PRESS BRIEFING BY THE UNITED NATIONS INFORMATION SERVICE
20 September 2022
Human Rights Council
Rolando Gomez, for the Human Rights Council, said the Council was concluding its discussion with the Independent Expert on International Order this morning. The Council would start its discussion with the Working Group on Involuntary and Enforced Disappearances. At midday the Council would hear from the Working Group on Mercenaries, addressing justice and accountability for mercenary actors. This afternoon the Council would hear from the Special Rapporteur on Toxic Waste, presenting reports on country visits to Italy and Mauritius. Later in the day, the Council would hear the annual presentation from the President of the UN Economic and Social Council. At the end of the day would be a series of thematic reports presented by the Acting High Commissioner for Human Rights, followed by a debate which would continue nearly all day tomorrow Wednesday; also tomorrow at 4:30pm, the Council would hear from the Special Rapporteur on Myanmar.
A press conference would take place at 2pm today with the Fact-Finding Mission on the situation in Venezuela. At 9:30am on Thursday the Special Rapporteur on Myanmar would speak to the press, and at 2 pm the Commission on the Human Rights in Ethiopia would also talk to the media. The last press conference was on Friday with the Commission of Inquiry on Ukraine speaking at 1:30 pm.
Responding to questions, Mr. Gomez said there was no press conference scheduled on small scale mining, but the Special Rapporteur on Toxics and Human Rights would be available for interviews.
145th Assembly of the Inter-Parliamentary Union to be hosted in Kigal
Thomas Fitzsimmons, for the Inter-Parliamentary Union, said the Parliament of Rwanda would host the 145th Assembly of the Inter-Parliamentary Union in Kigali from 11 to 15 October. The overall theme of the Assembly was Gender Equality and Gender-sensitive Parliaments. The IPU would facilitate exchanges on good practices to make parliaments more gender-sensitive as well as encouraging them to pledge to take transformative action. Rwanda leads the way when it comes to gender equality in parliament. In 2008, the Rwanda Chamber of Deputies was the first elected national parliament to have a majority of women, with 61.25 percent of women members of the parliament, well above the current global average of 26.4 percent.
More than 1000 delegates, including some 60 speakers and deputy speakers of parliaments, were expected to attend in person. At the Assembly, the IPU Task Force for the peaceful resolution of the war in Ukraine was expected to meet both the Russian Federation delegates and the Ukrainian delegates separately. The Task Force would report to the full membership on the outcome of these discussions and the steps ahead.
Legal guidance on Somali asylum seekers
Elizabeth Tan, for the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR), said UNHCR had released new guidance today on the eligibility for refugee status of Somalis fleeing their country. The guidance aimed to assist those adjudicating international protection claims by asylum seekers from Somalia and those responsible for setting government policy on this issue. Ongoing armed conflict and widespread human rights violations continued to affect the civilian population, placing lives in danger and compelling many to leave their homes in search of safety. One recent attack on the Hayat hotel in Mogadishu left at least 21 civilians dead and 117 others wounded. UNHCR considered that people at risk include clan elders, electoral delegates, government workers and officials, police officers, off-duty soldiers, and humanitarian workers, among others. The deteriorating security situation, including human rights violations, exacerbated the humanitarian crisis in Somalia, undermining the government and humanitarian actors’ ability to respond.
Somalia was also facing its worst drought in 40 years and there was a risk of widespread famine in the coming months. UNHCR’s new guidelines asserted that States must allow people fleeing Somalia to seek safety, and that their refugee claims be assessed according to international law. Those found to be fleeing violence, human rights abuses and persecution would meet the criteria for refugee status under the 1951 Refugee Convention, or under regional instruments, or UNHCR’s broader mandate. At the end of 2021, there were 836,300 Somali refugees and asylum seekers worldwide, most of them – almost 80 per cent (more than 650,000) - hosted in neighbouring and regional countries including Ethiopia, Kenya, Yemen, Djibouti, Uganda, and Sudan. UNHCR applauded the commitment of neighbouring countries in upholding their international legal obligations by keeping their borders open to Somalis who were fleeing in search of safety and urged all countries – including those further afield – to do the same.
Update on Pakistan floods and on the situation of Pakistani children
Babar Baloch, for the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR), speaking from Bangkok, said UNHCR was continuing to support the government-led relief efforts in flood-hit parts of Pakistan, where the situation remained dire, with close to 8 million people now displaced. UNHCR continued to coordinate logistics as part of a plan to transport over 1.2 million relief items to local authorities in the most flood-affected areas. So far, 1 million life-saving items had been delivered to authorities for distribution, and all 22 scheduled UNHCR airlifts transporting much-needed relief items had arrived in Pakistan. Some 7.6 million people had been displaced by the floods, according to the latest estimates, with nearly 600,000 living in relief sites. Many parts of the country, especially in the southern Sindh province, remained under water. Officials warned that it could take up to six months for flood waters to recede in the hardest-hit areas, as fears rose over threats of waterborne diseases and the safety of millions of people including women and children. In all, 33 million people had been affected by the floods.
