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REGULAR PRESS BRIEFING BY THE UNITED NATIONS INFORMATION SERVICE

Bi-Weekly Briefing

Rhéal LeBlanc of the United Nations Information Service (UNIS) in Geneva, chaired the hybrid briefing, attended by the spokespersons and representatives of the Human Rights Council, the World Trade Organization, the International Federation of the Red Cross, the Food and Agricultural Organization, the World Food Programme, the World Health Organization, the United Nations Populations Fund, the United Nations Children’s Fund, and the United Nations Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs.

Human Rights Council

Rolando Gomez, for the Human Rights Council, said that the Human Rights Council was starting on Monday 13 June and would last until 8 July. It would be an action-packed session, with 90 reports and updates being presented by 30 experts, and 8 panel discussions. On Monday morning the session would start in Room 20 at 10 a.m. with an opening by the Council President. The Council would then hear from the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights Michelle Bachelet. The ensuing global update would only take place the following day. The High Commissioner would deliver a second statement around COVID 19, with an interactive discussion to follow. On Monday 13 June, at around 5 p.m., the Council would hear the presentation of the report the UN Independent International Commission of Inquiry on the Occupied Palestinian Territory, including East Jerusalem, and in Israel, with a press conference to follow the next day.

Responding to questions, Mr. Gomez said that side events would not be had this session, however there may be virtual events.

WTO 12th Ministerial Conference

Fernando Puchol, speaking for the World Trade Organization (WTO), said the 12th ministerial conference would take place from Sunday 12 June through to Wednesday 15 June. Badge collection for accredited journalists would open today from 12 p.m. to 5 p.m. and would be open tomorrow from 12 p.m. to 7 p.m. 250 journalists were accredited to attend the conference. The conference would be preceded on Sunday by an orientation briefing. At the end of each day of the Ministerial Conference, WTO spokesperson Daniel Pruzin would brief the media, with times to be confirmed.

Mr. Puchol said that there were four pillars that were currently under negotiation by WTO membership, which would be discussed. Mr. Puchol said negotiations were ongoing and expressed himself as being cautiously optimistic. The main idea was to provide as clear text as possible to give the political green light for all negotiations which had taken place. It was difficult to know what would happen.

Ukraine

Nick Prince, for the International Federation of the Red Cross (IFRC), speaking from Budapest, said that much of the needs over the past few months had been associated with chronic illnesses and underlying health needs which had gone untreated. When people fled their homes, they did not have the same access to testing and treatment of cancer, diabetes, hypertension, and even COVID-19. This further exacerbated any preexisting illnesses left untreated. The lack of medical supplies, health care staff and critical infrastructure that depended on electricity and running water continued to grow. Millions did not have access to this inside Ukraine, and hundreds of health care facilities had been damaged or destroyed. Mr. Prince said that, to prevent the crisis, the world needed to look beyond Ukraine’s borders, and act together now to support health systems in neighboring countries – Romania, Belarus, Hungary, Moldova.

The Red Cross was already acting, but it needed governments and the international community to join them. Mr. Prince had spent considerable time at one of the Red Cross clinics on the border with Hungary, where initially he saw mostly women and children arriving, but more recently they were seeing elderly people and people with disabilities, as well as those living with chronic health issues. The Red Cross was opening a clinic in Uzhhorod, Ukraine, this month, in conjunction with the Ukrainian Red Cross. It would operate free of charge for patients and eventually be run entirely by local medical staff. It would be here for the long run. There was a need to prevent the spread of water-borne illnesses like acute watery diarrhea, which could be done by providing access to clean water. The Red Cross was ramping up efforts to install more hand washing stations and hygiene supplies in Moldova and Red Cross volunteers across eastern Europe were also integrating with teams distributing emergency cash to people who had fled Ukraine. The Hungarian Red Cross and Spanish Red Cross had set up health posts at border crossings to provide first aid, primary health care, mental health support and relief to people arriving from Ukraine. Mr Prince stressed the need for governments and the international community to work together to provide inclusive access to health services and vaccines, testing and treatment.

