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15-12-2020 | Press Conferences

UNOG Bi-weekly press briefing 15 December 2020



Rhéal LeBlanc, for the United Nations Information Service, announced that the United Nations Special Envoy for Syria, Geir O. Pedersen, would brief the Security Council tomorrow, Wednesday 15 December, at 10 a.m. New York time (4 p.m. in Geneva). The briefing would be webcast.

Mr. LeBlanc reminded attendees that the United Nations Support Mission in Libya (UNSMIL) was convening, in Geneva, a technical meeting to agree on critical reforms to the Libyan economy (14-15 December), including the currency reform and the banking crisis, as stated in the press release issued yesterday by UNSMIL.

Mr. LeBlanc added that the President of the United Nations Social and Economic Council (ECOSOC) would hold an end-of-year press briefing tomorrow, at 10:30 a.m. (New York time).

Mr. LeBlanc finally said that the Secretary-General of the United Nations would be traveling to Berlin tomorrow. He would address the German Parliament on Friday morning, and hold discussions with the German President, Frank-Walter Steinmeier, the German Chancellor, Angela Merkel, as well as the Foreign Minister, Heiko Mass.

OHCHR – Violence in Colombia

Maria Hurtado, for the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR), said that the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights, Michelle Bachelet, had condemned, on Tuesday, the heightened violence being carried out by non-state armed groups, criminal groups and other armed elements in Colombia, targeting peasants, indigenous and Afro-Colombian people. Ms. Bachelet had called on State authorities to take concrete actions to effectively protect the population.

So far in 2020, the UN Human Rights Office in Colombia had documented 66 massacres, in which 255 people had been killed in 18 departments. In addition, the Office had received information on the killing of 120 human rights defenders. Since the signing of the Peace Agreement in November 2016, the UN Verification Mission in Colombia had documented 244 killings of former FARC fighters.

The High Commissioner had urged the authorities to conduct investigations into all allegations of human rights abuses and violations. The Special Investigation Unit of the Attorney General's Office had been doing good work but could be further strengthened in order to dismantle criminal networks.

Answering journalists’ questions, Ms. Hurtado explained that the violence had taken place in remote areas that were difficult to reach and suffered from a lack of a comprehensive Government presence, in terms of public services such as security. Criminal and armed groups were trying – and sometimes managing – to exert control over the territory. The State was called upon to deploy its full apparatus in the areas concerned.

To read the full press release, click here

OHCHR – Venezuelans fleeing to Trinidad and Tobago

Maria Hurtado said the Office was extremely saddened by the news that at least 21 Venezuelans who had tried to reach Trinidad and Tobago had died when their boat capsized off the coast of Venezuela. Venezuelan authorities had identified 19 victims, among them four children. The boat was said to have left Güiria en route to Trinidad and Tobago on 6 December.

OHCHR echoed calls by UNHCR, the UN Refugee Agency and the International Organization for Migration for urgent efforts to stop smugglers and human traffickers sending refugees and migrants on dangerous sea journeys. The Office also urged the Venezuelan and Trinidad and Tobago authorities to coordinate to protect the lives and safety of migrants and refugees, including by operating effective search and rescue at sea.

It was also extremely important for the two Governments to coordinate and cooperate regarding safe migration routes. Both Governments were called to halt pushbacks at sea, which violated the principle of non-refoulement and the prohibition of collective expulsions, and to suspend all forced returns amid the COVID-19 pandemic. Governments were also encouraged to provide safe and legal pathways for migrants to regularize their status and avoid the risk of deportation.

Answering journalists’ questions, Ms. Hurtado said both Governments had said they intended to launch investigations into these events. The OHCHR insisted that these investigations must be transparent, and that the authorities of the two countries must cooperate to understand what had occurred “and to prosecute whoever needed to be prosecuted”. It was also important that steps were taken to avoid another tragedy happening.

Regarding the report by the International Criminal Court [on Preliminary Examination Activities (2020) regarding Venezuela] that was mentioned by journalists, Ms. Hurtado noted that its outcomes were quite similar to those of the mission of enquiry that had been mandated by the Human Rights Council, last September.

Regarding other topics raised by journalists, Ms. Hurtado said the High Commissioner had previously expressed her concern about article 24 of France’s new “Loi sur la sécurité globale”. OHCHR understood now that the French Parliament was redrafting this law. The High Commissioner welcomed the proposed reform of the “Inspection générale de la police nationale”, among others.

Other questions were asked regarding the imprisonment of opposition leaders in Ivory Coast facing terrorism charges; the detainment of a Bloomberg assistant in China; and the alleged disappearance of 12 Hong-Kong residents on their way to Taiwan, after having been intercepted by the Chinese Navy. Ms. Hurtado said she would get back to the journalists on those questions.

