REGULAR PRESS BRIEFING BY THE UNITED NATIONS INFORMATION SERVICE
Ms. Alessandra Vellucci, Director of the United Nations Information Service in Geneva, chaired the hybrid briefing. In attendance were spokespersons and representatives of the United Nations Conference on Trade and Development (UNCTAD), the World Food Programme (WFP), the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR), the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR), the World Health Organization (WHO), the International Organization for Migration (IOM), and the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNICEF).
Food security in Madagascar
Amer Daoudi, Senior Director of Operations for the World Food Programme (WFP), said he was currently in Madagascar, where he had arrived a couple of days ago to see first-hand the deteriorating humanitarian situation in southern Madagascar. Famine loomed in southern Madagascar as communities witnessed an almost total disappearance of food sources which had created a full-blown nutrition emergency. People had had to resort to desperate survival measures such as eating locusts, raw red cactus fruits or wild leaves. At least 1.35 million people needed emergency food and nutrition assistance and had been suffering from hunger since the start of the lean season last September. The lives of children were at stake as the nutrition situation in under-fives deteriorated to alarming levels. Most of the southern districts were in a nutrition emergency as acute malnutrition had almost doubled over the last 4 months, increasing from 9 per cent to 16 per cent.
A full briefing note is available here.
Responding to questions, Mr. Daoudi said the writing was on the wall. What he had witnessed was clear: the country was headed towards a disaster. $75 million were needed immediately. Entire villages were already shutting down as the population moved to urban centers in search of food. Some people were such a dire condition that they could not even make the 40-kilometer trek to the nearest urban center. Deforestation, soil erosion, and of course climate change were among underline causes of the crisis. He had seen agricultural fields covered with a thick layer of sand. These factors, combined with the last five-year droughts, had created a perfect storm.
Margaret Harris, for the World Health Organization, said WHO was worried about the famine, but also about COVID-19, as that country was considered at risk of a resurgence.
Disproportionate use of force against protesters in Chad
Marta Hurtado, for the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR), said the Office was deeply disturbed by the apparently disproportionate use of force – including the use of live ammunition – by defence and security forces in the context of protests in Chad this week, particularly on Tuesday when six people had reportedly been killed and several wounded in the capital N’Djamena and in the second largest Chadian city of Moundou. The Office understood that more than 700 people had also been arrested in relation to the demonstrations. At this point, it was unclear how many remained in detention. As further protests and general strikes had been called to take place in the coming days, the Office stressed that Chad remained bound by its obligations under international human rights law to protect and respect human rights, including the right to life, and to facilitate the exercise of the right to freedom of peaceful assembly. The decree imposing a blanket ban on demonstrations without prior authorization may undermine the exercise of the right to peaceful assembly. The Office had noted that the Transitional Military Council itself declared on 20 April that it would abide by Chad’s international treaty obligations.
A full briefing note is available here.
Responding to questions, Alessandra Vellucci, Director of the United Nations Information Service in Geneva, said the United Nations was working with every partner to lower the level of violence and assist the people of Chad in the period of transition.
Violence against prisoners protesting against lack of medical care in Bahrain
Marta Hurtado, for the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR), said the Office was disturbed by the use of unnecessary and disproportionate force by police special forces to dismantle a peaceful sit-in in Bahrain’s Jau prison on 17 April. According to accounts received from eyewitnesses of the incident, special forces had thrown stun grenades and beaten detainees on their heads, badly injuring many of them. The authorities had reportedly taken 33 protestors to another building in the prison, where they were being kept incommunicado and had been unable to make contact with families or lawyers, in violation of both national and international law. The inmates had been protesting about conditions of detention, in particular the lack of access to medical treatment. The sit-in had begun on 5 April, after a political prisoner, Abbas Mal Allah, had died after reportedly being denied timely access to essential health care. The lack of health care in the overcrowded Bahraini prisons had been an issue for years but had become a chronic problem during the COVID-19 pandemic. The spread of the pandemic in Bahrain’s prisons had sparked protests across the country. In response, the authorities had detained dozens of protesters for breaching COVID-19 restrictions.
A full briefing note is available here.
