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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 Human Rights Council, the United Nations Refugee Agency, the World Health Organization, the World Trade Organization and the World Food Programme.

Human Rights Council update

Rolando Gomez, for the Human Rights Council, said that that morning, the Council had observed a moment of silence for the sudden passing of the President of Haiti, Jovenel Moïse. The Council would begin its work today with the adoption of three reports of the Working Group on the Universal Periodic Review, namely those on Georgia, Nauru and Sao Tomé and Principe. The Council would hear the presentation of an oral update by the Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR) on recent human rights developments in Ukraine, as well as a comprehensive report by OHCHR on arbitrary detention, torture and ill-treatment in the context of armed conflict in eastern Ukraine between 2014 and 2021. The Deputy High Commissioner for Human Rights, Nada Al-Nashif, would also present a report of the United Nations Secretary-General on the human rights situation in the Autonomous Republic of Crimea and the city of Sevastopol, Ukraine. At 1 p.m., the Council would hear an oral update by the Independent Expert on the situation of human rights in the Central African Republic, Yao Agbetse. The Council would then hear from the Special Rapporteur on the situation of human rights in the Palestinian territories, Michael Lynk, who would present his latest report on developments in the region. 

On Monday, the Council would hold its annual panel discussion on technical cooperation. The panel, dedicated to the right to education, would look at ways to ensure inclusive and equitable quality education and lifelong learning for all. The United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights, Michelle Bachelet, would then present her report on systemic racism, which addressed human rights violations committed by law enforcement agencies against Africans and people of African descent. That report, which had been mandated in June 2020 following the death of George Floyd and the ensuing protests, had been launched on 28 June. OHCHR would then deliver an oral update on the human rights situation in Georgia. In the afternoon, the Council would begin action on the 28 draft resolutions submitted for its consideration at the current session, as well as the 51 amendments had been tabled in the previous 48 hours. Action on the drafts would continue on Tuesday.

South Sudan marks 10 years of independence

Arafat Jamal, for the United Nations Refugee Agency (UNHCR), said that today marked the 10th anniversary of the independence of the world’s youngest country, South Sudan. It had been suggested in some quarters that the occasion gave little cause for celebration, as the country had experienced more war than peace during the decade. A brutal inter-communal conflict had broken out in late 2013, undoing hard-won gains and ushering in a dire humanitarian situation. Over 2.2 million people had forced to flee to neighbouring countries. The most recent UNHCR report on displacement trends, released last month, placed South Sudan among the top five refugee-producing countries globally. 1.6 million people had been internally displaced and cut off from education, livelihoods and protection. As a result, South Sudan was experiencing the largest displacement crisis in Africa. Moreover, some 7.2 million people, or 60 percent of the population, were estimated to be acutely food insecure.

Yet signs of hope were emerging. South Sudan had opened its doors to 320,000 refugees, mainly from Sudan. Efforts to implement the national peace process had encouraged some 375,000 South Sudanese refugees to voluntarily return since November 2017. 1.6 million internally displaced persons had also returned home. UNHCR was not currently promoting or facilitating refugee returns but was providing assistance to those that had chosen to return and start afresh.

Given the clear signs that people believed that South Sudan could return to peace and stability, the international community needed to do more to reimagine and recommit efforts towards the country’s development and future. Urgent and strategic action was needed to help returnees and their communities to live in safety and dignity, with greater security and prosperity. Financial resources were required to sustain current aid efforts and to respond to future situational changes. The UNHCR operation in South Sudan had received only 38 per cent of the USD 224 million required this year, and at least USD 11 million were needed to operationalize and scale-up activities in return areas.

The full UNHCR briefing note is available here: UNHCR - UNHCR calls for renewed commitment to South Sudan's peace, development, and future.

Responding to journalists, Mr. Jamal said that although concerns about governance might be well founded, the international community could not afford to be overly critical of the authorities. UNHCR had identified areas that seemed promising and had been able to work well with the local officials in some counties. UNHCR had also put in place a monitoring framework to ensure accountability and appropriate use of funds. It should be recalled that the conflict in South Sudan was rooted in its geographical isolation and history of underdevelopment. He was hopeful that with the consolidation of peace and the development of better logistical chains, the situation in would gradually improve.

