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DRC: inter-ethnic violence in Ituri may constitute “crimes against humanity” – UN report

KINSHASA/GENEVA (10 January 2020) — Killings, rapes and other forms of violence targeting the Hema c..

KINSHASA/GENEVA (10 January 2020) — Killings, rapes and other forms of violence targeting the Hema community in the Democratic Republic of Congo province of Ituri may amount to crimes against humanity, a UN report released on Friday said.

An investigation conducted by the United Nations Joint Human Rights Office (UNJHRO)* in the DRC established that at least 701 people have been killed and 168 injured during inter-ethnic tensions between the Hema and Lendu communities, in the territories of Djugu and Mahagi, from December 2017 to September 2019. In addition, at least 142 people have been subjected to acts of sexual violence, the report said. Most of the victims are members of the Hema community.

Since September 2018, Lendu armed groups have increasingly become more organized in carrying out attacks against the Hema and members of other ethnic groups such as the Alur, the investigators said. Among their objectives is to take control of the land of the Hema communities and their associated resources, they added.

The report documents numerous cases of women being raped, of children — some in school uniforms — being killed, and of looting and burning of villages. On 10 June 2019, in the district of Torges, a Hema man who was trying to prevent armed assailants from raping his wife witnessed his 8-year-old son being beheaded.

“The barbarity that characterizes these attacks — including the beheading of women and children with machetes, the dismemberment and removal of body parts of the victims as trophies of war — reflects the desire of the attackers to inflict lasting trauma to the Hema communities and to force them to flee and not return to their villages,” the report said.

“The violence documented… could contain some elements of crimes against humanity through murder, torture, rape and other forms of sexual violence, pillage and persecution.”

Schools and health clinics have been attacked and destroyed. The report said most attacks occurred in June around the harvest period, and in December during the sowing season. “This makes it more difficult for the Hema to cultivate their fields and exacerbates their lack of food,” the report said.

Since February 2018, almost 57,000 people have taken refuge in Uganda and more than 556,000 have fled to neighbouring regions, according to the UN refugee agency, UNHCR. Several camps and villages where the Hema have taken refuge have been stormed, burned and destroyed by Lendu armed groups, the report said.

UN investigators also documented, between December 2017 and May 2018, acts of reprisal by some members of the Hema communities, including the burning of villages and isolated attacks targeting the Lendu.

Army and police forces deployed since February 2018 have failed to stop the violence, the report stated, adding that the security forces themselves had committed abuses such as extrajudicial executions, sexual violence, arbitrary arrests and detention. Two police officers and two soldiers have been convicted by Congolese courts.

The UN Joint Human Rights Office recommends that the DRC authorities address the root causes of the conflict, such as access to resources including land, and maintain ongoing reconciliation efforts between the two communities. It also calls for a strengthened presence of state institutions and armed forces in the area to ensure the security of all communities and their peaceful cohabitation.

The report urged the authorities to conduct an independent and impartial investigation into the violence, in addition to ensuring the right to reparation for victims and their access to medical and psychosocial care.

ENDS

** The UN Joint Human Rights Office, which was established in February 2008, comprises the Human Rights Division of the UN Stabilization Mission in the DRC (MONUSCO) and the Office of the High Commissioner of Human Rights in the DRC.*

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Brutal cold intensifies desperation for rising numbers of displaced in north-west Syria

Geneva – Sub-zero temperatures and increased snowfall are further exacerbating the humanitarian cris..

Geneva – Sub-zero temperatures and increased snowfall are further exacerbating the humanitarian crisis in northwest Syria where more than a quarter of a million people have been displaced in the past four days. Over 830,000 people have been displaced in the region in the last two months and more than 1.2 million since April 2019, according to the United Nations.

The International Organization for Migration (IOM) is extremely concerned about this rapid and ongoing rise in displacement which continues to rise in the tens of thousands every day, particularly as conflict spreads northward to highly populated urban areas.

“Over 80,000 people forced to flee violence in the last few months are sleeping under trees or in open areas in the snow,” said Joseph Ashmore, IOMs Global Shelter Coordinator.

“Hundreds of thousands of people are suffering and many more may die as extreme winter conditions take hold, provoking one of the most severe shelter crises the humanitarian system has faced in the last decade,” he added.

The majority of the uprooted are staying with host families, in camps or unfinished buildings. As displacement rises, there are less places to house people seeking refuge.

IOM has been assisting partners on the ground to reach nearly 300,000 people with humanitarian aid since mid-December 2019. In the past weeks, IOMs partners have delivered emergency items – including blankets, hygiene kits and other goods – as well as shelter materials to 129,000 people in need.

However, insecurity has impeded access of some partners – compromising the ability for affected populations to receive the most basic services.

Health centres, schools, markets and camps have been targeted by violence with increased civilian casualties reported every day.

The Organization is seeking increased funding from the international community to adequately respond to rapidly rising needs. IOM also reiterates the UN Secretary Generals call for an immediate cessation of hostilities and attacks of civilians and civilian infrastructure.

The Syrian conflict, approaching its tenth year, has displaced more than six million people within the country and provoked more than 5.5 million people to flee to neighbouring countries in the region.

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UNHCR to suspend operations at GDF in Tripoli amid safety concerns

UNHCR, the UN Refugee Agency, announced today, Thursday, 30 January, that it is suspending its opera..

UNHCR, the UN Refugee Agency, announced today, Thursday, 30 January, that it is suspending its operational work at the Gathering and Departure Facility (GDF), fearing for the safety and protection of people at the facility, its staff and partners amid worsening conflict in Tripoli, Libya.

