REGULAR PRESS BRIEFING BY THE INFORMATION SERVICE
14 June 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 Human Rights Council, the Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs, United Nations Refugee Agency, World Food Programme, United Nations Children’s Fund, International Labour Organization, International Organization for Migration, United Nations Economic Commission for Europe, World Trade Organization, Inter-Parliamentary Union, Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora, United Nations Conference on Trade and Development, World Intellectual Property Organization and the World Health Organization.
Melissa Fleming for the United Nations Refugee Agency (UNHCR) said that on 9 and 12 June UNHCR emergency relief assistance reached Al Raqqa, an area of northern Syria which had not been accessible for the past three months and where the humanitarian situation was reported to be extremely dire. Taking advantage of a window of opportunity, nine trucks filled with mattresses, blankets, hygiene kits and kitchen sets were dispatched from Damascus. Seven were confirmed to have reached Al Raqqa and confirmation was awaited for the last two. That assistance would help some 5,000 persons displaced in the area. Also this week, UNHCR’s team in Syria started distribution of financial help to displaced Syrian families in Tartus, a city on the coast, with families each receiving approximately US$150.
The influx from Al-Qusayr to Lebanon continued, and UNHCR teams in Lebanon continued to register and assist refugees arriving from Al-Qusayr. The offensive on Al Qusayr and the ensuing clashes and shelling of the villages around Al-Qusayr had led to an increase in the average daily number of traumatized new arrivals in Arsal in Lebanon, and reports of displacement within Syria. The period of the battle itself, spanning between 19 May and 6 June, saw a decrease in the number of new arrivals which only rose again in the past week.
Many arrivals described a city reduced to rubble, devoid of any civilians and combatants. One man UNHCR spoke to said there was no food left in the town and no water. He said people were resorting to squeezing water from the leaves of trees for nourishment. During the fighting, people fled into fields outside the city hoping the fighting would end and they could return home. Those who fled to Lebanon took a dangerous and indirect route to Arsal. Ms. Fleming also reported a substantial increase in the number of wounded, including 60 children.
Lebanon did not have refugee camps, and finding suitable shelter remained the principal challenge for families choosing to stay in Arsal. There was probably not a town in Lebanon that did not have Syrian refugees, Ms. Fleming said.
Gaëlle Sévenier for the International Organization for Migration (IOM) said that IOM had completed a rapid assessment of five sites in Southern Lebanon that hosted over 2,000 Syrian refugees. The findings indicate that refugee communities in the Saida and Sarafand area were in urgent need of aid, including shelter, non-food relief items, access to primary health care, hygiene awareness and income generation projects. They also needed transport to refugee registration centres.
Lebanon, with a population of 4.2 million, now hosted over 520,000 Syrian refugees, over 400,000 of whom had arrived this year, creating a massive housing shortage. No official refugee camps had been established and families were mainly living in informal settlements and rented accommodation. The rent at the sites was very expensive and refugees complained that rental costs were unreasonably high and facilities were inadequate. Securing shelter for new arrivals and relocating refugees from unsafe and unhygienic environments was a top priority. IOM was working with local municipalities to identify abandoned or derelict public buildings which could be renovated to accommodate families.
The assessment team noted that water and sanitation was inadequate in all the sites visited, with between 70 and 400 refugees sharing a single latrine. Limited access to water and poor personal hygiene has resulted in various health problems, including a growing number of scabies cases at two sites in Saida. IOM planned to combine awareness raising on personal hygiene and the hygienic preparation and storage of food, with a distribution of non-food relief items to 2,500 refugees over the next two weeks. It has also flagged outstanding health and hygiene problems to partner agencies in the respective humanitarian clusters.
Refugees did not have access to free health care in Lebanon and gaps in primary health care, particularly maternal, child health care and emergency secondary health care needs to be addressed. During the assessment, IOM staff also identified urgent cases in need of treatment, including victims with severe burns and shrapnel injuries. IOM health teams were collecting medical histories of urgent cases in the five sites to facilitate specialized care. IOM was also working to establish partnerships with hospitals and clinics that could provide treatment for urgent cases at reduced rates.
