Skip to main content

PRESS BRIEFING BY THE UNITED NATIONS INFORMATION SERVICE

Bi-Weekly Briefing

Alessandra Vellucci, Director of the United Nations Information Service in Geneva, chaired the hybrid briefing, which was attended by spokespersons and representatives of the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights, the United Nations Refugee Agency, the World Health Organization, the Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs, the United Nations Children’s Fund, the World Food Programme, the Food and Agriculture Organization, the Interparliamentary Union, the International Labour Organization, and the Comprehensive Nuclear-Test-Ban Treaty Organization.

Twenty-fifth anniversary of the opening for signature of the Comprehensive Nuclear Test Ban

Robert Floyd, Executive Secretary of the Comprehensive Nuclear Test Ban Treaty Organization (CTBTO), said that the humanity was at the critical point in the fight to rid the world of nuclear weapons and the threat they posed. The Comprehensive Nuclear-Test-Ban Treaty had opened for signature 25 years earlier. In the five decades between the death and destruction of the bombings of Hiroshima and Nagasaki and the birth of this Treaty, more than 2,000 nuclear tests had been conducted. As of today, 185 States had signed it and 170 had ratified the Treaty, while only three countries had conducted nuclear tests and only one of them in this century. Even without having entered into force, the CTBT had already achieved near universal adherence to the Treaty’s prohibition on nuclear explosions. In the last 25 years, the CTBTO had built up a verification system that had been tried and tested, proving its effectiveness at detecting even relatively low yield nuclear tests, as was the case with the first announced nuclear test carried out by the DPRK in 2006. Twenty-five years after the CTBT had opened for signature, there existed the tools in place to end nuclear tests everywhere, by everyone, for all time. A world free of nuclear testing could be achieved because failure to do so was not an option, stressed Mr. Floyd.

Responding to questions, Mr. Floyd explained that the United States, China, India, Pakistan, Israel, Iran, Egypt and the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea were the eight countries which had not ratified the Annex 2, whose signature and ratification were required for the Treaty to enter into force. The three States that had conducted nuclear tests since 1996 were the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea, India, and Pakistan, and only the DPRK had done it in the last two decades. Despite media reports, there was no proof that China had conducted nuclear testing in recent decades. No State without nuclear weapons could develop them using simulation only; testing was necessary to achieve that objective. Simulation would not be adequate to develop a new class of weapons either, he stressed; testing would be required as well.

State of Food and Agriculture Report 2021

Maximo Torero, Chief Economist at the Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO), stated that the focus of the State of Food and Agriculture Report 2021 was to look into countries’ abilities to respond to chokes, which had come up as extremely important after the pandemic revealed fragility of food systems. A suite of indicators pointed at very different approaches taken by over 140 countries to develop resilience. The four key functions of agrifood systems were: robust primary production; availability of food; physical access to food; and economic access to food. One of the key findings of the report was that diversity in domestic production, imports, exports, and supply chains was a key element of resilience. Mr. Torero stressed that food availability did not guarantee that people would have access to it. Fragility of access to food around the world was another major finding. Transport network resilience in 90 countries was another area of concern. The most alarming finding was economic access, which was particularly observed today, as a result of COVID-19. Approximately one billion people would be unable to afford healthy diets if their incomes went down by one third. That was in addition to the three billion who could already not afford healthy diet. Most of the one billion were in the middle-income countries, primarily in Asia, informed Mr. Torero.

Responding to questions, Mr. Torero said that in Brazil, at the beginning of the pandemic, there had been problems with food transportation. Most of Brazilian exports went into one country, explained Mr. Torero responding to questions. Andrea Cattaneo, also for the FAO, added that both Brazil and Argentina relied heavily on exports and a relatively small number of trade partners. In Brazil, before the pandemic, already 12 percent of the people could not afford healthy died; another 10 percent had been on the brink, and if their income was reduced, they would not be able to afford healthy diet at all. In Mexico, both poverty and hunger had increased during the pandemic, he specified.

Pre-electoral violence in Honduras

Marta Hurtado, for the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR), stated that the High Commissioner for Human Rights had expressed her deep concern about political violence in Honduras, which had already claimed 29 lives, and called on the authorities to ensure an environment conducive to holding peaceful, transparent, and genuine elections.

