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PRESS BRIEFING BY THE UNITED NATIONS INFORMATION SERVICE

Bi-Weekly Briefing

Rhéal LeBlanc, Chief of the Press and External Relations Section at 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 World Health Organization, the World Food Programme, the United Nations Conference on Trade and Development, and the Human Rights Council.

Ukraine/Russia: prisoners of war

Matilda Bogner, head of the Human Rights Monitoring Mission in Ukraine, speaking from Kyiv, stated that over the past several months, the Monitoring Mission had interviewed 159 prisoners of war held by the Russian Federation, and 175 prisoners of war held by Ukraine.

Ms. Bogner emphasised that Ukraine had given the Mission confidential access to prisoners of war in places of internment. The Russian Federation had not granted the Mission such access, so the Mission had conducted the interviews with Ukrainian prisoners of war upon their release.

Speaking of former Ukrainian prisoners of war who had been in the hands of the Russian Federation, Ms. Bogner said that the vast majority of those the Mission interviewed said that during their internment they had been tortured and ill-treated. Torture and ill-treatment had not only been used to coerce prisoners of war to give military information or statements about alleged crimes. They had been, interviewees said, used daily to intimidate and humiliate them. A man who had been tortured in a penal colony near Olenivka spoke how members of Russian-affiliated armed groups “attached wires to my genitalia and nose and shocked me. They simply had fun and were not interested in my replies to their questions”.

The overall conditions of internment were dire. Ukrainian prisoners of war had told the Mission about overcrowded cells, poor hygiene and lack of food and water. Some of them had lost up to a quarter of their body weight, and many had frequently fainted in captivity. Only a few Ukrainian servicepersons with whom the Mission spoke had been allowed to call or text their relatives.

Regarding the treatment of prisoners of war interned by the Government of Ukraine, the Mission had received credible allegations of summary executions of persons hors de combat and several cases of torture and ill-treatment, reportedly committed by members of the Ukrainian armed forces. The Mission documented cases of torture and ill-treatment, mostly when people had been captured, first interrogated, or moved to transit camps and places of internment. In some cases, Russian prisoners of war (from Russian armed forces and affiliated armed groups) said that they had been punched and kicked in the face and body after surrendering and while being interrogated by members of the Ukrainian armed forces. Many reported poor and often humiliating conditions of their evacuation to transit camps and places of internment.

Ms. Bogner noted that Ukraine had launched several criminal investigations following allegations of abuse of prisoners of war by members of its armed forces.

In the end, Ms. Bogner emphasized the fundamental obligation of states to treat all prisoners of war humanely from the moment they were captured until their release and repatriation, and to allocate sufficient resources to ensure implementation of this obligation. Third states, particularly those providing support to the belligerents, also had an obligation under Common article 1 of the Geneva Conventions to ensure respect of international humanitarian law by the parties to the conflict. Accountability was key to deterring and preventing further violations.

Full statement is available here.

Responding to questions from the media, Ms. Bogner explained that the interviews with Russian prisoners of war had been conducted since April, while Ukrainian prisoners of war released from Russia had been interviewed in the last two months. Ms. Bogner said that the Mission had not yet been to Kherson, but was hoping to visit it as soon as possible; some villages in the Kherson region had already been visited. Ukrainian prisoners of war held by Russians had been abused or tortured systematically, reiterated Ms. Bogner; some categories of soldiers were more likely to be tortured than others. Once in places of internment, most Russian prisoners of war had been treated adequately, while there were three places where such abuse seemed more likely.

Ms. Bogner stated that the Mission had interviewed both Russian and Ukrainian prisoners of war who had not been illtreated. The parties to the conflict were not providing total numbers of prisoners of war. The Mission had not documented any killings of alleged collaborators within the government-controlled areas within Ukraine. Ms. Bogner also said that there was severe concern over access to medical care among prisoners of war held by the Russian side; on the Ukrainian side, it appeared that most wounded or sick prisoners of war had been given medical treatment. The early phases of war, in March and April, had seen the highest levels of civilian casualties and damage to civilian infrastructure; there had been a slow decrease since then. Wilful killings of the level of Bucha or Irpin massacres had not been recorded since.

Iran protests

Jeremy Laurence, for the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR), said that the OHCHR called for the immediate release of thousands of individuals being held for their involvement in peaceful demonstrations.

Human rights law protected the rights of people to peaceful assembly and to freedom of expression. Instead of opening space for dialogue on legitimate grievances, the Iranian authorities were responding to unprecedented protests with increasing harshness. Under international law, countries that had not yet abolished the death penalty might only impose it for the “most serious crimes”, which was interpreted as crimes of extreme gravity, involving intentional killing. Crimes not resulting directly and intentionally in death could never serve as the basis for the imposition of the death penalty.

OHCHR called on the Iranian authorities to immediately impose a moratorium on the death penalty, to refrain from charging capital crimes, and to revoke death sentences issued for crimes not qualifying as the most serious crimes.

More information is available here.

In a response to journalists’ questions, Mr. Laurence said that the OHCHR did not have precise information on the charges. OHCHR was in contact with the Iranian authorities, and it continued to emphasize the importance of international law when it came to the respect of peaceful protesters’ rights. The protests were continuing, with the growing number of deaths also being reported. At least 324 people had been killed in the 2019 protests; this year so far, there were at least 326 casualties.

