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Bi-Weekly Briefing

Alessandra Vellucci, Director of the United Nations Information Service (UNIS) in Geneva, chaired the hybrid briefing, attended by the spokespersons and representatives of the United Nations Support Mission in Libya (UNSMIL), the Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR) and the World Health Organization (WHO).

Libyan Political Dialogue Forum

Jean El-Alam, for the United Nations Support Mission in Libya (UNSMIL), said that UNSMIL was encouraged by high number of nominations for the Presidency Council and welcomed the diversity of the candidate pool, both positive signs that the process had inspired a high degree of buy-in and enthusiasm. Ahead of the Libyan Political Dialogue Forum (LPDF) this week in Switzerland, Stephanie Williams, the Acting Special Representative of the Secretary-General for Libya and Head of UNSMIL, had held a virtual dialogue with more than 1,000 Libyans to gather their questions for the candidates. The LPDF had begun on 1 February with an interactive session, broadcast live, with 20 of the candidates for the Presidency Council, who had presented their programmes and responded to questions by LPDF members and the Libyan public. The LPDF members were to vote after the interactive session on the appointments to the Presidency Council on the basis of the three regional electoral colleges, in accordance with the selection mechanism previously agreed on 19 January. The interactive session for the office of Prime Minister would start that afternoon.

Attacks against civilians in the Democratic Republic of the Congo

Marta Hurtado, for the Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR), said that OHCHR was appalled by the significant increase in the number of attacks against civilians in Irumu and Mambasa territories in Ituri province and in Beni territory in North Kivu province by the Allied Democratic Forces (ADF). It was also very concerned about human rights violations and violations of international humanitarian law by security and defence forces.

According to a report by the United Nations Joint Human Rights Office published on Tuesday, at least 849 civilians had been killed in those areas in 2020 in attacks attributable to the ADF. In the second half of the year, 62 civilians had been injured and four women had been sexually abused by ADF members. The report also documented violations committed by security and defence forces in the context of their operations against ADF combatants. In 2020, 47 civilians had been killed, 27 women and 22 children had been sexually abused, and 126 people had been arbitrarily arrested by members of the security forces. Moreover, the second half of 2020 had seen a number of reprisal attacks by the ADF against the civilian population and an increase in the number of civilians abducted to perform forced labour. Violence had continued in early 2021.

Given the widespread and systematic nature of the attacks directed against the civilian population, some of the documented human rights abuses might amount to crimes against humanity. The violence was taking place in a context of impunity, made worse by an ADF attack on Beni prison in October 2020, during which 1,300 inmates had escaped.

The report included several recommendations for the authorities of the Democratic Republic of Congo.

The full briefing note can be found here.

In reply to questions by journalists, Ms. Hurtado said that documenting abuses and violations was important for accountability, especially given the high level of impunity in the Democratic Republic of Congo. The ADF had originally been based in North Kivu but, following a series of military operations, had fragmented and spread out in 2019. The possible crimes against humanity were in reference to attacks by the ADF. The attacks that had been verified had been committed solely by ADF combatants.

Cancer prevalence around the world

Dr. André Ilbawi, Department of Noncommunicable Diseases, World Health Organization (WHO), said that new data released in December 2020 showed that, in 2020, 19.3 million people had been diagnosed with cancer and 10 million had died from the disease, which was now the second leading cause of death globally. Currently, one out five people worldwide would develop cancer during their lifetime, and there would be 30 million new cases per year by 2040. Breast cancer had become the most common form of the disease, followed by lung and colorectal cancer.

In connection with World Cancer Day on 4 February, WHO was recognizing the profound impact of COVID-19 on cancer control efforts, from delays in diagnosis and interruption or abandonment of therapy to reductions in research and clinical trial enrolment. Other activities would include: the first global consultation on breast cancer in anticipation of the launch of an initiative on International Women’s Day 2021; a call for a pan-European movement, with the vision of eliminating cancer as a life-threatening disease on the basis of a set of signature solutions to be presented on 4 February; emphasis on important risk factors, such as environmental exposure to radon; the global strategy to accelerate the elimination of cervical cancer as a public health problem, with the goal of saving 4.5 million lives in the next 100 years; and the Global Initiative for Childhood Cancer.

Replying to questions from journalists, Dr. Ilbawi said that the biggest likely driver of the rise in cases was improved life expectancy, though better diagnosis certainly also played a role. Risk factors, particularly for breast cancer, included obesity. Cancer cases and deaths were rising more rapidly in low- and middle-income countries; however, those countries tended not to track survival rates. While there had been significant advances in treatment, WHO continued to address the challenge of the availability and high cost of treatment. For instance, the list of essential medicines now included immunotherapy for melanoma. The impact of WHO guidance on pricing, however, would not be known for a couple more years.

In response to COVID-related questions, Dr. Ilbawi said that only one of the completed vaccine trials had included cancer patients, though other, ongoing trials would provide more data in that regard. There was no such data in relation to children with cancer; however, WHO would be engaging with partners to track the vulnerability of paediatric cancer patients to COVID-19. While analysis of the pandemic’s impact on cancer control was ongoing, there was no evidence that oncology services were being disproportionately hit compared to services for other diseases.

Also in response to journalists, Tarik Jašarević, for the World Health Organization (WHO), said that WHO invited all vaccine manufacturers and developers to submit their data, but it was up to the national regulatory health agencies that authorized the use of any given product to share that information with national health-care professionals. It was important to track mutations in the coronavirus in order to quickly identify variants of concern, and WHO requested countries with the capacity to perform genomic sequencing to do so and share their data with the world. WHO was looking into how to name variants in such a way as to avoid geographical stigmatization. There had been no change to the guidance on mask-wearing in response to the emergence of the variants.

Geneva announcements

Alessandra Vellucci, for the United Nations Information Service (UNIS), said that the Conference on Disarmament would hold its next public plenary meeting on Thursday, 4 February, at 10 a.m., still under the presidency of Ambassador Marc Pecsteen de Buytswerve of Belgium, to discuss a revised version of the draft package proposed by the President.

The closure of the eighty-fifth session of the Committee on the Rights of the Child would take place at a virtual public meeting on the afternoon of Thursday, 4 February.


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