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REGULAR PRESS BRIEFING BY THE INFORMATION SERVICE
30 August 2013

Alessandra Vellucci, Chief of the Press and External Relations Section of the United Nations Information Service in Geneva, chaired the briefing which was also attended by the Spokespersons for the World Food Programme, Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs, International Labour Organization, United Nations Children’s Fund, United Nations Refugee Agency, United Nations Economic Commission for Europe, World Trade Organization and Inter-Parliamentary Union, as well as the World Economic Forum,

Syria

Jemini Pandya for the Inter-Parliamentary Union (IPU) said that IPU had issued a new statement in which it renewed calls for the urgent need for international consensus on a political rather than a military solution to the Syrian conflict. Recent history had shown that a military path was not the way forward, said Ms. Pandya, adding that enough blood had been spilled already. It was imperative that political will to end the conflict in a peaceful way was found.

IPU welcomed the decision by the British parliament on a crucial vote on the Syrian conflict, and IPU President Radi said it showed what parliaments around the world could do to press for an alternative to guns and bombs in bringing peace.

IPU and its 162 member parliaments had repeatedly called for dialogue between all concerned parties to end the violence that has killed an estimated 100,000 people and forced more than two million Syrians to flee the country. Yesterday’s action by the British parliament was very much in line with the commitments made by IPU’s Member Parliaments.

Answering questions from the press, Ms. Pandya said there was a civilian parliament in Syria, most recently elected in May, and details of how many members of parliaments there were, were on the IPU website. Yesterday the Syrian Parliament sent a letter to the British Parliament urging it not to take a military route. At the IPU’s Assembly in Quito in March 2013 the Syrian delegation, led by the Speaker of the Parliament, actually consisted of not just members of the Ba’ath party but also of independent members of parliament and members of opposition parties. One could be sceptical about the composition, but the IPU had spoken extensively with the delegation, which had many different points of view about the situation in Syria. However they were very much united in believing that a peaceful solution to the Syrian conflict was needed, and they were open to dialogue.

The IPU would host another delegation from the Syrian Parliament at the next IPU Assembly which would take place in Geneva from 7 to 9 October 2013, so journalists would be able to access them directly then.

Answering another question, Ms. Pandya said that the IPU had been trying to organize a mission to Syria now for a year and a half, but it had been repeatedly postponed. IPU had been consistently engaging with the Syrian conflict since the conflict began. Syria had now featured in all IPU assemblies in the past 18 months and would feature again in October and its members were very much engaged in trying to tackle the crisis. The Committee on Middle East Questions, which normally dealt with Palestinian Affairs, was looking to expand its remit to work on the Syrian question.

A stable and peaceful solution for Syria could only come through a parliamentary democracy: parliament was the only national institution that represented all political voices in a country. As long as the political parties conform and function, parliamentary democracy had proven to be the most effective system of governance. IPU would do its utmost to make sure Syria continued to have a parliament that not just did the will of the people but also protected the citizens of the country. IPU would provide whatever support the Syrian parliament asked of it.

Ms. Pandya said she could not emphasize enough the contact that had been taking place between the IPU and the new Syrian parliament that was elected in May. The parliament was doing its utmost to be open and to engage with the IPU, and to answer its questions. The leadership was very much in contact and the IPU would continue to support them.

Answering another question, Ms. Pandya said IPU’s position was clear on any conflict situation: that violence was never a solution. The only way to solve crises and conflicts was through dialogue. That was a fundamental principle of the IPU since it was established 125 years ago. Different countries had different systems. In the United Kingdom, for example, the Government had a right to use the Royal Prerogative to overturn the decision of parliament but the Prime Minister had said he would respect the will of parliament. It depended upon each individual country on how decisions by the Executive Governments could be made.

Syria – Humanitarian Aid

Gaëlle Sévenier for the International Organization for Migration (IOM) said that since 15 August 2013 over 42,000 refugees had crossed the Peshkhabour and Sehela borders into Iraqi Kurdistan. IOM had transported approximately 38,000 of those refugees to camps and safe locations across Iraqi Kurdistan. It had also provided 200 tents for newly arrived refugees, as well as non-food items such as fans and cooling systems to refugees in the camps. The press release was available at the back of the room.

