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Deep concerns over ‘inhuman’ detention of Gazans by Israeli authorities

In a new report on the situation in Gaza for May 2024, the authors cited testimonies “from medics and whistleblowers” that injured detainees have been held at a field hospital with “shackled hands and feet and blindfolded 24/7 to their beds”.

Hostage fears

In addition, as of 19 May, 128 of the 253 people captured during Hamas-led terror attacks in southern Israel on 7 October still remain in Gaza, the report’s authors said, underscoring that the taking of hostages is a “grave breach of the Geneva Conventions and a war crime”. More than 35 of the hostages have been declared dead and those still alive likely face “the direst of conditions”, with accounts from those released indicating “multiple reports of sexual abuse in captivity”. 

Desert camp

Returning to the Palestinian detainees, testimonies indicated that prisoners are “fed through a straw, with several cases of detainees having their limbs amputated due to prolonged shackling”, according to the update from the Global Protection Cluster, which brings together UN agencies and other international and non-governmental organizations.

It echoes earlier concerns about alleged mistreatment of detainees from the UN human rights office, OHCHR and independent rights experts. The Israeli army has previously denied these claims.

At least 27 detainees from Gaza likely died while in custody at an Israeli military base including at Sde Teiman in Israel’s Negev desert, it is believed, while “at least four” others from the enclave died in Israel Prison Service (IPS) facilities either because of alleged beatings or a lack of medical assistance.


Blindfolded and handcuffed

“Whether detained at IPS or army facilities, detainees are reported to face extremely harsh conditions of detention, including overcrowding and some detained in cage-like facilities, being constantly blindfolded and handcuffed, lack of access to toilet, exposure to the elements, provision of food and water in quantities barely sufficient to survive.”

Women and children are among those held during “mass detentions” carried out by the Israeli Defence Force, the report maintained, adding that many families “have no information about their loved ones”, while Israel “fails or refuses to provide information on the whereabouts or fate of many of those detained…Boys 14+ are usually detained with adult men. Younger children are detained with women and elderly family members, usually for a shorter time.”

Mass arrests

The Israeli army recently claimed to have detained 2,300 Palestinians from Gaza during ground operations in Gaza, the report’s authors said, adding that the true number was likely much higher. 

At the end of April, some 865 detainees were held as “unlawful combatants”, a category unknown under international law. “Numerous” further disturbing testimonies indicate that detainees are subjected to “forced nudity, sexual harassment, threats of rape, as well as torture through severe beatings, dog attacks, strip searches, waterboarding, and denial of food, sleep, and bathroom access, among other cruel practices”. 

According to accounts from released detainees and medics with access to those being held, the aim of this treatment is to elicit forced confessions and screen for alleged members of Palestinian armed groups.

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Myanmar: UN rights office warns of growing crisis in Rakhine state

Fierce battles have intensified between the Myanmar military and the Arakan Army, an ethnic armed group, displacing tens of thousands of people in Buthidaung and Maungdaw townships in recent days.

An estimated 45,000 Rohingya have reportedly fled to an area on the Naf River near the border with Bangladesh, seeking protection. Over one million Rohingya are already in the country, having fled past purges.

Serious allegations 

The UN human rights office, OHCHR, has received “frightening and disturbing reports” of the impacts of the conflict, said Spokesperson Liz Throssell.

“Some of the most serious allegations concern incidents of killing of Rohingya civilians and the burning of their property,” she told journalists in Geneva.

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OHCHR said Buthidaung has been largely burned, citing testimonies, satellite images and online videos.

Information received indicates that the burning began on 17 May after the military had retreated from the town and the Arakan Army claimed to have taken full control.

Civilians flee Buthidaung 

“One survivor described seeing dozens of dead bodies as he fled the town,” said James Rodehaver, OHCHR Myanmar Team Leader, speaking from Bangkok .

“Another survivor said that he was among a group of displaced persons, numbering in the tens of thousands, who attempted to move outside of the town to safety along the western road towards Maungdaw. But they were blocked by the Arakan Army from going in that direction.” 

