REGULAR PRESS BRIEFING BY THE INFORMATION SERVICE
16 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 Refugees, the Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs, the World Food Programme, the International Organization for Migration, the World Health Organization, the Food and Agriculture Organization, the United Nations Conference on Trade and Development and the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights.
Glenn Thomas for the World Health Organization (WHO) said the number of confirmed cases was now 63, with 14 fatalities. The 1,000 close contacts of these confirmed cases were being monitored, based on the assumption that there was a consistent source. Until this source was identified, further cases of infection were expected in other areas of China. There was no evidence of sustained human-to-human transmission.
He added that China had invited experts to carry out a one-week joint assessment of the H7N9 situation in the country. The team was to assess the outbreak and its response, as well as further prevention and control measures. Members include Chinese experts and those from the USA, the EU, Australia and the WHO. The results were to be released to the public once it was complete.
Answering questions, he said the team was to leave before Saturday and would be made up of four international experts and a number of WHO staff. Their report was to be presented in China. The fact-finding mission was to look at issues around the virus reservoir and its transmission from animals to humans.
No further updates were available on the family clusters previously reported. Regular information-sharing with partners across a variety of networks continued to try and help treat the disease. The threat of mutation was such that it was keeping the WHO on alert.
On another point, he said there were some cases of people recovering from a critical state having contracted the illness. The revision of the WHO phase system in relation to pandemic awareness continued.
Silvano Sofia for the Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) said the virus was confirmed in humans in six provinces/municipalities in China, as well as in samples taken from chickens, quails, pigeons, ducks and in environmental samples. He added that diagnostic capabilities in the south-east region, and elsewhere, were being strengthened.
FAO was monitoring the situation closely through its wide network of decentralized offices and Reference Centres for Influenza. FAO continues updating public information efforts as the situation evolves. FAO was working with Chinese authorities to develop a market chain analysis to trace the sources of infected poultry back to the farms of origin and to identify other infected farms.
FAO commended the Chinese authorities’ decision to release virus information to the public and their agreement to share virus isolates with the international community. The virus sequence release had allowed the scientific community to perform further analysis, and be better prepared for diagnosis and production of human vaccines.
In light of the recent events, FAO was re-evaluating surveillance protocols in domestic and wild animals. FAO concurred with the recommendations of Chinese authorities for the public to take routine care to prevent transmission of respiratory infections and to pay special attention to avoid direct contact with sick or dead poultry and livestock.
Central African Republic
Cécile Pouilly for the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR) said OHCHR was alarmed at continuing reports of widespread human rights violations in the Central African Republic (CAR) and called for the urgent restoration of the rule of law in the country.
More than 20 people were reported to have been killed in Bangui over the weekend, including four people attending a Sunday service in a church that was struck by a shell.
Although the security conditions made it difficult to investigate reports, it was known that since the SELEKA coalition forces launched their offensive last December there had been a wide range of alleged violations including targeted killings, arbitrary arrests and detention, torture, recruitment of children, rapes, disappearances and kidnappings in Bangui, as well as in other parts of the country.
Various different groups had also been accused of extortion and of looting private and public property, including health care facilities, humanitarian offices, and warehouses. Some 37,000 people had already fled the country to escape the violence, with tens of thousands more displaced internally.
The current state of lawlessness must not be allowed to continue, she said. The rule of law must be restored and perpetrators of abuses held accountable. Those carrying out serious crimes, and especially their leaders, should bear in mind that they may be held individually criminally responsible.
She then urged the newly established National Transitional Council to move quickly to restore the authority of the State and take all necessary measures to ensure that civilians were protected.
Answering questions, she said there were humans rights officers based in BINUCA but the security conditions for them were extremely difficult. She added that since the presiding regime had changed the conditions had been anarchic and the different rebel groups across the country had not been able to maintain order. There had been acts of vandalism, looting and attacks upon civilians and so it was necessary to call on those in power to return a state of order and security to protect civilians.
Adrian Edwards for the United Nations Refugee Agency (UNHCR) said fighting this past weekend in the Central African Republic capital Bangui had seen further outflows of refugees into surrounding countries. In all, and from the recent instability in CAR, there were now well over 30,000 CAR refugees in Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC), as well as some 1,024 new refugees in Cameroon, and 6,728 in Chad.
New refugees in DRC said Seleka forces opened fire on Bangui residents resisting or protesting against looting and abuses happening during the course of disarmament operations. Young males, who made up around 80 per cent of the refugees who crossed this past weekend, had been particularly affected.