Very little help was available to treat refugees suffering from chronic conditions or diseases. One refugee from Homs approached IOM and reported that his child had been diagnosed with cancer in Syria and had been receiving treatment. After the town was attacked and the hospital destroyed, the family had to flee. Since arriving in Lebanon, the boy had not received any treatment and his family feared that the cancer would spread.
In addition to other challenges, many refugees reported that they were unable to register as refugees because they could not afford to pay the USD$ 50-70 taxi fare to reach registration centres. At the request of UNHCR, IOM would soon start to provide transport to the UNHCR registration centre in Tyre for up to 20,000 refugees.
IOM, in coordination with the UN, was appealing for USD$ 95 million to continue to provide life-saving emergency aid inside Syria and in neighbouring countries, including Lebanon, until December 2013. In Lebanon, IOM was appealing for USD$ 14.2 million.
Marixie Mercado, for the United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF) said that in the past two weeks, a large amount of UNICEF supplies had made it to Aleppo. That included one freezer room and two cold rooms to store vaccines – they were huge pieces of equipment that needed to be brought in on 40 foot containers. Also delivered were school supplies for almost 70,000 students, and thousands of hygiene and recreation kits.
In Homs, around a thousand families displaced from Qusayr were still sheltering in schools, unfinished buildings and tents in the village of Hasiaa, where UNICEF continued to provide water, nutrition and hygiene supplies, and rehabilitate sanitation facilities.
People were extremely traumatized by the conflict. Children were reporting that it took a long time for their eyes to get accustomed to sunlight because they had spent so long sheltering underground in Qusayr. In Qusayr last week, despite heavy fighting, UNICEF was able to replace a broken generator at a water pumping station serving 65 towns and villages, or 1.3 million people in the vicinity.
An area of major concern was eastern rural Damascus, where several locations were increasingly difficult to reach with assistance. Two days ago, the UN Country Team in Syria issued a statement calling for urgent access to around 1.2 million people in need of humanitarian assistance in Rural Damascus. The statement noted that despite three official requests, UN-led convoys heading to Muadhamiya, where around 5,000 families had been stranded for months due to ongoing hostilities, had been rescheduled seven times since March.
An urgent priority, given the summer heat and damage to water and sanitation networks, was to prevent disease outbreaks. This month, UNICEF was distributing soap to 10 million people across the country. Over 600,000 households in areas where the safety of drinking water was questionable would receive chlorination tablets. Supplies for personal hygiene and garbage disposal would reach 2 million people.
Together with Ministry of Health workers and SARC volunteers, UNICEF had so far reached over one million children with the measles, mumps and rubella vaccine, and over 700,000 with polio immunization, many of those children in zones of active conflict. UNICEF continued to distribute safe water to displaced families living in shelters, and was working provide water treatment units, generators and large storage the tanks to hard hit communities.
Finally, to quickly provide lifesaving treatment in the event of an outbreak, the United Nations Children’s Fund was prepositioning oral rehydration salts and diarrhoea kits across the country. UNICEF reiterated its call on all parties to provide safe access to populations in need, and reminded them of their legal obligation to protect children from all forms of violence.
Answering a question about how families were leaving Qusayr, Ms. Fleming said that although it was hard for them to get away from the city, conditions there were so tough they were forced to leave. In response to an enquiry about shelter in Lebanon, Ms. Fleming said that people were living in make-shift accommodation, from garages to tents. UNHCR’s strategy in Lebanon was to continue to work with communities to allow for this sort of refugee settlement and believed that having refugees living in the community and in other people’s homes was the best way. UNHCR was working closely with the Lebanese authorities, and although it was a very different strategy to caring for refugees in a refugee camp and was much more of challenge. One of the greatest challenges was transporting children to schools as there was limited public transport and cars were very expensive.