Honduras would hold local, general, and presidential elections on 28 November, in an extremely tense and polarized context, in which serious attacks and other forms of violence had been documented. Since primary elections were called in September 2020, the UN Human Rights Office in Honduras had recorded 63 cases of political violence, including 29 killings, 14 attacks, 12 instances of aggressive behaviour, as well as seven people directly threatened and one kidnapped. All three main parties had victims among their ranks, explained Ms. Hurtado.

The UN Human Rights Chief called for prompt, thorough, impartial, and effective investigations into all acts of political violence, with a view to holding those responsible accountable. “People in Honduras have the right to vote in peace and elect their leaders without feeling insecure, coerced or afraid. I count on all involved to commit to this,” Bachelet said.

Full statement can be found here.

Stalled transitional justice in Nepal

Marta Hurtado, for the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR), said that fifteen years before, a peace deal had brought an end to the bitter ten-year conflict in Nepal that had left over 13,000 people dead. During the conflict, gross human rights violations had been committed by both sides, including extrajudicial killings, torture, sexual violence and enforced disappearances.

Successive governments had committed to advancing the transitional justice process through an open, consultative, and victim-centric approach, but those commitments had not been implemented. Concretely, there had been no progress to amend the transitional justice legal framework in line with Nepal’s obligations under international law and the principles established by Supreme Court rulings in 2014 and 2015. OHCHR urged the Government of Nepal to pursue a truly fair, comprehensive and transparent transitional justice process that was able to gain the trust of key stakeholders and ensures accountability for grave violations, as well as truth, justice and reparation for victims.

Full statement is available here.

Killings in Brazil

In an answer to a question on the recent discovery of eight bodies in a favella near Rio de Janeiro, Marta Hurtado, for the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR), stated that the OHCHR had reiterated to the state authorities that the use of force should be applied only when necessary. Lethal force should be used as the very last resort and only in the case of imminent threat to life. An independent, thorough, impartial, and effective investigation was also needed into this latest case.

Chinese tennis player

Responding to questions from the media, Marta Hurtado, for the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR), said that the Office could not comment on the tennis player Peng Shuai’s interaction with the President of the International Olympic Committee. Her freedom of movement ought to be respected, while the Chine authorities were called upon to investigate Shuai’s allegations of sexual abuse.

Situation in Nicaragua

Responding to further questions, Marta Hurtado, for the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR), stated that the OHCHR deeply regretted the decision to denounce the Charter of the Organization of American States. Further isolation of Nicaragua should be avoided, stressed Ms. Hurtado. The High Commissioner would provide an oral update on Nicaragua at the Human Rights Council on 14 December, informed Ms. Hurtado.

Situation in Venezuela

In a reply to questions from the journalists, Marta Hurtado, for the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR), said that, while the elections in Venezuela had been held largely in a peaceful manner, reports of several incidents, leading to one death, had also been recorded. Those incidents should be duly investigated to ensure accountability for the victims. There were also concerning reports that some public employees had been forced to vote in favor of the ruling party.

World Food Programme operations in Ethiopia

Tomson Phiri, for the World Food Programme (WFP), said that the WFP called on all parties to the conflict in northern Ethiopia to respect humanitarian operations and assets and allow unimpeded passage of humanitarian relief to civilians in need. The previous week, WFP had been granted access to humanitarian warehouses in Kombolcha, Amhara region. Initial assessments had revealed damaged equipment, vandalized storage units, and substantial amounts of food looted from the facilities. The loss of this food meant fewer people in need could be reached by WFP and its partners.

To date, the WFP had delivered emergency food and nutrition assistance to 2.6 million people in Tigray, 124,000 people in Afar and 220,000 people in Amhara, in the face of active fighting which had closed the main corridors into Tigray and Amhara, substantially cutting humanitarian access. WFP’s Northern Ethiopia response urgently required USD 279 million to meet needs over the next six months. Across the entire country, WFP had an unprecedented funding gap of USD 546 million over the next six months.

