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PRESS BRIEFING BY THE UNITED NATIONS INFORMATION SERVICE

Bi-Weekly Briefing

Rhéal LeBlanc 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 Food and Agricultural Organisation, the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights, the World Food Programme, the United Nations Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs and the World Health Organisation.

Human Rights Council

Rolando Gomez, for the Human Rights Council, said the Council concluded its interactive discussion with the Special Rapporteur on the right to development today, and was engaged in an interactive discussion with the expert mechanism on the same subject. At noon there would be a presentation from the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights about privacy in the digital age. This afternoon, the Council would hear from the Rapporteur of Truth, Justice, Reparation, and Guarantees of Non-Recurrence.

He said several press conferences were lined up for next week, including one on Tuesday 20September with the fact-finding mission of Venezuela, and another on Friday 23 September with the Commission of enquiry on Ukraine. He said that press conferences on Thursday 22 September, with the Special Rapporteur on Myanmar and the Commission of Human Rights Experts on Ethiopia, would be announced shortly.

Responding to questions, Mr. Gomez said the Council would work together with journalists to ensure the release of reports was as smooth as possible. Tuesday’s press conference would be virtual, but the three members would be in Geneva on 26 September to present the report and would be available for interviews.  

World Food Forum

Adriano Timossi, for the Food and Agricultural Organization (FAO), said the World Food Day 2022 global ceremony would take place on 14 October and, the second edition of the World Food Forum (WFF), would take place the following week, from 17 to 21 October. WFF comprised the WFF Global Youth Forum, the FAO Science and Innovation Forum and the FAO Hand-in-Hand Investment Forum. The aim was to foster dialogue and debate among relevant stakeholders, including young people, farmers, small-scale producers, Indigenous Peoples, policymakers, agri-investors and scientists, who would be tuning in from around the world. The WFF weeklong of events would take place from 17-21 October 2022. Individual registration was now open, with the deadline to register for in-person attendance being 18 September 2022.

Privacy in the digital age

Elizabeth Throssell, for the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR), said the Office’s latest report into privacy in the digital age warned that people’s right to privacy was coming under ever greater pressure from modern networked digital technologies, whose features made them formidable tools for surveillance, control, and oppression. This made it more essential that these technologies were reined in by effective regulation based on international human rights law and standards. The report looked at three key areas: the abuse of intrusive hacking tools (“spyware”) by State authorities; the key role of robust encryption in protecting human rights online; and the impact of widespread digital monitoring of public spaces, both offline and online. The report detailed how surveillance tools - such as the “Pegasus” software - could turn most smartphones into “24-hour surveillance devices”, allowing the “intruder” access to all aspects of people’s lives.

While such spyware tools were purportedly deployed to combat terrorism and crime, they had often been used for illegitimate reasons - for example to clamp down on critical or dissenting views and on those who express them, including journalists, opposition political figures and human rights defenders. Urgent steps were needed to address the spread of spyware. The report reiterated the call for a moratorium on the use and sale of hacking tools until adequate safeguards to protect human rights were in place. Authorities should only hack a personal device as a last resort to prevent or investigate a specific act amounting to a serious threat to national security or a specific serious crime.

Encryption was a key enabler of privacy and human rights in the digital space, but was being undermined. The report called on States to avoid taking steps that could weaken encryption – these included mandating so-called backdoors that gave access to people’s encrypted data or employing systematic screening of people’s devices, known as client-side scanning. The report also raised the alarm about the growing surveillance of public spaces.

Ms. Throssell said that new technologies had enabled the systematic monitoring of what people are saying online, including through collecting and analysing social media posts. Governments often failed to adequately inform the public about their surveillance activities, and even where surveillance tools were initially rolled out for legitimate goals, they could easily be repurposed, often serving ends for which they were not originally intended. The report emphasised that States should limit public surveillance measures to those “strictly necessary and proportionate”, focused on specific locations and time, as well as the duration of data storage. There was also an immediate need to restrict the use of biometric recognition systems in public spaces. All States should also act immediately to put in place robust export control regimes for surveillance technologies that pose serious risks to human rights. They should also ensure human rights impact assessments were carried out that consider what the technologies in question are capable of as well as the situation in the recipient country.

