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Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights

Press briefing note on Yemen, Cambodia and Guatemala

Press briefing: Yemen, Cambodia, Guatemala

25 August 2017

Spokesperson for the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights:  Liz Throssell
Location:      Geneva
Date:  25 August 2017
Subject:    (1) Yemen, (2) Cambodia and (3) Guatemala

Our Office in Yemen has been gathering more information about an airstrike by Coalition Forces that hit a hotel in Sana’a Governorate on Wednesday 23 August. So far we have been able to confirm that 33 civilians were killed and another 25 injured in the attack.

According to witnesses interviewed by our Office, there were two airstrikes in close succession at around 3.30am-4am local time on the village of Bayt Al Athri in Arhab district. The first struck a security checkpoint manned by the Houthis, but there were reportedly no casualties.

Several minutes later, a second airstrike hit the Istirahat Al Shahab hotel, destroying the second floor and seriously damaging the rest of the building. Witnesses said 67 people were in the hotel when the attack happened. The hotel is located on a main road just 10 to 15 metres from the checkpoint.

Ten of the injured were transferred to Al Awmara hospital, and 15 people, some with serious injuries, were taken to hospitals in Sana’a, some 40 kilometres away.

Also on 23 August, at 5.30am, an airstrike by Coalition Forces hit a house in Raimat Hameed village, in Sanhan district, which is also in Sana’a Governorate, killing six civilians and injuring another 13. Witnesses we have spoken to said four of the dead were inside the house at the time, while the other two victims were outside in a nearby field. The house was located some 400 metres from a Houthi security checkpoint.

On 22 August, at around 5pm, a woman and two children were killed and two women and two children were injured when an airstrike by the Saudi-led Coalition hit a house in Talan village, which is some 20 kilometres from the Yemen-Saudi border in Sa’ada Governorate.

In all these cases, in which civilians were killed and injured, witnesses said that there had been no warnings that an attack was imminent.

Attacks targeting civilians or civilian objects are prohibited under international humanitarian law, which also prohibits indiscriminate or disproportionate attacks.  We remind all parties to the conflict, including the Coalition, of their duty to ensure full respect for international humanitarian law.  We call on the relevant authorities to carry out credible, comprehensive and impartial investigations into these incidents.

In the week from 17 to 24 August, 58 civilians have been killed, including 42 by the Saudi-led Coalition, as I mentioned earlier. Unknown armed men killed 12 civilians and the Popular Committees affiliated with the Houthis killed four civilians. This week’s total is more than the number of civilians killed in the whole of June, when 52 were killed and in July, which saw 57 civilian deaths.

Since March 2015, the UN Human Rights Office has documented 13,829 civilian casualties, including 5,110 killed and 8,719 injured. These numbers are based on the casualties individually verified by our Yemen Office. The overall number is probably much higher.

(2) Cambodia

We are concerned by a rapid series of ministerial and administrative measures which have resulted in the suspension of radio programmes and licences, threatened a main English-language newspaper with closure, and shut down a foreign non-governmental organisation. Ahead of next year’s general election, we call on the Government to guarantee full political and civil rights, and media freedoms.

A foreign NGO, the National Democratic Institute, was shut down by ministerial order on 23 August 2017, in the first such closure brought under the 2015 Law on Associations and Non-Governmental Organisations. Its international staff were ordered to leave the country within seven days. The organisation has been working on elections and with parties across the political spectrum. Three Cambodian organisations working on human rights and elections have also been subjected to targeted tax investigations earlier this month. We have concerns that NDI was closed without due process, and are worried about the overall deterioration of the environment for human rights defenders and civil society in Cambodia.

Also, this week the Government has revoked licences for some radio frequencies, thus blocking programmes aired by national independent human rights and media organisations, U.S.-funded stations Radio Free Asia and Voice of America, and the main opposition party. One of the main independent English-language newspapers, the Cambodia Daily, has been given until 4 September to pay an alleged USD 6.3 million of tax arrears, or be closed. The paper has called for a transparent tax audit and for the right to appeal, but its requests have gone unheeded.

We call on the Royal Government of Cambodia to ensure due process in all measures taken, including the right to appeal, and to respect the rights to freedom of association and expression.

(3) Guatemala

We would like to reiterate our support for the work of the International Commission against Impunity in Guatemala and of the Office of the Attorney General, under the leadership of Ivan Velasquez and Thelma Aldana respectively.

We echo the repeated expressions of support for Velásquez’s work by the Secretary-General, most recently via his spokesperson on Wednesday.

For the UN Human Rights Office, the Commission, known by its Spanish initials as CICIG, is a crucial ally in the promotion of human rights and in the strengthening of the State’s efforts to ensure an independent and impartial justice system in the country. 

Working with the Guatemalan Attorney General’s Office, CICIG has investigated and prosecuted criminal organisations that have infiltrated State institutions within all three branches of Government.

In the current context in Guatemala, it is necessary to guarantee the protection of justice institutions and human rights defenders, especially those involved in the fight against corruption and impunity.


For more information and media requests, please contact Liz Throssell (+41 22 917 9466 / [email protected] ) or Rupert Colville (+41 22 917 97 67 / [email protected])

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