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News in Brief 31 October 2023

News in Brief 31 October 2023

This is the News in Brief from the United Nations. 

Toll of Israel-Palestine crisis on children ‘beyond devastating’

Gaza has become a “graveyard” for children with thousands now killed under Israeli bombardment, while more than a million face dire shortages of essentials and a lifetime of trauma ahead, UN humanitarians said on Tuesday.

UN relief chief Martin Griffiths, who has been visiting Israel and the Occupied Palestinian Territory, spoke to families in Gaza over the phone from east Jerusalem on Tuesday and said that what they have endured since the start of Israel’s retaliation for Hamas’ deadly 7 October attacks is “beyond devastating”.

In Gaza threats to children “go beyond the bombs and mortars”, UN Children’s Fund (UNICEF) spokesperson James Elder told reporters in Geneva, stressing the risk of infant deaths due to water shortages and decades of trauma for the survivors.

Here he is reiterating calls for an immediate humanitarian ceasefire: 

“This is why we keep calling for a ceasefire. On average, 420 children in Gaza have been reportedly killed or injured every day. If we had a ceasefire for 72 hours, that would mean a thousand children in 72 hours would be safe again.”

After meeting with family members of some of the more than 230 hostages held by Hamas in Gaza since 7 October, which include some 30 children, Mr. Griffiths said that these families “have been living in agony, not knowing if their loved ones are dead or alive”. The UN has repeatedly called for the immediate and unconditional release of all the hostages.

Ukraine: Deadly Russian missile attack on café had no military target  

A missile which struck a café in the village of Hroza in eastern Ukraine killing 59 people earlier this month was launched with no indication of any legitimate military targets at the site, according to a new report by the UN human rights office (OHCHR).

The report published on Tuesday and based on site inspections and witness interviews says that “there are reasonable grounds to believe that the missile was launched by Russian armed forces”.

It details the devastating impact of what has been one of the deadliest single incidents for Ukrainian civilians since Russia’s full-scale invasion in February 2022. 

OHCHR quoted a resident recounting how her daughter’s friend “could only be identified by her manicure when rescue workers discovered her hand” and stressed that for many others, identification relied on DNA tests of bodily remains. 

The report says that the Russian military “either failed to do everything feasible to verify that the target was a military objective, or deliberately targeted civilians or civilian objects”. 

“Either scenario would be in violation of international humanitarian law,” OHCHR insisted.  

Sudan: ‘lethal’ combination of diseases puts millions at risk: WHO

In war-torn Sudan, cholera, measles, dengue and malaria are circulating in several states and a combination of any of these diseases with malnutrition “can be lethal”.

That’s the message from UN health agency WHO, who said on Tuesday that 1,962 suspected cholera cases have been reported as of last week with 72 associated deaths. More than 3.1 million people are estimated to be at risk of the disease by the end of the year, WHO warned. 

At the same time, the country has over 4,300 suspected measles cases, over 4,000 suspected cases of dengue and over 813,000 malaria cases, while some 4.6 million children, pregnant and nursing mothers are malnourished.

The country’s health system is “stretched to breaking point”, WHO said, with up to four in every five health facilities in conflict hotspots not functioning and limited access to healthcare across the country due to violence, mass displacement and shortages of medicines and medical supplies. 

Meanwhile, health workers “who have done their best to keep facilities running despite personal risk” have not been paid for nearly seven months.

The UN health agency has been supporting the health authorities’ response to the crisis by providing supplies, staff and training to cholera treatment centres, enhancing disease surveillance and helping run measles vaccination campaigns.

Taliban must release women human rights defenders: top rights experts 

In Afghanistan, women human rights defenders Neda Parwan and Zholia Parsi detained by the Taliban for over a month, must be released immediately, UN-appointed independent rights experts said on Tuesday.

The experts, who include Special Rapporteur on Afghanistan Richard Bennett, said that they were increasingly concerned about the physical and mental well-being of the two women and their family members, also detained while no reason was provided for the arrests.

They have yet to be charged with a crime or brought before a court and have not been granted access to legal representation.

“The Taliban seem to be continuing to intensify their restrictions on civic space, especially through silencing of the voices of women and girls,” the experts said. 

They underscored the importance of upholding the rights to freedom of peaceful assembly and association and warned that individuals must not be deprived of their liberty “merely for expressing dissenting views and for exercising their legitimate rights”. 

Dominika Tomaszewska-Mortimer, UN News.

  • Toll of Israel-Palestine crisis on children ‘beyond devastating’
  • Ukraine: deadly Russian missile attack on café had no military target: OHCHR
  • Sudan: ‘lethal’ combination of disease outbreaks puts millions at risk: WHO
  • Afghanistan: Taliban must release women human rights defenders, say top rights experts 
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Dominika Tomaszewska-Mortimer, UN News - Geneva
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