outdoors, in host families, church compounds, and on streets.

UNHCR teams are currently working with UN and other partners in the region to assess humanitarian needs, trying to ensure those most at risk – including unaccompanied children – are taken care of. New arrivals need food, water, shelter and other basic services both at the border and once they arrive in their villages of origin. A primary need raised by new arrivals is transport to their homes. Local authorities in the region have requested international assistance.

UNHCR is also concerned on the reports that the new arrivals may have included a small number of refugees, caught up in the mass movement and forced to return to the DRC. We are working to verify these reports. UNHCR is screening returnees at the border, working closely with the Government of Angola, to prevent forced refugee returns.”

Joel Millman, for the International Organization for Migration (IOM), gave the following statement:

“IOM, the UN Migration Agency, in the Democratic Republic of the Congo has in recent days provided humanitarian assistance to 3,000 Congolese nationals expelled from Angola.

On 1 October, Angola began a mass expulsion operation, removing Congolese nationals from its territory, mostly from bordering Lunda-Norte Province. As of today, the Congolese city of Kamako in Kasaï Province has registered approximately 200,000 returnees through the border crossings posts of Kamako, Mayanda, Tshimbulu or Kabungu. Officials saw more than 16,000 people arrive to Kamako border post last Friday (12/10) alone.

IOM is working alongside the Kamako Local Crisis Committee in Kamako, installed by Kamonia Territory Administrator Anacletus Muswa Kapinga, to provide food and medical care to ill or injured expellees, as well as people in vulnerable circumstances.

Apart from IOM’s assistance which began 11 October, no other support has been provided to people expelled to Kamako. There is a pressing need for food, water, sanitation and hygiene, emergency shelter, medical assistance and transportation that will allow people to reach safer destinations or their places of origin.

Addressing the root causes underlying the displacement and expulsion of Congolese citizens from Angola is essential for long-term durable solutions. In the immediate-term, IOM appeals for USD 1,000,000 to urgently address the most pressing needs of these 200,000 people.

IOM’s current response to this population in Kamako is made possible by the support of the Government of Japan, granted in March 2018 as part of a multi-sectoral humanitarian assistance project for the people affected by the violence in Kasai.”

Replying to questions from journalists, Mr. Baloch said that UNHCR was primarily concerned about reports that the rights of the 200,000 migrant workers were being violated in the context of the Angolan authorities’ efforts to curb illegal mining. Moreover, returns on such a scale, including of women, families and unaccompanied children, could overwhelm already strained services in the Kasai province of the Democratic Republic of the Congo. Furthermore, there was concern that registered refugees, of which there were 68,000 in Angola, had been included in the mass expulsion, which itself was not allowed, regardless of who was the object of the expulsion. UNHCR was working with the Government of Angola to ensure that refugees were not caught up in the mass movement, and the priority was to provide returnees with water, food, shelter and medical services.

Also replying to journalists, Mr. Millman said that it was not entirely clear what the role of IOM was with regard to the returnees, whether they were economic migrants or refugees, but the organization did feel that they should receive assistance, hence the appeal for US$ 1 million.

Rohingya girls in Bangladesh refugee camps sold into forced labour

Joel Millman, for the International Organization for Migration (IOM), made the following statement:

“Young girls sold into forced labour are the largest group of trafficking victims identified by the UN Migration Agency (IOM) in Bangladesh’s Rohingya refugee camps.

IOM counter-trafficking experts warn that more than a year into a crisis that has seen the number of Rohingya refugees in Cox’s Bazar soar to almost a million, more desperate families are sending their young daughters off into dangerous work situations because most households have no other way to earn money in the camps.

‘There is a very limited number of jobs in the camp and for women there is almost nothing. That’s why I went outside of the camp,’ explained one young Rohingya woman, who ended up being forced to work extremely long hours for very little pay in the fish processing industry.

