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REGULAR PRESS BRIEFING BY THE UNITED NATIONS INFORMATION SERVICE

Bi-Weekly Briefing

Michele Zaccheo, Chief of the Radio and Television Section, United Nations Information Service (UNIS) in Geneva, chaired the hybrid briefing, attended by the spokespersons and representatives of the Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights, the United Nations Refugee Agency, the United Nations Conference on Trade and Development, the International Labour Organization, Education Cannot Wait and the Permanent Mission of Germany to the United Nations Office at Geneva.

Military takeover in Burkina Faso

Ravina Shamdasani, for the Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR), said that the High Commissioner deeply deplored the military takeover of power in Burkina Faso on 24 January. OHCHR called on the military to immediately release President Roch Marc Christian Kaboré and other detained high-level officials and urged a swift return to constitutional order.

During her visit in November 2021, the High Commissioner had observed mounting frustration and impatience with the deteriorating security situation in Burkina Faso and with the authorities’ response. In the face of the security threats and tremendous humanitarian challenges, it was more important than ever to ensure that the rule of law, constitutional order and the country’s obligations under international human rights law were fully respected. It was crucial to effectively protect democratic space, ensure people were able to air their grievances and aspirations peacefully and engage in meaningful dialogue to work towards addressing the many crises in the country.

The full briefing note is available here.

Michele Zaccheo, for the United Nations Information Service (UNIS), drew attention to the statement by the spokesperson of the Secretary-General on the developments in Burkina Faso.

Replying to questions from journalists, Ms. Shamdasani said that OHCHR staff in the country were safe and working from home and had reported that the situation was quite calm, though a protest was planned for that day. OHCHR did not currently have contact with the coup leaders but stressed that a military takeover was not the solution. It was not too late to revive the process of dialogue and social reconciliation that had been initiated prior to the coup. Regional actors could be useful in applying pressure for the restoration of civilian rule.

Da’esh attack on a prison in Syria

Ravina Shamdasani, for the Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR), said that the situation of civilians in the north-eastern Syrian city of Al-Hassakeh was deeply troubling. On 20 January, Da’esh fighters had launched apparently coordinated attacks on a prison there, enabling dozens of inmates, many of them suspected Da’esh members, to escape and sparking fighting between Da’esh and the Kurdish-led Syrian Defence Forces (SDF). The SDF had declared a curfew in all areas under its control in the city and, with air support from international forces, had surrounded the prison. However, detainees were said to be in control of the prison’s main building and had taken some prison staff hostage.

The Ghweiran prison was one of the biggest detention centres in north-east Syria, housing an estimated 5,000 male detainees, many in prolonged pre-trial detention or internment. OHCHR was particularly disturbed by reports that a significant number of boys were held there and was extremely concerned for their safety and well-being. The detention of children should be a measure of last resort and imposed for the shortest appropriate period of time.

In response to the attacks, international forces had carried out several air strikes near the prison. Thousands of people were reported to have fled the immediate area. OHCHR reminded all parties to the conflict of their obligation under international law to do their utmost to protect civilians.

The latest developments in Al-Hassakeh highlighted the desperate situation of thousands of detainees across Syria. OHCHR had previously warned about the squalid and insecure state of SDF-run detention facilities. In addition, OHCHR remained deeply concerned at the situation of thousands of Syrians, Iraqis and third-country nationals who were confined in overcrowded displacement camps in north-eastern Syria and reiterated that countries of origin should repatriate their nationals, especially women and children, in accordance with their obligations under international law.

The full briefing note is available here.

Education Cannot Wait/Germany joint announcement

Yasmine Sherif, Director of Education Cannot Wait (ECW), said that ECW thanked the people and the Government of Germany for the additional, historic contribution of €200 million, which brought the country’s total contribution to €380 million and propelled it to the top of ECW’s donor list. Through that contribution, Germany was making a huge commitment to the United Nations as a multilateral organization and to ECW as a fund, making it possible to reach a further 2.5 million children and youth who were affected by conflict or climate-induced disasters or were refugees or internally displaced. ECW was able to provide sustainable, quality education in keeping with Sustainable Development Goal 4 (SDG). Thanks to the latest pledge, ECW could boast a trust fund of USD 1.1 billion and over USD 1 billion in in-country projects.

Katharina Stasch, Permanent Representative of Germany to the United Nations Office at Geneva, said that education was key to enabling children to lead a good life and to tackling present challenges, including sustainable development, environmental transformation and social cohesion. However, coronavirus disease (COVID-19) had threatened gains, not least in education, with many students not returning to school even once the facilities reopened. However, even before the pandemic, tens of millions had already been out of school owing to armed conflict, forced displacement and natural disasters, and their number would continue to grow as a result of the global climate crisis, with girls being particularly at risk. The world had a shared responsibility not to lose that generation, not to leave anyone behind. Multilateral efforts should be intensified to build resilient education systems worldwide. That was why Germany had decided to support ECW with an additional €200 million. As it assumed the presidency of the G7, Germany wanted to send a strong signal – education was a human right, education mattered.