Boubaker BenBelhassen, speaking for the Food and Agricultural Organization (FAO), said the food outlook report provided analysis of latest market developments and forecasts for cereals (wheat, coarse grains, rice), oil crops, sugar, meat, dairy products and fish. The tightening of markets was forecast for nearly all the commodities in 2022, reflecting the soaring input prices, concerns over the frequency and intensity of weather events, market uncertainties resulting from the war in Ukraine, and sudden trade policy changes. The report also forecast that higher international food prices would lift global food import bills to over USD 1.8 trillion in 2022, an all-time high, almost entirely on account of higher food prices. Higher import bills mainly reflected higher unit costs rather than higher volumes, with many countries, especially economically vulnerable ones, set to face higher bills while importing smaller volumes. The global food import bill was estimated to increase by US$ 51 billion, of which $49 billion are due to higher import costs. Three groups of countries were likely to endure the most of the rising food import bills: the Least Developed Countries, Sub-Saharan Africa and Net Food Importing Developing Countries. While the import bill by LDCs were expected to contract, due to lower import volumes, those for Sub-Saharan Africa and the Net Food Importing Developing Countries were forecast to rise despite lower import volumes.

The report also showed that agricultural input prices were rising faster than world food prices, measured respectively by the FAO Global Input Price Index and the FAO Food Price Index, while both input and food prices were at all-time highs. This has led to dropping prices for farmers in real terms, implying lower incentives for farmers to increase production. Mr. BenBelhassen said this year’s food insecurity crisis was about access, while next year, the concern would shift to the lack of food. FAO maintained a close watch on market development, with the view of providing stakeholders up to date information on this topic.

A link to the report can be found here.

Responding to questions, Mr. BenBelhassen said there was enough available food, but the food needed to be moved from where there were surpluses to where there were deficits; it was an issue of access. In the next year the concern was for availability, as a lack of available fertiliser could mean lower yields. The war on Ukraine involved two countries who were big players, in terms of food commodities, with both Ukraine and Russia accounting for around 30 per cent of global exports. This meant there were big quantities out of the export market which had led to big pressures. The countries impacted most were in the north African region, and this could potentially lead to an additional 11 - 19 million hungry people.

Mr. BenBelhassen said there were several reports relating to the issue of conflicts. Conflicts were the major contributor for increasing food insecurity, and therefore the war in Ukraine impacted on global markets significantly.

Responding to questions, Mr. BenBelhassen said FAO was part of the Secretary-General’s Global Crisis Response Group and contributing to the recommendations and solutions which could help the situation. Stocks were a difficult question – many of these were private stocks. With prices increasing, stocks were filling some of the gap in the reduction seen due to the war in Ukraine. FAO foresaw that the tightening of global markets could be for one to two seasons.

Ministerial Conference on Aging

Jean Rodriguez, for the United Nations Economic Commission for Europe (UNECE), said population ageing was transforming the demographic structure of countries in the UNECE region. Over the past 20 years, the number of older persons had risen by 70.3 million, and their proportion increased from 13.4 to 17.5 per cent in 2022, according to UN population estimates. Rising life expectancy, enduring low fertility, as well as migration had affected the extent and pace of population ageing. These ongoing trends indicated that, by 2030, people aged 65 and older were set to account for 20 per cent of the total population in the region, with persons aged 80 and above to make up 5.4 per cent. By 2050, these numbers would grow to 25 per cent and 8.7 per cent respectively. These evolutions required governments to develop long-term policy responses to adapt to the challenges of ageing societies, while realizing the potentials of longer lives.

Some 44 country delegations, including over 30 Ministers in charge of ageing policy would convene in Rome next week (16-17 June) for the 5th UNECE Ministerial Conference on Ageing, to review progress made, discuss the challenges ahead and set the policy priorities going forward for the next five years.

The COVID-19 pandemic had a disproportional negative effect on older persons. The experience of the recent public health emergency had put a spotlight on the need to better address the needs and rights of older persons through policies in all sectors and at all levels. Mr. Rodriguez said that a regional synthesis would inform the Ministerial conference deliberations. It identified key achievements and challenges towards three policy goals; recognizing the potential of older persons; encouraging longer working life and the ability to work; and ensuring ageing with dignity. The review highlighted the need for further reforms and investments to realize the potential of every older persons, creating a society for all ages and ensuring sustainability of social protection systems and long-term care.

