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Press briefing notes on Aleppo, Syria and Cameroon

Spokespeople for the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights: Rupert Colville on Syria, Liz Throssell on Cameroon
Location: Geneva
Date: 13 December 2016

(1) Aleppo, Syria

The capture by pro-Government forces of the remaining parts of Aleppo city is imminent. There was extremely heavy bombardment and shelling throughout the day yesterday. Armed opposition groups reportedly withdrew from a number of neighbourhoods in the city in the morning, and early yesterday evening were believed to be still controlling only a tiny area – perhaps one square kilometre -- of the city.

Civilians have paid a brutal price during this conflict, and we are filled with the deepest foreboding for those who remain in this last hellish corner of opposition-held eastern Aleppo. While some reportedly managed to flee yesterday, some were reportedly caught and killed on the spot and others were arrested.

There are believed to still be thousands of civilians in the neighbourhoods which until recently were under opposition control, including activists and Civil Defence members who are at risk of grave violations including detention, torture and killing. We have been receiving reports that many civilians have been detained by pro-Government forces. We have also been informed that pro-Government forces have been entering civilian homes and killing those individuals found inside, including women and children.

Multiple sources have reports that tens of civilians were shot dead yesterday in al-Ahrar Square in al-Kallaseh neighbourhood, and also in Bustan al-Qasr, by Government forces and their allies, including allegedly the Iraqi al-Nujabaa armed group.

Yesterday evening, we received further deeply disturbing reports that numerous bodies were lying in the streets but residents were unable to retrieve them due to the intense bombardment, and their fear of being shot on sight. In all, as of yesterday evening, we have received reports of pro-Government forces killing at least 82 civilians (including 11 women and 13 children) in four different neighbourhoods -- Bustan al-Qasr, al-Ferdous, al-Kallaseh, and al-Saleheen.

We hope, profoundly, that these reports are wrong, or exaggerated, as the situation is extremely fluid and it is very challenging to verify reports. However, they have been corroborated by multiple reliable sources.

We understand some armed opposition fighters fled the area while others surrendered to pro-Government forces. We have received reports that groups of opposition fighters were escorted out of the city by Government forces, and indeed scenes showing this have been screened on Russian TV.

We have heard from family members outside the conflict are that they have lost contact with their loved ones in what used to be opposition-held areas of the city. Their whereabouts are unknown.

The only way to alleviate the deep foreboding and suspicion that massive crimes may be under way both within Aleppo, and in relation to some of those who fled or were captured, whether fighters or civilians, is for there to be monitoring by external bodies, such as the UN – including our staff and that of the Commission of Inquiry on Syria – or some other neutral international body or bodies.

The screening being done by the Syrian army and their allies must itself be screened, to expose and deter any of the types of violations including torture and summary executions which we have seen throughout this barbaric conflict.

And, of course, there must finally be accountability. Due process and accountability – for any individual on the opposition or Government sides against whom there is sufficient evidence for a conviction.

The following are some of the key points derived from international law relevant to the current circumstances:

  • The Government of Syria must respect and protect the right to life of all civilians as well as of fighters who have surrendered, or laid down their weapons, are sick or wounded or otherwise hors de combat.
  • The Government of Syria must provide medical assistance to all sick and wounded, civilians and fighters alike, without any discrimination.
  • All persons detained must be treated humanely, in particular they must be protected from any form of ill-treatment or torture.
  • If security measures (such as vetting) are imposed they must strictly comply with international law. In particular, these measures should never involve any discrimination on the ground of race, colour, sex, language, religion or social origin and must be limited to those that are strictly necessary.
  • All persons detained must be informed of the reasons for their detention, and must be promptly brought before a court to review the lawfulness of the detention.
  • All those accused of a criminal offence, are entitled to trial offering all judicial guarantees, as provided in article 14 of the ICCPR.

A press release by UN High Commissioner for Human Rights Zeid Ra'ad Al Hussein will follow.

(2) Cameroon

We urge the Government of Cameroon to ensure that there is a prompt, effective and independent investigation of reports that police officers used excessive force during a protest in the town of Bamenda on 8 December, during which four people are reported to have been killed.

There have been several demonstrations in recent weeks in the English-speaking regions of Cameroon, primarily against the use of French in schools and in the courts. Teachers, lawyers and students have been protesting at what they see as a violation of their right to use their language and culture.

We call on the Cameroonian authorities to ensure that the security forces exercise restraint when policing demonstrations, and that the rights to peaceful assembly and freedom of expression are respected. We also call on demonstrators to protest peacefully and not to resort to violence.

We urge the Government to take quick and appropriate action to constructively address the grievances being voiced in these regions fully in line with Cameroon’s international human rights obligations and the political commitments made in the Human Rights Council Universal Periodic Review.

ENDS 

For more information and media requests, please contact Rupert Colville (+41 22 917 9767 / rcolville@ohchr.org) or Ravina Shamdasani (+41 22 917 9169 / rshamdasani@ohchr.org) or Liz Throssell  ( +41 22 917 9466/ethrossell@ohchr.org )

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