REGULAR PRESS BRIEFING BY THE INFORMATION SERVICE
8 January 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 World Food Programme, the World Meteorological Organization, the World Health Organization, the International Telecommunications Union and the International Organization for Migration.
Elisabeth Byrs for the World Food Programme (WFP) said that the WFP hoped to reach 1.5 million people with food distributions in Syria in January. In November the distribution cycle had given aid to 1.4 million, slightly less than the target due to poor security conditions, and the December cycle continued so accurate figures were not yet available.
Overall, it was estimated that 2.5 million people were in need of food assistance in Syria, where internally displaced people (IDPs) represented around 85 per cent of the beneficiaries across all 14 governorates.
In October the WFP had received a request from the Syrian Arab Red Crescent (SARC) to increase the number of beneficiaries from 1.5 million to 2.5 million. However, WFP was unable to further scale up assistance due to the lack of implementing partners on the ground and challenges reaching some of the country’s hardest hit areas. Its main partner, the Red Crescent, was overstretched and had no more capacity to expand further. Further partners on the ground were being sought.
In Aleppo, the majority of the population was depending on private bakeries where the price of 1 kg of bread, if available at all, had reached SYP 250, the highest in the country, and 40 to 50 per cent higher compared to other governorates (compared to 15 SYP for subsidized bread and 45 for unsubsidized bread before the crisis).
There were reports of shortages of wheat flour in most parts of the country due to the damage to mills, the majority of which were in the Aleppo area, lack of fuel for delivery, road closures and difficult access. There was also a shortage of cooking gas.
WFP had recently temporarily relocated its staff from its sub-offices in Homs, Aleppo, Tartous and Qamisly due to the deteriorating security situation in these areas.
Around $117 million had already been contributed by donors, though an additional $136 million was needed to continue the programme.
Answering questions she said the Red Crescent had reached its capacity in terms of personnel and logistics and even with the support given could do no more. She added that it had been possible to distribute food in areas controlled by the opposition.
Central African Republic
Elisabeth Byrs for the World Food Programme (WFP) said the WFP was poised to restart operations in the Central African Republic (CAR) as soon as practically possible.
A WFP warehouse in Kagabandoro (385 Km from Bangui) held 210 MT of food ready for distribution, though a WFP warehouse in the sub-office of Bambari (one of the dozen towns taken over by the rebels) had been looted and 209 MT of food had been lost. Three trucks were also vandalized. However, with over 1000MT of food in WFP's warehouse in Bangui, WFP was still able to feed 300,000 people for one week when needed, she explained.
Cécile Pouilly for the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR) said it was regretted that Bahrain’s highest court on Monday upheld the convictions of 13 activists for their role in pro-democracy demonstrations, after two years of trials and despite the conclusions of the Bahrain Independent Commission of Inquiry and the appeals by the international community concerning the judicial procedure and allegations of torture.
These persons were political and human rights activists and it was concerning that they may have been wrongly convicted for legitimate activities. The extreme harshness of some of the sentences was also worrying, including imprisonment for life.
In a separate development, she condemned the continued arbitrary detention of Mr. Said Yousif Al-Muhafdhah, the Vice President of the Bahrain Center for Human Rights (BCHR), who was arrested on 17 December 2012 while monitoring a protest in Manama, tweeting about attacks on protesters and posting a picture of a demonstrator wounded during the protest.
His case was expected to be reviewed by the Public Prosecution Office on 9 January and she called on the Bahraini authorities to release him immediately.
Cécile Pouilly for the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR) said the Office was extremely concerned about Mohammed al Ajami (also known as Ibn al Dheeb), a well-known Qatari poet who was sentenced to life in prison on 29 November 2012 by a Qatari court for a poem considered to be insulting the nation’s symbols and encouraging the overthrow of its ruling system.
There were concerns over the fairness of his trial, she said, including the right to counsel. It had been marred by a number of procedural irregularities and several of the sessions were held in camera. The initial statement of the defendant was allegedly tampered with to wrongly incriminate him for reciting his poem in public.
She also explained that Mr. al Ajami had apparently spent many months in solitary confinement and remained there despite a court order during his first instance trial to place him under normal conditions. She said it was understood that his second appeal was scheduled for January 27 and the situation was to be monitored closely.
Answering questions she said the OHCHR was in touch with the Qatari Government and had been in contact with those close to the defendant to try and assess the situation in this specific case.
Jumbe Omari Jumbe for the International Organization for Migration (IOM) said a new $2.9 million Swiss contribution was to be used to support the socioeconomic reintegration of Chadian returnees from Libya.
This followed the signing of an agreement for a two-year community stabilization project between the IOM and the Swiss Agency for Development and Cooperation (SDC) to support the livelihoods of the Chadian migrants who had returned from Libya and were currently living in three northern regions bordering Libya, Niger and Sudan.
