News in Brief 7 April 2017 – Geneva (AM)

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Boys head to school in the city of Maarat al-Numaan, Idlib Governorate. Photo: UNICEF/Giovanni Diffidenti

Suspected Syria chemical attack "may be a war crime"

The deadly suspected chemical weapons attack in Syria could amount to a war crime, but it is only one of many incidents where civilians have been killed in recent weeks.

That's the opinion of UN Human Rights Office, OHCHR, which on Friday called the tragedy in rural Idlib "absolutely horrific".

Here's OHCHR spokesperson Ravina Shamdasani speaking to journalists in Geneva:

"This absolutely horrific attack on Khan Shaykun has once again focused international attention on Syria and rightly so. The use of chemical weapons if confirmed would amount to a war crime. And we have several other instances as well over the past year where chemical attacks have allegedly been used by Syrian forces."

Ms Shamdasani said that her office has received fresh reports of hundreds of civilians dying in ongoing violence "in various parts of Syria", where government-backed forces, opposition militia and ISIL extremists have waged a six-year campaign.

The governorates of Idlib and Raqqa have faced the most intensive bombing to date, OHCHR says, with more than 230 civilians killed in March alone.

Eastern Ghouta outside Damascus has not been spared either, with reports of airstrikes in recent days that killed at least 42 people – including 11 women and six children.

In the aftermath of the suspected chemical attack on Khan Shaykun on Tuesday, UN Children's Agency UNICEF reported that medical staff have shown signs of exposure to the toxins employed.

At a press conference in Geneva the UN humanitarian coordinating agency OCHA added its voice to condemnation of the attack and urged a full investigation, echoing a call by UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres.

The probe is in the hands of the OPCW, the Organisation for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons, which has begun a fact-finding mission.

When ready, the OPCW's findings will be submitted in a report to the organisation's members and States Parties of the Chemical Weapons Convention.

It is not clear how the latest developments in Syria, which also include an airstrike on a Syrian airbase by the United States early on Friday morning, will impact on proposed UN-led Intra-Syrian talks in Geneva.

A statement from the Office of the Special Envoy for Syria, Staffan de Mistura, said that the Special Envoy was following the situation closely, "including consultations with relevant interlocutors".

South Sudan attack forces thousands from their homes

Disturbing reports have emerged from South Sudan of an attack on a town by security forces in which witnesses say that people were "arrested or slaughtered".

UNHCR, the UN Refugee Agency, said that 4,000 people fled the town of Pajok in Eastern Equatoria immediately after the assault and sought shelter in neighbouring Uganda.

Babar Baloch is a spokesperson for UNHCR:

"People fleeing the recent incident claimed that the town came under an indiscriminate attack by the South Sudan armed forces. Refugees report witnessing their loved ones shot dead at a close range, with many being slaughtered or arrested, including children. Families fled in different directions; the elderly and disabled who could not run were shot dead.

UNHCR says that violence linked to civil war in the world's newest country is ongoing in the districts of Magwi and Oboo, near Pajok in the south of the country.

The conflict has displaced 1.7 million people including the 192,000 who have arrived in Uganda so far this year.

To date the agency's US$ 780 million appeal for South Sudan is only 11 per cent funded.

Cash injection ends Kenya refugee food rations

More than a year of food rationing for refugees in Kenya has been halted after an injection of funding from donor countries.

The World Food Programme (WFP) said that it has restored full rations to all refugees, some 420,000 people, in the country's Dadaab and Kakuma camps.

The near US$ 40 million donation from seven countries – Canada, China, Germany, the United States, Japan, Sweden and the United Kingdom – guarantees full rations until July.

WFP has warned however that cash vouchers which form a significant portion of the assistance will only last until May.

Daniel Johnson, United Nations, Geneva

Duration: 4’00″

 

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