REGULAR PRESS BRIEFING BY THE INFORMATION SERVICE
1 March 2013
Corinne Momal-Vanian, Director of the United Nations Information Service in Geneva, chaired the briefing which was also attended by Spokespersons for the High Commissioner for Human Rights, the Human Rights Council, the Office for the Co-ordination of Humanitarian Affairs, the High Commissioner for Refugees, the World Food Programme, the International Organization for Migration and the Anti-Personnel Mine Ban Convention Implementation Support Unit.
Human Rights Council
Rolando Gomez for the Human Rights Council (HRC) said the Council continued the morning with an interactive dialogue with the Commissioner for Human Rights, Navi Pillay who presented her annual report yesterday afternoon. There was a long list of speakers and the session was likely to last until at least 1 p.m. and continue into Monday.
The Human Rights Mainstreaming Panel in the Council this afternoon was to be attended by United Nations Secretary-General, Ban Ki-moon, along with the High Commissioner. Both of these statements were to be made available to correspondents later.
He also announced that keynote speeches for this session came from the Minister of Foreign Affairs of Portugal, the First Lady of Qatar and the Special advisor of the Secretary-General on Post-2015 Development Planning. This was the second time the Council had focused on mainstreaming human rights, he explained, and this year there would be a special focus on the right to education.
More broadly, the discussion would include work undertaken towards achieving the MDGs and how the integration of a human rights perspective could contribute to their achievement and a concept paper on this discussion had been sent.
He also mentioned three reports that had been issued in the last 24 hours, two on Iran (one from the Secretary-General and the other from the Special Rapporteur) and one from the Special Rapporteur on Torture, following his mission to Morocco. Other reports scheduled were one from the Special Rapporteur on Counter Terrorism, planned for Tuesday (5 March), and one on Myanmar, scheduled for the 11 or 12 March.
Finally he mentioned there were side events on the human rights situation in Iraq, and human rights in Sri Lanka, the latter being in Room XXIII from 12 to 2 p.m.
Next week was largely dedicated to Rapporteurs, he said, with the conclusions of 13 of their reports being heard. These included the experts in the field of the right to food, housing, torture and human rights defenders on Monday alone.
Asked a question about the Council’s position on the showing of a film about Sri Lanka he confirmed there had been an exchange between the Permanent Mission of Sri Lanka and the Presidency about the projection. He clarified that the Human Rights Council’s role was simply to facilitate the work of the NGOs during side events and it was important to provide a space to air important views to be expressed, either by NGOs or by States.
Jens Laerke for the Office for the Co-ordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA) said the UN Humanitarian Coordinator for South Sudan, Toby Lanzer, yesterday expressed his concern for civilians in Jonglei State who were threatened by inter-communal violence and hostilities involving the army.
Following a visit to Akobo and Pibor Counties, in Jonglei, Toby Lanzer said that he met communities living in fear and he urged the Government of South Sudan to reinforce its efforts to strengthen law and order and protect civilians. He also called on all armed actors to ensure that civilians were spared from the consequences of military engagement.
The background for the current situation was attacks by cattle raiders last month (8 and 10 February) on communities who moved seasonally from Akobo in Jonglei State towards the Sobat River in Ulang, Upper Nile State. The attacks resulted in scores of people being killed and stealing of their cattle, which he said amounted to the stealing of their livelihoods.
Humanitarian organisations had responded to the needs of over 23,000 people in Akobo County who have been affected by the violence and were also assisting 19,000 civilians in Pibor County whose lives had been at risk due to inter-communal violence and hostilities between the army and non-state armed actors in the past months.
Mr. Lanzer was available for telephone interviews today, he added.
Elisabeth Byrs for the World Food Programme (WFP) said at least 4.1 million people in South Sudan were likely to be food insecure this year, according to a new report by the United Nations Food and Agricultural Organization (FAO) and World Food Programme (WFP).
On the whole, food production had increased by over 35 per cent between 2011 and 2012 due to good rains, improved cultivation practices and expanded area under cultivation, according to the report. That was an improvement over last year’s food security figures, thanks in part to a decent cereal harvest.
However, it still meant that nearly 40 per cent of the country’s population would have trouble getting enough to eat at some point during the year. This included more than a million people who were expected to be severely food insecure.
