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REGULAR PRESS BRIEFING BY THE INFORMATION SERVICE
8 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 World Food Programme, the United Nations Conference on Trade and Development, the World Health Organization and the International Organization for Migration.

Syria

Elisabeth Byrs for the World Food Programme (WFP) said WFP had this week concluded the February distribution cycle reaching 1.7 million people inside Syria and planning to reach two million people in March, then 2.5 million in April. 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.

As WFP expanded its operation and increased the number of beneficiaries inside Syria to reach 2.5 million people by April, WFP needed an additional $526 million through to December 2013. So far, the UN food agency had received $173 million and urgently needs $353 million to continue its vital food assistance to Syrians affected by the conflict.

The increased fighting in Raqqah governorate in northeast Syria was leading into a fresh new wave of displacement with over 20,000 families fleeing their homes to Deir Ezzor governorate. WFP had dispatched three trucks carrying food for 20,000 people over the last three days to be distributed to displaced families in public shelters in Deir Ezzor. Another five trucks were loading more food today (Friday) to be sent to meet the urgent needs of the displaced families.

As the number of Syrian refugees had crossed the one million mark this week, WFP was scaling up its emergency response this month to feed some 800,000 refugees in the neighbouring countries in March. They were also starting a school feeding project in Za’atari camp in Jordan where children were to receive nutritious and healthy snacks while attending the schools set up in the camp.

This week, WFP Turkey had launched an ‘e-Food Card’ Programme in Harran camp to assist an additional 12,000 Syrians who had sought protection in Turkey. This electronic voucher allowed people to buy fresh produce and cook their own meals and brought the total number of Syrians assisted by WFP in Turkey to 36,000. WFP was providing food assistance in six of the 17 camps located in Turkey, while the government of Turkey was providing assistance in the rest of the camps.

She also mentioned the increasing number of single mothers in Syria, where the fathers had been left behind or lost.

Answering questions she said operations were continuing all over Syria, though some areas were easier to reach than others.

Ms. Momal-Vanian answered a question saying the 21 United Nations Disengagement and Observer Force (UNDOF) peacekeepers who were detained yesterday in the UNDOF area of operation had not been released. The mission had been in touch with the peacekeepers by telephone and confirmed that they had not been harmed. The United Nations was working to secure their release.

Jumbe Omari Jumbe for the International Organization for Migration (IOM) said that as the numbers of the Syrian refugees assisted by IOM from the Jordanian border to Zaa’tri refugee camp reached 200,000 on Wednesday on 6 March, IOM had noted an increase in refugees coming from as far away as the central and western towns of Homs and Hama.
When the refugees’ influx into Jordan began in the middle of 2011, almost all of them came from the southern regions of Daraa, al Suweidaa and al Qunaitera, located close to the Jordanian border. However, the deepening of the crisis had forced desperate people to travel long distances to seek safety in Jordan.

Recently significant numbers of arrivals at the Jordanian border had come from Damascus (129km) Homs (269 km), Hama (313 km) and Aleppo, a city located 486 km from the Jordanian border. Those who arrived at the border crossing were mainly women-headed families accompanied by young children. Men were staying behind. At times, a one male member of the family would accompany a family or a group of families to the border.

The refugees cover long distances to reach the border normally on foot and when they reach the border, they were often exhausted and dehydrated. Some were suffering from gunshot wounds received when they attempted to escape or during the journey. It was estimated that 48 per cent of those arriving were female and 19 per cent were children under the age of five.

The IOM situation report on Syria and a flash report on Jordan were available at the back of the room. In the regional report, there were also details of another group of third-party nationals who were to be assisted to leave the country in the next couple of days.

Answering questions, Jens Laerke for the Office for the Coordination for Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA) said the Syria Humanitarian Assistance Response Plan was 21.5 per cent funded of the $521 million requested. He added that $200 million of the amount pledged recently at a meeting in Kuwait had now been funnelled into operations.

Answering questions, Marixie Mercado for the United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF) said the UNICEF appeal for Syria was 78 per cent unfunded with $15 million received of $68.4 requested. Projects in Jordan had the least funds available to them and without further assistance soon, projects such as those providing clean water and mass vaccinations would need to be scaled down.

Glenn Thomas for the World Health Organization (WHO) said there was information available at the back of the room on a meeting held in Jordan on the lack of life-saving medicines in Syria. Included with this was the story of a four-year old girl named Fatima who was suffering from carcinoma and was having trouble getting treatment.