Survivors reported that the Arakan Army had abused them and extorted money from them as they moved towards other nearby Rohingya villages, where Rohingya already displaced by earlier attacks had previously sought shelter. 

For weeks, Rohingya in these areas have described sheltering with families they do not know and not having enough to eat.

Shootings, beheadings, disappearances 

OHCHR documented renewed attacks on the Rohingya by both the Arakan Army and Myanmar military, the Tatmadaw, in the weeks leading up to the burning of Buthidaung. 

“Of course, many of these were as a result of airstrikes perpetrated by the military as well as other attacks perpetrated by unmanned aerial vehicles, or drones,” Mr. Rodehaver said.

“We’ve also received reports of shooting at unarmed fleeing villagers. We have confirmed at least four cases of beheadings and multiple enforced disappearances of individuals, as well as several villages and homes that have been burned.” 

Risk of expansion 

OHCHR sees “clear and present risks of a serious expansion of violence as the battle for neighbouring Maungdaw town has begun”, Ms. Throssell said. 

The Myanmar military maintains outposts in the town and a large Rohingya community lives there, including hundreds of displaced Rohingya who moved from villages seeking safety. 

End the violence 

She said the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights, Volker Türk, has called for an immediate end to the violence, and for all civilians to be protected without any distinction based on identity.

“Prompt and unhindered humanitarian relief must be allowed to flow, and all parties must comply fully and unconditionally with international law – including measures already ordered by the International Court of Justice (ICJ), for the protection of Rohingya,” she added.

International action needed 

Separately, the UN Special Rapporteur on the human rights situation in Myanmar warned that “thousands of innocent lives will be lost if the international community fails to respond to ominous signs of another Rohingya bloodbath in Rakhine state.”

In a statement issued on Thursday, Tom Andrews said “once again, the world seems to be failing a desperate people in their hour of peril while a hate-driven unnatural disaster unfolds in real time in Myanmar’s Rakhine State.” 

The information that has emerged “more than warrants” an immediate response from the international community, he added.

Mr. Andrews urged all sides to adhere to international humanitarian law and take all steps to protect civilians, regardless of their religion or ethnicity.  

A Rohingya refugee from Myanmar receives support from the UN in Bhasan Char in Bangladesh.
© WFP/Saikat Mojumder

A Rohingya refugee from Myanmar receives support from the UN in Bhasan Char in Bangladesh.

Support Bangladesh 

Recalling that Bangladesh had opened its borders to the Rohingya after a crackdown in 2017, thus saving untold numbers of lives, he noted that once again, this generosity might be their only hope in the face of forced displacement. 

He warned, however, that Bangladesh lacks the capacity to meet the demands of this crisis without the emergency intervention and support of the international community. 

“Rations cuts, inadequate infrastructure, spiraling violence, and reported forced recruitment by Rohingya militant groups have threatened the lives and wellbeing of Rohingya refugees in Bangladesh,” he said.

He appealed for “an emergency infusion of funds” to both support desperate families fleeing conflict and to address the current conditions in Rohingya refugee camps.

About UN Special Rapporteurs 

Special Rapporteurs are appointed by the UN Human Rights Council, which is located in Geneva. 

These experts monitor and report on specific country situations or thematic issues worldwide. They are not UN staff and are not paid for their work. 

UN establishes International Day of reflection for Srebrenica genocide

Adopting a resolution with the same title, the Assembly also asked the Secretary-General to establish an outreach programme on the Srebrenica genocide in preparation for the 30th anniversary next year.

It further condemned any denial of the Srebrenica genocide as a historical event and called on Member States to preserve the established facts, including through their educational systems, towards preventing denial and distortion, and any occurrence of genocide in the future.

The text, sponsored by Germany and Rwanda, was adopted by a recorded vote of 84 nations in favour, 19 against and 68 abstentions.

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The massacre in Srebrenica

The massacre in Srebrenica marked one of the darkest chapters of the war that erupted after the breakup of former Yugoslavia.

In July 1995, the Bosnian Serb army overran Srebrenica, which was previously declared a safe area by the Security Council, and brutally murdered thousands of men and teenagers there, and expelled 20,000 people from the town.

