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Press briefing note on Libya and Ukraine

Spokesperson for the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights: Rupert Colville
Location: Geneva
Date: 17 February 2015
Subjects:    (1) Libya and (2) Ukraine

(1) Libya

UN High Commissioner for Human Rights Zeid Ra’ad Al Hussein has today issued a press release stating that the mass beheading of 20 Egyptian Coptic Christians and apparently another Christian man in Libya was a “vile crime targeting people on the basis of their religion”. He urged Libyans to unite against extremists launching attacks based on religious, ethnic, national, racial or political grounds.

“The brutal murder of these men, and the ghastly attempt to justify and glorify it in a video, should be roundly condemned by everyone, in particular by the people of Libya who should resist the urgings of takfiri groups,” High Commissioner Zeid said. “Murdering captives or hostages is prohibited under international law and Islamic law.”

In their response, Zeid said, the Egyptian air force must ensure full respect of the principles of distinction between civilians and fighters, and civilians objects and military objectives.

The beheading of the 21 men took place against the backdrop of increasing lawlessness amid the armed conflict in Libya. The UN Human Rights report (http://www.ohchr.org/EN/HRBodies/HRC/RegularSessions/Session28/Documents/A_HRC_28_51_ENG.doc) published last week detailed the rampant violence and fighting in the country, which is badly affecting civilians in general and specific groups in particular – including Coptic Christians, other minorities, migrants, journalists and human rights defenders. On Saturday, UN staff received reports of the abduction of two human rights defenders in Tripoli.

Zeid called for the two men’s release, and pending this, for their relatives to be informed of their location.

The High Commissioner urged all parties in Libya to work towards a meaningful dialogue to bring to an end the current conflict, and in particular to engage constructively with the efforts of Special Representative of the Secretary-General, Bernardino León to advance an inclusive political process aimed at addressing Libya’s daunting political and security challenges.

The full press release is available on: http://www.ohchr.org/EN/NewsEvents/Pages/DisplayNews.aspx?NewsID=15576&LangID=E

(2) Ukraine

We are alarmed by reports of continued shelling in Debaltseve, but have so far not managed to get reliable information on the fighting or casualties in the area. We are particularly concerned about the civilians trapped in the area – we believe there may be a few thousand hiding in cellars, struggling to get food, water and other basic necessities. It is unclear how many civilians are still there.

The days preceding the ceasefire, which began at midnight on 15 February, were marked by intense hostilities with numerous military and civilian casualties reported. In general, during the first two days of the ceasefire, the number of reported casualties, especially civilian, decreased dramatically. Though artillery and small arms exchanges did not cease completely, their impact on civilian population, apparently, considerably decreased. So far we have only been able to document a few cases: two civilians were reported killed in Popasna in Luhansk region on Sunday, and several civilians were reported wounded in Avdiivka in Donetsk region on Monday.

We are working to verify these and other reports of civilian casualties during the ceasefire period.

Overall, since the beginning of the conflict in mid-April 2014 and until 15 February, 5,665 people were killed and 13,961 were wounded in the east of Ukraine. This is the data available at this point. The UN Human Rights Mission in Ukraine and the World Health Organization anticipate a further increase in figures in the coming days because reporting on casualties during the pre-ceasefire period was considerably delayed due to ongoing hostilities.

The UN Human Rights Office will issue its next full report on the human rights situation in Ukraine on 2 March 2015.

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 ) or Cécile Pouilly (+41 22 917 9310 / cpouilly@ohchr.org).

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