REGULAR PRESS BRIEFING BY THE INFORMATION SERVICE
16 November 2012
Corinne Momal-Vanian, Director of the United Nations Information Service in Geneva, chaired the briefing which was also attended by Spokespersons for the World Health Organization, the Joint United Nations Programme on HIV/AIDS, the High Commissioner for Refugees, International Labour Organization, the Economic Commission for Europe, the World Trade Organization, the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights and the International Organization for Migration.
Rupert Colville for the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR) said the High Commissioner Navi Pillay was following the unfolding situation in Gaza and southern Israel with considerable alarm.
She was appalled that once again civilians were losing their lives, including three Israeli citizens killed in their apartment by one of the hundreds of rockets fired over the past week as well as several Palestinian children, including a baby, and also a pregnant woman and some other civilians killed in Gaza. The High Commissioner joined the Secretary-General, and many others in urging both sides to take serious steps to avoid further escalation and respect their obligations under international humanitarian law to ensure the protection of civilians.
The High Commissioner had repeatedly and unequivocally condemned the indiscriminate firing of rockets from the Gaza Strip into southern Israel, and was deeply concerned both by the recent major upsurge in the number of rocket attacks, and that they were now being aimed at a major city such as Tel Aviv. She was also extremely concerned by the sharp increase in aerial attacks by Israeli forces on the heavily populated Gaza Strip in the past two days and urged both sides to pull back from an increasingly dangerous confrontation.
He added that the High Commissioner urged all involved to comply strictly with international human rights law and international humanitarian law.
Jumbe Omari Jumbe for the International Organization for Migration (IOM) said the number of confirmed cases of cholera in Haiti stood at 3,593 for the period 8 October – 8 November 2012.
One recent surge of suspected cases was in Camp Bobin near Port-au-Prince and IOM had responded to this alert with the provision of approximately 10,000 cholera kits containing oral rehydration salts, aquatabs and chlorine, which were distributed this week in 31 camps in the area.
As environmental conditions in Haiti continued to deteriorate, future disasters will continue to disproportionally affect the country including further loss of human life, property and livelihoods, and, as with Sandy, cause new internal displacement in a country which still had some 370,000 persons in camps since the January 2010 earthquake, he said.
Answering questions he said 29 people had died of cholera since October 28. Since early this year there had been 550 deaths.
South Sudan / Sudan
Adrian Edwards for the High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) said South Sudan's largest refugee settlement, Yida, in Unity State, was seeing a sharp rise in new refugee arrivals. Over the past week there had been 2,100 new arrivals, mostly on Wednesday. The refugees say the reason for their flight was intensified fighting in their home region of South Kordofan in neighbouring Sudan.
More than 85 per cent of the new arrivals were women and children, many of them exhausted after having walked for days. Ninety-nine children below five were identified as malnourished and were being cared for. After being registered by UNHCR, refugees went through medical and nutritional screening and received an emergency food ration. They also received relief items such as jerry cans and kitchen sets to help them settle.
Yida was located close to the border point of Jau and UNHCR was building a water point on the road between Yida and the border to ensure refugees had access to drinking water. A 5,000 litre tank was being installed and was to be refilled on a daily basis. UNHCR teams were monitoring the route to the border and transporting the most vulnerable to Yida, where capacity at the registration centre was being increased with additional latrines and water supply.
Refugees told UNHCR staff on the Sudanese side of the border more people were heading towards Jau en route to Yida. People were worried about insecurity, and reaching the border was difficult. They were moving in small groups in fear of aerial bombardment.
Based on patterns over the past 12 months and taking into account seasonal cycles, UNHCR current planning anticipated further refugee arrivals between now and January, due to the onset of the dry season and resumption of military activities in South Kordofan, he said. Further surges were also possible for April/May in Unity State and for June in Upper Nile State.
