Press Conferences | FAO , ILO , OHCHR , UNDP , UNEP , WHO
Rolando Gómez of the United Nations Information Service (UNIS) in Geneva, chaired the hybrid briefing, attended by the spokespersons and representatives of the International Labour Organisation, the United Nations Development Programme, the International Federation of the Red Cross, the United Nations Environment Programme, the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights, the Food and Agricultural Organisation, and the World Health Organization.
PRESS BRIEFING BY THE UNITED NATIONS INFORMATION SERVICE
2 June 2023
Opening of the International Labour Conference
Rosalind Yarde, for the International Labour Organization (ILO), said ILO’s annual International Labour Conference (ILC) would take place at the Palais des Nations next Monday, from the 5th of June until the 16th, the first with Gilbert Houngbo as its Director General. The Conference would address a broad range of issues including apprenticeships, social protection and a just transition to environmentally sustainable economies. The opening ceremony of the ILC would take place on Monday at 10 a.m. in room 19. Plenary sessions would take place in room 20 and could be accessed with the UNOG badges, and the sessions could be followed online. In the second week of the Conference, a two-day World of Work summit would be held on the 14th and 15th of June, with around 18 heads of State expected to attend. On the 12th of June there would be a special high-level event to mark World Day against Child Labour. UNOG journalists did not need to be accredited to attend the conference; there would be access to the press galleries.
Responding to questions, Ms. Yarde said the names of the heads of State were still being finalised and would be confirmed early next week. There was no press conference scheduled with Gilbert Houngbo or the heads of state. All documents on child labour were on the ILO website. ILO could provide the footage from the conference, or it could be downloaded from the platform. Ms. Yarde said a broad range of issues were being discussed, including on setting a new standard for apprenticeships. The discussion on a just transition was ongoing, and would be very important. Implementing occupational safety and health at work would also be an important topic.
Ms. Yarde said the Government Group was expected to nominate the Qatar minister of Labour for the presidency for the conference. This was normally put to the delegates at the start of the conference and agreed by consensus. The Government Group was made up of government representatives of the 187 member states of the ILO. Frequently, the Vice President of the conference would become the President; the Labour Minister of Qatar was elected unanimously last year, which was why he had been nominated as President this year. The nomination was done on a rotational basis, and this year it was the turn of the ASEAN group. Those nominations were put to the Government Group, and they agreed to the nomination. The ILO office had no influence in this area.
Ms. Yarde said the ILO was a tri-partite organisation which was unique in the UN system, bringing together government workers and employers to address issues. When there were individual complaints brought against specific member states, they were investigated by the ILO against a robust supervisory system. The ILO had reports looking at the future of work, particularly focusing on technology and digitalisation. This issue was cross-cutting and would come up in discussions at the conference. There was no confirmation that the Secretary-General would speak at the conference.
Update on the situation on the ground post Cyclone Mocha
Titon Mitra, Resident Representative in Myanmar Rakhine for the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP), speaking from Sittwe, said the devastation from Cyclone Mocha was truly immense. 80 to 90 per cent of the buildings in Sittwe had been damaged, and around 700,000 homes had been damaged throughout the country. The rains had wreaked havoc on the agricultural and fisheries sector. 12,000 sqm of land had been inundated, affecting 180,0000 people. Roads, bridges, and other infrastructure had been washed away. Dysentery was rising very quickly, while waste management was creating a huge issue and posed a risk to the future. 80 per cent of schools had been damaged. The current response relative to the scale of need was not enough. Time was of the essence as the monsoon was just weeks away. Water sources needed to be urgently de-contaminated. This was a case of compounding crisis; before the cyclone hit, around 80 per cent of people were living in poverty, and around 50 per cent had reduced their food intake. This was a time for the de-politicisation and the de-militarisation. The needs were immense, and the recovery would take years; there were 1.6 million people who needed assistance. Lives were hanging precariously in the balance, and there was a risk of perpetuating an unending cycle of suffering.
Responding to questions, Mr. Mitra said assistance was getting through, but it was not sufficient. The military had mobilised the scale, with around eight flights per day carrying relief items. There had been reconstruction of government buildings and government infrastructure, but this was mainly focused within Sittwe. Some regional donors had already provided support and this was channelled through military logistics. The level of access, relative to the needs was not enough. Given the extent of devastation and the significant challenge of responding to immediate needs, it was less than optimal for any returns to take place at this time. The donors were a mixed bag, including ASEAN countries, and traditional bi-lateral donors. There was already a level of support, but the issue was taking what was available and getting it to the communities, in a diminishing window of opportunity.