Responding to a question about the pandemic, Ms. Hurtado said there had been at least 97 cases of individuals who had tested positive for COVID-19. The lack of timely access to healthcare for prisoners had been an issue even before the outbreak.
Babar Baloch, for the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR), said UNHCR, was deeply concerned by the humanitarian consequences of the rapid escalation of violence in northern Mozambique where some 30,000 people had fled the coastal town of Palma since it had come under attack by armed groups on 24 March. UNCHR was especially worried about the safety and well-being of the most vulnerable among the displaced, including women and children.
Dozens of people had reportedly been killed during the attacks while thousands fled on foot, by road and by sea. Many more were believed to still be trapped inside Palma. Those who had fled had faced significant barriers trying to reach safety both inside the country and while attempting to cross borders. The ongoing armed conflict in the oil- and gas-rich Cabo Delgado province had resulted in grave rights abuses, the disruption of critical services and severe impact on civilians, particularly children who accounted for almost half of the displaced population.
A full briefing note is available here.
Angela Wells, for the International Organization for Migration (IOM), said IOM was deeply concerned about the continued exodus of civilians from insecure areas of Cabo Delgado province to as least 13 locations where the Organization had been actively tracking internal displacement due to the conflict in northern Mozambique for almost four years. Of the nearly 30,500 internally displaced people from Palma IOM had recorded thus far, at least three-quarters were women and children. Several days in the last month had seen more than 1,000 people arrive daily to safer areas by bus, foot, boat and plane. In 2021, IOM had required nearly $22 million to respond to immediate lifesaving humanitarian needs in northern Mozambique. The IOM Director General had released $1.2 million to support relief efforts however significant funding shortfalls remains.
Answering questions, Mr. Baloch said desperate people were still on the run, fleeing Palma. A majority of them were women and children. Because of the security situation, UNHCR was not in Palma, and was making an appeal for the safety of all civilians. More broadly, the situation in Mozambique had caused 715,000 people to be displaced, leading to thousands of deaths and injured.
Displacements in Myanmar
Responding to a question on Myanmar, Babar Baloch, for the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR), said that, following the recent escalation of conflict between the Myanmar military and Karen Nation Union (KNU) forces, according to various sources including the Royal Thai Government (RTG), UNHCR understood that some 2,000 Myanmar nationals had crossed into Thailand in recent days. UNHCR had approached the Thai authorities with an offer of assistance. Together with its partners, it stood by ready to support the RTG-led humanitarian response to any new arrivals into Thailand.
International Jazz Day (30 April)
Alessandra Vellucci, Director of the United Nations Information Service in Geneva, said the UN Secretary-General had reminded that ten years ago, the United Nations had launched the very first International Jazz Day in the United Nations General Assembly Hall at the initiative of UNESCO and the Herbie Hancock Institute of Jazz. Today, amid a global pandemic, performers and workers dependent on the creative arts were suffering. It was important to restore vibrant societies as safely, equitably and quickly as possible. On this Day, the world was reminded how jazz could provide hope, healing and energy as all worked to build a better and more peaceful world.
The full message of the Secretary-General is available here.
Vincent Defourny, for the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO), said the actor Michael Douglas would host the 2021 All-Star Global Concert. It would be streamed live from UNESCO in Paris and the United Nations in New York with a lineup of some of the best international artists performing from cities around the world. The concert would start at 5:00 pm (US EDT) - 23:00 (CEST). UN Secretary-General António Guterres would speak during the concert, of which jazz pianist Herbie Hancock would be the artistic director, with John Beasley serving as the concert’s musical director.
UNESCO Director-General Audrey Azoulay had said that “UNESCO created International Jazz Day to share the values of a deeply meaningful musical genre. Today we need jazz more than ever. We need its values, based on human dignity and the fight against racism and all forms of oppression. It is so much more than music, jazz is the kind of bridge builder we need in the world today.”
Responding to a question, Mr. Defourny said UNESCO had launched an initiative called ResiliArt to highlight the difficulties artists were facing in the context of the pandemic. It also addressed the issue of remuneration of artists by digital platforms.
