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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 Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights , the Human Rights Council, the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees, the World Food Programme,Food and Agriculture Organization, the World Meteorological Organization, and the United Nations Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs.

Situation in Ukraine

Rolando Gomez for the Human Rights Council said that the Human Rights Council would hold a special session on Ukraine at the Palais des Nations on Thursday, May 12 starting at 10am. The session came following a request from Ukraine that had been supported thus far by 54 States. A draft resolution was tabled late last night. The High Commissioner would deliver opening remarks, followed by a statement of the Commission of Inquiry on Ukraine. One of the members of the Commission would brief the Council in person, and a member of the Special Procedures Coordinating Committee would also make a presentation. Informal consultations on the draft resolution would take place tomorrow.

Matilda Bogner, Head of the Human Rights Monitoring Mission in Ukraine, Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR) , said that since 24 February, the United Nations Human Rights Monitoring Mission in Ukraine had been documenting violations of international humanitarian law and violations human rights law which have been occurring in the country. Many of these allegations concern violations that could amount to war crimes.

Today was the 76th day since the Russian Federation attacked Ukraine. 76 days of destroyed lives, and cities, hospitals, schools and houses.

Ms. Bogner and her team had recently visited 14 towns in the Kyiv and Chernihiv regions that were occupied by Russian Armed Forces until the end of March.

The team was told of relatives, neighbours and friends killed, injured, detained and disappeared. In the village of Yahidne in Chernihiv region, a 70 year-old man who spent 24 days in the basement of a local school accounted having shared a 76 square meter room with 138 people - the youngest was just two months old. The space was so crowded that he had to sleep standing up and so he tied himself to wooden rails so as not to fall down.

In Bucha and other settlements to the north of Kyiv that were occupied by Russian armed forces, there were reports of the unlawful killing of over 300 men, women and children. Ms. Bogner expected that these numbers would continue to grow as the team visited more areas.

Overall, to date the team had corroborated 7,061 civilian casualties, with 3,381 killed and 3,680 injured across the country since the beginning of the armed attack by the Russian Federation. The actual figures were higher and the team was working to corroborate every single incident.

Each civilian death was a tragedy. Depending on the circumstances, the death of a single civilian or someone hors de combat could constitute a war crime. Such killings may also violate the right to life under international human rights law.

To date, the team had also recorded hundreds of educational and medical facilities destroyed or damaged in areas affected by hostilities across the country.

The right to health had been severely affected across the country. In areas under intense hostilities, mortality rates had increased because people were not able to access medical care. Often it was too dangerous for people to leave their homes or shelters to seek medical assistance.

The team also continued to receive allegations of rape, including gang rape, attempted rape, forced nudity, threats of sexual violence against civilian women and girls, men and boys. Women and girls were the most frequently cited victims.

Since 24 February, the team had documented 204 cases of enforced disappearance (169 men, 34 women, one boy), most of them by Russian armed forces and affiliated armed groups.

The team had received credible information of torture, ill-treatment and incommunicado detention by Ukrainian Armed Forces of prisoners of war belonging to the Russian armed forces and affiliated armed groups. Ukraine and Russia needed to investigate all allegations of torture and ill-treatment of prisoners of war promptly and effectively, and effectively control and instruct their forces to stop any further violations from occurring.

Ms. Bogner called for soldiers to be ordered to distinguish between civilian and military objects. Those who did not follow such instructions must be immediately removed from active combat and held accountable.

The best way to end the violations was to end the hostilities, she said. However, while they were ongoing, parties needed to take constant care to spare the civilian population, civilians and civilian objects and commit to protecting every civilian woman, man, and child and those hors de combat that fell under their control.

Read the full statement here.

In response to journalists’ questions, Ms. Bogner said that the information that the Human Rights Monitoring Mission in Ukraine had documented gave a first picture of the violations that had been taking place. The figure of 300 referred to unlawful killings occurring not only in Bucha but also in other northern areas of Kyiv that were occupied by Russian forces. The largest number of civilian killings was estimated to be in Mariupol, but the scale of the killings was yet to be fully documented.

