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REGULAR PRESS BRIEFING BY THE INFORMATION SERVICE
5 April 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 High Commissioner for Refugees, the United Nations Economic Commission for Europe, the United Nations Children’s Fund, the World Health Organization, the World Trade Organization, the International Labour Organization, the World Meteorological Organization, for the World Intellectual Property Organization and the International Organization for Migration.

Influenza A (H7N9) cases in China

Gregory Härtl for the World Health Organization (WHO) said that as of this morning WHO had been officially notified by the China National Health and Family Planning Commission of a total of 14 cases, with six deaths in those 14 cases. The 14 cases came from four provinces in China: Shanghai, Anhui, Jiangsu and Zhejiang. Close contacts were being closely monitored. Thus far none of them had tested positive for Influenza A (H7N9). The World Health Organization did not yet know the source of the infection, which was being actively investigated. At this time there was no evidence of sustained human-to-human transmission.

Answering several questions about links between the virus and pigs, Mr. Härtl clearly stated that there was no evidence that pigs dumped in a river were associated with the outbreak. Two of the 14 people infected had worked either as a butcher or as a seller of pork products in a market, but that was just two out of the 14 cases. Mr. Härtl said an adaptation of a gene within the H7N9 virus had allowed the virus to become able to infect mammals. That adaptation meant that we were now seeing humans infected with what was an avian influenza virus. As far as he knew there was no common source of exposure for all the cases; that was one of the pieces of the puzzle that needed to be filled in. There were numerous investigations going on into various possible environmental and animal sources, including pigs, but the pigs dumped into a river had not been shown to be connected with those cases. Some of the pigs from the river had now been tested, and those pigs did not have the influenza virus.

In response to a question about the term ‘sustained human-to-human transmission’ Mr. Härtl said he meant that over 400 people were being followed up who had had contact with the 14 confirmed cases. Until that follow-up surveillance was complete and results from the 400 contacts were collected WHO wanted to be cautious with what it said, particularly with regard to human-to-human transmission. For example, looking back, in comparison with the H5N1 virus, out of the 600 cases of H5N1 there were probably only five instances where H5N1 was transmitted from one close contact to another. It was mostly between the original infected patient and a caregiver. Maybe that would be replicated here, but the 400 contacts had to be followed up to find any evidence of human-to-human transmission. No sustained human to human transmission meant that there was no evidence, among the contacts, of transmission beyond very close contacts.

WHO was working to find out if people had contracted the virus from one another or from an environmental source. The virus could attach itself to dust particles, for instance. That was why all avenues had to be followed up, and that was being done very accurately. In response to a question about whether people could catch the flu through water, Mr. Härtl replied that influenza viruses were passed either from infected surfaces or through respiratory droplets but not from water.

Regarding a question about the phases of a pandemic, Mr. Härtl said they had been revised and a new draft was due to be sent for peer review soon. Looking at the new phases, it seemed that ‘severity’ would be incorporated into them. There were three points that were important in terms of judging the severity of a virus, including transmission. Firstly whether transmission was from human-to-human, secondly clinical manifestations – was it causing severe disease and/or disease in groups of people not normally infected by influenza; and thirdly looking at the burden on the health system. There was no timeline yet as to when the new phases would be published.

In response to further questions, Mr. Härtl said that all four provinces where flu cases had been seen so far were all in eastern China, along the seaboard, going north from Shanghai. In terms of epidemic or pandemic threat, WHO was still only looking at 14 apparently unconnected cases, that stemmed from the animal world or from environmental sources. Until they knew what the source of infection was it was not possible to work effectively to stop the infections. The Chinese Government was well aware of that and was conducting a number of different investigations into various possible sources. It was also conducting heightened surveillance and retrospective testing into people with unexplained respiratory diseases. That was very important, and also something other countries should think about doing. There were a lot of different viruses that at the end of the day caused flu-like symptoms.

The Chinese Government itself was advising people to maintain good hygiene, including frequent hand-washing, and to avoid direct contact with sick or dead animals. Answering a question about whether WHO had specific recommendations, Mr. Härtl said they would echo the Chinese Government’s recommendations, as it had been very diligent in its response so far.

