REGULAR PRESS BRIEFING BY THE UNITED NATIONS INFORMATION SERVICE
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 CITES Secretariat, the United Nations Refugee Agency (UNHCR) and the World Food Programme (WFP).
Human Rights Council update
Rolando Gomez, for the Human Rights Council, said the Council would be hearing the statements of 20 States in exercise of the right of reply to interventions made the day before during the general debate on the High Commissioner for Human Right’s update.
From approximately 11 a.m., the Council would begin hearing a series of presentations by thematic human rights experts, due to last the rest of the week. The new Special Rapporteur on the sale and sexual exploitation of children, including child prostitution, child pornography and other child sexual abuse material, would address the impact of the coronavirus disease on different manifestations of sale and sexual exploitation of children and would present the report of her predecessor’s mission to the Gambia. The new Independent Expert on foreign debt and human rights, particularly economic, social and cultural rights, would be focusing on the role of credit rating agencies in debt relief, debt crisis prevention and human rights. The Council would then move onto a presentation by the new Special Rapporteur on the right to food on his vision and priorities. Time permitting, the Independent Expert on the enjoyment of human rights by persons with albinism would provide an overview of work under the mandate and of her mission to Brazil.
On 3 March, the following thematic experts would present their reports: the new Special Rapporteur on the rights of persons with disabilities, the Special Rapporteur on freedom of religion or belief, the Special Rapporteur in the field of cultural rights and the Special Rapporteur on human rights and the environment.
World Wildlife Day
Francisco Pérez, for the Secretariat of the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora (CITES), said that the CITES Secretariat, the United Nations Development Programme, Jackson Wild and other partner organizations would be holding a virtual event on 3 March to mark the 2021 edition of World Wildlife Day, under the theme of “Forests and Livelihoods: Sustaining People and Planet”. The event would bring together representatives of Indigenous Peoples and local communities, United Nations Member States, United Nations system organizations, civil society and the private sector for a series of discussions on the experiences and knowledge of communities whose livelihoods relied on forests and wildlife and which had a long history of sustainably managing and using forest ecosystems.
Speakers would include the Minister for Agriculture and Irrigation of Peru, the Secretary-General of the United Nations, the founder of the Ecuadorian non-governmental organization Alianza Ceibo, and the founder of NGO Vie Sauvage. In addition, the winners of the World Wildlife Day film showcase and international youth art contest would be announced at the event by the Executive Director of Jackson Wild and actor Dia Mirza, respectively.
The event would be broadcast live on YouTube on 3 March, from 2 p.m., and would be accessible to the public without registration.
In response to questions from journalists, Mr. Pérez said there would be a press release after the event but no press conference. However, journalists were free to contact him to set up bilateral interviews with the participants.
Surging violence in Nigeria fuels displacement into the Niger
Boris Cheshirkov, for the United Nations Refugee Agency (UNHCR), said that UNHCR was alarmed at surging violence in northwest Nigeria, which had fuelled displacement – of more than 7,660 refugees, mostly women and children – into the neighbouring Maradi region of the Niger, where violence was also on the rise. The Maradi region now hosted nearly 100,000 displaced people, including 77,000 Nigerian refugees. UNHCR commended the generosity of the Niger as it continued to grant access to asylum, despite border restrictions brought on by the COVID-19 pandemic.
UNHCR teams in the Niger had recorded a spike in deadly violence inside Maradi itself, with more casualties and serious incidents, including murders, kidnappings and looting, reported in January and February 2021 than in the entire second half 2020. Many had also been caught up in clashes between farmers and herders as well as vigilantism.
The people fleeing were in urgent need of water, food, shelter and health services. UNHCR was providing life-saving assistance and protection and had scaled up border monitoring activities. Its teams were also registering new arrivals to identify people with vulnerabilities and other specific needs. It was working closely with authorities of the Niger to relocate refugees away from the border and into safer localities where basic assistance and services were available.
Humanitarian efforts to respond to the emergency were dangerously overstretched: UNHCR’s Lake Chad Basin operation required US$ 128.6 million and was only 10 per cent funded.
The full statement can be accessed here.