In DRC, 1,200 CAR refugees arrived between Saturday and Monday and the influx continued. The local population mostly hosted the new arrivals, but some had also found their way to Worobe camp, across the river from CAR and located 19 km to the east of Zongo. The camp now hosted 3,707 refugees, up from 2,000 before the weekend. Others were in the villages or staying in public buildings. UNHCR had provided all new arrivals with warm meals and was working to move all of them to the camp, he said.
It was of urgent importance that the Seleka authorities put an end to violence against civilians and restore security in Bangui and the rest of the country. This was necessary both to stem the outflow, and to allow for resumption of critical humanitarian operations inside the country. Inside CAR, it was estimated that there were 173,000 internally displaced people. In addition to this, there were 17,000 mostly Congolese and Sudanese refugees in CAR, plus some 4,000 new Darfur refugees who crossed into northern CAR ten days ago.
Answering questions, he said access was the big issue and it was vital that it was restored.
Elisabeth Byrs for the World Food Programme (WFP) said scaling up of assistance in northern Mali was critical as the lean season for pastoralists was approaching in Mali.
In total, WFP planned to support, on a monthly basis, 564,000 people in Mali, including 360,000 in the North. However, due to the challenging and unpredictable environment, humanitarian access needed to be assessed on a day-to-day basis by the UN and NGOs partners.
According to a recent country team analysis, there had been a significant deterioration of household food consumption in Timbuktu and Gao over the past weeks. The project situation for the coming month April-June 2013, during the lean season, was that the food insecurity would severely worsen in the North of Mali.
Deliveries by road to Kidal have resumed last week after having been disrupted for a few weeks. So far, 24 trucks carrying 700mt of food have successfully reached the location.
WFP operations in Mali and neighbouring countries required around $ 312 million. The overall total shortfall was $ 159 million. The operation was currently 51 per cent funded.
Elisabeth Byrs for the World Food Programme (WFP) said The United Nations World Food Programme (WFP) in partnership with the Turkish Red Crescent (TRC) expanded today its food assistance programme into four new camps in Turkey doubling the number of Syrians that it now supports in Turkish camps to 80,000 people.
In line with the Government of Turkey’s request for WFP to provide food assistance to all Syrians in camps in Turkey, WFP and TRC started the distribution of Electronic Food Cards in the camps of Adana, Islahiye, Karkamis and Nizipi. With this expansion, WFP and TRC were now supporting over 40 per cent of the total camp population of Syrians in 11 out of the total 17 camps in Turkey.
Around 190,000 Syrians who fled violence in their country were now sheltering in Government-run camps in Turkey and the numbers were increasing daily. Since it launched its Electronic Food Card programme in Turkey in October 2012, WFP had provided food assistance to Syrians in Kilis camp, four camps in Hatay, one camp in Sanliurfa and one camp in Gaziantep.
The Electronic Food Card works like a typical credit card and was pre-loaded with 80 Turkish Liras (US$45) per family member per month. This was enough to purchase sufficient food items for a basic nutritious diet.
The United States, the United Kingdom, Denmark, France, Japan and Switzerland have made very generous contributions to assist Syrian refugees in Turkey and the Turkish Government alone had already spent over US $650 million. “We hope that the international community will demonstrate increasing solidarity with the Turkish Government to ensure that the most vulnerable Syrians do not go hungry.”
To be able to continue and expand its assistance to other camps in Turkey, WFP needs some US$10 million until June 2013.
In total, WFP needs US$19 million each week in order to provide food assistance to 2.5 million people inside Syria and more than 1.2 million Syrian refugees in neighbouring countries. To carry on its Syria response until June, WFP was in immediate need of $81 million.
Ms. Momal-Vanian also said that the Security Council would be briefed about the humanitarian situation in Syria on Thursday (18 April) and on Friday hear from the Joint Special Envoy, Mr. Brahimi.
Adrian Edwards for the United Nations Refugee Agency (UNHCR) said a pilot mobile court scheme was launched yesterday, (15 April) to improve access to justice for refugees in Uganda who had been victims of crime.
The project, at the Nakivale settlement in the country’s southwest, was being pioneered by UNHCR and the Ugandan government. It aimed to benefit some 68,000 refugees and 35,000 Ugandan nationals by providing them with quicker access to justice and legal assistance. This ‘mobile’ court model was the first of its kind in Uganda.
The hope was that the mobile courts were to speed the rate at which cases were heard, and serve to deter crime by bringing lawyers and a magistrate directly to both refugees and Ugandans in the settlement. Yesterday’s first session was overseen by a Chief Magistrate who heard cases including robbery, land disputes, defilement, attempted murder and cases of sexual and gender-based violence. The courts will hold three sessions a year, each lasting between 15 and 30 days. Half the cases heard will be those of nationals, who live within the settlement.