Humanitarian situation and needs in Sudan
Patrick Elliott, Head of operations for Sudan for the International Federation of the Red Cross (IFCR), speaking from Nairobi, said he had just returned from Port Sudan where a team had been established to support the Sudanese Red Crescent. The situation was particularly desperate in Khartoum, where people were fleeing the violence or were unable to leave. The Sudanese Red Crescent had mobilised every day, with volunteers fearlessly providing local support. Funding hadn’t materialised to address the immediate needs of Khartoum and surrounding areas. There was good cooperation between the United Nations agencies, to safely access communities in local areas and provide them with support, including treating the dead bodies from both sides of the conflict. Outside of Khartoum, volunteers were working with communities of internally displaced persons. Many people were held up in host families, which would become an issue as time went on. In Port Sudan, the levels of malnutrition were significant. The collapse of the banking and health systems would exacerbate the humanitarian crisis. An appeal had been launched to support neighbouring countries, including in Chad, where the situation had deteriorated. The selflessness and bravery of the Sudanese Red Crescent should be emphasised, and they needed to be supported. The Sudan appeal had been launched and increased to 60 million USD, with only around 2.6 million USD received so far. The regional appeal for the six countries receiving internally displaced persons had also been launched.
Responding to questions, Mr. Elliot said the breakdown in talks made a difference at an international level in terms of access; at a local level, it didn’t impact their support. The volunteers were local and knew where they could go and what they could do. The only thing the Sudanese Red Crescent had to protect them was their emblem, and protecting these staff was the priority. More funding was needed to offer support at a local level. Statistics were complex. There was a high death toll, and it was clear that the compounding impacts meant the hospitals were unable to operate properly. Everything done at a local level depended on safe access, which was difficult. Dead bodies needed to be collected in a dignified way. People were trained in the protocol behind this.
Tarik Jašarević, for the World Health Organization (WHO), said the numbers being provided were from the Ministry of Health and were an underestimate of the overall toll. Many health facilities were unable to function and record properly, and many people died outside of a hospital. There was concern for around 20,000 pregnant women, who would not be able to receive pre-natal care.
Update on the second session of the intergovernmental negotiating committee on plastic pollution
Keisha Rukikaire, Head of Media Unit for the United Nations Environment Programme, speaking from Paris, said the second session of the Intergovernmental Negotiating Committee (INC), to develop an international legally binding agreement on plastic pollution, including in the marine environment, was taking place in Paris and would finish today. More than 1700 participants had been on the ground from 169 Member States, and over 900 observers from NGOs. Earlier in the week, Member States elected Georgia, Estonia, Sweden and the US to the Bureau of the INC. Following lengthy discussions on voting rights, they also agreed on an interpretive paragraph for the Draft Rules of Procedure, before moving to discussions on the substance of the future agreement. The meeting would be followed by three more INC sessions, with the next one due to take place in November in Nairobi. The INC was due to complete its work by the end of 2024. The Secretariat would issue a press release at the end of today’s session.
Responding to questions, Ms. Rukikaire said journalists could contact her regarding access to the conference. The plenaries were live-streamed, and she would share the link.
Vietnam: detention of prominent environmental human rights defender
Marta Hurtado, for the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR), said OHCHR was deeply troubled by the detention of prominent environmental human rights defender Hoang Thi Minh Hong in Ho Chi Minh City, Viet Nam, on Wednesday. Hoang was the fifth prominent environmental human rights defenders arrested in Viet Nam for alleged tax evasion in the last two years. OHCHR also expressed concerned about the broader trend of arrests, arbitrary detention, and disproportionate sentencing of journalists, bloggers, Facebook users, social activists, land rights defenders, human rights defenders and leaders of civil society organizations. Reports showed that at least 20 such individuals had been arrested so far this year, although the real figure could be higher. There were also serious concerns about the independence of the judiciary, the right to fair trial, standards of treatment in detention, and the severity of sentences imposed on those prosecuted. OHCHR called on the Government of Viet Nam to review relevant laws to ensure their full compliance with international human rights standards. The authorities were urged to promptly release all those arbitrarily detained, and to ensure that environmental advocates and other human rights defenders were protected and could participate meaningfully in decision-making, without being subjected to intimidation or legal harassment.
Responding to questions, Ms. Hurtado said from 2017 to present, at least 361 people had been arrested for exercising their rights, predominantly freedom of expression and the right to a peaceful assembly.
Nicaragua: concerned about the deterioration of the human rights situation
Marta Hurtado, for the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights, said there were growing concerns that the authorities in Nicaragua were silencing critical voices in the country and were using the justice system to do so. In May alone, 63 people were reported to have been arbitrarily detained throughout the country. In a single night, 55 people were charged with “conspiracy to undermine national integrity” and “spreading false news”. Among the detainees were human rights defenders, political opponents, journalists, rural workers, and people linked to the Catholic Church. On 9 and 11 May, the Supreme Court ruled that 26 lawyers and notaries critical of the Government, including prominent human rights defenders, could no longer practise law in the country. 25 were stripped of their nationality in February, together with 292 other people. The authorities had confiscated some of their assets and properties. More than 3,200 organizations had had their legal status cancelled since the end of June 2022. Media outlets were also forced to close. OHCHR called on the authorities to stop the crackdown on dissent; immediately release all those arbitrarily detained; and restore the legal status of all organizations and media outlets which had been arbitrarily shut down since 2018. The UN Human Rights Office was ready to assist Nicaragua to advance human rights in the country.
