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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 Food Programme, the World Health Organization, and the United Nations Children’s Fund.

Six months of the war in Ukraine

Dr. Jarno Habicht, World Health Organization (WHO) Representative in Ukraine, speaking from Dnipro, said that the past six months had had a devastating impact on the country. The war had put Ukraine’s health system under severe strain. WHO and partners in the field were accelerating efforts to reach to millions of people across the country. Reconstruction of the health system had to be part of the recovery of the country, stressed Dr. Habicht. WHO had thus far delivered more than 1,300 metric tons of live-saving medicines and supplies; the organization was continuing to support Ukraine as the war was ongoing. The only remedy to this war was peace, and the WHO was calling on the Russian Federation to end the war. Almost 100 deaths and 100 injuries had been recorded in the attacks against health care so far. Such attacks were against the international humanitarian law and severely impeded access to healthcare for many Ukrainians.

Dr. Habicht thanked the many brave doctors and nurses along the frontline and across the country who continued to do their best under the very difficult circumstances. He stressed that support was also being provided for mental health, non-communicable diseases, and COVID-19, which remained a challenge in the country. Many people were on the move, suffering and needed care. Humanitarian response had to be continued all over the country.

Ravina Shamdasani, for the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR), stated that the OHCHR was concerned by reports that the Russian Federation and affiliated armed groups in Donetsk were planning to try Ukrainian prisoners of war in what was being labelled an “international tribunal” in Mariupol.

While there were few details available, photos and video footage published in the media and on social media appeared to show metal cages being built in Mariupol’s philharmonic hall, apparently to restrain prisoners of war during proceedings. Under international law, individuals entitled to prisoner-of-war status had combatant immunity and could not be prosecuted for having participated in hostilities, or for lawful acts of war committed during the armed conflict, even if such acts would otherwise constitute an offence under domestic law.

OHCHR reiterated its calls to the Russian Federation to grant independent monitors full access to all individuals detained in relation to the armed conflict in Ukraine, by the Russian Federation, including those held by Russian-affiliated armed groups.

Full OHCHR statement can be found here.

James Elder, for the United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF), speaking from Ukraine, said that almost 1,000 children had been killed or injured thus far, which averaged to about five children per each day of war. Those casualties were due to the indiscriminate use of weapons, often in heavily populated areas. Thanks to the generous financial support, UNICEF had been able to support millions of children in Ukraine and neighbouring countries.

Alessandra Vellucci, for the United Nations Information Service, remined that the Secretary-General had appointed three members of the fact-finding mission that would investigate the 29 July incident at Olenivka, Ukraine, following requests from the Governments of Ukraine and the Russian Federation. There was no specific timeframe for the fact-finding mission to present its findings. What was important now was for this mission to have unrestricted access.

Responding to questions, Ms. Shamdasani said that the OHCHR did not know how many prisoners would be tried in Mariupol and other areas under Russian control, and how those tribunals would operate. There were concerns on whether the prisoners would receive fair process and have access to independent counsel and lawyers. Prisoners of war had been charged and sentenced to death in similar settings in the past, and that was a matter of concern for the OHCHR. Photos and videos of cages being built in Mariupol were deeply worrying. On the other hand, Ms. Shamdasani explained that the OHCHR could follow proceedings on the Ukraine-government controlled side, but the OHCHR had some concerns about the expedited proceedings in certain cases there. There was evidence that some Ukrainian servicemen released from captivity in Russia or Russia-controlled territories had been subjected to torture, said Ms. Shamdasani in a reply to another question.

Mr. Elder said that the registered number of children killed in Ukraine was 356, but the real number was likely to be higher. The indiscriminate use of weapons showed no signs of abating.

Food situation in the Horn of Africa

Michael Dunford, World Food Programme (WFP) Regional Director for East Africa, connecting from Nairobi, spoke of the effect of the drought in Somalia, which had experienced four failed rainy seasons. Over seven million people were now displaced across East Africa. Some were describing the situation as already being worse than 2011, when 250,000 people had died of hunger. This year’s rainy season could again fail, affecting even more people, warned Mr. Dunford. MV Brave Commander was on its way from Ukraine to Djibouti, which was a positive development, but far from enough. More than 22 million people in the region needed assistance; USD 416 million were needed to feed them between now and January 2023. The issues of security and access made the situation even worse. In a scope of six months, the number of people supported by the WFP had increased threefold, but sustained funding was needed to maintain the response.

