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Press briefings notes on Syria and Central African Republic

Spokesperson for the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights:  Rupert Colville
Location:   Geneva
Date: 11 February 2014
Subjects:  1) Syria & 2) Central African Republic

1)   Syria

We welcome reports that the parties to the conflict in Syria have agreed to extend the humanitarian pause in Old Homs for three more days. The delivery of long-awaited and much-needed humanitarian aid to Old Homs is a very welcome development, as is the fact that hundreds of beleaguered, traumatized, sick and injured civilians have finally been allowed to leave the conflict zone.

It is, however, disgraceful that UN and Syrian Arab Red Crescent aid workers delivering food and medical aid on Sunday were clearly targeted when the previous agreement to halt the fighting during the humanitarian operations was breached. It is a war crime to deliberately fire on those carrying out humanitarian operations.

We are also deeply concerned to learn that a number of boys and men and their families were seized by the authorities as they left the besieged area. It is essential that they do not come to any harm, and along with our colleagues in other UN organizations we will continue to press for their proper treatment according to the international humanitarian and human rights law.

Those not engaged in hostilities must be free to move to safe areas. Evacuations must be voluntary and should not amount to forced displacement or evictions. It is important that all parties to the conflict respect international humanitarian law and international human rights law, including the prohibition on indiscriminate and disproportionate attacks.
The protections contained in Common Article 3 of the Geneva Conventions, as a minimum must be respected. These include the absolute prohibition of a number of acts against persons taking no active part in the hostilities, including members of armed forces who have laid down their arms, and those placed ' hors de combat ' by sickness, wounds, detention, or any other cause. The prohibited acts are violence to life and person, in particular murder of all kinds, mutilation, cruel treatment and torture; taking of hostages; and outrages upon personal dignity, in particular humiliating and degrading treatment.

There must not be an assumption that those who remain in Old Homs and other besieged areas are all combatants. In addition, attacks against individuals who are hors de combat due to sickness, injury, capture or surrender, are prohibited by international humanitarian law.

The High Commissioner and other UN and humanitarian partners have, for many months, been urging safe passage for civilians and humanitarian access to all besieged areas of Syria. At least 240,000 people are estimated to be in areas under siege in the country, and we plan to issue a wider analysis of this situation in the coming days.

We renew our calls for unimpeded, continued and safe access to all the besieged areas of the country.

Under international human rights law, notably the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights, States are bound by core obligations to ensure minimum essential food which is sufficient, nutritionally adequate and safe, to ensure freedom from hunger; essential primary health care, including essential medicine; essential basic shelter and housing, including sanitation; access to the minimum essential amount of water, that is sufficient and safe for personal and domestic uses to prevent disease.

Almost none of these obligations have been met in Old Homs, and various other besieged areas in recent months, and it is important that the small breakthrough we are seeing in Homs is rapidly expanded, so that more people are delivered from the atrocious suffering , deprivation and constant risk of injury and death they are currently facing in many locations across Syria.

2)   Central African Republic

The security situation in Bangui continues to deteriorate, with targeted assassinations, increased violence and criminality on the streets. There are reports that anti-Balaka militants are extorting money from small businesses and individuals.

On Sunday, a member of the National Transitional Council, Jean-Emmanuel Ndjaroua, was assassinated in front of his residence in broad daylight, weeks after two of his children were killed. Houses of Séléka ministers, including that of the former Minister of Justice, were looted. Two magistrates were attacked, with one wounded and taken to hospital while another managed to escape. Also on Sunday, the Rwandan component of MISCA, the African Union peacekeeping mission, intervened to stop a mob from killing a Muslim man accused of attacking a woman.

UN human rights staff in the Central African Republic also conducted a mission to Boda, a town about 100 kilometres west of Bangui, where 92 people were reportedly killed between 30 January and 5 February in tit-for-tat attacks on religious grounds. Upon the departure of ex-Séléka from the town on 29 January, anti-Balaka launched an offensive against the Muslim population of Boda. Young Muslims from the town then retaliated in a killing spree and by burning down businesses. The team found houses scorched and the population displaced, split along religious lines.

Particularly worrying is the climate of complete impunity in the country, illustrated most glaringly by public statements from anti-Balaka elements claiming responsibility for the crimes and murders they have committed. Such brazen admissions are furthering the culture of impunity and encouraging more people to resort to violence. We are also concerned that some members of the National Transitional Council itself have made public statements within parliament which could instigate inter-communal violence. A number of parliamentarians reportedly stated that the brutal lynching of a man on 5 February, during which his body was dismembered and burnt by the armed forces of the Central African Republic, was justified.

We are working with various parties to try to re-start the judicial process in Bangui towards combating the pervasive impunity in the country. We also welcome the preliminary examination by the International Criminal Court into the crimes committed in recent months in the Central African Republic.

We take this opportunity to recall that fundamental rights of Central African people and foreigners must be respected in all circumstances and that the leadership of ex-Séléka, anti-Balaka and FACA, the armed forces of the country, have the responsibility to protect those rights in the areas under their effective control. They will be held personally accountable for human rights violations perpetrated by those under their control.

ENDS

For more information or media requests, please contact Rupert Colville (+41 22 917 9767 / rcolville@ohchr.org) or Ravina Shamdasani (+41 22 917 9169 / rshamdasani@ohchr.org )

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