Jens Laerke for the Office for the Coordination for Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA) said for the first time in nearly a year in Myanmar a UN-led convoy was moving to areas beyond Government control in Kachin State, authorized by the Myanmar authorities and was currently delivering urgent humanitarian relief to displaced people. The 10-truck relief convoy departed Bhamo town on 12 June for Maija Yang town, carrying life-saving items to some 5,100 displaced in camps along the route, before it returns to Bhamo by 16 June. The aid included food, special nutrients for children, household kits, hygiene kits and sanitation supplies such as aqua tabs.
Since June 2011, fighting between the Kachin Independence Organization and the Government of Myanmar had forced an estimated 100,000 people from their homes. An estimated 60,000 of the people displaced were living in areas beyond the Government’s control. UNOCHA hoped it was the first of many such convoys to those areas. Access had not been the only problem, as funding was also short; US$ 50.9 million had been requested, of which US$ 4.2 million had been received. [Mr. Laerke later informed that US$ 13.9 million had now been received].
Middle East Respiratory Syndrome
Fadéla Chaib for the World Health Organization (WHO) said that the Ministry of Health in Saudi Arabia had announced an additional three laboratory-confirmed patients with Middle East Respiratory Syndrome Coronavirus, including one death. The first patient was a 63 year old woman with an underlying medical condition from the eastern region. The second patient was a 75 year old man with an underlying medical condition from the Assar Governate, and the third patient was a 21 year old man from the Haffar Governate. A previously confirmed laboratory-confirmed case had died. Globally, from September 2012 to date, WHO had been informed of 58 laboratory-confirmed cases of infection with Middle East Respiratory Syndrome cases, including 33 deaths.
Asylum in Europe
Melissa Fleming for the United Nations Refugee Agency (UNHCR) said that on Wednesday 12 June the European Parliament amended European Union legislation on asylum after long and complex negotiations. The changes that had been brought were in UNHCR’s view a welcome step towards the establishment of a Common European Asylum System. The High Commissioner had previously called the European asylum system “asylum a la carte”.
The ultimate objective of the changes was a uniform asylum system which was valid across the European Union. Among several new provisions which improved existing frameworks and practice were elements that UNHCR believed were of particular note, including strengthened safeguards in asylum decision-making that included mandatory training requirements for authorities; a compulsory personal interview in all cases; requirements for a detailed report of the personal interview; and gender-sensitive procedures. Another was further regulation of the use of detention. Systematic detention of asylum-seekers would no longer be possible and detention could only be justified for a legitimate purpose on defined grounds. European Union Member States were now obliged to amend their national laws to reflect
Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora
Juan Carlos Vasquez for the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora (CITES) announced that new rules for international trade in timber, marine and other wild animals and plants came into force this week, following their adoption in Bangkok 90 days ago. From today the international trade in a range of rosewoods and ebonies from Asia, Central America and Madagascar now listed in CITES Appendix II would require that exports be accompanied by CITES permits.
Turning to sharks, Mr. Vasquez noted that the entry into force of shark listings would be delayed by 18 months, until 14 September 2014, as more preparation was needed. On a related note, CITES was happy to note that the deadline for entering reservations on the new lists of species they protected ended on Wednesday 12 June. Five reservations were received, from Denmark on behalf of Greenland (porbeagle shark), Guyana (all 5 shark species and the manta rays), Japan (all five shark species), Iceland (porbeagle shark) and Yemen (hammerhead sharks). The significant news was that China had advised CITES Secretariat that, while it continued to have concerns regarding implementation of the new listings, in the spirit of international cooperation it would apply the CITES rules to those species and had not entered any reservations.
Inter-Parliamentary Union Missions
Jemini Pandya for the Inter-Parliamentary Union (IPU) gave updates on missions to the Democratic Republic of the Congo, Burundi and the Ivory Coast.
Ms. Pandya said although she couldn’t give full details of the human rights of parliamentarians mission to the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC) until next week, she could report that yesterday the team from IPU’s Committee on the Human Rights of Parliamentarians visited two politicians in prison, Pierre Jacques Chalupa and Diomi Ndongola to discuss the latest efforts to end their imprisonment.
