PRESS BRIEFING BY THE UNITED NATIONS INFORMATION SERVICE
Rheal LeBlanc, Chief of the Press and external Relations Section at the United Nations Information Service (UNIS) in Geneva, chaired the hybrid briefing, which was attended by spokespersons and representatives from the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees, the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights, the World Food Programme and the World Meteorological Organization.
Death of Queen Elizabeth II
Mr. LeBlanc said that United Nations Secretary-General António Guterres had expressed deep sadness upon hearing of the passing of Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II, the Queen of the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland. In a statement, he extended his sincere condolences to her bereaved family, the Government and people of the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland, and the wider Commonwealth of Nations.
Mr. Guterres said that Queen Elizabeth II was a reassuring presence throughout decades of sweeping change, including the decolonization of Africa and Asia and the evolution of the Commonwealth.
He added that she was a good friend of the United Nations, having visited New York Headquarters twice.
The United Nations flag was today being lowered to half-mast as a mark of respect at all duty stations around the world.
Appointment of Volker Türk of Austria as United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights
Mr. LeBlanc also announced that UN Secretary-General António Guterres had appointed Volker Türk of Austria as the next High Commissioner for Human Rights, following approval yesterday by the General Assembly. He succeeded Michelle Bachelet of Chile, to whom the Secretary-General was grateful for her commitment and dedicated service to the United Nations.
Mr. Türk had devoted his long and distinguished career to advancing universal human rights, notably the international protection of some of the world’s most vulnerable people - refugees and stateless persons.
Mr. Türk was not expected at the Human Rights Council next week, but the Deputy High Commissioner would oversee proceedings. The exact starting date of Mr. Türk would be announced at a later stage.
Rolando Gomez, for the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR), said that Federico Villegas, President of the Human Rights Council, expressed his warm congratulations to Mr. Türk on his appointment. The Council President looked forward to working with Mr. Türk to promote and protect human rights around the globe by speaking out and taking meaningful action to improve lives and livelihoods. Mr. Villegas expressed his full support to Mr. Türk and his office.
51st Human Rights Council Opening on Monday
Mr. Gomez announced that on this Monday, 12 September, the 51st session of the Human Rights Council would open. The session would take place in room XX, and most participants would participate in person.
On Monday, Ambassador Villegas would make brief remarks to mark the opening of the session. These would be followed by the High Commissioner’s global update on the activities of the Office, to be delivered by Deputy High Commissioner Nada Al-Nashif. This would be followed by presentations of the annual report of the Independent Investigative Mechanism for Myanmar; the report of the Office on the human rights situation in Sri Lanka; and the report of the Special Rapporteur on Afghanistan. Finally, an enhanced interactive discussion would be held on the situation of women and girls in Afghanistan, featuring a statement by the Assistant Secretary-General for Human Rights.
In response to a question on the selection process regarding the High Commissioner for Human Rights, Mr. Gomez said that the views of civil society were highly valued by the Council. Mr. LeBlanc said that Mr. Türk was selected through a careful process, and he would certainly perform his duties seriously and equally defend everyone’s human rights.
Situation in Ukraine for Prisoners of War
Matilda Bogner, for the Office of the Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR), said that to date, OHCHR had corroborated 14,059 civilian casualties in Ukraine: 5,767 civilians were killed and 8,292 injured by hostilities. Actual numbers were likely considerably higher.
Since 24 February, the OHCHR’s Human Rights Monitoring Mission had verified that at least 416 people had been victims of arbitrary detentions and enforced disappearances in territory occupied by the Russian Federation or in areas controlled by Russian armed forces. Of those, 16 were found dead and 166 released. Some 51 arbitrary arrests and 30 more cases that may amount to enforced disappearance perpetrated by Ukrainian law enforcement bodies had also been documented.
Prisoners of war in the power of the Russian Federation and held by the Russian Federation’s armed forces or by affiliated armed groups had suffered torture and ill-treatment, and in some places of detention lacked adequate food, water, healthcare and sanitation. There was a dire health situation in the penal colony in Olenivka, where many Ukrainian prisoners of war reportedly had been suffering from infectious diseases, including hepatitis A and tuberculosis. There were also many cases where Ukrainian prisoners of war had not been allowed to contact their relatives to tell them of their capture, their location and their health condition.
Several pregnant prisoners of war were interned in places controlled by Russian armed forces and affiliated armed groups. OHCHR urged the Russian Federation, as the detaining power, to consider the immediate release of these women on humanitarian grounds.
In Ukrainian Government-controlled territory, the Office had also documented cases of torture and ill-treatment of prisoners of war, usually upon capture, during initial interrogations or transportation to camps for internment. The Mission had been able to visit a Ukrainian prisoner of war camp that appeared to comply with international standards. However, most prisoners of war continued to be held in penitentiary facilities, violating the rule that prisoners of war shall not be interned in close confinement.
