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Six Red Cross workers in Afghanistan delivering aid killed in ambush
by United Nations News, agencies
 
8 February 2017
 
Six Afghan Red Cross aid workers have been killed in an ambush in the country’s north while travelling to a remote area to deliver humanitarian aid.
 
Three vehicles carrying eight International Committee of the Red Cross employees were travelling through Dasht-e Leili, a desert in Jowzjan province, when they came under fire, according to the provincial governor, Lotfullah Azizi. Three drivers and three other personnel were killed, and two are missing.
 
ICRC in Afghanistan confirmed the killings and said it was putting its activities across the country on hold while it assessed what had happened.
 
Its director-general, Yves Daccord, described the incident as “the worst attack against us since 20 years. We are all outraged and so sad.”
 
The ICRC vehicles were clearly marked when they were ambushed outside Turkman Qudoq village by militants carrying Kalashnikov rifles, said the provincial police chief, Rahmatullah Turkistani. He said a local delegation of elders was investigating the incident.
 
The attack underscores the danger facing NGOs in Afghanistan. More humanitarian workers are attacked here than in any other country in the world. Proportionally, in terms of attack per aid worker, only South Sudan is more violent.
 
Fifteen aid workers were killed in Afghanistan last year, in more than 200 incidents of violence, kidnappings and killings directed against humanitarian organisations, according to the UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (Ocha).
 
Northern Afghanistan in particular has become increasingly dangerous for aid workers. In 2013, militants shot and killed six employees of the French charity ACTED in Faryab. In 2015, nine Afghan staff members with the Czech organisation People in Need were shot in a guesthouse in Balkh.
 
In a statement, the Taliban said they were not involved, calling the attack “the work of kidnappers”.
 
ICRC, which enjoys special protection under the Geneva Conventions, has traditionally not come under attack in Afghanistan, apart from the killing of an Italian engineer in 2002. Its reputation of impartiality has allowed the group to work in areas inaccessible to others.
 
In 2012, the Afghan Taliban even issued a statement in support of ICRC after one of its aid workers was killed in Pakistan, commending ICRC for “truly serving the people”.
 
More recently, however, as aid workers have increasingly become targets in Afghanistan, ICRC has also suffered. In 2013, suicide bombers attacked an ICRC compound in Jalalabad, killing a guard and wounding another employee. In December, a Spanish employee was abducted in Kunduz. He was freed last month.
 
06 Feb 2017
 
Protection of Civilians in Armed Conflict Annual Report 2016 from UN Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights, UN Assistance Mission in Afghanistan.
 
The United Nations called on all warring parties in Afghanistan to take urgent steps to halt the killing and maiming of civilians, as a new UN report issued today recorded the highest ever number of civilian casualties in a single year, including record figures for children killed and injured in 2016.
 
The report documents 11,418 conflict-related civilian casualties, including 3,498 killed and 7,920 injured. Of these, 3,512 were children - 923 dead and 2,589 injured, up 24 per cent on the previous highest recorded figure. The figures, recorded by UN Assistance Mission in Afghanistan (UNAMA), are the highest since the UN began systematically documenting civilian casualty figures in 2009.
 
“The killing and maiming of thousands of Afghan civilians is deeply harrowing and largely preventable,” said Tadamichi Yamamoto, the UN Secretary-General’s Special Representative for Afghanistan. “All parties to the conflict must take immediate concrete measures to protect the ordinary Afghan men, women and children whose lives are being shattered.”
 
Yamamoto, who is also head of UNAMA, condemned the unrelenting and devastating impact of ground engagements on civilians, as well as of the increasing number of large-scale suicide attacks that intentionally targeted civilians.
 
“Yet another record year of civilian suffering in Afghanistan,” he said. “Unless all parties to the conflict make serious efforts to review and address the consequences of their operations, the levels of civilian casualties, displacement and other types of human suffering are likely to remain at appallingly high levels.”
 
UN High Commissioner for Human Rights, Zeid Ra’ad Al Hussein, said the casualty figures painted a picture of the most vulnerable sectors of society paying the highest price. “Children have been killed, blinded, crippled while playing with unexploded ordnance that is negligently left behind by parties to the conflict. Women continue to be brutally punished in parallel so-called ‘justice’ processes while religious minorities are targeted as they pray in their mosques,” Zeid said.
 
