Spokesperson for the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights:  Rupert Colville

                                                                                            Oct 11 at 11:56 AM

Location: Geneva

Date: 11 October 2019

Subject:      (1) Syria

                    (2) Germany / Synagogue Attack
(3) Israel / oPt
(4) Malawi                   

1) SYRIA

We have begun receiving reports of civilian casualties – as of last night we had reports of seven civilians, including two women and a boy who had been killed with another boy injured, during the first two days of the Turkish operation. In addition, a civilian man was reported killed in Jarablus on 9 October and a woman and a boy injured yesterday during counter-attacks and ground strikes by Kurdish non-State armed groups.

We have received disturbing reports that airstrikes and ground-based attacks by Turkish army and affiliated armed groups have affected key civilian infrastructure and objects such as water pumping stations, dams, power stations, and oil fields. On 9 October, water reportedly ceased to flow from the main water supply station in the area of Alouk in al-Hassakeh governorate, as a result of a Turkish airstrike. It is likely that thousands of people will be deprived of adequate access to clean water in the area supplied by the station.

We are also hearing that areas in northern Syria, such as Afrin, al-Bab, Jarablus, and Azaz that were already under the control of Turkish forces and/or affiliated armed groups, are continuing to face lawlessness and rampant criminality and violence. We have had specific reports of intimidation, ill-treatment, killing, kidnapping, looting and seizure of civilians’ houses by the Turkish-backed armed groups in these areas, with civilians reportedly seized by members of these groups from their homes or at checkpoints, accused of affiliation with specific Kurdish armed or political groups. The fate and whereabouts of many of those civilians remain unknown.

As the Turkish operation continues inside Syria, we would like to stress the following:

  • Military operations must be conducted in accordance with international humanitarian law, in particular the principles of distinction, proportionality and precaution.
  • The parties to the conflict should avoid using explosive weapons with wide-area effects in populated areas. By their very nature, indirect-fire weapons such as artillery increase the risk to civilians and civilian infrastructure.
  • Civilians and civilian infrastructure are to be protected from attack and from the effects of the hostilities. When displacement occurs, displaced civilians must be provided with assistance and protection until they are able to return to their homes or relocate elsewhere, voluntarily, in safety and dignity.
  • Attacking, or rendering useless, objects indispensable to the survival of the civilian population, such as water and sanitation facilities, is prohibited.
  • All parties must comply with all applicable obligations under international humanitarian law and international human rights law in relation to people residing in the territory over which Turkish military forces and affiliated armed groups exercise control. This includes, but is not limited to, respecting and protecting the rights to life, liberty and security of person, access to basic services (healthcare, education etc.), freedom of expression and opinion, and freedom from discrimination based on race, religion, political or other opinion.

2) GERMANY / SYNAGOGUE ATTACK

We echo the Secretary-General’s strong condemnation of Wednesday’s attempted attack on worshippers in a synagogue in Halle in Germany, during which two people were killed and two others wounded.

Reports from the German authorities are already suggesting this was almost certainly a white nationalist attack, and a clear example of extreme anti-Semitism – deliberately carried out on Yom Kippur, one of the holiest days in the Jewish calendar.

Copies of the live-streamed video had reportedly been downloaded before their removal from the broadcasting platform and are still circulating online. The attempt by the Halle gunman to copy the methodology of the man who killed 51 people in two mosques in Christchurch, including by live streaming his planned – but fortunately in this case unfulfilled – mass killing on social media, underscores the need to deal more effectively with spreading white nationalist extremism, and indeed all forms of racism and xenophobia.

This horrific attack is the latest example of an extremely disturbing rise in violence directed at Jews in many places, including a sharp rise in incidents in Germany. We need to take notice, and take further action to address the fear and insecurity that the increase in violence is sowing. The links between incitement to hatred and violence and the actual carrying out of violent hate crimes, based on race, religion or ethnicity, should no longer be in any doubt in anyone’s mind. Nor should the dangerous cross-fertilization of violent extremism of all sorts via the internet and social media. No society can consider itself immune from this form of viral hatred.

The most recent report of the Special Rapporteur on freedom of religion or belief* notes with serious concern that the frequency of anti-Semitic incidents appears to be increasing in magnitude in several countries where monitors are attempting to document it, including online, and that the prevalence of anti-Semitic attitudes and the risk of violence against Jewish individuals and sites appears to be significant elsewhere as well.