Concluding, Mr. Härtl emphasized that in terms of scale, so far there were 14 cases over a large geographical area. There was no sign of any epidemiological linkage between the confirmed cases, and there was no sign of sustained human to human transmission.

Syria

Marixie Mercado for the United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF) said that without urgent provision of new funding UNICEF would find itself unable to continue delivering critical support to Syrians who have fled for their lives to Jordan.

Right now UNICEF was providing safe water, sanitation, immunization, education, and child protection at Za'atari camp, which housed around 100,000 refugees, more than half of whom were children. That was just a fraction of the total refugee community: around 80 per cent of Syrian refugees were hosted by local communities, putting an enormous strain on the economy and infrastructure, including on water, health and education systems. Here too, UNICEF provided critical assistance, but needs had far surpassed funding resources.

There are now close to a quarter of a million of Syrian child refugees in Jordan. Since the beginning of the year, more than 2,000 refugees had streamed across the borders every day. UNICEF expects those numbers to more than double by July, and triple by December. By the end of 2013, they estimate there would be 1.2 million Syrian refugees in Jordan – equivalent to about one-fifth of Jordan’s total population.

The needs were rising exponentially, and UNICEF was broke.

In concrete terms, that meant that by June, UNICEF would stop delivering 3.5 million litres of water every day to Za'atari camp. That meant it would not be able to open the third school it was building at Za'atari because the funds were simply not available to cover the teachers’ salaries, the textbooks, the furniture and the running costs of the school. That meant the Ministry of Education would need to turn away Syrian refugee students seeking entry in Jordanian schools because UNICEF could not provide support to any more than the 30,000 Syrian children already in Jordanian schools with UNICEF assistance. It meant UNICEF would not be able to provide water, sanitation, education, immunisation and nutrition support to two new camps slated to open in coming weeks.

The humanitarian community was extremely generous to UNICEF Jordan in 2012 but this year only 19 per cent or about $12 million of the $57 million appeal for Jordan had been confirmed. Unless the office in Jordan received significant fresh funding, UNICEF would need to scale back on life saving support, and in making sure that Syrian refugee children were protected and had a future.

Gaëlle Sévenier for the International Organization for Migration (IOM) said 168 refugees had received assistance in relocating from the IOM. At the same time, 11,000 people had been given transport from the Syrian border, more than last week. Until today, the IOM had helped 243,000 people to reach the Za’atri camp.

In response to a question about planning estimates, Marixie Mercado for the United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF) said those estimates were put together by the humanitarian community as a whole. The funding crunch was critical across the region as well as for Syria. The appeal for Syria had a 72 per cent funding gap. All of the offices in the region had a severe funding gap. Jordan was particularly hard-hit, but all of the offices were severely underfunded. In the coming days the concrete implications of what that funding gap meant would become clear.

Answering a question about what had happened to the pledged donations, Ms. Mercado said so far few funds had actually come in. Funding was the most critical issue. The needs were extraordinary and they were just growing every day. UNICEF was talking to all of the donors, everywhere, and asking for money now.

Ms. Mercado replied to another question saying that UNICEF had provided assistance in Syria since the beginning of the conflict and continued to do so today. For example, it had brought in 800 tonnes of water-treatment chemicals to provide safe drinking water for about 10 million people. It had just started an immunisation campaign to provide vaccines for 2.5 million children against measles, mumps and rubella, and to do another polio round. There were 28 mobile teams working across the country in conflict-affected areas provided life-saving assistance to children. They were also providing psycho-social support. It went on. But across the region, a lot of operations would have to scale down unless the money came in soon.

Answering a question about whether if UNICEF ran out of money, whether UNHCR and other humanitarian organizations could help affected children in the region, Adrian Edwards for the United Nations Refugee Agency (UNHCR) said the funding gap affected the entire humanitarian community. Reinforcing what Mr. Mercado said, the funding situation was absolutely critical. The High Commissioner for Refugees had made the point that it was a real crisis. If there was no political solution in Syria on the one hand, and no humanitarian assistance on the other, there was a real problem.

