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08-01-2021 | Press Conferences

UNOG Bi-weekly press briefing 08 January 2021


UN75 final report

Mr. Hochschild announced that the final report on the UN 75th Anniversary would be formally launched this weekend. A “global reality check”, the report was an unprecedented effort by the UN to capture the world populations’ hopes for the future, as well as their expectations of international cooperation “to better address the gap between the world they want and the world they think” we risk ending up with.

The report also endeavored to capture the world’s post-COVID-19 recovery priorities. Among them, there was a clear call, in the short term, for much better access to basic services such as health, education, water, and sanitation; as well as, in the longer term, for the reduction of violence in all its forms, and for better international cooperation. In this regard, the COVID-19 crisis had induced a greater support for international cooperation, Mr. Hochschild remarked.

Answering questions from journalists, Mr. Hochschild stressed the importance of better communicating the actions of the United Nations. He noted that, according to the UN75 report, in all but one region the biggest concerns for the future were environmental degradation and climate change. The Assistant Secretary-General also deplored gaps in the availability of COVID-19 vaccines.

The final report, entitled “Shaping Our Future Together”, is available on the UN75 website. Its formal launch will take place in London this weekend, during an event entitled “We the Peoples”. More information will be forwarded to the journalists on how to take part in this event.

Geneva announcements

Alessandra Vellucci, Director of the United Nations Information Service, announced that the World Health Organization (WHO) would hold a global COVID-19 press conference, with Dr. Tedros, this afternoon at 5 p.m.

Rosalind Yarde, of the International Labour Organization, said the ILO would soon launch a new report about homeworkers worldwide, whose numbers have increased significantly since the start of the COVID-19 pandemic. Journalists will be sent embargoed copies of the report and its executive summary today or by next Monday at the latest; ILO experts are also available for interviews. The report will be officially published on 13 January.

Ms. Yarde also mentioned the launch of the new ILO multimedia platform called “Voices”. More information will be shared next Monday.

Clare Nullis, from the World Meteorological Organization (WMO), said the Organization would publish, next Thursday – subject to data availability –, a press release on the 2020 global temperature figures. “2020 [was] on track to be one of three warmest years on record”, along with 2016, Ms. Nullis noted.

Vietnam: convictions and sentencing of journalists

Ravina Shamdasani, of the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR), said that, on 5 January, three independent journalists in Viet Nam had received sentences of between 11 and 15 years imprisonment after being found guilty of national security offences, a development that appeared to be part of an increasing clampdown on the freedom of expression in the country.

Despite assurances given by the Government that due process had been followed, there were serious concerns about whether their rights to a fair trial were fully respected. Particularly concerning was the use of vaguely defined laws to arbitrarily detain an increasing number of independent journalists, bloggers, online commentators and human rights defenders.

Ms. Shamdasani added that the High Commissioner for Human Rights and UN human rights mechanisms, including the UN Human Rights Committee, had repeatedly called on Viet Nam to refrain from using restrictive legislation to curtail fundamental freedoms and to uphold its international human rights obligations. Also concerning was the fact that individuals trying to cooperate with the UN’s human rights bodies were subjected to intimidation and reprisals, potentially inhibiting others from sharing information about human rights issues with the UN.  

A briefing note can be found here.

In response to journalists’ questions, Ms. Shamdasani explained that other journalists in Viet Nam had been charged with “crimes against national security” after having published articles, in the press or in social media, regarding human rights or corruption. Some journalists were detained incommunicado.

Elections in the United States

Ms. Shamdasani said the High Commissioner on Human Rights, Ms. Michelle Bachelet, had been “deeply troubled by Wednesday’s attack on the US Capitol, which demonstrated clearly the destructive impact of sustained, deliberate distortion of facts, and incitement to violence and hatred by political leaders.” Ms. Bachelet had called on “leaders from across the political spectrum, including the President of the United States, to disavow false and dangerous narratives, and encourage their supporters to do so as well”.

Ms. Shamdasani stressed that the OHCHR was also concerned by the display of overtly racist symbols during the US Capitol events, as well as the targeting of media professionals yesterday – it was dangerous to call journalists “enemies of the people”, Ms. Shamdasani added.

Ms. Bachelet’s comment is available here.

Rhéal LeBlanc said the Secretary-General had expressed, on 6 January, his sadness over the events at the US Capitol in Washington, D.C. In such circumstances, it was important that political leaders impress on their followers the need to refrain from violence, as well as to respect democratic processes and the rule of law, Mr. Guterres had insisted.

Uganda: concerns over deteriorating human rights situation ahead of election

Ravina Shamdasani said the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights was also deeply concerned by the deteriorating human rights situation in Uganda ahead of parliamentary and presidential elections scheduled for 14 January, and by the challenges this situation may pose not only for voting day itself, but also for the post-electoral period.

In the run-up to the election, numerous human rights violations have been reported, including of the rights to freedom of expression, peaceful assembly and participation, as well as arbitrary deprivation of life, arbitrary arrest and detention, and torture. Between 18 and 20 November, at least 54 people were killed during riots and protests in at least 7 districts across the country over the arrest and detention of two opposition presidential candidates, Robert Kyagulanyi (also known as Bobi Wine) and Patrick Oboi Amuriat, and members of the political opposition.

In light of the Presidential Directives on COVID-19 issued on 18 March 2020, mass rallies were initially prohibited during the electoral campaigns, the rule being subsequently reviewed to allow campaign meetings with a maximum of 70 and later 200 people. In a further development, on 26 December, the Electoral Commission suspended general election meetings in 16 districts.

Human rights law may allow for restrictions to mass gatherings and physical campaigning for public health reasons, Ms. Shamdasani noted. However, OHCHR had observed that the COVID-19 restrictions have been enforced to curtail opposition electoral campaign activities in a discriminatory fashion. COVID-19 measures were being used as a ground to restrict public freedoms and political participation during the electoral process.

A more detailed press briefing is available here.

Reacting to journalists’ questions, Ms. Shamdasani said that the Office had a global mandate to promote and protect the human rights, and that it would “speak out publicly and alert the international community to violations that might be taking place, or speak on behalf of victims, especially in situations where (…) the freedom of expression and opinion [was] at risk”. The Office had acted accordingly after the arrest of 53 political activists in Hong Kong.

UNHCR: Central African Republic: Central Africans flee to neighboring countries 

Boris Cheshirkov, from the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR), expressed the United Nations refugee agency’s concern about over 30,000 Central Africans having fled election violence, and taken refuge in neighboring Cameroon, Chad, the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC), and the Republic of Congo, and tens of thousands more displaced inside the country. Some 24,196 crossed the Ubangui River into the DRC’s provinces of Bas Uele and North-Ubangui. At least 15,000 arrived in Ndu village following attacks on the towns of Damara and Bangassou on 2 and 3 January.

Nearly a quarter of the Central African Republic’s population of 4.7 million had been forcibly displaced by the end of 2020, including 630,000 refugees in neighboring countries and 630,000 displaced internally.

Responding to journalists’ questions, Mr. Cheshirkov stressed that the UNHCR had its main presence along the Ubangui river, where it dispatched immediate assistance while planning temporary relocation further inland.

A full briefing note is available here.

Mr. Cheshirkov finally said he would get back to journalists with more information regarding the situation of Eritreans refugees in the Tigray region of Ethiopia.

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UNOG Bi-weekly press briefing 08 January 2021 / 1:47:44

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