Bi-weekly press briefing - 05 September 2023
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Press Conferences | OCHA , OHCHR , UNHCR , WMO , WTO

Bi-weekly press briefing - 05 September 2023

PRESS BRIEFING BY THE UNITED NATIONS INFORMATION SERVICE

5 September 2023

 

125 Million USD Released from Multi-Donor Fund to Under-Funded Emergencies

Jens Laerke for the United Nations Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA) said today OCHA was announcing an allocation of 125 million United States dollars (USD) from the United Nations’ emergency fund to ramp up poorly funded humanitarian crises around the world.

The support from the multi-donor Central Emergency Response Fund’s under-funded emergencies window would, with this allocation, reach the largest annual amount ever allocated, 270 million USD, to the highest number of countries.

Humanitarian organizations in fourteen countries in Africa, Asia, the Americas and the Middle East would benefit from this latest injection of funds. The humanitarian plans for these countries were currently between 18 per cent (Venezuela) and 36 per cent (Central African Republic) funded.

Afghanistan and Yemen topped the recipient list with 20 million USD each. Other recipients included Burkina Faso (nine million USD), Mali (eight million USD), Myanmar (nine million USD), and Haiti (eight million USD). In addition, funding would go to Venezuela (eight million USD), the Central African Republic (6.5 million USD), Mozambique (6.5 million USD), Cameroon (six million USD), the Occupied Palestinian Territories (six million USD), and Malawi (four million USD). Refugee operations in Bangladesh (eight million USD) and Uganda (six million USD) were also included.

Releasing the funds, UN humanitarian chief Martin Griffiths said that “it is a cruel reality that in many humanitarian operations, aid agencies are scraping along with very little funding right at a time when people’s needs compel them to scale up. Thanks to the generosity of a vast range of donors, we can count on the Central Emergency Response Fund to fill some of the gaps. Lives are saved as a result. But we need individual donors to step up as well - this is a fund by all and for all.”

This year, global funding requirements had surpassed 55 billion USD. This was to support 250 million people affected by conflict, the impact of the climate crisis, natural disasters, disease outbreaks, displacement and other crises. Faced with these record needs, less than 30 per cent of the funding required has been received.

In response to questions, Mr. Laerke said Sudan was not part of this allocation, as Sudan had already received a total of 60 million USD through three separate allocations. However, activities in Sudan were also only 30 per cent funded. He called on private donors to support activities in Sudan.

“Global funding requirements” did not refer to funding for OCHA alone, but for all United Nations agencies’ efforts in these regions. Funding was growing in absolute dollar terms, but needs were outpacing growth. The allocation of funds was usually the decision of individual donors, unless funds were supplied to the Central Emergency Respond Fund. The allocation of funding from the Central Emergency Respond Fund was based on a rigorous assessment process. The target for the Central Emergency Respond Fund was one billion USD. Funding for appeals related to humanitarian efforts in Ukraine was high, but lower for other countries.

Progress on Racial Justice and Equality Impeded for People of African Descent

Ravina Shamdasani for the United Nations Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR) said people of African descent continued to face immense challenges to meaningful participation in public affairs in many countries due to systemic racism, marginalization and exclusion often rooted in the legacies of enslavement and colonialism, according to a UN Human Rights Office report issued today.

The report found that systemic racism continued to affect negatively people of African descent in all aspects of life. Deaths of people of African descent during or after interactions with law enforcement continued, and the report found that little progress had been made to address impunity – despite protracted struggles by families seeking accountability and effective redress.

“If systemic racism is to be overcome, States must accelerate action towards meaningful, inclusive and safe participation for people of African descent in every aspect of public affairs,” said UN High Commissioner for Human Rights Volker Türk.

“A critical starting point is for States to ensure that the needs, experiences and expertise of people of African descent are central to policymaking, implementation and evaluation.”

“Nothing about them without them,” Türk stressed.

