REGULAR PRESS BRIEFING BY THE INFORMATION SERVICE
11 December 2012
Corinne Momal-Vanian, Director of the United Nations Information Service in Geneva, chaired the briefing which was also attended by Spokespersons for and representatives of the Economic Commission for Europe, the World Health Organization, the United Nations Refugee Agency, the United Nations Children’s Fund, the International Organization for Migration, the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights, and the United Nations Conference on Trade and Development. The United Nations Resident and Humanitarian Coordinator for the Occupied Palestinian Territories also participated in the briefing.
Ms. Momal-Vanian said the week-long 2012 Meeting of States parties to the Biological Weapons Convention (BWC) opened yesterday at the Palais des Nations. This was the first of four annual Meetings of States parties in the 2012-2015 intersessional programme leading up to the Eighth BWC Review Conference in 2016. A round-up press release would be sent out at the end of the meeting.
There would be an ILO press conference at 11:30 a.m. in Room III on the launch of the Global Employment Trends for Women report. The speakers were José Manuel Salazar-Xirinachs, ILO Executive Director of Employment; Michelle Bachelet, Executive Director of UN Women; and Jean-Jacques Elmiger, International Labour Affairs, State Secretariat for Economic Affairs, Swiss Confederation.
There was a WIPO press conference at 2:30 p.m. today in press room 1 on the launch of the 2012 report on global indicators related to intellectual property. Francis Gurry, Director-General of WIPO, would be speaking. Ms. Momal-Vanian said the WIPO Spokesperson Samar Shamoon had asked her to tell journalists that the report was unfortunately still at the printers but she would come by before the press conference with embargoed copies.
Ms. Momal-Vanian said that on Wednesday, 12 December, a series of press conferences would be held at the end of the twenty-second round of the Geneva International Discussions, around 5 p.m. At the first press conference, the three Co-Chairs of the Geneva International Discussions would speak: Philippe Lefort, European Union Special Representative for the South Caucasus and for the crisis in Georgia; Antti Turunen, United Nations Representative to the Geneva International Discussions and the Joint Incident Prevention and Response Mechanism; and Pádraig Murphy, Special Representative of the OSCE and Chairperson-in-Office for the South Caucasus. This press conference would be followed by separate press conference by Georgia and Russia.
Jens Laerke of the Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA) said on Friday, 14 December, OCHA was holding the yearly launch of the consolidated appeal process in Rome. A videoconference press conference would be held, and the time and venue and other details were written in the media advisory at the back of the room.
A journalist said that last weekend, there had been an event concerning Syria in Geneva which they had not been informed about and asked for clarification on that. Also, during the end of the year holidays, would journalists have a duty person’s number to call in case of other unexpected events. In response, Ms. Momal-Vanian said that the meeting on Sunday had been a closed and private meeting, which was not announced in advance and had not been covered either by the United Nations television and radio. She had issued a statement at the end of the meeting. As for the holiday period, there was always a duty person on standby.
Another journalist said that this was the first time that Lakhdar Brahimi had come through Geneva and asked why he had not talked to the press. Ms. Momal-Vanian said that she would pass on the message that a press conference or a stakeout with journalists next time Mr. Brahimi was in Geneva would be appreciated.
Economic Commission for Europe/Albania
Jean Rodriguez of the Economic Commission for Europe said he wanted to present to journalists the results of the Second Environmental Performance Review of Albania, which showed that although there had been achievements and progress made in several environmental areas, the country was still facing serious challenges related to pollution and weak environmental infrastructures.
Copies of the report, the highlights of the report, and the press release were all available at the back of the room. Air pollution, municipal solid waste management and access to clean water and improved sanitation remained the most pressing challenges for Albania. If journalists were interested, the team members who prepared the review were available to comment in English and French. Mr. Rodriguez added he would be back at the next briefing on 14 December with the results of the Environmental Performance Review of Tajikistan.
