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5 December 2017

Alessandra Vellucci, Director of the United Nations Information Service in Geneva, chaired the briefing, which was attended by the spokespersons for the Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs, the International Organization for Migration, the World Health Organization, the World Intellectual Property Organization, the United Nations Children’s Fund and the United Nations Research Institute for Social Development.


Alessandra Vellucci, for the United Nations Information Service in Geneva, said that, following the week-end recess, the eighth round of intra-Syrian talks would resume during the afternoon of 5 December with a meeting between Staffan de Mistura, Special Envoy for Syria, and the delegation of the Syrian National Council.

Accreditations for correspondents covering the talks in Geneva would automatically be extended until 15 December, but a new badge has to be collected at Pregny Gate.

In response to questions from journalists, Ms. Vellucci said that the delegation of the Government of Syria had been invited back to Geneva as of today, and the Special Envoy stood ready to engage with them when they returned. Queries regarding further details on that topic should be directed to the Permanent Mission of Syria in Geneva.

In response to further questions, she said that Mr. de Mistura had submitted proposals to the two sides and it was for them to decide whether or not to engage.

Update on Human Rights Council

Alessandra Vellucci, for the United Nations Information Service in Geneva, said that the tentative programme for the Human Rights Council’s special session on Myanmar, due to take place on 5 December, included statements by the President of the Human Rights Council, the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights, the Chair of the Coordination Committee of Special Procedures, a representative of the fact-finding mission on Myanmar, the Special Representative of the Secretary-General on Sexual Violence in Conflict, the Representative of Myanmar, the State Minister for Foreign Affairs of Bangladesh and members of the Human Rights Council. The general debate was expected to continue in the afternoon.


Jamie McGoldrick, Resident and Humanitarian Coordinator in Yemen for the Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA), speaking by phone from Sana’a, said that the situation in Yemen was uncertain following the killing of former President Saleh on 4 December.

Overnight, 25 air strikes had targeted the Republican Palace, bridges and civilian infrastructure in Sana’a. The air strikes had come in the wake of five days of relentless ground combat in the city, during which humanitarian workers had been unable to carrying out their life-saving activities. The fighting had now subsided and people were emerging onto the streets to seek food, water and medical treatment.

During the fighting and air strikes, United Nations agencies, the Red Cross and NGOs had been on lockdown. Reports had been received of wounded people unable to reach hospitals and ambulances being fired on by snipers. The Saudi-led coalition had warned the residents of Sana’a to stay away from city installations to avoid air strikes.

OCHA had sent messages to all parties to the conflict, asking for a pause in the fighting so as to enable people to reach hospitals and restock their food supplies. The intense fighting, coming on top of the recent blockades, the cholera outbreak and the threat of famine, marked another dark chapter in the history of Yemen.

Asked whether there had been a reply to the request for a pause in the fighting, Mr. McGoldrick said that a hallmark of the crisis had been the general disregard for international humanitarian law. Accordingly, while he did not expect full compliance by all the parties, he hoped for some respite in the fighting to allow civilians to access supplies and medical care. There had been reports of 125 people killed and more than 200 injured over the previous days but the exact casualty figures were unclear.

In response to questions from journalists, he said that while flights in and out of Sana’a had not been suspended, the recent fighting had prevented travel to the airport. Regular United Nations and Red Cross flights had arrived in Sana’a on the morning of 5 December and a Médecins sans frontières flight was expected to operate on 6 December. At the present time, there appeared to be no fighting taking place with the city perimeter, including in the diplomatic area where he was located, although there had been reports of some problems on the outskirts of the city.

In response to further questions, Mr. McGoldrick said that the humanitarian sector had downsized its presence in Yemen commensurate with its ability to operate. The majority of United Nations personnel remained in the country, however, and operations would be scaled up again when conditions allowed. A United Nations team was due to travel to Riyadh to negotiate the full reopening of the ports to allow humanitarian and commercial supplies, including food, medicines and fuel, into the country.

Asked whether he had any information on the death of the former President, he said that he was unaware of whether other individuals had been killed alongside Mr. Saleh. He had heard unconfirmed reports that a funeral ceremony would be held at the main mosque during the morning of 5 December and that the area should be avoided.

Alessandra Vellucci, for the United Nations Information Service in Geneva, recalled that on 4 December, the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights had announced the appointment of the members of the Group of Eminent Experts on Yemen established by the Human Rights Council, calling it an important step towards accountability and ending impunity for the serious violations of human rights committed by all sides in Yemen.

Ms. Vellucci also recalled that on 3 December, the Secretary-General had called on all parties to the conflict in Yemen to abide by their obligations under international humanitarian law. He had said that it was paramount that civilians were protected, that the wounded were afforded safe access to medical care and that all sides facilitated life-saving humanitarian access. The Secretary-General had reiterated that there was no military solution to the conflict and urged all parties to engage meaningfully with the United Nations to revitalize inclusive negotiations on a political settlement.

Ms. Vellucci further recalled that on 5 December, Ismail Ould Cheikh Ahmed, Special Envoy of the Secretary-General for Yemen, and Mark Lowcock, Under-Secretary-General for Humanitarian Affairs and Emergency Relief Coordinator, would address the Security Council on the conflict in Yemen.