The funding would strengthen social cohesion and dialogue between returnees and host communities and support the rehabilitation of existing infrastructures, including schools, medical facilities and cultural centres, community warehouses and cereal storage areas.
Some 125,000 community members, including returnees, were to directly benefit from this programme.
An IOM assessment carried out in March 2012 in 14 regions of Chad with the highest number of returnees found that most were in urgent need of socio-economic reintegration support to help them cope with the loss of income and the adaptation to a different lifestyle.
The assessment found that the majority were unable to meet their basic needs of food, housing, health and education and were struggling financially to provide for their families.
In the first phase of the project, IOM will work in partnership with the Mines Advisory Group (MAG) to ensure access roads were clear of mines.
Clare Nullis for the World Meteorological Organization (WMO) said following a swathe of bush fires in Tasmania the Bureau of Meteorology of Australia had issued a statement saying the last four months of 2012 were abnormally hot, with an average maximum temperature reaching the highest on record.
The current heat wave had been made worse by very dry conditions which had affected the country since mid-2012. Many temperature records had been broken and that was expected to continue.
Answering questions she said that it was too early to assert that this heat wave was linked to climate change. However, she noted that the IPCC had released a report in 2012 which assessed evidence that climate change led to changes in climate extremes such as heat waves. The conditions would be closely analysed once the heat wave had passed. She also explained that in addition to discussions on climate change it was important to remember that there was a natural variability in our climate which could contribute to extraordinary events.
Illicit trade in tobacco
Dr. Haik Nikogosian, Head of the FCTC Secretariat at the World Health Organization (WHO) said a signing ceremony of the new Protocol to eliminate illicit trade in tobacco products was to be held on Thursday (10 January) at 10:30 in the Executive Board Room of the WHO building.
The protocol had already been adopted by 140 countries at a conference in Seoul two months ago, he explained, and it was to be available to be signed in Geneva for two days before moving to New York for the following year. A number of ministers had already confirmed their attendance and following the signing countries would then need to ratify the details.
Answering questions he said overall trends in tobacco smoking could not be said to be decreasing, with high concentrations of new smokers in developing countries. On another point he said the public health impact of illicit trade was that the low price of cigarettes where tax had been avoided fuelled consumption. The track and trace element of the new protocol meant that cigarettes could be monitored when they entered the supply chain and so problems in trafficking identified.
Finally he explained that support could be offered to less developed countries, such as technical solutions, to help them implement these processes. The system itself would be managed through the State, he said, and could not be delegated to tobacco companies. The Secretariat of the Convention would then manage global information-sharing on behalf of the Parties.
Details of the ministers attending would probably be conveyed tomorrow (Wednesday).
Sarah Parkes for the International Telecommunications Union (ITU) gave details of FerMUN’13, a bilingual model United Nations conference hosted by the model United Nations club of the Lycée International de Ferney-Voltaire that was set to take place from 9-11 January at the ITU. The theme was “Telecomunications as the way forward in development, peace and prosperity”.
This may be the only model UN worldwide that was run fully in a bilingual manner and all communications would be managed at the level of the students themselves. Over 300 students were to attend, with eight committees, including visitors from the UK, Germany and across France. Topics covered including technological aspects and considerations in human rights, agriculture, education, economic development, gender equality and environmental issues.
Guests at the conference included Mr. Kassym-Jomart Tokayev, Director-General of UNOG, ITU Secretary-General Dr Hamadoun Touré, Ambassador Mr. Alexandre Fasel, Permanent Representative of Switzerland to the United Nations Office (UNOG) and Ms. Sylvia Poll, Deputy Permanent Representative, Permanent Mission of Costa Rica to the United Nations Office at Geneva. A short press conference was planned at 17:30 tomorrow (Wednesday) at ITU.
Other Geneva activities
Ms. Momal-Vanian said the Committee on the Rights of the Child will begin a three-week session on Monday, January 14 which was to consider the reports of Guinea, Guyana, Malta and Niue on the application of the Convention on the Rights of the Child.
It should also examine the reports submitted under the Optional Protocols on the sexual exploitation of children and children in armed conflict. These reports were to be submitted by Slovakia, Burkina Faso, the Philippines and the United States.
A background release was to be distributed on Thursday.
She also reminded correspondents of a press conference tomorrow (9 January) by the International Labour Organization (ILO) at 10:00 in Room III for the launch of the report “Domestic workers across the world.” The speaker was Sandra Polaski, ILO’s Deputy Director-General for Policy.
Answering a question on the upcoming meeting of the Intergovernmental Negotiating Committee to prepare a global legally binding instrument on mercury organised by the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP) she said she would inquire about the arrangements for press and come back with further details.