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25-04-2023 | Press Conferences

Bi-Weekly Press Briefing 25 April 2023



25 April 2023


Update on the Situation in Sudan

Alessandra Vellucci, for the United Nations Information Service (UNIS), reiterated the statement of Secretary-General Antonio Guterres, who had called for all parties to immediately cease hostilities and allow all civilians to evacuate from areas affected by the fighting. He had welcomed the safe temporary relocation of hundreds of UN staff members from Khartoum and other locations and reiterated that the UN would continue to carry out its work both inside and outside Sudan.

Jens Laerke, for the Office of the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA), said the UN remained deeply worried about the humanitarian impact of the fighting, that began ten days ago in Sudan. There were now acute shortages of food, water, medicines and fuel, and limited communications and electricity, while the price of essential items, including transport, had skyrocketed. In areas where intense fighting had hampered humanitarian operations, the UN had been forced to reduce their impact, but were committed to deliver for the people of Sudan. A leadership team would remain in Sudan to oversee operations going forward, and a hub was being established in Port Sudan, where UN staff would continue to lead humanitarian operations in the country. As background, the humanitarian needs in Sudan were already at record levels before the recent eruption of fighting. Some 15.8 million people, about a third of the population, required humanitarian assistance.

Olga Sarrado, for the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR), said UNHCR was working closely with partners and governments in the region to assist people seeking safety in countries neighbouring Sudan, where the fighting looked set to trigger further displacement within and outside the country. So far, the most significant cross-border movements in the region had been Sudanese fleeing to Chad, and South Sudanese refugees returning to South Sudan. Reports had been received of people starting to arrive in Egypt, but exact numbers were not currently available. Some of the population movements expected included outflows of new Sudanese refugees to neighbouring countries, returns of refugees who were being hosted by Sudan, and movements of other refugees being hosted by Sudan to other neighbouring countries. UNHCR was working closely with partners and governments in the region to assess the needs of the newly arrived and to prepare a joint response.

Marie-Hélène Verney, Representative of the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) in South Sudan, speaking from Juba, said since the start of the crisis, UNHCR had been seeing a marked increase in the number of South Sudanese returning to South Sudan. 4000 people had been interviewed and registered but the numbers were much larger. The situation at the border was very difficult and the needs were becoming overwhelming, including for clean water, food and communication, for those looking to reach their families. Teams had been told that a large number of nationals were trying to reach the border on foot, but exact numbers were difficult to confirm. There were over 800,000 South Sudanese refugees in Sudan, a quarter of whom were in Khartoum and directly affected by the fighting. To support local and national authorities, UNHCR was setting up reception centres at the border in South Sudan for emergency registration and identification of vulnerable arrivals and to distribute some basic relief items, like clean water, and were working with partners to set up telecommunications facilities at the border so that new arrivals could facilitate onward travel.

Most of those returning were expected to go back to parts of the country that were extremely fragile as a result of conflict, climate change or food insecurity – or a combination of all three. South Sudan was already suffering a major humanitarian crisis. The country had more than 2.3 million internally displaced people; almost three quarters of the population was in need of humanitarian assistance; and 2.2 million South Sudanese were refugees in neighbouring countries. UNHCR was seriously concerned that a large, unplanned number of new returns could destabilize already struggling local communities. Assistance programmes that were already overstretched were now severely hampered. Urgent support was needed to ensure timely assistance was provided to those fleeing hostilities.

Laura Lo Castro, Representative of the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) in Chad, speaking from N'Djamena, said UNHCR and its partners had deployed emergency teams along the eastern border with Sudan to respond to urgent needs for protection and humanitarian assistance. The Government of Chad and UNHCR had initiated pre-registration activities to identify new arrivals and assess their needs. Since the beginning of the fighting, at least 20,000 refugees had fled across the border into Chad. Many were located in villages only 5km away from Sudan, and more were expected to arrive in the coming days. UNHCR was also bolstering supplies of core relief items, including sleeping mats, soap, and cooking utensils, for 20,000 refugees. Refugees were sheltering under trees and lacked clean water and food. Planning was underway to relocate families to an existing refugee camp further from the border, while a new location was being identified to host additional arrivals. More than 400,000 Sudanese refugees were already hosted across 13 camps and among local communities in eastern Chad.

