News in Brief 18 April 2017 (AM) – Geneva

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More than 400,000 refugees have fled Burundi, latest UN figures show. Photo: UNICEF/Y Nijimbere

Burundi rape chants "tip of iceberg across country"

Burundi youths who attend political rallies and call for the rape and killing of women could be just the "tip of the iceberg", the UN Human Rights Office, OHCHR, has warned.

Speaking in Geneva on Tuesday, OHCHR spokesperson Rupert Colville expressed alarm at what he called the "widespread pattern" of members of the Imbonerakure militia involved in hate speech.

"These grotesque rape chants by the young men of the Imbonerakure across several provinces across Burundi are deeply alarming, particularly because they confirm what we have been hearing from those who've fled Burundi about a campaign of fear and terror by this organized militia."

The issue came to prominence after a video recording of the Imbonerakure was published on social media.

It showed around 100 of them in the north-eastern province of Kirundo, repeatedly calling to make opponents pregnant so that they can give birth to more Imbonerakure.

Mr Colville said that this incident had been condemned by the ruling CNDD-FDD party, but it had not spoken out against much larger rallies elsewhere in Burundi.

These involved the same kind of hate speech and had been organized by government officials, according to the OHCHR spokesperson, who added that more than 400,000 people have now fled the country.

Syria bus attack "likely a war crime", says UN rights chief

The attack on a bus convoy that killed dozens of people being transported from two besieged towns in Syria is likely to be a war crime, the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights said on Tuesday.

In a statement condemning the incident, Zeid Ra'ad Al Hussein added that it was not yet clear exactly how the atrocity happened or who was responsible.

But footage seen by the UN Human Rights Office showed children gathering around a person giving out sweets just prior to the explosion on Saturday, he said.

Spokesperson for the UN rights chief, Rupert Colville, said that 67 children were among the dead from the pro-government towns of Foah and Kefraya.

"They'd been living under incessant shelling for more than two years with little food or medical supplies and under the constant fear of attack by armed groups. We've been able to confirm that some of the injured civilians remain missing; some are believed to have been taken by armed opposition groups to opposition-controlled hospitals in Idlib governorate, and obviously due to their perceived sympathies for the government of Syria their families are very concerned for their safety and so are we."

In Geneva, Christophe Boulierac from UN Children's Fund UNICEF also repeated the agency's condemnation of the attack on the residents from Foah and Kefraya.

He underlined how children continue to be attacked "on a daily basis" throughout Syria, where 2.8 million youngsters live in places that humanitarians struggle to reach and where 280,000 children are under siege.

Italy-bound migrants need more EU protection: UNHCR

European governments have been urged to step up efforts to rescue migrants on the Mediterranean Sea to match a renewed push by traffickers based in Libya.

UNHCR, the UN refugee agency, made the appeal on Tuesday following news that well over 8,000 migrants were rescued over the long Easter weekend, amid fine weather.

So far this year, the International Organization for Migration (IOM) says that 36,000 people have been picked up at sea, compared with 24,000 over the same period in 2016.

In one incident fishermen rescued over 100 migrants who had been adrift on the Mediterranean Sea after leaving the Libyan coast.

Here's IOM's Leonard Doyle:

"They'd been kind of floating around for at least eight hours, five had died, one died on arrival. The conditions in which smugglers leave the migrants are frankly appalling."

Mr Doyle said that an estimated 20,000 migrants are believed to be held in illegal detention centres controlled by smugglers in Libya.

They make their money by holding the mainly African nationals ransom and then towing them out to sea in unsuitable vessels, he added.

So far this year, 900 migrants have died at sea and 90 per cent of those fatalities were on the so-called Eastern European route from Libya to Italy.

Daniel Johnson, United Nations, Geneva

Duration: 3'50"

 

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