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BRIEFING NOTES: (1) Myanmar; (2) Ukraine By Spokesperson For The UN High Commissioner For Human Rights: Liz Throssell

Location: Geneva

Date: 24 May 2024

Subject: (1) Myanmar; (2) Ukraine

(1) Myanmar

We are receiving frightening and disturbing reports from northern Rakhine State in Myanmar of the impacts of the conflict on civilian lives and property. Some of the most serious allegations concern incidents of killing of Rohingya civilians and the burning of their property.

Tens of thousands of civilians have been displaced in recent days by the fighting in Buthidaung and Maungdaw townships. An estimated 45,000 Rohingya have reportedly fled to an area on the Naf River near the border with Bangladesh, seeking protection. Over one million Rohingya are already in Bangladesh, having fled past purges. The High Commissioner calls on Bangladesh and other States to provide effective protection to those seeking it, in line with international law, and to ensure international solidarity with Bangladesh in hosting Rohingya refugees in Myanmar.

Testimonies, satellite images, and online videos and pictures indicate that Buthidaung town has been largely burned. We have received information indicating that the burning started on 17 May, two days after the military had retreated from the town and the Arakan Army claimed to have taken full control. Our Office is corroborating information received about who is responsible.

One survivor described seeing dozens of dead bodies as he fled the town. Another survivor said that he was among a group of displaced numbering in the tens of thousands, who were blocked by the Arakan Army, on the road west linking Buthidaung to Maungdaw town. Survivors recounted that the Arakan Army had abused them and extorted money from them as they made their way to Rohingya villages around 10 to 15 kilometres south of the town, where Rohingya already displaced by earlier attacks on villages had previously sought shelter. Rohingya in these areas have, for weeks, described sheltering with families they do not know, without enough food to feed their families.

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In the weeks leading up to the burning of Buthidaung, the UN Human Rights Office has documented renewed attacks on Rohingya civilians by both the Arakan Army and military in northern Rakhine State. As well as aerial strikes, including by unmanned aerial vehicles, we have received reports of shooting at unarmed fleeing villagers, beheadings, disappearances, burnings of homes. For years, the military has targeted the Rohingya and actively enforced draconian and discriminatory restrictions affecting all aspects of their lives.

We see clear and present risks of a serious expansion of violence as the battle for neighbouring Maungdaw town has begun -- where the military maintains outposts and where a large Rohingya community lives, including hundreds of displaced Rohingya who moved to town from villages seeking safety. In this appalling situation, civilians are once more victimized, killed, their properties destroyed and looted, their demands for safety and security ignored, and they are again forced to flee their homes in a recurring nightmare of suffering.

The High Commissioner calls for an immediate end to the violence, and for all civilians to be protected without any distinction based on identity. Prompt and unhindered humanitarian relief must be allowed to flow, and all parties must comply fully and unconditionally with international law – including measures already ordered by the International Court of Justice, for the protection of Rohingya.

(2) Ukraine

Testimonies gathered by the UN Human Rights Monitoring Mission in Ukraine (HRMMU) highlight the terrifying impact on civilians of the recent escalation in hostilities in the north-east of the country, where Russian armed forces have seized control of several villages.

People who have fled from these areas along the Kharkiv region frontline described having to shelter for days in cold, dark basements, with no electricity amid intense aerial bombardment, strikes by drones and missiles, and artillery shelling.

There has been massive destruction of people’s homes and other civilian infrastructure. Entire communities have been uprooted and destroyed, with more than 10,000 people displaced to date.

According to HRMMU, at least 35 civilians have been killed and 137 injured in the Kharkiv region since Russian armed forces launched their cross-border offensive on 10 May. Of those killed or injured in the northern part of the region, which has seen the heaviest fighting, more than half were over the age of 60. This reflects the disproportionate number of older people in border and frontline areas, who, in many cases, were either unable or unwilling to leave their homes even amid a fast-deteriorating security situation.

Since 10 May, our HRMMU teams have interviewed 90 displaced civilians and have visited several sites that were struck.

Some were unable to reach shelters or even get to a basement. People described seeing their neighbours killed or injured. Some said the situation was so bad they decided to risk walking for several kilometres to reach an evacuation point.

Local authorities and volunteers have taken major risks to help vulnerable people to get to safety. On 16 May, two medical workers, two ambulance drivers and a local official were injured while they were trying to get civilians out of the village of Buhaivka.

On the morning of 19 May, Russian armed forces struck a recreation centre in the village of Cherkaska Lozova near Kharkiv city. Less than 20 minutes later, the site was hit again when police and medical workers were already on the scene to assist the victims. HRMMU monitors visited the location and documented the deaths of at least six civilians, with dozens of people injured.

Many of those evacuated from Vovchansk and other areas have arrived in Kharkiv city, which also remains under attack. In Kharkiv, there were multiple missile strikes on Thursday, reportedly killing seven civilians and injuring 21 others.

We call again on the Russian Federation to strictly respect all the rules of international law relating to the conduct of hostilities, and to cease its attacks on Ukraine immediately.

In the third year of the Russian Federation’s full-scale armed attack on Ukraine, with no end in sight, lives, homes, and futures continue to be destroyed. The long-term impact of this war in Ukraine will be felt for generations, with the task of rebuilding shattered communities, already a massive undertaking, growing larger with every further day of violence and destruction.

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