OCHA briefing on Ukraine

Jens Laerke, for the Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA), announced that at 2 p.m. on 7 December in Press Room I, Neal Walker, Humanitarian and Resident Coordinator in Ukraine, would brief journalists on the situation there.

The humanitarian community in Ukraine had published its humanitarian needs overview and response plan for 2018, according to which 3.4 million people in Ukraine were in need of aid. The response plan was targeting 2.3 million of those, and financing of USD 187 million was being sought.


Joel Millman, for the International Organization for Migration (IOM), said that it was now more than 100 days since an upsurge in violence in Myanmar’s Northern Rakhine State had forced some 625,792 Rohingya refugees to flee into Cox’s Bazar, Bangladesh. The conditions in the congested settlements where the refugees were now living were extremely dire.

The impact of the influx was being felt widely by the already impoverished local communities living in the region and struggling to survive. The United Nations Humanitarian Response Plan aimed to reach 300,000 members of the local communities who were in need of assistance.

The water, sanitation and hygiene situation was of concern not only in the refugee settlements, where over 60 per cent of water was contaminated with E.coli, but also in the local communities living nearby.

IOM had constructed more than 3,800 latrines and 159 wells in six host community locations - Whykong, Palonkhali, Jaliapalong, Kutupalong, Rajapalong and Baharchora. More than 30,000 host community members now had access to safe water and sanitation services. To ensure sustainability and generate employment, IOM had trained and equipped local tube well caretakers.

Since 25 August, IOM health teams in Cox’s Bazar had provided emergency and primary health-care services to over 100,000 patients from the Rohingya and local Bangladeshi communities.

IOM supported 19 health facilities, 9 of which provided services to both communities. At the community clinics located very close to the refugee settlements, including Kutupalong and Leda, approximately 30 per cent of patients seen were from the local Bangladeshi community.

Dementia as a global health problem

Dr. Tarun Dua, Medical Officer in the Department of Mental Health and Substance Abuse, for the World Health Organization (WHO), said that dementia was a public health challenge. Worldwide, around 50 million people suffered from dementia, representing approximately 5 per cent of the older population, and the number was expected to triple by 2050.

The disease was not only a problem in high-income countries; 60 per cent of cases occurred in low- and middle-income countries. Dementia came at a high cost, with USD 818 billion spent on dementia care globally. That amount was equivalent to 1 per cent of global GDP and was expected to increase to USD 2 trillion by 2030.

In 2017, Member States had endorsed a global action plan on dementia. The plan focused on prevention and care, as well as searching for a cure for the disease. Coordinated efforts were required to make radical improvements in the care provided to people with dementia and to raise awareness of factors that could help to prevent dementia, including exercise, a good diet, not smoking and limiting alcohol consumption

On 7 December, WHO was launching the first ever global monitoring system for dementia – the Global Dementia Observatory. The system would initially include data from 22 countries of all income levels, rising to 50 countries by the end of 2018.

WIPO Announcement

Edward Harris, for the World Intellectual Property Organization (WIPO), said that at 11 a.m. on 6 December in Press Room I, the World Intellectual Property Indicators 2017 report would be launched.

The annual study looked at filing patterns for patents, trademarks, industrial design and other intellectual property data from 150 countries. The 2017 edition would, for the first time, include data on products with a specific geographical origin and new data on women’s participation in the rate of patent filing.

UNICEF Announcements

Christophe Boulierac, for the United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF), announced that the 2017 edition of UNICEF’s annual report, State of the World’s Children, would focus on the impact of digital technology on children. Although children represented one-third of Internet users globally, the measures in place to protect them were insufficient. While the report was under embargo until 11 December, a telephone press briefing on the launch would take place on 6 December.

Mr. Boulierac also announced the publication of an embargoed press release about the millions of babies under 1 year of age living in areas where levels of air pollution were at least six times higher than international limits. Such high levels could potentially put children’s brain development at risk. Most of the affected babies lived in South Asia.

UNRISD Announcement

Jenifer Freedman, for the United Nations Research Institute for Social Development (UNRISD), announced that at 1 p.m. on 8 December in Room XIX, a public conference would be held in advance of Human Rights Day on 10 December. The conference panellists included Jeremy Corbyn, Leader of the Labour Party in the United Kingdom, Arancha González, Executive Director of the International Trade Centre, and Nikhil Seth, Executive Director of the United Nations Institute for Training and Research. Mr. Corbyn would be available to speak to media representatives after the event.

Geneva events and announcements

Alessandra Vellucci, for the United Nations Information Service in Geneva, said that the Committee against Torture (Palais Wilson) would be meeting in private until the end of this 62nd session, scheduled for Wednesday the 6th of December at 10am.

Ms. Vellucci announced that the Committee on the Elimination of Racial Discrimination (Palais Wilson) would be meeting in private until the end of this 94th session, scheduled for Friday 8 December.

Press conferences

Meeting of States Parties to the Biological Weapons Convention - Conference on disarmament
Meeting of States Parties to the Biological Weapons Convention (BWC)
Wednesday, 6 December at 9:00 a.m. in Press Room 1

Launch of WIPO’s 2017 World Intellectual Property Indicators (WIPI) report
Wednesday, 6 December at 11:00 a.m. in Press Room 1

Publication of the UNCTAD Handbook of Statistics 2017
Wednesday, 6 December at 2:30 p.m. in Press Room 1

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The webcast for this briefing is available here: http://bit.ly/unog051217

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