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Press Conferences | FAO , IOM , OCHA , OHCHR , UNHCR , UNICEF , WHO , WMO

Bi-Weekly Press Briefing 12 May 2023

PRESS BRIEFING BY THE UNITED NATIONS INFORMATION SERVICE

12 May 2023

 

Conflict in Sudan

Volker Perthes, Special Representative of the Secretary-General for Sudan and Head of the United Nations Integrated Transition Assistance Mission in Sudan (UNITAMS), connecting from Port Sudan, immediately took questions from the media. He explained that the understanding reached between the warring parties in Jeddah the previous day included commitments on humanitarian access. It was the first, important step which reflected international humanitarian and human rights law. Both sides committed to continuing their talks with the mediation of Saudi Arabia and the United States. They had reconfirmed this morning their intent to stay and continue talks towards a real ceasefire, which would need to be accompanied by a monitoring mechanism. Mr. Perthes opined that the deficiencies of earlier ceasefires and humanitarian pauses were that they had all been unilateral announcements. Now there was, for the first time, a mutual declaration of the warring parties on respecting humanitarian and human rights law. This mutual commitment would need an agreement on the exact modalities of the ceasefire, including movement of troops, contact officers, etc. More details were expected in the coming days.

Responding to further questions, Mr. Perthes explained that the UN had set up a hub in Port Sudan, where the key task was to coordinate and oversee humanitarian support for Sudan. UNITAMS’ task was also to contribute to the discussions on the ceasefire and ceasefire modalities; the regional dimension of the discussions was very pertinent, and UNITAMS was involved in that aspect. There would need to be a fresh look at the political processes in the future, Mr. Perthes said. He stated that in the past there had been a few extremist threats against him made online. While there was criticism of the United Nations for coming late or not doing enough, it was all part of the political divides, and external facilitators were frequently blamed in the process. Mr. Perthes said that his presence in Sudan was coordinated with the host country, and he was currently focused on promoting humanitarian support and working towards a ceasefire. He believed that the majority of Sudanese wanted UNITAMS to remain in the country and continue its work. In the previous week, UNITAMS had been able to reach out to the warring parties and address with them violations of international humanitarian law. Talks on the ceasefire modalities should not take too long, said Mr. Perthes. The lack of respect for the previous ceasefires was partly because that both parties still believed that they could win the war. Nonetheless, both parties were realizing that, even if they were to win, it would not be a quick win, and they could destroy the country in the process.

Mr. Perthes reiterated that he felt safe in Port Sudan, and that the State had an obligation to protect international missions and diplomatic presences. Large amounts of supplies from the World Food Programme’s and other humanitarian actors’ warehouses and vehicle fleets had been looted, he said, which made it extremely difficult for them to resume humanitarian operations. It was in the interest of the warring parties that the UN premises, warehouses, and vehicles were protected. Saudi and American mediators were entering into the talks on ceasefire modalities now; UNITAMS had the experience of chairing a permanent ceasefire committee in Darfur, and thus had people on the ground with experience, who could be made available to a future monitoring structure. Mr. Perthes specified that his discussions with the UN Emergency Coordinator Martin Griffiths were focused on humanitarian support. Finally, Mr. Perthes said that, based on the experience from previous ceasefires, it was usually not principals who signed agreements, but rather their representatives, who would not sign anything without their leaders’ green light. 

Rolando Gómez, for the United Nations Information Service (UNIS), reminded that a statement by the Trilateral Mechanism of the UN, the African Union and IGAD welcoming the signing of a Declaration of Commitment to Protect the Civilians of Sudan, had been shared with the media.

Olga Sarrado, for the United Nations Refugee Agency (UNHCR), stated that, as violence in Sudan continued for a fourth week, nearly 200,000 refugees and returnees had been forced to flee the country, with more crossing borders daily seeking safety. Additionally, hundreds of thousands had been internally displaced, with many more confined to their homes, unable to access necessities.

The humanitarian response was challenging and costly, said Ms. Sarrado, as refugees and returnees were arriving in remote border areas where services and infrastructure were scarce or non-existent and the host population had been already suffering due to climate change and food scarcity. UNHCR had deployed teams and, with partners, had rushed to deliver aid from the onset of the emergency using flexible funding from donors. A scaled-up response would require significant funding, and UN agencies and NGO partners would release further details on their requirements in the coming days. UNHCR was calling for immediate financial support for all involved in the response to avoid a humanitarian catastrophe, prevent tensions over strained resources and support those forced to flee in a dignified manner as well as the host communities that received them.

UNHCR briefing note is available here.

