News in Brief Tuesday 7 November – Geneva (AM)

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A mother and her child in war-torn Yemen, where people are also coping with the fastest growing cholera epidemic ever recorded. Photo: OCHA

Yemen blockade puts millions at risk, warn UN agencies

A blockade on basic supplies to Yemen threatens millions of people and should be lifted immediately, the UN said on Tuesday.

The call follows a decision on Saturday by the Saudi-led coalition which is fighting Houthi separatists in the country to close air and sea ports in Yemen.

The three-year conflict has claimed the lives of well over 5,000 civilians and contributed to one of the world's biggest humanitarian disasters.

Yemen imports up to 90 per cent of its daily needs and seven million people are being kept alive by humanitarian aid.

Jens Laerke is a spokesperson for the UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA):

"Humanitarian operations are being blocked as a result of the closure ordered by the Saudi-led coalition… We have received reports that in some areas this blockade has started impacting the daily life of Yemenis, with fuel prices jumping up to 60 per cent overnight and cooking gas jumping up to 100 per cent. Long lines of cars are queuing at gas stations."

Mr Laerke said that the coalition had asked UN personnel to tell all ships arriving at the sea ports of Hodeida and Saleef "to leave", while aid deliveries via air have also been restricted.

Alarm at spate of attacks on civilian in Yemen

Staying with Yemen, the UN Human Rights Office OHCHR has expressed alarm at a series of attacks on civilians in recent days that have killed dozens of people, including several children.

On 1 November, OHCHR said two airstrikes by the Saudi-led coalition hit a market in Saada governorate, killing 31 traders and guests at a hotel.

The following day in Taizz, a Houthi shelling left five children dead, according to spokesperson Rupert Colville.

He added that survivors said the children were playing in the street when a rocket from a Houthi-controlled area fell on them.

Mr Colville said that UN human rights chief Zeid Ra'ad Al Hussein will soon be appointing an expert panel mandated by the Human Rights Council to investigate alleged violations and abuses of international human rights and international law committed by all parties to the conflict.

If possible, the Group of Eminent Experts will identify those responsible.

Autopsies planned for migrant women found dead in Mediterranean Sea

An investigation has been opened into the unexplained deaths of 26 women and girl migrants who were recovered from two boats in the Mediterranean Sea.

The UN migration agency IOM, which reported the development on Tuesday, said that the female victims were from Nigeria.

They were among more than 80 people who have died in the last week trying to cross to Europe from North Africa.

It is very likely that the victims were being trafficked for sexual exploitation, IOM said in a statement.

The inquiry – which will involve autopsies of the victims – is being led by Italian authorities in Salerno "to clarify the circumstances" of the deaths, IOM spokesperson Joel Millman said.

"It has happened, I mean I remember when I joined IOM in the summer of 2014 I remember that summer there were knife and gunshot wounds that indicated people had refused to get on boats. We later learned from witnesses that they had been murdered by traffickers, so I wouldn't say it's unprecedented. In this case, to have them all be one gender, and one nationality on one dinghy, that suggests something happened that might be a little more serious."

So far this year, more than 154,000 migrants and refugees have entered Europe by sea.

More than 2,900 people died making the journey.

Most of those who make it are from West Africa, but IOM also registered an 89-year-old Syrian man, rescued by a German ship, and a Nigerian girl who gave birth on board a Spanish Navy vessel after she was saved.

Online game invented to bring Geneva Conventions into 21st century

And finally, an online game has been created to bring the Geneva Conventions – which outline the international rules of war – to a younger audience, amid evidence that attacks on civilians may be becoming "acceptable".

The digital innovation, called Don't Be Numb, is the brainchild of the Red Cross.

In a statement on Tuesday it said the game was necessary after a survey revealed "deeply concerning views on torture and civilian casualties".

Only half of those surveyed from the five permanent members of the United Nations Security Council – China, France, Russia, United Kingdom and United States – and Switzerland believed it was wrong to attack the enemy in populated areas, knowing that many civilians would be killed.

The game features a quiz and information on the laws of war, with questions about basic principles of humanity that underline all four Geneva Conventions.

They were established in 1949 to protect people from the atrocities of war and have been ratified by all 196 States, making them universally binding.

Daniel Johnson, United Nations, Geneva

Duration: 4’57″

 

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