Latest figures show that women and girls lured into situations of forced labour account for two thirds of those who have received support from IOM in Cox’s Bazar after escaping or being rescued from exploitation. Another 10 per cent of identified victims were women and girls who suffered sexual exploitation.

Bangladeshi security agencies have reported stopping up to 60 women and girls a day attempting to leave the camps in small groups, many of whom appeared to have been coached what to say, but who, when questioned further, appeared unclear about issues such as who they are supposed to be travelling to meet.

IOM experts stress that adult men and boys are also the target of traffickers, accounting for around one in three of those found to have ended up in forced labour.

‘The stories we commonly hear are of vulnerable people being approached by traffickers with false promises of work and a better life. Some people simply do not realize the risks. Others may be aware it is dangerous, but feel their situation is so desperate that they are willing to take extreme measures, perhaps sacrificing one family member for the sake of the rest of the family,’ said Dina Parmer, IOM’s head of protection services in Cox’s Bazar.”

Mr. Millman further stated that the IOM-led focus groups and surveying in the camps had revealed that women and young girls, recruited for domestic work or as hotel maids, were becoming trapped in forced prostitution. Furthermore, the lack of livelihood options forced some women to engage in survival sex. The common price for cheap prostitution was approximately US$ 6, yet Rohingya women were paid as little as US$ 0.80-1.20 per service. There were also testimonials from men who had been forced into debt bondage by local fishermen.

Venezuelan migrants in Chile and Peru

Joel Millman, for the International Organization for Migration (IOM), said that IOM had recently conducted a survey in Chile using the Displacement Tracking Matrix. There were approximately 150,000 Venezuelans living in Chile. They tended to be from a more elite background, nearly half had arrived by plane and most had acquired the requisite documentation prior to or upon entry to Chile. Most worked in the retail industry and earned on average US$ 570 per month, which was slightly more than the estimated cost of the journey to Chile. There were no reports of any particular problems in Peru with regard to the arrival of Venezuelans, although some 400,000 had crossed into the country, many on their way to Chile. Nevertheless, he drew attention to a new campaign that had been rolled out in Peru to combat xenophobia against Venezuelan migrants.

Emergency committee on Ebola

Fadela Chaib, for the World Health Organization (WHO), said that an emergency committee had been convened with regard to the Ebola outbreak in the Democratic Republic of the Congo. The Committee would be meeting via teleconference on Wednesday, 17 October, from 1 to 5 p.m. The meeting would be followed by a virtual press conference at 7 p.m., which was open to the press and television crews. WHO had raised the risk level to very high at the national and regional levels, though the risk remained low at the global level. However, it advised against the imposition of restrictions on trade with or travel to the Democratic Republic of the Congo. As at 11 October, there had been 205 cases, of which 170 were confirmed and 35 were probable, including 130 deaths. Some 51 people had recovered. WHO had deployed over 250 specialists, 3,802 contacts were under surveillance and 15,000 at-risk individuals had been vaccinated.

Replying to questions from journalists, Ms. Chaib said that the operation in the Democratic Republic of the Congo was ongoing and was being scaled up despite the worsening security situation, so the time had come to establish an emergency committee to advise the Director General of WHO on the way forward. The roughly 12 members of the committee would be drawn from a roster of experts in various fields; a list would be provided shortly. A country representative would also be part of the committee. The committee would begin by determining whether the outbreak constituted a public health emergency of international concern and would issue temporary recommendations that would expire after three months. Much work was being carried out to improve preparedness and offset health sector weaknesses in the nine neighbouring countries. WHO was also encouraging States to work together and share their experience of dealing with Ebola outbreaks. Although all of the alerts in Uganda since May had proved negative, there was a risk the disease could spread, hence the appositeness of establishing the emergency committee.

Regarding the escalating security situation, Ms. Chaib said that there were one to two security incidents a week, including group protests, stone throwing and intimidation. WHO was working closely with the Government and other partners, including community leaders, to improve community engagement, raise awareness of the seriousness of the disease and of the work the teams were conducting and promote compliance with preventive measures. She was not aware of whether or not the teams were accompanied by security personnel.