A small and lightly armed unit of Dutch peacekeepers under the UN flag were unable to resist the Bosnian Serb force.

The brutal killings of Bosnian Muslims in Srebrenica by the army of Republika Srpska was recognized as an act of genocide by the International Court of Justice (ICJ) as well as the International Criminal Tribunal for the former Yugoslavia (ICTY).

Firmly against denial

Volker Türk, UN High Commissioner for Human Rights, welcomed the resolution as “further recognition” of the victims and survivors, and their pursuit of justice, truth and guarantees of non-recurrence.  

“The resolution is all the more important given the persistent revisionism, denial of the Srebrenica genocide and hate speech by high-level political leaders in Bosnia and Herzegovina, as well as in neighbouring countries,” he said in a statement.

He also underscored the responsibility of political leaders in the region to engage in constructive dialogue to build peaceful societies “where people can live safely and freely, without discrimination or fear of conflict and violence”.

Germany: To honour victims

Ambassador Antje Leendertse of Germany introducing the draft resolution at the General Assembly.
UN Photo/Evan Schneider

Introducing the draft resolution, Antje Leendertse, Ambassador and Permanent Representative of Germany to the UN, said that the initiative was about honouring the victims and supporting survivors, “who continue to live with scars of that fateful time”.

The text is modelled on the General Assembly resolution that designated 7 April as the International Day of Reflection on the 1994 Genocide against the Tutsi in Rwanda.

“It also underscores the role of international courts in fighting impunity and ensuring accountability for genocide, and contains language against genocide denial and glorification of perpetrators,” she added.

She also spoke against “false allegations”, stating that the resolution “is not directed against anybody”.

“Not against Serbia, a valued member of this Organization. If at all, it is directed against perpetrators of the genocide,” Ambassador Leendertse added.

“I therefore invite everybody to judge the text on its merits and to support our call to commemorate and reflect on what happened in Srebrenica almost thirty years ago.”

Serbia: A Pandora’s box

President Aleksandar Vučić of Serbia addressing the General Assembly on the draft resolution.
UN Photo/Evan Schneider

Serbian President Aleksandar Vučić labelled the text “highly politicized” saying it would “open a Pandora’s box”.

The draft resolution “was hidden” by its authors, he said, adding that it lacked an inclusive process compared with “the resolution for Rwanda”, which was prepared in a “very transparent way”.

He recalled discussions over the issue at the Security Council in March.

“When we wanted to discuss the bombing of Serbia in 1999, they said to us ‘don’t look at the past, look at the future – it happened 25 years ago’. Two days after that, we found out that they were preparing this kind of resolution relating to events even four years prior to [1999],” he said.

“When they have some needs – political needs, they can go deep into the past. When someone else is referring to the past, in that case the facts – they don’t matter.”

With verdicts and convictions already delivered through the judicial process, the resolution would now only deepen divisions and lead to instability, President Vučić added.

“This is not about reconciliation, not about memories, this is something that will just open an old wound and create complete political havoc. Not only in our region, but even here, in this hall”, he argued.

World News in Brief: Myanmar violence intensifies, praise for Brazil refugee response, Baháí detainees in Yemen

“Our team on the ground is deeply alarmed by the latest reports of further escalating violence and destruction taking place in Buthidaung and Maungdaw townships,” said UN Spokesperson Stéphane Dujarric, briefing reporters at UN Headquarters on Monday.

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Renewed violence and the destruction of property in Buthidaung has resulted in the displacement of potentially tens of thousands of civilians, mostly Rohingya. The Myanmar military has stoked tensions between Rohingya and ethnic Rakhine, said UN rights chief Volker Türk in a statement on Sunday.

“This is a critical period when the risk of yet further atrocity crimes is particularly acute,” he said, calling for rebels from the Arakan Army and Government forces to pause the fighting.

Food running out

In Rakhine’s capital, Sittwe, there are reports of food and cash shortages, soaring market prices, water scarcity and the spread of waterborne diseases. Humanitarian assistance and essential services have been heavily interrupted, said Mr. Dujarric.