Paul Dillon, for the International Organisation on Migration (IOM), said IOM had activated its Displacement Tracking Matrix at Ports of Entry in countries neighbouring Sudan. The data generated was broken down by age, gender, health needs among others, and was provided to all humanitarian actors to enable a targeted and informed response and allow for the delivery of aid in a strategic and effective manner. Flow monitoring was currently being conducted at 16 Points of Entry between Sudan and South Sudan, and between South Sudan and both Central African Republic and Ethiopia, with similar activities to begin along the border between Sudan and Chad. There were roughly 300,000 registered and tens of thousands of unregistered migrants from South Sudan in Sudan. Nearly 4,000 people had now crossed into South Sudan, 96% of whom were South Sudanese. A particular area of concern were the third-country nationals trapped in Sudan. On Monday, IOM helped two dozen Kenyan students who arrived from Sudan by road to get from border to the airport where they were returned home by Kenyan government. The Government of Chad had requested IOM’s assistance with the evacuation of their nationals and other logistical support. Of specific concern were roughly 300 students who had requested evacuation from Khartoum, 50 pilgrims stranded at the airport and at least 15 Chadians in hospital in Sudan, requiring specific return assistance.

Patrick Youssef, Regional Director for Africa of the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC), said the ICRC had been calling on a ceasefire on humanitarian troops since the second day of the fighting in Khartoum, both publicly and bi-laterally, with the two parties to the conflict. Yesterday’s news of the ceasefire was extremely encouraging if the latter would held. Implementation needed to happen up and down the command chain of military entities for the ceasefire to be respected. The international community was urged to keep applying pressure to bring an end to the conflict, and a safe space needed to be created for civilians, the Sudanese Red Cross and volunteers on the ground. There needed to be a loud and repeated call for the protection of civilians. Hundreds of civilians had lost their lives or had been injured through heavy shelling which had taken place over the past five days. The priority moving forward was to get the right experts and surgical teams, to increase support to hospitals. A logistics pipeline was ready and would be ignited once it was safe to do so. Medical assistance continued to be provided, however there needed to be an increase in response, and it needed to be ensured that dialogue on the respect of international law took place at all levels.

Farid Aiywar, Head of Delegation of the International Federation of the Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies (IFRC), speaking from Nairobi, said they were deeply concerned about the 11 days of fighting, and there had been no signs of improvement. The main problem continued to be active shortages of food, water, medicine, and fuel. Prices of medicine, transport and food had also drastically increased. In Khartoum, families who continued to be held up in their homes and calling for evacuations, however most areas were not safe for them to move. The IFRC had been acting to ensure Sudanese people could continue to work, and some medicine had been provided. Unfortunately, stocks from headquarters had been stolen and sites were vandalised, including that of the Sudanese Red Crescent. The IFRC would continue to monitor the situation and ensure that the Sudanese Red Crescent continued to cooperate. There were over 40,000 volunteers in health and psychosocial support, who stood ready to provide humanitarian services.

Nima Saeed Abid, Representative of the World Health Organisation (WHO) in Sudan, speaking from Port Sudan, said he had personally witnessed two control areas for the different parties within 600 meters, when leaving the UN compound. He had seen two dead bodies in the streets while moving to the checkpoints. The causalities reported from the 25 percent of remaining functional health facilities, amounted to 4072 injured people and 459 deaths; however, the actual number was expected to be much higher. Thirty-two percent of health facilities were completely closed due to security attacks and some of them had been converted to military bases. Being in the street was extremely dangerous in Sudan which was impacting the functioning of hospitals and the supply of health facilities. The central public health lab in Khartoum was being occupied by one of the fighting parties, as a military base. This was extremely dangerous as there were multiple samples in the lab including cholera; there was an extreme biological health risk associated with this occupation. The public health risk associated with the fighting should not be forgotten; there was a high risk of cholera and malaria, and there had been outbreaks of measles. It was expected that a high number of people would die from these outbreaks. The priority was that international actors should continue pressure on the parties to reach a cessation of hostiles. Dr. Abid was extremely concerned about national colleagues who remained stuck in the fighting areas.