Nakivale was Uganda’s oldest and largest refugee settlement covering some 180 square kilometres. With the nearest law court currently 50 kilometres away in Kabingo, Isingiro, access to justice had been a real problem for refugees and locals alike. As a result many failed to report crimes and were forced to wait for long periods before their cases were heard.
Jens Laerke for the Office for the Coordination for Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA ) said the Humanitarian Coordinator for Sudan had issued a statement expressing concern for the estimated 36,000 people that had gathered at the African Union-United Nations Mission in Darfur (UNAMID) base.
There was currently no access to these people, he explained, and so OCHA was calling on those in authority to allow access so that OCHA could verify numbers and attend to humanitarian needs.
Jens Laerke for the Office for the Coordination for Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA) said the Humanitarian Coordinator for Yemen had spoken out about his alarm at the worsening conditions for migrants from the north of Africa that were stranded in the north of Yemen.
The situation required urgent attention, he said, as many were surviving in extremely difficult circumstances. Yemen remained an important transit country for migrants and last year 107,000 arrived. These migrants were extremely vulnerable to extortion from traffickers as most had no legal documents and had limited access to livelihoods and basic services.
He called on the international community to work with and support national governments in the Horn of Africa and the Gulf states, to strengthen the management of migration and national borders, combat transnational organised crime and uphold migrant human rights.
Answering a question he said there were up to 25,000 irregular migrants stranded in and around Haradh City in the north. These were trying to reach Saudi Arabia. Yemen was seen as a transition country for migrants, he added.
Gaëlle Sevenier for the International Organization for Migration (IOM) said the Yemeni Government had yesterday run its first military flight to transport 300 Ethiopian migrants that had been victims of human trafficking from the Sanaa detention centre, back to Addis Ababa. A second and third flight were planned for tomorrow and the day after.
Answering questions, she said that although this flight had helped those that were victims of trafficking, there were many others in need. Furthermore, there were reports that some were wounded, as well as mentions of trafficking of organs. IOM needed $1.2 million in order to complete the return of the 2,500 most vulnerable migrants at the Haradh centre.
Cécile Pouilly for the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR) said OHCHR was concerned that the Tunisian TV director Mr. Sami El-Fehri continued to be detained despite repeated decisions by the Tunisian Court of Cassation, the highest court in the country, that his detention was unlawful.
Most recently, the Court of Cassation on 5 April unequivocally quashed the decision of the Accusation Chamber of 3 January to maintain Mr. El-Fehri in custody. Yet, he remained in prison.
She sais that OHCHR urged the Tunisian authorities to ensure, in line with the principle of separation of powers, that the decision of the Court of Cassation be respected and implemented. There was consistent domestic jurisprudence which supports the immediate release of Mr. El Fehri, she added.
Cécile Pouilly for the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR) said OHCHR condemned the attacks which took place on April 14 targeting an aid convoy close to the airport and the Banadir Regional Court in Mogadishu, killing over 50 civilians, including 35 persons who were attending the court.
Three lawyers, including two prominent human rights defenders, were killed in the attack. Mohamed Mohamud Afrah, Head of the Somali Lawyers Association and Abdikarin Hassan Gorod provided legal assistance to countless Somalis over the past five years, including legal advice to Abdiasis Abdinur Ibrahim, the Somali journalist recently arrested along with an alleged rape survivor.
These attacks, for which the Al Shabaab had claimed responsibility, potentially seriously damaged recent efforts to strengthen the administration of justice in Somalia, including the organization earlier this month of a national conference on justice by the Government of Somalia.
She said that OHCHR condemned the prevailing climate of insecurity and violence for justice personnel and ordinary Somali citizens seeking justice in their country. It was imperative that this terrorist attack did not succeed in intimidating and dismantling the administration of justice, which was essential to improve law and order, and fight impunity – key elements in efforts to improve peace and security in Somalia.
Ms. Momal-Vanian added that both the Security Council and the Secretary-General had condemned the attack, with the Secretary-General calling them brazen acts of terrorism although expressing confidence that these acts would not derail the determination of the Somali people to achieve peace and security.
Gaëlle Sevenier for the International Organization for Migration (IOM) said IOM was appealing for more funds to enable the Organization to provide urgently needed assistance to thousands of returning migrants currently streaming into Chad from four border areas.
Some 17,000 Chadians migrants had entered Chad in the past three weeks, through its eastern border with Sudan at Tissi, fleeing fighting in Sudan’s Darfur region. Approximately 9,000 Sudanese refugees fleeing conflict accompanied the migrants, and this was in addition to the arrival of some 3,000 Chadian migrants that had been working in the gold mines of Darfur.
