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PRESS BRIEFING BY THE UNITED NATIONS INFORMATION SERVICE

Bi-Weekly Briefing

Alessandra Vellucci, Director of the United Nations Information Service in Geneva, chaired a hybrid briefing, which was attended by the United Nations Under-Secretary-General for Policy, representative and spokespersons of the World Health Organization, the Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs, the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights, the United Nations Conference on Trade and Development, the Food and Agriculture Organization, and the United Nations Refugee Agency.

Summit of the Future

Guy Ryder, United Nations Under-Secretary-General for Policy, informed that the Summit of the Future would be held in New York on 22-23 September 2024, during the High-Level Segment of the General Assembly. He said that, on the basis of the UN 75 Declaration, the Secretary-General had published Our Common Agenda, which represented his vision for the future of global cooperation, and called for inclusive, networked, and effective multilateralism. The Secretary-General had also published a series of 11 policy briefs, which provided ground for discussions leading to the Summit. The purpose of the Summit would be to help make the multilateral system fit to meet the new, evolving and emerging challenges, and to make good on the existing commitments in place, first and foremost the 2030 Agenda.

USG Ryder informed that the Member States had decided that the Pact for the Future, which was to be adopted at the Summit, would focus on five elements: 1) sustainable development and financing for development; 2) international peace and security; 3) science, technology and innovation, and digital cooperation; 4) youth and future generations; and 5) transforming global governance. Crosscutting all these issues would be human rights and gender equality. The intergovernmental negotiating process was underway now, led by Germany and Namibia; a zero draft of the Pact was expected to be issued in early 2024. This was a Member State-driven process, in which a wide variety of stakeholders would be participating.

More information on the Summit of the Future can be found here.

This was a whole-of-the-UN endeavour, stressed USG Ryder responding to questions. Entities based in Geneva would certainly be involved, while negotiations would be primarily New York-based. USG Ryder also said that UN Security Council reform was not a new issue and would be discussed in the chapter of global governance. It was fair to say that prospects for reform were better than they had been in recent decades. It was a chance to move things forward. He did not expect that the Pact for the Future would deal with budgetary allocations within the UN system.

Situation in Gaza and the West Bank

Jens Laerke, for the Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA), informed that OCHA and partners would release an updated Flash Appeal for the Occupied Palestinian Territory on 6 November covering the remainder of the year. The cost of meeting the needs of 2.7 million people - the entire population of Gaza and 500,000 people in the occupied West Bank - was estimated to be USD 1.2 billion. The revised Flash Appeal would outline the need for food, water, health care, shelter, hygiene, and other urgent priorities following the massive bombardments in the Gaza Strip. OCHA urged donors to promptly make resources available for the response.

Mr. Laerke reported that in Gaza, the Palestinian death toll over the past 27 days had reached 9,061. Women and children comprised some 62 per cent of these victims. At least 195 Palestinians had been killed and about 800 injured in less than 24 hours between 31 October and 1 November, in two rounds of Israeli airstrikes on Jabalia Refugee Camp in northern Gaza.

And on 2 November, also in the Jabalia Refugee Camp, an UNRWA school sheltering thousands of internally displaced people had been hit and at least 20 people had been reportedly killed and five injured. In terms of internal displacement in Gaza, the number had swelled to nearly 1.5 million. This included nearly 700,000 people sheltering in 149 UNRWA facilities, reaching almost four times their intended capacity. That meant that in some shelters up to 240 people were living in classrooms of 40 to 60 square metres.

Finally, Mr. Laerke referred to the situation in the West Bank, where violence had also been spiking. Since 7 October, the UN had documented over 130 deaths and more than 2,200 injuries. Settler violence and extensive access restrictions throughout the West Bank had displaced nearly 1,000 Palestinians.

A Member States briefing on the humanitarian situation in the Occupied Palestinian Territory from 2 pm Geneva time today could be followed here.

Elizabeth Throssell, for the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR), stated that, while much attention had been on the attacks inside Israel and the escalation of hostilities in Gaza since 7 October, the situation in the occupied West Bank, including East Jerusalem, was alarming and urgent, amid the increasing and multi-layered human rights violations of Palestinians occurring there. Since 7 October up to 2 November, 132 Palestinians, including 41 children, had been killed in the West Bank – 124 by Israeli forces and eight by settlers. Two Israeli soldiers had been killed.

Israeli forces had increasingly used military tactics and weapons in law enforcement operations, including an operation overnight involving airstrikes on Jenin refugee camp. Law enforcement was governed by international human rights law, which prohibited the intentional use of lethal force except when strictly necessary to protect life. Settler violence, which had already already at record levels, had also escalated dramatically, averaging seven attacks a day. In more than a third of these attacks, firearms had been used. In many incidents, settlers had been accompanied by members of the Israeli forces or wearing uniforms and carrying army rifles. Along with the near total impunity for settler violence, OHCHR was concerned that armed settlers had been acting with the acquiescence and collaboration of Israeli forces and authorities.