There had been a significant deterioration of the situation in Crimea. There had been restrictions on the exercise of fundamental freedoms, torture and ill-treatment, enforced disappearances and arbitrary arrests, and violations of the right to a fair trial, as well as lack of accountability for such human rights violations. The Office was concerned that patterns of human rights violations documented in Crimea since 2014 could be repeated in territory newly occupied by the Russian Federation across Ukraine.
The Mission in Ukraine would continue to document and report the facts on the ground and the voices of victims, seeking to prevent further violations and to hold those accountable for the violations already committed. Its findings would be presented in its next report, which would be issued on 27 September.
In response to questions, Ms. Bogner said that most of the patterns of human rights violations were continuing, however more detailed information on the ill-treatment of prisoners of war in Donetsk and Crimea had come to hand. There had been a significant deterioration of the right to freedom of expression, with teachers and human rights defenders having been arrested and prosecuted for their work.
Ms. Bogner said that Ukrainian prisoners of war had been subjected to severe beatings upon arrival in new detention facilities. People who did not submit to their detainers or were vocal supporters of Ukraine had been targeted and subjected to ill-treatment. The conditions in which detainees were held was also a cause for concern, with inappropriate water and wash facilities.
The Office was concerned about new regulations allowing for the adoption of orphaned children from Ukraine that did not consider the best interests of the child.
The Office did not have detailed information on the illnesses in prisons, however it had received credible information indicating that some prisoners had infectious diseases, and there was a risk of those spreading.
The Office had also documented beatings of captured Russian forces by the Ukrainian side. Trials of prisoners that did not conform to international fair trial standards should not be carried out. The Office had an agreement with the International Criminal Court and was working with it other international organizations to monitor legislative issues.
In some cases, treatment of prisoners of war could amount to war crimes. Both sides needed to inform families about the fate of loved ones in detention.
The Office had been monitoring the situation in Kharkiv. Rockets continued to fall on the region, and it was not safe. Civilians were still living in the city, and the Office was concerned for their safety.
The Office was also concerned that both sides placed weapons in hospitals and schools, which put civilians at risk.
Nearly 100,000 refugee arrivals in Uganda face a silent emergency, enormous needs
Matthew Crentsil, United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) Representative in Uganda, said that, amid surging humanitarian needs for 96,000 refugees who had fled to Uganda so far this year, UNHCR and partners urgently required US$68 million for life-saving assistance and services.
As refugees from South Sudan and the Democratic Republic of the Congo continued to flee violence and seek safety in Uganda, the humanitarian response was being stretched to breaking point. In an inter-agency appeal, UNHCR and 41 partners were seeking funds through the end of the year to support up to 150,000 refugees, as arrivals continued.
At the start of 2022, Uganda was already hosting over 1.5 million refugees, making it one of the most important refugee host countries in the world and the largest on the African continent.
Uganda was a global leader in promoting peaceful coexistence and refugee settlement among host communities. Refugees were provided with plots of land for housing and cultivation. Refugees and host communities access the same health facilities, and their children attend schools together.
Important gains in refugee self-reliance and economic inclusion were now at risk due to severe underfunding for UNHCR's operations in the country. By the end of August, UNHCR had received just 38 per cent of its 2022 funding requirement of US$343.4 million to respond to the needs of refugees in Uganda, as determined at the start of this year.
The funding gap had strained UNHCR's capacity to provide critical support, including basic humanitarian assistance, child protection services, civil registration, and livelihood opportunities.
Read the full press release here.
In response to questions, Mr. Crentsil said that the Ugandan Government had generally been very hospitable. Problems had been faced on the border with the Democratic Republic of the Congo, where host communities were growing weary of accommodating refugees.
The situation in Uganda was not out of hand yet, but risks were very high. UNHCR might had run out of money to pay teachers, buy hygiene kits for women and girls, and buy seeds for refugees’ agricultural activities. The Agency had anticipated at the beginning of the year that 60,000 refugees would come to Uganda in 2022, but the current figure was around 100,000, and the Agency was expecting 150,000 refugees to arrive by the end of the year.
Only 11 per cent of the Agency’s initial appeal for funding had been reached. Suicide was becoming a serious issue among refugees. The need for an emergency response was vital.
Relief and Recovery Assistance for Communities Affected by Devastating Floods in Pakistan
Tomson Phiri, for the World Food Programme, said that the WFP was scaling up its emergency response to reach 1.9 million people affected by this year’s monsoon floods. Recovery and resilience support was now a top priority as families struggled to cope with the loss of homes, livestock and food, and the country grappled with colossal damage to infrastructure, agricultural land and crops.
Already, WFP had reached more than 400,000 people with food assistance in Balochistan, Khyber Pakhtunkhwa and Sindh provinces and continued to expand its operations. A record 33 million people were affected by the floods, the deadliest in more than a decade.
The people of Pakistan not only needed immediate assistance but also longer-term support to restore their livelihoods shattered by the floods. More than 630,000 people were still in relief camps, over 80 per cent of them in Sindh alone. In Balochistan and Sindh, large areas of land remained inundated, and scores of communities had been cut off, creating challenges for humanitarian agencies to deliver aid. There had also been an outbreak of waterborne diseases among the displaced families.