Impact of climate extremes on food security in Latin America

Lola Castro, Regional Director in Latin America and the Caribbean for the World Food Programme (WFP), speaking from Rome, stated that the Atlantic hurricane season was officially coming to an end this month. As was the case over the past six years, the season had been forecast to be above average, with between 14 and 21 storms, and 6 to 10 hurricanes. Latin America and the Caribbean was one of the regions in the world most impacted by climate-related disasters, such as floods, storms, droughts, and heatwaves.

As part of its preparedness work, the WFP had worked with governments in the regions to preposition food, equipment, and staff in different countries, as needed. Preparation measures could include elevating houses or reinforcing buildings and harvests. Prepositioning food stocks or preparing for rapid cash transfers were also of critical importance.

In Guatemala, for example, hurricanes had gone off the usual path and wreaked havoc, including on indigenous communities. In Venezuela, a series of tropical waves had brought heavy rain and caused flooding and landslides. Farther south, in Argentina, the country was going through a major drought due to the La Niña weather phenomenon, which was having a devastating impact in farmlands.

Some 1.3 million people were estimated to have been affected by hurricanes and floods in Cuba, Dominican Republic, Nicaragua, Honduras, Guatemala, El Salvador, Venezuela, and Argentina. In some places, total losses of harvest had been recorded, which meant a longer period would be needed for recovery.

WHO guidelines to improve survival and health outcomes for babies born early or small

Karen Edmond, Medical Officer at Maternal, Newborn, Child and Adolescent & Ageing Health Department of the World Health Organization (WHO), announced that the WHO was today launching new guidelines to improve the survival and health of babies born early or small - babies born preterm or low birth weight; babies born before 37 weeks of pregnancy; or under 2.5kg at birth.

The guidelines advised that skin-to-skin contact with a caregiver – known as kangaroo mother care – should start immediately after birth, without any initial period in an incubator. This was a big change from earlier guidance and common clinical practice, and the implications could be revolutionary for the way care – particularly neonatal intensive care – was provided to these tiny babies. It showed the major health benefits of caregivers and their preterm babies staying close, without being separated, after birth.

Out of the 25 recommendations, 11 were new, explained Dr. Edmond. The guidelines covered both the simple and higher tech care that was needed for preterm babies across the world. They were based on two years of work from WHO and expert panels in finding and analyzing the evidence on what works from the best and highest quality studies around the world. It included evidence and feedback from family’s perspectives gathered through over 200 studies. Notably, the guidelines now advised that intensive care units should reorient so that the mother and baby could stay together -- keeping the baby in skin-to-skin contact 24/7 even if the baby needed to be in the intensive care. Dr. Edmond stressed that although the new recommendations had relevance in poorer settings that might not have access to high-tech equipment or even reliable electricity, they also applied equally to high-income settings.

More information is available here.

Replying to questions from the media, Dr. Edmond explained that every year, an estimated 10 per cent of all births globally, and an even higher number had a low birthweight. This number had been rising and prematurity was now the leading cause of death of children under five. New WHO recommendations could be put in practice in different settings, not only in developed countries.

Rhéal LeBlanc, for the United Nations Information Service in Geneva, informed that today the human race was projected to pass the eight billion mark. On that occasion, the UN Secretary-General’s editorial entitled “Eight billion people; one humanity” was published in several media outlets.

Announcements

Catherine Huissoud, for the United Nations Conference on Trade and Development (UNCTAD), informed that UNCTAD would release its Report on Palestine to the UN General Assembly on 22 November at 9:30 a.m., which would focus on the economic costs of the Israeli occupation on the Palestinian people. The speaker would be Mutasim Elagraa, an UNCTAD economist. The embargo would last until 6 p.m. on 22 November.

UNCTAD would also present its Review of Maritime Transport 2022 at 1:30 p.m. on 23 November, well ahead of the embargo lifting on 29 November at 6 a.m. Speakers at the press conference would be Rebeca Grynspan, UNCTAD Secretary-General, and Shamika Sirimanne, Director of the Division on Technology and Logistics at UNCTAD. Ms. Huissoud stressed that maritime trade was going through a historic moment of crisis and disruption. It was the backbone of international trade and the global economy, and over 80 percent of the volume of international trade in goods was carried by sea.

Rolando Gomez, for the Human Rights Council (HRC), stated that the Human Rights Council would hold a special session on the “deteriorating situation of human rights in Iran” on 24 November. There were 46 States which had so far requested this session; the list of signatories remained open. A draft resolution, tabled by Germany and Iceland and now available online, called for a creation of an independent fact-finding mission to investigate alleged violations of human rights in the context of the ongoing protests.

The Universal Periodic Review session continued with Poland and the Netherlands today, while South Africa would be reviewed on 16 November, which would bring the current UPR session to the end.

Rhéal LeBlanc, for the United Nations Information Service in Geneva, informed that on 17 November at 10 a.m., the United Nations Institute for Disarmament Research (UNIDIR) would present its Landmine Monitor 2022 report.

Also on 17 November, at 2 p.m., there would be a hybrid press conference by the World Health Organization (WHO), to present its Report on Oral Health. The report, which would be under embargo until 18 November at 9 a.m., would be presented by Benoît Varenne, Dental Officer at the WHO Oral Health Programme.

Finally, Mr. LeBlanc informed that the Committee Against Torture was beginning this morning its review of the report of Australia.

The Committee on the Elimination of Racial Discrimination, which had opened yesterday its 108th session the previous day, would begin this afternoon consideration of the report of France.

 

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