Answering a question about agencies’ contingency plans for their humanitarian operations in the event of any military intervention, and for any staff they had inside Syria, Elisabeth Byrs for the World Food Programme (WFP) answered that WFP was continuing its work in Syria as usual for the moment and was doing its best to assist the people in need; Adrian Edwards for the United Nations Refugee Agency (UNHCR) said that they had permanent contingency plans for large numbers of displaced people, but had nothing else to add; Gaëlle Sévenier for the International Organization for Migration (IOM) said that they were continuing our assistance in Syria; Patrick McCormick for the United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF) said that despite the rise in tension UNICEF and its partners were on the ground delivering essential services for children and their families, wherever it was possible to do so, continuing their unwavering efforts to meet existing and new needs. They would do all they could to stay and deliver. Tariq Jasarevic for the World Health Organization (WHO) said that they would also continue their job in Syria.

Answering a question about whether his office had reported any movement of Syrian refugees trying to leave Lebanon, Adrian Edwards for the United Nations Refugee Agency (UNHCR) said they hadn’t seen a change in the dynamics and no UNHCR office was reporting unusual movements, although there were reports of a large number of cars coming into Lebanon from Syria. At the moment, there were around 711,000 refugees in Lebanon, either registered or pending registration, although that number could be higher.

Asked whether any agencies were requesting their international staff to leave Syria, Gaëlle Sévenier for the International Organization for Migration (IOM) said that their staff were being sensitized to heightened security risk levels and threats but had not been asked to leave the country; Patrick McCormick for the United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF) and Adrian Edwards for the United Nations Refugee Agency (UNHCR) said they would continue to have a presence there.

Ms. Vellucci noted that at the moment there were approximately 1,000 United Nations national and international staff inside Syria.

Asked whether any countries had approached the WHO for advice on how to respond to the use of chemical weapons, as in the run-up to the Iraq war, Tariq Jasarevic for the World Health Organization (WHO) replied that he was not aware of any official request for technical assistance. WHO had offices in the region and were working on technical documents and expertise in order to provide them if needed.

Central African Republic

Elisabeth Byrs for the World Food Programme (WFP) gave an update on Central African Republic (CAR). She said the security situation in CAR had deteriorated over the past weeks. Security incident were still reported in Bangui and across the country and crime remained a major threat. The humanitarian community was increasingly becoming the target of looting and attacks by armed groups. Crime was shifting towards violent robberies at residences. Security incidents had not yet had a direct impact on WFP programmes.

In August, WFP planned to reach 81,000 beneficiaries through the assistance to IDPs and provision of seed protection rations. During the first week of August, WFP provided 255 metric tons of food assistance to 8,105 beneficiaries in the Damara-Sibut axis, Bambari and Batalimo. In response to the crisis, WFP was finalising a budget revision. The additional needs were currently estimated at 3,830 metric tons for an additional 118,500 beneficiaries.

On 21 August, Cameroon closed its border with CAR after Seleka attacked the Cameroonian border town of Toktoyo, killing a Cameroonian border police officer. The border closure could have an impact on the delivery of WFP commodities from Douala to Bangui, as well as on the local economy. For the time being, however, WFP’s operations had not been impacted as distributions are continuing based on commodities available within country.

In July 2013, WFP distributed 1,169 metric tons to 84,442 beneficiaries, mainly through targeted food distributions, seed protection rations and assistance to refugees. Emergency school feeding programmes were planned to begin after schools reconvene from summer vacation in October. With the aim to support small-scale farmers in CAR, WFP has recently procured 200 metric tons of maize meal locally. Distributions of the locally procured maize meal have begun in the deep field such as Bambari. In July, the United Nations Humanitarian Air Services (UNHAS) undertook 162 trips, carrying 877 passengers and 24 metric tons of cargo. UNHAS also conducted a medical evacuation and facilitated humanitarian agencies’ access further into the field.

Providing a funding overview, Ms. Byrs said that the total requirement was US$ 85.5 million, and the current shortfall was 31 per cent - US$ 26.1 million.

Answering a question about accessing beneficiaries in remote areas, the increasing violence in capital city Bangui and threats to WFP staff, Ms. Byrs said the security situation in CAR had deteriorated over the past week but that had not yet had a direct impact on WFP programmes, although it was a concern. Crime remained a major threat. The humanitarian community was increasingly becoming the target of looting and attacks by armed groups. Crime was shifting towards violent robberies at residencies. WFP staff had received security counselling in relation to the threats. The recent closure on 21 August of the Cameroon – CAR border could have an impact on the delivery of WFP commodities.