“We call on all military and political leaders as well as community influencers to do their part to de-escalate and defuse attempts to reignite intercommunal tensions, particularly between ethnic Rakhine and Rohingya, and to avoid the repetition of past human rights atrocities that we have seen in Rakhine State,” said Mr. Dujarric.

Mr. Türk called on Bangladesh “to once again extend protection to vulnerable people seeking safety and for the international community to provide all necessary support.”

That call was echoed by head of the UN refugee agency, UNHCR, Filippo Grandi who said conflict and violence stemming from the brutal military crackdown by the ruling junta was “dramatically worsening”.

“I appeal to all parties to ensure the safety of civilians and humanitarians,” he said on X.

Brazil’s refugee response wins praise from senior UNHCR official

Brazil’s unified and inclusive refugee response, which focuses on protection and finding solutions for refugees, won praise from Assistant High Commissioner for Operations at UNHCR Raouf Mazou in a statement on Monday.

During a week-long visit to the country, he said “Brazil’s commitment to inclusive refugee policies shows that documentation, asylum and other forms of protection, combined with access to jobs, livelihoods, education and health, are the best way to arrive at solutions.”

The Assistant Commissioner’s trip included visits to “innovative projects” in São Paulo and Manaus that focus on employing refugees and assisting them in integrating into local communities. 

In Brasilia, the capital city, he met national authorities to open the second Cartagena+40 Process consultation – a process to mark the 40th anniversary of the 1984 Cartagena Declaration on Refugees – emphasising inclusion and integration.

Deluge in Rio Grande do Sul

Mr. Mazou’s visit occurred while the south of Brazil experienced heavy rains and floods leaving more than two million people affected, based on official data, including more than 100 fatalities.

The flooding has devastated areas in the state of Rio Grande do Sul, leaving some 43,000 refugees in need of international protection. 

UNHCR is working with authorities to deliver “relief items, technical assistance on shelter management and provision of reliable information to refugees and migrants”.

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Yemen: Rights experts call for release of Baháí detainees

Top rights experts called on Monday for the urgent release of five people belonging to the Baháí faith one year after their abduction by de facto authorities in Yemen. 

The five detainees “continue to be at serious risk of torture”, said the independent rights experts, who include Nazila Ghanea, Special Rapporteur on freedom of religion.

In a statement alleging the “targeted persecution of religious minorities in Yemen”, the rights experts said the Ansar Allah movement – also known as the Houthis – were responsible.

History of hate speech

Other Baháí believers who have been released have faced severe pressure to recant their religious beliefs, the rights experts maintained, before warning that hate speech against minorities, including by the Houthi Grand Mufti of Sana’a, had made matters worse.

Special Rapporteurs are part of the Special Procedures of the Human Rights Council. They do not receive a salary for their work and serve in their individual capacity.

India’s LGBTQIA+ community notches legal wins but still faces societal hurdles to acceptance, equal rights

UNAIDS, the main advocate for coordinated global action on the HIV/AIDS pandemic, and the UN Development Progarmme (UNDP) offices in India have been important partners in this effort. 

On this International Day Against Homophobia, Biphobia and Transphobia (IDAHOBIT), celebrated annually on 17 May, we reflect on the journey of some members of this community in India and shed light on the challenges they are still faced with.

‘All hell broke loose’

Noyonika* and Ishita*, residents of a small town in the northeastern Indian state of Assam, are a lesbian couple working with an organization advocating for LGBTQIA+ rights.

But despite her advocacy role in the community, Noyonika has been unable to muster the courage to tell her own family that she is gay. “Very few people know this,” she says. “My family is very conservative, and it would be unthinkable for [them] to understand that I am gay.”

Noyonika’s partner, Ishita, is Agender (not identifying with any gender, or having a lack of gender). She says that she realized in childhood that she was different from other girls and was attracted to girls rather than boys. But her family is also very conservative, and she has not told her father about her reality.

Twenty-three-year-old Minal* and 27-year-old Sangeeta* have a similar story. The couple are residents of a small village in the northwestern state of Punjab. They now live in a big city and work for a well-regarded company.

Sangeeta said that although her own parents eventually came to terms with the relationship, Minal’s family was extremely opposed to the point of harassing the couple. “All hell broke loose,” said Minal.

“In 2019, we got permission to live together through a court order,” Sangeeta explained, but after this Minal’s family started threatening her over the phone.

“They used to say that they would kill me and put my family in jail. Even my family members were scared of these threats. After that [Minal’s family] kept stalking and harassing us for two to three years,” she said.

Today, Sangeeta and Minal are still struggling to have their relationship legally recognized.

*Names have been changed to protect identities.

A trans* activist from Odisha, Sadhana’s commitmentextends beyond administrative circles to actively engage withthe transgender community.
UN News

Struggles for acceptance

Heart-rending stories like these can be found across India, where societal prejudices and harassment continue to plague lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, queer and intersex communities.

Sadhna Mishra, a transgender activist from Odisha, runs a community organization called Sakha. As a child, she faced oppression because she was seen as not conforming to societal gender norms. In 2015, she underwent gender confirming surgery and her journey towards her authentic self began.

Recalling the painful days of her childhood, she said, “Because of my femininity, I became a victim of rape again and again. Whenever I used to cry, my mother would ask why, and I would not be able to say anything. I used to ask why people called me Chhakka and Kinnar [transgender or intersex]. My mother would smile and say that’s because you are different and unique.”

It is because of her mother’s faith in her that Sadhna is now active in fighting for the rights of other transgender persons.

Still, she remembers well the hurdles she has faced, like the early days of trying to get launch her organization and the difficulties she had even finding a place for Sakha’s office. People were reluctant to rent space to a transgender person, so Sadhna was forced to work in public places and parks.

Social prejudices

A lack of understanding and intolerance towards the LGBTQIA+ community are similar, whether in larger cities or in rural areas.

Noyonika says that her organization sees many instances where a man is married to a woman because of societal pressure, without understanding his gender identity. “In villages and towns, you will find many married couples who have children and are forced to live a fake life.”

As for the rural areas of Assam where her organization works, Ishita gave the example of a cultural festival Bhavna being celebrated in Naamghars, or places of worship, where dramas based on mythological stories are presented. 

The female characters in these dramas are played mostly by men with feminine characteristics. During festivals they are widely praised, and their feminine characteristics are applauded, but out of the spotlight, they can become victims of harassment.

“They are intimidated, they are sexually exploited, they are molested,” Ishita explained.

A slow path to progress

In recent years, there have been positive legal and policy decisions acknowledging the LGBTQIA+ community in India. This includes the 2014 NALSA (National Legal Service Authority) decision, in which the court upheld everyone’s right to identify their own gender and legally recognized hijras and kinnar (transgender persons) as a ‘third gender’. 

In 2018, the application of portions of Section 377 of the Indian Penal Code to criminalize private consensual sex between men was ruled unconstitutional by India’s Supreme Court. Further, in 2021, a landmark judgment by the Madras High Court directed the state to provide comprehensive welfare services to the LGBTQIA+ communities.

Over the past 40-plus years, the rainbow Pride flag has become a symbol synonymous with the LGBTQ+ community and its fight for equal rights and acceptance across the globe.
Unsplash/Tim Bieler

United Nations advocacy

Communication is an important way to foster dialogue and help create a more tolerant and inclusive society, and gradually, perhaps even change mindsets.

To this end, UN Women, in collaboration with India’s Ministry of Women and Child Development, has recently contributed to the development of a gender-inclusive communication guide.

Meanwhile, the UNAIDS and UNDP offices in India are working to assist the LGBTQIA+ community by running awareness and empowerment campaigns, as well as provide those communities with better health and social protection services.

“UNAIDS supports LGBTQ+ people’s leadership in the HIV response and in advocacy for human rights, and is working to tackle discrimination, and to help build inclusive societies where everyone is protected and respected,” said David Bridger, UNAIDS Country Director for India.

He added: “The HIV response has clearly taught all of us that in order to protect everyone’s health, we have to protect everyone’s rights.”

In line with the UN’s 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development and the Organization’s broad commitment to ‘leave no one behind’, UNDP, is working with governments and partners to strengthen laws, policies and programmes that address inequalities and seek to ensure respect for the human rights of LGBTQIA+ people. 