The Human Rights Monitoring Mission had been in Ukraine since 2014. There were around 55 staff in-country, and OHCHR was recruiting more staff to provide support to more regions of the country. About a third of the mission was made of international staff and the remainder were national staff. At the moment, they did not have forensic experts in the mission but were currently recruiting one.

The Mission had noted an evolution in hostilities, with attacks being targeted at military zones in the beginning, but these attacks soon shifting to regions occupied by civilians and being carried our with explosive devices. Recently there had been less fighting in Mariupol, with civilians now living in an occupied situation. OHCHR would release a report on the situation in June that would be reviewed at the Human Rights Council in July.

Answering questions on allegations by Ukrainian armed forces, Ms Bogner said that while the scale of allegations of human rights abuses was higher for the Russian side, there were also allegations, including allegations of torture and abuse of prisoners, that were attributed to the Ukrainian side. In this context, OHCHR was concerned that the fair trial rights of some prisoners were not being respected by Ukrainian authorities.

The United Nations had been working on evacuating people from Mariupol. Once the security situation was stable, the Human Rights Monitoring Mission would try to get access to Mariupol. The team had not been given physical access to places under Russian control but would try to gain access once it was safe to do so. Ms. Bogner estimated that there were thousands of civilians who had died in Mariupol, but these estimates could not be corroborated until OHCHR staff reached the city.

Secretary-General’s Visit to Moldova

Alessandra Vellucci, Director of the United Nations Information Service, said that the UN Secretary-General was conducting a visit to the Republic of Moldova . Yesterday, he had held a press conference with the Prime Minister of Moldova, where he had expressed his appreciation for the generosity shown by the people of Moldova towards those fleeing the war in Ukraine. He had also reiterated the United Nations’ solidarity with the country and called on the international community to demonstrate true support to Moldova. He had reiterated support for Moldova’s independence, sovereignty, and territorial integrity. Today, the Secretary-General visited the Chisinau refugee centre run with the support of United Nations agencies in Moldova and delivered remarks to the press which had just been distributed to the journalists.

Recent Displacement in Mozambique and the Impact of Cyclone Gombe

Anthea Webb, Deputy Regional Director for Asia at the World Food Programme (WFP), speaking from Bangkok, and Richard Trenchard, Representative in Afghanistan for the Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO), speaking from Kabul, briefed on the latest food security situation in Afghanistan.

Ms Webb said that almost half of Afghanistan’s population – 19.7 million people – are facing acute hunger according to the latest food security analysis: The Integrated Food Security Phase Classification (IPC). However, this figure is expected to go down to 18.9 million in June to November, due in part to both the wheat harvest season from May to August and a well-coordinated scale-up in humanitarian food assistance along with increased agricultural livelihood support, facilitated by generous donor support.

The country’s ongoing drought combined with its economic crisis, however, suggest the unprecedented hunger people are suffering will continue to threaten the lives and livelihoods of millions of people across Afghanistan.

For the first time since the introduction of the IPC in Afghanistan in 2011 - a small pocket of “catastrophic” levels of food insecurity - or IPC Phase 5 - has been detected in the country. More than 20,000 people in the north-eastern province of Ghor are facing catastrophic levels of hunger because of a long period of harsh winter and disastrous agricultural conditions.

She said that humanitarian assistance had averted a catastrophe in the harsh winter months – but hunger continued across the country at unprecedented levels.

Food assistance and emergency livelihood support are the lifeline for the people of Afghanistan. WFP has mounted the world’s largest humanitarian food operation in a matter of months, reaching more than 16 million people so far in 2022.

The upcoming harvest will bring some relief to millions of families struggling with income losses and food shortages. However, for many, the harvest will only offer short-term relief and very little opportunity for recovery. The war in Ukraine continues to put pressure on Afghanistan’s wheat supply, food commodities, and fuel prices.

She concluded by saying that WFP requires US$1.4 billion in 2022 to continue emergency, nutrition, and resilience response.

For his part, Richard Trenchard, Representative in Afghanistan for the Food and Agriculture Organization, added that the latest assessment indicated that catastrophe has been largely averted in recent months. This is due to both the incredible resilience of Afghanistan’s farmers and livestock herders and unprecedented levels of humanitarian assistance, particularly food assistance. But the crisis continues.