However, for the time-being WFP distributions had not been impacted and continued to be delivered to beneficiaries. There was no evacuation of WFP staff, and on the contrary they were trying to scale up operations and expand the number of WFP sub-offices in CAR to assist in the coming weeks more than the 81,000 people assisted in August.

Adrian Edwards for the United Nations Refugee Agency (UNHCR) commented on the situation in Bangui, which had been subjected to a wave of security crackdowns and fighting that had caused displacement to the airport. That displacement had eased today and people were leaving the airport and returning to their neighbourhoods. However, the formation of vigilante groups was a new concern.

Tanzania

Gaëlle Sévenier for the International Organization for Migration (IOM) said IOM was in discussions with counterparts in Tanzania, Rwanda, Uganda and Burundi on how to provide humanitarian aid to thousands of irregular migrants from the neighbouring countries ordered to leave within two weeks by the Tanzanian government.

A Tanzanian presidential order issued on 25 July told some 35,000 irregular migrants from Rwanda, Burundi and Uganda to leave Tanzania by 11 August. To date, an estimated 13,000 Burundians, 7,000 Rwandans and 600 Ugandans had complied.

The migrants included vulnerable people – pregnant women, unaccompanied minors and disabled people. There were also migrants in mixed marriages and individuals who do not know their community of origin.

IOM, in close collaboration with humanitarian partners, was planning to take the lead in providing them with emergency humanitarian aid. That may include transport and registration, as well as setting up or supporting existing transit centres near border crossing points, where new arrivals can get food, non-food relief items and medical help. IOM is also finalizing a plan to provide transport assistance from entry points to final destinations.

According to the Rwandan Ministry of Disaster Management and Refugee Affairs, the government had already erected three transit centres along the border to accommodate Rwandan returnees. In Burundi, IOM, UN agencies and local NGOs had conducted a rapid joint needs assessment in the eastern provinces of Rutana and Muyiga, the main entry points for most returnees.

The assessment showed that most returnees run out of food and water by the time they reached the border. In addition, due to the onset of the rainy season, they often risked contracting diseases including cholera, diarrhoea, malaria and respiratory diseases.

World Water Week and United Nations Economic Commission for Europe activities

Jean Rodriguez for the United Nations Economic Commission for Europe (UNECE) said that next week UNECE would attend the celebration of World Water Week from 1 to 6 September, to be held in Stockholm, Sweden. The UNECE Convention on the Protection and Use of Transboundary Watercourses and International Lakes would feature prominently as UNECE had co-organized or would contribute to eight events throughout the week.

As 2013 was the International Year of Water Cooperation, the week had an overarching thematic focus on water cooperation. Events would help countries to reach clear and complete understanding of the benefits they can obtain from cooperation compared to inaction, in order to engage them further in transboundary cooperation. Other themes were the water-energy-food nexus and adaptation to climate change.

Ms. Vellucci mentioned that the Mr. Jan Eliasson, Deputy Secretary-General of the United Nations would be delivering the key-note speech at the World Water Week event.

Mr. Rodriguez also announced that Executive Secretary Sven Alkalaj would participate in the Bled Strategic Forum "A Changing Europe in a Changing World" to be held in Slovenia from 1 to 3 September 2013. At the invitation of the Government of Turkmenistan Mr. Alkalaj would be on an official visit in Ashgabat from 3 to 5 September 2013.

Geneva activities

Green Star Award

Jens Laerke for the Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA) announced details of the Green Star Award event to take place on Monday 2 September in Geneva, in conjunction with United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP). The press were invited to the announcement of the winners of the Green Star Awards 2013 at 4.30 p.m. in Rooms 3-4 of Geneva International Conference Centre (CICG). President Michael Gorbachev, who founded Green Cross International, would be present on Monday.

The Green Star Awards were presented every two years and recognized individuals and entities that had made remarkable efforts to prepare for, respond to, and mainstream actions to prevent environmental emergencies.

The welcome ceremony would begin at 4.30 p.m. with opening remarks by Green Cross International, UNEP and OCHA. A prize ceremony honouring individuals, organizations, governments and companies for their achievements in prevention, preparedness and response to environmental emergencies would follow. Journalists would have interview opportunities with the laureates, United Nations and Green Cross officials and staff, and interviews could be scheduled in advance with Paul Garwood, Director of Communications of Green Cross International, although journalists were encouraged to attend the event and speak to the winners there. No accreditation was needed and an embargoed press release was available at the back of the room

Earth Dialogues / 2050: The Future We Want musical

Ms. Vellucci announced that the seventh edition of the Earth Dialogues conference, co-hosted by United Nations Office at Geneva and Green Cross International (GCI), would take place at the Palais des Nations on Tuesday 3 September. GCI, which was founded by President Mikhail Gorbachev in 1993, was organizing the day-long event which is to begin at 9.30 a.m. in Room XX and feature leaders from political, government, business, civil society and educational fields.