The WFP required US$152 million to scale up operations, up from the originally planned $34 million, as part of the flash appeal launched by the United Nations in August.
Read the full press release here.
In response to questions on grain shipments from Ukraine, Mr. Phiri said that two shipments of grains purchased by WFP had left Odessa; one was headed to Ethiopia and the other to Yemen. WFP had a shipping company and a shipping department, and was using existing suppliers and vessels for shipping.
On the situation in Pakistan, Mr. Phiri said that access to affected areas was a challenge, but the WFP was working to both assist people in the present and provide sustainable, long-term solutions for those affected. Support provided by WFP helped to make the malnutrition situation manageable.
Clare Nullis, for the World Meteorological Organization (WMO), said that the Pakistan Meteorological Department had earlier this week issued its monthly statistics for August, showing that it was the wettest August since the start of records in 1961. The national rainfall was 243 per cent above average. In the province of Balochistan it was 590 per cent above average and in Sindh 726 per cent above average.
United in Science Report
Ms. Nullis said that WMO would on Tuesday release its annual United in Science report. This provided an overview of the most recent science related to climate change, impacts and responses. The report also examined socio-economic impacts of extreme weather.
Professor Petteri Taalas would hold a press conference to announce the report’s release on Tuesday, 13 September at 3:30 p.m. Geneva time.
Hottest European Summer on Record
Ms. Nullis also reported that Europe had just had its hottest summer and hottest August on record, according to the European Union’s Copernicus Climate Change Service (C3S).
The August temperature was 0.8°C above August 2018, and summer was 0.4°C warmer than June-August 2021. In addition to heatwaves in Europe, there were also heatwaves over central and eastern China for all three summer months.
Globally it was the joint third warmest on record, according to Copernicus.
August 2022 was generally much drier than average in much of western and parts of eastern Europe. Conversely, it was wetter-than average over most of Scandinavia and parts of southern and south-eastern Europe.
Conditions were also wetter than average in many extratropical regions of North America and Asia. In many locations heavy precipitation triggered floods and inundations.
Devastating wildfires across Europe this summer caused the highest emissions since 2007. The combination of August’s heatwave with prolonged dry conditions across western Europe resulted in increased wildfire activity, intensity and persistence.
The heat, drought and low snowpack after winter has taken its toll on Alpine glaciers.
Matthias Huss, head of the Swiss glacier monitoring network, had tweeted that “Within just two months, a mountain pass at Les Diablerets, Western Switzerland, ice-covered for several thousand years, had become ice-free…We're deeply concerned about these extremes that were unthinkable up to this day.”
WMO’s Global Cryosphere Watch network was monitoring the situation. Glacier mass was one of the key climate change indicators factored in to WMO’s State of the Climate reports.
Mr. LeBlanc announced that the Committee on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities would meet later this afternoon to close its 27th session, which had started on 15 August.
On Monday, 12 September, the Committee on Enforced Disappearances would open its 23rd session. The session would last until 23 September. The Committee would review the reports of three countries: Mali; Czech Republic; and Uruguay.
On Monday, 19 September, the Committee would hold a public meeting with State parties to the International Convention on the Protection of the Rights of All Migrant Workers and Members of their Families; and, in the afternoon, another public meeting with United Nations agencies.
The Committee on the Rights of the Child would review the report of Vietnam on Monday, 12 September (afternoon) and Tuesday, 13 September (morning).
The date and time of the next plenary meeting of the Conference on Disarmament would be communicated at a later stage. The 2022 session of the Conference will end on 16 September.
Today, at 1:30 p.m. Geneva time, the Committee on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities would hold a press briefing to present findings on Bangladesh, China, Indonesia, Japan, Korea, Lao, New Zealand, Singapore, and Ukraine. Speaking would be Jonas Ruskus, Vice-Chair of the Committee, and two Committee Experts.
On Wednesday at 11 a.m. Geneva time, the United Nations Conference on Trade and Development (UNCTAD) would hold a press conference to announce the publication of its report on assistance to the Palestinian people in 2022. Speaking from UNCTAD would be Richard Kozul-Wright, Director of the Division on Glonbalization and Development Strategies, and Mutasim Elagraa, Assistance to the Palestinian People.
Today was the International Day to Prevent Education from Attack. The Secretary-General had issued a statement saying that education was a fundamental human right and an essential driver for achieving peace and sustainable development. Unfortunately, this right continued to fall under attack, especially in conflict-affected areas. In 2020 and 2021, the Global Coalition to Protect Education from Attack reported over 5,000 attacks and cases of military use of schools and universities. More than 9,000 students and educators were killed, abducted, arbitrarily arrested or injured. Most victims were women and girls.
The Secretary-General welcomed steps taken by many countries to protect educational institutions and those who need them, and urged all Member States to endorse and implement the Safe Schools Declaration.
The Secretary-General called for cooperation to guarantee safe education for all on this day and at the Transforming Education Summit, which would be held next week in New York.