REGULAR PRESS BRIEFING BY THE INFORMATION SERVICE
5 July 2013
Corinne Momal-Vanian, Director of the United Nations Information Service in Geneva, chaired the briefing which was also attended by Spokespersons for the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights, United Nations Refugee Agency, World Health Organization, Food and Agriculture Organization, International Organization for Migration, United Nations Economic Commission for Europe, World Trade Organization and United Nations Conference on Trade and Development.
Rupert Colville for the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR) said that the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights Navi Pillay was today urging all parties in Egypt to make a concerted effort to restore calm by ensuring that the human rights of all citizens were respected and protected during this very delicate period, and were subsequently entrenched in sound laws and institutions.
Ms. Pillay expressed her support for all Egyptians striving for a state that would safeguard their human rights and freedoms, and guarantee respect for rule of law. The massive protests and demonstrations over the past few weeks were a very clear indication that Egyptians wanted their fundamental rights to be honoured.
The High Commissioner hoped that the rule of law and a system of government that respected the human rights of all Egyptians – men and women – could be quickly re-established. The country had so far failed to seize the opportunity to respond to the aspirations of all its citizens and move towards a truly tolerant and inclusive society, based on human rights norms and the rule of law. A concerted effort was needed by all parties to establish sound political and legal institutions.
The High Commissioner also emphasized that internationally recognized human rights and freedoms, including freedoms of speech and assembly, needed to be upheld during the delicate period of transition. She urged all parts of Egyptian society to exercise those rights in a peaceful manner, so as to avoid any further loss of life. She also urged a major effort by all political parties, and the authorities, to deter and punish any acts of vengeance.
The High Commissioner was concerned by reports of widespread detention of leading members of the Muslim Brotherhood. There should be no more violence, no arbitrary detention, no illegal acts of retribution. Serious steps should also be taken to halt, and investigate, the appalling – and at times seemingly organized – sexual violence targeting women protestors.
OHCHR was closely following the rapidly evolving situation in Egypt. The High Commissioner called on the interim authorities, and all political parties and social groups, to respond to the expectations of the Egyptian people through the initiation of a meaningful and truly inclusive dialogue, involving all parts of society, in order to achieve reconciliation and reinforce democratic principles and the rule of law, under civilian authorities.
The High Commissioner has offered her assistance to the Egyptian government and in the past had expressed her deep concern, as Egypt drew up new laws and made sweeping alterations to key institutions, including the judiciary. She reiterated her concerns about Egypt’s revised Constitution as well as a number of laws, and draft laws, drawn up since the 2011 revolution, relating to issues such as freedom of expression, freedom of assembly, the freedom for civil society organizations to operate freely and effectively, and the rights of women and minorities.
The High Commissioner reaffirmed her readiness to place her Office at the disposal of the Egyptian people in order to provide support to the transitional process and in particular to efforts by future administrations to promote a society based on principles of democracy and social justice, guided by internationally recognized human rights and freedoms.
The High Commissioner said that Egyptians deserved to live in a society run by institutions that ensure their rights are respected. She urged everyone to seize the new opportunity to fulfil the country’s potential to become a fully functioning and prosperous democracy, without further destabilizing upheavals.
Silvano Sofia for the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO) announced that this morning FAO/WFP had published a joint report on the Crop and Food Security Assessment Mission to Syria which took place between May and June 2013. The report, which was available online http://www.fao.org/giews/english/alert/index.htm, stated that the urgent protection and restoration of food production and livelihood in Syria was a top priority. If the present conflict continued domestic agricultural production would further decline over the next 12 months.
Mr. Sofia gave an example, saying that current wheat production was 2.4 million tonnes, which was some 40 per cent less than the annual average harvest from before the crisis of more than four million tonnes, as well as 15 per cent lower than the reduced harvest of 2011/2012. There had also been a consequence on prices, with the average monthly price of wheat flour more than doubling between May 2011 and May 2013 in several locations.
Since the beginning of the year, FAO had supported close to 70,000 people in Syria, in particular farmers, smallholders, and family farming. Assistance provided included animal feed, poultry packages, small ruminants, and seeds and tools. With available funding, FAO would be able to support a further 216 000 people with similar assistance.