Human Rights Council

Rolando Gomez for the Human Rights Council (HRC) said the Council this morning continued its dialogue with the Secretary General’s Special Representative on violence against women, and the Special Rapporteur on the sale of children. This was to be followed by a brief presentation of a report by a Working Group on private military and security companies. At 11:45 began an extended general debate on Item Three on a number of related issues, which had attracted over 100 speakers. He added that there was a brief event to mark International Women’s Day from 12:30 to 13:00, with remarks by the President, a video and statements from a group of States and NGOs.

Today (8 March) at 11:30 a.m. (after the Press Briefing) in Hall XIV Special Rapporteur on the situation of human rights in Myanmar, Mr. Tomás Ojea Quintana, held a press conference to talk about his annual report to the Human Rights Council, covering the ongoing human rights challenges the country faces as the reform process moves forward. His report was scheduled for presentation on Monday, but may be delayed until Tuesday.

On Monday (11 March) came the presentation on the report on Syria published February 18th, together with an oral update, which was scheduled to start at 9 a.m. but was more likely to begin at 11:00. Their update would be shared under strict embargo Monday morning. The interactive discussion that followed was expected to last for around three hours.

The members of the Independent International Commission of Inquiry on the Syrian Arab Republic were to speak with the media following the presentation of their latest report at around 2:30pm.

Discussion on the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea was next on the agenda, and so was expected to begin at 2 p.m., this meant that the press conference scheduled to follow with the Special Rapporteur on the situation of human rights in the Islamic Republic of Iran, Mr. Ahmed Shaheed could move as late as 4:30 p.m. or 5 p.m.

He also mentioned there was an open informal consultation hosted by the Permanent Mission of the United States on a draft resolution on Sri Lanka from 3 p.m. to 5 p.m. today (8 March).

Fiji

Rupert Colville for the High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR) said the OHCHR was shocked by the content of a video which had emerged over the past few days on social networks and the internet showing the apparent torture and inhuman and degrading treatment of two handcuffed men. While the circumstances surrounding the video had not yet been ascertained, the acts being carried out in it were clearly illegal, and they were condemned in the strongest terms.

The nine-minute video showed a handcuffed man being physically and sexually assaulted, beaten and humiliated by a group of men while lying helpless in the back of a pick-up truck. The terrified man was repeatedly struck on his feet, legs, body and head with a number of different implements including a length of rubber pipe, a metal rod, a stick and a hammer. Later in the video, which appeared to have been taken on a cell phone, the same man was shown with his underwear removed. Subsequently some of his abusers forced him to expose his genitals, while others filmed and photographed him.

A second handcuffed man was shown sitting on the ground nearby and was also struck on his body, legs and head with a stick and a rod. A dog was encouraged by its handler to seize him by the shirt and drag him several metres across the ground.

The Fijian police authorities had stated that they will seek to establish the facts in this case. The OHCHR welcomed this commitment, and urged the Government to ensure that the apparent serious human rights violations were swiftly and effectively investigated by an impartial and competent authority, and that the findings were made public.

He also called on the authorities to ensure that perpetrators – who were clearly visible in the video and should be easily identifiable - were brought to justice, and that a concerted effort was made to ensure that this type of treatment was not repeated. Victims of the abuse must have access to the necessary medical and psychological support, as well as redress.

The OHCHR Regional Office for the Pacific, which was already working on torture prevention in the Pacific Island States, stood ready to assist the Government in their effort to eradicate torture and ill-treatment. The OHCHR were to continue to follow this case closely, as well as the outcome of the police investigations.

According to international human rights law, there was an absolute prohibition against torture, as well as cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment.


WFP donations

Elisabeth Byrs for the World Food Programme (WFP) welcomed the announcement of a $140 million contribution from the Government of Japan.

The generous donation was to provide vital food and nutritional assistance to millions of people, including refugees, internally-displaced persons, malnourished children, pregnant and breastfeeding women in 16 countries in Africa, Asia, and the Middle East.

She also mentioned a donation from the Swiss Government of nearly $550,000 for its program of relief and recovery in Madagascar. WFP thanked the Swiss Government, as contributions to this programme had been hard to come by, and called again for other donors to step forward.

Democratic Republic of the Congo

Jumbe Omari Jumbe for the International Organization for Migration (IOM) said that IOM estimated that approximately 75,000 people had been recently displaced in the following renewed conflict in Kitchanga, a town in the Masisi region, located at 80 km west of the provincial capital, Goma. Previous estimates put the number of internally displaced people (IDPs) in the area at approximately 10,000.