Data disaggregated by race and ethnic origin was critical to ensure efforts to address systemic racism were grounded in evidence. Yet many countries still did not collect, publish or use such data to inform policymaking.

The report would be officially presented to the UN Human Rights Council on 5 October.

Read the full press release here.

In response to questions, Ms. Shamdasani said there were a few cases covered in the report where there had been updates since the cut-off period. OHCHR had been raising the case of Adama Traoré since the previous report was released in 2021. The courts had found that there were no grounds for prosecution of the Gendarmerie in this case. The family was appealing this decision. Seven years on from the incident, Mr. Traoré’s family was still waiting for truth regarding his death, and for appropriate measures to be taken to ensure that justice and appropriate remedy were provided. There were also reports of online smearing against Asa Traoré, Adama Traoré’s sister, following her cooperation with the Committee on the Elimination of Racial Discrimination last year. The Government of France had said that it maintained attentive to the safety of Ms. Traoré and her family, and the Paris Prosecutor’s Office had opened a criminal investigation into the incident. OHCHR would continue to follow this case closely, working with the Committee on the Elimination of Racial Discrimination.

A report would be presented at the Human Rights Council on reparatory justice. The High Commissioner insisted on promoting accountability and redress. Behind racism and exclusion was a failure to acknowledge responsibilities for the trans-Atlantic slave trade and colonialism. There needed to be wide-ranging work with people of African descent and their communities to achieve truth, reparation and access to justice.

There had been progress on measures to prevent incidents of abuse of persons of African descent by police officers, and OHCHR was following the implementation of these closely. There continued to be deaths of people of African descent in places of custody around the world. OHCHR was calling for a more transformative approach with the participation of people of African descent. There were cases in many parts of the world where persons who reported incidents of racial discrimination were vilified. There needed to be a holistic strategy to tackle the issue of racial justice. A working group established on racial justice would brief on progress made since the George Floyd incident at the upcoming Human Rights Council.

The racial justice report did include information about the situation of migrants of African descent and situations in Panama and Costa Rica. In the last few years, both Costa Rica and Panama had been reviewed by human rights committees, all of which had issued recommendations concerning measures to protect the rights of migrants and people of African descent.

Ms. Shamdasani said one of the cases of racial discrimination in Brazil presented in the report was an emblematic case from 2016 concerning Luana Barbosa dos Reis Santos. In August this year, the Superior Court of Justice ruled in favour of the appeal by the family in this case to reinstate aggravating circumstances to the criminal charge of homicide. There were reports of continued vilification of people of African descent in Brazil by law enforcement. In 2021, the number of deaths in encounters with police fell for the first time in nine years, but the number of deaths of people of African descent rose.

Situation of Darien Gap Migrants

Marta Hurtado for the United Nations Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR) expressed concern about the risks and vulnerabilities faced by an unprecedented number of migrants and refugees who were crossing the Darien Gap – the dense tropical jungle that separates Colombia and Panama – on their journey towards North America. So far this year, more than 330,000 people had crossed the Darien Gap – the highest annual figure recorded to date. One in five were children. By comparison, some 248,000 people were estimated to have passed through this region during the whole of 2022.

Migrants and refugees were exposed to multiple human rights violations and abuses during their journey, including sexual violence, which was a particular risk for children, women, lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and intersex people and people with disabilities. There were also murders, disappearances, trafficking, robbery, and intimidation by organised crime groups.

The limited humanitarian attention both in Panama and Costa Rica worsened the precarious living conditions there and increased people’s vulnerabilities.

The risks were all the greater given the dangers of crossing this jungle of some 575,000 hectares. In the dry season, people walked on average for four to seven days to cross the Darien Gap. During the nine month-long rainy season, this could take up to 10 days.

The Government of Panama had, with the support of the international community, built two migration reception centres in Darien province and one at the border with Costa Rica to provide shelter, food, health care and water and sanitation. However, the large number of people on the move had stretched the capacity of the Panamanian authorities on the ground to continue providing protection and to attend to the humanitarian needs of refugees and migrants.