FAO was urgently appealing for funds of US$ 41.7 million to assist 768,000 people in Syria. So far, only US$ 3.3 million, or less than 10 per cent, had been received. The funds were needed to buy seeds, fertilizer and veterinary supplies as well as provide cash-for-work programmes. Mr. Sofia emphasized that support to the coming planting season would be critical. Funding must be secured by August in order to provide farmers with fertilizers and seeds to plant in October. Without such support, many would be unable to harvest wheat until mid-2015.
Tarik Jaserevic for the World Health Organization (WHO) said the WHO’s latest Situation Report on Syria and surrounding countries was available at the back of the room.
Stressing WHO’s need to access affected areas in Syria, Mr. Jaserevic reported a rise in the number of cases of different diseases. Whilst people’s need for emergency medical care and access to treatment of curable diseases continued to rise across Syria, increasing obstacles were imposed on the delivery of lifesaving medical assistance. The difficulties in access were due to the security situation but also due to complicated bureaucratic procedures such as in getting permits. Despite that WHO continued to deliver medical supplies directly through health authorities and seven contracted NGOs. WHO was also organizing training for health workers on information management and disease treatment.
Mr. Jasarevic said increasing number of cases of communicable diseases such as typhoid, hepatitis A, measles and leishmaniasis were being reported both from inside Syria and from the Syrian population living in neighbouring countries. Health and sanitation sectors’ inability to reach the most vulnerable with prevention and response measures would only increase the risk of more people being infected as summer approached. He also said that vaccination coverage had decreased significantly and was now below 70 per cent for many routine vaccinations.
WHO urged all parties to allow unconditional humanitarian access and delivery of medicines, vaccines and medical supplies to all Syrians in need of medical treatment without discrimination or geographic limitation.
Rupert Colville for the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR) said they were extremely concerned about the human rights and humanitarian impact of a major offensive launched on June 28 by the Syrian government forces and affiliated militias to retake several opposition-controlled districts in Homs.
According to information just received, the Al-Khaldiya neighbourhood had been experiencing heavy shelling since the early hours of this morning (Friday 5 July). Those attacks were now affecting all of old Homs district. Although the total number of casualties remained unknown, the number of civilians currently trapped due to the heavy fighting in and around Homs was believed to be between 2,500 and 4,000 people. Shortages of food, water, medicine, electricity and fuel in besieged areas were severely affecting the remaining civilians, including women and children.
The siege began 13 months ago but had escalated since June 28. Out of 16 residential districts affected by the ongoing siege, shelling and ground attacks in Homs and in the surrounding area, Al-Khaldiya and Baba Houd districts appeared to be the worst hit. Recent reports suggested that armed opposition groups were operating inside those residential areas, thereby increasing the risk for civilians.
OHCHR called upon all parties to respect their obligations under international law, avoid civilian casualties and allow trapped civilians to leave without fear of persecution or violence. It also called for unrestricted and immediate humanitarian access to all conflict-affected populations in besieged areas.
Adrian Edwards for the United Nations Refugee Agency (UNHCR) said UNHCR estimated that in the first six months of this year approximately 8,400 migrants and asylum-seekers had landed on the coasts of Italy and Malta. The majority arrived in Italy (7,800), while Malta received around 600 migrants and asylum-seekers.
Those making the journey mostly departed from North Africa, principally Libya (around 6,700 people). The remaining 1,700 crossed from Greece and Turkey, landing in southern Italy’s Apulia and Calabria regions.
Countries in Sub-Saharan Africa were the main places of origin of those migrants and asylum-seekers, particularly Somalia and Eritrea. Other countries of origin included Egypt, Pakistan and Syria. Nationals of Gambia, Mali and Afghanistan also made the crossings, but in smaller numbers.
