UN: BRIEFING NOTES: Syria; Iraq; Mauritania
Spokesperson for the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights: Rupert Colville
Date: 8 November 2019
Subject: (1) Syria
Civilians continue to pay a very high price in the ongoing hostilities in Syria. Dozens have been killed and injured in the largely separate situations occurring simultaneously in north-eastern and north-western Syria, from a variety of causes including airstrikes and ground based strikes, and increasingly as a result of what appears to be an indiscriminate use of improvised explosive devices (IEDs) in populated areas, including in local markets.
Since the launch of the Turkish-led military offensive in north-eastern Syria on 9 October, we have verified incidents which – as of 5 November – have resulted in the deaths of a total of at least 92 civilians in northern and north-eastern Syria.
Of these, 49 were victims of airstrikes, ground-based strikes, sniper fire, and executions carried out by opposing Turkish-affiliated armed groups and Kurdish armed groups. In addition, during the same period, we have verified the deaths of a further 31 civilians killed by IEDs, or explosive remnants of war, within the geographic area of Turkey’s military offensive i.e. in Al-Hassakeh, Ar-Raqqa and parts of Aleppo Governorate. And we have recorded the killing of another 12 civilians over the same period as a result of attacks with IEDs or ground-based strikes by Kurdish armed groups, and other unidentified perpetrators, in areas beyond the scope of the Turkish military operation, such as Afrin, Jarablus, al-Bab, and Azaz.
Attacks with improvised explosive devices have noticeably escalated in recent days, mainly in areas under the control of Turkish-affiliated armed groups, which suggests they have most likely been carried out by groups opposing the Turkish military offensive.
We are very concerned about the increasing number of civilians being killed and injured as a result of the use of IEDs in populated areas. The indiscriminate use of such weapons is a clear violation of international humanitarian law. We remind all parties to the conflict of their responsibility to protect civilians and to comply with their obligations under international law.
Another issue of concern in the north-east, relates to people recently displaced during the military offensive who have subsequently been subjected to arbitrary detention, in addition to enforced disappearances, after returning to their homes. This is occurring both in areas controlled by Turkish forces and Turkish-affiliated armed groups, and in areas controlled by Kurdish armed groups. We remind all parties of the urgent need to facilitate immediate and safe return of displaced civilians who wish to go back to their homes, in accordance with international humanitarian principles. And all people held in custody, regardless of the reason, must be treated humanely and be accounted for.
Separately, while much of the international attention is on north-eastern Syria, in the north-western part of the country, after the lull in hostilities in Idlib Governorate during October, there has been a recent upsurge in airstrikes and ground-based strikes, mostly in parts of southern and western Idlib, including yet more attacks affecting medical facilities. Despite the focus placed on such attacks by the UN and others, and the establishment of a Board of Inquiry by the Secretary-General, health facilities continue to be directly hit or significantly damaged whenever there is a military escalation in Idlib.
Four separate facilities were damaged on 4 and 6 November, taking the total number of health facilities we have recorded since 29 April to 61. The Kafr Nobol hospital, which was hit on 6 November, had already been repeatedly struck and damaged in May and July. On the same day at around 01:30 hours, three civilian medics were injured as a result of several alleged airstrikes by Government affiliated forces. Two of the airstrikes directly hit the hospital of al-Ikhlas in the village of Shanan in Jabal al-Zawya area in southern rural Idlib, putting it out of service.
We repeat yet again that all parties must ensure that hospital and medical services, including medical staff, are respected and protected in all circumstances.
We stress that the figures are not comprehensive, as we are not able to track all casualties. Nor are we able to verify every single incident. Instead, we are attempting primarily to monitor patterns of hostilities with a particular emphasis on emblematic incidents that we are able to verify in order to identify such patterns.
We are gravely concerned about continuing reports of deaths and injuries resulting from the use of force by security forces against demonstrators, as well as deliberate killings by armed elements in Iraq. Between 1 October and last night, the Human Rights Office for the UN Assistance Mission for Iraq has documented 269 deaths in the context of demonstrations across the country. At least 8,000 others have reportedly been injured, including members of the Iraqi security forces. The exact casualty figures may be much higher. The majority of the casualties have resulted from the use of live ammunition by security forces and armed elements, described by many as private militia groups, as well as the unnecessary, disproportionate or improper use of less-lethal weapons such as tear gas.
Protests have continued this week in Baghdad, and deaths and injuries have been documented during demonstrations in Baghdad, Basra, Dhi Qar and Karbala. Just this morning, we received reports of five protesters killed during demonstrations in front of the Governorate building in Basra last night. On Wednesday this week, a civil society activist was shot and killed, and another injured by armed elements on the way home from a demonstration in Missan. We are also following up on reports of multiple arrests of demonstrators and activists, as well as bloggers and social media commentators, but there has been a lack of transparency, making these reports difficult to follow up on.
We are alarmed by reports of the abduction, by unknown perpetrators, of protesters or volunteers providing assistance in the demonstrations. These allegations should be promptly investigated, the whereabouts of those missing clarified and those responsible held to account.
We are disturbed by the statement by the High Judicial Council in Iraq that the Federal Anti-Terrorism Law would be applicable against those resorting to violence, sabotaging public property and using firearms against security forces – these are acts of terrorism that may be punishable by death.
We urge the Iraqi Government to ensure it complies with its obligation to protect the exercise of the right to peaceful assembly. This means taking preventive steps to protect demonstrators from armed elements, as well as issuing clear instructions to security forces to abide by international norms and standards on the use of force, including for example, an explicit prohibition on the shooting of tear gas canisters directly at demonstrators.
Immediate steps must be taken to investigate and prosecute those responsible for these killings, and justice and truth should be provided for the victims and their families. It is crucial that terrorism charges are not used against demonstrators.
We call on the authorities to take firm steps towards a meaningful dialogue in Iraq, to take stock of the many grievances and work with a broad range of actors towards a sustainable resolution to the many challenges Iraq faces. We stand ready to assist.
The two UN Iraq human rights reports on protests since October 1 are here:
We welcome the conviction and sentencing of a 30-year-old Mauritanian man for having raped a 15-year-old girl in Kaedi, in Southern Mauritania. The man was sentenced to five years in prison. This is an encouraging step for a country where gender-based violence, and specifically rape, has in the past gone unpunished in almost all cases. We call on the Government of Mauritania to ensure gender-sensitive and age-sensitive reparations for the victim, including compensation.
Mauritania does not have a law to prevent gender-based violence. On two occasions, a draft law presented to the Parliament has been rejected. We urge the Mauritanian Parliament to urgently relaunch the discussion on the draft bill and to adopt as soon as possible legislation that complies with human rights standards, including a clear definition of rape and other forms of sexual violence.
We also call on the Government to take all necessary measures to advance the legislation and, once enacted, to implement a comprehensive, well-resourced plan of action to tackle a serious and widespread problem in Mauritania.
In this context, we would like to highlight that this year’s 16 Days of Activism against Gender-Based Violence focuses on rape. The campaigns, which is a grassroots initiative supported by the UN, runs from 25 November, which is the International Day for the Elimination of Violence Against Women, until 10 December, Human Rights Day.