OHCHR was calling on all States to promote human rights-based solutions to migration governance challenges and ensure border governance in line with international law and standards. It also recalled the need to avoid discriminatory, anti-migrant narratives.

Addressing migration challenges required collective efforts and solutions at the regional and international levels, which was why the Office was also calling on the international community to strengthen its support to the States in the Americas to address these protection gaps.

It further encouraged the States of the region to address structural factors that were forcing people to leave their homes and embark on perilous journeys in search of safety and a more dignified life for them and their families.

In response to questions, Ms. Hurtado said that OHCHR was coordinating with all United Nations agencies to address the issue through a supra-regional strategy. Regular meetings were held to coordinate actions and advocacy with governments. Many of the people crossing the Darien Gap were Asians who had fled violence in Haiti.

Legal Harassment of Human Rights Defenders and Civil Society Leaders in Bangladesh

Ravina Shamdasani for the United Nations Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR) said OHCHR was very concerned by the continued intimidation and harassment of human rights advocates and civil society leaders through legal proceedings in Bangladesh, including Nobel laureate Mohammad Yunus, known for his work on poverty alleviation through Grameen Bank, and two leaders of the respected human rights organization Odhikar.

United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights Volker Türk was calling on the Bangladeshi authorities to create a safe and enabling environment for human rights defenders and other civil society representatives to carry out their essential work.

Yunus had faced harassment and intimidation for almost a decade. He currently faced two trials that carried potential prison sentences - one on charges of violating labour laws, the second for alleged corruption.  

While Yunus would have the opportunity to defend himself in court, the Office was concerned that smear campaigns against him, often emanating from the highest levels of government, risked undermining his right to a fair trial and due process in line with international standards.

OHCHR had also been following closely the cases brought against the leaders of the Odhikar organisation, Adilur Rahman Khan and Nasiruddin Elan, in which the verdicts were due to be delivered on Thursday 7 September. The criminal charges related to a fact-finding report they compiled 10 years ago on extra-judicial killings. Both had faced harassment and intimidation, and their organisation’s licence was not renewed.

The legal harassment of civil society leaders, human rights defenders and other dissenting voices, was a worrying sign for civic and democratic space in Bangladesh. These cases also represented an important test for the independence of the judiciary in Bangladesh.

The High Commissioner was urging the judicial authorities to ensure the most rigorous review in these cases to ensure that rights to due process and fair trial were strictly and consistently applied.

OHCHR was also studying closely the new Cyber Security law which has been presented to Parliament to replace the problematic Digital Security Act. The new law would replace imprisonment with fines and increase the scope for bail for several offences, but it was very important that Parliament addressed the remaining concerns to prevent any further arbitrary use of the law to suppress freedom of expression.

Violent Clashes in Tel Aviv Involving Eritrean Asylum Seekers

In response to questions on this issue, William Spindler for the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) said UNHCR was deeply concerned by the violent clashes that took place in south Tel Aviv on Saturday, 2 September, resulting in injuries to over 170 asylum-seekers and dozens of police officers. UNHCR extended its sympathy to all those affected and condemned any acts of violence. It called for calm and restraint, and on all parties to refrain from taking any steps that could aggravate the situation further.

The vast majority of asylum-seekers living in Israel were peaceful and law-abiding. The incidents on 2 September were deeply regrettable, and did not reflect the behaviour of the broader Eritrean community in Israel. 

Refugees and asylum-seekers were legal residents of Israel. They were obliged to respect the law of their host country and were subject to the same procedures as any other resident or citizen, including in the case of any criminal conduct.

While it was important to establish accountability for what happened on Saturday, any decision impacting all Eritrean asylum-seekers or instances of refoulement would contravene international law and could result in dramatic human consequences, as the situation in Eritrea remained unchanged.

