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Briefing Notes: Syria; Nicaragua; Iraq

BRIEFING NOTES - (1) Syria; (2) Nicaragua; (3) Iraq

Spokesperson for the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights: Marta Hurtado
Location: Geneva

Date: 7 February 2020

Subject: 1) Syria
2) Nicaragua
3) Iraq

1) Syria

We are deeply concerned by the sharp increase in hostilities in northwest Syria and the blatant disregard for protection of civilians. Fighting in southern and eastern Idlib and in western and southern Aleppo continues to kill and injure scores of civilians and displace hundreds of thousands of others.

In five days from 1 to 5 February, we verified incidents in which at least 49 civilians, including 14 women and 17 children, were killed. Of these, seven civilians were killed in Government-controlled areas.

Last month, we verified incidents in which at least 186 civilians, including 33 women, 37 boys and 30 girls, were killed. Of these, 14 civilians were killed in Government-controlled areas.

The UN High Commissioner for Human Rights Michelle Bachelet repeats her demand to all parties, including the Syrian Government, Russia, Turkey and other state or non-state actors, to ensure the protection of civilians and to carry out their military operations in accordance with international law.

It is shocking that civilians continue to bear the brunt of hostilities between all parties to the conflict. It appears foreign powers are battling for territorial and political gains, while blatantly disregarding their obligation to protect civilians.

Civilians are killed even as they try to escape the intensifying hostilities. On 3 February, a reported airstrike by pro-government forces hit a bus travelling on a highway near the town of Orum al-Qubra in western rural Aleppo. Nine civilians - all from the same family - fleeing the latest fighting were killed.

From 1 to 5 February, we also documented ground-based strikes by non-State armed groups that hit residential areas and educational facilities in Aleppo city. Five civilians, including a woman and her two children, were killed in the al-Hamdaniya neighborhood. Strikes also hit the University of Aleppo, wounding at least one student.

2) Nicaragua

We are very concerned about repeated attacks against indigenous peoples in Nicaragua, the lack of protection of their rights and the impunity for crimes committed against them.

Most of the violence has been carried out by settlers as they seek to force indigenous people from their ancestral homes and use their lands for illegal logging and cattle farming.

According to data collected by the Center for Justice and Human Rights of the Atlantic Coast of Nicaragua (CEJUDHCAN), since 2015, some 40 indigenous people have been killed 47 injured, 44 kidnapped and four disappeared, in cases related to land invasions.

The most recent incident occurred on 29 January 2020, dozens of armed men attacked the Mayangna community deep inside the Bosawás Biosphere Reserve, a remote protected area in the North Caribbean Coast Autonomous Region, 300 km north of Managua. Four members of the Alal community in the Sauni As territory, were killed, two others injured and 16 houses burned down, forcing hundreds of people from the village and surroundings to flee. Police officers only arrived on the scene the following day.

The Mayangna publicly reported last November that they had received death threats from settlers, but they have said they did not received adequate protection.
In addition, on 4 January 2020, Mark Rivas, a Miskitu indigenous leader, was found shot dead in Bilwi, in the same Autonomous Region. He had reportedly received anonymous death threats after accusing the ruling party of creating divisions among indigenous communities.

Under the UN Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples, indigenous peoples have a right to their lands, territories and resources and may not be forcibly evicted. The State has an obligation to ensure the protection of indigenous peoples and their lands, including from third parties.

Currently, 31 percent of the national territory is home to indigenous and Afro-descendent peoples. Although the Nicaraguan State has granted land rights to them through the adoption of Law 445 in 2003, they continue to face challenges and pressures due to recurrent invasions by settlers.

According to a joint assessment by a Danish NGO and the Mayangna Territorial Government, from 1999 to 2015, an average of 600 hectares of the Bosawás Biosphere Reserve were deforested per year, with the deforestation rate doubling from 2010 to 2015. In the area where the latest killings happened, the number of non-indigenous households doubled from 2009 to 2015, to almost 200.

We urge Nicaraguan authorities to conduct prompt, thorough, independent and impartial investigations into these incidents, and to hold those responsible accountable. We also call on the authorities to provide justice, truth and reparations to victims and their families, and assist those who have been forcibly displaced, including those who have now returned to their communities.

It is crucial that authorities take the necessary steps to prevent further violence and protect the land, territories and resources of indigenous communities.

3) Iraq

We are alarmed at the escalation in violence in the central Iraqi city of Najaf on 5 February when supporters of Muqtada al-Sadr allegedly shot dead anti-Government demonstrators. This latest incident again raises serious concerns about the Government’s ongoing inability to fulfil its obligation under international law to protect demonstrators from attacks by so-called ‘militia’.

On 5 February, witnesses said armed men affiliated to Muqtada al-Sadr shot at protesters in Sadreen square in Najaf. At least seven people were killed and over 75 others injured, and demonstrator’s tents were set on fire. The incident followed an earlier attempt to “storm” the protest site on 3 February. While police attempted to de-escalate the situation initially, security forces were ultimately unable to protect protesters.

On 6 February, armed men affiliated to Muqtada al-Sadr attacked protesters in a square in the nearby city of Karbala with automatic rifles, batons and knives, shooting at and injuring two demonstrators and one police officer. They beat three protesters and tore up tents. The Iraqi army was reportedly present but did not intervene and Riot Police were called.

We reiterate our call on the Government to ensure the safety of peaceful protesters at all times.


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