Tarik Jasarevic for the World Health Organization (WHO) said 374 cases including 110 deaths related to Yellow Fever had been reported by health authorities in Sudan. Planning was underway about the best way to deal with the issue and the first vaccines were to arrive today (16 November). In total 2.4 million doses were to be sent to the country and the vaccination programme was to start on 24 November in the 12 affected districts of Darfur.
World Prematurity Day
Dr Elizabeth Mason, Director, Department of Maternal, Newborn, Child & Adolescent Health for the World Health Organization (WHO) said today (16 November) was World Prematurity Day and current figures showed that one in every ten babies was born pre-term, before 37 weeks of pregnancy.
Of these 60 per cent of these were in Southern Africa or South Asia, and these children were more vulnerable to infection, problems with breathing and may suffer developmental problems as a child. One million babies a year were born early but there were many simple interventions that could improve this situation. The first was a steroid injection given to a mother in premature labour to improve lung function. Also kangaroo care, which consists in wrapping the baby to the mother’s chest, could prevent 450,000 deaths a year. Resuscitation was also useful as were antibiotics to prevent and treat infections.
A number of countries were celebrating the day. Malawi was scaling up kangaroo care across the country and Argentina was bringing together all of their premature babies that had grown into children or adults and hoped to set a world record for the most amount of premature-born persons in one place. India was set to kit out 100 district hospitals to care for such children and Uganda had committed to providing steroids to women in premature labour
Adrian Edwards for the High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) said UNHCR was seeing growing numbers of internally displaced people returning to their homes in southern Yemen. Over the past four months, and working with the Yemeni authorities, the agency had helped more than 80,000 people go home, and further returns were on-going.
This was the first significant displacement decline since May 2011 when fighting between government troops and militants erupted in the south of Yemen. The decline in displacement followed the re-establishing of government authority in the southern province of Abyan in July. Initially, returns were slow due to the widespread presence of landmines and unexploded ordinance, as well as extensive damage to infrastructure in several areas.
In many cases people also wanted to see more evidence of improvements in the security situation. However, through de-mining efforts on the part of the Yemeni Government and other improvements in the security situation, more families were now making the decision to return.
Many of the returns had been from Aden, where of the 25,000 IDPs who were sheltering in schools and other public buildings, some 23,500 had now returned to Abyan. This had allowed normal classroom teaching to resume, although schools still needed repair work.
The government had been covering transportation costs for people returning to Abyan (of around $70 per family). Security personnel were manning checkpoints along the route to ensure safe passage, and in Abyan itself UNHCR and other agencies were providing further support.
The UNHCR planned to help 180,000 persons in Abyan with shelter and non-food relief kits though currently, the challenges included widespread damage to property and infrastructure, a still fragile security situation, and patchiness in provision of public services. Continuing international support and stable security will be essential for returns to become sustainable, and particularly if internal displacement in southern Yemen was to be brought to an end during 2013.
Meanwhile in northern Yemen more than 300,000 people were still displaced from the conflict that had been running on and off since 2004 between Yemeni Government forces and al Houthis. Insecurity continued to hinder returns there, while tribal clashes earlier in 2012 generated over 6,000 new IDPs in the northern governorates.
Rupert Colville for the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR) said the High Commissioner was concerned about the actions of the Cambodian authorities in the run up to this weekend’s ASEAN-related summits in Phnom Penh.
The OHCHR office in Cambodia had monitored peaceful meetings of civil society groups from across the region discussing human rights issues. Many of these meetings had been closed down under pressure from the authorities. At least 60 people had been arbitrarily detained during an operation to 'sweep' Phnom Penh clean of street people prior to the arrival of heads of government, and members of a community protesting their threatened eviction by writing messages on the roofs of their houses were arrested, although later released.
The Summit should be an opportunity for all parts of ASEAN to come together and peacefully share their views. The actions of the Cambodian Government were not concordant with Cambodia's human rights obligations nor with the values of ASEAN of peace and prosperity for all, he said.
