PRESS BRIEFING BY THE UNITED NATIONS INFORMATION SERVICE
Rhéal LeBlanc, Chief of the Press and External Relations Section at the United Nations Information Service, chaired the hybrid press briefing, which was attended by the spokespersons and representatives of the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights, the World Health Organization, the International Labour Organization, the United Nations Conference on Trade and Development, the Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs, and the Human Rights Council.
Increasing number of cholera outbreaks
Dr. Philippe Barboza, Team Lead for Cholera and Epidemic Diarrheal Diseases, at the World Health Organization (WHO), said that after years of declining numbers, there was a worrying increase in the number of cholera outbreaks, with 26 countries reporting outbreaks in 2022 so far. Not only were we seeing more outbreaks, but they were larger and more deadly. In Africa, the fatality rate was as high as three per cent. The treatment was simple, but many people unfortunately did not have resources for that. Extreme climate events reduced access to clean water and sanitation; with further climate change, we could expect more such outbreaks, warned Dr. Barboza. WHO was working with partners on all multisectoral aspects to support countries to both respond to and to prevent outbreaks. The situation was dire, but not hopeless, as cholera was a preventable and treatable diseases, stressed Dr. Barboza.
Responding to questions, Dr. Barboza said that this year marked three years without reported cholera cases in Haiti, but the country remained at the risk of reintroduction. In Syria, the situation was evolving and there were laboratory-confirmed cases. The Indian subcontinent, the Horn of Africa, Western Africa, and the Middle East were some of the areas of gravest concern. The availability of vaccines continued to be extremely limited, with demand exceeding supply. There was only one manufacturer currently, informed Dr. Barboza, but the WHO continued to work with partners, including GAVI, to address the issue. He confirmed that there were currently no cholera cases in Lebanon or Turkey, but they were also at risk, having large refugee populations and being next to Syria. The risk to wealthy countries was very low, said Dr. Barboza. He said that the WHO was working with countries to develop flexible, adaptable surveillance to better identify cholera outbreaks, record cases and deaths, prevent and respond to outbreaks.
Systemic racism report
Ravina Shamdasani, for the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR), said that a new OHCHR report recorded piecemeal progress in combating systemic racism against people of African descent, and insisted on urgent need for transformative change.
Activism led by people of African descent, joined by many others, had resulted in increased recognition of the systemic nature of racism, yielding concrete initiatives in some countries, but there remained an urgent need for comprehensive approaches to dismantling deep-rooted systems perpetuating racial discrimination across all areas of life. The acting High Commissioner for Human Rights, Nada Al-Nashif, who would present the report to the Human Rights Council on 3 October, called on States to “redouble efforts to ensure accountability and redress wherever deaths of Africans and people of African descent have occurred in the context of law enforcement, and take measures to confront legacies that perpetuate and sustain systemic racism.”
Ms. Shamdasani said that where available, recent data continued to point to disproportionately high rates of deaths of people of African descent by law enforcement in different countries. Families of African descent continued to report the immense challenges, barriers and protracted processes they faced in their pursuit of truth and justice for the deaths of their relatives at the hands of law enforcement.
The report is available here.
Answering questions, Ms. Shamdasani said there had been some progress in certain cases, such as in the murder of George Floyd, but it was shocking that none of the cases listed in the report had come to a conclusion years after the crimes had been committed. She recalled examples of people of African descent fleeing Ukraine and being treated differently from Ukrainian refugees. It was a systemic issue, not only within countries, but at the global level. She stressed that the issue of racism was deeply entrenched, systemic, and it went back centuries. Following several recent high-profile killings, the Human Rights Council had taken up the issue, even if belatedly. The OHCHR now had an indefinite mandate to report on this issue every year.
Responding to a question, Rhéal LeBlanc, for the United Nations Information Service, explained that within UN Geneva, there was a working group looking into the problem of racism. Recent activities included recording staff videos on this topic, which can be viewed here. Mr. LeBlanc also reminded of a recent Ciné-ONU event in Geneva which had shown the documentary « Je suis Noires » covering the topic of systemic racism. He also recalled that the Secretary-General’s message on the International Day of Peace on 21 September emphasized the importance of eradicating racism to build a more just and peaceful world.
Human Rights Council
Rolando Gomez, for the Human Rights Council (HRC), informed that today the general debate on subsidiary bodies was continuing, to be followed by the general debate on Universal Periodic Reviews. In the afternoon, the human rights situation in Palestine and other occupied Arab territories would be on the agenda, and the day would end with the general debate on the Vienna Declaration and Programme of Action.
On 3 October, the Working Group on the People of African Descent would present several reports, including one on Switzerland, to be followed by an OHCHR report on the rights of people of African descent in the context of law enforcement.
