REGULAR PRESS BRIEFING BY THE UNITED NATIONS INFORMATION SERVICE
13 November 2020
Alessandra Vellucci, Director of the United Nations Information Service, chaired the hybrid briefing, attended by spokespersons and representatives of the Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights, the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees, the International Organization for Migration and the World Food Programme.
Ethiopia – Conflict in Tigray region
Rupert Colville, for the Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR), said that amid emerging reports of mass killings in the town of Mai-Kadra, the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights, Michelle Bachelet, had expressed increasing alarm at the rapidly deteriorating situation in the Ethiopian region of Tigray. She warned that if the Tigray regional forces and Ethiopian Government forces continued down the path they were on, “there is a risk this situation will spiral totally out of control, leading to heavy casualties and destruction, as well as mass displacement within Ethiopia itself and across borders.” While the details of the alleged mass killings reported by Amnesty International in Mai-Kadra in south-west Tigray have not yet been fully verified, Ms. Bachelet had called for a full inquiry.
Answering questions, Mr. Colville said that it was difficult at this stage to assess the motivations behind the attacks, especially whether they were on ethnic lines.
A press release is available here.
Babar Baloch, for the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR), added that since early November, more than 14,500 men, women and children had already fled to Sudan in search of safety. More than 4,000 persons had crossed the border with Sudan in one day. The number of new arrivals was outpacing the capacity on the ground: one transit center at the border, with a capacity of 300, was already overwhelmed with more than 6,000 refugees. Furthermore, services for 96,000 Eritrean refugees inside Tigray had been seriously disrupted, and reports indicated that growing numbers of Ethiopians themselves were becoming displaced internally.
A briefing note is available here.
Alessandra Vellucci, for the United Nations Information Service, said that the UN and its humanitarian partners had called again for full access to reach people in need, as well as for the safe passage for civilians in search of safety and assistance.
Mozambique - Conflict in Cabo Delgado province
Rupert Colville, for the Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR), said that the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights Michelle Bachelet had called on all actors to take urgent measures to protect civilians in Cabo Delgado province, in northeast Mozambique, amid reports of an increasingly alarming human rights situation. Attacks by armed groups, including the killing of civilians, and heavy clashes with security forces in different parts of northern Cabo Delgado province, had increased over the last few weeks. Dozens of people had reportedly died and hundreds had been forced to flee their homes and seek refuge in southern areas. More than 350,000 people had been displaced by violence in the last three years – since 16 October alone, over 14,000 people had fled by sea and arrived in the provincial capital, Pemba. Thousands more, including the most vulnerable, were believed to be trapped in conflict areas.
Mr. Colville added that since 2017, armed elements and groups had committed grave human rights abuses and, more recently, violations of international humanitarian law, including killings and maiming, as well as the possible forced recruitment of children. There had also been reports of human rights violations committed by Mozambican security forces in recent years, including extrajudicial killings and unlawful restrictions on the freedom of movement.
Responding to questions, Mr. Colville indicated that, while it was hard to determine exactly who was doing what and why, there did appear to be some extremist ideology behind at least part of these atrocities, and that civilians had been deliberately targeted.
A press release is available here
Babar Baloch, for the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR), warned against extreme brutality unleashed on civilians by non-State armed groups in the Muidumbe district. Many civilians fleeing these attacks had already found refuge in host communities, with more people expected to flee in anticipation of fresh attacks. Violence by armed groups in the Cabo Delgado province had uprooted at least 355,000 people since 2017, according to UN estimates. Many were seeking safety in parts of Cabo Delgado and Nampula and Niassa provinces.
A briefing note is available here.
Alessandra Vellucci for the United Nations Information Service, said that the Secretary-General had expressed shock over recent reports of massacres by non-State armed groups in several villages in Cabo Delgado province, including the reported beheading and kidnapping of women and children. The Secretary-General had strongly condemned this wanton brutality.
Human rights violations in Belarus
Rupert Colville, for the Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR), said that the Office remained deeply concerned more than three months after the presidential election, as the Government continued to use the machinery of the State to commit human rights violations. Peaceful protests by the population had been met with excessive use of force by law enforcement officials, and more than 25 000 persons had been detained. Belarussian authorities were increasingly bringing criminal charges against these persons. For example, students who had supported people on strike were now facing undue restrictions and pressure. Mr. Colville deplored the death, yesterday, of Mr. Roman Bondarenko, after allegedly being ill-treated by security forces.
The latest developments only strengthened the sense that impunity for apparently widespread human rights violations committed during the protests and in detention was continuing unchecked in Belarus, Mr. Colville regretted.
Support to Iraqi returnees amid closure of IDP camps
Babar Baloch, for the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR), said UNHCR was boosting its support to internally displaced persons (IDPs) in Iraq, in order to mitigate the adverse effects – at the onset of the winter – of the Government’s decision to close a number of camps. Solutions were needed for 250,000 displaced persons concerned by the closure of ten camps since 18 October, with further closures to be expected until the end of the year. Conflicting information and timelines regarding these decisions created uncertainty for many displaced families. UNHCR had raised its concerns with the government.
