PRESS BRIEFING BY THE UNITED NATIONS INFORMATION SERVICE
27 January 2023
International Day of Commemoration in Memory of the Victims of the Holocaust
Alessandra Vellucci, for the United Nations Information Service in Geneva, first reminded that today, 27 January, was the anniversary of the liberation of the Auschwitz-Birchenau concentration camp in 1945. On this day, the international community gathered to commemorate the victims of the Holocaust. This year’s theme, Home and Belonging, highlighted the humanity of the Holocaust victims and survivors who had had their home and sense of belonging reaped from them by the perpetrators of the genocide.
The United Nations Office at Geneva would commemorate these terrible events during a ceremony today at 1 p.m. in Room 18. Representatives of governments, the media and non-governmental organizations, as well as the general public, were all invited.
Jeremy Laurence, for the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR), reminded that UN High Commissioner for Human Rights Volker Türk had stated, in a press release dated 26 January, that “… in the face of rising xenophobia, intolerance, racism and racial discrimination, I call for a united and steadfast commitment to reject any attack against humanity that may lead to genocide”.
OHCHR: Myanmar, Two Years After the Coup
Jeremy Laurence, for the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights, cited a statement released today by UN Human Rights High Commissioner Volker Türk according to whom “two years after the Myanmar military launched a coup against the democratically elected government, the country has sunk deeper than ever into crisis and has undergone a wholesale regression in human rights (…) By nearly every feasible measurement, and in every area of human rights – economic, social and cultural, as much as civil and political – Myanmar has profoundly regressed.”
According to credible sources at least 2,890 people had died at the hands of the military, of whom at least 767 had been initially taken into custody. A staggering further 1.2 million people had been internally displaced, and over 70,000 had left the country, joining over one million others, including the bulk of the country’s Rohingya Muslim population who had fled sustained persecution and attacks over the past decades. Myanmar’s economy had collapsed with nearly half of the population now living below the poverty line.
“There must be a way out of this catastrophic situation, which sees only deepening human suffering and rights violations on a daily basis,” again according to the High Commissioner. “Regional leaders, who engaged the military leadership through ASEAN, agreed a Five-Point Consensus that Myanmar’s generals have treated with disdain (…) Two of the critical conditions that were agreed – to cease all violence and to allow humanitarian access – have not been met. In fact, we have seen the opposite. Violence has spiralled out of control and humanitarian access has been severely restricted.”
“Those responsible for the daily attacks against civilians and the human rights violations must be held accountable (…) Now it is time for the world to come together to take common actions to stop the killing, protect the people of Myanmar, and ensure respect for their universal human rights.”
James Rodehaver, Head of OHCHR’s Myanmar Team, speaking from Bangkok, stressed that Myanmar’s people, despite an enormous pressure, had remained firm and had paid quite a price for rejecting the actions of their own military. They had done so first by rejecting it non-violently, there being a rich and vibrant civil society in the country. Civil servants and a large number of workers had refused to go back to work, at the cost of their livelihoods. Most importantly, young people had decided to resist the military with force: this robust “People’s Defence Movement” comprised more than 400 groups all over the country.
OHCHR’s Myanmar team was very active in monitoring violations committed by Myanmar’s military and by those opposing them. Unfortunately, civilians were still trapped in the middle of parties.
Some 2890 persons had died at the hands or the military, but these were the verified numbers only: other estimates put the numbers at 19 000 civilians dead, a figure that was difficult to verify due to the Myanmar military having very effectively cut off communication across the country.
The UN system was not deployed throughout Myanmar. Historically, the UN’s presence had been limited to areas of longstanding non-international armed conflict. The military had not allowed a broader access for the UN to deliver enhanced humanitarian aid, despite the UN Security Council and the ASEAN 5-point consensus directing the military to do.
On the same subject, Ms. Vellucci added that yesterday, the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime had released its latest survey on opium cultivation, according to which poppy cultivation in Myanmar had grown 33% in the first season since the military takeover. (More details available here). Moreover, Acting UN Resident and Humanitarian Coordinator Ramanathan Balakrishnan had predicted a challenging year ahead for both crisis-affected people and the responding aid workers; an appeal for $764 million to provide life-saving support to people in Myanmar this year had therefore been launched.
Responding to questions, Mr. Rodehaver explained that 767 persons had been found dead either in custody or after having been taken into police custody; they had died from summary executions on the spot, use of torture or lack of access to medical care. The identity of the those killed in custody was known to the OHCHR. It was estimated that around 30 000 persons were still in detention. Many political prisoners had been released – only to be rearrested immediately upon leaving their jail.