Responding to questions on the speed limit increase to 130 km per hour, Mr. Rodriguez said that the process was underway to increase the limit at which autonomous functions activated in vehicles. This would change from the current 60 km per hour, to 130 km per hour. Safety at the core of any UN mandate, including work on autonomous driving.

Mr. Rodriguez said he did not have exact data on the number of pensioners falling into poverty, but the report was based on data that was only a couple of years old, with the increase in inflation not reflected in this data. The vulnerability of pensioners to price increases was well known and would be part of the discussions next week in Rome.

Sri Lanka

Jens Laerke, for the United Nations Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA) , said Sri Lanka was facing its worst economic crisis since independence in 1948, and there was concern this could develop into a full-blown humanitarian emergency. Yesterday, the UN in Sri Lanka, with partner NGOs, launched a US$47 million plan to immediately address the needs of 1.7 million of the most vulnerable people. Serious consequences of the crisis could already be seen. Many were going without adequate food, agriculture and livelihoods were being affected, and families’ access to health services, protection and children’s education was at stake.

The Humanitarian Country Team estimated that nearly 5.7 million people needed humanitarian assistance. The four-months plan focused on immediate, life-saving humanitarian relief for those most severely affected. If funded, humanitarian and development partners could scale up support without delay. They could do it in agriculture, food, health care and essential medicines, targeted nutrition services, safe drinking water, emergency livelihoods and protection. But donors needed to step up too. It had been ten years since there was an inter-agency humanitarian plan for Sri Lanka.

Anthea Webb, for the World Food Programme (WFP), speaking from Colombo, said this was the worst economic crisis the country had faced since independence and worst food crisis. Since the governments social safety nets had been disrupted, WFP would be focusing on pregnant women and children, children under 5 and those in school, to ensure they could receive essential nutritious food. This included a cash voucher for women to use at the markets. Prior to the crises, 15 per cent of children were too small for their weight (wasting). The humanitarian needs and priorities plan was just the tip of the iceberg, and there was the potential for many more people to require assistance in the coming months. As each day passed, the cost of food, fertilizer and fuel on the world market was increasing.

Christian Skoog, for the United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF), speaking from Colombo, said the war in Ukraine was having a massive impact on Sri Lanka and the country could not pay for imports of fuel, food, and fertilizer. Children were trying to continue their studies by candlelight due to power cuts. Parents were waiting in line for hours for fuel and supermarkets shelves were emptying, and prices had risen, so much so that basic food items such as rice, lentils and milk were unaffordable. Children were particularly affected; 2.3 million children required some form of emergency assistance in Sri Lanka. Without urgent actions, consequences could be very far reaching. 70 per cent of households had reduced food consumption. Sri Lanka already had the 7th highest wasting rates in the world, which was concerning. The education of 4.8 million children hung in the balance, a lack of school attendance decreased dramatically due to transportation issues, with the school food programme being severely impacted. Essential medicines for pregnant women and children were running out, and there were already 10,000 children in institutions in Sri Lanka due to poverty. UNICEF was trying to mobilize funds to treat 56,000 children for severe acute malnutrition.

Responding to questions, Mr. Larerke, said there had been a decade without a need for appeals, with Sri Lanka being on a development trajectory.

Vimlendra Sharan, speaking for the Food and Agricultural Organization (FAO), from Columbo, said last year in March Sri Lanka banned import of chemical fertilizers which led to a drastic drop in agricultural production. There was a 50 per cent drop in fertilization. By the time the ban was lifted, prices had gone up and Sri Lanka was not able to import any fertilizer into the country. There were chances that there would be a back-to-back production lost of 50 per cent for two consecutive seasons. This had led to great distress in the farming community in Sri Lanka. FAO would reach out to small farmers and try and provide them with fertilizer.

Responding to questions, Mr. Skood said that the target was to treat children for malnutrition over the next six or seven months and there was a risk people could die. The government capacity was severely strained, so it was hard to keep basic services going. There was a good system to start with, but it was falling apart due to a lack of money.