The Mediterranean was one of the busiest seaways in the world, as well as a dangerous sea frontier for migrants and asylum seekers en route to southern Europe. In view of the perils UNHCR again called on all vessels at sea to be on alert for migrants and refugees in need of rescue. UNHCR also renewed its call to all shipmasters in the Mediterranean to remain vigilant and to carry out their duty of rescuing vessels in distress. International and European law also required States to ensure that people intercepted or rescued at sea who sought asylum could gain access to territory and to an asylum procedure where their international protection needs or claims could be examined.
The peak crossing period for migrants and asylum-seekers ran from May to September. At that time of year when there was an increase in the number of people trying to make the perilous journey it was essential to ensure that the long-established tradition of rescue at sea was upheld by all and that international maritime law was adhered to.
For 2012 as a whole, some 15,000 migrants and asylum-seekers reached Italy and Malta (13,200 and 1,800 respectively) by sea. The number arriving in the first six months of 2012 was 4,500 (3,500 in Italy and 1,000 in Malta).
UNHCR had recorded some 40 deaths in the first six months of 2013 by people attempting to cross the Mediterranean between North Africa and Italy. That number was based on interviews conducted with people who reached Europe using boats.
In 2012, almost 500 people were reported dead or missing at sea. The decrease in deaths so far in 2013 was thanks in part to the efforts of the Italian and Maltese authorities, in particular the Italian coastguard and the Maltese armed forces, in effectively coordinating rescue at sea. UNHCR also welcomed the on-going efforts by the authorities in Italy, Malta and Libya to rescue boats in distress in the Mediterranean, and called on all States to continue to fulfil their obligations under international refugee law and law of the sea.
Central African Republic
Adrian Edwards for the United Nations Refugee Agency (UNHCR) said that three months after the ousting of the Central African Republic government, UNHCR was extremely concerned for the situation of more than 200,000 internally displaced people and over 20,000 refugees there.
Over the past month, and together with its partners, UNHCR had had some limited access to parts of Bangui, as well as further afield in Central African Republic – namely Ouham, Batangafo, Bambari, Kaga Bandoro and Mbaiki. Those visits were intended to assess the general situation of people affected by the recent insecurity. The findings were very troubling.
Overall, there remained a serious absence of security, and lawlessness was widespread. Staff on those missions received reports of arbitrary arrest and illegal detention, torture, extortion, armed robbery, physical violence including sexual violence, rape and attempted rape, abduction, restriction of movement, targeted lootings and attacks on civilians. Villages and houses had been burnt down in some areas by armed groups.
Violence against women, girls and boys had also increased. Humanitarian agencies, working under an inter-agency response, had been giving assistance and counselling to victims in some locations.
Of additional concern to UNHCR was the recent arrest of one of our former government counterparts who worked in Bangui. UNHCR was currently seeking information about that person from the authorities, and assurances of his safety.
Despite the volatile security situation, UNHCR and its partners were coordinating efforts to assist refugees living in camps inside Central African Republic, who were mainly of Congolese and Sudanese nationality.
Gaëlle Sévenier for the International Organization for Migration (IOM) said IOM had released its latest quarterly Displacement Tracking Matrix (DTM) for Haiti three and a half years after the devastating earthquake that struck the island in 2010.
It showed that some 279,000 internally displaced people (IDPs) or 71,000 households remained in 352 IDP sites and camp-like settlements throughout the country. Since the disaster, there has been an 82 percent decrease in the total number of displaced families and a 77 per cent reduction in the number of IDP sites. Some 33 sites closed and over 41,000 people or 10,439 IDP households were relocated – twice as many as during the January to March 2013 period.
Incentivizing return programmes that helped people to leave the camps through payment of rent subsidies were responsible for the closure of 28 sites and the relocation of more than 9,300 of the families. Since June 2011 return programs led by the Government of Haiti in collaboration with IOM and other partners have resulted in the closure of 231 IDP sites and the relocation of some 40,600 IDP families.
The report was available in English and in French.
Gaëlle Sévenier for the International Organization for Migration (IOM) reported that Yemen had asked IOM to provide assistance to some 200,000 Yemeni migrant workers forced to leave Saudi Arabia since April as part of a crackdown on undocumented migrants in the Kingdom. More irregular Yemeni migrants could return from Saudi Arabia in the coming months, following the extension until 5 November of a Saudi amnesty for undocumented migrants previously scheduled to expire this week, the IOM Office in Yemen had reported.