Pakistan was home to some 1.3 million registered Afghan refugees, an estimated 800,000 of whom were hosted in more than 45 ‘calamity hit’ districts out of 80 affected locations. Four of the worst-hit districts in Balochistan, Khyber Pakhtunkhwa and Sindh provinces hosted the highest number of refugees. With the delivery of aid, UNHCR and partners had begun rolling out emergency cash assistance to flood-affected refugees to supplement the Government’s monsoon response. Hundreds of vulnerable refugee families in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa, Balochistan, Sindh and Punjab would receive one-time support.
Inter-agency humanitarian teams had been deployed and reinforced with female staff to guarantee more comprehensive data collection from affected communities. In addition, UNHCR had trained more than 25 UN agency and NGO staff in multiple locations to ensure key protection principles were observed. Ensuring access to education remained a key priority as the floods disrupted learning for some 30,000 refugee and host community children. UNHCR had started conducting detailed assessments on schools damaged by monsoon rains in Balochistan and Khyber Pakhtunkhwa, with around 69 schools damaged in refugee villages in these areas. UNHCR reiterated its call for more support for the country and its people. The scale of devastation from the monsoon on people and infrastructure was hard to comprehend. According to Pakistan’s National Disaster Management Authority, over 1,500 people had lost their lives, including 552 children killed. Over 2 million houses had been destroyed or damaged across the country.
Gerida Birukila, for the United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF), speaking from Quetta Moi, said next week marked a month since catastrophic floods uprooted more than 3.4 million children from their homes. The violent rapids had already claimed the lives of more than 550 children. Without a significant surge in support, UNICEF feared that many more children would lose their lives. Even after three weeks, large parts of the flood-affected areas were still submerged under water, and many of the roads and bridges had been washed away or damaged. Thousands of families in the 81 calamity-hit districts were still cut off and desperately needed support. Families had no food, clean water, or medicines. A lack of food meant a lot of the mothers were now anaemic and malnourished and had very low-weight babies.
UNICEF had been on the ground since day 1, supporting the Government of Pakistan’s flood response. Immediately following the floods, US$ 1 million in prepositioned supplies were dispatched, with an additional US$ 3million of supplies delivered and being dispatched to the worst affected districts. UNICEF set up 71 mobile health camps and set up temporary learning centres to help children cope with trauma. The world needed to come together and help the children in Pakistan. The funding appeal for US$ 39 million was still less than a third funded, and the needs of children would only continue to grow. Together lives could be saved by delivering lifesaving health, nutrition, WASH, protection, and education services to every child in Pakistan who needed it the most.
Ravina Shamdasani, speaking for the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR), said that the Office was alarmed at the death in custody of Mahsa Amini - detained by Iran’s “morality police” enforcing strict hijab rules - and the violent response by security forces to ensuing protests. Amini, a 22-year-old Iranian woman from the Kurdish minority, was with her brother in Tehran when she was arrested on 13 September for what was perceived to be “improper” hijab. She fell into a coma shortly after collapsing at Vozara Detention Centre. Amini, who also goes by the Kurdish name Jhina, died three days later. There are reports Amini was beaten on the head with a baton, and her head was banged against the vehicle by the so-called morality police. Authorities stated she died of natural causes.
“Mahsa Amini’s tragic death and allegations of torture and ill-treatment needed be promptly, impartially and effectively investigated by an independent competent authority, that ensures, in particular, that her family has access to justice and truth,” said Nada Al-Nashif, Acting High Commissioner for Human Rights. Ms. Al-Nashif said the compulsory veiling laws remain of concern in Iran, where appearing in public without a hijab was punishable by imprisonment. In recent months, the morality police had expanded street patrols, subjecting women perceived to be wearing “loose hijab” to verbal and physical harassment and arrest. The UN Human Rights Office had received numerous, and verified, videos of violent treatment of women, including slapping women across the face, beating them with batons and throwing them into police vans.
“The authorities must stop targeting, harassing, and detaining women who do not abide by the hijab rules,” said Al-Nashif, calling for the repeal of all discriminatory laws and regulations that imposed mandatory hijab. Thousands had taken to the streets in a number of cities across the country, including in Tehran, Isfahan, Karaj, Mashhad, Rasht, Saqqes and Sanandaj, in protests against Ms. Amini’s death. Security forces had reportedly responded with live ammunition, pellet guns and teargas. At least two people had reportedly been killed and several injured, and a number had been arrested. Nada Al-Nashif condemned the reported unnecessary or disproportionate use of force against protesters, and called on Iran - as a State party to the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights - to respect the right to peacefully exercise freedom of expression, assembly and association.