Responding to questions, Ms. Throssell said that the report covered three key areas and did not specifically detail countries. It did refer to Pegasus software which was the most prominent example in spyware marketed to governments across the globe. Over 500 companies developed and sold such surveillance tools to governments. The report looked at instances across the globe, where surveillance tools such as Pegasus had been used against journalists and human rights defenders. The scope of the report was to look at technology issues and how they impacted human rights, including privacy, but also freedom of expression. There were examples of spy instances in different countries, and the report highlighted this was a crucial issue. The last report on this topic issued by the Office came out in 2014 and the whole landscape had changed since then. The focus of the report was that technology should be necessary, legitimate, and non-discriminatory.

There was a lot of information in the report and significant detail in the footnotes. This was the latest in a series of reports of issued about technology in the digital age. Ms. Throssell said that the report pulled together information from different sources and counted 60 government agencies in 45 agencies as customers of Pegasus spyware. There was reference to criminal actors in the report, and hacking was recognised as a big problem. The report underlined that the technology used by everyone had to be as secure as possible. Smartphones could be made into devices which offered insights into people’s lives, which was a very powerful tool indeed. This was why strong calls were being made in the report. Ms. Throssell said the Office of the High Commissioner had security monitored, which ensured the safety of the organisation’s technology.

Read the press release.

Other topics

On Ukraine, Ms. Throssell said the Office had seen the reports about possible mass or collective graves, including reports about over 400 bodies that had been found in a collective grave in liberated Izyum. The team on the ground were following up on these allegations and was organising a visit to Izium. It would be determined whether these people were military personnel who had been killed in combat, or those who had died of natural causes due to a lack of medical treatment. It was difficult to make any comparisons at this stage. A report would be published later this month which would be a regular periodic reporting, covering what the team on the ground in Ukraine were finding.

There were no details on the timeframe and composition of the team as such. Ms. Throssell needed to check with the team on the ground regarding how collaborators were being treated.

The term collective grave was used to describe a grave containing more than one body; there was no specific information as to whether it was one big grave or multiple graves in one area.

Asked about media reports of Venezuelan migrants being relocated unknowingly from Texas to Massachusetts, Shabia Mantoo, for the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR), said that, while UNHCR was not involved in this initiative, the Agency’s principled position was that anyone forced to flee their homes should be welcomed and treated with respect and dignity. This included asylum seekers who arrived seeking safety in a new country.

Myanmar report

Jeremy Laurence, for the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR), said this morning the Office had released a report, which reiterated the Independent International Fact-Finding Mission on Myanmar’s (FFM) recommendations to impose targeted financial sanctions on the Tatmadaw and its economic interests as well as arms embargos, while highlighting that such measures needed to respect human rights and that efforts must be made to mitigate foreseeable socio-economic impacts.

Several States continued to supply weapons and engage in military cooperation, the report stated. Since seizing control of State organs, the so-called State Administration Council had “failed to govern in meaningful and sustainable ways, instead continuing to repress and terrorize the Myanmar people,” the report said.

While some progress had been made on the FFM’s recommendations to economically isolate the Tatmadaw, there remained significant gaps. Targeted measures should particularly focus on the military’s foreign currency access, said the report. It urged the international community to step up efforts to support the people of Myanmar and to ensure the military’s financial isolation in a coordinated fashion. Appropriate sanctions should be implemented in consultation with civil society and the democratic movement, including trade unions and the National Unity Government, to calibrate their impact. Myanmar’s military authorities were prioritizing its military campaigns over the welfare of the population and economic recovery, the report said. In comparison with the previous annual Government budget, the military authorities’ 2022/23 budget increased defence spending, while reducing allocations to education, health, and social welfare.

Read the full press release.