Shipwrecks off Libya
Safa Msehli, for the International Organization for Migration (IOM), said that nearly 100 people, among them many women and children, had died yesterday in two shipwrecks off the coast of Libya, pushing the death toll in the Mediterranean past 900 victims. IOM was assisting 47 survivors brought to the shore by fishermen and coastguards. IOM was calling for a change of approach to Libya that would end the flow of migrants to the country and establish safe and predictable disembarkation mechanisms. More than 11,000 migrants had been returned to Libya this year, putting them at risk of facing human rights violations. IOM recommended that restrictions on the work of NGOs conducting rescue operations be lifted, in line with the international imperative of saving lives. IOM recommended that the Libyan Government prosecute smugglers and trafficking networks, as well as dismantle a detention system where horrific abuses were committed.
Responding to questions on the election process in the United States, Rupert Colville, for the Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR), said the OHCHR did observe, with concern, the prominent role played by disinformation on election day and over the following days. Voters should be able to form opinions independently, free of violence or threat of violence. In some cases, there had been calls to disrupt vote-counting through violence and of intimidation of electoral officials: such acts could harm public trust in democratic institutions and in the electoral process as such.
Responding to questions on the violent repression of a women's protest in Cancún (Mexico), on 9 November, Rupert Colville, for the Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR), called for a thorough investigation into the intervention of security forces, including on the role of the municipal and state police, the chain of command, as well as the National Guard action. Mr. Colville also said that the Office of the High Commissioner was concerned about the continuing attacks on journalists across Mexico, including during the protests in Cancún where at least five journalists were injured, two of them reportedly by gunfire.
Alessandra Vellucci for the United Nations Information Service, added that the Secretary-General remained deeply concerned about attacks against journalists and media workers around the world, including in conflict zones. He condemned all attacks and killings of journalists and called for concerted efforts to tackle widespread impunity for such crimes.
Singapore proposal on food export restrictions
Tomson Phiri, for the World Food Programme (WFP), said that Singapore had been advocating at the World Trade Organization (WTO) in support of WFP by putting forward a proposal which, if adopted at the upcoming WTO General Council in December, would facilitate the export of food procured by WFP for humanitarian purposes. This initiative took place as the world was facing growing food insecurity, exacerbated by COVID-19. “It is estimated that 270 million people require food assistance as a result of COVID19. WPF is gearing up to assist 138 million people and it relies on efficient, uninterrupted flows of food supplies to be able to assist the world’s hungry”, said Mr. Phiri.
Update on Hurricanes in Central America
Tomson Phiri, for the World Food Programme (WFP), said WFP’s initial funding needs totaled US $ 13.2 million, and that the Programme immediate response was expected to assist 448,000 of the most vulnerable people in Central America in the first 30 days. Additional funding may be needed as further assessments on Eta’s impact were finalized, and chances of other powerful storms became clearer over the next few weeks.
Mr. Phiri further explained that in preparation for the hurricane season, WFP had readied emergency food stocks in key locations, and that WFP operations would use these stocks as feasible. Ahead of Eta´s landfall, WFP Nicaragua had prepositioned food in Bilwi, which the government distributed to more than 78,000 people after the storm hit the coastal area. The storm directly affected more than 307,000 people in Guatemala. The government had declared a state of emergency and launched an international appeal; WFP will assist an additional 80,000 people. Before the pandemic, 1.8 million people were food insecure in Honduras: an estimated 500,000 additional people may be severely food insecure due to Eta. In Belize, preliminary reports indicate that between 50,000 and 60,000 people were affected by Eta. If needed, WFP will use prepositioned food in the Caribbean for an initial response. Assessments were currently being done in Cuba and Jamaica to have reliable information on impact and needs. El Salvador was still recovering from Tropical Storm Amanda, one of the first storms of the season: WFP required U$S 4.3 million to provide immediate food assistance through cash transfers to 50,000 people.
Safa Msehli, for the International Organization for Migration (IOM), said that hurricane Eta was menacing 2,5 million people across Central America. Since Eta had made landfall on 3 November, IOM personnel had traveled to the most affected areas to distribute emergency kits, shelters, food kits and hygiene items.
Alessandra Vellucci, for the United Nations Information Service, speaking on behalf of the Human Rights Council, said the Universal Periodic Review Working Group had adopted reports on reviews for Marshall Islands, United States of America, Croatia, Libya, and Jamaica. The 36th session of the Working Group would close today at 6 p.m.
On behalf of the World Health Organization, Ms. Vellucci said the 73rd resumed session of the World Health Assembly, having concluded its business earlier than expected, would end today and not tomorrow, as previously announced. The Director-General of WHO was expected to make his closing remarks before 1 p.m.
Ms. Vellucci added that the Committee on the Elimination of Racial Discrimination (CERD) would open its 102nd(virtual) session next Monday, 16 November, at 3 p.m.
Also next Monday, the International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies would hold a press conference to launch its World Disasters Report 2020 (2 p.m.)
The World Health Organization would also hold a virtual press conference to present its new Global Strategy to Accelerate the Elimination of Cervical Cancer (10 a.m.).
Ms. Vellucci reminded that tomorrow, 14 November, would be World Diabetes Day and Sunday, 15 November would be the World Day of Remembrance for Road Traffic Victims. The messages of the Secretary-General had been distributed to the journalists.