WFP planned to provide food and nutrition assistance to about 2.8 million people, including food insecure rural families, vulnerable children, internally displaced people (IDPs), refugees and returnees. This would require about 224,000 tons of food of various kinds. WFP had appealed for $354 million through the CAP process for its food and nutrition assistance operations in South Sudan this year, though this could be revised if the situation worsened.
Elisabeth Byrs for the World Food Programme said that on Tuesday (26 Feb), WFP had resumed sending food and humanitarian relief through a critical logistics corridor in Southern Syria. A convoy of 15 trucks carrying 374 metric tons of food bought locally in Jordan, enough to assist to over 370,000 people for one month, crossed the border from the Jordanian Syrian border crossing point of Nasib.
This was the first time that WFP had been able to use this route since late December, because insecurity posed such a great risk to the safe passage of food trucks. The convoy was essential if WFP was to complete its February distribution cycle, which aimed to reach 1.75 million people in Syria.
WFP had been reaching up to 1.5 million people inside Syria with emergency food assistance since September 2012, dispatching an average of 400 food trucks each month to the 14 Governorates amidst growing security challenges.
WFP was responding to the needs of the influx of refugees crossing borders to Iraq, Jordan, Lebanon, Turkey and Egypt with food distributions and food vouchers. WFP was scaling up to reach 795,000 refugees by June and was currently expanding its operation to assist the increasing numbers of refugees registered with UNHCR who were expected to exceed one million in the next few weeks.
As the programme looked to expand its operation and increase the number of beneficiaries inside Syria to reach 2.5 million people by April, an additional $526 million was needed until December 2013. So far, the UN food agency had received $173 million and urgently needed $353 million to continue its vital food assistance to Syrians affected by the conflict, she said.
Chris Lom for the International Organization for Migration (IOM) said the new situation report on Syria said that the number of people entering Jordan from Syria continued to rise, with 21,000 people asking for transport just last week. The total of people whom IOM had assisted to get to Za’atiri camp now stood at 57,000, while the overall figure of those transported since last March stood at 192,000.
He also said that the resettlement of Iraqi refugees that had been living in Syria continued. With 34 resettled last week and over 900 planned to receive similar assistance in the next month.
Adrian Edwards for the Office of the High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) said movements of people across the Iraq/Syrian border were being seen, though some issues with access had been reported. He also added that the figure of one million Syrian refugees overall was likely to be reached in the next ten days and journalists would be informed when that happened.
Asked about the recent travel of the Special Envoy for Syria, Mr. Brahimi, Ms. Momal-Vanian said the Secretary-General was to meet all of his special envoys and special representatives this weekend near Geneva and Mr. Brahimi was to attend.
Adrian Edwards for the Office of the High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) said almost two months on in Mali from the French intervention, UNHCR was continuing to see large numbers of internally displaced people, while in surrounding countries the numbers of refugees were still high and in some cases increasing. Despite improvements to the security situation in some areas, fear of returning home remained widespread.
Of the estimated 430,000 people uprooted by this crisis, available figures were that 260,665 were still displaced inside Mali. The refugee population was 170,300, of whom 71,624 were in Mauritania, 47,205 in Burkina Faso and some 50,000 in Niger, and 1,500 in Algeria. Spontaneous returns among IDPs were still low although bus services between Bamako and Gao resumed last week, and boats were also now travelling between Mopti and Timbuktu.
For IDPs and refugees alike the primary worry remained insecurity. Continued fighting, suicide attacks, reprisal attacks against some communities, the presence of mines and unexploded ordinance in the regions of Mopti, Gao, and Timbuktu, were all cited as reasons to delay returning. However, the absence of services in the north was also a factor. Few schools were functioning and government authorities were still absent in many towns and cities, he explained, leaving many displaced families preferring to wait to travel.
For those outside Mali, an additional complication was ethnic make-up, as a majority of the refugees were Tuareg or Arab. Fear of reprisal attacks was widespread, as was fear of criminality or that jihadists might remain present in the community. A reflection of the situation was that while new refugee numbers were substantially down on their levels of a few weeks ago, Mali was nonetheless continuing to see net refugee outflow, albeit a modest one. During February, average arrivals in Mauritania were over 1,500 people per week. Refugee numbers in Burkina and Niger were static.
UNHCR believed that reconciliation efforts were urgently needed, together with efforts to combat impunity, to encourage peaceful coexistence between communities, to help long-term stabilization and security and to prevent Mali's displacement crisis from becoming more protracted. UNHCR was planning support for reconciliation in areas of displacement and returns, as well as in refugee camps.