Responding to questions, Ms. Sarrado said there was not an overall figure for refugees in each country at the moment, but there were estimates. Ms. Verney said there were likely 125,000 returns of refugees, mostly from Khartoum, into South Sudan while 45.000 refugees were already in South Sudan. There was a lot of movement of people out of Khartoum into Egypt.

Dr. Nima said there was high risk of taking care of all biological matter in Khartoum because of one of the fighting parties occupying the lab and expelling the technicians. Mr. Nima had seen two hospitals which were completely closed, but which had been receiving injuries during their first two days of the conflict.

Also answering questions, Jens Laerke said at the latest count, five deaths of humanitarian workers were known; Alessandra Vellucci said that 700 international UN NGOs and staff had been moved within Sudan; Mr. Laerke said the UN was committed to staying and delivering and would maintain a robust leadership in Sudan; Patrick Youssef said beyond the words and the statements, respecting international law meant not to treat civilians as military targets. Several health facilities had been taken; these were allegations, but social media videos and pictures did not lie. It was too premature to identify who was responsible for bombing airports and hospitals. Over 4600 people were injured or killed in more than 11 days, which was a catastrophe. The leadership needed to take concrete measures reminding of the intent to respect international law. This was about giving clear instructions to the field commanders on what needed to be preserved.

Dr. Nima said the Special Representative of the Secretary-General Perthes was communicating with both parties on a daily basis and was trying to reach a safe corridor for medical supplies and health care workers. The Sudan Medical Association had announced the death of 11 health care workers, as a result of the conflict. There were direct attacks on the hospitals, and some were utilised as military bases.

Mr. Youseff said there had been reports of looting of medical assistance. The ICRC had managed to distribute everything they had to hospitals, and a few body bags and some items were remaining in warehouses, which had not been looted. The easiest place to replenish from would be Nairobi. A logistics pipeline had been considered from Egypt, and discussions were being held with groups who were able to send supplies to Sudan. It was important to create corridors between logistics hubs like Nairobi and Sudan, and begin delivering assistance. Everything began with the ceasefire and the political intention to make sure humanitarian action was delivered.

Imminent execution in Singapore

Ravina Shamdasani for the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR), said there were reports that Singapore was poised to conduct a further execution, the country’s 12th since March 2022, scheduled for tomorrow. Information had been received concerning the imminent hanging of Tangaraju Suppiah for allegedly using his phone to coordinate the trafficking of cannabis. The UN Human Rights Office called on the authorities not to proceed with his execution. Imposing the death penalty for drug offences was incompatible with international norms and standards. The Singapore Government were called on to adopt a formal moratorium on executions for drug-related offences and to ensure the right to a fair trial for all defendants, in line with its international obligations.

Responding to questions, Ms. Shamdasani said the issue had been raised many times with the Singaporean authorities. There was an ongoing dialogue, and it was hoped that this time, the government would heed the calls and halt the execution; this had happened in the past.