The Yemeni government had now asked IOM Yemen to support vulnerable returnees, some of whom were thought to have been in Saudi Arabia for two or three generations, by providing basic assistance in terms of shelter, access to water (through well rehabilitation and water trucking), non food relief items and hygiene kits. The Government of Yemen had also asked for IOM medical and other facilities in the border town of Haradh to be made available to vulnerable Yemenis returning overland. Currently the facilities were used mainly to help stranded migrants from the Horn of Africa.
The returnees were people who had made the dangerous and expensive trip across the Gulf of Aden from the Horn of Africa, and countries such as Ethiopia, to Yemen in the hope of finding jobs in Saudi Arabia and the Gulf countries. The number from the Horn of Africa arriving in Yemen reportedly increased from 34,000 in 2010, to over 75,000 in 2011 and 84,000 in 2012. Over 35,000 have arrived in the first five months of 2013.
Since the fencing of the border with Saudi Arabia, the Saudi crackdown on undocumented migrants and raids on people smugglers’ camps carried out by the Yemeni Ministry of Defence, many more migrants had become stranded in Haradh, where an estimated 25,000 irregular destitute migrants were now living in often terrible conditions, without adequate shelter and access to food, water and medical assistance.
IOM, which ran a Migrant Response Centre including a clinic in Haradh, had already assisted almost 19,000 Ethiopian migrants to voluntarily return home since 2007. Since April, IOM had assisted another 765 Ethiopians, a third of them unaccompanied minors, to fly home.
UN funding and in-kind donations from WFP and UNICEF enabled the resumption of flights in June and some humanitarian services provided by the MRC. But IOM Yemen still needed USD$ 3 million to meet the Yemeni government’s appeal to provide ongoing shelter, food, basic health care and protection for migrants and returnees, as well as voluntary return flights for stranded Ethiopian migrants.
Ms. Momal Vanian announced that a press conference would take place today, Friday 5 July, immediately after the briefing at 11.30 a.m. in Room III by members of the Commission of Inquiry on the Democratic People's Republic of Korea. Mr. Michael Kirby, Chairperson, Mr. Marzuki Darusman, Special Rapporteur on the Democratic People's Republic of Korea and Ms. Sonja Biserko would be speaking.
Tarik Jasarevic for the World Health Organization (WHO) announced a press conference to also take place today, Friday 5 July, at 12.30 p.m. in Room III. Dr. Keiji Fukuda, WHO Assistant Director-General for Health Security and Environment, would provide an update on Middle East respiratory syndrome coronavirus (MERS-CoV).
The WHO Report on the Global Tobacco Epidemic, 2013 would be presented at a second WHO press conference today, Friday 5 July, at 2 p.m. in Press Room 1. Mr. Jasaevic said that the report, which would be launched next week in Panama City, detailed continued success in global tobacco control. Dr. Director Douglas Bettcher and Programme Manager Dr. Armando Peruga of the WHO Department of Prevention of Noncommunicable Diseases would speak at the launch. Mr. Jasarevic noted that the report would be under embargo until Wednesday, July 10 at 6 p.m. Geneva time.
Catherine Sibut for United Nations Conference on Trade and Development (UNCTAD) announced a press conference to take place on Tuesday 9 July at 3.30 p.m. in Press Room 1 to launch the Economic Development in Africa Report 2013 subtitled ‘Intra-African trade: Unlocking private sector dynamism’. Supachai Panitchpakdi, UNCTAD Secretary-General and Taffere Tesfachew, Director of UNCTAD’s Division on Africa, Least Developed Countries and Special Programmes would be speaking. The report was under embargo until 5 p.m. GMT on Thursday 11 July.
Jean Rodriguez, for the United Nations Economic Commission for Europe (UNECE) said that today the Economic and Social Council (ECOSOC) was holding a dialogue with the Executive Secretaries of the ECE Regional Commissions on "Regional perspectives on the post-2015 development agenda" starting at 3 p.m. in Room XIX.