Announcements

Fadela Chaib, for the World Health Organization (WHO), said that the World Health Summit was taking place that day in Berlin. Eleven heads of the world’s leading health and development organizations, including the Vaccine Alliance, the Global Financing Facility, the Global Fund, the United Nations Population Fund, WHO and the World Bank, would be discussing how to work together to reach the Sustainable Development Goals. A plan would be submitted to the UN General Assembly in September 2019. The Director General of WHO would be meeting with Chancellor Merkel in the evening.

Hans von Rohland, for the International Labour Organization (ILO), said that the 20th International Conference of Labour Statisticians would end on Friday, 19 October. First held in 1923, the Conference was the recognized global standard-setting body in the area of labour statistics and was convened approximately every five years by ILO. That year’s theme was “making the invisible visible”. The Conference would make recommendations on new international standards covering areas such as unpaid work, new types of work relationships, for example the gig economy and crowd working, informal work, forced labour, skills mismatches and labour migration. The work was intended to answer the call for a data revolution contained in the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development. In addition, the new tools would support the Future of Work Initiative by capturing new and up-to-date information on emerging types of work relationships and skills requirements.

Rhéal LeBlanc, for the United Nations Information Service in Geneva, said that the Human Rights Committee was completing its review of the report of Belize, begun the previous afternoon. That afternoon, it would begin consideration of the report of Bulgaria.

Mr. LeBlanc, drawing attention to the Secretary-General’s statement ahead of the International Day for the Eradication of Poverty (A/RES/47/196), said that a series of round tables would be held from 2.30 p.m. onwards on Wednesday, 17 October, in the Serpent Bar. Participants would include François Rivasseau, the new Permanent Representative of France to the UN in Geneva, Janet Nelson, Vice-president of ATD Quart Monde, Natacha Foucard of OHCHR and representatives of civil society.

Mr. LeBlanc recalled that the Special Envoy for Syria would be briefing the Security Council on Wednesday, 17 October at 10 a.m. EST (4 p.m. CET). The briefing would be webcast live.

Press Conferences

Tuesday, 16 October at 12:30 p.m., Room III
Permanent Delegation of the Cooperation Council for the Arab States of the Gulf to the United Nations Office and other international organizations in Geneva
The Role of AGFUND International Prize in promoting the UN agenda for Sustainable Development
Speakers:
H.E. Mr. Adel Essa AlMahri - Ambassador, Permanent Observer of the Gulf Cooperation Council in Geneva
• Mr. Nasser Al Kahtani/ AGFUND - Executive Director
• Mr. Abdullatif AlDwaihi /AGFUND-Communications Director
• The 2017 prize winners:
*Dr.Mastaqur Chowdhuri - Vice chairman of Brac - Bangladesh
* Mr.Yogendra Mandal - Executive Director of Jeevan Bikas Samaj
*Dr.Sunitha Krishnan - Founder of Prajwala - India
*Ms.Marie Lichten Berg - Director of international partnerships Planet Aid

Wednesday, 17 October at 11:00 a.m., Room III
UNFPA
Launch State of World Population Report 2018 - The Power of Choice: Reproductive Rights and the Demographic Transition
Ms. Monica Ferro, Director, UNFPA Geneva

Wednesday, 17 October at 2:30 p.m., Press Room 1
UNCTAD/CNUCED
The New Global Commodity Markets Landscape and Focus on Coffee in East Africa (Commodities at a Glance Series)
Speakers:
Pamela Coke-Hamilton – UNCTAD – Director – Division on International Trade in Goods and Services, and Commodities
Olivier Wege – UNCTAD – Economist - Commodity Research and Analysis Section, Division on International Trade


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The webcast for this briefing is available here: http://bit.ly/unog161018