High acute food insecurity persisted across Afghanistan, as a combination of economic crisis, continuing drought and rising debts was depriving nearly 20 million Afghans of food, classified in Crisis or Emergency (IPC Phases 3 or 4), between March and May 2022 (the lean season), latest data shows. Among these are about 6.6 million people in Emergency (IPC Phase 4) and 13 million in Crisis (IPC Phase 3).

The impact of high food prices, remaining sanctions on the de facto authorities, unemployment, and a significant decrease in income and purchasing power of communities were the major impediments that prevented a considerable improvement during the post-harvest period.

He said key drivers of the country’s acute food insecurity included economic decline, drought, high food and input prices, and the impact of the Ukraine conflict. In response, the FAO was recommending to urgently scale up lifesaving food assistance, provide more livelihood support, and focus on women and children support women and children in crisis.

Read the full FAO press release and WFP press release .

Global Temperature Increase

Clare Nullis, for the World Meteorological Organization (WMO), said that the UN agency had just launched its Global Annual to Decadal Climate Update, produced by the United Kingdom’s Met Office. According to this report, there would be a 50:50 chance of the annual average global temperature to temporarily reach 1.5 °C above the pre-industrial level for at least one of the next five years.

The reports highlighted that the chance of temporarily exceeding 1.5°C had risen steadily since 2015 and went from close to zero in 2016 to 10 per cent for the years between 2017 and 2021, to nearly 50% for the 2022-2026 period. Clare Nullis stressed this rise from 0 to close to 50 per cent in a matter of seven years.

WMO’s scientific study showed that the world was getting measurably closer to temporarily reaching the lower target of the Paris Agreement on Climate Change. The 1.5°C figure was presented as an indicator of the point at which climate impacts would become increasingly harmful for people and the entire planet.

WMO observed a 93 per cent likelihood of at least one year between 2022-2026 that could become the warmest on record and could dislodge 2016 from the top ranking.

According to the report, continued emission of greenhouse gases would lead to a continued rise of temperature, alongside ocean warming, sea levels rising and more extreme weather.

Ms. Nullis said that more information on those impacts would be shared next Wednesday during a press conference to be held by WMO on its State of the Global Climate 2021 report.

The full press release is available online here.

Brussels Conference for Syria

Jens Laerke for the United Nations Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA ) said the 6th Brussels Conference on supporting the future of Syria and the region organized by the European Union was in its second and final day today. He reported that the ministerial day would expect pledging to the UN-coordinated response in Syria and the region.

He said the crisis in Syria would get deeper every year. Nearly 26.5 million people had needed humanitarian assistance: 14.6 million people would need assistance inside the country – an increase of 1.2 million from 2021 – and approximately 12 million people across the region, including 5.6 million Syrian refugees and host community members.

In 2022, OCHA response’s plans for the crisis asked for US$10.5 billion to support Syrians and host countries. It would include $4.4 billion for the response inside Syria, and another $6.1 billion to support refugees and host communities in the region. The appeals were funded at 8 per cent and 11 per cent, respectively.

Mr. Laerke shared that 90 per cent of Syrians had lived in poverty. Gender-based violence and risks to children could be on the rise. Potential exposure to explosive ordnance remained high, with one in two at risk. Food insecurity had reached new records; 12 million people lived in hunger every day. Nearly one in two Syrian children would be out of school and vulnerable to child labour, early and forced marriages, trafficking, and recruitment by armed actors.

Despite socio-economic pressures that had been mounting in Turkey, Lebanon, Jordan, Iraq and Egypt, the countries would continue to host refugees coming to their borders.

Martin Griffith of OCHA, Filippo Grandi of the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights (UNHCR), and Achim Steiner of the United Nations Development Programme noted that the international community had shown real generosity over many years and much had been achieved to support people, but that investments in early recovery inside Syria remained needed, alongside the humanitarian assistance. They urged the international community to not forget Syrians and the crisis they had endured, and donors to pledge generously today.

Alessandra Vellucci, Director of the United Nations Information Service, said that Mr Geir Pedersen, the UN Special Envoy for Syria had hade remarks at the Brussels VI Conference this morning. His statement had been distributed to the journalists.