Rupert Colville for the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR) said the UN human rights office was deeply concerned by reports from Cameroon of the harassment, intimidation, arrest and imprisonment of individuals on suspicion of being lesbian or gay.
The current Cameroonian penal code criminalized "sexual relations with a person of the same sex" and provided for a penalty of up to five years imprisonment and a fine. The law as it stands was in breach of Cameroon's international human rights commitments and violates rights to privacy and to freedom from discrimination, both of which were guaranteed by the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights. While the penal code relates specifically to sexual conduct, the OHCHR was seriously concerned that it was being applied in a broad-brush way to prosecute many individuals on the basis of their appearance, their mannerisms, style of speech or general conduct.
In 2011, for example, Roger Jean-Claude Mbédé was convicted of suspected homosexual conduct after the authorities discovered he had sent a text message to another man that read "I am very much in love with you". Last month, Jonas Singa Kumie and Franky Djome were convicted on the basis of evidence of their appearance, which was perceived as effeminate, and the fact that they had been seen drinking Bailey's Irish Cream. All three had an appeal hearing next week.
It was especially worrying to receive reports of anonymous threats being made against human rights defenders working to protect the rights of lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (LGBT) persons, he said. A prominent Cameroonian lawyer, Alice Nkom, who had defended in court many of those charged with homosexuality-related offences in recent years, had received multiple threats to her life and well-being and the well-being of her family. Civil society organizations that had spoken out on behalf of LGBT people had also been threatened and intimidated.
The Government of Cameroon had a duty to end these abuses. It should provide adequate protection to human rights defenders working to protect the rights of LGBT persons. It also should also use the ongoing review of the penal code to put forward amendments.
Right of association for trade unions
Hans Von Rohland for the International Labor Organization (ILO) said he needed to point out two errors made in a press release about trade union freedom. The first clarification was to state that the committee had examined 32 cases, not 32 countries. The other point was that the previous version had mentioned Mar del Plata, when it should have been the province of Jujuy.
Pakistan death penalty
Rupert Colville for the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR) said the High Commissioner expressed her disappointment and sadness at the news that Pakistan had carried out its first execution in four years on Thursday. The sentence was handed down in 2008 by a military court against a soldier who had killed his superior.
OHCHR opposed the death penalty in any circumstances and had been greatly encouraged by the lengthening moratorium on executions in Pakistan. When she visited Pakistan in May this year, the High Commissioner urged the government to translate the moratorium into a more permanent ban and commute the sentences of several thousand prisoners on death row. She hoped the moratorium will remain in place for the regular criminal system but stressed it should be honoured in all spheres.
Rupert Colville for the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR) answered a question on sub-Saharan workers in Libya saying his office deplored ill-treatment of migrant workers anywhere and it was unfortunate that these people often suffered. There was clearly a racist element in this treatment, he said. Work on human rights generally continued in Libya, he said, through the human rights component of UNSMIL.
Rupert Colville for the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR) answered a question about Venezuela’s admission to the Human Rights Council saying his office’s position on Venezuela’s withdrawal from the Inter-American Court and Commission on Human Rights had been made clear on several occasions.
Jumbe Omari Jumbe for the International Organization for Migration (IOM) said the German government had given EUR 500,000 for IOM to give shelter and non-food assistance to 38,000 persons in Chad displaced by flooding.
IOM was assisting the Chadian Government to transport victims from four flood affected areas to safer parts of the country. 15,000 people had been moved so far and the additional funding would mean this programme would be spread throughout the country. Other work included the improvement of latrines and boreholes and a cholera awareness raising campaign.
Jumbe Omari Jumbe for the International Organization for Migration (IOM) said the IOM had repatriated a further 136 third-country nationals from Syria, mainly from the Phillipines.
In addition the organization was distributing non-food items in an area of Damascus and was providing psychosocial support to Syrian refugee and Lebanese returnee children in Baalbeck.
Jumbe Omari Jumbe for the International Organization for Migration (IOM) said the organization was today (16 November) launching a community radio station to foster peace among refugees and host communities in a town in North Western Kenya.