WFP’s efforts in helping Ghana beyond aid

Barbara Clemens, for World Food Programme, speaking from Accra, said that Ghana had enjoyed a protracted period of economic stability; now a lower-middle income country and enjoyed peace. WFP had accompanied Ghana on its graduation journey from humanitarian saving lives to development changing lives, where the food and nutrition focus was on strengthening Ghana’s agricultural value train, where WFP delivered support to specialized nutrition food processors, Premium Food Ltd, which changed the lives of over 15,000 farmers, whose yield contributed to Ghana’s GDP and created over 100,000 jobs.

Premium Food Ltd was a supplier for WFP where over 5,300 metric tons of super cereal had been contracted, used in Burkina Faso and earmarked for Afghanistan. In Ghana, there was tangible proof of a sustainable light at the end of the humanitarian tunnel. In this space, Ghana’s aspiration was to be beyond aid someday, however this had not yet been reached. The current global market distortions had resulted in an increase in inflation in Ghana of 31 per cent, as of July 2022; the highest rate since 2012. This coupled with a decrease in value in the Ghanian cedi would impact the purchasing power of Ghanaian’s and their access to food. A 33 per cent increase was projected for the food insecure population in Ghana. The level of food insecurity was 50 per cent higher compared to the same period in 2020. This year’s harvest in October was a key exercise and would determine whether these trends were still holding. Ms. Clemens said that five million dollars was needed for social protection.

Allocations being made by the UN’s emergency fund CERF

Jens Laerke, for the United Nations Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA), said that today US$100 million was being released from the Central Emergency Response Fund (CERF) to plug critical funding gaps in 11 humanitarian operations in Africa, Asia, the Americas, and the Middle East.

Millions of lives and livelihoods across the world had been threatened by conflict, climate emergencies, hunger and forced displacement. Some $49.5 billion was needed this year to assist 204 million of the most vulnerable people. But with only $17.6 billion received so far, the funding gap was nearly $32 billion, the largest it had ever been, leaving millions of families without life-saving support. Today’s CERF allocation would address this problem head on. The $100 million would help scale up operations in Yemen, South Sudan, Myanmar, Nigeria, Bangladesh, Uganda, Venezuela, Mali, Cameroon, Mozambique and Algeria. With this additional funding, CERF had allocated a record $250 million so far this year through its Underfunded Emergencies window.

Mr. Laerke said that in Niger, CERF was releasing US$9.5 million to back anticipatory action to prevent and mitigate the impact of insufficient rainfall and drought. A common concern was that resources often were only mobilized when the disasters reached peak point, the suffering is at its worst, and the response becomes more expensive. The goal with this allocation was to make humanitarian support more proactive and help prevent a larger crisis. Many farmers had already seen their plantings fail up to four times this season because of lack of rain. In the south-west of the country, rainfall in June and July was among the lowest in the last 30 years. The current rainy season was essential to produce enough food for farmers and pastoralists, and their livestock, until next year's harvest.

CERF funds would provide early support to at-risk communities through for example rehabilitation of degraded land, upgrading of water supplies, seed distribution, livestock safeguarding, reinforcement of health teams and other interventions.  

Responding to questions, Mr. Laerke said $17.6 billion was money in the bank, and the gap of $32 million was what was still needed. There was a chance that if donors stepped up and provided the money, all would be fine. The funding gap was 65 per cent and there were just a few months left of the year. It was hoped that donors would be able to find ways to mobilize these life savings fund, otherwise consequences would be very severe. Some $17.6 billion was the largest amount of money ever received; this was an unprecedented act of global generosity. It was upon the world to show solidarity and respect for the promise to help those who had fallen behind, to try and close the large gap.

The 100 million was not an unusually large amount. The organization reviewed each underfunded emergency, as well as those which required a rapid response. The total allocation the fund had made, a quarter of a billion, was from the underfunded fund which was the largest in a single year. There were around 28 appeals in different countries. Concerns had been raised about the cholera outbreak in Syria, with the epicenter in Aleppo.