Responding to questions, Ms. Shamdasani said the fact this woman was Kurdish added to concerns and it would appear she was subject to multiple forms of discrimination. There had been protests in her hometown which had resulted in 2 to 5 deaths. There had been a heightened enforcement of hijab rules recently; they were not just affecting Kurdish minorities but all women across Iran. There had been another woman detained due to the hijab, who was reportedly hospitalized due to internal bleeding. She had been released on bail while she awaited trial. There were videos circulating of Ms. Amini wearing what was considered proper hijab and there were conflicting stories about whether she was dressed appropriately and there were other reason as to why she was arrested. In any case, the bottom line was that hijab rules should not exist and women should not be punished for what they were wearing. The President of Iran had called for a thorough investigation into Amini’s death. The initial response of the authorities was that she died of a heart attack, but medical records showed the contrary. There needed to be a prompt, thorough impartial investigation into Ms. Amini’s.
Ms. Shamdasani said there had been a lot of protest since the 16th of September. There had been women who took off their headscarves at Ms. Amini’s funeral, and there had been protests against the compulsory hijab over the past four decades, with women arrested, harassed and beaten for protesting against these rules. New regulations had been brought in which included that those who removed their hijab in their cars, were summoned. The UN believed that such modesty codes deprived women of their bodily integrity, and the UN had requested authorities to take all steps to abolish modesty laws, which constituted discrimination against women. These rules led to violations of human rights against women including freedom of movement and bodily integrity.
Mohanna Eljabaly, for the Yemeni Family Care Association, speaking as invitee of the World Food Programme, which supported the organization, said that according to humanitarian organizations, one person was estimated to be dying of hunger every 4 seconds in the world; 882,000 people were experiencing catastrophic hunger at this very moment. Without action, another additional 50 million would follow. The hunger crisis was impacting communities in 45 countries and the Yemeni Family Care Association, together with 237 other civil society organizations, had addressed an open letter to the UN General Assembly demanding urgent action to save lives now. The letter contained more details and figures about hunger worldwide.
In Yemen, a record of 19 million people were now in-need of food assistance. Extreme hunger loomed over 161,000 people by the end of this year. 2.2 million children projected to be malnourished, included nearly more than half a million severely so. Finances were short; it was hard to execute a humanitarian response plan when only nearly 50% of what was initially requested was being provided, and when the last quarter of the year was approaching.
Women were in acute need for psychological and social support, to help them and their families survive. Assistance methodologies needed be strategically graduating from emergency to more sustainable approaches. Yemen was entering the ninth year of war in the coming months and there were many beneficiaries still counting on the food baskets distributed to them in monthly basis and in sometimes even bi-monthly. This might lead to a false feeling of security, as IPC 3 classified districts could fall into IPC 4 or even 5, which translated to a famine within weeks of cutting aid.
The impact of climate change on developing countries was catastrophic. In Yemen, there was no early warning system designed to help farmers, to prepare them for the expected climate shifts and changes, due to outdated agricultural tools and techniques. In addition, there was unavailability of any support which caused the overall agriculture GDP to deteriorate on yearly basis. This had a great impact to the prices in an already fragile economy that would have a negative impact on the people coping mechanisms and would lead to a food insecurity situation if not famine. Humanitarian work had to be accompanied with political efforts to resolve issues and differences at the negotiating table. This afternoon in New York, the global food security summit would take place, where senior officials would discuss the topic of food insecurity and famine, and it was hoped that realistic firm actions would be taken regarding the suffering of million around the world.
Responding to questions, Mr. Eljabaly said that the figure of one person dying every four seconds was a global figure. More details could be found in the open letter signed by 237 other organisations.
Also answering questions, Mr. Eljabaly said there had been 538,000 reports of severe acute malnutrition cases, and 1 million 700.000 cases for moderate malnutrition cases from June to September 2022 had been recorded. The mortality rate for children under five for the cholera outbreak could be provided later.
Responding to questions, Tomson Phiri, for the World Food Programme (WFP) said the calculation about the number of people dying of hunger had been done by applying the death rate cut off from the IPC 3 and 4 emergencies, minus a normal daily death rate of 0.22 per 10,000. There was a lot of data overlayed to arrive at that. Whether or not this was unprecedented, Mr. Phiri stated that it was extremely worrying. He would circulate the list of spokespeople from signing civil society organizations who could explain the technical calculations in more detail.