“And the consequences of each act of violence ripple through families and entire communities that are left broken, unable to sustain themselves and largely failing to obtain any semblance of justice or reparation. After nearly 40 years of constantly evolving armed conflict in Afghanistan, a Daesh franchise has now surfaced as an additional, deadly component. It is about time the various parties to the conflict ceased the relentless commission of war crimes and thought about the harm they are doing to their mothers, fathers, children and future generations by continuing to fuel this senseless, never-ending conflict,” said Zeid.
 
Yamamoto and Zeid called on all parties to minimize the use of explosive weapons in areas populated by civilians and to ensure explosive remnants of war are removed. They also stressed the need for accountability and justice for violations of international humanitarian law and human rights law.
 
“The continuation of attacks targeting civilians and indiscriminate attacks by Anti-Government Elements – in particular, IED and suicide attacks in civilian-populated areas is illegal, reprehensible and, in most cases, may amount to a war crime. It is imperative that the perpetrators, whoever they are, be held accountable for such acts,” the report states. http://bit.ly/2k1xdZY http://bit.ly/2k4QDgz


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Secret campaign of mass hangings at Syrian Prison
by Amnesty International, news agencies
 
7 February 2017
 
A chilling new report by Amnesty International exposes the Syrian government’s calculated campaign of extrajudicial executions by mass hangings at Saydnaya Prison. Between 2011 and 2015, every week and often twice a week, groups of up to 50 people were taken out of their prison cells and hanged to death.
 
In five years, as many as 13,000 people, most of them civilians believed to be opposed to the government, were hanged in secret at Saydnaya.
 
The report also shows that the government is deliberately inflicting inhuman conditions on detainees at Saydnaya Prison through repeated torture and the systematic deprivation of food, water, medicine and medical care. The report documents how these extermination policies have killed massive numbers of detainees.
 
These practices, which amount to war crimes and crimes against humanity, are authorized at the highest levels of the Syrian government.
 
“The horrors depicted in this report reveal a hidden, monstrous campaign, authorized at the highest levels of the Syrian government, aimed at crushing any form of dissent within the Syrian population,” said Lynn Maalouf, Deputy Director for Research at Amnesty International’s regional office in Beirut.
 
“We demand that the Syrian authorities immediately cease extrajudicial executions and torture and inhuman treatment at Saydnaya Prison and in all other government prisons across Syria. Russia and Iran, the government’s closest allies, must press for an end to these murderous detention policies.
 
“The upcoming Syria peace talks in Geneva cannot ignore these findings. Ending these atrocities in Syrian government prisons must be put on the agenda. The UN must immediately carry out an independent investigation into the crimes being committed at Saydnaya and demand access for independent monitors to all places of detention.”
 
The report reveals a routine of mass extrajudicial executions by hanging inside Saydnaya prison that was in place between 2011 and 2015. Every week – and often twice a week – victims were hanged in groups of up to 50 people, in the middle of the night and in total secrecy. There are strong reasons to believe that this routine is still ongoing today.
 
Large numbers of detainees have also been killed as a result of the authorities’ extermination policies, which include repeated torture and the systematic deprivation of food, water, medicine and medical care. In addition, detainees at Saydnaya Prison are forced to obey a set of sadistic and dehumanizing rules.
 
The findings of the report are based on an intensive investigation, which was carried out over the course of one year, from December 2015 to December 2016. It involved first-hand interviews with 84 witnesses that included former Saydnaya guards and officials, detainees, judges and lawyers, as well as national and international experts on detention in Syria.
 
A previous report published in August 2016, for which Amnesty International partnered with a team of specialists at Forensic Architecture, University of Goldsmiths to create a virtual 3D reconstruction of Saydnaya prison, estimated that more than 17,000 people have died in prisons across Syria as a result of the inhuman conditions and torture since the Syrian crisis began in 2011. This figure does not include the estimated 13,000 additional deaths as a result of the extrajudicial executions exposed in this report.
 
* Access the report: http://bit.ly/2ldshq3


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