Mr. Laerke said he would have to check how much money remained in CERF. A key criterion for attributing CERF funds was that money had to go to lifesaving projects. For those whose lives were hanging in the balance, the amount of $100 million meant something, even though it might seem like a drop in the bucket compared to what was required. The consequences of not receiving the money would be that peoples’ lives were at risk for a plethora of reasons, including due to health, conflict, or gender-based violence.

World Patient Safety Day 

Neelam Dhingra-Kumar, for the World Health Organization, said that despite the positive outcome medications had on health, they could also cause serious harm. Unsafe medication practices and medication errors, including incorrect prescription, dispensing or wrong use of medicine or lack of proper monitoring, and the use of substandard and falsified medicines, were a leading cause of avoidable harm in health care systems across the world.

Errors could occur at various stages of the medication use process: prescribing, transcribing, ordering, storage, dispensing, preparation, administration and monitoring. Medication-related harm accounted for almost 50 per cent of avoidable patient harm in medical care, and millions of patients were harmed globally. About one in 20 patients suffered avoidable medication harm, and of these one in 4 patients suffered clinically severe or life-threatening harm. Patients living in low-income countries experienced twice as much burden of medication harm than those in high-income countries.

Weak medication systems and human factors such as fatigue, poor environmental conditions, and staff shortages contributed to medication errors. If medication errors were prevented, around 1 per cent of global health expenditure or a loss of $42 billion USD could be avoided globally every year. The situation had been further compounded by the COVID-19 pandemic, disruptions to systems and processes of care increased medication safety risks including inappropriate starting or stopping, and the lack of review of existing medications. Recognizing this huge burden of patient harm globally, in 2017 WHO launched a Global Patient Safety Challenge: Medication Without Harm with a global goal of reducing severe, avoidable medication harm by 50 per cent over a period of five years. The objectives of World Patient Safety Day 2022 were to raise global awareness of the high burden of medication harm, advocate for urgent action to improve medication safety, engage key stakeholders and partners in these efforts, empower patients and families to be actively involved in the safe use of medication, and scale up implementation of the WHO Global Patient Safety Challenge: Medication Without Harm.

There were four fundamental domains which needed to be addressed to improve medication safety. These included: patients and the public were not always medication-wise; medicines were sometimes complex and could lack sufficient or clear information; health and care workers sometimes prescribed and administered medicines in ways and circumstances that increase the risk of harm to patients; and systems and practices of medication were complex and often dysfunctional.

WHO had developed a strategic framework for action on medication safety, technical reports on the three key action areas – namely high-risk situations, polypharmacy and transitions of care. A research study has also been initiated on the global burden of medication-related harm. WHO called upon all stakeholders, including governments, non-governmental organizations, professional organizations, civil society, patient organizations, academia and research institutions, to join the global campaign by organizing international, national and local activities and events on and around 17 September 2022, and lighting up iconic monuments in orange to show global solidarity.

Responding to questions, Dr. Dhingra-Kumar said there was evidence to suggest patients living in low-income countries experienced twice as much burden of medication harm than those in high-income countries. This was primarily due to weak medical systems and a lack of resources. The figures of people harmed was available in country-wide data but had not been systematically collected. Counterfeit medicines were a challenge.

Read the press release.

Other topics

Margaret Harris, for the World Health Organization (WHO), said COVID was currently not a seasonal virus and transmitted throughout all seasons. When the weather became cooler, people tended to spend more time indoors and in more crowded conditions, so the opportunity for the virus to be transmitted was greater. WHO had a plan; six policy briefs summarized 32 months and outlined advice for the government which included increasing surveillance; sequencing; vaccinating; and increasing hospital capacity.

In response to another question, Ms. Harris said there was a strong response to the cholera outbreak in Syria, and the capacity of the rapid response team was being enhanced. It was important to ensure that treatment protocols were current, and that people were trained and educated in these protocols. Lab capacity for the confirmation of cholera was being enhanced, and 4,000 diagnostic tests were provided to the rapid response team.

Finally, she said there was currently no timeframe around the renaming of Monkeypox, or a shortlist of names.

