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19-01-2021 | Press Conferences

UNOG Bi-weekly press briefing 19 January 2021


Universal Periodic Review

Rhéal LeBlanc, speaking on behalf of the Human Rights Council (HRC), said the Human Rights Council’s Universal Periodic Review Working Group had begun its 37th session on 18 January, when it had reviewed the human rights situations in Micronesia and Lebanon. This morning, the Working Group was reviewing the human rights record of Mauritania and this afternoon St Kitts and Nevis.

Refugees in Tigray, Ethiopia

Babar Baloch, for the United Nations Refugee Agency (UNHCR), said that UNHCR had regained access to two refugee camps in the Tigray and found Eritrean refugees in desperate need of supplies and services two months after a conflict had forced humanitarian workers to withdraw from the region. UNHCR had led the first humanitarian mission to Mai Aini and Adi Harush refugee camps since the start of the conflict in November, after being granted one-time access by the Ethiopian authorities to conduct a needs assessment.

The assessment, concluded the previous week, had found help was urgently needed for the tens of thousands of Eritrean refugees in northern Ethiopia. Refugees were cut off from any supplies and services for more than two months. Wells were not functional without fuel for the pumps – leaving refugees to use water from a nearby creek for washing, cooking and drinking, resulting in diarrhea-like illnesses.

UNHCR was working with the government and partners to re-establish a regular presence at the camps and launch a response based on the information collected. Further north in the Tigray, UNHCR had not had any access to the Shimelba and Hitsats refugee camps since November. UNHCR reiterated the UN-wide call for full and unimpeded access to all refugees in the Tigray region and remained committed to work with the Ethiopian government to seek solutions together.

UNHCR briefing note is here.

Responding to questions, Mr. Baloch said that UNHCR had no information about how refugees and others had been surviving in the areas to which it had no access. Unimpeded access was paramount to the entire Tigray region, including to almost 100,000 Eritrean refugees who had been residing there from before the conflict.

Deteriorating humanitarian situation in northern Mozambique

Tomson Phiri, for the World Food Programme (WFP), stated that the Regional Directors for southern and eastern Africa had recently concluded a joint mission to assess the plight of displaced people and host communities in conflict-affected Cabo Delgado province. The mission had met with internally displaced people victims of attacks, continue facing insecurity and had lost everything. As displacement numbers increased daily, the lack of security, adequate food, water, sanitation, shelter, health, protection and education was exacerbating an already dire situation. What was happening was nothing short of a humanitarian and security disaster.

A virtual press conference would be held the following day, 20 January, at 10 a.m. Central African time. Speakers would include representatives of the FAO, the IOM, the UNFPA, the WFP, the UNHCR, the IFAD, and the RSCA, as well as the Resident Coordinator for Mozambique, informed Mr. Phiri. The link for the press conference is here.

Drought in Madagascar

Jens Laerke, for the Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA), said the United Nations had issued a USD 76 million flash appeal to urgently support one million people in need of food and sanitation in the Grand Sud of Madagascar. The region was experiencing the worst draught in a decade, and people had been driven to the brink of survival. The food security analysis from December showed that 130,000 children could suffer from malnutrition in the coming months.

Mr. Laerke emphasized that Madagascar urgently needed donor support, which would, if fully funded, improve food security for 1.1 million people; provide access to water for 420,000 of the most vulnerable; give nutritional support to 300,000 children under age 5; and ensure essential health care services for 230,000 people.

In a response to a question, Mr. Laerke said the usual coping mechanisms during lean seasons would be to send family members to larger cities to look for work, but with COVID-19, people could not move as much as before, and jobs were less available.

The flash appeal can be accessed here.

Insecurity in Haiti

Marta Hurtado, for the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR), said that OHCHR was concerned that persistent insecurity, poverty and structural inequalities in Haiti coupled with increasing political tensions might lead to a pattern of public discontent followed by violent police repression and other human rights violations.

In recent months, kidnappings for ransom, attacks by criminal gangs against perceived rival neighbourhoods and widespread insecurity had increased in a context of almost total impunity. In parallel, political tensions were resurfacing due to disputes over the timing and scope of elections and a referendum on constitutional reform proposed by the Government.

Ms. Hurtado stressed that Haiti should take steps to address the population’s grievances and the root causes that fuelled the protests, including widespread impunity, allegations of corruption, persistent poverty, structural inequalities, limited access to social services, and other difficulties in the enjoyment of economic and social rights by the Haitian people. UN Human Rights Office stood ready to continue supporting State authorities in their fulfilment of human rights international obligations.

OHCHR briefing note can be found here.