World Health Organization/ Launch of 2012 Malaria Report
Glenn Thomas of the World Health Organization (WHO) said the launch of the 2012 Malaria Report would be held on Monday, 17 December at 2 p.m. in press room 1. The report included the latest data from the 104 endemic countries and would highlight the progress towards achieving the United Nations Millennium Development Goals with the aim of reducing the burden of global malaria by 75 per cent by 2015. The press event was taking place in parallel with the official launch in Monrovia, Liberia. The report would be available under embargo as of 13 December. There was a media advisory available at the back of the room with more details.
United Nations Resident and Humanitarian Coordinator for the Occupied Palestinian Territories
James Rawley, United Nations Resident and Humanitarian Coordinator for the Occupied Palestinian Territories and Deputy Special Coordinator for the Middle East Peace Process, said that he was speaking only a couple of weeks after the recent and very disturbing cycle of violence in Gaza in particular but also in Israel, which concluded with the Egyptian-brokered cease-fire agreement on 21 November. Once again, it was the civilian population that bore the brunt of the violence in Gaza and southern Israel. Over 100 Palestinian civilians were killed, including at least 33 children and 13 women, and four Israeli civilians were killed and more than 200 injured. Much of the entire population of the Gaza Strip, some 1.6 million people, and some 1 million Israelis were affected by the eight days of hostilities, which included 1,500 Israeli air strikes and volleys from ships and hundreds of rocket being fired out of Gaza towards Israel, including a few that fell on Tel Aviv. The United Nations Secretary-General had underscored the importance of ensuring that much needed humanitarian aid reached those in Gaza, and both he and the High Commissioner for Human Rights had expressed concerns regarding the need for all parties to respect international humanitarian and human rights law, including adherence to the principles of proportionality and distinction.
Mr. Rawley said that it was estimated that 3,000 people, whose homes were among the 450 homes destroyed or severely damaged, were still living close by with relatives, host families or rented accommodation. Throughout the hostilities, the United Nations and its humanitarian partners had remained engaged in Gaza. All programmes that could continue to operate, meaning all except those in schools, had continued to operate. They were also able to respond quickly to the needs of the almost 12,000 people who sought shelter in UNRWA and government schools at the height of the violence. Within 48 hours of the cease-fire, all the programmes that had been operating in Gaza before the hostilities were up and running once again. Then, within 48 hours of the end of hostilities, OCHA launched a four-day inter-agency rapid assessment with the participation of 40 humanitarian partners to gain an overall picture of the humanitarian situation resulting from the hostilities, and to guide an immediate humanitarian response. In parallel to that, a number of in-depth humanitarian assessments had been taking place relating to shelter, psycho-social needs and food security. The immediate inter-cluster response was well under way.
The results of the assessment so far had confirmed that the latest round of hostilities in Gaza had compounded what was already a precarious humanitarian situation in Gaza, where 80 per cent of the population, about 1.3 million, was already receiving aid, including about 800,000 from UNRWA itself. Mr. Rawley said the violence had exacerbated the vulnerabilities of some of Gaza’s poorest people, left up to 3,000 people in need of emergency shelter support, and added to the psychological trauma that children in particular had suffered in recent years. The recent round of violence was a stark reminder that the status quo was unsustainable. They had to go beyond addressing immediate humanitarian and early recovery needs arising from this latest round of hostilities and look ahead. This situation must change. The humanitarian community called upon political actors in the region and beyond to take the necessary steps to ensure durable peace and stability in the region and to allow hope to once again prevail for the people of Gaza and the region.
UNHCR/Refugee Situation around Syria
Melissa Fleming of the United Nations Refugee Agency (UNHCR) said more than half a million Syrian refugees had now been registered or were awaiting registration in the four surrounding countries and North Africa, and the numbers were currently climbing by more than 3,000 per day. Contrary to perceptions, only 40 per cent of Syrian refugees were living in camps. The majority lived outside, often in rental housing, with host families, or in various types of collective centres. In Lebanon and in North Africa, there were no camps at all and the Syrian refugees lived in urban and rural communities. In Jordan, only 24 per cent of the refugee population was living in camps. In Iraq, 50 per cent of the refugees lived in camps, and in Turkey, all were in Government-run camps. Jordan estimated that it had 100,000 Syrians in the country who were not yet registered. Turkey estimated that there were 70,000 Syrians outside the camps, and Egypt estimated that it also had 70,000 unregistered Syrian refugees. In Lebanon, the number of unregistered refugees was believed to be in the tens of thousands. UNHCR expected that in these countries, the numbers of the unregistered refugees who were already in these countries were going to rise as their resources dwindled.