Answering questions he said repatriation efforts were currently in planning but could not be rolled out until people had returned and access to the north of the country was restored. He also clarified that 1,500 people had recently arrived in Mauritania and the stories being told to UNHCR included details of retribution and uncertainty over the situation. Asked about the situation in Bamako he said the large internally displaced population in the city was keen to return home as they were likely running short on resources.
Adrian Edwards for the Office of the High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) said an inter-agency visit to northern Myanmar’s Kachin state had delivered badly-needed aid to hundreds of conflict-affected people.
From February 17 to 21 UNHCR, WFP, UNICEF, OCHA and the Danish Refugee Council (DRC), travelled to Hpakant area, west of the Kachin state capital after access was granted by the Myanmar government. The area saw intensified fighting in September and December last year. This was the first time UN staff were able to reach internally displaced people there since January 2012.
A 10-vehicle convoy brought relief items for 400 displaced families, equivalent to some 2,000 individuals. These included tarpaulins for shelter, blankets, mosquito nets, cooking sets, clothes and sanitary items. Over the coming weeks UNHCR planned to return to Hpakant to distribute supplies for another 1,000 displaced families that had yet to receive any assistance.
In Hpakant the team assessed living conditions, undertook needs and protection assessments and conducted profiling in 17 camps housing more than 6,000 IDPs. The aid workers found overcrowded communal shelters and raised concerns that a lack of privacy may be giving rise to protection issues. They highlighted the need for better temporary accommodation and improvements to camp infrastructure including more health-care services and improved water and sanitation facilities. Several IDPs shared concerns that the situation in their places of origin was too insecure to return.
Under the inter-agency response in Kachin state UNHCR had taken the lead in the protection sector and was cluster lead in shelter, non-food items and camp coordination and management.
Fighting in Kachin and northern Shan states, which broke out in June 2011, was estimated to have caused the displacement of 75,000 civilians. Of these, some 32,000 were in government controlled areas. An upsurge in fighting between the government and rebels in December and January was believed to have displaced thousands more people. However, figures were difficult to verify since access to many areas had been severely limited.
Answering questions he said access to Kachin was limited because areas were split between Government and non-Government control meaning the agreement of a number of persons was needed to move into Opposition areas. At the same time the authorities had informed UNHCR that the security conditions weren’t sufficient to allow them better access. UNHCR was working with local partners but the agency was currently unable to get aid into non-Government areas and so could only offer assistance with shelter.
Rupert Colville for the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR) said the OHCHR was to deploy a human rights team to Kenya in the next few days for the duration of the elections which will begin on Monday (4 March). The four person team was to monitor the human rights situation during the electoral period and also support the Kenyan National Commission on Human Rights and civil society organizations.
Answering questions he said these staff were not election monitors and would add to the major international presence sent by a number of other international organizations. The team was to travel to a number of parts of the country, depending on how the situation progressed.
Chris Lom for the International Organization for Migration said IOM Kenya was putting in place humanitarian preparedness and response measures ahead of the upcoming March 4 general election.
As the lead humanitarian agency for shelter and non-food relief items (NFI), IOM was working closely with the Government to develop sectoral strategy and contingency plans in readiness for the elections.
Since 1992 Kenya had seen pre- and post-election violence that had displaced thousands of people and left scores dead. The worst violence occurred following the 2007 elections.
Rupert Colville for the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR) said the OHCHR welcomed the opening of the trial in the Court of Appeal in Port-au-Prince yesterday which had Jean-Claude Duvalier present for the first time. This was an important step forward, he said. MINUSTAH and OHCHR were present in court yesterday and would continue to observe the process first-hand.
Migrants in Thailand
Chris Lom for the International Organization for Migration (IOM) said IOM Thailand had kicked off a campaign targeting a million irregular migrants with information on registration and new documentation procedures.
The Thai Government had attempted to register all migrants in the country, he said, and the programme included verification of nationality and issuing documents. Many people had already taken part, he explained, though there were a significant number that were distrustful enough of the process not to take part. Those not registered missed opportunities for education and social services, and ran the risk of expulsion.
Chris Lom for the International Organization for Migration (IOM) said a meeting in Hanoi was bringing together senior immigration officials from across South-East Asia to consider the impact of a one-year programme funded by Canada. The programme had trained 2,500 officers in the region to understand the mechanics of the process and how to tackle it.