Sixty-four-year-old former MP and opposition party leader Mr. Chalupa, who was in need of urgent medical treatment, appeared to be in reasonable condition at the meeting on 13 June. Sentenced to imprisonment in October 2012 for falsifying documents to gain Congolese nationality despite having been elected an MP and living his whole life in the country, he had served half of a three-year sentence and met the conditions for “anticipated release” under Congolese law. IPU was urging the authorities in the DRC to release Chalupa and to favourably resolve the issue of his citizenship.
In Mr. Ndongala’s case, the mission was calling for a court decision ordering the MP to be put under house arrest instead of in detention, to be respected. IPU was also urging Ndongola’s trial to take place as soon as possible and for it to fully respect international fair trial guarantees. The IPU team would conclude its mission on 14 June after final meetings with the authorities.
Turning to the mission to Burundi, where the IPU was pushing for progress on resolving alleged human rights cases of 20 MPs and former MPs, Ms. Pandya said that the President of its Committee on the Human Rights of Parliamentarians and Malian MP, Kassoum Tapo, was leading the second mission to the country in two years.
As part of the mission on 17-20 June, Tapo and IPU staff would examine the judicial proceedings against four former MPs, including Gérard Nkurunziza, who had been in pre-trial detention for almost five years, and Hussein Radjabu, a senior politician who was sentenced to 13 years in prison for subversion in a judicial process characterized by serious irregularities. Mr. Tapo would explore possibilities for Radjabu’s release or retrial and aims to visit both Radjabu and Nkurunziza in detention.
IPU was also calling for effective investigations into the assassinations and attempted assassinations of eight MPs in the 1990s, as well as grenade attacks on a further eight members of the previous parliament in 2007 and 2008 - all of which remained unpunished. The mission would seek to verify whether the current draft bill of a long-awaited Truth and Reconciliation Committee (TRC) would give jurisdiction to the TRC to conduct independent inquiries into these cases.
Ms. Pandya also spoke about how MPs were working to protect women and children from violence in Mali in conflict and post-conflict situations with support from the IPU. Women and children had been the principal victims of atrocities after armed groups took control of the north of the country at the beginning of 2012. Nearly half a million people had been displaced as a result of the fighting which has led to women and girls as young as 13 turning to sex for survival, according to recent reports by NGOs. The conflict had seen unprecedented cases of rape, sexual slavery, under-age and forced marriages and children being forced into combat.
Finally, Ms. Pandya briefed on a three-day mission to Côte d’Ivoire by MPs on IPU’s Committee on United Nations Affairs would look at how to promote peace-building in the country. The mission would take place from 17 to 19 June and includes five MPs from Europe, Africa and South America as well as IPU staff. The Mission would examine how the Ivorian parliament could work more closely with UN as a whole to enhance the reconciliation process.
More information on all the missions was available in the press release.
Melissa Fleming for the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) reported that UNHCR had completed its move of Darfur refugees from Tissi border. In south-eastern Chad, it had finished the relocation of Darfur refugees from the volatile border area, which was also flood-prone, at Tissi to the newly established Ab Gadam camp, which was now hosting 10,247 people and where UNHCR would be able to offer better services. More information was available in the press note.
Ms. Momal-Vanian said that the Committee on the Rights of the Child would meet in public at 12 p.m. today to close its session. The Committee's concluding observations on the reports reviewed during its session would be made public early next week. She also noted that the Conference on Disarmament would next meet in public on Tuesday 18 June.
Rolando Gomez for the Human Rights Council (HRC) said today was the last day of the twenty-third session of the Human Rights Council. Yesterday the Council adopted 18 resolutions on subjects including freedom of expression, women’s empowerment, trafficking in persons, internally displaced persons, corruption and for the first time, on the worrying issue of discrimination against albinism. Today the Council would take action on ten draft resolutions today: on Myanmar, Eritrea, Syria, climate change, migrants, violence against women, Cote d’Ivoire, Guinea, Somalia and South Sudan. The vote on the draft resolution on Syria would take place after 3pm. At the end of the action on resolutions the President of the Council would announce the appointment new mandate holders, including an Independent Expert on Haiti, Mr. Gustavo Gallon of Colombia, and the new mandate of an Independent Expert on Mali, Mr. Suliman Baldo of Sudan. A note had been sent to all journalists with the details.
