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REGULAR PRESS BRIEFING BY THE UNITED NATIONS INFORMATION SERVICE

Bi-Weekly Briefing

Alessandra Vellucci, Director of the United Nations Information Service, chaired the hybrid briefing, attended by the spokespersons and representatives of the World Food Programme, the United Nations Refugee Agency, the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights, the International Labour Organization, the World Health Organization, United Nations Economic Commission for Europe, the World Meteorological Organization, and the International Trade Centre.

Calls for solidarity, support and solutions for Rohingya refugees

Andrej Mahecic, for the United Nations Refugee Agency (UNHCR), said that together with the United States, United Kingdom and European Union, UNHCR was co-hosting a virtual donor conference this Thursday 22 October to meet urgent humanitarian needs of forcibly displaced Rohingya both inside and outside Myanmar. Support for critical services in host communities was also a priority. The ongoing humanitarian response is facing a dramatic shortfall this year as less than half of the requested funds had been received so far. In 2020, the United Nations had appealed for more than US$ 1 billion to meet the humanitarian needs of Rohingya refugees in Bangladesh. The spread of the COVID-19 pandemic had added layers of new challenges and needs to an already complex and massive refugee emergency. Currently 860,000 Rohingya refugees are living in settlements across Bangladesh’s Cox’s Bazar district. Other countries in the region host some 150,000 Rohingya refugees. An estimated 600,000 lived in Myanmar’s Rakhine State.

A full briefing note is available here.

India: restrictions on NGOs and arrests of activists

Rupert Colville, for the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR), said that High Commissioner for Human Rights Michelle Bachelet today appealed to the Government of India to safeguard the rights of human rights defenders and NGOs, and their ability to carry out their crucial work on behalf of the many groups they represent. Ms. Bachelet had expressed regret at the tightening of space for human rights NGOs in particular, including by the application of vaguely worded laws that constrained NGOs’ activities and restrict foreign funding. The High Commissioner was concerned that such actions, based on the grounds of vaguely defined ‘public interest,’ would leave this law open to abuse, and that it was indeed actually being used to deter or punish NGOs for human rights reporting and advocacy that the authorities perceived as critical in nature. Constructive criticism was the lifeblood of democracy. Even if the authorities found it uncomfortable, it should never be criminalized or outlawed in this way.

Responding to a question on the Citizenship Amendment Act, Mr. Colville said it had been passed in December 2019 and provided an expedited pathway to citizenship for people from Bangladesh, Afghanistan and Pakistan who were not Muslim. It was fundamentally discriminatory because of the way it differentiated between people of different religions. Earlier this year, the High Commissioner had filed an amicus curiae brief before the Indian Supreme Court, as this law raised issues of compatibility with international human rights standards.

Fourth round of the Libyan Joint Military Commission

Alessandra Vellucci, for the United Nations Information Service, said the fourth round of the Libyan (5+5) Joint Military Commission talks had begun yesterday morning at the Palais des Nations in Geneva with the presence and participation of the Acting Special Representative of the Secretary-General of the United Nations and Head of the United Nations Support Mission in Libya (UNSMIL), Ms. Stephanie Turco Williams. The launching of this round of talks was marked by in person meetings between the delegations of the two parties to the conflict in Libya. The deliberations of this round were expected to continue until 24 October.

UNSMIL hoped that the two delegations would reach a solution to all outstanding issues in order to achieve a complete and permanent ceasefire across Libya. Ms. Vellucci recalled that the United Nations Secretary-General António Guterres, on 23 March, had called for a global ceasefire and for all warring parties to put aside feelings of mistrust and to repudiate all hostilities.

On Wednesday, 21 October at 9.15 a.m., UNSMIL would hold a hybrid press conference on the meeting of the Joint Military Commission in Geneva with Ms. Turco Williams.

