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Bi-Weekly Briefing

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 World Meteorological Organization (WMO), the Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA), the World Food Programme (WFP), the United Nations Refugee Agency (UNHCR), the Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR) and the World Health Organization (WHO).

Human Rights Council update

Rolando Gomez, for the Human Rights Council, said that most of the next two days would be dedicated to the adoption of the reports of the Working Group on the Universal Periodic Review on the 14 country reviews that had taken place at the previous session in November 2020 (16 March: Belarus, Libya, Malawi, Panama, Mongolia, Maldives, Andorra and Honduras; 17 March: Bulgaria, Marshall Islands, United States of America, Croatia, Liberia and Jamaica). Those States’ responses to the recommendations would be compiled in an addendum to the relevant report.

Later in the afternoon of 17 March, the Council would hear the presentation of the reports of the Chairs of the Forum on Minority Issues and the Social Forum, followed by the start of the general debate on item 5 on the work of subsidiary bodies. Action on the 31 draft resolutions tabled thus far would take place on 22–23 March.

World Meteorological Organization updates

Clare Nullis, for the World Meteorological Organization (WMO), said that the Hurricane Committee, which covered North and Central America and the Caribbean, was holding its annual session, where it would be reviewing the record-breaking 2020 season, fine-tuning preparations for the 2021 season and deciding which names to retire. A virtual press conference on the naming issue would be held on Wednesday, 17 March, at 8:30 p.m., on Microsoft Teams. Attendance was by registration only. A press release would be issued at the end of the meeting on 17 March.

Ms. Nullis noted that a multidisciplinary task team on meteorological and air quality factors and coronavirus disease (COVID-19) had issued its first report. A press release had been sent under embargo.

Ms. Nullis also said that the theme of World Meteorological Day on 23 March was “The ocean, our climate and weather”, which reflected the relevance of oceans to weather patterns, as well as the start of the Ocean Decade of Science for Sustainable Development. A press release was planned, and journalists could contact her about interview opportunities.

Lastly, Ms. Nullis announced that the State of the Climate report would exceptionally be released shortly before Earth Day in April and that a story would be posted online about the biggest sand and dust storm to hit Asia in a decade.

Launch of the humanitarian response plans for Nigeria and South Sudan

Jens Laerke, for the Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA), said that OCHA was requesting US$ 1 billion to help 6.4 million of the most vulnerable people in Nigeria, including 2 million internally displaced persons. Most of the assistance would be directed to the north-east of the country, where more than 5 million people were at risk of acute hunger during the upcoming lean season owing to escalating conflict, displacement and the disruption of livelihoods worsened by COVID-19. Last year’s humanitarian response plan had been only half funded, yet humanitarian partners had managed to reach over 5 million people and had helped to avert malnutrition for over 2 million children.

Tomson Phiri, for the World Food Programme (WFP), added that armed conflict in the states of Borno, Adamawa and Yobe was uprooting thousands from their homes, disrupting their livelihoods and preventing people from growing food, thus exposing them to a hunger catastrophe. There had been a significant reduction in cropland in over 90 per cent of localities in the north-east since 2010 and considerable abandonment of cropland in 2020. WFP was scaling up its food and nutrition support to assist 1.8 million people by the end of the year, with priority given to the most vulnerable.

Jens Laerke, for the Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA), said that South Sudan, another country on the famine watch list, was facing its highest levels of food insecurity and malnutrition since independence 10 years ago, made worse by devastating floods, violence and COVID-19. Moreover, the upcoming lean season from May to July was likely to be the most severe on record. Therefore, the 2021 humanitarian response plan aimed to reach 6.6 million people, including 1.62 million internally displaced persons, with life-saving assistance and protection at a cost of US$ 1.7 billion.

Tomson Phiri, for the World Food Programme (WFP), added that some 7.24 million South Sudanese had been pushed into severe food insecurity, including 100,000 people in hard-to-reach areas of six counties who were at risk of famine. Accordingly, WFP was scaling up support to reach 195,000 vulnerable people in those areas in early 2021 and was pre-positioning food stocks ahead of the rainy season. In 2021, WFP planned to reach over 5 million people in South Sudan with food and nutrition assistance across its emergency, nutrition and livelihoods programmes.