Ms. Fleming said that in Jordan, close to 1,000 Syrian refugees had crossed during the past two nights, arriving in bad weather with soaked clothing and mud-covered shoes due to heavy rainfall. UNHCR and its partners had welcomed some 2,500 Syrian refugees to the Za'atri camp in the past week with blankets, sleeping mats and a high energy meal, with doctors responding to the medical needs of the newly arrived. UNHCR had also observed in Jordan an increase in elderly arrivals and children, with 60 per cent of recent arrivals under the age of 18, including 22 new born infants during the night of the 9th of December, and also including a number of unaccompanied minors. UNHCR was stepping up its efforts and was appealing for funding for those efforts to respond to the needs of the growing numbers of refugees as the conflict persisted.
Marixie Mercado of the United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF) said just over a week ago today, typhoon Bopha made landfall in eastern Mindanao. The sixteenth and most powerful storm to hit the Philippines this year, Bopha, had wrought near total destruction to several provinces, home to about 600,000 people. Not one house or structure was left untouched in the affected provinces. Electricity was still down and most of the dead and injured were from these three provinces. The latest Government figures as of 10 December were 647 dead, 780 missing, over 70,000 homes damaged, nearly 33,000 of those completely damaged, 302,000 displaced, over 300 schools damages and over 28,000 hectares of destroyed crops. Around 40 per cent of the affected population was children. The most urgent needs were for food, clean water, shelter and protection. Yesterday, the humanitarian agencies launched a joint $ 65 million appeal to provide emergency assistance to close to half a million people over the coming months. UNICEF’s portion of the appeal was for just under $ 13 million and would go towards water, sanitation, nutrition, protection and education. There were more details in the briefing notes.
Jean-Philip Chauzy of the International Organization for Migration (IOM) said the conditions were very difficult in the worst affected provinces. IOM’s first Displacement Tracking Matrix report would be available on line later in the day and would pinpoint what the needs were. Some children were begging because the conditions were very difficult. Some people were looking for any materials to try and put together make-shift emergency shelters. Out of the joint appeal of $ 65 million, IOM’s portion was $ 37 million, and the priority was to provide shelter. The conditions on the ground were difficult, especially the inability to access areas which were still under water. There was more information in the briefing notes.
Ms. Momal-Vanian said at the back of the room, there was a press release by the World Food Programme on the situation in the Philippines after typhoon Bopha/Pablo.
Ethiopian Migrants in Yemen
Mr. Chauzy of IOM said large numbers of Ethiopian migrants trying to get to Saudi Arabia often ended up stranded in Yemen. Since 2010, IOM had helped around 9,500 Ethiopians to return to Addis Ababa. Yesterday, another flight carrying 210 passengers flew from Yemen to Ethiopia, enabled thanks to a $ 250,000 donation from Switzerland. The money would also be used to help Ethiopian migrants in the northwestern town of Haradh in Yemen.
Ms. Mercado of UNICEF said a UNICEF progress report would be released later in the day on the response to the Sahel nutritional crisis in 2012. Their projection was that by the end of the year, more than 850,000 children would have been provided with life saving support for severe acute malnutrition. Last December, UNICEF warned that 1.1 million children would suffer from severe acute malnutrition across the Sahel. With Governments, other United Nations agencies and humanitarian organizations, one of the biggest humanitarian efforts of its kind in the region was mounted across the Sahel. Early funding from donors had meant that crucial supplies of ready-to-use therapeutic food were purchased in good time and pre-positioned. However, there were also significant challenges in the year due to people being displaced into neighbouring countries because of the conflict in Mali, insecurity and severe flooding. UNICEF’s report noted that a major catastrophe was averted, but children were still dying from preventable causes.