FAO Update on the progress and achievements on food and agriculture-related SDGs indicators 

Dorian Navarro, Statistician, for the Food and Agricultural Organization (FAO), said the FAO would release a new edition of its report “Tracking progress on food and agriculture-related SDG indicators” on Monday 19 September, complementing the global SDG progress report presented in July.

The report offered detailed analyses and illustrated trends for selected indicators for which FAO was custodian, or which had important implications for food and agriculture across eight SDGs. FAO’s assessment painted a bleak picture of sustainable development. While the world was already off track to meeting the SDGs prior to 2020, the past two years had seen a series of cascading crises that had halted or even reversed progress across several SDG targets. Armed conflicts, growing inequalities and climate change were compounding the socioeconomic impacts of the COVID-19 pandemic, seriously putting the achievement of the SDGs at risk.

Comparing progress achieved in 2022 with respect to the previous year, only three indicators registered a notable improvement; the conservation of plant genetic resources, instruments to promote small-scale fisheries, and water use efficiency. By contrast, investment in agriculture and food loss reduction had stalled, small scale food producers – especially women – continued to be disadvantaged, and indicators related to food security, fish stock sustainability, forest area, water stress and the value added of sustainable fisheries, were deteriorating.

Despite hopes that the world would recover from the effects of the COVID-19 pandemic and food security would begin to improve, world hunger rose further in 2021. After remaining relatively unchanged since 2015, the prevalence of undernourishment jumped from 8.0 to 9.3 per cent from 2019 to 2020 and rose at a slower pace in 2021 to 9.8 per cent. Globally, food loss estimates had risen from 13 per cent in 2016 to 13.3 per cent, showing no progress towards the target, while substantial variation across regions and subregions has been recorded. The agricultural sector had borne the brunt of economic losses due to frequent natural disasters. Direct economic losses attributed to disasters amounted to USD 15.4 billion in 2020, of which USD 6.8 billion were recorded in the agricultural sector.

FAO’s report urged national stakeholders and the international community to take urgent actions to put the world back on track to reach the SDGs related to food and agriculture, including scaling up investments in data collections and in the statistical capacity of countries. The full copy of the report would be shared under embargo today, and would officially be launched on the FAO website at 10 a.m. on Monday morning in all six UN languages.

Announcements

Rhéal LeBlanc, for the United Nations Information Service (UNIS), said the Committee on the Rights of the Child would close its 91st session next Friday, 23 September, at 5 p.m., and issue its concluding observations on the nine countries reviewed: North Macedonia, Ukraine, Uzbekistan, South Sudan, Germany, Bolivia, Viet Nam, Philippines and Kuwait.

The Committee on Enforced Disappearances, which began its 23rd session this week, would today hold an afternoon dialogue with Uruguay. On Monday, 19 September, the Committee would hold a public meeting with State parties to the Convention for the Protection of All Persons from Enforced Disappearance, and, in the afternoon, hold another public meeting with UN agencies.

The Committee on the Protection of the Rights of All Migrant Workers and Members of Their Families would open its 35th session next Monday, at 10 a.m.

The Conference on Disarmament was holding a public plenary meeting this morning in Room XVIII. The CD had yet to adopt its annual report.

Mr. LeBlanc reminded correspondents that the 77th General Assembly had begun in New York. In this context the Transforming Education Summit was beginning today for three days, and a media advisory had been issued about it yesterday.

He also reminded correspondents that the General Debate would take place next week from 20 to 26 September.

Finally, Mr. LeBlanc said that today was the International Day for the Preservation of the Ozone Layer, under the theme “Global Cooperation protecting life on Earth”.

Press conferences

Mr. LeBlanc announced press conferences for next week, including one to present the report of the Independent International Fact-Finding Mission on the Bolivarian Republic of Venezuela (20 September at 2 p.m.), and another regarding the oral update of the Independent International Commission of Inquiry on Ukraine to the UN Human Rights Council (23 September at 1:30 p.m.).

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