REGULAR PRESS BRIEFING BY THE UNITED NATIONS INFORMATION SERVICE
Rhéal LeBlanc, Chief of Press and External Relations at the United Nations Information Service (UNIS) in Geneva, chaired the hybrid briefing, attended by the spokespersons and representatives of the United Nations Conference on Trade and Development, the World Health Organization and the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights.
Catherine Huissoud, for United Nations Conference on Trade and Development (UNCTAD), drew attention to a new UNCTAD report “Rethinking the Foundation of Export Diversification in Africa: The Catalytic Role of Business and Financial Services” to be published on 14July. Referring to the report, she said that African countries would need to diversify their exports to survive economic shocks from global crises, such as the COVID-19 pandemic and the war in Ukraine. Ms. Huissoud added that African countries could diversify their economies through boosting exports of high-value services, expanding private businesses’ access to financial services, and tapping into new financial technologies and implementing effective policies. Despite decades-long efforts to diversify, 45 out of the continent’s 54 countries remained dependent on exports of primary products in the agricultural, mining and extractive industries. The embargoed press conference on 14July will be held at 11 a.m. and feature Rebeca Grynspan, UNCTAD Secretary General, and Paul Akiwumi, UNCTAD Director of Division for Africa, LDCs and Special Programmes. The embargo would be lifted at noon the same day.
War in Ukraine
Dr Dorit Nitzan, Ukraine Crisis Incident Manager at the World Health Organization, speaking from Odessa, Ukraine, said that the WHO mission to Mykolaiv and Odessa was to assess health needs, readiness to all-hazards and establish WHO’s hub in Odessa. She added that the WHO was working in close alignment with Ukraine’s Ministry of Health, the Oblast health authorities, and the city authorities – to make sure its work was driven by needs at all levels – both top-down and bottom-up. The focus was the health needs of affected populations, the people whose physical and mental health had been harmed, and/or had deteriorated due to the Russian invasion and its consequences. For instance, this included the people who had not been able to receive early diagnosis and treatment for cancer, who now had much more advanced tumors and more critical illnesses, or people who had not been able to receive medication for hypertension and now had failing hearts or had suffered strokes. It also affected diabetics who could not get treatment and whose disease was now severe, as well as premature babies, pregnant women, older people, many of whom had been left behind and were highly vulnerable.
Dr Nitzan further said that other people had suffered the terrible effects of explosions and missile strikes with impact on their vision, with burns that damaged their eyes, leaving people permanently or partially blind. Odessa had a countrywide-renowned Ophthalmology Centre and the expertise and skills there were sorely needed. People were being disabled in all kinds of ways. The thunderous noise of bombardment could damage hearing. Landmines had been the cause of many amputated legs. And of course, the fear, grief and uncertainty exerted an appalling toll on mental health.
Dr Nitzan highlighted that the WHO's modus operandi was triple headed: readiness, response and recovery, all done at the same time, in different parts of the country. Together with the health authorities, WHO was getting ready for all hazards. The health institutions in Odessa and Mykolaiv were really overstretched, and the healthcare system was now faced with gaps that had already been created by the COVID-19 pandemic. In the health sphere, more than 130 NGOs, national and international, had been taking part under the health cluster. She called for all to step forward and work in full coordination on the ground. Having said that, Dr Nitzan expressed that the combination of major emergencies, including the war, the COVID-19 pandemic, and the ongoing health system reform in Ukraine, had made the system more responsive and more resilient. However, people had higher expectations of their health service. WHO’s role was to help the health system to meet those expectations, to ensure the package of lifesaving health services was available, people-centered, and of good quality. It was not just about providing supplies. WHO was providing the standards, guidance and training, and identifying what was needed most and making sure it got to the right people. WHO was keen to get to the conflict affected populations, using a diversified toolbox, such as, for example, the treatment of waterborne diseases, as the ever-present risk of cholera had moved higher up its list of priorities and this was one of the issues they were concerned about in Mykolaiv.
In response to questions, Dr Nitzan specified that there were landmines everywhere in Ukraine and that it was hard to anticipate their impact or even assess their number. What was visible were people going through amputations or medical evacuations to other institutions.
She also said that the new WHO hub was in Odessa, but the head office remained in Kiev. Ukraine was a large country with 18 million affected people, and 5.9 million injured. Among them, there was suffering related to trauma and the effect of war. Non-communicable diseases were also to be accounted. There were no new polio cases, the 29 cases of acute flaccid paralysis had all been checked and none of them was due to polio. There was no case of cholera and she hoped there would not be any, yet WHO was getting ready for it. There had been one suspected case, but it was not a toxic subtype. The number of non-communicable diseases was the leading cause of the heavy health burden in Ukraine, and it was rising. In regards to damages to the eyes, WHO was collecting data. She called for a humanitarian corridor to be allowed. On sexual violence, as in every war, the WHO Manager had seen cases of sexual violence, and numbers were increasing especially in areas under conflict. Gender-based violence was occurring not only to women but also to men and others. WHO was also working on strengthening the country's health system.
Tomson Phiri, Global Spokesperson for the United Nations World Food Programme (WFP), said that, almost five months into the war in Ukraine, the country was facing multiple challenges. Intense fighting was continually displacing people, cutting off those who remained from commercial supply lines and holding back the country’s economy. One in three households in Ukraine was food-insecure, rising to one in two in some areas of the East and South. WFP rapidly scaled-up assistance through food distributions or cash in Ukraine, reaching 2.6 million people in June and continued to work with partners to reach areas close to front lines. In these areas fighting was preventing people, especially the elderly and families with children, from accessing food. WFP was buying as much food inside Ukraine as possible, supporting people with cash wherever there was access to banks and where markets were functioning.