OHCHR/South Sudan, Sudan and Afghanistan
Rupert Colville of the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR) said OHCHR was concerned about a number of physical attacks on human rights defenders and the killing of a journalist in South Sudan. In the most recent attack, Diing Chan Awol, a local blogger and well-known political commentator in South Sudan was killed outside his home in the Juba suburb of Gudek on the morning of Wednesday 5 December. Local witnesses had asserted that the victim was shot after being lured out of his house by unidentified gunmen. According to his family, he had been receiving a number of threats including a clear ultimatum to stop writing or face the consequences. OHCHR welcomed the fact that the President had ordered the security services to conduct a “thorough investigation,” into the murder of Mr. Diing Chan Awol, who was also known by his pen name, Isaiah Abraham.
In addition to this tragic silencing of a prominent public commentator, during the past six months, there had also been similar attempts to intimidate local human rights activists belonging to the South Sudan Civil Society Alliance, two members of which had been kidnapped and badly beaten by unidentified armed men. One of the two men, Ring Bulabuk, a leading human rights and civil society activist, was kidnapped in October, and subjected to torture. Before his kidnap, the victim publicly criticized corruption practices by senior government officials.
OHCHR urged the Government of South Sudan to take remedial action and send a strong signal of its readiness to protect the safety of journalists and human rights defenders, as part of a wider effort to bolster support for freedom of expression in this young and fragile democracy. In a separate incident, OHCHR was deeply concerned by the killing of 10 people in Wau in, Northern Bahr al Ghazal State, when the South Sudan army fired live bullets at protestors over the weekend. Six people were reportedly killed late on Saturday and another four on Sunday morning. The United Nations Mission in South Sudan (UNMISS) was investigating the incidents.
Concerning Sudan, Mr. Colville said OHCHR was also concerned about recent violent clashes between students and police in Khartoum, Sudan. On Human Rights Day, 10 December, hundreds of students continued to protest, for a third day, over the deaths of four Darfuri students belonging to El-Gezira University in Central Sudan. The students’ bodies were discovered in a canal near the university on 7 December. They had gone missing at the beginning of last week after taking part in a protest about plans to repeal a tuition fee exemption for Darfuri students. OHCHR condemned the killings of the four students. While noting the announcement by the Sudanese Minister of Justice of a commission of inquiry, OHCHR stressed the need for swift investigations into the circumstances surrounding the murders of the students and the importance of bringing the perpetrators to justice.
There was a worrying trend of attacks on students in Sudan. Back in July, in the most serious recent example, the police reportedly shot and killed at least eight people, mostly students aged 17 or under. More than 50 others were injured in the same incident, when the police opened fire at demonstrators in Nyala, in South Darfur. The Government has said that its preliminary investigation absolved the police of any responsibility for the incident. Given the gravity of the incident, and the numbers killed and injured, OHCHR believed that a full, thorough and transparent investigation was essential.
Concerning Afghanistan, Mr. Colville said OHCHR was appalled by the latest murder of a leading women’s rights activist in Afghanistan. Najia Seddiqi, the head of the Women’s Affairs Department in Laghman Province, was shot dead yesterday, apparently by two men on a motorcycle. She was the second female head of this department in Laghman to be killed in just four months, and OHCHR urged the Afghan authorities to leave no stone unturned in order to find her killers, in order to show that people who targeted women in Afghanistan would be brought to justice. Today in Kabul, The United Nations Assistance Mission in Afghanistan had released a report on violence against women.
United Nations Conference on Trade and Development
Catherine Sibut Pinot of the United Nations Conference on Trade and Development (UNCTAD) said on Friday, 14 December, UNCTAD would launch its manual of statistics. She would bring printed copies of the report and the Chief of the Statistics Department would participate in the briefing. Also, in case journalists were looking for more information on the situation in the Gaza Strip and other occupied Palestinian territories, the UNCTAD report published in September could provide them with good statistics.