The International Independent Expert Mechanism to Advance Racial Justice and Equality in Law Enforcement would also present its first report on 3 October, and on 4 October at 2 p.m., the experts would hold a press conference on the report.
Mr. Gomez said that on 5 October at 2 p.m., the Team of International Experts on the Democratic Republic of the Congo would present its report at a press conference.
Russian decision on annexation of Ukrainian territory
Asked whether the United Nations denounced Russia’s decision to annex several Ukrainian regions, Mr. LeBlanc, for the United Nations Information Service, answered that the Secretary-General, in his remarks to the press issued yesterday, was quite clear. Mr. Guterres felt that it was his duty to uphold the Charter of the United Nations, and that any annexation of a State’s territory by another State resulting from the threat or use of force was a violation of the Principles of the UN Charter and international law. Mr. Guterres had also recalled the landmark Friendly Relations Declaration of 24 October 1970, where the General Assembly had declared that “the territory of a State shall not be the object of acquisition by another State resulting from the threat or use of force” and that “no territorial acquisition resulting from the threat or use of force shall be recognized as legal”. His strongly worded remarks had been shared with the media.
Asked whether the General Assembly could oust Russia as a permanent member of the Security Council, Mr. LeBlanc answered that this was a question for discussion among Member States in the context of the UN Charter. He said he would see whether a legal opinion was available on the matter. He added that the Secretary-General had often indicated that he felt it was more effective diplomatically to keep countries part of global forums.
Speaking on behalf of the International Telecommunication Union (ITU), Rhéal LeBlanc, for the UN Information Service, recalled yesterday’s press release announcing that Member States had elected Doreen Bogdan-Martin of the United States of America as the next Secretary-General of the International Telecommunication Union. Ms. Bogdan-Martin would be the first woman to lead ITU in the organization’s 157-year history. She had pledged “to lead ITU into a new era of global and regional partnerships… to accelerate digital inclusion and connectivity.” Ms. Bogdan-Martin would begin her four-year term as ITU Secretary-General on 1 January 2023. The same day, Tomas Lamanauskas of Lithuania had been elected as the next ITU Deputy Secretary-General.
Jens Laerke, for the Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA), informed that the UN Secretary-General had appointed eight new advisers to the UN Emergency Fund CERF Advisory Group, which now had 20 members. The Group provided the Secretary-General with periodic policy guidance and expert advice on the use and impact of CERF. Since its inception, CERF had distributed USD 7.5 billion, collected from over 130 countries and organizations, said Mr. Laerke.
This year, CERF had given USD 559 million, and was left with USD 98 million, which meant that the Fund needed to be topped up as humanitarian needs were going up.
Mr. Laerke also informed that Julien Harneis, United Nations Resident Coordinator and Humanitarian Coordinator in Pakistan, would hold a hybrid press briefing on the developing emergency in the country, on 3 October at 11 a.m. He would speak of a revised flash appeal; the original appeal at the end of August had asked for USD 160 billion.
Sophie Fisher, for the International Labour Organization (ILO), said that today was the last day in office for the ILO’s current Director-General, Guy Ryder, who had been in office for two five-year terms. The new Director-General, Gilbert Houngbo, would take over from 1 October. At 2 p.m. today, there would be a handover ceremony at the ILO, which would include the symbolic transfer of the three ILO keys, representing the tripartite structure of the Organization that brought together governments, employers and workers. Both the outgoing Director-General and the Director-General Elect would make short statements. The ceremony would be broadcast live on the ILO website.
Catherine Huissoud, for the United Nations Conference on Trade and Development (UNCTAD), informed about the new Trade and Development Report 2022, in which UNCTAD called on advanced economies for course correction of their monetary and fiscal policies to avert a global recession and stagnation. Economists outlined what policy actions could avert an economic crisis and strengthen support to developing countries. The report also covered the economic and development outlook in each developing region, and it was under embargo until 3 October at 5 p.m. The press conference would be held at 2 p.m. with UNCTAD Secretary General Rebecca Grynspan and Richard Kozul-Wright, Director of the Division on Globalization and Development Strategies, the report’s main author.
Mr. LeBlanc stated that the Committee on the Protection of the Rights of All Migrant Workers and Members of Their Families would close this afternoon its 35th session and issue its concluding observations on the three countries reviewed during this session - Venezuela, Bolivia, and Syria.
The Committee on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights would continue this morning the review of the report of Italy.
Today was the International Translation Day, said Mr. LeBlanc, while 1 October would be the International Day of Older Persons, and 2 October would be the International Day of Non-violence. The Secretary-General’s messages on these occasions had been shared with the media.