Bangladesh

Ravina Shamdasani, for the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR), said OHCHR were concerned by the Government of Bangladesh’s decision not to approve the renewal of registration for Odhikar, a prominent and respected human rights organization in the country. The decision followed repeated accusations by the authorities against Odhikar for “spreading propaganda” and “publishing misleading information” about extrajudicial killings and enforced disappearances. OHCHR urged the Government to immediately reconsider this decision and ensure that Odhikar had the ability to seek full judicial review of any such determination. Further concern was raised, that the decision would have a chilling effect on the ability of civil society organizations to report serious human rights violations to UN human rights mechanisms. Odhikar had documented and reported on human rights violations in Bangladesh over many years, including to UN Special Procedures mandate holders. Intimidation and reprisals against Odhikar had been documented since as far back as 2013 and had intensified. There had been increased surveillance of its activities in recent months. The UN Secretary-General had raised concerns about reprisals against Odhikar over the past decade for cooperating with the UN.

Ms. Shamdasani said Odhikar’s application for renewal of its registration with the NGO Affairs Bureau had been pending since 2014, severely hindering its ability to carry out its work and in 2014, its bank account was also frozen. OHCHR called for Odhikar to be permitted access to its banked funds. OHCHR also called on the Government to foster an enabling environment for civil society to undertake their work without fear of reprisals, in the lead up to the next elections.

Brazil

Ravina Shamdasani, for the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR), said OHCHR were concerned about the continued lack of information on the whereabouts and wellbeing of British journalist Dom Phillips and indigenous rights defender Bruno Araújo Pereira in the Javari Valley, a remote area in western Amazon of Brazil, neighboring Peru and Colombia. The regional office for South America was monitoring the situation closely. Pereira and Phillips had been missing since Sunday 5 June, when they were last seen travelling in a boat on the Itaquaí River, to conduct interviews with indigenous communities.

Javari Valley in the Amazon was the second biggest indigenous territory in Brazil, and was believed to have one of the world’s highest concentrations of uncontacted indigenous tribes.

The area was also affected by illegal trafficking, mining, and fishing, and was reportedly suffering from increased activities of armed groups. Phillips and Pereira had played important roles raising awareness and defending the human rights of indigenous peoples in the area, including by monitoring and reporting illegal activities in the Javari Valley. Pereira had reportedly received threats related to his work in defence of indigenous peoples and the environment.

OHCHR urged Brazilian authorities to redouble their efforts to find Phillips and Pereira, stating time was of the essence. The office stressed concerns as to the wider context of constant attacks and harassment faced by human rights defenders, environmentalists, and journalists in Brazil. The authorities had the responsibility to protect them and ensure that they could exercise their rights, including to freedom of expression and association, free from attacks and threats.

Responding to questions, Ms. Shamdasani said that the government needed to deploy all possible efforts to locate the two men, and the initial response was slow. Following a judicial decision, more means had been deployed to search for the two men. OHCHR rejected any kind of hate speech against journalists and human rights defenders and called on authorities to empower these people and recognize their key role in promoting information from these remote areas.

Ms. Shamdasani said OHCHR was aware that high-level authorities in Brazil had made dismissive statements against journalists, even attacking their work. Such rhetoric from high-level officials could have been perceived as endorsement for attacking individuals for their work.

Responding to questions on the Committee of the Rights of the Child in Cuba, Ms. Shamdasani said she did not have a detailed response on the views of the Office, but the High Commissioner always urged states to follow through and respect their recommendations of the treaty bodies.

Ms. Shamdasani responded to questions about the three foreign citizens sentenced to death in Urkaine and said the UN human rights office was concerned about the decision of three service men being sentenced to death. According to Ukraine, these men were members of the Ukrainian armed forces and therefore should not be considered mercenaries.

Rhéal LeBlanc, for the United Nations Information Service, added that the United Nations stood firmly against the death penalty, and that combatants who were detained should be afforded international protection and be treated according to the Geneva Conventions.

Increased migrant deaths

Shabia Mantoo, speaking for the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR), said that while reported numbers of refugees and migrants crossing the Mediterranean to Europe were fewer than in 2015, the journeys were becoming more fatal, according to a new data visualization released by UNHCR. Since a peak in 2015, in which more than a million refugees and migrants crossed the Mediterranean to Europe, the numbers of those making these journeys had seen a downward trend. In 2021, 123,300 individual crossings were reported, and prior to that 95,800 in 2020, 123,700 in 2019 and 141,500 in 2018. Despite the lower numbers of crossings, the death toll had seen a steep rise. Last year, some 3,231 were recorded as dead or missing at sea in the Mediterranean and the northwest Atlantic, with 1,881 in 2020, 1,510 in 2019, and more than 2,277 for 2018.