In Ukraine, WFP had transferred US$140 million cash and vouchers to close to 1.9 million people since April. People received their cash within 72 hours of registering. Every dollar spent was directly injected into the local economy. In June, close to 925,000 people were assisted with cash worth US$66.5 million. Internally displaced people received US$75 per person for up to three people per family. WFP tried to buy grain, food and services within Ukraine where possible, as part of efforts to support the local economy. It remained difficult to secure sufficient access to fuel, with harmful knock-on effects for our work.
In Moldova, the second round of cash transfers was underway for an estimated 15,000 Moldovan families hosting refugees from Ukraine, to help them reduce the burden of additional costs of food and other essential needs. WFP had delivered more than half a million hot meals (three meals per day reaching an average of 1,966 people per day) in 90 refugee reception centers across 31 different localities/regions through cooperating partners. The third round of transfers was scheduled for July and in total, WFP was planning to conduct up to four rounds of transfers, depending on funding availability.
Rhéal LeBlanc, Chief of the Press and External Relations at the United Nations Information Service (UNIS) reminded correspondents that more than 1,400 UN personnel were working on the ground to deliver life-saving assistance and was currently reaching 10.3 million people across Ukraine.
Sri Lanka planned protest
Ravina Shamdasani, for OHCHR, stated that ahead of what was expected to be a large demonstration in Colombo on Saturday, 9July, the OHCHR urged Sri Lankan authorities to show restraint in the policing of assemblies and ensure every necessary effort to prevent violence.
At the same time, she appealed to the organizers of the protests and their supporters to engage in peaceful means of protest and not to impede essential medical or humanitarian services. She called on the authorities to give clear instructions to the security forces that human rights defenders and journalists have a right to monitor and report on the demonstrations and should be protected in the exercise of these functions and not obstructed in any way.
The worsening economic situation had led to increasing tensions in the last weeks. Reports had been received of several confrontations between individuals and members of the police force and the armed forces at fuel stations where thousands of desperate members of the public had queued for hours and sometimes days. Police had used tear gas and water cannons at times in an unnecessary and disproportionate manner. On occasions, armed forces had also fired live ammunition. All Sri Lankans had the right to freedom of expression, peaceful assembly and the right to participate in public affairs, which were particularly important in critical phases of the nation’s life. Under applicable international law, gatherings could only be dispersed in exceptional cases, with use of force a last resort where absolutely necessary and proportionate. The Government needed to give strict instructions to the police and armed forces to desist from violence in dealing with the public and to act with utmost restraint. As a general rule, the military should not be used to police assemblies. Where, in exceptional circumstances, members of the military carried out law enforcement functions they were bound by international norms and standards and should remain fully subordinate to civilian authorities and accountable under civilian law.
Sri Lankans were already suffering enormously and lived in continuing uncertainty of how they could meet their basic needs, including access to the right to food, health and education. They had a right to peacefully protest to demand a better life and an end to economic and social hardship. Ms. Shamdasani repeated the High Commissioner’s call for open and genuine dialogue to address the root causes of the crisis and grievances of the population.
In response to questions, Ms. Shamdasani explained that OHCHR was having direct contact with the authorities and in one instance, the High Commissioner had met with the Prime Minister in June and had raised concerns about the rights of freedom of assembly including through protest. The situation was really desperate, people were lining up rickshaws for hours, sometimes days, to fill their gas tank. The media reported that 13 people had died while waiting for fuel, while other people died from illness because they couldn’t access hospitals due to the fuel shortage. Tensions were running deep, as seen in May where, during mass protests, 89 people had been killed and over 250 injured. She expressed her worries about the protest happening Saturday 9 July, hence the OHCHR’s preventive call on authorities, calling the military not to be used to police the assemblies and, if involved, it was crucial they remained under civilian laws. On treatment in detention, this was a long-standing issue, and the use of ill treatments was a long-running concern. On treatment during protests, there had been a number of victims, as security forces had used lethal force during the protest.
World Health Organization
In response to a question, Tarik Jasarevic for the World Health Organization, explained that a virus discovered in Ghana was from the same family as Ebola. It was a virus that had existed for decades with sporadic cases in African countries such as Angola, the Democratic Republic of Congo, Kenya, South Africa and Uganda. This was a contagious virus, transmitted by body fluids, for which there was no vaccine. Regarding COVID-19, he mentioned that the Director-General was clear that, with a decrease in testing, it was harder to have a full picture of the number of cases, as some people might not know they were infected. Vaccination should continue for those more at risk and treatments should be available to everyone. Where there were known cases, people should continue to be cautious and try to not contaminate others, he added. Mr. Jasarevic further explained that the increase of zoonotic diseases was due to climate change and to more interaction in human and animal worlds with an increased risk for the spill-over of pathogens from the animal world to the human world.
Rhéal LeBlanc, Chief of Press and External Relations at the United Nations Information Service (UNIS) said that the Human Rights Committee was continuing this morning its review of the report of Hong-Kong (China) and would conclude it next Tuesday morning.
He also mentioned that the Committee Against Torture would open next Tuesday its 74th session (12-29 July), during which it would review the reports of United Arab Emirates, Nicaragua, State of Palestine and Botswana.
The Human Rights Council was also concluding its 50th session today.
Referring to the Secretary-General message for World Population Day on Monday 11 July, Mr. LeBlanc said that this year’s UN Day fell during a milestone year as the birth of the Earth’s eight billionth inhabitant was anticipated. Reaching a population of eight billion was a numerical landmark, but the focus should always be on people. We lived in a world of vast gender inequality where renewed assault on women’s rights were witnessed, including on essential health services. In the world we strived to build, eight billion people meant eight billion opportunities to live dignified and fulfilled lives, and urged protection for human rights and the ability of all individuals to make informed choices about whether and when to have children.
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