Next week, UNECE would host a meeting of the Specialized Section on Standardization of Meat, in Room V of the Palais des Nations, from 8 to 10 July, which would be developing three new standards: for rabbit meat as proposed by China, for retail meat cuts as proposed by the United States and for deer meat as proposed by Russia. The Specialized Section would also be revising the existing UNECE Standard for Porcine Meat.
Also from 8 to 10 July UNECE would co-host a side event with ITC, UNCTAD and UNDP at the Fourth Global Review of Aid-for-Trade on Agricultural Value Chains and Food Security in Transition Economies: Testimonials from the Field, at the WTO in Room S2. The event would consider ways to achieve food security in transition economies, where delivering food security was complicated by weak productive capacities in agriculture and food manufacturing; insufficient natural resource endowments; high poverty rates; and, in some cases, inadequate land-title systems.
Mr. Rodriguez also briefed on a Conference on “Implementing Aid-for-Trade Road Maps”, which would take place from 10 to 11 July at International Environment House 2 (MIE 2), 7-9 Chemin de Balexert in Geneva. The opening meeting would be at 3 p.m. on Wednesday 10 July and address issues including Aid-for-Trade at work, the green industry: implications for global supply chains, trade facilitation: the issues at stake, and strengthening institutions to make Aid-for- Trade (AfT) work. The second day would start at 10 a.m. and examine AfT country reports from Azerbaijan, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Tajikistan and Turkmenistan. Discussions on improving national competitiveness and on increasing the contribution of agri-food value chains to food security as well as the state of food insecurity in Central Asia would also take place. The concluding meeting was expected to agree practical, action-oriented suggestions for transition economies in general, donors and development partners.
Melissa Begag for the World Trade Organization (WTO) announced the WTO schedule for the coming week. She said that from Monday 8 to Wednesday 10 July the Fourth Global Aid for Trade Review would hold a seminar entitled “Connecting to value chains”, which would be opened by WTO Director-General Pascal Lamy, who would be in attendance every day. There would be a meeting of the Council for Trade in Goods on Thursday 11 July at 10 a.m.
Ms. Begag said WTO Director-General Pascal Lamy would also on Monday 8 July attend the signing of a Memorandum of Understanding between WTO and UNECA to enhance Trade Related Technical Assistance (TRTA) and capacity-building for African countries. On Friday 12 July the Director-General would speak at the Global Citizen Foundation on "Towards a Better Global Economy". On Saturday 13 July the Director-General would be in Paris, France, to address the Institute for Sustainable Development and International Relations (IDDRI) international conference "An innovative society for the twenty-first century" on "What development model for the twenty-first century?".
Ms. Momal Vanian announced that the Committee on the Elimination of Discrimination against Women (CEDAW) would start a new session at the Palais des Nations on Monday 8 July, which would last for three weeks, until Friday 26 July. During its first week CEDAW would consider the reports of eight countries: Cuba (Tuesday 9), Afghanistan (Wednesday 10), Democratic Republic of Congo (Thursday 11) and Dominican Republic (Friday 12). The following week the reports of Cape Verde, the United Kingdom, Serbia and Bosnia-Herzegovina would be reviewed. A background press release with more details was distributed yesterday.
The Human Rights Committee would also begin a new session on Monday 8 July, at Palais Wilson, in which it would examine reports from six countries: Ukraine on Monday afternoon, followed by those of Tajikistan (Tuesday), Indonesia (Wednesday) and Finland (Thursday). The Reports of Albania and the Czech Republic would be reviewed the following week, and a background press release was also available.
The United Nations Economic and Social Council (ECOSOC) ended its high-level segment yesterday, Ms. Momal Vanian said. Today ECOSOC began addressing issues of coordination in a discussion that was expected to continue until Tuesday 9 July. A debate on operational activities would begin Wednesday. The ECOSOC session would end on 26 July.
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The representative of the United Nations Children’s Fund and the International Labour Organization also attended the briefing but did not speak.
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The webcast for this briefing is available here: http://bit.ly/1aJ5BS4