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Press briefing note on Myanmar, Mosul and Syria

Spokesperson for the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights: Ravina Shamdasani
Location:      Geneva
Date: 29 November 2016
Subject:        (1) Myanmar, (2) Mosul &  (3) Syria        

(1) Myanmar

Since the attacks, on 9 October, on three Border Guard police posts in Maungdaw and  Rathidaung in northern Rakhine State, the UN Human Rights Office has received reports of serious human rights violations during security operations.

The High Commissioner is alarmed by these reports, which include allegations of extrajudicial killings, mass destruction of civilian infrastructure, arbitrary arrests and sexual violence, as well as a renewed spike in hate speech, including on social media. The Government needs to condemn such inflammatory – potentially very dangerous – rhetoric no matter who is responsible. Failing this, there is a real risk that it could exacerbate the current spiral of violence.

The High Commissioner unequivocally condemns the reported use of violence by armed individuals in northern Rakhine State, and recognizes that this is not something the authorities can ignore. However, it is essential that the Government ensures its attempts to restore security are firmly grounded in international human rights laws and standards, and that this is recognized by the affected population.

Offensives in Kachin and Northern Shan State also continue to cause human rights violations and displacement. Protection of civilians and unfettered humanitarian access to conflict affected areas is critical. Measures that may heighten the vulnerability or pose threats to the safety and security of internally displaced people – such as requiring IDPs to cross conflict lines – must be avoided. The authorities must ensure respect for international humanitarian law and the rights of internally displaced people. Continued failure to do so will draw a sharp response from the international community.

The High Commissioner also regrets that, beyond the formation of the Advisory Commission on Rakhine State led by Kofi Annan, the Government has largely failed to act on the recommendations made in a report by the UN Human Rights Office in June this year on the situation of Rohingya Muslims and other minorities in Myanmar*. The report documented a wide range of human rights violations and abuses against the Rohingya, including arbitrary deprivation of nationality, severe restrictions on freedom of movement, threats to life and security, denial of rights to health and education, forced labour, sexual violence, and limitations to their political rights, among others. The report raised the possibility that the pattern of violations against the Rohingya may amount to crimes against humanity.

(2) Mosul

We continue to receive reports of serious breaches of international human rights and international humanitarian law by ISIL in and around Mosul. ISIL has been installing rocket launchers and placing snipers on the rooftops of civilian houses. Those who refuse to allow their houses to be used in this way are threatened or killed. On 11 November, ISIL reportedly shot and killed 12 civilians in Bakir neighbourhood in eastern Mosul city for allegedly refusing to allow ISIL to install and launch rockets from the rooftops of their houses. These families are effectively used as human shields, placed squarely in harm’s way, caught between ISIL and Iraqi Security Force fire responding to rocket and sniper attacks.

We are also deeply worried about the fate of hundreds of people who have reportedly being abducted by ISIL and moved to unknown locations. ISIL is also continuing to abduct and forcibly move civilians, and to kill those it suspects of leaking information to the ISF. Reports suggest that on 25 November, ISIL publicly shot to death 27 civilians in Muhandiseen Park in northern Mosul city. There have also been reports of ISIL shooting at fleeing civilians, including one report from 22 November of an ISIL sniper killing a seven-year-old child who was running towards the ISF in Adan neighbourhood in eastern Mosul.

(3) Syria

We are concerned about the well-being of civilians currently caught up in the fighting in Aleppo. Tens of thousands remain trapped in opposition-controlled areas and are living under constant bombardment. Others are at risk while attempting to flee the fighting. Adding to the dangers associated with attempting to flee across an active front-line, we have received reports that opposition groups are preventing civilians from leaving areas under their control. There are also concerns that upon reaching Government-controlled or Kurdish-controlled areas, civilians perceived to have links or connections with armed opposition groups may be detained. Under Syrian law the provision of support to groups classified by the Government as "terrorists" is a criminal offence, and the definition of what constitutes such support has in the past been used to punish peaceful activists and family members. 
We call on all parties to the conflict to adhere to and respect international humanitarian law. Pro-Government and Kurdish Forces must ensure that civilians fleeing the fighting are afforded every protection and are not subjected to acts of retribution due to their perceived support or affiliation to opposition groups.
We call on armed opposition groups to adhere to their obligation to allow civilians who wish to flee areas under their control to do so. Any measures taken to prevent them from doing so -unless justified by a need to protect the safety of civilians - are prohibited under international law.


*To read the report by the UN Human Rights Office in June this year on the situation of Rohingya Muslims and other minorities in Myanmar, visit: http://www.ohchr.org/EN/HRBodies/HRC/RegularSessions/Session32/Pages/ListReports.aspx

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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