Ukrainian and Russian calls for execution of prisoners of war

Ravina Shamdasani for the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR), urgently called on both the Russian and Ukrainian authorities to investigate and publicly condemn audio recordings that had emerged over the weekend in which people with apparent connections on both sides of the conflict in Ukraine appeared to order the summary execution of prisoners of war or declare that there would be no survivors on the battlefield. Audio material emerged on 23 April on several Telegram channels, urging combatants not to take prisoners of war or to summarily execute those they captured. One recording was alleged to be of a member of the Ukrainian armed forces ordering the killing of a prisoner of war from the so-called Wagner Group that provided military and security contractors to fight for the Russian Federation. A subsequent audio statement was issued, apparently from the head of the Wagner Group, indicating that they would no longer take prisoners of war on the battlefield. While OHCHR had not yet been able to verify the authenticity of the recordings, such statements could provoke or encourage summary executions of prisoners of war. Russian and Ukrainian authorities were called on to comply with their obligations under international law to investigate the statements in the recordings and to identify and prosecute those responsible. UNHCR also called on military commanders and other superiors to issue clear and unambiguous orders to protect and treat humanely prisoners of war and persons hors de combat, and to ensure that these orders were strictly complied with.

Responding to questions, Ms. Shamdasani said the authenticity of the audio file could not be verified for certain, but there had been cases of summary executions and ill treatment of prisoners of war throughout the conflict. The authorities were urged to condemn such calls and ensure that prisoners of war were not ill-treated. A report had recently been issued on the treatment of prisoners of war from both sides. The summary execution of at least 16 Ukrainian prisoners of war and 25 Russian prisoners of war had been documented.

Killing of civilians in Burkina Faso

Ravina Shamdasani, for the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR) said OHCHR called for an independent investigation into the latest horrific killing of civilians in Burkina Faso and for those responsible to be held to account. Reports indicated that on 20 April, armed men in uniform, allegedly members of the defence and security forces accompanied by paramilitary auxiliaries known as Volunteers for the Defence of the Homeland (VDP), encircled Karma village, in northern Yatenga Province, and randomly shot at people. Available information suggested that at least 150 civilians may have been killed, and many others injured. The armed men then proceeded to loot homes, shops, and mosques. Sources in the nearby town of Ouahigouya reported hearing gunshots at 7a.m. on 20 April. The public prosecutor in Ouahigouya announced on 23 April that 60 people were killed and an investigation into the attack was under way. This investigation needed to be prompt, thorough, independent, and impartial and should result in credible prosecutions.

The killings came in the wake of an attack on a VDP based on 15 April in which eight soldiers and 32 VDPs were killed and more than 30 injured. OHCHR called on all parties to the conflict in Burkina Faso to respect their obligations under international humanitarian law, including by refraining from targeting civilians and civilian objects. On 9 November last year, at least 50 civilians were killed when suspected members of the 14th regiment attacked four villages near Djibo town, in Soum Province. In another incident, at least 28 people were killed in Nouna town, in Kossi Province, on 30-31 December. Investigations were announced by the authorities. Authorities were called on to publish the findings of these investigations.

The triple impact of cyclone, cholera and flooding threatening survival and wellbeing of children in Mozambique

Guy Taylor, for the United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF), speaking from Maputo,

said more than 28,000 cases of cholera had now been recorded in Mozambique. This was ten times the figure reported at the start of February, and more than half of cases were among children. This came at a time when children and families were still reeling from the impacts of Cyclone Freddy, which destroyed more than 100 health facilities and more than 1000 schools, disrupting the learning of almost half a million children. Around 250 water points and six urban water systems had also been damaged or destroyed, cutting around 300,000 people off from clean water. Food insecurity presented a major risk to children in the country: more than 390,000 hectares of land had been affected by Cyclone Freddy and flooding.

Already, across the country each year more than a quarter of a million young children experienced severe malnutrition. The nature of the current emergency would increase this number and there could be 300,000 or more severely malnourished young children in Mozambique this year, many of whom were at risk of dying if they did not get treatment. In some areas of the country, cases were now stabilising, due to a strong response by Government, with support from UNICEF and UN partners, focusing on vaccination, prevention, treatment, water, sanitation and hygiene. UNICEF had so far received and distributed more than 2.4 million doses of oral cholera vaccine; distributed of emergency health kits with sufficient essential medicines for more than 200,000 people; and reached half a million people with emergency water trucking in the past three months. Despite such successes, a funding gap of US $71.6m remained, which would enable UNICEF to reach a total of 2.7 million children with direct services and support.