Central African Republic

Adrian Edwards for the United Nations Refugee Agency (UNHCR) said refugee numbers from Central African Republic (CAR) had increased to more than 37,000. UNHCR continued to see outflows of refugees from Central African Republic. Over the last two weeks offices had reported fresh arrivals into Chad, Cameroon, and Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC). In all, and since the conflict began last December, there were now 37,000 CAR refugees in the region. The refugees were mainly from Bangui, as well as the cities of Bangassou, Rifai and Zemio in the south-eastern part of the country bordering DRC.

Since December, 30,876 CAR refugees had found asylum in northern DRC. Chad had meanwhile received 5,600 CAR refugees, and 1,024 arrivals had been registered in Cameroon.

The help needs of those refugees were significant. Many had left their homes in a hurry and were unable to bring personal belongings with them. People were either without places to live or being accommodated by local families – who themselves lived in extreme poverty. UNHCR was working with the authorities in all three receiving countries to provide protection and assistance. Its teams across the region were registering the refugees, distributing aid and setting up emergency shelters. UNHCR was also working with its humanitarian partners to provide health and education support wherever possible, often in remote and hard to reach locations.

In Chad UNHCR had transferred refugees away from the border to Moro, a camp already hosting CAR refugees. In northern DRC it had so far managed to help 26,751 people. Those in Equateur province were in one established camp and 19 temporary sites. In the area of Zongo, across the river from Bangui, we planned to expand the Worobe camp. Further north in Inke, North-Ubangi District, colleagues had also begun clearing 400 hectares of land given by the authorities to create initial capacity for at least 10,000 refugees.

By moving refugees into camps UNHCR hoped to improve the situation. Currently, people were scattered along a 600 km stretch of the CAR border making it hard to meet their needs. The areas they were in lacked basic infrastructure. Health centres were short of medicine and qualified medical staff. On 29 March for example, a baby of 20 months old died from internal bleeding in Mobayi General Hospital because she could not be attended to in time.

Further east, in Orientale Province UNHCR was running a main transit centre at Bondo but planned to build six additional ones and rehabilitate another. The influx continued as the situation remained volatile in CAR where another 173,000 civilians had been uprooted during the recent violence.

Before the March 24 coup, there were already 187,889 CAR refugees in Cameroon (87,092), in Chad (70,664), in DRC (29,000) and in South Sudan (1,143). They mainly fled from years of harassment by various armed groups operating mainly in northern CAR.

In response to questions, Mr. Edwards said that the outflow of refugees from CAR to DRC was a symptom of continued uncertainty about the situation. For humanitarians access remained a big issue.

Mali

Adrian Edwards for the United Nations Refugee Agency (UNHCR) said there had been a new Malian refugee influx into northern Niger, with 5,592 Malian refugees crossing into Niger last week. The refugees, mainly women and children, were from the regions of Kidal and Menaka and travelled by foot or on donkeys. They said that they fled because of the ongoing war in northern Mali, and for fear of possible reprisals by the Malian army. They also said that more people were on their way to Niger.

The refugees began arriving on March 28 and were staying at Mentes and Midal, in a remote desert area of northern Niger. Mentes was located at about 922 km from Niamey and 422 km from Tahoua where UNHCR was looking after 17,000 other Malian refugees . It took a six hour-drive across desert to reach the area from Tahoua. Reception conditions were very precarious. The only available water - which contained clay - was drawn from pools. No health facilities were available. UNHCR planned to relocate those refugees to Midal where they could better assist them and where there was a functioning well.

Joint and separate missions with local authorities and partner agency World Food Programme (WFP) had been organized to register new arrivals and distribute food and non-food items. Aid had already been provided to 2,402 individuals who arrived before 28 March while the rest would receive aid during the next round of distribution. At present UNHCR was in the process of re-deploying staff and resources to the area, which had previously been without a refugee influx. Distributions of food and non-food assistance would continue. In addition, needs assessments and surveys were being organized to ascertain other needs.