Displaced Yemenis struggle to access aid

Shabia Mantoo, for the United Nations Refugee Agency (UNHCR), stated that UNHCR was gravely concerned about the safety and security of civilians in Yemen’s Marib governorate, including more than one million people who were estimated to be displaced. As the frontlines shifted closer to densely populated areas, their lives were in danger and access to humanitarian aid is becoming harder. 

UNHCR was warning that further escalation of the conflict would only increase the vulnerability of people in Marib, especially those displaced, and was calling for an immediate ceasefire in Yemen. Only a peaceful resolution to the conflict could halt further suffering. 

Since the start of the new offensive in Marib this September, UNHCR had reached over 2,000 displaced families with emergency relief assistance. UNHCR was strengthening its mobile protection activities in the sites and urban areas, to assess needs. Its teams brought psychological assistance to people in distress; disseminated information on services; identified those with specific needs and refer them for humanitarian support, which remained limited. 

UNHCR statement is available here.

West and Central Africa most affected by grave violations against children in armed conflict

Karin Heissler, Regional Adviser for Child Protection in West and Central Africa at the United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF), said that since 2005, when a United Nations mechanism for monitoring and reporting on the six grave violations against children had been established, West and Central Africa had been the region in the world with the highest number of children verified as recruited and used by armed forces and non-state armed groups – 42,000. West and Central Africa also had the second highest number of abductions, according to a new UNICEF publication.

Between 2016 and 2020, there had been a 50 per cent increase in the total number of grave violations verified. And there had also been an exponential acceleration between 2019 and 2020, in the number of grave violations against children, increasing by 35 per cent in one year.

UNICEF was asking for five actions: 1) all parties to conflict were called on to prevent and end grave violations against children, and to ensure perpetrators are held accountable; 2) support and scale-up documenting grave violations against children was necessary; 3) for those children recruited and used, UNICEF called for the quick transfer of children from armed forces to civilian authorities and child protection actors to receive appropriate assistance, as children and as victims; 4) financial and human resources were needed to provide and scale-up quality, gender-sensitive services to support girls and women, including for survivors of sexual and gender-based violence; and 5) an increase in multi-year flexible and predictable funding was needed to support children in humanitarian settings to meet their immediate and longer-term needs.

More information is available here.

Between 2005 and 2020, based on the global rankings using verified data, the Democratic Republic of the Congo ranked the first when it came to the recruitment of children in armed forces, said Ms. Heissler in a response to a question. The data was scrupulously verified and collected by UNICEF and partners on the ground. A number of follow up actions were taken after the verification, such as negotiating with the warring parties to release children.

Update on the Afghanistan Flash Appeal

Jens Laerke, for the United Nations Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (UNOCHA), stated that on 13 September, at the High-Level Ministerial Meeting in Geneva, international donors had been asked for support to the humanitarian response in Afghanistan, including for the USD 606 million Flash Appeal. Member States had announced USD 1.2 billion dollars in both humanitarian and development aid - to Afghanistan, to the region, and to the Flash Appeal. Mr. Laerke reported that the Flash Appeal was now 100 per cent funded – the only one of 47 plans on the Financial Tracking Service. The response was scaling up in Afghanistan. However, not all funding had been translated into action because of the crisis in Afghanistan’s banking and financial system. And half of the population still needed emergency aid.

UN had access to all different areas of Afghanistan, confirmed Mr. Laerke in a response to a question. The impending economic collapse of the country was of major concern, he stressed.

World Health Assembly special session

Steven Solomon, Principal Legal Adviser at the World Health Organization (WHO), said that the World Health Assembly special session would begin on 29 November and last for three days. It would be only the second special session in the history of the WHO. The focus would be on considering benefits of developing an international instrument of pandemic preparedness and response. The session would not be developing or agreeing on a treaty; instead, it would be considering whether the way forward in rebuilding the global health architecture should include a legally binding pandemic treaty or another instrument, such as a non-binding document. A tremendous amount of work had been done over the last several months, and the report was publicly available.