Responding to questions, Ms. Hurtado said the closure of Nicaraguan Red Cross was part of the control of NGOs and other organisations. She did not have the number of internally displaced persons in Nicaragua but would clarify this.
El Salvador: concerns over repeated extension of the state of emergency
Marta Hurtado, for the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights, said the repeated extension of the state of emergency in El Salvador, which had been in force since March 2022, was seriously concerning. While OHCHR recognised the complex challenge El Salvador faced in tackling criminality, as well as the grave suffering inflicted by the country’s gangs, weakening the legal system was not the answer. At least 68,000 people had been jailed in El Salvador since the state of emergency came into force. According to a recent report by a leading NGO, at least 153 inmates had died in prison since the state of emergency was implemented – nearly half of them violently. In 2022, civil society organizations documented 182 incidents of human rights defenders and journalists being targeted. On 14 April this year, El Faro, an online news outlet, announced that it was moving its staff from El Salvador to Costa Rica, citing the intimidation and smear campaigns they faced because of their work. OHCHR called on the authorities to lift the state of emergency and review the measures introduced; investigate all deaths in custody; hold those responsible to account; and guarantee justice for the victims’ family.
Responding to questions, Ms. Hurtado said the report prepared by the NGO had details of all the cases reported in each prison centre. They reported that they found cases of torture, malnutrition, of sick people not receiving their medicine, highlighting that people were mistreated.
Democratic People’s Republic of Korea
Responding to questions, Marta Hurtado, for the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights, said the case of the two-year-old being sentenced was a harsh sentence which did not comply with human rights.
Responding to questions, Marta Hurtado, for the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights, said violence was a real problem in Mexico. The fact that OHCHR recognised the challenge the Government had in addressing these problems, did not mean the authorities should not act in line with international standards. The Office of Mexico would provide a general comment on elections. Mr. Gómez recalled the common position of the United Nations, and that of the Secretary-General, who stated that the UN always advocated for peaceful free and fair elections, to allow people to exercise their democratic rights.
Responding to questions, Marta Hurtado, for the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights, said she would need to contact the Office in South America regarding the Brazilian judiciary.
Responding to questions, Marta Hurtado, for the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights, could not confirm if the press conference in Vienna would by hybrid, but it looked like it would be. [It was later confirmed that the press conference, schedule to commence at 10.15 am on Monday, 5 June, would be hybrid and webcast live by UNTV – link here].
Monthly update on global food commodity prices
Boubaker Ben Belhassen, Director of Trade and Markets Division for the Food and Agricultural Organisation (FAO), speaking from Rome, said the new FAO Food Price Index (FFPI) was released this morning. The report was a measure of the monthly changes in the world prices of a basket of food commodities, covering cereals, vegetable oils, meat, dairy products and sugar. In May 2023, the FFPI averaged 124.3 points, down 2.6 per cent from April and as much as 22 per cent from the all-time high it reached in March 2022. The decline in the index in May was underpinned by significant drops in the price indices for cereals, vegetable oils and dairy products, which more than counterbalanced increases in the sugar and meat price indices. Compared to last year, the FFPI was down by 21.4 per cent from May 2022, driven by lower price indices for vegetable oils, followed by cereals, dairy and meat. This meant that importing the same basket of commodities now cost about 21 per cent less than it did a year ago.
Rolando Gómez, for the United Nations Information Service (UNIS), reading a message from the World Meteorological Organisation, said the WMO conference finished its quadrennial session today, having appointed WMO’s first female Secretary-General, Celeste Saulo of Argentina who would take office next year. The United Nations Secretary-General had extended his congratulations to Professor Saulo, as well as to Dennis Francis of Trinidad and Tobago on his election as the President of the General Assembly for its seventy-eighth session, to commence in September.
Mr. Gómez said the Human Rights Committee would start on the 19th of June; the Conference on Disarmament was expected to hold public meetings next. The Security Council in New York was holding three public meetings today on Libya, Sudan and South Sudan, and the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea. This afternoon at 2pm, there would be a press conference held by the United Nations Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees in the Near East (UNRWA), on the conditions of Palestine refugees in Syria and neighbouring countries, hosted by Michael-Ebye Amanya, Director of UNRWA Affairs in Syria, who would be available for interviews. On Monday the 5th of June, the Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA), would provide an update on the humanitarian situation in the Central African Republic. Speakers included Mohamed Ag Ayoya, Deputy Special Representative of the United Nations Multidimensional Integrated Stabilization Mission in the Central African Republic (MINUSCA), and Virginie Baikoua, Minister for Humanitarian Action, Central African Republic.
Mr. Gómez said that this coming Monday would be World Environment Day. The Secretary-General noted that 400 million tonnes of plastic were produced world-wide, with one third of this used just once a day. The Secretary-General called on governments, companies and consumers to work together to break the addiction to plastics, champion zero waste and build a circular economy for a cleaner healthier and more sustainable future for all.
Responding to questions, Mr. Gómez said colleagues in New York at the spokespersons would be able to provide information on the September General Assembly.
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