In response to questions from journalists, Mr. Phiri said that, in terms of malnutrition, WFP feared the worst for both countries, as many people were no longer able to farm. While some parts of South Sudan were difficult to access and conflict and attacks on humanitarian workers did delay assistance, WFP was confident that it would gain access to most areas because the authorities were aware of its vital work.

Replying to the same questions, Mr. Laerke said that, in Nigeria, the priority was very much food security, followed by nutrition, protection, water, sanitation and hygiene, early recovery and livelihoods. In South Sudan, the priority was food and nutrition, but also health care, access to education and the protection of women and children. Many of the workers were South Sudanese, so they were very familiar with the territory. Community acceptance was the best guarantee of security.

Appeal for funding to support South Sudanese refugees

Babar Baloch, for the United Nations Refugee Agency (UNHCR), said that, in a separate but complementary appeal, UNHCR and partners were asking for US$ 1.2 billion in 2021 to provide vital humanitarian assistance for more than 2.2 million South Sudanese refugees living in five neighbouring countries, mostly in remote and under-developed areas. The crisis remained a children’s crisis, with more than 65 per cent of the refugee population under the age of 18, including 66,000 children who had been separated from their parents. The COVID-19 pandemic, combined with climate change-related challenges, including severe flooding, droughts and desert locusts, had compounded an already dire situation. Funding was urgently needed to provide life-sustaining assistance, including shelter, access to safe drinking water, education and health services.


While some 350,000 refugees had made the decision to return to South Sudan since 2017 and some progress had been made on implementing the peace agreement, conditions were not yet met for large-scale returns. 

The full briefing note can be found here.


Replying to journalists, Tomson Phiri, for the World Food Programme (WFP), said that Yemen was on the brink of famine and that three factors were making life even harder for Yemenis, namely, the lack of commercial fuel deliveries since 3 January, escalating conflict in various areas that might trigger a new wave of displacement and insufficient funds to sustain even prioritized assistance over the next six months. Five million people faced severe food shortages and remained at acute risk of famine without monthly food assistance. WFP needed US$ 1.9 billion in 2021.

Also in reply to journalists, Babar Baloch, for the United Nations Refugee Agency (UNHCR), said that a fire at a migrant holding centre on 8 March, of as yet undetermined origin, had killed several people and injured more than 170, many seriously. Most of the casualties were believed to be Ethiopian migrants being held for being in the country illegally. UNHCR, along with the International Organization for Migration (IOM), the International Committee of the Red Cross and other partners, was providing medical assistance to the injured and expressed its sincere condolences to the victims’ loved ones. Angela Wells, for the IOM, added that the death toll was likely in the dozens. The IOM Director-General had expressed his condolences, calling for alternatives to detention for migrants. A voluntary repatriation flight was scheduled to leave Sana’a that day for Addis Ababa.

Death toll soaring in Myanmar

Ravina Shamdasani, for the Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR), said that the death toll had soared over the past week in Myanmar, where security forces had been using lethal force increasingly aggressively against peaceful protesters and continued to arbitrarily arrest and detain people throughout the country. Deeply distressing reports of torture in custody and enforced disappearances had also emerged. Corroborating information was becoming increasingly difficult, particularly with the imposition of martial law in several townships in Yangon and Mandalay and State-imposed communication blackouts. OHCHR had nevertheless managed to confirm the arbitrary killing of at least 149 people since 1 February, including 11 on 15 March and 57 over the preceding weekend. Arbitrary arrests and detentions, including of journalists, continued throughout the country. OHCHR was deeply disturbed by the intensification of the crackdown and called again on the military to stop killing and detaining protestors.

The full briefing note can be found here.

