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UN Geneva Press Briefing

Alessandra Vellucci, Director of the United Nations Information Service in Geneva, chaired the hybrid briefing, attended by spokespersons and representatives of the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR), the International Bureau of Education of the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (IBE-UNESCO), the United Nations Refugee Agency (UNHCR), and the World Health Organization (WHO).

Violence in West Darfur

Marta Hurtado, for the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR), stated that the OHCHR was appalled by the latest resurgence of violence between Masalit and Arab tribes in West Darfur, Sudan, that had left at least 87 people dead, more than 191 injured and forced thousands to flee their homes.

The latest bout of violence had erupted on 3 April in Al Geneina town when unknown assailants had shot at a group of men from the Masalit tribe, killing two and injuring one. In response, armed elements from Masalit and Arab tribes had mobilized, leading to clashes between them.

Similar to previous situations of violence in Al Geneina, the authorities had failed to stop the clashes despite a robust security force presence in the town. OHCHR urged the authorities to fully uphold their role to protect the population without discrimination. In this regard, OHCHR called on the Government of Sudan to accelerate the implementation of the National Plan for the Protection of Civilians.

Ms. Hurtado stressed that all tribes responsible for violence in Darfur had to be disarmed and the State had to be able to maintain order and ensure the rule of law, including by preventing armed civilians from taking the law into their own hands. OHCHR also urged the Government to ensure prompt, transparent and effective follow-up to these investigations.

Responding to questions, Ms. Hurtado explained that at least 87 people were dead and 191 injured. The clash had taken place between the Masali tribes, mainly farmers, and the Arab tribes, who were mainly herders. OHCHR was asking the Government to speed up the deployment of security personnel, in order to establish a robust presence of the state forces and avoid similar clashes. OHCHR was in the process of establishing its own office in Darfur, Ms. Hurtado informed.

Full briefing note is available here.

Status of Syrian refugees in Denmark

In reply to a question on the status of Syrian refugees in Denmark, Babar Baloch, for the United Nations Refugee Agency (UNHCR), said that UNHCR was aware that the Danish authorities were re-assessing the protection needs of some Syrian refugees who had been accorded a subsidiary protection status on the grounds that the situation in the area they originated from would have improved.

UNHCR was concerned about this development as UNHCR did not consider the recent improvements in security in parts of Syria to be sufficiently fundamental, stable or durable to justify ending international protection for any group of refugees. UNHCR continued to call for protection to be maintained for Syrian refugees and urged that they should not be returned forcibly to any part of Syria, regardless of who was in control of the area concerned.

The vast majority of Syrian refugees remained in need of international protection and preserving and supporting asylum space in host countries was vital. Refugee returns had to be voluntary and informed, in recognition of everybody’s right to return to one’s country of origin. At the same time, UNHCR continued to call on States to not forcibly return people to Syria.


Responding to questions from journalists, Margaret Harris, for the World Health Organization (WHO), expressed concern over the recent figures showing an increase in both new cases and deaths in many parts of the world. She could provide no information on the pricing and availability of the Johnson & Johnson vaccine; Gavi, the Vaccine Alliance, might be able to provide more information on that. The world was facing a serious shortfall of vaccine doses, Ms. Harris said, and more needed to be done for countries waiting to start their vaccination campaigns. WHO’s framework on prioritizing vaccines was clear, and health and frontline workers, who had daily exposure to the virus, were considered a priority.

Ms. Harris confirmed that the WHO was reviewing the Sinofarm and Sinovac vaccines; the processes were currently at a final stage and a decision was expected by the end of April. The Sputnik V vaccine review was still not at the final stage, and there was still not expected date for their approval. Avoiding close contact and being in crowded, especially indoor places, was among the most important social measures that people around the world could and should take in order to protect themselves and others. Those infected should be genuinely quarantined. Mask wearing and hand washing were, of course, still very important. Those measures, if done properly, could make a huge difference. Ms. Harris also specified that it was obvious that in Brazil the COVID-19 variants were making an impact.

On another question, Alessandra Vellucci, for the United Nations Information Service, stated that UN staff in Switzerland were included in the Swiss national and cantonal vaccination plans, and they would be vaccinated according to the schedule planned for the Swiss population, taking into consideration their age, health condition, etc.

Ms. Vellucci informed that, as of today, 248 UN Secretariat staff in Geneva had tested positive to COVID-19 since March 2020.

New Director of IBE-UNESCO

Yao Ydo, the newly appointed Director of the International Bureau of Education of the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (IBE-UNESCO), introduced himself to the media. Prior to joining the IBE, Mr. Ydo had worked with UNESCO Multisectoral Regional Office in Abuja where he had served as the Regional Director, representing the organization at the regional, national and international levels.

With over 24 years of wide experience within the UN system, Mr. Ydo had begun his career at the Headquarters of UNESCO, Paris, in the Basic Education and Literacy Section in 1997 as an Associate Expert. His extensive hands-on experience in education included a variety of education posts at UNESCO Field Offices in Mali, Cameroon, Congo (DRC), and Senegal.

Mr. Ydo reminded that IBE had been formed in 1925, and had been led by the famous Swiss psychologist, Jean Piaget for almost 40 years. IBE was currently focused primarily on curriculum, which was at the heart of education. Curriculum was to education what constitution was to democracy, said Mr. Ydo. He elaborated on the effects of the COVID-19 pandemic on learning; the challenge was how to build more resilient education systems, more ready to respond to shocks from possible similar events in the future. There were still millions of learners in developing countries who did not have access to computers. Research and capacity building at national and regional levels was of high importance for IBE.

Tribute to Christof Heyns

Marta Hurtado, for the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR), said that the OHCHR was paying a heartfelt tribute to Christof Heyns, who had passed away suddenly and unexpectedly in his home country, South Africa, on 28 March.

Professor Heyns had been one of the giants in the world of human rights, most recently a member of the Human Rights Committee from 2017 to 2020. In that role, Christof Heyns had led the drafting of the widely acclaimed General Comment No. 37 on the right of peaceful assembly, which had been published in July 2021.

Prior to serving on the Human Rights Committee, Professor Heyns had been UN Special Rapporteur on extrajudicial, summary or arbitrary executions from 2010 to 2016. His many important achievements in that role included a ground-breaking report on Lethal Autonomous Robotics and the right to life, and he had also played a key role in helping update the Minnesota Protocol On The Investigation Of Potentially Unlawful Death, published in 2016, and in the same year he had chaired the UN Independent Investigation on Burundi in 2016.

An event to commemorate the life of Christof Heyns would be held on 10 April, to be livestreamed. Details can be found on a special memorial page on Facebook.

Full briefing note is available here.

Geneva announcements

Alessandra Vellucci, for the United Nations Information Service (UNIS), informed that on 14 April at 10 a.m. there would be a hybrid press conference by the United Nations Population Fund (UNFPA) to present the report State of the World Population 2021 – “My body is my own: claiming the right to autonomy and self-determination”. The speaker would be Monica Ferro, Director, UNFPA Geneva Office.

She also informed that the Committee on the Protection of the Rights of All Migrant Workers and Members of their Families was concluding today at 4 p.m. its review of the report of Chile.

The Committee on Enforced Disappearances would open on 12 April at 12:30 p.m. its twentieth session (online), during which it would review the reports of Switzerland, Colombia, and Mongolia.


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