Through the “Being LGBTI in the Asia and the Pacific” programme, UNDP has also implemented relevant regional initiatives.

Opportunities and challenges

UNDP India’s National Programme Manager (Health Systems Strengthening Unit), Dr. Chiranjeev Bhattacharjya said, “At UNDP India, we have been working very closely with the LGBTQI community to advance their rights.” 

Indeed, he continued, there are currently multiple opportunities to support the community due to progressive legal landmarks like the NALSA judgement, decriminalization of same sex relationships (377 IPC) and the Transgender Persons (Protection of Rights) Act of 2019 which has raised awareness regarding their development. 

“However, there are implementation challenges which will need multi-stakeholder collaboration and we will continue to work with the community to address them so that we leave no one behind,” he stated.

Even as the Indian legal landscape has inched towards broader inclusion with the repeal of Section 377, the country’s LGBTQIA+ communities are still awaiting recognition – and justice – when dealing with many areas of their everyday lives and interactions, for example: who can be designated ‘next of kin’ if one partner is hospitalized; can a partner be added to a life insurance policy; or whether legal recognition could be given to gay marriage. 

UN rights office urges Sri Lanka to reveal fate of the disappeared

The call accompanies the launch of a key report by OHCHR, highlighting also the need for the Government to acknowledge the involvement of State security forces and to issue a public apology.

From the 1970s to 2009, Sri Lanka witnessed widespread enforced disappearances, predominantly carried out by the national army and associated paramilitary groups.  

The Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE) also participated in abductions, which, according to the UN Working Group on Enforced or Involuntary Disappearances, tantamount to enforced disappearances.

OHCHR noted that despite some formal measures by successive governments, such as ratifying the International Convention for the Protection of All Persons from Enforced Disappearance and establishing the Office on Missing Persons and the Office for Reparations, “tangible progress on the ground towards comprehensively resolving individual cases has remained limited.”

Ongoing suffering

UN High Commissioner for Human Rights Volker Türk emphasized the ongoing suffering of families waiting for information about their loved ones.

“This report is yet another reminder that all Sri Lankans who have been subjected to enforced disappearance must never be forgotten … their families and those who care about them have been waiting for so long. They are entitled to know the truth.”x

Nearly 15 years after the end of the civil war, and decades since the first disappearances, Sri Lankan authorities continue to fail in ensuring accountability for these violations.

“Accountability must be addressed. We need to see institutional reform for reconciliation to have a chance to succeed,” said Mr. Türk.

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Harassed and intimidated

The report outlined the extensive psychological, social and economic impact on the families, particularly on women who often become the primary breadwinners in challenging labour environments, including risks of sexual harassment and exploitation.

Many women seeking information about their disappeared loved ones have faced harassment, intimidation and violence from security forces.

One woman recounted threats from the army and police, highlighting the dangers faced by those advocating for the disappeared.

Families still waiting

Under international law, the State has a clear obligation to resolve cases of enforced disappearances, which remain ongoing violations until clarified, according to OHCHR.

However, many families still lack answers. A man testified before a national commission about his disappeared son, saying:

“Two weeks passed, then two months, then two years. Now it has been 32 years, and I am still waiting.”

Rights expert condemns death of Palestinian doctor in Israeli custody, urges independent inquiry

Dr. Adnan Al Bursh, 50, the head of the orthopaedic department at Al-Shifa Hospital in Gaza City, died on April 19, 2024, in Ofer prison, a detention facility in the West Bank. His body has not yet been released by Israeli authorities.

Before his death, he had reportedly been beaten in prison, with his body showing signs of torture.

Dr. Al Bursh had been detained with other doctors and medical personnel by Israeli forces on 18 December 2023, at Al Awda Hospital in North Gaza. At that time, he was generally in good health and was performing his duties normally.

Call for independent probe

Tlaleng Mofokeng, UN Special Rapporteur on the right to health, said she was “horrified” by the news.

“He was detained while undertaking his duty to patients and caring for them according to the oath he took as a medical practitioner … he died for trying to protect the rights to life and health of his patients,” she said.