Overall there were an estimated 175,076 Malian refugees in Algeria, Burkina Faso, Mauritania and, Niger. That included 37,530 people who fled since January. Among reported reasons for flight were insecurity, and confiscation of goods, plus fear of arbitrary arrests or detention and other human rights violations.

Death penalty

Rupert Colville for the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR) expressed deep concern that a number of countries in the Middle East and Asia had recently started reapplying the death penalty after several years of moratorium, and despite the overwhelming global trend towards abolishing the death penalty. Earlier in the week three men were executed in Kuwait – the first time since May 2007 that Kuwait had carried out death sentences. Over 40 detainees remained on death row in Kuwait and OHCHR urged the Government to commute all death sentences.

Other countries in the Middle East region which regularly carried out the death penalty were Saudi Arabia, Yemen and Iraq, and OHCHR was particularly concerned at the continued high rate of implementation of the death penalty in Iraq, where four more executions were reported to have been carried out on 1 April, taking the total number known to have been executed there in 2013 to at least 12 (with some reports suggesting a higher number), with hundreds more people on death row. The number of people executed in Iraq in 2012 totalled 123, including 5 females, which was a massive increase over previous years, and deeply worrying in a country where there were persisting serious concerns about compliance with fair trial standards.

In Asia, the death penalty had also recently been carried out for the first time in several years in both India and Indonesia, while Japan resumed executions in 2012. An unknown number of people were executed every year in China, the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea and Iran. Five executions had taken place so far in 2013 in the United States.

In many cases, the death penalty involved clear violations of international norms and standards: for example when fair trial guarantees and due process were not respected, and when executions of juvenile offenders took place in violation of the Convention on the Rights of the Child. Other violations included alleged crimes that did not meet the threshold of "most serious crimes," execution after a very long period on death row, and a failure to ensure consular services were provided to foreign nationals. In general, OHCHR appealed to all Governments concerned to take necessary measures and establish an official moratorium on all executions with the aim of abolishing the death penalty in accordance with recent General Assembly resolutions (Resolution 67/176 in 2012, 65/206 in 2010, 63/138 in 2008, and 62/149 in 2007).

In response to questions, Mr. Colville said OHCHR was not aware of any executions that had taken place in Africa so far this year, although there were some reported in 2012, including in South Sudan, Sudan, Botswana and Gambia. There were no executions anywhere in Europe or the Americas, with the exception of the United States and Belarus. On Iraq, OHCHR continued to hold serious reservations about the criminal justice system, including with regard to due process, conviction based on forced confessions and trial proceedings that fell short of international standards. Even the best legal systems could not be guaranteed to be free of error, and any miscarriage of justice could not be undone.

Indonesia

Adrian Edwards for the United Nations Refugee Agency (UNHCR) said they were saddened by reports of fatalities and injuries following a disturbance early this morning at a detention centre in Medan, in Indonesia's Northern Sumatra. According to local authorities, eight people had died and 15 were injured after fighting broke out between asylum seekers and others from Myanmar in the detention centre. UNHCR was calling for calm among the groups and urging the Indonesian authorities to take action to prevent further violence, including moving individuals into community housing as soon as possible.

South Sudan

Gaëlle Sévenier for the International Organization for Migration (IOM) said IOM had organised a series of peace promotion events in South Sudan to bring conflicting communities together. Limited access to water, frequent cattle raids and clashes between ethnic groups had long fuelled community tensions and violence in those areas. Those tensions were exacerbated by a lack of communication between communities, leading to mistrust and an ongoing cycle of revenge attacks for past grievances.

In that context, the programme aimed to deter future conflict by providing much-needed resources, including shared water sources, marketplaces and other key infrastructure, while at the same time working to strengthen mutual confidence and trust by fostering inter-community dialogue. The inaugural peace promotion event was held on 28th March in Kuajok, the capital of Warrap State. The event brought together over 100 women, men and children, as well as community leaders, local government officials and IOM representatives. A second peace promotion event would be held in Warrap Town on 6 April.