Escalating violence amid economic crisis in Sri Lanka

Liz Throssel, for the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights, said that the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights Michelle Bachelet was calling on the authorities in Sri Lanka to prevent further violence, and urging restraint and meaningful dialogue to address the grievances of the population amid the severe economic crisis in the country.

She said the High Commissioner was deeply troubled by the escalation of violence in Sri Lanka after supporters of the Prime Minister attacked peaceful protestors in Colombo yesterday, 9 May, and the subsequent mob violence against members of the ruling party. Seven people have died during the incidents - including a Member of Parliament and two local officials, over 250 were injured, and the properties of others were destroyed by arson throughout the country.

The High Commissioner was calling on the authorities to independently, thoroughly, and transparently investigate all attacks that have occurred. It is crucial, she said, to ensure that those found responsible, including those inciting or organising violence, are held to account.

Ms Throssel added that the High Commissioner was urging the Sri Lankan Government to engage in meaningful dialogue with all parts of society to find a pathway forward and address the socio-economic challenges people, especially vulnerable and marginalized groups, are facing. She was calling on the Government to address the broader political and systemic root causes that have long perpetuated discrimination and undermined human rights.

Full press release is available online.

Alarm at latest prison violence in Ecuador

Liz Throssel, for the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights, said that the UN Human Rights Office was deeply alarmed at recurring prison violence in the country considering the shocking news from Ecuador that dozens of inmates died in a prison on Monday.

According to the authorities, she said that at least 44 people had died and more than a dozen were injured after riots broke out in a prison in the northern city of Santo Domingo, provoked by the transfer of a prisoner known as 'Anchundia', linked to the R7 gang, from La Roca prison in the south-west to the Santo Domingo prison.

She added that Monday’s violence was the latest to erupt in the country’s prisons. Clashes between prisoners from different gangs had left 15 people injured in El Inca prison in Quito on 25 April. Three days earlier, on 22 April, disturbances at the Esmeraldas No.2 prison, on the northern coast, had left 12 inmates injured. She said that these worrying incidents once again highlight the urgent need for a comprehensive reform of the criminal justice system, including the penitentiary system to tackle what has been a protracted crisis in the country. From December 2020 to May 2022, at least 390 people have been killed in Ecuador’s prisons, including some 20 inmates at a prison in the south of the country on 3 April.

She said that UN Human Rights was calling on the Government to carefully examine the practical recommendations aimed at reducing violence, deaths and serious injury in detention contained in the High Commissioner’s 2019 report on human rights in the administration of justice (A/HRC/42/20). The Government should also consider a roadmap proposed by the UN Human Rights Office and UN Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC) – to guarantee security in prisons, to improve conditions under which people are deprived of their liberty and to ensure there is better prison management, including by combating corruption. The roadmap also recommends that penal policies be changed to reduce the excessive use of incarceration.

The UN Human Rights Office would continue collaborating with other UN agencies as it remained committed to support Ecuador in facing this urgent challenge, based on human rights and in line with international norms and standards.

Announcements

A press conference would be held for the launch of International Labour Organization (ILO) brief on the impact of the Ukraine crisis on the world of work. The speakers at the briefing were Heinz Koller, Regional Director, Europe & Central Asia, ILO, and Sangheon Lee, Director, ILO Employment Policy Department.

The Committee on the Rights of the Child (90th session, 3 May to 3 June) was concluding this morning (at 10am) its review of the report of Somalia. The consideration of the report of Zambia had been postponed to a later date. Other countries to be reviewed during this session were Cuba (11 May pm and 12 May am), Djibouti (12 May pm and 13 May am), Cyprus (16 May pm and 17 May am), Canada (17 May pm and 18 May pm), Kiribati (18 May am and 19 May am), Croatia (19 May pm and 20 May am) and Chile (24 May pm and 25 May am).

The Committee Against Torture (73rd session, 19 April – 13 May) would hold at 10am on May 11 a meeting devoted to the follow-up of concluding observations (adopted after the review of States Parties reports under article 19 of the Convention) and communications (submitted under article 22 of the Convention) and would conclude its 73rd session next Friday, at 10am, when it would issue its concluding observations on the six countries whose reports had been reviewed during the session: Iceland, Cuba, Iraq, Montenegro, Kenya, Uruguay.

 

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