EU Council Decision in support of the Cartagena Action Plan
Kerry Brinkert for the Anti-Personnel Mine Ban Convention Implementation Support Unit (ISU) said that today (1 March) at 1:00 p.m. the European Union was to launch a Council of the European Union Decision in support of the implementation of the Anti-Personnel Mine Ban Convention’s Cartagena Action Plan, and that this event in Room VIII was open to the press.
The EU’s Council Decision aimed to contribute to the fulfillment of the Cartagena commitments related to mine clearance, victim assistance and the universalization of the Convention. In the Cartagena Action Plan the States Parties made ten specific commitments to act on their resolve to identify mined areas and to clear or release these areas as soon as possible. The EU Council Decision would support five States Parties in doing this by helping them carry out a comprehensive mid-term appraisal of their implementation of the mine clearance aspects of the Cartagena Action Plan.
The Council Decision also provided resources to the ISU to support up to three States Parties in carrying out a comprehensive national mid-term appraisal of their efforts to implement this and other victim assistance aspects of the Cartagena Action Plan.
This was to be of most benefit to the States that had been given an extension on their obligations five years ago, and would allow them to update their knowledge and better understand the size, location and quality of their implementation challenges.
To date, an advance mission to Peru had been carried out and an initial national workshop had been set for later this month. In addition, the ISU hopes to soon proceed with support to the Democratic Republic of Congo and Tajikistan.
In respect of victim assistance the ISU was offering technical support to three States Parties that had declared responsibility for significant numbers of landmine survivors, with the aim that landmine victim assistance was integrated into broader disability and rights efforts. He mentioned specifically that support would be offered to Peru and South Sudan in this area.
The Council Decision was to also support a global, high-level conference on assistance to the victims of landmines and other explosive remnants of war, with the aim of building on the experience of this Convention in order to take advantage of victim assistance synergy with other instruments. The Council Decision would also sponsor high-level visits to States that were not party to the Convention by prominent figures who were deeply committed to the anti-landmines cause.
A study on border security without anti-personnel mines was also planned and the Geneva Centre for the Democratic Control of the Armed Forces would serve as a partner in carrying out this initiative.
Answering questions he said that around EUR 1 million had been made available for these efforts.
Ms. Momal-Vanian said that the Committee on the Elimination of Discrimination against Women (CEDAW) and the Committee on the Elimination of Racial Discrimination (CERD) both held their closing sessions this afternoon.
Meanwhile, today (1 March) at 4:15 p.m. in the Council Chamber there was a press conference by the United Nations Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon. Journalists were kindly requested to be seated by 16:00 at the latest, in order to allow security checks to be completed. As usual, the audio recording and the transcript of the press conference will be made available shortly afterwards.
She also mentioned that the Secretary-General was to address the Human Rights Council at 15:00, and the text of his speech and the comments made during the press conference was to be distributed as soon as possible after delivery. The statement he was to then give at the Sergio Vieira de Mello Lecture (5 p.m. at CICG) was to be made available at the back of the room, embargoed until delivery.
The Chairperson of CEDAW, Ms. Nicole Améline (France), Ms. Pramila Patten (Mauritius), Vice-Chair and country rapporteur for Pakistan held a press conference later today (1 March) at 2 p.m. in Press Room 1 to present its concluding observations on Angola, Austria, Cyprus, Greece, Hungary, Pakistan, the former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia.
The Conference on Disarmament was to hold its next public meeting on Tuesday (March 5)
Ms. Momal-Vanian then announced the launch of the 2013 Annual Report of the International Narcotics Control Board (INCB) saying there was a press release at back of room under embargo until Tuesday (5 March) at 11.00 a.m. Geneva time. The password to access the full report online was available on request.
On Monday (4 March) the United Nations Special Rapporteur on the Right to Food, Mr. Olivier De Schutter, was to talk about his annual report to the Human Rights Council on the series of steps that were necessary for the empowerment of women and the realization of the right to food. The exact timing was to be confirmed.
She also issued a reminder that the IFRC monthly press briefing was to also take place on Monday (4 March) at 11:30 a.m. in Press Room 1.
The spokespersons for the International Labour Organization (ILO), the World Health Organization (WHO), the United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF) and the International Organization for Migration (IOM) also attended the briefing but did not speak.
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Webcasts of the regular press briefings will not be available for the next few weeks due to renovation work in the Palais des Nations.