World Press Freedom Day (3 May)
Alessandra Vellucci, Director of the United Nations Information Service in Geneva, said that in his message on World Press Freedom Day, the UN Secretary-General had recalled the 30th anniversary of the Windhoek Declaration for the Development of a Free, Independent and Pluralistic African Press. He had said that, despite dramatic changes in the media over the past three decades, the Declaration’s urgent call for press freedom and free access to information was as relevant as ever. He encouraged reflecting on its message, and renewing efforts to protect media freedom – so that information remained a lifesaving public good for all.
The full message of the Secretary-General can be watched here.
Vincent Defourny, for the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO), said UNESCO and the Government of Namibia were hosting the World Press Freedom Day Global Conference in Windhoek from 29 April through 3 May. This year’s theme aimed to promote information as a public good. Some 40 sessions would be held during the 5-day conference including three thematic discussions on issues currently affecting media viability, the transparency of online platforms, and ways to strengthen media and information literacy. Speakers included Joseph Stiglitz, Nobel Memorial Prize in Economic Sciences; Irene Khan, UN Special Rapporteur on the Promotion and Protection of the Right to Freedom of Opinion and Expression; Agnès Callamard, Secretary General, Amnesty International; Maria Ressa, CEO of Rappler – Laureate of the 2021 UNESCO/ Guillermo Cano Press Freedom Prize.
Responding to a question about freedom of press in Mexico, Mr. Defourny said that, while he could not qualify this specific situation, UNESCO was worried about any situation of limitation of freedom of expression and freedom of press.
In reply to a question about journalists in Mexico, Marta Hurtado, for the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR), said that freedom of expression and freedom of opinion implied the right to access to information. The work of journalists was essential to democracy.
New UNCTAD study on global e-commerce, and COVID-19 impact on trade and development
Catherine Huissoud, for the United Nations Conference on Trade and Development (UNCTAD), announced a new UNCTAD study on global e-commerce. The latest and most comprehensive figures available were those for 2019 at the moment. But the experts went further in their analysis and made projections for 2020. The results were mixed depending on the sector, considering of course tourism and travel whose fate was not as enviable as that of much more flourishing sectors. The report was under embargo until Monday, 3 May, at 5 a.m. GMT, 7 a.m. CEST.
On Tuesday 4 May, UNCTAD would publish an update of its report on the impact of the COVID-19 on trade and development. The economists were proposing a synthesis that would serve as an update on the magnitude of the economic and social impacts of the pandemic from a development perspective. This report would be made available electronically on Tuesday morning along with a news item. There would be no embargo on this document.
Replying to questions, Margaret Harris, for the World Health Organization, said a number of vaccines were being considered for emergency use listing by the Technical Advisory Group, including the SinoPharm, Moderna, and SinoVac vaccines. After the emergency use listing process had taken place, press conferences could be organized to respond to journalists’ questions.
On the Sputnik vaccine, she assured the process was moving forward normally. A team would go to the manufacturing site, and data related to safety and efficacy was being reviewed. Regarding AstraZeneca, it was being manufactured in different sites that had to be considered in the context of the emergency use listing process. Providing an answer to an inquiry about Brazil’s participation in a WHO press conference, Ms. Harris said WHO invited different speakers so journalists could ask them questions.
Alessandra Vellucci, Director of the United Nations Information Service in Geneva, said that as of today, there were 259 COVID-19 cases among UN Secretariat staff in Geneva.
Responding to questions about a press event with the UN Secretary-General, Alessandra Vellucci, Director of the United Nations Information Service in Geneva, said the just concluded visit of the Secretary-General to Geneva had been very much focused on Cyprus. The Secretary-General had nevertheless found time to interact with the press.
Ms. Vellucci, on behalf of the Human Rights Council, said the thirty-eighth session of the Human Rights Council's Universal Periodic Review Working Group would be held in Geneva from 3 to 14 May during which the next group of 14 States were scheduled to have their human rights records examined.
Finally, regarding treaty bodies meetings, Ms. Vellucci said that Committee on the Elimination of Racial Discrimination would close its 103rd session and issue its concluding observation on the report of Belgium, which it had reviewed this session.
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