Replying to a question, Mr. Cheshirkov said that, while the situation was not new, the violence had been increasing, especially since the start of 2021. The armed groups remained unidentified but were behind a very serious situation, compounded by surging humanitarian needs.
Relocation of Central African refugees in the DRC
Boris Cheshirkov, for the United Nations Refugee Agency (UNHCR), said that UNHCR was working to relocate thousands of Central African refugees away from dangerous conditions in remote border areas of the Democratic Republic of the Congo to safer sites further in the interior. Agreements had been signed with the National Refugee Commission to develop a site for 10,000 refugees in Modale, in North Ubangi province, and a second site was being considered near Ndu, in Bas Uele province. A total of four relocation sites would be prepared for some 35,000 refugees to live alongside local communities, grow their own crops and attend local schools.
Currently, most of the refugees lived along riverbanks in hard-to-reach border areas, among host communities with extremely limited resources. Conditions were dire, and most had little to no access to drinking water, sanitation or food.
As the needs of thousands of Central African refugees continued to increase, so did the funding requirements. Funds for UNHCR’s humanitarian response were already critically low and under severe pressure due to the needs of both refugees and the host communities. UNHCR was appealing for US$ 164.7 million to deliver critical protection and assistance to the displaced Central Africans.
The full statement can be accessed here.
In response to journalists, Mr. Cheshirkov said that, although the number of refugees was stable, the situation in the Central African Republic remained volatile. UNHCR had scaled up its biometric registration and was registering some 1,000 people per day. The primary concern was the mounting humanitarian and health needs in the face of a projected measles outbreak. Some refugees were making day trips back into the Central African Republic as certain services were restored, though they tended to return to the Democratic Republic of the Congo at night, as the risk of sexual violence and other exploitation remained high in the Central African Republic. The remoteness of the areas concerned and the poor infrastructure there entailed logistical difficulties and much planning and coordination in order to provide assistance, which would be made harder by the approaching rainy season. Nevertheless, UNHCR had been serving many people, including 4,500 highly at-risk persons it had been able to identify, such as women and persons with disabilities.
In response to an unrelated question, Mr. Cheshirkov said that UNHCR had been closely following pushbacks of refugees by Greece into Turkey. The 1951 Convention relating to the Status of Refugees and European Union law required States to protect the right of asylum; therefore, whenever incidents of refoulement were brought to the Agency’s attention, it approached the authorities and sought formal investigations.
Refugee ration cuts in East Africa
Tomson Phiri, for the World Food Programme (WFP), said that WFP and UNHCR were appealing for US$ 266 million to end food ration cuts for over 3 million refugees in East Africa, which hosted one of the largest displaced populations of any region in the world consisting of 4.4 million refugees and 8.1 million internally displaced persons at the end of 2020. WFP had been forced to implement ration cuts for refugees in Uganda, Kenya, South Sudan, Djibouti and Ethiopia by between 16 and 40 per cent. The most dramatic cut had been in Rwanda, where, starting that month, refugees would see their rations cut by 60 per cent, meaning that they would receive only 40 per cent of the recommended minimum daily caloric intake. The situation could be quickly reversed if additional funding was received.
Ration cuts had extremely serious implications beyond food and nutrition security. When food was in short supply, protection concerns in the camps, including over sexual and gender-based violence, increased. Further cutting of rations could prompt refugee communities to move within host countries or even across borders as they became more desperate to meet their basic needs. In the light of the pandemic, that could not come at a worse time. Additional support was needed to support the host Governments and avoid backsliding on developmental gains.
Boris Cheshirkov, for the United Nations Refugee Agency (UNHCR), added that cuts to food rations meant that children would not have enough to eat and that the risk of child labour and domestic violence could rise.
Further information can be found here.
Replying to a journalist, Mr. Phiri said that those were not the first ration cuts – Uganda had been on reduced rations since April 2020. As heartbreaking as the cuts were, they were necessary in order to spread what little food and resources there were among the greatest number of people. The concern was that people arriving in the camps were in terrible condition and that malnutrition became harder to treat once the initial window had closed.
Impact of fuel crisis on Yemen’s food security situation
Tomson Phiri, for the World Food Programme (WFP), said that WFP warned that a crippling fuel shortage in Yemen was making an already catastrophic food security situation far worse and appealed for an urgent solution to the human-made crisis. No fuel vessels had been allowed to berth at Al-Hudaydah port since 3 January, and 13 fuel vessels were currently being held off the coast of Yemen.