Margaret Harris, for the World Health Organization (WHO), responding to numerous journalists’ questions, informed that the WHO had been repeating its message to the countries not to go for “vaccine nationalism”, which did not make sense either economically or in public health terms. Until the pandemic was stopped globally, nobody was completely safe. Vaccine manufacturers ought to submit full data so that they could be properly and fully examined by the WHO; only afterwards could those vaccines be procured for the COVAX facility. Efforts ought to be accelerated to roll out enough doses to the countries which did not have the capacity to purchase vaccines. No vaccines had been rolled out via COVAX thus far.

Individual countries were using their own national or regional regulatory authorities to decide on the approval of various vaccines; it was not mandatory that countries use the WHO regulatory framework, said Ms. Harris. WHO would wish all vaccine manufacturers to provide the needed data in a speedy and comprehensive manner, which would allow the WHO to properly review the vaccine for a possible emergency-use listing.

Ms. Harris also informed that, in brief, COVAX functioned on the principle of wealthier countries providing funds to buy vaccines for poorer countries, which were not able to do so themselves. GAVI, the Vaccine Alliance, was in charge of negotiating agreements for vaccines. Ms. Harris explained that three sets of data were looked at when analyzing different vaccines: data on efficacy, data on safety, and data on good manufacturing practice.

Presentations by Dr Mike Ryan and Dr Bruce Aylward to WHO Executive Board: https://apps.who.int/gb/ebwha/pdf_files/EB148/EB_14.1_COVID_Update%20_EXD-en.pdf


To another question, Ms. Harris responded that the independent panel headed by Helen Clarke and Ellen Johnson Sirleaf was separate from the WHO, and that journalists would need to contact the panel’s communication focal point with inquires and requests for a press conference. The report was currently under discussion at the WHO Executive Board.

She stressed that vaccines would help, but not immediately, as the vaccination process would last for a while. All other public health measures needed to continue until then, including testing, distancing, wearing masks, and washing hands. There were many reports of the so-called “long COVID”, and everybody’s priority should really be to avoid getting infected in the first place.

Status of EUL applications to WHO here: https://extranet.who.int/pqweb/sites/default/files/documents/Status_COVID_VAX_14Jan2021.pdf

Geneva announcements

Catherine Huissoud, for the United Nations Conference on Trade and Development (UNCTAD), stated that UNCTAD’s Secretary-General Mukhisa Kituyi had informed the Secretary-General he would resign from his position with effect from 15 February 2021. The Deputy Secretary-General of UNCTAD, Isabelle Durant, would be Acting Secretary-General of UNCTAD while the Secretary-General launched a recruitment process to find a successor to Mr. Kituyi. Responding to a question, Ms. Huissoud said that Mr. Kituy had indeed indicated, but not officially announced, his interest to run for the position of the President of Kenya.

Ms. Huissoud also informed that UNCTAD would publish, on 24 January at 7 p.m. Geneva time, new data on global Foreign Direct Investment for 2020. A virtual press conference would be held on 22 January at 2:30 p.m. to present the Global Investment Trends Monitor n°38 with James Zhan, director of the Investment Division.

Rhéal LeBlanc, for the United Nations Information Service (UNIS), said the first public meeting of the 2021 session of the Conference on Disarmament was taking place this morning, under the presidency of Ambassador Marc Pecsteen of Belgium. The other presidencies for this year session would be Brazil, Bulgaria, Cameroon, Canada, and Chile.

Rosalind Yarde, for the International Labour Organization (ILO), informed about a launch on 25 January of the ILO’s ‘7th Monitor on COVID-19 and the world of work’. The latest Monitor looked at workplace closures, working hours, labour income and employment losses in 2020, comparing the data with the previous year. It also gave labour market projections for 2021, including an assessment of the type of recovery likely to be seen in the coming year. An embargoed virtual press briefing on 25 January at 11 a.m. would feature ILO Director-General Guy Ryder and Sangheon Lee, Director of the ILO’s Employment Policy Department. An embargoed press release would be sent out this week.

Responding to a question, Mr. LeBlanc confirmed that the Syrian Constitutional Small Body would be convening at UN Geneva the following week, 25-29 January, Covid-19 conditions permitting. The UN Special Envoy for Syria would be briefing the Security Council on 20 January at 4 p.m. Geneva time, and his remarks would be distributed shortly thereafter.

Mr. LeBlanc also informed that on 22 January at 5 p.m. Geneva time, there would be a media briefing on background with the Special Adviser of the Secretary-General on Climate Action, Selwin Hart, on the upcoming Adaptation Summit (25-26 January) and the World Economic Forum (25-29 January). Those interested to attend should RSVP to Florencia Soto sotonino@un.org by 21 January.

Finally, the Committee on the Rights of the Child had opened the previous day its 85th session – a virtual one during which, given the current situation concerning COVID, it would not review any country report.

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UNOG Bi-weekly press briefing 19 January 2021 / 1:20:55

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