Thursday’s Daily Brief: Safeguarding civilians, strengthening Ebola response in DR Congo, Fistula Day, Guterres condemns CAR attacks and Syria update

Civilians in Gardez city, Paktia Province, Afghanistan.
UNAMA/Fardin Waezi
Civilians in Gardez city, Paktia Province, Afghanistan.

Thursday’s Daily Brief: Safeguarding civilians, strengthening Ebola response in DR Congo, Fistula Day, Guterres condemns CAR attacks and Syria update

Peace and Security

Thursday’s main stories include: Better safeguards to protect civilians in conflict; UN ramps up coordination to beat Ebola in DR Congo; Obstetric fistula continues to afflict women; UN chief strongly condemns attack in Central African Republic 

Better safeguards to protect civilians amidst deteriorating compliance 

The UN peacekeeping mission in Sierra Leone (UNAMSIL)was explicitly mandated to protect civilians 20 years ago. (file 2006)

Marking 20 years since the UN Security Council added the protection of civilians to its agenda, Secretary-General António Guterres told the chamber on Thursday that while safeguards were stronger, “compliance has deteriorated”.   

“We are rightly critical when assessing the state of the protection of civilians, for there is great cause of concern”, he said.  

The UN chief walked members through 20 years of progress, saying that a “culture of protection” had indeed “taken root” that encompasses a comprehensive framework based on international law, and becoming one of the peace and security body’s “core issues”.   
Read our full story here

UN chief 'strongly condemns' deadly attacks on villagers in Central African Republic 

Three former child soldiers at Elevage camp in Bambari, Central African Republic.

Attacks in the Central African Republic (CAR) on Tuesday, which reportedly left at least 34 dead, have been strongly condemned by the UN chief António Guterres and UN Stabilization Mission in the country, MINUSCA

The attacks reportedly took place not far from the Chadian border, when armed group 3R (Retour, Réclamation et Réhabilitation) targeted several villages in the Ooham-Pende Prefecture.

Since 2012, the country has been plagued by fighting between the mostly Christian anti-Balaka militia and mainly Muslim Séléka rebels.

In February, the Government signed a deal with more than a dozen militias aimed to stabilize the country in which thousands of civilians have been killed. Two out of three people in CAR are now dependent on humanitarian aid. 

In a statement, Mr. Guterres called on CAR authorities "to investigate these attacks and to swiftly bring those responsible to justice", recalling that they may constitute  war crimes.  

"The Secretary-General reminds that all signatories to the peace agreement committed to respect international humanitarian law and human rights. He urges all the signatory armed groups to immediately cease all violence in line with their commitments in the peace agreement."

He expressed the determination of MINUSCA "to protect civilians and to support the implementation of the peace agreement which represents the only viable path to peace in the Central African Republic."

‘No time to lose’ in addressing DR Congo’s deadly Ebola virus, says new UN response coordinator 

Parents visiting her 15-year-old daugher, who is suspected of being infected by Ebola, at the Ebola Treatment Center in Beni, DRC (January 2019).

With the Democratic Republic of the Congo’s worst ever Ebola outbreak now in its tenth month, the UN on Thursday announced measures to strengthen its response, with the Organization’s newly appointed Emergency Coordinator (EERC) declaring there is “no time to lose”. 

Amidst a surge in new cases, the epidemic has claimed more than 1,200 lives and threatens to spread to other provinces in the east, as well as neighbouring countries. A third of those infected have been children; a higher proportion than during previous outbreaks.  

 “The Ebola response is working in an operating environment of unprecedented complexity for a public health emergency”, said EERC David Gressly, adding that “insecurity and political protests have led to periodic disruptions in our efforts to fight the disease.”  Go here for the full story. 

Obstetric fistula continues to afflict women globally  

Sunge experienced complications during childbirth. She was able to access high-quality life-saving care at one of the newly renovated and equipped health facilities in Simiyu Region.

Marking the International Day to end Fistula on Thursday, the UN Population Fund (UNFPA) cited UN data in pointing out that although the injury has largely been eliminated in developed countries, more than two million women and girls still suffer from the painful and disfiguring condition. 

Hundreds of thousands of women and girls worldwide continue to “face devastating social stigma” of this almost entirely preventable condition, including “shame, isolation and segregation”, said UNFPA Executive Director Natalia Kanem said in a statement.   

According to the UN’s sexual and reproductive health agency, obstetric fistula is one of the most serious injuries that can occur during childbirth, leaving a hole between the birth canal and the bladder or rectum, caused by prolonged, obstructed labour, without treatment. Here’s our take on the day.

Respect the International Humanitarian Law obligations protecting civilians 

A boy at the Batbu camp in western rural Aleppo, Syria.  With worn-out tents, lack of warm winter clothes and blankets and no access to fuel or heaters, children and their families living in Batbu camp are unable to fend off the cold. November 2018.

The UN remains deeply alarmed by ongoing reports of airstrikes, artillery shelling and clashes in and around the de-escalation zone in northwestern Syria, it said on Thursday, noting that since late April, 100 people have died and repeated attacks on civilian infrastructure has increased the number of displaced. 

Over the past 48 hours alone, dozens of casualties and damage to civilian infrastructure has been reported in Idlib and Hama governorates, as well as in northern and northeastern Aleppo. Attacks are also reported in some government-controlled areas. 
Some 201,000 people are now reported to have been displaced due to violence between 1-16 May, bringing the total number of displaced people from northern Hama and southern Idlib since 1 April to 240,000. 

The UN continues to call on the parties to respect the obligations under International Humanitarian Law to protect civilians and civilian infrastructure, and to recommit fully to the ceasefire arrangements agreed between Russia and Turkey in September. 

Amnesty bill on table for rights violators in El Salvador, warns UN rights chief 

A 71-year-old Salvadorian refugee living in Mexico shows a picture of her daughter, who was murdered by a gang at the age of 27, before the family fled.

The UN human rights chief on Thursday warned that a draft justice and reconciliation bill making its way through the legislature in El Salvador could result in de facto amnesty for serious human rights violators.  

High Commissioner Michelle Bachelet said that if passed as it stands, the Transitional and Restorative Justice for National Reconciliation bill, “will unduly benefit” those who were “directly responsible for crimes against humanity and war crimes” during the country’s long civil war of the 1980s and 1990s.  

Crimes included “extrajudicial executions of children, women and the elderly, enforced disappearances, torture, sexual violence and other serious violations of international law,” the High Commissioner said.   

She said the bill would also result in “impunity for the masterminds and military leaders who ordered such crimes or failed to adopt measures to prevent or stop them."   

Listen to, or download our audio News In Brief for 23 May, on SoundCloud: