UN Geneva Press Briefing - 25 June 2024
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Press Conferences | HRC , ITC , OCHA , OSE , UNECE , UNHCR , WHO

UN Geneva Press Briefing - 25 June 2024

UN GENEVA PRESS BRIEFING

25 June 2024 

Alessandra Vellucci, Director of the United Nations Information Service in Geneva, chaired a hybrid briefing, which was attended by spokespersons and representatives of the Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs, the United Nations Refugee Agency, the World Health Organization, the United Nations Economic Commission for Europe, the International Trade Centre, and the Human Rights Council.

 

Situation in Gaza

Yasmina Guerda, Humanitarian Affairs Officer at the Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA), who had just returned from a three-month deployment to Gaza, said that the population in Gaza had lost nearly everything – their jobs, their roofs, their clothes, access to their bank accounts, and access to privacy. Ms. Guerda stressed that we should not speak about living conditions there because none of them had living conditions; what they had was survival conditions. 

Many people, if they were even warned before an attack began, had only 10-15 minutes to evacuate their building before it would be bombed. What to pack in such a situation was a dilemma because their home would likely become dust and there would be no return. Ms. Guerda mentioned a 19-year-old girl called Lamees who had kept repeating “My life should begin now, but it’s ending now”. For those who survived the bombing of their neighborhood by running away on time, it was only the beginning of the nightmare. In most humanitarian responses, displaced people could eventually find some sort of safety, but the past nine months had confirmed there was no safe corner in Gaza. Ms. Guerda stressed that delivering aid in Gaza was a daily puzzle, across the board. The ongoing fighting had killed over 200 aid workers in nine months. The public order and safety vacuum made humanitarian convoys vulnerable to looting. Humanitarians – Palestinians most notably – worked hard to deliver, but too often, no matter how hard they tried, they could not reach everyone. 

Civilians in Gaza were not weak people; they were far from helpless. Ms. Guerda recalled seeing families dig makeshift septic tanks with spoons, using toilets and pipes from destroyed buildings so they could have a little bit of privacy and hygiene near their tents. People still talked about their dreams to rebuild after the flattening of their bedrooms and kitchens. Hope still had a strong pulse in Gaza. What civilian women, children and men needed and desire above all, across the Strip, was a respite. They needed decision-makers to finally make a decisive gesture to put an end to the relentless way in which they are being knocked down after every attempt to get back up; and they needed the support of the rest of the world for that. 

Replying to questions from the media, Ms. Guerda said that the constantly shifting security situation made the already very difficult context even more challenging for aid delivery. The humanitarian space had been reduced dramatically since the Rafah invasion as more and more roads had become extremely dangerous due to the fighting and an increasing breakdown of public order. In southern parts of Gaza, humanitarian partners had set up a number of hunger-screening points in order to monitor starvation, but as the security situation was constantly changing, people kept moving and could not be followed up on. Getting fuel to access people for aid distribution had become a huge struggle, further hampering humanitarian efforts. 

On another question, Ms. Guerda spoke of having seen unaccompanied children but could not provide an estimate of their numbers. She stressed that the people of Gaza were resilient and capable to continue despite all the obstacles, to a degree she had not witnessed anywhere else.  Jens Laerke, also for OCHA, emphasized that OCHA was an independent, neutral, and impartial humanitarian organization which was conveying the truth as it saw it on the ground. There was no safe space in Gaza for anyone, stressed Ms. Guerda. Access to people in need should be facilitated, and aid workers should not be targeted, under international humanitarian law. Following the killing of the World Central Kitchen workers, humanitarians tried to re-emphasize that IHL had to prevail, while the deconfliction mechanism should only provide an additional layer of security for aid deliveries. Neither international humanitarian law nor the deconfliction mechanisms were being respected, she concluded. 

Alessandra Vellucci, for the United Nations Information Service (UNIS), informed that today at 1:00 pm, Philippe Lazzarini, Commissioner-General of the United Nations Relief and Works Agency (UNRWA), would hold a press conference to provide an update on the situation in the occupied Palestinian territory. Mr. Lazzarini had briefed the Advisory Committee in Geneva the previous day. 

Supporting Sudanese refugees in Chad

William Spindler, for the United Nations Refugee Agency (UNHCR), said that the situation in Sudan was one of the most dramatic in the world, and likely to get worse with the incoming rainy season. The neighbouring countries of Sudan were also gravely affected, including Chad, where 600,000 Sudanese refugees were seeking safety.

Laura Lo Castro, United Nations Refugee Agency (UNHCR) Representative in Chad, stated that the UNHCR was calling for urgent international support as the humanitarian crisis in eastern Chad reached a critical point. With increasing numbers of Sudanese refugees in border areas, rising health concerns, escalating security incidents and the impending rainy season, immediate action was needed. Since April 2023, she recalled, the conflict in Sudan had forced over 600,000 refugees and 180,000 Chadian returnees, majority of them women and children, to flee into Chad, with more than 115,000 arriving since the start of 2024. 