Ms. Sarrado, answering questions, specified that there were an estimated 200,000 refugees from Sudan as of today. In terms of the funding requirements, the USD 445 million appeal had been issued the previous week, for the needs of the UNHCR and over 130 implementing partners on the ground. A more comprehensive funding appeal would be issued in the coming week. Many families crossing the border into Chad were sleeping in the open, she said; immediate moves were planned to five new settlements where people would be guaranteed safety and humanitarian assistance until they could return home. Many South Sudanese returnees reported having been victims of robbery and were arriving to their country without much. Their move from the border areas to their communities was being facilitated.

James Elder, for the United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF), said that a factory in Khartoum producing therapeutic food for children suffering from malnutrition had been burned down, and 14,500 cartons had been destroyed, which were supposed to help the same number of children for a period of six to eight weeks. That was the darkest illustration to date of how the conflict was threatening the lives of children in Sudan. The destroyed factory had been producing 60 percent of all therapeutic food to treat malnourished children in Sudan. In overall response to the malnutrition crisis, UNICEF had 34,000 cartons of ready-to-use therapeutic food were on their way from France. Despite the selfless efforts by health professionals on the ground, the conflict continued to have very severe effect on children, whose access to health care was limited and unsafe. Mr. Elder, responding to questions, said that UNICEF did not know whether the factory had been torched intentionally or accidentally.

US-Mexico border crisis

Responding to questions, Olga Sarrado, for the United Nations Refugee Agency (UNHCR), said that the UNHCR had repeatedly expressed concern over the situation along the US-Mexico border. The Americas were going through an unprecedented migration crisis, which required a comprehensive, regional response. People reaching the US territory should be allowed to seek asylum, said Ms. Sarrado. A joint UNHCR-IOM statement would be issued later today.

James Elder, for the United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF), said that all children had the right to request asylum, be protected from harm, and seek safety. UNICEF strongly urged all governments, including the US, to allow access to asylum procedures, regardless of nationality.

Paul Dillon, for the International Organization for Migration (IOM), stated that the long-standing drivers for migration in the region persisted and would continue to force people to move. IOM believed that cooperation with the Mexican Government and other stakeholders was necessary to ensure that humanitarian assistance was delivered in a timely manner. Clear and concise information ought to be provided to migrants and people on the move as a lot of misinformation was circulating among this community.

On another question, Mr. Dillon said that on 15 May at 9 am, the IOM Council would start a special session in Geneva for the election of the next Director-General. IOM Director-General would be elected by two-thirds of the 175 Council members, in a closed meeting and by a secret ballot. The two candidates were the current DG António Vitorino and his deputy Amy Pope.

Cyclone Mocha

Clare Nullis, for the World Meteorological Organization (WMO), informed that the very severe cyclonic storm Mocha was quickly strengthening in the Bay of Bengal. WMO’s regional specialized meteorological centre New Delhi forecast that Mocha would move towards Bangladesh-Myanmar coasts and further intensify until landfall between Cox’s Bazar (Bangladesh) and Kyaukpyu (Myanmar) on 14 May. This very dangerous cyclone was associated with violent winds. A storm surge with height of about 2-2.5 m above the astronomical tides was likely to inundate low lying areas of north Myanmar and adjoining southeast Bangladesh coasts during the time of the landfall. Heavy rainfall was forecast over Myanmar and southeast Bangladesh, with the possible risk of floods, flash floods and landslides. There would be major impacts both ahead and after landfall for potentially hundreds of thousands of the world’s most vulnerable people.

Anne-Claire Fontan, also for the World Meteorological Organization (WMO), explained that the impact was very likely to be in Sittwe (Myanmar) around 12 noon local time on 14 May. There was still uncertainty on the exact intensity of Mocha once it reached landfall.

Nihan Erdogan, Bangladesh Deputy Chief of Mission in Cox’s Bazar for the International Organization for Migration (IOM), speaking from Cox’s Bazaar, where approximately one million Rohingya were living in displacement for several years, said that the cyclone was coming at a time when humanitarian funding was going down. IOM had mobilized and trained 1,600 Rohingya volunteers who would be first responders in this emergency. IOM also had ten mobile medical teams and 400 community health workers who were on standby. In addition, there were emergency shelter materials and emergency hygiene kits. Bangladesh had a massive cyclone preparedness programme, reminded Ms. Erdogan, and the IOM was part of it. Preparedness activities for the upcoming cyclone were ongoing across the country.

Jens Laerke, for the Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA), informed that local communities and humanitarian organizations in Myanmar were urgently preparing for the arrival of severe Cyclone Mocha which was predicted to make landfall this weekend. The Myanmar Humanitarian Emergency Response Preparedness Plan had been activated nationwide earlier this week. Humanitarian organizations, especially in Rakhine, had pre-positioned personnel and supplies wherever possible. Across Rakhine and the north-west, there were already about six million people in need of humanitarian assistance and 1.2 million people displaced. OCHA was working to ensure that responders would have timely and unimpeded access to everyone in need. Mr. Laerke informed that currently, the USD 764 million Humanitarian Response Plan for Myanmar was only 10 per cent funded.