Answering a question about the use of Russian aircrafts for humanitarian deliveries, Mr Phiri explained that the WFP contracted aircrafts from several suppliers, including Russia and Ukraine, and South Africa, and there was always a fall-back plan if one of the planes could not be used.
Monkeypox and other update from WHO
Fadela Chaib, speaking for the World Health Organization (WHO) said that WHO was supporting international coordination and information sharing with member states and partners, to tell communities and people how not to get infected with monkey pox, and not to stigmatise those who may be infected. If people who were suffering from monkey pox were stigmatised, they would hide away and not seek care.
Asked about the situation in Uganda, Ms. Chaib said that the information about an Ebola case in this country had come this morning. The case concerned a 24-year-old man who presented with Ebola symptoms. There was no more information at this stage; however, WHO would work with the government at all levels to help affected communities through providing contact tracing and vaccines. Every Ebola case was of concern to WHO. The last case of Ebola in Uganda was around a decade ago.
On COVID-19 and US declarations about the end of the pandemic, Ms. Chaib said WHO’s position was that the world had never been in a better position to end the pandemic, but that globally, we were not there yet. COVID-19 remained an acute global emergency with over 1 million deaths this year alone. 10,000 – 15,000 people died each week from the disease. It was still an emergency but there were tools available to put an end to the pandemic. A guide had been developed on the issues that States should take into account in fighting against COVID-19. WHO did not have a mechanism for declaring an end to the pandemic, but they were able to raise an alarm when there was a public health emergency. The next Emergency Committee would convene in October and advise the Director-General as to whether the pandemic still constituted a public health emergency of international concern.
Finally, Ms. Chaib said she would check the latest information on cholera and other health issues in Syria.
Isabel Piquer, for the International Labour Organisation (ILO), announced that the ILO was aiming to recognize fair and balanced reports which contributed to elimination of xenophobia and discrimination against migrant workers. The competition was open to professional and student journalists. The deadline for submissions was the 31 October - all details were on the ILO website.
Alessandra Vellucci, Director of the United Nations Information Service (UNIS), said the UN Secretary-General would deliver his address at the opening session of the General Assembly at 9 am New York Time, live on UN Web TV.
The Committee on the Rights of the Child would close its 91st Session this week, and the Committee on Enforced Disappearances would also close its 23rd session this week. The Committee on the Protection of the Rights of Migrant Workers open its 35th session yesterday and would begin today reviewing the report of Venezuela.
Ms. Vellucci remined journalists that the International Telecommunication Union (ITU) would host its highest policy-making body, the Plenipotentiary Conference, from 26 September through 14 October in Bucharest, Romania. Held every four years, the Plenipotentiary Conference brought together leaders from government, industry, academia, and civil society together to discuss the challenges and opportunities posed by the digital future. ITU's 193 Member States would also elect ITU's next secretary-general and senior management team.
Media registration was open at the ITU PP-22 newsroom and pre-registration for media expecting to attend was strongly encouraged by Thursday, 22 September. Journalists could also contact David Hirsch from the ITU press office at email@example.com.
Ms. Vellucci said that on 23 September, the International Language Day for Sign Language, UNOG was organising several events, including a high-level discussion taking place in Room 19, which would address the importance of sign language as the key to unlocking the human rights of deaf people.
Ms. Vellucci said that tonight at 6:30pm, there would be an in- person Cine-Onu at the Cinerama Empire in Carouge. Organised in support of the #FightRacism campaign, it would include the screening of an interesting movie, “Becoming a Black Woman”, followed by a panel discussion with the film’s director and other speakers, moderated by UNIS Geneva.
A press briefing by the International Trade Centre would take place on the 28 September, for the launch of their Small- and Medium-Sized Enterprises Competitiveness Outlook.
Ms. Vellucci also introduced Ms Saule Mukhametrakhimova, who recently joined the UN as Public Information Officer for the Independent International Commission of Inquiry on Ukraine, based in Vienna, who said that this Friday the Commission would be delivering their first oral update to the Human Rights Council. Her contacts would be distributed to the press.
Ms Vellucci concluded by quoting the Secretary-General’s message for the International Day of Peace on 21 September, with the theme End Racism, Build Peace. The Secretary-General said that “racism robs people of their rights and dignity. It inflames inequalities and mistrust. And it pushes people apart, at a time when we should be coming together, as one human family, to repair our fractured world. Instead of fighting each other, we should be working to defeat our true enemies: racism, poverty, inequality, conflict, the climate crisis and the COVID-19 pandemic.” And the Secretary-General to conclude that he called on all people “to re-affirm the bonds of solidarity we share as human beings and get down to the business of building a better, more peaceful world.”