Ms. Throssell further said that the intensification of the fighting in northern Gaza had continued to add to the shocking number of casualties, which, according to the Gaza Ministry of Health, had reached over 9,000 killed. There had been a high number of casualties reported, as well as the reported use of explosive weapons with wide area effects in some of the most densely populated areas in Gaza. OHCHR had serious concerns that the principles of distinction and proportionality were not being respected by both sides.

Full OHCHR statement is available here.

Responding to questions, Mr. Laerke, for OCHA, explained that the appeal was based on the needs identified so far. There were still not enough trucks with humanitarian aid coming into Gaza, which was why OCHA was calling for opening of additional crossings into Gaza. The original appeal from 12 October had asked for USD 294 million, and, as of today, it was 25 percent funded. The largest donor was the USA, followed by the Central Emergency Relief Fund and Japan. OCHA was asking for all donors to help, including governments, international organizations, foundations, as well as individuals. Mr. Laerke emphasized the importance of humanitarian pauses, an approach which had been used in many other conflicts.

Ms. Throssell, for the OHCHR, said that there were worrying reports of some Palestinian workers now being sent by Israel back to Gaza despite the gravity of the situation in the Strip. Ms. Throssell explained that the former OHCHR staff member Craig Mokhiber had retired rather than resigned, and the views he had expressed in the published letter were his personal. On another question, Ms. Throssell emphasized that States had the obligation to prevent genocide. Ms. Throssell said that the definition of genocide was very specific, and it required intention; a competent court would need to look into this. OHCHR was making it clear that all sides to the conflict had obligations under the international humanitarian law; victims ought to be kept at the forefront of everyone’s mind. Talking about the many different war crimes did not mean that the OHCHR was minimizing what was happening. She said that the OHCHR was concerned about a treatment that a large number of Palestinians in detention were receiving. Arbitrarily detained people should be immediately released, she stressed. She confirmed that the OHCHR had staff on the ground in the West Bank, as well as national staff in Gaza, who were working under very difficult circumstances. The High Commissioner was seeking to travel to the region, and more information would be shared in due course.

Christian Lindmeier, for the World Health Organization (WHO), said that more than 70 percent of the casualties were innocent civilians - women and children. A cessation of hostilities, or at least a humanitarian pause, was needed to provide help to people in need and evacuate the seriously wounded.

Ms. Vellucci, for UNIS, responding to a question, said that according to UNWRA, the continued movement restrictions imposed on Palestinians from the West Bank to access Jerusalem and Israel, including for work reasons, were having an impact on the Palestinian economy. Prior to 7 October, UNRWA reported, an estimated 230,000 Palestinians had had work permits to access the Israeli labour market. These workers had represented a significant contribution to the overall economy of the West Bank particularly due to the relatively high salaries from Israeli businesses. It was expected that this would result in an economic downturn – and increased pressure on UNRWA services. Ms. Vellucci specified that two UNRWA international staff had left Gaza, and two others had come in; there were a total of 16 international staff in Gaza right now.

Worsening humanitarian situation in Darfur

Jens Laerke, for the Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA), said that the situation for civilians in Sudan’s Darfur region was getting worse by the day and since a military escalation the previous week, the impact on local communities was increasingly violent. Renewed clashes between the Sudan Armed Forces and the Rapid Support Forces in Nyala, Zalingei, El Fasher and El Geneina had killed dozens of civilians and wounded many more; thousands had been displaced; and civilian property has been destroyed or damaged.

While much hope was being placed on the Jeddah talks to achieve a sustainable ceasefire and facilitate humanitarian access, OCHA called on all parties to refrain from escalating and expanding the conflict. Darfurians had suffered enough in the past, and in the current conflict.

Mr. Laerke specified that overall in Sudan, more than 5.7 million people had been forced from their homes and 25 million, more than half of the population, now needed humanitarian assistance. Some 3.7 million people had received lifesaving assistance since April; of those, 1.6 million were in Darfur. Fighting needed to stop and parties to the conflict needed to ensure the safe passage of relief to all people in need in Sudan.

Elizabeth Throssell, for the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR), said that the OHCHR was deeply alarmed by reports that women and girls were being abducted and held in inhuman, degrading slave-like conditions in areas controlled by the Rapid Support Forces in Darfur, where they were allegedly forcibly married and held for ransom. Credible information from survivors, witnesses and other sources suggested more than 20 women and girls had been taken, but the number could be higher. Some sources had reported seeing women and girls in chains on pick-up trucks and in cars.

As of 2 November, the Joint Human Rights Office in Sudan had received credible reports of more than 50 incidents of sexual violence linked to the hostilities, impacting at least 105 victims - 86 women, one man, and 18 children. Twenty-three of the incidents had involved rape, 26 were of gang rape and three were of attempted rape. Ms. Throssell reiterated the High Commissioner’s calls on senior officials of both the Sudanese Armed Forces and the Rapid Support Forces – as well as armed groups affiliated with them - to unequivocally condemn these vile acts and issue – urgently – clear instructions to their subordinates demanding zero tolerance of sexual violence. They had to also ensure the abducted women and girls were promptly released.