COVID-19: Achievements of the Global Humanitarian Response

Amer Daoudi, Senior Director of Operations and Corporate Response Director for the Global Level 3 Surge Emergency for the COVID-19 Pandemic of the Word Food Programme (WFP) said WFP still needed $5.1 billion over the next six months to allow it to respond to the needs of 138 million people. It had scaled up its actions in the face of COVID-19, reaching 85 million people this year, and had been able to procure locally 553,000 tons of food.

Mr. Daoudi added that there would be a high-level meeting today, the Humanitarian Ministerial Round Table on Central Sahel, on the situation in the Sahel region. In the region, there were 7.3 million people who did not know where their next meal could come from, and, by the end of the year, 13 million people could be suffering from food insecurity. WFP continued to appeal for $136 million for the Sahel region.

Alessandra Vellucci, for the United Nations Information Service, said UN Secretary-General António Guterres would speak at the Humanitarian Ministerial Round Table on Central Sahel. The event would be broadcast on webtv.un.org.

She added that a hybrid press conference would be held today, at 4 p.m. CET, with the participation of Rasmus Prehn, Minister for Development Cooperation of Denmark; Janez Lenarčič, European Commissioner for Crisis Management; and Mark Lowcock, UN Under-Secretary-General for Humanitarian Affairs and Emergency Relief Coordinator.

Responding to questions, Mr. Daoudi said the Democratic Republic of Congo faced quite a significant increase in need – up to 22 million this year. There were also increased needs in Central and Latin America, notably in countries such as Haiti and Venezuela. Globally, immediate needs had gone up 38 per cent. Overall, there were 260 million people on the verge of critical food insecurity.

WHO position statement on genetically modified mosquitoes

Margaret Harris, for the World Health Organization (WHO), said vector-borne diseases caused more than 700,000 deaths annually and were responsible for 17 per cent of the global burden of communicable diseases. Significant progress had been made in the control of malaria until 2015, but progress had stalled in recent years. WHO recognized the urgent need for development and testing of new tools to combat vector-borne diseases, and supported investigation of all new potential control technologies, including genetically modified mosquitoes.

In order to maintain the gains made so far and to advance further towards the elimination and eventual eradication of vector-borne diseases, the development and testing of new tools to control both the pathogens and the vectors were urgently needed. WHO actively encouraged innovation in this field. New technologies, including genetically modified mosquitoes, might supplement or provide alternatives to existing interventions and might further reduce or even prevent disease transmission. Community engagement was essential in developing effective approaches to combating VBDs.

The full position statement is available here.

Global COVID-19 situation

Responding to a series of questions on COVID-19, Margaret Harris, for the World Health Organization (WHO) said WHO had not changed its position on confinement. It had advised against extreme restrictions of movement, recognizing in particular their social and economic consequences. WHO did not want confinement to be used as an immediate response but understood that countries could have to resort to it when the situation would deteriorate.

On human challenge studies, Dr. Harris said WHO was not involved in such studies. WHO Working Group for Guidance on Human Challenge Studies in COVID-19 had developed key criteria for the ethical acceptability of COVID-19 human challenge studies. These criteria aimed to provide guidance to scientists, research ethics committees, funders, policymakers, and regulators. This was not a WHO recommendation, but rather guidance on what countries needed to consider before embarking on a challenge trial.

Dr. Harris also drew attention to “Solidarity,” an international clinical trial to help find an effective treatment for COVID-19, launched by WHO and partners, as well as to the dashboard on WHO’s website, which provided figures on the pandemic that were regularly updated.

State of the Climate in Africa report

Claire Nullis, for the World Meteorological Organization (WMO), said WMO would release a new report on the State of the Climate in Africa on Monday 26 October. It focused on extreme weather and climate events in Africa in 2019 and climate change scenarios for the future and economic impacts. It would be launched at a high-level virtual event with the African Union Commission, the Economic Commissioner for Africa and the Secretary-General of the World Meteorological Organization on 26 October at 2 p.m. WMO was willing to organize a press conference if there was demand from journalists.