We echo the Secretary-General’s heartfelt statement that places of worship around the world “must be safe havens for reflection and peace, not sites of bloodshed and terror,” and that greater efforts should be made to identify and take measures to safeguard religious sites at risk.

* See the report of the Special Rapporteur on freedom of religion or belief to the General Assembly, 23 September 2019 (A/74/358), available at https://www.ohchr.org/Documents/Issues/Religion/A_74_47921ADV.pdf

3) ISRAEL / oPt 

The UN Human Rights Office notes with concern the alleged torture of a 44-year-old Palestinian man, Samer Al A’rbeed, who was arrested by Israeli Security Forces on 25 September as a suspect in a bomb explosion that killed a 17-year old Israeli girl near Dolev settlement in the occupied West Bank. Al A’rbeed remains in the hospital in an induced coma and on artificial respiration, with critical injuries sustained after his arrest, including broken ribs and severe kidney failure.

This development is placing a spotlight on serious gaps and failings in Israel’s laws and practices in relation to its unequivocal obligation under international law to eradicate torture and cruel and inhuman treatment.

Al A’rbeed’s lawyer, who was only allowed to see his client four days after his arrest (on 29 September), alleges he was tortured. The Israeli Security Agency (Shin Bet) stated to the media that Al A’rbeed did not feel well during his interrogation and had to be transferred to the hospital. The Israeli Ministry of Justice has announced an inquiry.

Given the severity of Al A’rbeed’s injuries, we call for the immediate opening of a criminal investigation into the case.

We have also received information that at least three more people arrested in the context of the same investigation have been held in incommunicado detention for a prolonged period of time.

We are gravely concerned that Israeli law does not adequately define, prohibit or criminalize torture and the High Court of Justice has allowed the use of “special interrogation measures,” in violation of the absolute prohibition of torture.

The prohibition of torture is one of the peremptory norms of international law or “jus cogens” from which no derogation is permitted. In other words, the prohibition is binding on all states, in all circumstances, with no exception.

We call on Israel to revise its laws, policies and practices to bring them in line with its obligations under international law, in particular the Convention Against Torture, and ensure that all instances and allegations of torture and ill-treatment are investigated promptly, independently, effectively and impartially.

4) MALAWI

We are very concerned by an increase in violent protests across Malawi, and the lack of a meaningful dialogue to halt the mounting tensions in the country.

Demonstrations started in the aftermath of the 21 May presidential elections, after some groups disputed the results. They subsequently spread as protesters also began airing economic and social grievances.

While initially peaceful, in recent weeks some of the protests have become increasingly violent and have sometimes been met with excessive use of force. In some instances, security forces have resorted to the pre-emptive use of tear gas prior to the start of demonstrations. One demonstrator reportedly died after being arrested and beaten by Malawi Defense Forces, and another is in critical condition after being shot by live ammunition, reportedly by police forces.

A number of protesters have also been acting increasingly violently, and on Tuesday, a police officer was stoned to death during a spontaneous demonstration. We have also received reports of protestors looting shops and attacking Government buildings.

We remind the Malawian authorities of their obligation to respect the rights of freedom of expression and peaceful assembly, and to distinguish between violent actors and peaceful demonstrators. We urge demonstrators to express their grievances peacefully, without resorting to violence.

We also remind the authorities that the use force during demonstrations should only be applied in exceptional circumstances, in accordance with applicable international human rights norms and standards, including the principles of legality, necessity and proportionality. In the case of violent demonstrations, law enforcement officials may use firearms only when less dangerous means are not practicable and only to the minimum extent necessary. In any event, intentional lethal force with firearms by law enforcement officials is prohibited, except as a last resort to protect against an imminent threat of death or serious injury.

All allegations of misconduct by security forces, including those resulting in death or injury, should be investigated in a prompt, thorough, independent and impartial manner.

We urge the Government and other relevant actors to urgently engage in a genuine and meaningful dialogue to address the political, social and economic grievances of the population, and reduce tensions. Otherwise, there is a serious risk the situation will spiral out of control.

For more information and media requests, please contact: Rupert Colville – + 41 22 917 9767 / rcolville@ohchr.org or Marta Hurtado – + 41 22 917 9466 / mhurtado@ohchr.org

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