Full OHCHR statement can be read here.

Answering questions from the journalists, Ms. Throssell said the OHCHR believed that the majority of the crimes had been committed by the Rapid Support Forces. They were not always and fully reported. OHCHR would continue to make its pleas to both sides. The Jeddah talks were continuing, but these were not UN-led talks, said Mr. Laerke. A total of 4.2 million people in Sudan were estimated to be at risk of gender-based sexual violence. The appeal was Sudan was only 34 percent funded at the moment, he informed. Many people who were caught in the midst of the violence today had already experienced horrors in Darfur twenty years earlier.

William Spindler, for the United Nations Refugee Agency (UNHCR), said that their External Relations Director was in the region right now, as an increase in arrivals was spotted: just in last three days, over 10,000 people had arrived from Sudan into South Sudan. In the past, most people arriving to South Sudan from Sudan had been South Sudanese, but now most were Sudanese nationals.

Update on the global food commodity prices

Upali Galketi Aratchilage, Senior Economist at the Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO), speaking from Rome, informed that the FAO Food Price Index averaged 120.6 points in October 2023, down 0.7 points from September, continuing the downward trend and standing 14.8 points below its corresponding value a year before. The slight drop in October reflected declines in the price indices for sugar, cereals, vegetable oils and meat, while the index for dairy products rebounded.

The FAO Cereal Price Index averaged 125 points in October, down 1.3 points from September and as much as 27.3 points from its value a year ago. International wheat prices had fallen by 1.9 percent in October, reflecting generally higher-than-earlier-anticipated supplies in the USA and strong competition among exporters. The FAO Vegetable Oil Price Index averaged 120 points in October, down 0.9 points from September, marking the third successive monthly decline and standing 31.3 points below its value one year ago. The marginal fall in the price index chiefly reflected lower world palm oil prices, more than offsetting higher prices of soy, sunflower and rapeseed oils.

Mr. Aratchilage explained that the FAO Dairy Price Index averaged 111.3 points in October, up 2.4 points from September, following nine months of consecutive declines, but still down 28 points from its value one year ago. In October, world milk powder prices had increased the most, principally driven by surges in import demand for both near- and longer-term supplies, especially from Northeast Asia. The FAO Meat Price Index averaged 112.9 points in October, down slightly from September, marking the fourth consecutive monthly decline, and standing 3.9 points below its value a year ago. Finally, the FAO Sugar Price Index averaged 159.2 points in October, down 3.5 points from September after two consecutive monthly increases. The decline in October was mainly driven by a strong pace of production in Brazil.

Further details on the latest FAO Food Price Index can be found here.

Announcements

Christian Lindmeier, for the World Health Organization (WHO), informed that the 2023 Global Tuberculosis Report would be released on 7 November. The report provided a comprehensive, up-to-date assessment of the TB around the globe. On 7 November at 4 pm, a virtual press conference would be held. An embargoed press release would be sent out that morning.

WHO was now accepting submissions for the 5th edition of its Health for All Film Festival. Filmmakers from around the world were asked to send their movies until 31 January 2024. Short documentaries, fiction films, or animation films could be submitted in one of the following "Grand Prix" categories: Universal Health Coverage, Health Emergencies, or Better Health and Well-being. 

WHO and ILO would publish world-first estimates of the global, regional and national burdens of non-melanoma skin cancer attributable to occupational exposure to solar ultraviolet radiation for 183 countries, for the period 2000–2019. This would take place at a press conference on 8 November, informed Mr. Lindmeier.

Catherine Huissoud, for the United Nations Conference on Trade and Development (UNCTAD), informed that on 7 November at 2:30 pm, UNCTAD would present its Least Developed Countries Report 2023. The report would highlight that LDCs had very high external financing needs as they pursued sustainable development. These needs had become even larger due to the emergence of multiple global crises. At the same time, the international financial environment could not provide least developed countries with the financing they need in the required amount and with appropriate conditions, and its reform was unavoidable.

Speakers would be Rebeca Grynspan, UNCTAD Secretary General; and Junior Davis, Chef, Policy Analysis and Research Branch, Division on Africa, LDCs and Special Programmes.

Alessandra Vellucci, for the United Nations Information Service (UNIS), informed that this morning the Human Rights Committee would close its 139th session, and at 2 pm, it would present findings on Iran, Kuwait, Republic of Korea, Trinidad and Tobago, the United States of America, and Venezuela.

The Committee Against Torture would begin on 6 November its review of the report of Kiribati.

On 6 November at 2 pm, there would be a press conference on major outcomes of the fifth meeting of the Conference of the Parties to the Minamata Convention on Mercury, held in Geneva this week. Speakers would be Monika Stankiewicz, Executive Secretary, Minamata Convention Secretariat; Marianne Bailey, Senior Coordination Officer; and Eisaku Toda, Senior Programme Management Officer.

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