Ms. Nullis added that WMO was also working on a new El Niño-La Niña update which would be released in the coming days.

Third Environmental Performance Review of Uzbekistan

Jean Rodriguez, for the United Nations Economic Commission for Europe (UNECE), called upon Uzbekistan to implement the recommendations of the Third Environmental Performance Review (EPR) of Uzbekistan released today. The recommendations aimed at designing its green recovery policies in the aftermath of COVID-19. Uzbekistan was a country rich in natural gas, gold, uranium and other mineral resources. It attracted international investments and implements large infrastructure projects. It ought therefore to find a balance between long-term growth and climate-friendly technologies and the sustainable management of its natural resources. Reducing its dependence on fossil fuels by tapping its immense potential for solar electricity, increasing efforts to reduce water losses in agriculture (32.4 per cent of GDP in 2018), and extending the protected area network were amongst the key recommendations of the Review.

The Third EPR is available in English and Russian here.

Impact of the COVID-19 pandemic the garment sector in Asia Pacific

Rosalind Yarde, for the International Labour Organization (ILO), recalled that ILO would be publishing a report on the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic the garment sector in Asia Pacific. As this was a regional report, the ILO office in Bangkok will be holding an embargoed virtual press conference, in English at 10 a.m. Geneva time tomorrow. The report assessed the impact of the crisis on supply chains, factories and workers in ten major garment-producing countries of the region, following the collapse in retail sales in countries where stringent lockdowns were imposed.

The Asia-Pacific region had employed an estimated 65 million garment sector workers in 2019, accounting for 75 per cent of all garment workers worldwide. It accounted for 60 per cent of the world’s total apparel exports. Large numbers of workers and manufacturers were embedded in global supply chains that produce garments for international fashion brands based in Europe, Japan, North America and elsewhere. The ten garment producing countries covered in the report were: Bangladesh, Cambodia, China, India, Indonesia, Myanmar, Pakistan, Philippines, Sri Lanka and Viet Nam.

Policy Brief on “Women Entrepreneurs - An Action Plan to ‘Build Back Better’”

Vittorio Cammarota, for the International Trade centre (ITC), said that on Thursday, 22 October at 3.15 p.m. CET, ITC was releasing policy brief on women in business called “Women Entrepreneurs - An Action Plan to ‘Build Back Better’”. The brief had been prepared by the ITC in collaboration with the International Chamber of Commerce, UPS, and Women 20 – a women empowerment group related to the G20. The brief provided nine urgent recommendations for action: three for businesses, three for governments and three for the international community. Additional media briefings would be organized in coming weeks to discuss the content of the brief.

Other announcements

Alessandra Vellucci, for the United Nations Information Service, said 24 October was International UN Day. On the occasion of the 75th anniversary of the United Nations and the celebrations of 100 years of multilateralism in Geneva, UN Geneva  had organized a virtual event “Multilateralism of the Future: How will Global Cooperation Evolve in the 21st Century?” to be broadcast live on UNTV on 22 October at 3.30 p.m. CET. The event would focus on the evolution of multilateralism and the role of the United Nations in shaping the future of international cooperation.  It would include a briefing by Fabrizio Hochschild, Special Adviser to the Secretary-General on the Commemoration of the United Nations, on UN75—which would cover both global dialogues, and  the results of the global survey launched by  the  UN Secretary-General — and a focus discussion between Tatiana Valovaya, Director-General of the United Nations Office at Geneva and Mary Robinson, Chair of the Elders, former President of Ireland, and former UN High-Commissioner for Human Rights, on  multilateralism  and the path to reshaping international cooperation in the face of emerging global challenges.

On 22 October, an exhibition on “The Future We Want” would be opened in the mezzazine, E building, which would run until 12 November. Furthermore, on the evening of 24 October, several European landmarks and buildings would turn “UN blue.” The Palais des Nations and the Jet d’Eau would participate in this initiative of the United Nations Regional Information Centre in Brussels.

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