The event would begin with an opening ceremony led by Director-General Kassym-Jomart Tokayev, followed by five sessions on the themes of sustainability, security, environmental degradation and development. The conference would conclude with the presentation of the Geneva Earth Dialogues Declaration during a session featuring President Gorbachev, former Seychelles President Sir James Mancham, former Kyrgyzstan President Roza Otunbayeva and GCI Chairman Jan Kulczyk.

At 7 p.m. on Tuesday 3 September a 40-strong international cast of actors, singers and dancers, backed by the Peace Child choir of 70 children, would perform the 2050: The Future We Want musical in the Assembly Hall. Both the Earth Dialogues and the performance of the 2050: The Future We Want musical would be webcast live.

World Migration Report

Gaëlle Sévenier for the International Organization for Migration (IOM) announced that the World Migration Report would be published on 13 September 2013, and was currently available to journalists under embargo. The World Migration Report focused on the migrants, exploring the positive and negative effects of migration on individual well-being. Journalists should contact Ms. Sévenier for copies of the report.

World Economic Forum: Global Competitiveness Report 2013

Oliver Cann, Associate Director, Media Relations for the World Economic Forum (WEF) invited journalists to the embargoed media launch of WEF’s flagship Global Competitiveness Report 2013. The event would take place at 2 p.m. on Tuesday 3 September at the WEF office in Geneva. The report, which would be officially launched on Wednesday 4 September, provided a precise snapshot of the long-term health of the global economy, and was this year larger than ever, covering 148 countries. New additions this year were Laos, Myanmar, Angola, Bhutan and Tunisia. The report offered insight into the major global economic trends, the rise of emerging markets and the movement of wealth across the globe as well as the competitiveness divides in Europe and elsewhere. It would also examine the strong role political institutions were playing in providing a multiplier effect in innovation. WEF economists would be in attendance at the media event and available for interviews.

There was a security procedure so journalists were encouraged to contact Mr. Cann if they wanted to attend; he could also provide an embargoed copy of the report, embeddable graphics for websites and other media resources.

Other Press Events

Ms. Vellucci announced that the United Nations Conference on Trade and Development (UNCTAD) would present its 2013 Report on UNCTAD's assistance to the Palestinian people at a press conference on Tuesday 3 September at 12 p.m. in Press Room 1. Mahmoud Elkhafif, UNCTAD Coordinator of the Assistance to the Palestinian People, would be speaking. The report was embargoed until 3 September at 5 p.m. GMT.

The United Nations Institute for Disarmament Research (UNIDIR) and the Landmine and Cluster Munitions Monitor would hold a press conference for the Global Launch of the Cluster Munitions Monitor Report 2013 in Room III on Wednesday 4 September at 10 a.m. The report was embargoed until 4 September at 10 a.m. Geneva time.

Melissa Begag for the World Trade Organization (WTO) announced that the new Director-General Roberto Azevêdo would take office on Sunday 1 September. On 5 and 6 September Mr. Azevêdo would travel to St Petersburg, Russia, to attend the G20 Leaders’ Summit. A re-inauguration ceremony of the Brazilian room (Room C) would take place at 9.30 a.m. on Monday 9 September, to be followed by a Special meeting of the General Council at 10.30, and a press conference at 1 p.m. in Room D.

Meetings in Geneva

Ms. Vellucci said the Committee on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities would open its tenth session on Monday 2 September at Palais Wilson, during which it would examine the reports of Austria, Australia and El Salvador. On 10 September the Committee would hold a meeting with the states parties to the Convention to discuss working methods and implementation measures.

The Committee on the Elimination of Racial Discrimination would close its eighty-third session today, after which it would publish its concluding observations on the eight reports reviewed during the session: Belarus, Burkina Faso, Chad, Chile, Cyprus, Jamaica, Sweden and Venezuela.

The Conference on Disarmament would hold a plenary session on Tuesday 3 September in which it would discuss its draft annual report to the General Assembly. Its 2013 session is to end on September 13.


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In the room but not briefing was the spokesperson for the International Labour Organization.

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The webcast for this briefing is available here: http://bit.ly/1dxrhmz


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