Margaret Harris, for the World Health Organization (WHO), said that there were a lot of preparation in Cox’s Bazaar: about 33 mobile medical teams composed of personnel from partners are on standby and ready to deploy to restore or provide access post-landfall;

more than 40 ambulances mapped and remain on standby; and 22 camp-based EPR focal points were identified to facilitate communication and coordination at a camp level to Cox’s Bazar. WHO was asking partners to look at the resilience of the health structures and make contingency plans. WHO had moved supplies and provided surgery kits. In Myanmar, 500,000 interagency emergency health kits and 500,000 water purification tablets had been mobilized to de facto Ministry of Health Central Medical Storage Department, enough to cover the whole country for all Monsoon Season, but that had now been diverted.

Olga Sarrado, for the United Nations Refugee Agency (UNHCR), said that UNHCR was also carrying out preparedness activities in the refugee camps.

Outbreak of Moroccan Locust in Afghanistan

Richard Trenchard, for the Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO), speaking from Kabul, said that there was potential of large-scale outbreak of the Moroccan Locust across seven provinces in north and northeast Afghanistan, the country's wheat basket. The Moroccan Locust was ranked among the most economically damaging plant pests anywhere in the world, which ate more than 150 species of plants, including tree crops, pastures and 50 food crops, all of which grew in Afghanistan. A full outbreak this year could result in crop losses ranging from 700,000 to 1.2 million metric tons of wheat - up to a quarter of the total annual harvest.

Mr. Trenchard said that the last few weeks had seen an incredible last-minute “all hands on deck” response by communities, FAO, its NGO partners and the authorities, using traditional physical control methods to reduce the locust threat; “sweeping” locusts by hand into trenches or onto tarpaulins and destroying them. Thousands of people in communities across the affected provinces had been working day and night to kill the hopper bands before they become adults and begin to swarm. If the Moroccan Locust population was left untreated, it could increase its numbers by 100-fold in the next year, creating even bigger problems for agriculture and food security for Afghanistan and that of its neighbours.

Replying to questions, Mr. Trenchard said this was a heartbreaking story, whose impact could indeed be enormous. Physical control measures had been used in this part of the world for centuries, he said. There were limited supplies of chemicals, but people on the ground were working jointly trying to mitigate the effects.

The human rights report on the Moura incident in Mali

Seif Magango, for the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR), speaking from Nairobi, informed that an OHCHR fact-finding report concluded that there were strong indications that more than 500 people had been killed – the vast majority summarily executed – by Malian troops and foreign military personnel during a five-day military operation in the village of Moura in the Mopti region of central Mali in March 2022.

“These are extremely disturbing findings,” said UN High Commissioner for Human Rights Volker Türk. “Summary executions, rape and torture during armed conflict amount to war crimes and could, depending on the circumstances, amount to crimes against humanity.”

The report, which was the result of an extensive human rights fact-finding mission conducted over several months by UN staff in Mali, detailed how events unfolded day-by-day in Moura. Witnesses reported seeing “armed white men” who had spoken an unknown language operating alongside the Malian forces and at times appearing to supervise operations. According to witnesses, Malian troops had been rotated in and out of Moura daily, but the foreign personnel had remained for the duration of the operation.

“It is vital that Malian authorities take all necessary steps to ensure that Malian forces engaged in any military and law enforcement operations, including foreign military personnel under their command or control, fully respect the rules of international humanitarian law and international human rights law,” Türk said.

More details are available here.

Responding to questions, Mr. Magango said that the witnesses reported having heard a foreign language they had never before heard in their lives. It could not be confirmed that they were Russian. On the expulsion of the head of the MINUSMA Human Rights Division from Mali, Mr. Magango said that the High Commissioner had earlier expressed his regret over the Mali government’s decision, but there were no developments in this regard.

Announcements

Rolando Gómez, for the United Nations Information Service (UNIS), informed that the Universal Periodic Review (UPR) of the Human Rights Council was closing today its 43rd session.

Mr. Gómez informed that the Committee Against Torture was closing this morning its 76th session and would issue its concluding observations on the six countries reviewed: Colombia, Brazil, Luxembourg, Slovakia, Kazakhstan, and Ethiopia.

The Committee on the Elimination of Discrimination Against Women was reviewing today the report of China.

The Committee on the Rights of the Child was concluding this morning the review of the report of Sao Tomé and Principe.


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