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REGULAR PRESS BRIEFING BY THE UNITED NATIONS INFORMATION SERVICE

Bi-Weekly Briefing

Rhéal LeBlanc, Chief of the Press and External Relations Section of the United Nations Information Service (UNIS) in Geneva, chaired the hybrid briefing, attended by the spokespersons and representatives of the Human Rights Council, the World Health Organization, the United Nations Children’s Fund and the Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights.

Human Rights Council update

Rolando Gomez, for the Human Rights Council, said that a number of draft resolutions had been submitted on topics including the Syrian Arab Republic, Myanmar, Belarus, Eritrea, Tigray, digital technology and human rights, climate change and human rights, and the human rights implications of the coronavirus disease (COVID-19) pandemic; they would be considered on 12 and 13 July.

That morning, the Council would hold a panel discussion on the human rights of women, with a focus on gender-equal recovery from the pandemic. Opening remarks would be given by the High Commissioner and the Minister for Women and Gender Equity of Chile. The interactive dialogue with the High Commissioner regarding the situation in Venezuela would continue as of noon, to be followed at 3 p.m. by an oral update by the Independent International Commission of Inquiry on the Syrian Arab Republic and an interactive discussion and, at 5 p.m., by an interactive dialogue with the High Commissioner regarding Myanmar.

On 7 July, the Council would hold its quadrennial panel on sport and the Olympic ideal on the theme of leveraging sport to promote the human rights of young people. The President of the International Olympic Committee and the Director-General of the Tokyo Organizing Committee would give opening statements, and the panelists would include Kathrine Switzer, the first woman to run the Boston marathon. The dialogue on Myanmar would resume at noon, followed by the oral progress report by the Special Rapporteur on the situation of human rights in Myanmar and, time permitting, a report by the Working Group on the issue of human rights and transnational corporations and other business enterprises on the ninth session of the Forum on Business and Human Rights.

Worsening humanitarian crisis for children in South Sudan

James Elder, for the United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF), said that despite a new peace agreement and transitional government, the humanitarian crisis in South Sudan was affecting 4 out of every 5 children. It was against that backdrop that UNICEF was launching its report “Respond to our cry”.

Christine Saida, UNICEF South Sudan child reporter, said that South Sudan would be marking the tenth anniversary of its independence on 9 July. Based on her experience and observations, most recently in Pibor, children’s rights were not respected in her country, and children faced many dangers, including abduction, child labour, displacement, and malnutrition. Most people in South Sudan survived on humanitarian assistance, hence the current need for additional support. Ensuring a brighter future for South Sudanese children was a collective responsibility.  

Mads Oyen, UNICEF chief of field operations in South Sudan, said that the overall situation for children had not improved over the past 10 years and the country was experiencing its worst humanitarian crisis since independence, triggered by ongoing political and intercommunal violence, insecurity and the impact of climate change. Of the 8.3 million people in need of humanitarian assistance, 4.5 million were children. Yet, the crisis was forgotten by the world. UNICEF and its partners had scaled up their multisectoral response since late 2020, with some positive results, including a 95 per cent recovery rate from severe acute malnutrition. However, it was vital – and more cost-effective – that they received the necessary resources to act quickly. The $180 million Humanitarian Action for Children was only one third funded, as was the South Sudan humanitarian response plan for 2021. State safety nets being nonexistent, humanitarian assistance for South Sudan was critical and should not be subject to cuts.

Replying to questions from journalists, Ms. Saida said that the Government was not doing enough to support education, which was a major avenue for change in the country. While she was currently working to voice the views of children, her dream was to be an engineer.

Death of prominent human rights defender in India

Elizabeth Throssell, for the Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR), said that OHCHR was deeply saddened and disturbed by the death of 84-year-old Father Stan Swamy, a human rights defender and Jesuit priest, in Mumbai, following his arrest in October 2020 under the Unlawful Activities (Prevention) Act. While in pretrial detention, Father Stan’s health had deteriorated, and he had reportedly contracted COVID-19. His repeated applications for bail had been rejected. High Commissioner Michelle Bachelet and United Nations independent experts had repeatedly raised the cases of Father Stan and 15 other human rights defenders associated with the same events with the Government of India, urging their release from pretrial detention. In the light of the continued, severe impact of the COVID-19 pandemic, it was even more urgent that States released every person detained without sufficient legal basis. She stressed the High Commissioner’s call on the Government of India to ensure that no one was detained for exercising their fundamental right to freedom of expression, peaceful assembly and association.

The full briefing note is available here.

Replying to questions from journalists, Ms. Throssell said that Father Stan’s treatment and his death in prison despite repeated calls for his release was another example of why it was so important that all States released persons being held without sufficient legal basis, especially in the context of COVID-19. Several special mandate holders had issued a detailed legal analysis of the Unlawful Activities (Prevention) Act in May 2020, which raised some concerns, notably with regard to the definition of the commission of terrorism.

Protests in Eswatini

Elizabeth Throssell, for the Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR), said that the eruption of violence in the Kingdom of Eswatini in recent days was deeply concerning, amid reports that dozens of people have been killed or injured during protests calling for democratic reforms. OHCHR had received allegations of disproportionate and unnecessary use of force, harassment, and intimidation by security forces in suppressing the protests and was concerned at reports that Internet services had been disrupted. OHCHR urged the authorities to fully adhere to human rights principles in restoring calm and the rule of law. It called on the Government to ensure that there were prompt, transparent, effective, independent and impartial investigations into all allegations of human rights violations and that those responsible were held to account. It also urged the Government to initiate a longer-term dialogue to air and address the underlying public concerns that had given rise to the recent protests. OHCHR remain committed to working with the Government of Eswatini to strengthen human rights promotion and protection, including guaranteeing the right to freedom of expression, peaceful assembly and association and to participate in the conduct of public affairs.

The full text of the briefing note can be found here.

Announcements

Margaret Harris, for the World Health Organization (WHO), said that the Access to COVID-19 Tools (ACT) Accelerator Facilitation Council would be holding a meeting with States that afternoon, which the media could attend, though there would be no opportunity for questions.

She added that WHO would be hosting a side-event at the high-level political forum on sustainable development, to which the media were also invited.

Rhéal LeBlanc, for the United Nations Information Service (UNIS), said that the next public meeting of the Human Rights Committee would be held on 16 July, at 4 p.m., to consider the progress report of the Rapporteur on follow-up to concluding observations on State party reports. The Committee’s 132nd session would close on 23 July.

The next plenary meeting of the Conference on Disarmament was scheduled for 27 July, still under the presidency of Ambassador Leslie Norton of Canada.

The United Nations Conference on Trade and Development (UNCTAD) would be holding a virtual press conference today, at 2.30 p.m., on the publication of the 2021 Commodities and Development Report: Escaping from the commodity dependence trap through technology and innovation, which was under embargo until 7 July, at 7 a.m. Speakers would include Teresa Moreira, Officer-in-Charge, Division on International Trade and Commodities, UNCTAD, and Janvier Nkurunziza, Officer-in-Charge, Commodities Branch, Division on International Trade and Commodities, UNCTAD.

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