Clashes between the army and the Alliance of Patriots for Free and Sovereign Congo, APCLS, militia broke out in the region last week. At least 80 people had been killed and more than 300 homes had been destroyed, while thousands have fled their homes in the town.

Photographs taken during an aerial reconnaissance mission carried out by IOM and UNOCHA, with technical assistance from ECHO, showed an alarming increase of people fleeing the recent violence and settling in dismal conditions in the Congolese countryside.

IOM estimated that 114 households had fled to Mweso, while others had taken refuge in the nearby areas of Kyahemba and Burungu. Based on this, IOM was very concerned about the situation of thousands of civilians now fleeing the combat zones and was urgently seeking access to Kitchanga.

El Salvador

Jumbe Omari Jumbe for the International Organization for Migration (IOM) said the IOM Mission in El Salvador this week provided 10,350 hygiene kits to the General Directorate of Migration.

The kits, part of IOM’s project Reintegration for Returned Migrants and Victims of Human Trafficking, were to be distributed upon arrival to migrants returned by air from the United States and by land from Mexico.

According to official figures provided by DGME, each year some 29,000 Salvadorian migrants were returned to their country. Between 2010-2012, a total of 55,507 persons were returned by air from the United States, and an additional 31,354 were returned by land from Mexico.

Present in the room but not briefing was Babar Baloch for the High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR).

UNCTAD activities

Catherine Sibut for the United Nations Conference on Trade and Development (UNCTAD) said the UNCTAD Global Commodities Forum (GCF) 2013, to be staged on 18 and 19 March was to address the question, “Why haven’t sustained high prices for basic farm goods and industrial raw materials resulted in more broad-based, resilient economies and higher living standards?,” and was to included producers at all levels, academics and other actors. There was a background briefing planned for Wednesday (13 March) at 11:00 in Press Room 1.

Meanwhile, the UNCTAD Multi-Year Expert Meeting on Commodities and Development (20-21 March) was scheduled to discuss potential steps for turning higher commodities prices since 2003 into economic diversification, value addition, agricultural improvements, and food security.
The United Nations Forum on Sustainability Standards (UNFSS), which included five UN agencies, which was to follow from 21 to 22 March was to consider an issue that already had major effects on commodities trade: voluntary sustainability standards, also known as private standards, in particular in the agricultural sector. A briefing was planned for Friday at 3 p.m.

Geneva activities

Ms. Momal-Vanian said the Human Rights Committee would open a three-week session on Monday (March 11) to consider the reports of Angola, Paraguay, Peru, Hong Kong and Macau. A background press release was distributed yesterday.

The Conference on Disarmament would hold its next public meeting on Tuesday (March 12) where there would be a debate on a treaty banning the production of fissile material.

She also mentioned that today (March 8) was International Women’s Day and there was an event organized by UNFPA, UNHCR, WHO and others which was called, “Ending violence against women and girls: Youth as agents of change,” held today in Room XXIV. This was an interactive discussion with youth representatives from across the world on their efforts to end violence against women. She also mentioned an article published on the UN News Centre about child brides. The article provided interesting data on this subject, which was discussed at the Commission on the Status of Women in New York. It stated, in particular, that if current marriage rates continued, more than 140 million girls would become child brides between 2011 and 2020, 50 million of them under the age of 15. Child marriage was increasingly recognized as a violation of the rights of girls.

On Monday (11 March) there was a press conference in Press Room 1 announced for 4 p.m. (though the time was to be confirmed) by the Mission of Ecuador on the country’s experience about integration of the human rights in the national planning system. The speaker was Mr. Fander Falconí, State Secretary of Planning and Development.

Glenn Thomas for the World Health Organization (WHO) said there was a factsheet on violence against women at the back of the room.

Laura Sminkey for WHO added that the Road Safety Global Status Report 2013 was launched next week, which gathered data and information from 182 countries using a standardised methodology and included risks such as drinking and driving, and speeding. The launch was planned for 14 March at 10:00 a.m. in the Executive Board Room of WHO and an embargoed briefing was planned for 3 p.m. on 13 March in Press Room 1. The report and related materials were already available on a password-protected website. Access was available on request.

Answering questions, she said the principal funder for this report was Bloomberg Philanthropies and the most recent data was 2010.

The spokespersons for the High Commissioner for Refugees (HCR) and the United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF) 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.