Ravina Shamdasani for the United Nations Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR) said OHCHR was alarmed by the large number of casualties reported in the clashes. It appeared that live ammunition was used. Hate speech needed to be avoided, including by authorities.

Other Topics

In response to questions on various topics, Ravina Shamdasani for the United Nations Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR) said the High Commissioner had written an open letter to Elon Musk concerning the proliferation of hate speech on the “X” social media platform. Social media companies needed to take steps to curb incitement to hatred and violence. Combatting misinformation remained a priority of the Secretary-General.

Arbitrary detention was a major concern in Iran, Ms. Shamdasani said. Several United Nations agencies had expressed concern about the situation in Evin Prison, including about the reported use of torture and ill-treatment.

Announcements

Javier Gutiérrez, Counsellor, World Trade Organization (WTO), briefed on the WTO Public Forum, the WTO’s largest outreach event. This year, it was being held from 12 to 15 September in the WTO. The Public Forum provided a platform for interested stakeholders from around the world to discuss the latest developments in global trade and to propose ways of enhancing the multilateral trading system. This year, it was expected that almost 3,300 people will participate over the 3.5 days of the Forum.

Registration for participants had closed, but media accreditations could still be issued. Journalists with United Nations badges would be granted entry into WTO premises.

This year, the Public Forum would examine how trade could contribute to a greener and more sustainable future. The Forum would explore how trade could facilitate access to environmental goods, services and technologies, help achieving the Paris Agreement's Nationally Determined Contributions, and maintain the ambition to limit global warming to 1.5 degrees above pre-industrial levels. The Forum would explore how the services industry, inclusive trade policies and digitalisation could support the greening of trade.

The Forum would open with a Presidential Lecture delivered by former British Prime Minister Gordon Brown. His lecture would provide insights into the convergence of trade, technology, and inclusive development. Following this, Mr. Brown would have a conversation with WTO Director-General Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala on the global economy and the challenges facing global trade, to be moderated by the Canadian permanent representative to the WTO, Ambassador Nadia Theodore.

A full programme was available online and some sessions of the Forum would be livestreamed.

In response to questions, Mr. Gutiérrez said panels were constructed around certain topics, such as inclusivity. WTO would showcase efforts to integrate marginalised groups and communities into development plans during the Forum. Finance for development would be addressed in several different sessions. The Presidents of the Asian Development Bank and the Inter-American Development Bank would be participating. Brazil would organise two or three sessions at the Forum, and would hold an exhibit on 13 September in the Atrium.

Fernando Puchol, Communications Officer, World Trade Organization (WTO), announced that on 14 September at 3 p.m., WTO Director General Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala and Beatrice Ferrari, Director of International Affairs, Canton of Geneva, would inaugurate the section of the exhibition at Parc des Bastions on "Making Trade Work for People and Planet 2023," featuring the United Nations’ Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs). WTO would showcase 40 panels in both French and English featuring the 17 SDGs, the Fisheries Subsidies Agreement and the Decision to Eliminate Agricultural Export Subsidies.

Claire Nullis for the World Meteorological Organization (WMO) apologised for cancelling the WMO press conference planned for yesterday on the State of the Climate in Africa. WMO would tomorrow at 11:30 a.m. hold a press conference to announce the release of the Annual Air Quality and Climate Bulletin: Focus on Heatwaves. The Bulletin would focus on heatwaves in 2022, but its information was pertinent to this year’s heatwaves and wildfires and to the years ahead. The Copernicus Climate Change Service would tomorrow release figures on global temperatures for August and the whole of summer.

In response to questions, Ms. Nullis said Copernicus’ figures would likely be released at 10 a.m. and provided to journalists under embargo beforehand.

Rolando Gómez, Chief of the Press and External Relations Section at the United Nations Information Service (UNIS) in Geneva, said the United Nations Secretary-General António Guterres had delivered a statement to the African Climate Summit in Nairobi, where he noted that Africa accounted for less than four per cent of global emissions, yet it suffered some of the worst effects of rising global temperatures. He said there was a need for far greater climate ambition, ambitious renewable energy goals in line with the 1.5 degree limit, climate justice, and for making Africa a world leader in renewable energy and green growth. Mr. Guterres also drew attention to the Climate Ambition Summit, taking place on 20 September in New York on the side-lines of the United Nations General Assembly, which was starting the week after next.

