REGULAR PRESS BRIEFING BY THE INFORMATION SERVICE
29 January 2013
Corinne Momal-Vanian, Director of the United Nations Information Service in Geneva, chaired the briefing which was also attended by Spokespersons for the United Nations Institute for Training and Research, the United Nations Conference on Trade and Development, the High Commissioner for Refugees, the United Nations Children’s Fund, the World Food Programme, the High Commissioner for Human Rights and the International Organization for Migration.
Rupert Colville of the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR) said the High Commissioner for Human Rights Navi Pillay was to put out a press release in a few minutes in which she was to express alarm at the violence and increasing number of deaths in Egypt. She urged all parties to conduct a serious dialogue in order to halt the exasperation and dangerous polarization underlying the current protests.
She also called on the Government to urgently rethink its responses to the unrest which had ranged from excessive use of force on the one hand, to complete failure to protect people, especially women, on the other.
In addition to the urgent need for the Government to make a much stronger effort to accommodate opposing points of view, and take concrete actions to address public concerns, she was to focus on the apparent use of excessive force by security services in Cairo, Port Said, Suez and Ismailia, and the failure to protect protesters elsewhere, especially in Cairo’s Tahrir square, where some 25 female demonstrators were reported to had been sexually assaulted over the past few days, in some cases with extraordinary violence.
Answering questions he said the High Commissioner’s position was that the state of emergency should be governed by the rule of law in line with international standards. This meant there should be judicial oversight to ensure it had been declared in a legal manner and that human rights were protected. It was believed that 53 people had been killed in the last couple of days and there were very disturbing reports of excessive use of force.
On a separate point he said that the High Commissioner had briefly spoken with the Egyptian Prime Minister during his recent visit to the Davos summit where she had mentioned the possibility of her visiting Egypt soon and opening a regional office in Cairo.
Rupert Colville of the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR) said the OHCHR was seriously concerned about a riot which took place on January 25 at the Uribana prison in Venezuela leaving 58 inmates dead and around 100 injured, in the context of an arms seizure.
This latest example reflected an alarming pattern of violence in Venezuelan prisons, which was a direct consequence of poor conditions. Chronic prison overcrowding, lack of access to basic services and the generalised presence of firearms were widespread in Venezuelan prisons. These conditions were further exacerbated by judicial delays and excessive resort to pre-trial detention.
States were guarantors of the lives and physical integrity of persons deprived of their liberty. These persons were under State custody and therefore the relevant State authorities bear responsibility for what happens to them. States must ensure that conditions of detention were compatible with the prohibition of torture and cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment. They must also be compatible with the right of all persons deprived of their liberty to be treated with humanity and with respect for the inherent dignity of the human person, as recognised by international human rights instruments.
He called for prompt and effective investigations into this incident with a view, where applicable, to identify those responsible and to obtain redress for the victims’ families and for the Venezuelan government to adopt urgent measures to ensure that conditions of detention comply with international human rights standards.
In line with the recommendations made to Venezuela under the Universal Periodic Review in October 2011, such measures should include the adoption of a comprehensive prison policy, training of penitentiary staff and ratification of the Optional Protocol to the Convention against Torture, he said.
Adrian Edwards for the High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) said with the fast-evolving situation in Mali, UNHCR was readying itself to assist in the possible spontaneous return of thousands of conflict-displaced people in the north of the country. It aimed to open new presences in Gao and other cities in the north as soon as it becomes feasible. So far, insecurity had hampered humanitarian access to the north.
From interviews over the past few days in Bamako with internally displaced people, it appeared that many were hoping to return soon to areas including Gao, Timbuktu and Kidal.
Returns were not yet a wide trend, but they were already being seen in some instances. In the central Mali town of Konna, for example, a UN security evaluation mission had confirmed that people were coming back. Up to half the town’s population of 10,000 was earlier reported as having fled into the surrounding countryside when Konna was overrun by rebel fighters on 10 January, prompting the French military intervention.
Despite the indications of growing interest in returns, conditions in the north of the country were difficult. People recently displaced from the north had reported serious shortages of food, clean water and fuel. Electricity, transport, communications, access to health and education was said to have been severely disrupted.
In Kidal and Tessalit in the north, the supply of food and other essential items had been seriously affected by the conflict and the closure of the border with Algeria, across which many goods used to be imported.
Hundreds of people were reported to had fled Kidal in recent days to villages further north, even closer to the Algerian border. Others had crossed into Algeria, despite the border being officially closed.
Tension between ethnic communities was reported in various parts of the country. In particular, members of the Tuareg and Arab communities were being blamed by other groups for supporting the separatist rebellion which led to the present conflict.
UNHCR appealed to community leaders and to the Malian authorities to give urgent priority to initiatives to promote peace and reconciliation between various ethnic groups, he said.
UNHCR was urgently bringing into Mali relief items for 9,000 families (some 54,000 people), including sleeping mats, blankets, plastic tarpaulins, jerry-cans, mosquito nets and cooking utensils. A distribution of relief items was scheduled to start today in the town of Mopti, where an estimated 40,000 people were internally displaced.
In all, some 380,000 people had fled northern Mali since the start of the conflict a year ago. This includes 230,000 who were internally displaced.
Answering questions he said that the UNHCR currently only had a small presence in the country but was looking to quickly build that up to ensure help was reaching people in affected areas. Asked about the flow of people leaving the country he said the largest numbers were heading for Mauritania, Burkina Faso and Niger.