UNHCR – Attack on displaced people in Niger

Babar Baloch, for the Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR), said the Office condemned an attack by armed assailants on Toumour, a town in south-east Niger, that killed 28 people and injured hundreds more. The four-hour attack, claimed by Boko Haram, began at 7 p.m. on 12 December. According to local sources, the assailants destroyed nearly two-thirds of the town’s homes, burned the Toumour market to the ground, and killed more than a thousand cattle. Following the attack, most of the population had fled to the bush, with some people returning only at daytime.

Toumour, near the border with Nigeria, hosted 20,000 Nigerian refugees, 8,300 IDPs, and 3,600 returnees still in need of humanitarian assistance. People were on the move from Toumour toward Diffa, a town some 100 kilometers away and host to 46,000 refugees, asylum seekers, IDPs, and returnees. Together with humanitarian partners and local authorities, UNHCR was organizing emergency shelter, food, water, and health support to the affected communities. However, recent heavy floods had made it difficult for aid workers to reach Toumour.

UNHCR and its partners were currently providing protection and humanitarian aid to more than 265,000 forcibly displaced people, including nearly 130,000 Nigerian refugees and asylum seekers, 102,726 internally displaced Nigeriens, and 34,324 returnees in the Diffa region. The COVID-19 pandemic further complicated the response as most of the displaced were sheltering in crowded urban areas, where social distancing is impossible.Further information on HCR website.

Rhéal LeBlanc, for the United Information Service, said the Secretary-General had strongly condemned the attack in the Diffa region, reiterating “the commitment of the United Nations to support national efforts to consolidate democratic governance, promote social cohesion and achieve sustainable development”.

Answering journalists’ questions, Mr. Baloch said that it was not possible, at this stage, to ascertain the identity of the victims.

Questions were also raised on the situation in Ethiopia. Mr. Baloch explained that UNHCR had not been able, so far, to move into the Tigray region, contrary to the ICRC, which had managed to run a convoy there. The Refugee Agency hoped, and called, for the restoration of humanitarian access as soon as possible to reach the desperate people in the Tigray region. Also, the agency had established that several hundreds of Eritrean refugees had been put on buses to be returned to the Tigray region.

Safa Msehli, of the International Organization for Migration (IOM), said the IOM had no oversight or management authority over one of its transit camps that had recently been taken over by the Ethiopian Government. The Organization had asked the authorities to uphold the international law, especially the principle of non-refoulement.

WHO – Access to COVID-19 Tools (ACT) Accelerator

Dr. Bruce Aylward, Senior Advisor to the Director General of the World Health Organization and lead for the Access to COVID-19 Tools Accelerator (ACT-Accelerator), reminded that ACT- Accelerator had been set up last April to accelerate the development of vaccines, diagnostics, and therapeutics against COVID-19, and to make sure these are equitably accessible in the world. The three targets of this initiative were to make available 2 billion doses of vaccine by the end of 2021; half a billion new rapid diagnostics for low and low-middle income countries; and 250 million therapeutic tests.

However, there still was a financing gap of 28 billion dollars. Dr. Aylward welcomed yesterday’s announcement that Canada would allocate 485 million dollars in new financing to the ACT- Accelerator. He insisted that this financing would cover not only vaccines or diagnostics but therapeutics as well – which was “super important because therapeutics is the part of the Accelerator where we have the greatest risk of having a major access inequity across high- and low-income countries”. The concern was that tools would only go to high-income countries.

Dr. Aylward said there was a need for the donors to be “a little more visionary”, more committed to the principles of equity and access, “and putting money behind that”.

Read the Government of Canada’s press release here.

Answering journalists’ questions, Mr. Aylward noted that Member States were completely behind the purpose of ACT- Accelerator and recognized that it would take 28 billion dollars to deliver the tools. However, the problem was the complexity of today’s financing instruments. For instance, overseas development assistance for health stood at about 26 billion dollars, while 28 billion were needed to get the [ACT- Accelerator] tools out. People would die of other illnesses – like malaria – if the assistance for health were diverted to [the fight against COVID].

G20 countries had spent 12 trillion dollars, half in cash, to counter the pandemic: part of this stimulus financing would have to be devoted to deal with its root causes and get the economy moving again. An acceleration of technology transfers was also necessary, as well as better coordination. However, “financing is what stands between us and getting out of this pandemic”. Financing must not be a barrier to access, Dr. Aylward stressed.

Dr. Aylward addressed further questions regarding, among others, transparency in financing the ACT- Accelerator and COVAX programmes; the manufacturing capacity for new vaccines; and the integration of Chinese and Russian vaccines in the ACT- Accelerator programme.

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UNOG Bi-weekly press briefing 15 December 2020 / 1:35:46

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