Melissa Fleming for the United Nations Refugee Agency (UNHCR) announced that a press conference would take place today at 2.00 p.m. in Press Room 1 with Mr. António Guterres, United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees giving a pre-briefing on UNHCR’s new annual Global Trends report. Embargoed copies of the report will be provided to media attending. Mr. Guterres would naturally speak about the situation in Syria at this event. Ms. Fleming reminded journalists that the pre-briefing and the report itself were under strict embargo and may not be used before 00.01 GMT on June 19.
Marixie Mercado, for the United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF) announced a press conference to take place on Monday 17 June at 9 a.m. in Press Room 1 on the situation of children in Yemen. Julien Harneis, UNICEF Yemen Representative, would speak at the event.
Catherine Sibut, United Nations Conference on Trade and Development (UNCTAD) announced that the fifth session of the Trade and Development Commission would take place at the Palais des Nations next week, from Monday 17 to Friday 21 June. Key trade and development issues related to sustainable development would be discussed by Member States and other stakeholders. A detailed programme and list of participants was available at the back of the room and on the website.
Gaëlle Sévenier for the International Organization for Migration (IOM) announced details of the Diaspora Ministerial Conference which is taking place at the International Conference Centre in Geneva from Tuesday 18 to Wednesday 19 June. Journalists holding a UNOG media pass would not need to complete a registration form. A list of the high-level participants, who included several Government Ministers, was available in French and English, as was the programme and other background documents, on the website.
Peter Schatzer, Diaspora Ministerial Conference Coordinator for the International Organization for Migration (IOM) then provided some more detailed information on the event. Mr. Schatzer said that the Diaspora Ministerial Conference was the first of its type organized by an international organization. It was being held because in recent years increasing Governments had decided to establish ministries and institutions for diaspora issues. The IOM had counted over 100 such institutions, over 40 of which were led by Cabinet Minsters. The IOM also wanted to highlight that although migrants were valuable resources who sent home remittances of more than US$ 400 billion, they were also important human resources for cultural matters, as well as for political development. The IOM hoped to hear from Ministers what had worked for them, about their experiences, and even about initiatives that were not so successful. It hoped the event would serve as a networking and knowledge-sharing tool. It was hoped that the material from the Conference could go into a report that could go before the High-Level Dialogue at the United Nations on International Migration and Development in New York in October, as well as help the IOM itself develop new programmes in that field.
Melissa Begag for the World Trade Organization (WTO) announced that a press briefing on the WTO Agriculture Committee would take place today at 2.45 p.m. in Press Room 1, led by Peter Ungphakorn of the WTO. Ms. Begag then outlined the agenda of WTO Director-General Pascal Lamy for the coming week: on Tuesday 18 June Mr. Lamy would speak at the WTO/OECD Workshop on Aid for Trade in Geneva; on Wednesday 19 June he would be in Belgium to address the Brussels Economic Forum and on Thursday 20 June Mr. Lamy would visit St Petersburg, Russia, to speak at both the B20 Summit Trade Task Force on "Trade as a Growth Driver” and the St Petersburg International Economic Forum on "Finding Resolve to Build the New Global Economy".