Elisabeth Byrs for the World Food Programme (WFP) said WFP was completing its food distributions to 12,000 IDPs in Bamako and to 22,000 displaced people (IDPs) in the town of Mopti, central Mali that had been postponed following the outbreak of fighting and military intervention.
Since 27 January, distributions were now also on-going in Ségou region for a total of 37,000 IDPs. This included distributions that have started in Ségou, Niono and Macina districts. Distributions for another 4,000 IDPs in San, Bla and Tominian districts were to start during the course of the week.
Rapid analyses of the food security situation were being conducted in affected areas by the Mali country office, had been completed for Kidal and Mopti, and were underway for Gao and Timbuktu regions. Overall, in Kidal there was a lack of availability of staple goods as supply routes have been disrupted, while in Mopti populations have reduced access to goods due to over-population, strained resources and high prices.
Answering questions she said that access further north than Mopti was still blocked by regional authorities though deliveries by barge were still arriving. Answering a question she said that in 2013, WFP aimed to reach around 530,000 people as part of an emergency operation. This included more than 400,000 crisis-affected people in the north in Timbuktu, Gao and Kidal in need of assistance and more than 130,000 internally displaced people.
Central African Republic
Marixie Mercado for the United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF) said following an improvement in access to the Central African Republic (CAR) some 17 tons of supplies including medicine, water purification tablets, therapeutic food, cooking sets, tarpaulins, mosquito nets and other essential household items had arrived by air and another 52 tons was to be arrive by road this week.
UNICEF was currently able to respond to the needs of 45,000 people, or 9,000 families, she said, and it was thought that overall the fighting had affected 1.8 million people and left 800,000 in urgent need of humanitarian assistance.
In the areas most affected, including Bria, Bombari, and Kaga Bandoro, children were living in extremely precarious conditions and were at risk of recruitment into armed groups and sexual violence. Epidemics such as malaria were also a worry and work was being done to bring public services back to functioning. An estimated $11.5 million was needed to sustain emergency life-saving assistance through 2013 and another $2.1 million was needed immediately to support the emergency response.
Answering questions she said recruitment of children continued by both armed groups and pro-government militias. Even before this latest bout of hostilities it was thought there were around 2,500 children involved in armed groups and work continued to inform families about the dangers and on the rehabilitation of former soldiers. She also explained that access to basic services was not guaranteed in the CAR due to its poor economic status and life before was, and now even more so, was precarious for the children living there.
Jumbe Omari Jumbe for the International Organization for Migration (IOM) said IOM was deepening its response to relief and reconstruction after natural disasters in the Philippines by providing training on emergency preparedness.
By teaching emergency response skills and counter-trafficking techniques in the disaster-prone province of Mindanao, the IOM Philippines mission hoped to build more resilience in local and regional government.
The typhoon was the most deadly storm globally in 2012, and the most powerful to hit southern Mindanao in more than 100 years, a sign that global warming was affecting new latitudes of the country.
A four-day Camp Coordination and Camp Management workshop was organized and facilitated by IOM, from 24-27 January 2013 in collaboration with the Department of Social Welfare and Development (DSWD). Among the issues covered by the workshop was human trafficking as well as pre-evacuation planning and pre-identification of evacuation sites.
Jumbe Omari Jumbe for the International Organization for Migration (IOM) said IOM and the United Nations Alliance of Civilizations (UNAOC) again invite the world’s youth to submit original and creative videos focusing on PLURAL+ themes of migration, diversity and social inclusion. Young persons up to 25 years old are invited to submit short videos of five minutes maximum in length.
PLURAL+ 2013 deadline for video submission is 30 June, 2013. Early submissions are encouraged. All the winners will be invited to New York to present their work in December 2013.
Ms. Momal-Vanian also said that the Conference on Disarmament, which opened its 2013 session on Tuesday, met this morning for its second public meeting of the year.
The Committee on the Rights of the Child currently met in private until Friday. The closing session to be held Friday afternoon with the findings of the eight examined.
Ms. Momal-Vanian also announced that on Wednesday (30 January) at 11:00 in Room III the International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies (IFRC) held a press conference on the humanitarian consequences of the economic crisis in Europe from the Red Cross perspective. Speakers were Ms. Anitta Underlin, Director of Europe Zone, IFRC, Mr. Andreas Potamianos, Deputy President, Greek (Hellenic) Red Cross and Mr. Georg Habsburg, former President of the Hungarian Red Cross and member of the Red Cross National Society Advisory Group.
Also on Wednesday (30 January) at 14:00 in Press Room 1 there was a press conference by the United Nations Institute for Training and Research (UNITAR). Speakers were Afghanistan’s Minister of Finance Hon. Omar Zakhilwal, UN Assistant Secretary-General, Director ad interim, UNITAR, Mrs. Sally Fegan-Wyles.
Ms. Akiko Perona added that this was to announce a new partnership between the Afghan Ministry of Finance and UNITAR.
Catherine Sibut for the United Nations Conference on Trade and Development (UNCTAD) said the latest figures on global exports of information and communication technology by sector were shortly to be released. These showed that trade in these goods had climbed by 4 per cent in 2011, driven by trade in developing Asia where 44 per cent of the market was represented.
Answering questions she said there was no embargo on this press release. Asked about the process to appoint the next Secretary-General of UNCTAD she said a candidate would be nominated by the UN Secretary-General for approval by the General Assembly.
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The webcast for this briefing is available at http://webtv.un.org/media/geneva-press-briefings/