UNHCR and partners had extended existing refugee settlements and established six new ones. All these sites were equipped with essential services and infrastructure, including family shelters, mobile clinics, water points, sanitation and education facilities known as temporary learning spaces. Some 360,000 refugees had thus been provided with assistance, but these efforts were not enough to meet the overwhelming needs. There were some 200,000 refugees stranded in the border areas, including in overcrowded and unsanitary conditions in Adre, which had led to a severe health crisis, with over 1,200 cases of Hepatitis E reported. Insecurity was also a growing concern, with increasing incidents of looting, vandalization of humanitarian structures and trafficking of drugs and alcohol. While most of the displaced population were women and children, some were men, some of whom were armed. 

The complex emergency in Chad was compounded by intensified fighting in the Darfur region of Sudan. Despite the tireless efforts of UN agencies and partners to support the Government’s emergency response, the situation was rapidly deteriorating. Tensions with the host population were also growing. The potential for further displacement remained high as fighting continued in El Fasher and rural localities around it in North Darfur. There were also reports of widespread looting and burning of villages as well as a looming famine in Sudan that was expected to drive even more refugees into Chad. In this context, the Government of Chad had urgently requested the UNHCR and partners to accelerate the relocation of new arrivals away from border areas, particularly from Adre. UNHCR’s 2024 appeal for the response in eastern Chad was underfunded with just 10 per cent of the requested USD 214.8 million received so far. The clock was ticking as the rainy season was coming, stressed Ms. Castro. 

UNHCR briefing note is available here

Global mpox situation

Dr. Rosamund Lewis, Technical Lead on mpox at the World Health Organization (WHO), informed that, since the beginning of the global multi-country outbreak of mpox in May 2022, WHO had continued to support Member States and other stakeholders and monitor the situation. Today mpox remained a public health threat as the situation continues to evolve. Over 3,100 laboratory-confirmed cases had been reported globally since the start of the year.  Africa was now the most affected region in terms of confirmed cases. Since April, South Africa had reported 13 confirmed cases of mpox due to clade IIb virus, and two deaths. All patients were severely ill individuals with advanced HIV infection and had required hospitalization. Those with advanced HIV infection were at a greater risk for serious illness and death from mpox. With support from WHO, South Africa had responded promptly to the outbreak, with information for health care providers and persons at risk, enhanced surveillance and contact-tracing, clinical care for patients, and was advancing quickly to provide vaccination recommendations for communities at risk. 

At the same time, the Democratic Republic of the Congo continued to face a major outbreak of mpox due to clade I of the virus, with over 9,000 clinically compatible cases and 419 deaths amongst those reported in 2024 alone, with a high case fatality ratio of almost 5 percent. Children were particularly affected in this outbreak with even higher death rates. While the clade I virus was so far contained to central Africa, its potential spread to neighbouring countries and other regions remained a concern. Among African nations, the Republic of the Congo had also recently declared an outbreak of mpox, and Cameroon had reported new cases. There was a critical need to address the recent surge in mpox cases in Africa. 

Dr. Lewis informed that the WHO had recommended the use of mpox vaccines for persons at risk. WHO called on Member States, researchers, and stakeholders to continue clinical research and data collection on mpox vaccines. WHO continued to support countries to strengthen surveillance, laboratory work, clinical care, infection prevention and control, risk communication and community engagement, prepare vaccination strategies for mpox emergency prevention and response. Member States and other entities were invited to support access to vaccines and treatments for low- and middle- income countries. 

More information on mpox from the WHO is available here.

Answering questions from the media, Dr. Lewis said that the Americas had been leading in the numbers of laboratory-confirmed cases, but were now overtaken by Africa, the details of which would soon be shared. Vaccines were licensed and approved, and their effectiveness had been confirmed through tests and studies around the world. WHO was now working with African countries to support their national regulatory processes to review, process and approve of the mpox vaccines. Until now, small quantities of the vaccines had been allocated for compassionate use. Among the clinical compatible cases reported in the DRC, there had been a five percent fatality rate, explained Dr. Lewis. Three-fourths of the cases were children, who were most at risk of severe disease. Clinical care was extremely important, she stressed, but as there was stigma associated with mpox, those infected sometimes sought medical care quite late. WHO considered mpox an emergency; it continued to monitor the situation globally and conduct a comprehensive risk assessment every few months. 

Human Rights Council

Pascal Sim, for the United Nations Human Rights Council (HRC), said that today the Council would hold an interactive dialogue with the Special Rapporteur on the independence of judges and lawyers, Margaret Satterthwaite, on her reports entitled “Safeguarding the independence of judicial systems in the face of contemporary challenges to democracy”, and her visits to Montenegro and to Mongolia. HRC would also hold an interactive dialogue with the Special Rapporteur on the human rights of migrants, Gehad Madi, on his report entitled “Revisiting migrants’ contributions with a human rights-based approach: a discussion on facilitating and hindering factors.” The following day, the Council would hear from the Working Group on Business and Human Rights, and from Irene Khan, UN Special Rapporteur on the promotion and protection of the right to freedom of opinion and expression. Full programme of work is available here 

On 26 June at 11 am, Tlaleng Mofokeng, Special Rapporteur on the right of everyone to the enjoyment of the highest attainable standard of physical and mental health, would hold a press conference on her thematic report on drug use, harm reduction and the right to health.

