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Press briefing notes on Myanmar and Ukraine

Spokesperson for the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights: Ravina Shamdasani, Elizabeth Throssell
Location: Geneva
Date: 3 February 2017

(1) Myanmar

GENEVA (3 February 2017) – Mass gang-rape, killings – including of babies and young children, brutal beatings, disappearances and other serious human rights violations by Myanmar’s security forces in a sealed-off area north of Maungdaw in northern Rakhine State have been detailed in a new UN report issued Friday based on interviews with victims across the border in Bangladesh.

Of the 204 people individually interviewed by a team of UN human rights investigators, the vast majority reported witnessing killings, and almost half reported having a family member who was killed as well as family members who were missing. Of the 101 women interviewed, more than half reported having suffered rape or other forms of sexual violence. Find full news release here.

(2) Ukraine

We are seriously concerned about the dire humanitarian and human rights situation of civilians in eastern Ukraine where there has been an escalation in fighting along the contact line.  Since 29 January until 9:00hrs on 3 February, shelling has killed at least seven people and injured a further 41, according to UN Human Rights Office staff. Of these, on Thursday night  alone, the hostilities killed three civilians and injured 13.  UN Human Rights Office teams are visiting locations and verifying reports of civilian casualties in both Donetsk city and Avdiivka which were reportedly hit by shelling during the night of 2 February.

The increase in hostilities near populated areas, including Avdiivka, Yasynuvata, Makiivka, Donetsk, as well as towns and villages south of Donetsk, has endangered civilians, with disruption to essential water, electricity and heating services amid freezing winter temperatures.

Reports suggest that two hospitals, a polyclinic, a dental clinic, three schools, and a kindergarten were damaged by shelling in Makiivka and Donetsk city, which are  controlled by armed groups. UN Human Rights Office staff in Donetsk heard explosions over five days, from 29 January through the night of 2 February, and  on 2 February saw  a clearly marked ambulance in Donetsk that had been damaged by shrapnel.

Staff also visited government-controlled Avdiivka on 1 February,  where they spoke to residents who said the town had been under constant shelling, both night and day, for three days. They said people were afraid to stay alone in their flats, particularly the elderly.

Critical civilian infrastructure has been damaged, including near Avdiivka, where power lines have been destroyed, disrupting water, electricity and heating supplies. Gas and electricity supplies were also reported to have been affected in Makiivka and other areas under the control of armed groups, including Irmino and parts of Donetsk.

Government forces and armed groups must in all circumstances respect the principles of distinction, proportionality and precautions in attack. They must take all feasible measures to avoid harm to the civilian population and damage to civilian objects. Particular care must be taken when conducting attacks against objectives located in populated areas, and the use of explosive weapons with wide-area effects should be avoided in densely populated areas as their use in such circumstances could amount to indiscriminate attacks. They must not place soldiers, fighters and other military objectives in populated areas.

There should be an immediate pause in hostilities to prevent further loss of life and to enable the repair of essential services. We also urge immediate and unhindered humanitarian access for international and national organisations to the affected population, and reiterate our call for the effective and urgent implementation of the Minsk agreements.

Both Government forces and armed groups must take all feasible measures to protect the civilian population in the areas under their control. We remind them that the protection of civilians must be considered the utmost priority and those committing violations of human rights law and international humanitarian law must be held accountable.

The obligation to protect the civilian population from the effects of hostilities includes the foreseeable environmental consequences and we are deeply concerned that continued hostilities could lead to serious environmental disasters.
Among the possible concerns: The chemical waste of a phenol plant near the village of Novhorodske is caught between Government and armed group positions. Shelling has also taken place close to two water filter stations, Donetsk and Verkhniokalmiuska, which contain chlorine tanks. The interruption of power supplies in Avdiivka as a result of shelling means sewage cannot be pumped and instead is being discharged into the environment.


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

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