Responding to questions, Mr. Solomon said that it was possible to complete treaties in six months. The WHO Constitution, a legally binding treaty, had been concluded in six months in 1946, for example. The question today thus related to time, complexity, and political will. All Member States were committed to developing a global way forward to an improved system, stressed Mr. Solomon. In 2011, he reminded, the 194 Member States had agreed on an influenza preparedness framework, ensuring that all countries would quickly be sharing information on influenza, and that ten percent of influenza pandemic vaccines would go to the WHO for it to distribute based on the public health needs. It was to be seen whether this framework could serve as a reference point for other pathogens with a pandemic potential.

Mr. Solomon further explained that the Member States now needed to decide which normative path forward they would take. Preparatory work had been underway for a while. Many countries recognized that a separate instrument could serve as a collective vehicle for benefit sharing, while taking into consideration the Nagoya Protocol on Access to Genetic Resources and the Fair and Equitable Sharing of Benefits.

Report on violence against women in parliaments in Africa

Zeina Hilal, Manager of the Gender Equality Programme and the Youth Programme at the Interparliamentary Union (IPU), said that the new IPU study on violence against women in parliaments in Africa had surveyed more than 220 women parliamentarians and parliamentary staff from 50 African parliaments. The study revealed that 80 percent of respondents had said that they had experienced psychological violence, including sexist remarks, online harassment, or intimidation. Over 30 percent had been victims of sexual violence, informed Ms. Hilal. Those different forms of violence were particularly high before or after elections. The study showed strong intersectionality elements, where women from the opposition, young women, women with disabilities or women widows were particularly targeted. A very low level of reporting of such violence was also noted.

More information is available here.

Geneva announcements

Isabel Piquer Hubert, for the International Labour Organization (ILO), informed that the second segment of the 109th Session of the International Labour Conference  would begin on 25 November and run until 11 December. The Conference would be held virtually. Main items on the agenda would be two general discussions, one on inequalities and the world of work and the second on skills and lifelong learning. All ILC coverage and documents will be available on https://www.ilo.org/ilc .

Christian Lindmeier, for the World Health Organization (WHO), informed that the WHO today issued updated guidelines on the management of multisystem inflammatory syndrome in children associated with COVID-19 (MIS-C). MIS-C was a rare but serious condition where children with COVID-19 developed inflammation affecting different organs of the body. Although MIS-C was a serious condition, with the right medical care, children with this condition recovered. WHO’s updated guidelines recommended the use of corticosteroids in hospitalized children with this condition, in addition to supportive treatment and care. This recommendation followed the availability of three observational studies, pooling data from 885 patients in total. Mr. Lindmeier explained that, overall, children remained at a low of risk of developing severe or critical COVID-19, but like adults, certain underlying conditions made children more susceptible to severe disease. The most reported of those conditions were obesity, chronic lung disease (including asthma), cardiovascular disease and immunosuppression.

Christian Lindmeier, for the World Health Organization (WHO), also informed that the next press conference on COVID-19 would be held on 24 November; the exact timing of it would be circulated shortly.

Alessandra Vellucci, for the United Nations Information Service (UNIS), informed that the 16 Days of Activism against Gender-Based Violence was an annual international campaign that would kick off on 25 November, the International Day for the Elimination of Violence against Women, and would until 10 December, the Human Rights Day. The global theme for this year’s campaign was “Orange the world: End violence against women now!”. The UN would hold an official commemoration 24 November through a virtual event taking place from 4 pm Geneva time with the participation of the UN Secretary-General and the President of the General Assembly, among others. In Geneva, several activities were also being organized to mark the campaign, including oranging” iconic monuments in the city; a multi-stakeholder discussion at the UN on Fighting Gender-Based Violence; a photo and social media campaign with International Geneva to say NO! to gender-based violence; and publicity bikes raising awareness of the campaign.

Ms. Vellucci also informed that at a hybrid press briefing at 2:30 pm today, the United Nations Conference on Trade and Development (UNCTAD), would launch its 2021 Palestine Report.

The Committee against Torture was beginning this morning its review of the report of Serbia, which would conclude at 3 pm on 24 November.

The Committee on the Elimination of Racial Discrimination was concluding this morning its review of the report of Thailand, after which it would begin the review of the report of Denmark.

***