On 27 June at 1:15 pm, Cecilia Bailliet, UN Independent Expert on human rights and international solidarity, would hold a press conference.

As today was the International Day of the Seafarer, Mr. Sim informed that for the first time human rights of seafarers would be subject of a draft resolution, initiated by the Philippines. 

Announcements

Christian Lindmeier, for the World Health Organization (WHO), informed that today at 3 pm, the WHO would hold a briefing on the launch on the physical activity estimates, under embargo.

Thomas Croll-Knight, for the United Nations Economic Commission for Europe (UNECE), informed that on 26 June at 1:30 pm, there would be a press conference on regulating autonomous vehicles: international developments. Speakers would be Dmitry Mariyasin, UNECE Deputy Executive Secretary; Richard Damm, Chair, Working Party on Automated/Autonomous and Connected Vehicles (GRVA); and Francois Guichard, Secretary, Working Party on Automated/Autonomous and Connected Vehicles (GRVA). Mr. Croll-Knight reminded that GRVA brought on board all countries, including the European Union, USA, Canada, Japan, Republic of Korea, India, and China, willing to develop harmonized regulations on this topic. The G7 transport ministers consistently called for regulatory work in this area to be done at UNECE. 

Mr. Croll-Knight also informed that thon 27 and 28 June, Limassol would host UNECE Forum on Education for Sustainable Development - Empowering Youth for Sustainable Futures: Entrepreneurship Education and Youth Engagement. The forum was held in response to the recognition that to address the interconnected challenges that we are facing, such as climate change, social injustice, the digital divide, and economic instability, education was key.  UNECE had initiated a three-year project aimed at promoting the implementation of this priority area. The Forum would shape the development of a comprehensive guiding framework for 21st-century competencies, tailored to foster innovation and entrepreneurship in the pursuit of sustainable and equitable economic development.

Susanna Pak, for the International Trade Centre (ITC), informed that 27 June would be UN Micro, Small and Medium-sized Enterprises Day. On this day, the International Trade Centre would celebrate its 60th anniversary. Ms. Pak informed that small businesses made up 90 percent of all companies and two-thirds of jobs worldwide. They formed the backbone of many economies, particularly of developing countries. On this occasion, the ITC would hold an event, speakers at which would include UN Deputy Secretary-General Amina Mohammed; African Union Trade Commissioner Albert Muchanga on making One Trade Africa a reality; Monica Nana Ama Senanu, Founder, Chocoluv Company Limited, Ghana, and others. The session would take place in WTO CR Room from 4 to 6 pm, and the reception would start immediately afterwards.

Alessandra Vellucci, for the United Nations Information Service (UNIS), added that the Secretary-General’s message on the MSME Day had been distributed.

On behalf of the Office of the Special Envoy for Syria (OSE), informed that the Deputy Special Envoy, Najat Rochdi, would brief the Security Council today at 3 pm New York time. Her remarks would be shared subsequently.

Finally, Ms. Vellucci said that the second meeting of the Preparatory Committee for the 2026 Review Conference of the Parties to the Treaty on the Non-Proliferation of Nuclear Weapons (NPT) would be held at the Palais des Nations in Room XIX from 22 July to 2 August. The Chair-designate of the second session was Ambassador Akan Rakhmetullin of Kazakhstan.

 
 
 
ANNOUNCEMENTS

- HRC - Pascal Sim: Human Rights Council update 
 
- ITC - Susanna Pak:
  • Upcoming UN Micro, Small and Medium-sized Enterprises (MSME) Day (on 27 June)
  • 60th anniversary of the International Trade Centre (ITC)’ (on 27 June)
 
- UNECE - Thomas Croll-Knigt: 
  • Press conference on automated vehicles (26 June)
  • UNECE Forum on Education for Sustainable Development (27-28 June)
 
- UNIS on behalf of OSE: The Deputy Special Envoy for Syria Ms. Najat Rochdi will brief the Security Council at 3 p.m. New York/9 p.m. Geneva. Her briefing will be distributed when she concludes
 
TOPICS

- OCHA - Jens Laerke with Yasmina Guerda, Humanitarian affairs officer, following her 3-months deployment to Gaza: An inside account of people's daily struggle for life and dignity

- UNHCR - William Spindler with Laura Lo Castro, UNHCR’s Representative in Chad, (From N’djamena): UNHCR urges support to address the urgent needs of Sudanese refugees at the eastern border in Chad as the situation deteriorates
 
- WHO - Christian Lindmeier and Dr Rosamund Lewis, Technical Lead on MPOX: Updates on the global MPOX situation

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