Responding to questions, Mr. Dunford said that the WFP had raised, primarily from the US Government, over USD 900 million, for its operations across the region, which also included Sudan, South Sudan, and northern Ethiopia. Other donors, such as China or the Gulf States, ought to step up their funding contributions. China, as the second largest economy in the world, should be contributing more, he said. There were already over 200,000 people living in the famine-like conditions in Somalia; unless the operations were scaled up, it was feared that full famine could occur. WFP was most concerned about the regions controlled by Al Shabab, as the populations living there were hardest to reach because of the insecurity.

Alessandra Vellucci, for the United Nations Information Service, referred to the Secretary-General’s remarks from Odesa, Ukraine the week before, when MV Brave Commander set sail.

James Elder, for UNICEF, stressed that in the Horn of Africa, children were dying also because of the war in Ukraine. Every 60 seconds, a child was suffering from severe malnutrition, explained Mr. Elder. UNICEF knew how to respond, but because of the ongoing war and inadequate exports of food, prices were still affected. The Ethiopia appeal was currently over 70-percent unfunded, he said. The great fear was that the severely malnurtured children could easily fall sick and become casualties of several diseases. Somalia was the fourth most affected country by the climate change even if its contribution to global warming was truly negligible. 

Appeal for solutions for Rohingya refugees

Shabia Mantoo, for the United Nations Refugee Agency (UNHCR), informed that this week marked five years since more than 700,000 Rohingya women, men and children had fled Myanmar for Bangladesh, joining hundreds of thousands of other Rohingya who had sought and found refuge in the country in previous years. The latest exodus from Myanmar was now officially defined as being a protracted situation.

For the almost one million stateless Rohingya refugees, Bangladesh camps were extremely overcrowded, and they remained fully reliant on humanitarian assistance for their survival. With decreased funding, they faced many challenges in their daily lives. Multiple humanitarian assessment surveys had found that the most commonly unmet needs included proper nutrition, shelter materials, sanitation facilities and livelihood opportunities.


The support from the international community had been and is crucial in delivering lifesaving protection and assistance services for Rohingya refugees but funding was well short of needs. The 2022 response plan sought over USD 881 million for more than 1.4 million people, including Rohingya refugees and more than half a million most affected host communities, and was so far funded at only 49 per cent.

 

Full press release is here.

Alessandra Vellucci, for the United Nations Information Service, said that the United Nations Special Envoy for Myanmar, Noeleen Hayzer, had arrived in Bangladesh, where she would visit Cox’s Bazaar and meet with Rohingya refugees.
 

Decriminalizing same-sex conduct in Singapore

Ravina Shamdasani, for the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR), stated that the OHCHR welcomed the decision by the Prime Minister of Singapore to repeal Section 377A of the Penal Code which criminalised consensual sexual conduct between men. This colonial era law had more broadly impacted and stigmatised the lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, intersex, and queer people as a whole.

OHCHR statement is available here.

Announcements

Ravina Shamdasani, for the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR), informed that an end-of-mandate press conference by High Commissioner Michelle Bachelet, would be held in a hybrid format on 25 August at 9 am. She could not comment on the selection of the next High Commissioner, which was a decision to be made by the Secretary-General.

Alessandra Vellucci, for the United Nations Information Service, informed that on 25 August at 10 am, the United Nations Institute for Disarmament Research (UNIDIR) would launch the Cluster Munition Monitor 2022 report. Speakers would be Robin Geiss, UNIDIR Director; Mary Wareham, Human Rights Watch Arms Advocacy Director; Loren Persi, Monitor Impact research team editor; and Ruth Bottomley, Monitor Impact research team editor.

The Committee on the Elimination of Racial Discrimination was holding today general discussion on racial discrimination and the right to health, in view of the drafting of a future General Comment.

The Committee on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities was concluding this morning the review of the reports of Japan, and in the afternoon, the Committee would begin consideration of the report of New Zealand.

Ms. Shamdasani confirmed that the human rights treaty body sessions were open to the public, and that the press could attend.

The Conference on Disarmament, now under the presidency of Ecuador, was having this morning a public plenary meeting to discuss the progress of Subsidiary Bodies reports.

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