Mr. Rodehaver added that the Foreign Minister of Indonesia – the country presently presiding ASEAN – also served as ASEAN Special Envoy for Myanmar. The office that Indonesia had set up to support the Special Envoy was said to be very active: the OHCHR hoped this would reinvigorate discussions on the 5-point consensus.
WHO: Tackling Neglected Tropical Diseases
Dr Ibrahima Socé Fall, World Health Organization (WHO) Director of Neglected Tropical Diseases, then reminded that next Monday, 30 January, would be the World Neglected Tropical Diseases Day. On this occasion, WHO would publish its first World Report on Neglected Tropical Diseases covering the progress made since the adoption, in 2021, of the second road map (2021-2030) for these diseases.
The theme for the 2023 World Neglected Tropical Diseases Day was Act Now; Act Together; Invest in Neglected Tropical Diseases. This would be the one the topics of a webinar to be organized by the WHO Department of Control of Neglected Tropical Diseases also on Monday, at 2 p.m.
As of December 2022, 47 countries had eliminated at least one NTD and a number of other countries were in the process of achieving this target. For instance, the Carter Center reported this week that, in 2022, only 13 human cases of Guinea worm disease had been reported worldwide. That was down from 15 in 2021 (13% decrease) and represented the lowest number ever recorded.
Tackling NTDs could be seen as a fundamental contribution to the principle of making universal health coverage a reality as, in many cases, NTD treatments would be a given community’s only interaction with a formal health system.
Answering questions from the media, Dr. Fall said that about twenty different diseases, not only tropical ones, were affecting people in the most remote areas. However, climate change impacts on health could affect anyone, including developed countries. Investment, as well as more equitable approaches to this matter were therefore needed.
Margaret Harris, also for the World Health Organization (WHO), said that the Organization had updated its list of medicines that should be stockpiled for radiological and nuclear emergencies, along with advice for their appropriate management. The list had been more than two years in the making and had not been triggered by the situation in Ukraine. More information here.
Charlotte Sector, for the Joint United Nations Programme on HIV/AIDS (UNAIDS), said that twelve countries had joined in a Global Alliance to End AIDS in Children in Africa. Led by the World Health Organization, UNAIDS and UNICEF, the initiative would be launched in Tanzania, Wednesday, 1st February (12 noon Geneva time, 2 p.m. Dar es-Salam time). The Global Alliance would focus on the (vertical) transmission of HIV from mother to child.
Jens Laerke, for the Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA), said Under-Secretary-General for Humanitarian Affairs and Emergency Relief Coordinator Martin Griffiths would hold a press briefing in New York on Monday, 30 January, at 5 p.m. (Geneva time), following the Inter-Agency Standing Committee (IASC) mission to Afghanistan this week. Speakers would also be Janti Soeripto, President and Chief Executive Officer of Save the Children US; Sofía Sprechmann Sineiro, Secretary General of Care International; and Omar Abdi, Deputy Executive Director of UN Children’s Fund (UNICEF). (To participate virtually, use the following Webex link: https://unvc.webex.com/unvc/j.php?MTID=m84433e1166b6e63d36a708d1e166548b.)
Clare Nullis, for the World Meteorological Organization (WMO), said WMO would be hosting a symposium next week on a new initiative towards a sustained, internationally coordinated Greenhouse Gas Monitoring Infrastructure. The symposium would be opened by WMO’s President and Secretary-General, the head of Japan’s meteorological service, and a senior representative of the European Commission. Participants would include experts from space agencies and research institutions from all over the world.
On behalf of the Human Rights Council, Alessandra Vellucci said that the Universal Periodic Review (UPR) Working Group would be reviewing the report of Switzerland this morning. In the afternoon, the Working Group would adopt its reports on the Czech Republic, Argentina, Gabon, Ghana and Peru. Also today, the Swiss Federal Department of Foreign Affairs would organize a press conference at 3 p.m. with Secretary of State Livia Leu, regarding the UPR of Switzerland.
Ms. Vellucci also announced that the Committee on the Rights of the Child would conclude this morning the review of the report of New Zealand; and that the Conference on Disarmament would hold its next plenary public meeting Tuesday, 31 January, at 10 a.m., under the presidency of Egypt.
Finally, Ms. Vellucci announced that next Monday, 30 January, at 10 a.m., the International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies (IFRC) would launch its World Disasters Report and Everyone Counts Report, which offer insights into the COVID-19 pandemic and make concrete recommendations for how leaders can mitigate tragedies of this magnitude in the future. Speaking would be Jagan Chapagain, IFRC Secretary General.