Rhéal LeBlanc, for the United Nations Information Service (UNIS), drew attention to the recent statements by the Special Envoy for Myanmar, who had “strongly condemned the continuing bloodshed in the country as the military defies international calls, including from the Security Council, for restraint, dialogue and full respect for human rights and fundamental freedoms,” and by the Secretary-General, who was “appalled by the escalating violence in Myanmar at the hands of the country’s military. The killings of demonstrators, arbitrary arrest and the reported torture of prisoners violate fundamental human rights and stand in clear defiance of calls by the Security Council for restraint, dialogue and a return to Myanmar’s democratic path.”

Replying to journalists, Ms. Shamdasani said there were clear reports that the security forces were using live ammunition against protesters and bystanders, as well as unverified reports of snipers. There was also evidence of use of non-lethal weapons, chiefly batons, against protesters, journalists and medical staff. States had a duty to protect the human rights of people in their territory. However, when a State failed to do that or was committing violations itself, it was the duty of the international community to take measures to bring violence to an end and ensure accountability. A State could not argue non-interference when it was shooting its own people. The High Commissioner had stressed that the international community had to speak with one voice and that any measures it took, especially sanctions, should be targeted to avoid worsening the human rights situation in Myanmar. In that connection, there was indeed concern that the situation would make the living conditions of internally displaced Rohingya even more dire.

In response to a question, Mr. LeBlanc said that any changes to the representation of Myanmar communicated to the United Nations would be considered by the General Assembly, through the Credentials Committee.

Regarding a separate question, Ms. Shamdasani said that discussions were ongoing between OHCHR and the Permanent Mission of China on a visit to that country, specifically regarding the preliminary technical mission that was necessary to ensure meaningful access during the subsequent visit.

Human rights and climate change fact sheet

Ravina Shamdasani, for the Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR), said that OHCHR had published a fact sheet describing the links between climate change and human rights, which highlighted the obligations of States and businesses under international human rights law. It was the most comprehensive guidance on rights-based climate action and provided examples of climate litigation, the rights of future generations and the role of international cooperation and solidarity in climate action, as well as recommendations for forward-looking, rights-compliant climate action at all levels.

More information can be found here.


In response to journalists, Rhéal LeBlanc, for the United Nations Information Service (UNIS), on behalf of the World Health Organization (WHO), said that the WHO Global Advisory Committee on Vaccine Safety was meeting that day to review the reports of rare blood coagulation disorders in persons who had received the AstraZeneca vaccine against COVID-19. It was reviewing the evidence in close dialogue with the European Medicines Agency and might issue a public statement after its meeting.

Christian Lindmeier, for the World Health Organization (WHO), added that the report on the WHO expert mission to China was now expected to be issued next week.


Rhéal LeBlanc, for the United Nations Information Service (UNIS), said that next public plenary meeting of the Conference on Disarmament would be held on Thursday, 18 March, at 10 a.m.

The Human Rights Committee would be closing its 131st session, during which it had considered the periodic reports of Finland and Kenya, on 26 March, at 4 p.m.

The Committee on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities would be concluding its consideration of the periodic report of Estonia on 17 March, at 12.30 p.m.

Mr. LeBlanc announced that the United Nations Conference on Trade and Development (UNCTAD) would be holding a virtual press conference that day, at 4 p.m., concerning its update on the global economy, under embargo until 7 a.m. on 18 March. Scheduled to speak were Richard Kozul-Wright, UNCTAD Director of the Division on Globalization and Development Strategies, and Nelson Barbosa, Professor of Economics, University of Brasilia.

At a virtual press conference at noon on Wednesday, 17 March, the World Health Organization (WHO) Strategic Advisory Group of Experts (SAGE) on Immunization would present its interim recommendations on the use of the Johnson & Johnson COVID-19 vaccine. Speakers would include: Dr. Alejandro Cravioto, Chair, SAGE on Immunization; Dr. Joachim Hombach, Executive Secretary SAGE; and Dr. Kate O’Brien, Director, Department of Immunization, Vaccines and Biologicals, WHO.

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