The area had seen conflicts between the new arrivals and the community on the issues of resources, he explained.
Ms. Momal-Vanian said the Committee on Economic, Social and Cultural continued its consideration of the initial report of Mauritania. Bulgaria and Iceland were to present their reports next week, Tuesday and Wednesday respectively.
The Committee against Torture this morning held its last public meeting before the end of its session on Friday. The meeting this morning was devoted to follow up on recommendations that the Committee had made to some States Parties after reviewing their reports and after the examination of individual complaints.
Jean Rodriguez for the Economic Commission for Europe (ECE) said the UNECE’s World Forum for Harmonization of Vehicle Regulation (WP.29) had adopted today three new regulations that will significantly increase passenger safety. He was happy to discuss the details of these with anyone interested.
Ms. Momal-Vanian added that Sunday (18 November) was the World Day of Remembrance for Road Traffic Victims. In a message for the Day, the Secretary-General said the world’s roads have claimed some 1.2 million lives this year. Added to the fatalities are the more than 50 million people injured each year – many of them now condemned to enduring physical disabilities and psychological trauma for the rest of their days. Around 90 per cent of road traffic deaths and injuries occur in low- and middle-income countries. However, progress was to be noted, for example, seatbelt use in Turkey had increased from 8 to 50 per cent and, in Viet Nam, motorcycle helmet use had tripled from 30 to 90 per cent.
Next week, (22 and 23 November), Mr. Rodriguez said, the Executive Secretary of the UNECE, Sven Alkalaj, was to visit Manila to sign a memorandum of understanding concerning the putting in place of an international speciality centre on public-private partnerships in the area of health which was to disseminate best practice on the subject in the region, and the world. From the 26 to 28 he would then go to Bangkok to join the annual meeting of the UN Special Programme for the Economies of Central Asia (SPECA). There he would attend an economic forum on the problem of reinforcing regional cooperation links on economic matters.
From the 28 to the 30 a Meeting of the Parties to the UNECE Water Convention was to take place in Rome which would look at the current situation and work to be done on the extension of the Convention to all members of the UN. A press release on the meeting was to be issued. A press release on a session held in Addias Ababa this week to increase awareness on and understanding of the UNECE Water Convention was available at the back of the room.
Ankai Xu for the World Trade Organization (WTO) said the Dispute Settlement Body would meet on Monday (19 November), this was at the same time as the Trade and Development Committee. The East African Community (Kenya, Tanzania, Uganda, Burundi, Rwanda) Trade Policy Review took place on Wednesday and continued on Friday. Meanwhile the Rules of Origin committee was to meet on Thursday at 10:00.
She also mentioned that on 3 December there would be a General Council meeting to adopt the accession of Tajikistan to the WTO.
The WTO Director-General, Pascal Lamy, was in Phnom Penh, Cambodia on Tuesday (20 November) where he was to speak at the ASEAN Global Dialogue, meet with Mr. Hun Sen, Prime Minister of Cambodia and Dr. Cham Prasidh, Minister of Commerce of Cambodia. He was then to visit Australia, Samoa and Vanuatu.
Sophie Barton-Knott for the Joint United Nations Programme on HIV/AIDS (UNAIDS) announced a press conference on the new HIV Results report on Tuesday (20 November) at 14:00 in Room III. The speaker for the press conference was Michel Sidibé, Executive Director, UNAIDS. The embargoed report and press kit was to be available on a password protected website from Monday 19 November. Broadcast quality footage from a number of countries was also to be made available.
In terms of content, the report outlined significant progress in the last few years and the materials include data on the number of people living with HIV, new infections, AIDS related deaths and access to retroviral therapy. There were also sections on stigma and discrimination, young people and investments.
Hans Von Rohland for the International Labour Organization (ILO) said the ILO annual report on salaries was to be released on 7 December. A press conference was to be organised featuring the ILO Director-General.