Alessandra Vellucci, for the UN Information Service, noted that the Special Representative of the Secretary-General and Head of the United Nations Mission in South Sudan, Mr. Nicholas Haysom, had welcomed the significant progress made since the signing of the Revitalized Agreement on the Resolution of the Conflict in South Sudan in 2018. He had also stressed the need for the full implementation of the Agreement, and called for the international community to fulfil its commitments to the country.

Mr. Haysom’s full remarks can be found here:

10th anniversary of independence provides opportunity for fresh push for peace in South Sudan | United Nations Peacekeeping

Health needs and WHO activities in Afghanistan

Dr. Rick Brennan, for the World Health Organization (WHO) said that humanitarian needs in Afghanistan were enormous and complex. The country faced concurrent emergencies in the form of an escalating violent conflict, a spreading pandemic, and a recently declared drought. Those events were unfolding in the context of one of the world’s largest and longest standing humanitarian emergencies. As of early 2021, 18.4 million people were in need of humanitarian assistance in Afghanistan.

The worsening security situation had led to a sharp increase in civilian casualties. During the past week alone, 56 civilians had been killed and 725 injured. Those figures were almost certainly underestimated. Last week, five regional hospitals had responded to 14 mass-casualty incidents, increasing the burden on the health system and placing an immense psychological and physical strain on health workers. Moreover, in 2021 there had been 30 attacks on health care facilities, including the destruction of an immunization centre. Such attacks were a violation of the right to health, limited access to health care at a time of increased need, and contravened international humanitarian law. WHO condemned them in the strongest terms.

In 2021, over 220,000 people in Afghanistan had been displaced by the conflict and by natural disasters. Besides facing the loss of their livelihoods, many displaced persons were now accommodated in overcrowded and unsanitary settings, meaning that they risked exposure to infectious diseases, including coronavirus disease (COVID-19). The pandemic had added another layer of complexity to the humanitarian challenge. Afghanistan was now in the midst of a large wave of cases and had recorded over 131,000 and 5,500 deaths. Those figures were likely a significant underestimate. On 19 June, the Ministry of Health had announced that the Delta variant – associated with increased rates of transmission – had been detected in Afghanistan. Vaccination efforts were proceeding slowly: 934,000 people had received one dose of vaccine: only 2.4 doses per 100 people. Under 200,000 people had received their second dose. Given the competing demands on the Afghan people, it remained challenging to ensure adherence to measures such as mask-wearing and social distancing.

Even before the drought declaration, it had been estimated that 3.1 million children - almost half of children under the age of 5 years – had been at risk of acute malnutrition. For that reason, WHO was supporting three stabilization centres for children with severe acute malnutrition.

WHO was working with the Ministry of Health and other partners to scale up the response to the country’s complex needs. WHO had already distributed over 80 tons of emergency medical supplies to hospitals and clinics, including essential medicines, trauma kits and cholera kits. A further 67 tons would be delivered next week. A team of WHO trauma experts had recently trained staff from five referral hospitals on mass-casualty management. WHO also maintained its support across all aspects of the COVID-19 response, including for vaccinations, surveillance, laboratory diagnosis, intensive care and community engagement. WHO technical experts had recently reviewed the status of the pandemic in Afghanistan in order to advise the Ministry of Health on appropriate adjustments to the national strategy. It was expected that 3.5 million vaccines would be delivered in the coming weeks.

Replying to questions from journalists, Dr. Brennan said that the security situation was fluid and fast-moving. WHO had received reports that health staff who had left their facilities were starting to return to their posts. While the United Nations had offered to bring national staff based in the provinces to Kabul, most WHO staff had decided to stay at their posts. WHO did not have direct dialogue with the Taliban, but it had received indirect requests to continue to provide health services in districts that it had taken over. He believed that WHO had a good reputation, particularly in the area of polio vaccination, and that would be instrumental to maintain its field presence.