“Unfortunately UNHCR was left with no choice but to suspend work at the Gathering and Departure Facility in Tripoli after learning that training exercises, involving police and military personnel, are taking place just a few meters away from units housing asylum seekers and refugees,” said Jean-Paul Cavalieri, UNHCRs Chief of Mission in Libya.

“We fear that the entire area could become a military target, further endangering the lives of refugees, asylum seekers, and other civilians,” he added.

UNHCR has started moving dozens of highly vulnerable refugees, who have already been identified for resettlement or evacuation to third countries, from the facility to safer locations.

UNHCR will also facilitate the evacuation of hundreds of other people to urban areas. This includes around 400 asylum seekers who had left the Tajoura detention centre after it was hit by air strikes last July as well as some 300 asylum-seekers from the Abu Salim detention centre who entered the GDF last November after being spontaneously released from detention by the authorities. All will be provided with cash assistance, relief items and medical assistance at UNHCRs Community Day Centre in Tripoli.

“Other important aspects of our work in Libya continue at full pace and we hope to be able to resume our work at the GDF once safe to do so,” Cavalieri said.

On 2 January, UNHCR expressed serious concerns after three mortar shells fell close to the GDF and fragments landed near a warehouse inside the complex.

The GDF, which falls under the jurisdiction of the Ministry of Interior, was established as a transit site to host refugees who had been identified for a solution outside of Libya, pending their evacuation. Since December 2018, nearly 1,700 formerly detained refugees have been evacuated out of Libya to safety, through the GDF. With close to 900 individuals entering the GDF spontaneously since July, it became severely overcrowded and is no longer functioning as a transit centre.

UNHCR continues to urge all sides to the conflict in Libya to protect civilians and civilian infrastructure.

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Guatemala’s children bear brunt of prolonged drought and rising heat

by Anastasia Moloney | @anastasiabogota | Thomson Reuters Foundation
Tuesday, 21 January 2020 17:14 ..

by Anastasia Moloney | @anastasiabogota | Thomson Reuters Foundation
Tuesday, 21 January 2020 17:14 GMT Image Caption and Rights Information

By Anastasia Moloney

BOGOTA, Jan 21 (Thomson Reuters Foundation) – Rising numbers of children in Guatemala are going hungry as drought linked to climate change reduces food harvests, fueling child malnutrition rates in the Central American nation, the United Nations and charities said.

Guatemala, which has one of the world’s high rates of child malnutrition, recorded more than 15,300 cases of acute malnutrition in children under 5 last year, up nearly 24% from 2018, according to government figures.

The number of children acutely malnourished was the highest since 2015, when a severe drought hit Central America.

Guatemala’s farmers are reeling from a series of prolonged droughts in recent years and from a lengthy heat wave last year as climate change brings drier conditions and erratic rainfall, U.N. officials said.

Children living in poor highland farming communities and along the “Dry Corridor” – running through Guatemala, El Salvador, Honduras and Nicaragua – are bearing the brunt, they said.

“There is an increase in cases of acute malnutrition that are related to climate change and the long periods of drought from June to October (last year),” said Maria Claudia Santizo, a nutrition specialist at the U.N. children’s agency UNICEF.

Drought is also adding to the area of Guatemala suffering problems, she said.

“With climate change, the dry corridor has expanded,” Santizo told the Thomson Reuters Foundation.

Poor harvests of staple crops such as beans and maize mean rural families are forced to eat fewer meals a day, and have less food to sell, according to the World Food Programme (WFP).

Families also are unable to store food to see them through the lean period before the next harvest, the U.N. agency said.

“We are seeing a high rate of child malnutrition that’s rising for two reasons – high temperatures which affect the crops and resulting crop losses, and rains that are more erratic and unpredictable,” said Amy English, a technical advisor at international aid agency Mercy Corps, which works in Guatemala.

She said worsening hunger in the region was a contributor to the caravans of migrants moving north toward Mexico and the United States.

To combat crop losses, rural development programs must include efforts to help farmers adapt to climate change, including planting more drought-resistant crops and better conserving water, she said.

Jose Aquino, a rural development manager in Guatemala for Mercy Corps, said more rivers in the region are running dry at least part of the year.

“2019 was one of the driest years in Guatemala. Rivers that didn’t used to dry up are now doing so,” Aquino said.

“All this basically affects the availability of food,” he said.

STRUGGLING TO COPE

Marc-Andre Prost, a WFP regional nutrition advisor, said three in every five people in Guatemala already live in poverty and rural communities are struggling to cope with the additional burden of extreme weather.

According to WFP, about one million people in Guatemala – 15% of the population – “cannot meet their food needs on a daily basis”, and hundreds and thousands rely on food aid.

“Climate change is not responsible for this situation but climate change and what we’ve seen in the last two years, these climate events, are definitely exacerbating a situation where people don’t have the capacity to cope,” Prost said.

Guatemala’s small-scale farmers are heavily dependent on rainfall and most lack alternative sources of water for their crops.

“As soon as there is a problem with the rainfall, we see the immediate consequences on households” as they try to earn an income and feed themselves, Prost said.

Climate change means it is likely extreme weather – from hurricanes to torrential rains and prolonged droughts – will become more frequent in the future, he said.

Like previous leaders, the new president of Guatemala, Alejandro Giammattei, has pledged to make combating stubbornly high rates of child malnutrition a national priority.

(Reporting by Anastasia Moloney @anastasiabogota, Editing by Laurie Goering. Please credit the Thomson Reuters Foundation, the charitable arm of Thomson Reuters, that covers humanitarian news, women’s and LGBT+ rights, human trafficking, property rights, and climate change. Visit http://news.trust.org)

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