Additionally, the programme would soon be expanded to Jonglei State, which had been wracked by intense inter-tribal and military conflicts in recent months. The events formed part of IOM’s programme, established in 2012, with the support of the European Union (EU).

South Africa

Gaëlle Sévenier for the International Organization for Migration (IOM) said this year marks five years since xenophobic attacks in South Africa shocked the country, the region and the world. In addition, the recent death of a Mozambican taxi driver and regular reports of intimidation of foreigners showed that tensions still existed between locals and migrants.

In that atmosphere the IOM was organising community screenings of the anti-xenophobia film, ‘Man on Ground’ as part of an information campaign in four provinces between April 5 - 19. It was hoped these showings would create debate in society and a more tolerant attitude.

In addition, IOM South Africa and implementing partner the Agency for Refugee Education, Skills Training and Advocacy (ARESTA) were to lead a peaceful march tomorrow (6 April) to promote cultural diversity, tolerance, and peace among migrants and host community members in Cape Town’s Greater Philippi Township.

Anti-trafficking

Gaëlle Sévenier for the International Organization for Migration (IOM) said every year hundreds of irregular migrants from sub-Saharan Africa were believed to fall prey to human traffickers in Libya. At present Libya had no specific anti-trafficking laws and the country was in the process of reviewing all its laws. IOM had been asked by the Libyan government to assist it with expertise in counter trafficking and other areas of migration management.

In that context, the IOM, in partnership with the Libyan Ministry of Justice and the Institute of High Court Judges, had completed a series counter-trafficking workshops attended by 102 judges and prosecutors in the Libyan capital Tripoli. On a similar note, she said that IOM and the Djiboutian Public Prosecutor in charge of trafficking issues had this week trained a group of officers from Djibouti’s national police, gendarmerie and coast guard in combating human trafficking.

UNECE 65th session

Jean Rodriguez for the United Nations Economic Commission for Europe (UNECE) said the UNECE 65th session was to take place from 9 to 11 April in Room XVIII of the Palais des Nations. A press release was available at the back of the room.

The Commission was expected to make strategic decisions on the UNECE programme of work. There were three round tables planned, the first of which, held on Tuesday (8 April) morning considered follow-up to Rio+20 and post 2015 development agenda. The second, in the afternoon, was to discuss the institutional processes needed to be put in place at the high-level in the Europe region to support the follow-up. A number of participants were at the ministerial level.

The outcomes of one of the panel discussions on Wednesday morning was to serve as regional input to the 2013 ECOSOC Annual Ministerial Review, he said, whose theme is “Science, technology and innovation, and the potential of culture, for promoting sustainable development and achieving the MDGs”.

The Commission was also to adopt the outcome document of the review of the 2005 UNECE reform, which defined the strategic priorities for UNECE for the coming years. The session and discussions were open to the public.

Geneva activities

Ms. Momal-Vanian said the Committee on Enforced Disappearances would start its fourth session, which would last for two weeks, on Monday (8 April). The committee, which first sat in November 2011, was due to examine country reports for the first time, beginning with the reports of Uruguay and France, (9 and 10 April and 11 and 12 April respectively). A background press release was distributed yesterday.

Ms. Momal-Vanian said the United Nations had launched a campaign, in partnership with Governments, international partners and civil society, to raise awareness that from today (5 April) there were 1,000 days remaining to achieve the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs). A press release was available at the back of the room. Included in that text were details of the targets that had been met and successful actions such as those to halve the rate of extreme poverty, and to halve the rate of persons without access to sustainable safe drinking water. There was also further information on the areas where significant progress had been achieved, and the challenges that remained. Additional information could be found at: http://www.un.org/millenniumgoals

Ankai Xu for the World Trade Organization (WTO) said next Monday and Tuesday (8-9 April) there would be a two-day workshop on E-Commerce, Development and Small and Medium-sized Enterprises (SMEs) at 10am. On Wednesday (9 April) at 11:30am, in Room D, WTO Director-General Pascal Lamy would hold a press conference on the World Trade figures for 2012 and Prospects for 2013. The press release was embargoed until 12:30pm that day. On Thursday (11 April) there would be an informal meeting of the Trade Negotiations Committee at 10:00am, followed by a briefing at 1:00pm, venue to be confirmed.