The lack of fuel had left the population struggling to reach markets and access health facilities and other vital services. Meanwhile, people were queuing for up to three days to refuel their cars or were forced to turn to the parallel market, where prices were 180 per cent higher. The acute fuel shortages threatened the availability of clean water and the electricity supply. Higher fuel prices also meant higher food prices at a time when over 16 million food insecure Yemenis were already struggling to afford basic foods.
The small reserves of the humanitarian community and commercial actors were also at unprecedented lows. WFP’s ability to deliver lifeline food assistance after March hung in the balance. Food security projections for 2021 did not factor in the economic and humanitarian impact of a fuel crisis, such that the scale of suffering in Yemen might be underestimated. Echoing calls by the Special Envoy of the Secretary-General for Yemen, WFP issued an urgent appeal for all parties to reach an agreement allowing entry and distribution of fuel for civilians and the commercial sector.
Rhéal LeBlanc, for the United Nations Information Service, drew attention to the Secretary-General’s statement following the previous day’s pledging conference, whose outcome he had called disappointing. Indeed, the US$ 1.7 billion in pledges was less than what had been received for the 2020 Humanitarian Response Plan and a billion less than at the 2019 conference. The cutting of aid was a death sentence, and the pledges were but a down payment. While he thanked those who had pledged very generously, the Secretary-General had asked others to consider how they could help stave off the world’s worst famine in decades.
Rhéal LeBlanc, for the United Nations Information Service, said that the Conference on Disarmament was holding a public plenary meeting that morning, under the presidency of Ambassador Gonçalo de Barros Carvalho e Mello Mourão of Brazil.
The Committee on the Elimination of Discrimination against Women had suspended its seventy-eighth session, during which it reviewed the report of Denmark, on 26 February and would adopt its concluding observations on that report in a closed meeting on Thursday, 4 March.
The sixty-ninth session of the Committee on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights would close on Friday, 5 March. The Committee had reviewed the reports of Finland and Latvia.
The Human Rights Committee had opened its 131st session on 1 March. During the virtual session, due to last until 26 March, it would review the reports of Finland (2-4 March) and Kenya (9-11 March). Those meetings would run from 4 to 6 p.m.
Mr. LeBlanc announced that the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) would hold a virtual press conference on Wednesday, 3 March, at 2 p.m. to call for a temporary basic income for women during COVID-19. The speakers would be George Gray Molina, UNDP Chief Economist, and Raquel Lagunas, Director of the Gender Unit.
The International Red Cross and Red Crescent Movement was holding a virtual press conference on Thursday, 4 March, at 2 p.m., to mark the tenth anniversary of the crisis in Syria. The speakers would be Francesco Rocca, President of the International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies; Khaled Hboubati, President of the Syrian Arab Red Crescent; and Peter Maurer, President of the International Committee of the Red Cross.
Mr. LeBlanc noted that the Secretary-General would be making a video statement at the Powering Past Coal Summit, co-hosted by the United Kingdom and Canada, shortly after 5 p.m. on 2 March. His message came on the heels of the report of the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change issued on 26 February, at a time when phasing out coal had taken on even greater urgency in the global effort to reduce emissions by 45 per cent that decade.
Also that afternoon, the Statistical Commission would begin its consideration of a ground-breaking measure that could fundamentally reorient economic and policy planning towards sustainable development. The new system would measure economic prosperity and human well-being taking into account the contributions of nature and might be adopted on 5 March. United Nations chief economist, Eliot Harris, would be a guest at the noon briefing in New York today (6 p.m.), which could be followed on WebTV.
More details would be forthcoming regarding the calendar of events for International Women's Day, on 8 March. The focus of celebrations was the importance of women's leadership and women's central role in building back better. The events included the Ciné-ONU screening of “The Heat: A Kitchen (R)evolution” about the impact of women chefs on society, followed by a discussion with the film’s director Maya Gallus, Michelin star chef Isabelle Arpin, Dagmar Schumacher of UN-Women and a representative of the European Commission.
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