Replying to journalists, Ms. Sherif said that ECW was able to continue operating in challenging circumstances because it was a United Nations fund and, as such, had systems and security in place and had contact with de jure and de facto governments and militia groups it would not have otherwise enjoyed. Its programmes were designed to function in such fluid contexts. There was no sign that ECW’s large multi-year programme in Burkina Faso was hampered by the recent developments in that country, and, in Afghanistan, ECW was providing support to 3.7 million children who were out of school, thanks to the negotiation efforts of its partners and to its direct implementation model. The focus in Afghanistan was on urging the authorities to allow secondary school girls to return to the classroom. Needs around the world were dramatically rising, not least because of COVID-19, which had caused 128 million children to lose access to education, up from 75 million before the pandemic. It was important to remember that many of the areas ECW operated in lacked basic infrastructure such as electricity, which made providing remote learning that much more challenging. ECW mobilized resources for a whole-of-child approach to education services carried out in cooperation with various United Nations entities, international NGOs, local governments and civil society organizations. Education was the foundation of the realization of human rights and the SDGs and was the pathway to peace, good governance and the rule of law.

Ukraine

Replying to a question, Matthew Saltmarsh, for the United Nations Refugee Agency (UNHCR), said that UNHCR had staff in six locations in Ukraine, working with local NGOs and communities. While it called for calm and for all actors to ratchet down tensions, UNHCR was updating contingency plans with partners and had the ability to move in supplies and staff if needed.

Announcements

Catherine Huissoud, for the United Nations Conference on Trade and Development (UNCTAD), said that UNCTAD would be holding the Global forum 2022 for national trade facilitation committees, online from Geneva, from 1 to 4 February 2022. Pursuant to the Trade Facilitation Agreement (TFA), whose objective was to accelerate the movement, release and clearance of goods, national trade facilitation committees (NTFCs) had been put in place to implement the agreement. UNCTAD was a major actor in the fields of technical assistance and capacity-building in that area. The three main focuses of the Forum, which would be a platform for NFTC members, policymakers, donors and other stakeholders to explore the latest trends in implementation of trade facilitation reforms, were: good practices, especially in relation to the pandemic, networking and technical assistance programmes. Though the Forum was open to all, it was nonetheless necessary to register (https://unctad.org/conference/ntfc-global-forum-2022).

Rosalind Yarde, for the International Labour Organization (ILO), said that ILO was launching a new video download platform for use by broadcast and online media covering world of work issues. The platform featured a wide selection of video content produced by ILO, organized into three separate libraries: a video newsroom library containing news offers from press conferences, report launches and other events; a b-roll library containing footage with natural sound, as well as archival footage, on a range of topics, such as the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic on the world of work, child labour, forced labour and green jobs; and an edited video library that could be used for educational, training and awareness-raising purposes. The videos were free to download and were subject to a Creative Commons licence.

Michele Zaccheo, for the United Nations Information Service (UNIS), on behalf of the Human Rights Council, said that the fortieth session of the Working Group on the Universal Periodic Review had opened, with the reviews of the human rights situation in Togo and the Syrian Arab Republic. The Working Group would be reviewing the situation in Iceland that morning, followed by the situation in the Bolivarian Republic of Venezuela that afternoon.

Mr. Zaccheo, on behalf of the International Telecommunication Union (ITU), said that, as fully digital transactions increasingly became the norm, the vital groundwork to prepare international standards for digital currency was accelerating. ITU's DC3 Conference: From Cryptocurrencies to CBDCs, would be taking place online from 25 to 27 January 2022, bringing together industry thought leaders, policymakers, central banks, standards bodies, international organizations, digital currency platform providers and stablecoin and cryptocurrency experts to discuss the key areas where standards were needed to strengthen the architecture and interoperability of digital currencies and facilitate integration with existing payment systems.

Mr. Zaccheo, referring to the programme of events for Holocaust Remembrance Week, said that the United Nations in Geneva and its partners would mark the International Day of Commemoration in memory of the victims of the Holocaust on 27 January through activities reflecting that year's theme of "Memory, Dignity and Justice". During the official ceremony, at noon in Room XVIII, Holocaust survivor, Ms. Emma Adjadj, would tell of her family’s experience of loss and survival. Following a message from United Nations Secretary-General António Guterres, there would be remarks by Ms. Tatiana Valovaya, UNOG Director-General, Ms. Meirav Eilon Shahar, Permanent Representative of Israel to the United Nations Office at Geneva, and Ms. Lotte Knudsen, Head of the Permanent Delegation of the European Union to the United Nations Office at Geneva, as well as a musical interlude by Ensemble baroque Kairos. It was possible to attend in person (registration: https://indico.un.org/event/37258/) but the event could also be followed on UN Web TV and on Facebook. In addition, there would be a virtual screening of "The Last Ones", a series of interviews with some of the few remaining Holocaust survivors, followed by a discussion, on 26 January 2022, at 6 p.m. Visit Ciné ONU for more information.

Mr. Zaccheo also said that the UN Archives Geneva Platform would be launched at a hybrid event on Friday, 28 January, at 9.30 a.m. Speakers would include: Ms. Tatiana Valovaya, Director-General, United Nations Office at Geneva; Mr. Francesco Pisano, Director, UN Library & Archives Geneva; and Ms. Blandine Blukacz-Louisfert, Chief, Institutional Memory Section.

Mr. Zaccheo further said that the Conference on Disarmament was holding the first public plenary meeting of its 2022 session that morning, in room XIX, under the presidency of Ambassador Li Song of China. The three parts of the 2022 session would take place from 24 January to 1 April, from 16 May to 1 July and from 1 August to 16 September. Following China, the rotating presidency would be assumed by Colombia, Cuba, the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea, the Democratic Republic of the Congo and Ecuador.

Mr. Zaccheo added that there was currently no formal confirmation of the exact programme of work for the upcoming sessions of the human rights treaty bodies.

 

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