Hans von Rohland for the International Labour Organization (ILO) reminded those attending that ILO’s 9th European Regional Meeting would be held from 8 to 11 April 2013 in Oslo, Norway. An update on the report of ILO work carried out in the Europe region had been produced ahead of the meeting, and included both youth and long-term unemployment figures, as well as the growing risk of social conflicts. The report called for a change of policy in Europe and offered concrete proposals to that end. A press release and the update were hosted on a protected website and the details for access were to be distributed.

A report had been prepared for consideration and an update was to be issued just before the meeting itself. During the meeting, (8 April) there was a panel at 11:30 of Heads of State and Government which included Mr. Jens Stoltenberg, Prime Minister of Norway and Angel Gurría, the Secretary-General of the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development.

Jean Rodriguez for the United Nations Economic Commission for Europe (UNECE), in addition to announcing details of UNECE’s 65th session (see above), announced that UNECE Executive Secretary Sven Alkalaj would on Monday (8 April) meet Mr. Mansurov, Secretary-General of The Eurasian Economic Community (EurAsEC) and on Friday (12 April) would give the opening statement at the International Road Transport Union General Assembly at the International Conference Centre (CICG) at 11.00am. Mr Rodriguez also drew attention to an article in the latest UNECE newsletter which showed that the Millennium Development Goals target for universal primary education had not been met in the Europe region, giving the figures and exact details.

Clare Nullis for the World Meteorological Organization (WMO) announced WMO's Hurricane Committee 35th Session would take place in Willemstad, Curacao, from 8 to 12 April 2013. Next week the Hurricane Committee of WMO Regional Association IV (North, Central America and Caribbean) would hold its annual session to review the past hurricane season and to discuss how to improve preparedness for the forthcoming one. One of the decisions to be made would be which hurricane names to retire. Hurricane names were selected according to a rotating list. If a hurricane was particularly deadly or damaging it was retired from the list. A special session, held in Curacao, would be devoted to an examination of Hurricane Sandy. Details could be found on WMO’s website and information notes would be issued on Monday and also at the close of the session.

Fadéla Chaib for the World Health Organization (WHO) said that a press conference would be held on Thursday (11 April) at 11:00 am in Press Room 1 on the WHO/UNICEF strategy to prevent millions of child deaths from pneumonia and diarrhoea by 2025. Speaking at the event would be Dr. Elizabeth Mason, Director of Maternal, Newborn, Child and Adolescent Health, WHO and Marilena Viviani, Associate Director of Programme Partnerships at UNICEF. The report and the press release would be accessible on the password-protected website as of next Tuesday (9 April) at 11:00am. Ms. Chaib noted that WHO was working in partnership with The Lancet to publish the Global Action Plan which was embargoed until 12 April at 00:01 GMT, to coincide with a new series in The Lancet on childhood pneumonia and diarrhoea.

Marixie Mercado for the United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF) said on Tuesday (9 April) at 9:45 a.m. in Press Room 1 there was an embargoed press briefing on the release of ‘Child well-being in rich countries – A comparative overview’.
(Under embargo until 00:01 GMT, Wednesday 10 April 2013). The speaker was Chris de Neubourg, Chief of Social and Economic Policy, UNICEF Office of Research.

Samar Shamoon for the World Intellectual Property Organization (WIPO) reminded journalists that on Monday 8 April, in Room A, the Minister for Commerce and Industry of India, Mr. Anand Sharma, would attend WIPO for a high-level meeting with ambassadors and diplomats on Innovation and Development: the Indian Experience. Journalists could come and listen to that discussion, after which the Minister would be happy to take questions from the press in Room B. Ms. Shamoon added that from Wednesday to Friday (10 to 12 April) an intercessional meeting on the ongoing WIPO broadcasting discussions would be held.

The representative of the United Nations Conference on Trade and Development also attended the briefing but did not speak.

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The webcast for this briefing is available here