News in Brief 15 March 2016 (AM) – Geneva

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UN Special Rapporteur Yanghee Lee urged the new government to address human rights violations against Rohingya Muslims. Photo: UN Photo/ Daniel Johnson

Syria envoy "hopes Russia withdrawal" will help peace talks

Russia's surprise decision to reduce military operations in Syria could help the peace talks now entering their second day in Geneva, UN negotiator Staffan de Mistura has said.

Speaking on Tuesday, de Mistura's spokesperson, Ahmad Fawzi, said the move by Russian Federation President Vladmir Putin was "significant".

"The announcement by President Putin on the very day of the beginning of this round of Intra-Syrian Talks in Geneva is a significant development, which we hope will have a positive impact on the progress of the negotiations in Geneva aimed at achieving a political solution of the Syrian conflict and a peaceful political transition in the country.”

The development comes on the fifth anniversary of the beginning of the conflict and 18 days into a cessation of hostilities in Syria, which the UN says is fragile but holding, by and large.

At the UN Human Rights Council meanwhile, Syria investigator Paulo Pinhiero said that the talks gave hope of an end in sight for the first time.

But he warned that too many people are still dying from starvation and a lack of basic medical care.

To date the conflict has caused more than 250,000 deaths and caused 4.6 million people to flee the country.

Another six million are internally displaced.

Zimbabwe facing worst malnutrition rates in 15 years

Drought in Ethiopia and Zimbabwe that's linked to the El Nino weather phenomenon has created a rapidly deteriorating humanitarian crisis, UN agencies have warned.

Raising the alarm on Tuesday, UN aid workers said that both countries are in the grip of grave malnutrition and water shortages.

Here's UNICEF spokesperson Christophe Boulierac:

"Every time we talk about severe acute malnutrition we need to be concerned because the life of children are at risk. You know, this is a massive loss of body fat and muscle tissue and the children that are the most affected by severe acute malnutrition are aged between one and two years, so yes, we are concerned."

In Ethiopia there are already 450,000 severely malnourished children requiring urgent medical intervention, according to humanitarian coordinating agency OCHA.

And in Zimbabwe, UN Children's Fund UNICEF said that two seasons of failed rains have left nearly 33,000 youngsters needing immediate help, which is the worst situation it's seen in 15 years.

Myanmar's new government must address Rakhine abuse: UN

Myanmar's new government marks a new beginning for the country but now is not the time for complacency as more than one million Muslims face continuing discrimination, a top UN investigator said Tuesday.

Yanghee Lee, who's the UN appointed human rights Special Rapporteur on Myanmar, said that last November's elections which resulted in the end of military rule there reflected the wishes of the people.

But she said that its elected officials need to address human rights violations that are continuing against Muslims throughout the country, notably in Rakhine state, against the Rohingya community.

"The arrival of this new government is an opportunity to break the tragic status quo situation in Rakhine state. There are more than one million Rohinya Muslims in Mymar deprived of some of their most fundamental rights, this is a million too many."

For the Special Rapporteur a key priority is the lifting of restrictions on freedom of movement.

These restrictions have not only a knock-on effect on other rights, such as the right to health and the right to education, but also hamper interaction between Rakhine and Muslim communities, Yanghee Lee said.

Daniel Johnson, United Nations, Geneva

Duration: 3'18"


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