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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 (UNIS) in Geneva, chaired the hybrid briefing, attended by the spokespersons and representatives of the Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA), the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR), the United Nations Conference on Trade and Development (UNCTAD), and the United Nations Refugee Agency (UNHCR).

Situation in Tigray, Ethiopia

Jens Laerke, for the Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA), said that three months into the conflict in Tigray, the humanitarian response remained severely constrained and inadequate, because most people in need could simply not reached, and necessary clearances to enter Tigray were still missing. The needs observed on the ground were dire and growing for some 2.3 million people, which included those who had needed assistance before the conflict. Access to the countryside was mostly blocked to both the United Nations and NGOs; no humanitarian assistance was taking place in the non-government-controlled areas. Mr. Laerke stated that more than 70 humanitarian staff were waiting in Addis Ababa to receive clearance to travel to the region. Basic services remained largely disrupted in Tigray, where two thirds of the population lived, including electricity and communications. Key supply routes to Tigray were still cut, and malnutrition among the population had already been on the rise before the hostilities, due to the COVID-19 and locust situations.

Responding to questions, Mr. Laerke said that the United Nations was encouraged by recent visits which had resulted in productive meetings with the Ethiopian authorities, and it was hoped that the assurances made at the highest level would be put into practice. Mr. Laerke could not provide the reasons why the Ethiopian Government was not still allowing humanitarian access to the affected region. Getting in and assessing the needs was a paramount first step.

Babar Baloch, for the United Nations Refugee Agency (UNHCR), answering questions, said that many Eritrean refugees in Tigray also needed assistance. The process of permissions should be improved to avoid the existing delays. High Commissioner for Refugees Filippo Grandi had met with both high-level authorities and refugees, who had shared their traumatic experiences, including on their forced returns to Eritrea by the Eritrean troops. The High Commissioner had shared his concerns with the authorities in Addis Ababa. On another question, Mr. Baloch said that UNHCR had access to two camps in the south of Tigray but had had no access to other camps in northern Tigray. There was still no clearance by the Ethiopian Government for UNHCR to visit Mekele and conduct an assessment there.

Killing and disappearance of children in Paraguay

Marta Hurtado, for the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR), informed that the High Commissioner Michelle Bachelet was deeply concerned at  recent reports in Paraguay regarding the disappearance of a 14-year-old girl, Carmen Elizabeth Oviedo Villalba, and the lack of progress in investigating the killing of two 11-year-old girls, Lilian Villalba and Maria Carmen Villalba.

According to available information, Carmen Elizabeth had witnessed an operation carried out on 2 September 2020 by the Paraguayan Joint Task Force against members of the Paraguayan People’s Army group in the Yby Yaú area, some 370 kilometres north of Asunción. The two 11-year-old girls, who had been killed in the same operation, were Argentinian citizens.

The High Commissioner called the Paraguayan authorities to urgently search for the missing girl, Carmen Elizabeth. Considering the new witness accounts about the capture and killing of the other two girls, Bachelet urged calling on the Paraguayan authorities to conduct a prompt, independent and effective investigation into the many unanswered questions surrounding their deaths. An independent forensic study should be carried out.

Full briefing note is here.

Geneva announcements

Alessandra Vellucci, on behalf of the United Nations Support Mission in Libya (UNSMIL), announced that UNSMIL had received four lists of candidates for the positions of the three-member Presidency Council and of Prime Minister. The Libyan Political Dialogue Forum (LPDF) had convened at 9:30 am today to vote on the lists. The required selection threshold was 60 percent of valid votes. Should no list reach this threshold, a second round would be held to vote on the two lists which obtain the highest number of votes in the first round. The threshold for the second round is 50 percent + 1 of the valid votes. More information is available here. A press conference was expected in late afternoon today, said Ms. Vellucci.

Speaking on behalf of the Human Rights Council (HRC), Ms. Vellucci informed that the Human Rights Council would hold an organizational meeting on 8 February at 10 am, to discuss its upcoming forty-sixth regular session scheduled to take place from 22 February to 23 March. The meeting would provide an opportunity for States to announce initiatives they intended to take during the month-long session and discuss other procedural issues. The Council's new President, Ambassador Nazhat Shameem Khan of Fiji, would deliver her inaugural address. The meeting would be public and webcast.

Catherine Huissoud, for the United Nations Conference on Trade and Development (UNCTAD), informed that a virtual press conference would be held on 8 February at 11:45 am to present a new tool - the Productive Capacities Index. The Productive Capacities Index measured countries’ capacity to achieve social and economic transformation and helped track their ability to achieve the Sustainable Development Goals.Speakers would be Mukhisa Kituyi, UNCTAD Secretary-General, and Paul Akiwumi, Director of the Division on Africa, LDCs and Special Programmes. The subject would be under embargo until 6 pm of the same day. Ms. Huissoud informed that this would be the last press conference by the outgoing UNCTAD Secretary-General.

On 8 February, UNCTAD would also share its Global Trade Update with figures on what had happened in 2020. The document would be under embargo until 10 February at 12 noon.

Jens Laerke, for the Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA), informed that from 8 February, Ramesh Rajasingham, Deputy Emergency Relief Coordinator, would be in Burkina Faso, with the view of drawing international attention to the deteriorating situation and unfolding large-scale humanitarian emergency. Humanitarian needs had increased sharply, with a large displacement crisis, and the record 3.5 million people who would need humanitarian assistance in 2021.

Ms. Vellucci informed that that the Conference on Disarmament should have its next public plenary meeting on 10 February, at 10 am, under the presidency of Belgium.

The Committee on the Rights of the Child had publicly concluded the previous day the works of its eighty-fifth session.

 

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