UNHCR had continuously warned of the horrific experiences and dangers faced by refugees and migrants who resorted to these journeys, many of whom were fleeing violence and conflict. The data visualization focused specifically on the route from the East and Horn of Africa to the Central Mediterranean Sea. UNHCR also remained concerned that deaths and abuses were widespread along land routes, most commonly in countries of origin and transit, including Eritrea, Somalia, Djibouti, Ethiopia, Sudan, and Libya.

During their journeys, refugees and migrants often had to rely on smugglers to cross the Sahara Desert, exposing them to high risks of abuses. From Libya and Tunisia, many attempted to cross the sea, most often towards Italy or Malta. In many cases, those who survived the journey through the Sahara and attempted sea crossings were often abandoned by their smugglers, while some leaving from Libya were intercepted and returned to the country, where they were subsequently detained. Each year, thousands perished or went missing at sea.

Calling for more action to prevent deaths and protect refugees and asylum seekers who are embarking on these journeys, UNHCR had released an updated protection and solutions strategy and funding appeal in April. The appeal called for increased humanitarian assistance, support and solutions for people in need of international, covering 25 countries across three different regions connected by the same land and sea routes which are used by migrants, asylum seekers and refugees. At the same time, UNHCR urged States to ensure safe alternatives to dangerous crossings.

Responding to questions, Ms. Mantoo clarified that these were individuals who were crossing. Ms. Mantoo said UNHCR had been vocal about the reports being received on pushbacks on countries in Europe. Anyone seeking international protection had a right to have their claim assessed and receive humane and dignified treatment. The advocacy remined the same: ensuring that States welcomed refugees.

La Niña Update

Clare Nullis, for the World Metrological Organisation (WMO), said there was a high probability that the ongoing protracted La Niña event, would continue until at least August and possibly to the northern hemisphere fall and start of winter. Some long-lead predictions suggested that it might persist into 2023. If so, it would only be the third “triple-dip La Niña” (three consecutive northern hemisphere winters of La Niña conditions) since 1950. La Niña referred to the large-scale cooling of the ocean surface temperatures in the central and eastern equatorial Pacific Ocean, coupled with changes in the tropical atmospheric circulation, namely winds, pressure and rainfall. The ongoing drought in the Horn of Africa and southern South America bore the hallmarks of La Niña, as did the above average rainfall in South-East Asia and Australasia. However, all naturally occurring climate events now take place in the context of human-induced climate change, which was increasing global temperatures, exacerbating extreme weather and climate, and impacting seasonal rainfall and temperature patterns. Despite the cooling influence of La Niña, it had been the fifth warmest May on record, according to the EU’s Copernicus Climate Change Service.

Satellite Meeting

Next Friday 17 June, WMO would host the 50th anniversary meeting of global consortium of major space agencies providing meteorological satellites vital for weather forecasts, life-saving early warning services and - increasingly - climate change monitoring.

Responding to questions, Ms. Nullis said on 30 May, WMO was one of the signatories with other organizations, in issuing a joint alert that the threat of starvation loomed in East Africa. There had been four failed rainy seasons, and WMO was concerned that this was set to worsen. The longest seasonal forecast indicated that there was a real risk that the upcoming rainy season could also fail. Should the forecasts materialize, the humanitarian situation would become more acute. There were several factors contributing to this, including the war on Ukraine. WMO were increasingly working with the humanitarian community on anticipatory action, providing the forecasts to agencies who would use the information in their risk planning

Announcements

Rhéal LeBanc, for the United Nations Information Service (UNIS), said 12 June would be the World Day Against Child Labor, while 13 June marked World Albinism Day. To mark this occasion UNIS would be holding a Cine ONU online screening of the film “Shadow of the Sun” on Tuesday 14 June at 5:30 p.m.

On Monday 13 June, UNCHR would hold a press conference on the Annual Global Trends Report on Forced Displacement in 2021. On Tuesday 14 June, there would be the presentation of the report of the UN Independent International Commission of Inquiry on the Occupied Palestinian Territory, including East Jerusalem, and in Israel.

 

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