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Press briefing notes on Yemen, Central African Republic and Escalating tensions in East Jerusalem and West Bank

Spokesperson for the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights: Rupert Colville
Location: Geneva
Date: 29 September 2015

(1) Yemen

In the two weeks from 11-24 September, a further 151 civilians have been killed -- including 26 children and 10 women -- and 151 injured in Yemen. This takes the total number of civilian casualties in the six months since 26 March to 7,217, including 2,355 killed and 4,862 wounded. During the reporting period, civilian casualties, including women and children, continued to be recorded as a result of airstrikes and indiscriminate shelling in residential areas by both sides to the conflict, which was taking place to a greater or lesser degree in 11 different Governorates. More civilians have been killed and injured by an increasing number of airstrikes targeting bridges and highways.

On Sunday, Jordan’s Foreign Minister described his Government’s “absolute rejection” of the parts of the High Commissioner’s recent report on Yemen* to the Human Rights Council concerning possible violations of international humanitarian law by the Saudi-led coalition forces.

The High Commissioner regrets that statement, and all other suggestions that his Office should only report on alleged violations by the Popular Committees affiliated with the Houthis and their allies. He notes that the report – which contains a number of specific examples of possible violations and abuses by both sides to the conflict – does not at any point accuse the coalition forces of deliberately targeting civilians and civilian infrastructure, although it does catalogue several specific incidents involving airstrikes that caused large numbers of civilian casualties. Indeed, by the end of the 12-month period covered by the report, almost two-thirds of reported civilian deaths had allegedly been caused by coalition airstrikes, which were also responsible for almost two-thirds of damaged or destroyed civilian public buildings.

The high number of civilian casualties being caused by airstrikes was starkly underlined by reports that yesterday a wedding party in Wahijah, in Taizz Governorate, was hit by a coalition airstrike reportedly killing as many as 130 civilians, including a large number of women and children, and injuring many others. Our staff in Yemen are currently seeking to confirm these reports, including precise details on casualties. If the numbers are as high as suggested, this may be the single deadliest incident since the start of the conflict.

The coalition is also indubitably responsible for the naval blockade of Yemen’s main seaports, which UN humanitarian agencies have repeatedly stated is greatly exacerbating the extremely dire humanitarian situation affecting almost all of Yemen. As Undersecretary General for Humanitarian Affairs Stephen O’Brien informed the Security Council on 19 August, “a shocking four out of five Yemenis [some 21 million people] require humanitarian assistance and nearly 1.5 million people are internally displaced.” Mr. O’Brien noted specifically that “disregard for human life by all parties continues” and said that airstrikes and other shelling in and around Hudaydah port were “in clear contravention of international humanitarian law and are unacceptable.”

The numerous alleged violations and abuses described in the High Commissioner’s report to the Human Rights Council were, unless stated otherwise, individually verified or cross-checked with a number of independent and credible sources, in accordance with established methodology. Members of the High Commissioner’s team in Yemen have taken considerable trouble, at great personal risk, to verify as many incidents as they can. However, the report clearly acknowledges that, because of the dire security situation, they were “unable to verify the vast majority of allegations of human rights violations and abuses or violations of humanitarian law.”

For this reason, among others, the High Commissioner’s report recommended that the coalition forces and the Government of Yemen ensure prompt, thorough, effective, independent and impartial investigations. The report also called on the international community to encourage the establishment of an international independent and impartial mechanism to investigate alleged violations and abuses of international human rights law and alleged violations of international humanitarian law.

The UN’s Special Advisers on the Prevention of Genocide and on the Responsibility to Protect, Adama Dieng and Jennifer Welsh, on 15 September expressed “alarm about allegations of serious violations of international humanitarian law and human rights law throughout the country, committed by both sides to the conflict.” The High Commissioner shares that alarm as well as their concern at what they termed “the virtual silence of the international community about the threat to populations.” He stresses that reporting on alleged violations and abuses by one side only would be a dereliction of duty, and is not an option any UN High Commissioner for Human Rights would consider.

On a more positive note, the Government of Yemen, which enabled the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights to establish a Country Office in 2012, has recognized that violations and abuses have been committed by both sides, and established a national investigative body – a development the High Commissioner has welcomed.

We shared the report on Yemen with the Governments of Yemen and Saudi Arabia before submitting it to the Human Rights Council, which will decide what action to take based on the findings and recommendations it contains.

*The High Commissioner's report to the Human Rights Council on Yemen (A/HRC/30/31) can be found here: http://www.ohchr.org/EN/HRBodies/HRC/RegularSessions/Session30/Pages/ListReports.aspx

(2) Central African Republic

We are extremely concerned about the recent outbreak of violence in Bangui, following the gruesome killing of a young Muslim motorcycle-taxi driver last Saturday. Clashes and reprisal attacks have so far reportedly killed at least 37 people and injured more than 100 others.

Private properties, religious premises and the offices of international humanitarian organisations have also been looted. Last night, some 500 prisoners escaped from Bangui’s main prison. This is a huge setback for the preservation of law and order, and for the fight against impunity, which has been and remains a chronic problem in CAR.

This is a crucial moment for the Central African Republic. The Transitional Government authorities must work closely with MINUSCA and other international forces to urgently stop what appears to be a deliberate attempt to derail the current peace process and important progress made in CAR over the last 18 months.

During his recent mission to CAR from 1 to 4 September, the High Commissioner called for concrete measures to end cycles of impunity and violence that have left the CAR decimated after decades of misrule.

The protection of civilians, the prevention of killings, including based on the victim’s religion or ethnicity, and other serious human rights violations as well as the disarmament of armed groups must be the top priorities.

The High-Level Meeting on CAR which will take place on Thursday on the margins of the UN General Assembly meeting in New York provides a critical opportunity for the international community to commit the financial, technical and political support needed to implement the key outcomes of the Bangui Forum, in particular to disarm militias wreaking havoc today and to establish transitional justice mechanisms.

(3) Escalating tensions in East Jerusalem and West Bank

We are concerned about clashes and escalating tensions in East Jerusalem and in the West Bank, due to a wave of protests against access restrictions imposed by the Israeli authorities on Palestinian worshippers wishing to enter the Al Aqsa Compound.

We note with concern allegations that Israeli security forces may, in some cases, have used excessive force against Palestinian protesters in East Jerusalem in recent days. We also call for restraint following the authorisation granted by Israeli authorities on Sunday on the use of live fire in life-threatening situations in East Jerusalem. Any lethal use of force could exacerbate the cycle of violence and further inflame an already tense situation. We urge the Israeli authorities to ensure that security forces only employ force as a last resort and in full accordance with the standards laid out under international law for maintaining public order, including detailed guidelines governing the use of live ammunition.*

We also note with concerns allegations of excessive use of force against protesters by Palestinian security forces in Bethlehem on Friday. We welcome the decision by the Government of the State of Palestine to set up an investigative committee into the conduct of Palestinian police during this demonstration.

We urge all sides to exercise restraint and to take measures to restore calm in the area, including through the maintenance of the historic status quo at Haram Al-Sharif, which includes the Al Aqsa Compound. We remind Palestinian and Israeli authorities of their duty to investigate any alleged excessive of force by their security forces and to ensure accountability.

ENDS

* The conduct of law enforcement officials is addressed by a number of specific international standards and codes, including the UN Basic Principles on the Use of Force and Firearms by Law Enforcement Officials, and the UN Code of Conduct for Law Enforcement Officials.

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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