On the northern border between Chad and Libya, Chadian migrants released from detention centres in Libya continued to arrive at the border regions. Since February 2013, some 1,600 individuals had arrived at IOM’s Migrant Support Centre at Faya.
Following the recent events in the Central African Republic (CAR) where the rebels of Seleka had overrun the central government, some 6,000 Central African refugees had crossed the Chadian border in the south.
The eastern borders entry points which the migrants and refugees used as their escape routes were located in some of the most deprived areas, with little or no infrastructure. Often the returning migrants had to walk on foot for days under oppressive temperatures, currently reaching 50 degrees Celsius, and with not enough food or water provisions. They were arriving exhausted, dehydrated and extremely weak.
On the other side, the northern borders were located in the middle of the Sahara desert and several migrants had already died on the way or upon arrival after travelling for weeks with hardly any food or water. Land mines left behind from decades of civil wars were strewn all over the area and in the south, the impenetrable jungles posed another type of danger.
IOM was asking donors for $3.5 million to provide emergency humanitarian assistance including food, water, medical and psychosocial care, temporary shelter and onward transport.
Gaëlle Sevenier for the International Organization for Migration (IOM) said following the floods which hit Mozambique at the end of January this year, approximately 5,000 families had decided to start constructing new homes to begin new lives in permanent relocation sites. IOM had recently started its first distribution of shelter toolkits, as well as 4,500 solar kits with cell phone chargers and lights to reduce security risks in the new relocation sites.
The floods, which were caused by torrential rains and the bursting of the banks of the Limpopo River, caused the displacement of some 150,000 Mozambiqueans. In total, more than 300,000 people were affected by damaged or destroyed homes and livelihoods.
Ms. Momal-Vanian said the Committee on the Rights of Migrant Workers began its work reviewing the report of Colombia yesterday, and would finish its examination of the country this morning (16 April). This afternoon it was to review the report of Bolivia, and tomorrow, that of Azerbaijan.
The Committee on the Rights of Disabled Persons this morning finished reviewing the report of Paraguay, the only country in the programme of the session. Tomorrow (17 April) from 12:00 p.m., the Committee held a general debate on the future of women and girls with disabilities in Room XX of the Palais des Nations.
The Committee on Enforced Disappearances examined two reports last week, from Uruguay and France, and finished its work for this session on Friday (19 April).
Catherine Sibut for the United Nations Conference on Trade and Development (UNCTAD) said tomorrow, (17 April) at 9.30 a.m. in Press Room 1, there was a press briefing regarding the presentation of the Global Services Forum - Beijing Summit (28-29 May 2013). Speakers were Supachai Panitchpakdi - UNCTAD Secretary-General and Guillermo Valles - UNCTAD - Director - Division on International Trade in Goods and Services, and Commodities.
She added that on Wednesday (17 April) at 2.30 p.m., also in Press Room 1 there was a second press conference on the release of the, “United Nations Economic and Social Survey of Asia and the Pacific 2013: Forward-looking Macroeconomic Policies for Inclusive and Sustainable Development,” by the United Nations Economic Commission for Asia and the Pacific. This material was under embargo until 18 April 2013, at noon, Geneva time. Electronic copies were available on request.
Speakers were Alfredo Calcagno, Head, Macroeconomic and Development Policies Branch, Division on Globalization and Development Strategies, UNCTAD and Iyanatul Islam, Chief, Country Employment Policy Unit, International Labour Organization.
Glenn Thomas for the World Health Organization (WHO) reminded those attending that the WHO held a press conference on Wednesday, (17 April) at 10.30 a.m. in Press Room 1 on World Immunization Week, beginning on 20 April. The speaker was Dr. Jean-Marie Okwo-Bele, WHO, Director, Immunization, Vaccination and Biologicals.
Immunization was one of the most cost-effective health interventions, he said, preventing between two and three million deaths every year. However, an estimated 22 million infants were not fully immunised with routine vaccines and more than 1.5 million children die of diseases that could be prevented by existing vaccines.
Jens Laerke for the Office for the Coordination for Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA ) said there were copies at the back of the room of the appeal sent out by the heads of leading United Nations agencies, responding to the crisis in Syria. He also announced a press conference on Thursday (18 February) at 11:00 a.m. in Room III, with a Representative of Kuwait and of OCHA, on the same topic.
The representatives of the International Labour Organization and the United Nations Children’s Fund also attended the briefing but did not speak.
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The webcast for this briefing is available here