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Press briefing notes on Yemen update, Libya and Guatemala

Spokesperson for the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights: Rupert Colville
Location: Geneva
Date: 24 April 2015

(1) Yemen update

Civilian casualties have continued to mount in Yemen over the past few days. The total number of civilians killed between 26 March and 22 April is now estimated to be 551, including 31 women and at least 115 children. Please note that these are just the civilian casualties. The total number of people killed is considerably higher. Another 1,185 civilians have been injured, including 35 women and 67 children. Also, at least 64 public buildings have been either partially or completely destroyed as result of the armed conflict.

We have recorded a number of airstrikes that have hit military and civilian positions in Sana’a, Ibb, Hajja, and Taiz resulting in the killing of 58 civilians including seven children on 22 April. This includes an incident on the morning of 22 April, after the official end of the coalition’s Operation Decisive Storm, in Ibb Governorate, where 40 civilians were killed, including seven children, and 70 civilians were injured, after airstrikes hit a bridge twice. Civilians gathering to help those injured by the first airstrike were reportedly hit by the second.

On 21 April, at least 20 civilians were killed, and 120 were injured, including women and children, as a result of an airstrike on a building in the neighbourhood of Faj Attan in Sana’a City, which also resulted in the partial damage of a number of UN offices, including the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights in Yemen.

Violence has persisted across southern governorates due to street battles between groups supporting members of the popular committees affiliated with the Houthis and local armed groups in Abyan, Dhale, Aden and Lahj. In Abyan Governorate on 21 April, at least 14 civilians were killed and another 14 injured, reportedly due to indiscriminate shooting. We have reports of killings by sniper of a child in Dhale and four civilians emerging from a mosque in Aden.

There are also reports of civilians being arbitrarily detained in Ibb by popular committees affiliated with the Houthis, including four people detained for refusing to make financial contributions to support the Houthi forces and another two for their perceived support of the coalition military campaign.

We also continue to receive disturbing reports describing the humanitarian situation in various parts of the country. For instance, Taiz Governorate’s key referral hospitals report that they are unable to mobilize their ambulances in the absence of fuel, while morgue facilities are unable to keep up with the number of causalities. In Aden, water tanks in Al Jumhouria Hospital and Al Maala Health Complex were damaged by fighting last night, and both health facilities have no water.

We urge all sides to the conflict to ensure that international human rights law and international humanitarian law are respected, and to ensure that all measures are taken to ensure civilians are protected. All sides must ensure that the humanitarian aid - that is so desperately needed - can reach people in Yemen.

(2) Libya

Successive horrific incidents this week have illustrated the severity of the human rights situation in Libya.

We have been shocked by the appalling loss of life in the Mediterranean Sea, following the reported deaths of several hundred individuals seeking to escape the violence in Libya. Many of those fleeing Libya are migrants, refugees, and asylum seekers in an extremely vulnerable situation in Libya. Amidst the violence and breakdown in law and order, they are at risk of killings, torture, abduction, and physical assault.

Detention of such individuals in Libya is also widespread and prolonged. Following visits to a number of detention centres, the human rights division of the UN Support Mission in Libya (UNSMIL) has reported conditions of grave concern including chronic overcrowding, poor sanitation, health care, and insufficient food. The division also received consistent reports of physical or verbal mistreatment, labour exploitation, sexual violence, and confiscation of identity documents.

Also this week, reports were received of the death of several members of the Al-Harir Al-Mansouri family in Derna, Libya by individuals affiliated with the so-called Islamic State in Libya . It is reported that armed men attacked the family’s residence after Ibrahim Al-Harir al-Mansouri resisted arrest. Three members of the family were publicly hanged in the city. We understand that the public nature of these murders was intended to send a message to those challenging the so-called Islamic State in Libya.

Earlier in the week, a group affiliated with the so-called Islamic State in Libya released a video showing the execution of at least 28 Christians in two separate incidents in Libya.

We condemn the brutal killings of these individuals who we understand are mostly Ethiopian nationals and who appear to have been targeted on the basis of their religion. In February of this year the High Commissioner condemned http://www.ohchr.org/EN/NewsEvents/Pages/DisplayNews.aspx?NewsID=15576&LangID=E the beheading of 21 mostly Egyptian Coptic Christians, and further urged Libyans to unite against extremists launching attacks based on religious, ethnic, national, racial, or political grounds and we reiterate that call today.

The human rights division of UNSMIL is following up on these cases and seeking more information. We express our sympathy and condolences to the families of those who have lost their lives, and we urge all parties to the conflict to take all possible steps to ensure the protection of civilians, especially those in vulnerable situations such as migrants, refugees, asylum seekers, or those at risk of attack on the basis of religious, national, racial, or political grounds.

We also urge all parties in Libya involved in the ongoing dialogue talks facilitated by the United Nations to redouble their efforts to reach an agreement as soon as possible, so as to begin the process of rebuilding institutions that would ensure the rule of law and the protection of human rights for all those residing in Libya.

(3) Guatemala

We welcome the decision by the President of Guatemala, Otto Pérez Molina, to extend the mandate of the International Commission against Impunity in Guatemala (CICIG). This is a clear message of the State’s commitment to investigate, prosecute and dismantle criminal organizations and to strengthen the rule of law.

In his latest report to the Human Rights Council, the High Commissioner had called for the renewal of the mandate as an important contribution in the fight against impunity.
The announcement comes a week after the National Civilian Police, with the support of the Attorney General’s Office and CICIG, dismantled a customs smuggling network, comprised of high-level current and former public officials.

OHCHR, through its Country Office in Guatemala, will continue its close cooperation with CICIG in the implementation of its mandate, particularly in strengthening the independence of the judiciary.

Although there are important links between impunity from acts committed in the past and criminal organizations working presently, CICIG is not involved in the investigation or prosecution of human rights violations committed during the internal armed conflict, including the case against former Head of State Efraín Ríos Montt, who faces charges of genocide and crimes against humanity. His retrial is pending the resolution of a recusation presented against the President of the trial court.

ENDS

For more information and media requests, please contact Rupert Colville (+41 22 917 9767 / rcolville@ohchr.org), Ravina Shamdasani (+41 22 917 9169 / rshamdasani@ohchr.org) or Cécile Pouilly (+41 22 917 9310 / cpouilly@ohchr.org).