Turning to the WTO schedule for next week, Ms. Begag announced a Workshop on E-Commerce to take place on Monday and Tuesday (17 and 18 June), at 3 p.m. The Committee on Technical Barriers to Trade would meet at 3pm every day from 17 to 20 June. A workshop on Aid for Trade would take place at 10 a.m. Tuesday 18 June, and on Wednesday 19 June the Committee on Trade and Development would at 10 a.m. hold a Session on Aid for Trade. Also that day there would be a meeting of the Committee on Trade in Financial Services at 10 a.m. and of the Working Party on Domestic Regulation 3 p.m. On Thursday 20 June, at 10 a.m. there would be meetings of the Working Party on GATS Rules, the Committee on Specific Commitments and an informal meeting of the Committee on Trade and Development. At 3 p.m. there would be a meeting of the Council for Trade in Services. On Friday 21 June at 10 a.m. the Cotton Development Assistance would meet, and at 3 p.m. there would be a meeting of the Working Party on the Accession of the Republic of Seychelles.
Fadéla Chaib for the World Health Organization (WHO) announced a very important new report on violence against women would be launched on 20 June. The report would include global and regional estimates of rates of violence against women, including both domestic and non-domestic violence. The report would also include WHO clinical guidelines on how to respond to violence against women. A media advisory would be issued and a press conference would take place on Thursday 20 June at 2 p.m. in Press Room III.
Hans von Rohland for the International Labour Organization (ILO) gave an update on the International Labour Conference’s programme for today. The President of the European Council, Mr. Van Rompuy, would address the Conference at 2 p.m. today. He would hold a press stakeout and photo opportunity afterwards; accredited photographers could receive a special badge in advance from ILO Secretariat officers outside the Assembly Hall.
Mr. Rohland announced that on Monday 17 June at 10.30 a.m. the World of Work Summit would take place at the International Labour Conference, starting with a high-level panel discussion on the subject ‘Restoring confidence: Jobs, growth and social progress’, with an introduction from the ILO Director-General Guy Ryder. Panellists included Mr Carlos Lopes, Executive Secretary of the United Nations Economic Commission for Africa; Mr Frank Vandenbroucke, Professor of Social Economic Analysis, University of Antwerp, Belgium; Mr Daniel Funes de Rioja, Executive Vice-President, International Organisation of Employers (IOE); and Ms Sharan Burrow, General Secretary, International Trade Union Confederation (ITUC). The programme of work, lists of speakers and other information was all available on the website.
Samar Shamoon for the World Intellectual Property Organization (WIPO) announced that WIPO was convening a diplomatic conference to conclude a treaty to facilitate access to published works by visually impaired persons and persons with print disabilities. The conference would run from 18 to 28 June, in Marrakesh, Morocco. Background material was at the back of the room and Ms. Shamoon could help any journalist interested in covering that conference, or who needed accreditation.
Ms. Shamoon also asked journalists to save the date for a press conference to launch Global Innovation Index, scheduled for 10 a.m. on Monday 1 July in Press Room 1. The formal launch of the report would take place at 12 p.m. at the high level segment of ECOSOC on the same day. Francis Gurry, WIPO Director General would speak at the press conference along with partners from Cornell University and other knowledge partners. Ms. Shamoon also introduced a new colleague, Mr. Edward Harris, who was joining the WIPO media team.
Jean Rodriguez, for the United Nations Economic Commission for Europe (UNECE) said that Director-General Sven Alkalaj would visit Central Asia next week, on 17 and 18 June he would be in Kyrgyz meeting with Ministers and other officials, and from 19 to 21 June he would visit Tajikistan to meet the President and Ministers.
Mr. Rodriguez also announced a conference about nutrition taking place from Tuesday 18 June to Thursday 20 June, daily at 2 p.m. in Room VIII, titled “Go nuts for health”. Professor Jordi Salas-Salvadó, Director of the Human Nutrition Unit at the Rovira i Virgili University in Spain, would speak. Professor Salas-Salvadó would discuss the nutritional benefits of nuts and a Mediterranean diet in preventing diseases such as diabetes, obesity and Alzheimer’s. Tasting samples of nuts and dried fruit would be provided. Mr. Rodriguez said that the global value of tree nuts and dried fruit market reached a total supply value of over $32 billion in 2012.
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The representative of World Food Programme also attended the briefing but did not speak.
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The webcast for this briefing is available here: webtv.un.org/media