The Personal Envoy of the Secretary-General for Western Sahara, Staffan de Mistura, was travelling to Laayoune for a visit to the territory.

The Secretary-General was leaving Nairobi for the ASEAN Summit in Jakarta later today. He would be there until Thursday, 7 September. Later this week, from 8 to 10 September, he would be in New Delhi for the G-20 Summit.

The Committee on the Rights of the Child, which opened yesterday its 94th session (4-22 September, Palais Wilson), was concluding this morning its review of the report of Albania, and would begin this afternoon the review of the report of Dominican Republic.

The Committee on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities (29th session, 14 August-8 September) would close its 29th session next Friday, 9 September, and issue its concluding observations on the reports of Malawi, Andorra, Mongolia, Austria, Israel, Mauritania, Germany and Paraguay, and on the follow-up of inquiries concerning Hungary and the United Kingdom.

The Conference on Disarmament was having this morning a public plenary meeting, still under the presidency of Hungary. The Conference, whose session officially closed on 15 September, had still to adopt its annual report to the General Assembly.

The United Nations Institute for Disarmament Research (UNIDIR) had held a press conference on Tuesday, 5 September at 9:30 a.m. to launch its Cluster Munition Monitor 2023 report.

The United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP) and GRID-Geneva would hold a press conference today, Tuesday, 5 September at 2 p.m., to launch the “Marine Sand Watch” report. Speaking from UNEP/GRID-Geneva were Pascal Peduzzi, Director, and Arnaud Vander Velpen, Sand Industry and Data Analytics Officer.

On Wednesday, 6 September, at 10 a.m., Ambassador Václav Bálek, President of the Human Rights Council, would hold a press briefing on the upcoming 54th session of the Human Rights Council, being held from 11 September to 13 October 2023.

Thursday, 7 September was the International Day of Clean Air for Blue Skies. In his message for the day, United Nations Secretary-General António Guterres said, “Air pollution is a global emergency. 99 per cent of humanity breathed air laced with soot, sulphur and other toxic chemicals, with low- and middle-income countries suffering the highest exposures. Every year, seven million people die prematurely as a result, and air pollution is intimately linked to global heating.”

“Our air is a common good and a common responsibility. Let’s work together to clean it up, protect our health, and leave a healthy planet for generations to come,” Mr. Guterres said.

Thursday, 7 September was also the first International Day of Police Cooperation. In his message for the day, United Nations Secretary-General António Guterres commended law enforcement from around the world for their dedication to peace, security and justice.

He said that “the principles that underpinned police cooperation – accountability, transparency, and respect for diversity – are essential to renewing a social contract anchored in human rights. Community-oriented policing that emphasises outreach and local solutions helps to build trust and improve safety.”

Mr. Guterres also highlighted the importance of women in policing. “Women’s participation promotes access to justice for all, including for victims of gender-based violence, who may be more likely to seek help from women officers,” he said.

ANNOUNCEMENTS

  • WTO - Javier Gutiérrez, WTO Counsellor

          - WTO Public Forum - "It is Time for Action"

  • WMO - Clare Nullis

          - WMO press conference on 6 September on climate and air quality and temperature figures for

            August/summer 

 

TOPICS

  •  OCHA - Jens Laerke 

            - USG Griffiths releases $125M from multi-donor fund CERF to under-funded emergencies (OCHA)

  • OHCHR         Ravina Shamdasani (PR)

           - Racial Justice

  • Marta Hurtado (PR)

         - Darien Gap migrants

  • Ravina Shamdasani (PR)

           - Bangladesh legal harassment of HRDs and civil society leaders


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