Responding to questions, Mr. Taylor said this was the result of the climate change. Mozambique was hit year after year with tropical cyclones and storms and this was increasing. The country was highly vulnerable to these cyclones and most of the major cities on the seaboard were highly exposed. This was something which was very concerning and showed the importance of investing in resilient infrastructure.

FAO findings on the contribution of terrestrial animal source food to healthy diets for improved nutrition and health outcomes

Beate Scherf, for the Food and Agricultural Organisation (FAO), speaking from Rome, said

today FAO would launch the first of four component documents of an assessment considering the benefits and risks of consuming terrestrial animal source foods. The report was based on more than 500 scientific papers and around 250 policy documents. Eggs, milk or meat offered essential nutrients that could not be as easily obtained from plant-based foods and were important during key life stages, such as pregnancy and lactation, childhood, adolescence and older age. A single chicken egg provided small children with up to 64 percent of the daily Vitamin B12 intake required for optimal growth. Iron and vitamin A were among the most common micronutrient deficiencies around the world.

Globally, more than 1 in 2 preschool aged children and 1.2 billion women of child-bearing age suffered from the lack of at least one of three micronutrients: iron, vitamin A or zinc. Three quarters of these children lived in South and East Asia, the Pacific and sub-Saharan Africa. The world was facing climate change, biodiversity loss and degradation of land and natural resources. The livestock sector both contributed to and was affected by those challenges. Future component documents would guide the changes that needed to be made. To take full advantage of the benefits of terrestrial animal source food outlined in the report, the livestock sector and wider agrifood systems needed to be transformed.

World Malaria Day

Christian Lindmeier, for the World Health Organisation (WHO), said to mark World Malaria Day, WHO was issuing a call for increased implementation of new and existing interventions to save lives from malaria. Nearly 1.5 million children at high risk of malaria in Ghana, Kenya and Malawi had now received their first dose of the first malaria vaccine, thanks to an ongoing pilot program coordinated by the WHO. The malaria vaccine’s pilot's launch in 2019 was increasing equity in access to malaria prevention for the most vulnerable and saving lives. If implemented broadly, WHO estimated that malaria vaccines could save the lives of tens of thousands of children each year. According to the latest World Malaria report published in December 2022, there were an estimated 247 million new cases of malaria in 2021. The WHO African region continued to show that the heaviest burden of the disease, accounting for an estimated 95 per cent of all malaria cases and 96 per cent of all deaths in 2020, were among children under the age of five.

World Trade Organisation Events

Fernando Puchol, for the World Trade Organisation (WTO), invited journalists to attend "Making Trade Score for Women" event, which would take place Monday next week from 10:30 a.m. at the WTO. The event was jointly organized by the WTO and FIFA, in association with the Permanent Missions of Australia and New Zealand, representing the two hosting countries of the 2023 Women's Football World Cup. The event would be opened by WTO Director-General Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala and FIFA President Gianni Infantino. FIFA legends Anja Mittag of Germany and Didier Drogba of Cote d'Ivoire would attend the event in person. The event would also welcome eight players of Servette women's team participating in the World Cup with their respective national teams. The event would focus on empowering women through football and trade, and on exploring innovative approaches to help women connect to sports apparel value chains.

The next day on Tuesday at 11.30 a.m., also in the WTO, a new edition of the Presidential Lectures would take place, featuring Dr. Mokgweetsi Masisi, President of Botswana. The President would speak about "What Africa expects from the multilateral trading system and how the organization could best support delivering meaningful impact for the continent."


Alessandra Vellucci, for the United Nations Information Service (UNIS), said the Committee on the Elimination of Racial Discrimination was ending its 190th session on Friday. The Committee against Torture would begin the review on the report of Luxembourg tomorrow. They had already reviewed Argentina, Niger, and the Philippines.

On 1 May, the Palais would not be closed, as the UN did not celebrate this day as an official holiday.

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Bi-Weekly Press Briefing 25 April 2023 / 1:38:28

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