Also answering questions, Dr. Brennan said that the vaccination strategy was currently targeting individuals at high risk, including health-care workers and people over the age of 55 with comorbidities. The campaign was making uneven progress; vaccines were provided mainly in the provincial capitals, and had been hindered by the security situation. The 3.5 million vaccines expected in the coming weeks included 3.1 million Johnson & Johnson vaccines to be donated by the United States of America, 448,000 AstraZeneca vaccines provided through the COVAX Facility, and 124,000 AstraZeneca vaccines donate by Sweden. Given the WHO target of fully vaccinating 10 % of the population of all countries by September and 40 % by the end of the year, those deliveries would not be enough to meet needs. He recalled that WHO appealed for countries to make more contributions to the COVAX Facility, which was the main channel for providing vaccines to low- and middle-income countries.

WHO remained fully committed to ensuring women’s access to essential health services, including reproductive health services and emergency obstetric and neonatal care. It was working with the United Nations Population Fund to increase the capacity of referral hospitals and to ensure that survivors of gender-based violence received medical care and psychosocial support.

WHO expected that the drought and the security situation would exacerbate food insecurity, which in turn would lead to an increase in the number of children at risk of acute malnutrition. Its focus was on treating the most severe cases of acute malnutrition among children. Partner agencies, including UNICEF and WFP had programmes to combat chronic malnutrition.

WTO virtual meeting of ministers on fisheries subsidies

Fernando Puchol, for the World Trade Organization (WTO), said that on Thursday, 15 July, beginning at 8 a.m. Geneva time, a virtual meeting of ministers would be held to advance negotiations on curbing harmful fisheries subsidies. WTO members were negotiating rules to prohibit subsidies that harmed fisheries resources in order to improve the long-term sustainability of marine fishing for the benefit of all.

At the meeting, ministers would be guided by a common set of questions and would discuss the way forward for the talks. The meeting would be divided into three sessions. The first two sessions, organized around members' time zones, would focus on ministers' responses to questions that Director-General Okonjo-Iweala and Ambassador Santiago Wills of Colombia, Chair of the negotiations, had circulated in advance. Ministers would make three-minute interventions after opening remarks by the Director-General and a report from Ambassador Wills. Once the ministers had spoken, the Chair would summarize their remarks. The Director-General would facilitate, in the final session, a discussion among ministers on the way forward in the negotiations, with a view to finalizing an agreement ahead of the 12th Ministerial Conference, scheduled to take place at the end of the year.

A press conference by Director-General Okonjo-Iweala and Ambassador Wills would be held immediately after the closing session of the ministerial meeting, which would start at 7 p.m. with no definite end time. A media advisory would be sent with further details.

Announcements

Tomson Phiri, for the World Food Programme, said that the 2021 edition of the report State of Food Security and Nutrition in the World, produced by WFP, the Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) and other United Nations agencies, would be officially launched on Monday, 12 July at 10 a.m. New York time. The launch would take place on the margins of the high-level political forum of the Economic and Social Council, and would be broadcast on UN Web TV. It would be followed by a virtual press conference, beginning at 5 p.m. Geneva time. Speakers would include Dominique Burgeon, Director of the FAO Liaison Office with the UN in Geneva, and Annalisa Conte, Director of the WFP Geneva Global Office.

Alessandra Vellucci, Director of the United Nations Information Service (UNIS), on behalf of the World Health Organization, said that on Tuesday, 13 July at 3.30 p.m., WHO and UNICEF would hold a virtual press conference on new official data on childhood vaccination.

On behalf of Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR), Ms. Vellucci said that on Wednesday, 14 July at 2 p.m., OHCHR would hold a press conference on the subject of “Freedom of Expression Online: Challenges and Opportunities in the Digital Age”.

Ms. Vellucci also said that the Human Rights Committee would next meet in public on 16 July at 4 p.m. to consider the progress report of the Rapporteur on follow-up to concluding observations on State party reports. The Committee’s 132nd session would close on 23 July.

Finally, Ms. Vellucci said that the seventy-first session of the Committee against Torture would open on Monday, 12 July at 12.30 p.m., and run until 30 July. During the session it would review the report of Belgium.

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