The expert underscored the need for an independent probe.

“Dr. Adnan’s case raises serious concerns that he died following torture at the hands of Israeli authorities. His death demands an independent international investigation,” the Special Rapporteur said.

Concerns of safety of healthworkers

Ms. Mofokeng also raised concerns over the safety of healthcare workers amidst Israel’s relentless military operation in Gaza following the brutal attacks by Hamas and other groups in southern Israel on 7 October.

“I am deeply saddened that I continue to receive reports of doctors being killed in this conflict,” she said.

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The Ministry of Health in Gaza has reported that at least 493 healthcare workers from Gaza have been killed since 7 October 2023. This includes nurses, paramedics, doctors, and other medical personnel. Many more have been injured.

The UN World Health Organization (WHO) has reported that at least 214 healthcare workers have been detained by Israeli forces while on duty.

Doctors should not be killed

“The killing and detention of healthcare workers is not a legitimate method of warfare. They have a legitimate and essential role to care for sick and wounded persons during times of conflict,” Ms. Mofokeng said.

“Healthcare workers should not be killed practicing their profession.”

The Special Rapporteur urged Israel to immediately release all healthcare workers arbitrarily detained in Israel and the occupied Palestinian territory, and reiterated her call for an immediate ceasefire.

Independent expert

Appointed by the Human Rights Council – the UN’s highest intergovernmental forum on human rights – and forming a part of its Special Procedures, Special Rapporteurs are mandated to monitor and assess the rights situation in certain thematic or country situations.

They work voluntarily – independent of governments and the UN, are not UN staff and do not receive a salary.

UN rights chief, independent experts denounce Georgia’s new ‘foreign agents’ law

The Law on Transparency of Foreign Influence requires media, non-governmental organizations (NGOs) and other nonprofits to register as “pursuing the interests of a foreign power” if they receive more than 20 per cent of their funding from abroad. It was adopted on Tuesday.

The adoption has sparked protests in the capital, Tbilisi, and has been denounced by Georgia’s opposition as an effort to crackdown on independent media, civil society, rights activists and government critics

Chilling effect

Volker Türk, UN High Commissioner for Human Rights, said that in adopting the law, authorities and lawmakers “chose to disregard” the warnings raised by rights defenders and civil society.

“The impacts on the rights to freedom of expression and association in Georgia unfortunately now risk being significant,” he warned.

The registration requirement could also have a chilling effect on those working for civic freedoms and significantly curtailing their activities, Mr. Türk added.

“Stifling diverse voices on matters of serious public interest will only complicate the Government’s ability to respond effectively to the many challenges facing the country with sound legislative and policy measures,” he said.

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Assurances broken

Meanwhile, independent rights experts also denounced the law’s adoption, which they said happened despite assurances following the withdrawal of another identical bill last year.

That bill was withdrawn in March 2023, following large scale protests, and in November, senior government officials and parliamentarians assured the UN Special Rapporteur on the situation of human rights defenders that the draft would not be reintroduced.

We are shocked that even in light of clear opposition by a significant segment of Georgia’s people, the law was expedited through Parliament with media and civil society representatives denied access to the proceedings,” the UN Human Rights Council-appointed experts said.

They also voiced serious concern at the speed of deliberations in Parliament, “which appear to have taken place without inclusive, transparent and genuine consultations with civil society, society at large and opposition parties.”

Rights activists not enemies of the state

Mr. Türk called for the law to be shelved, and for the authorities to engage in dialogue with media, civil society organizations and human rights defenders.

The independent experts further warned that if signed into law by the President, it would put Georgia in contravention of its human rights obligations, notably on freedom of association.

“For Georgia, this is a step in the wrong direction,” the experts said.

“Human rights defenders, young people and peaceful protestors are not enemies of the state,” they stressed.

Independent rights experts

The experts making the call included the Special Rapporteurs on human rights defenders, on freedom of peaceful assembly and on freedom of opinion and expression; as well as the Independent Expert on human rights and international solidarity.

Appointed by the Human Rights Council – the UN’s highest intergovernmental forum on human rights – and forming a part of its Special Procedures, special rapporteurs and independent experts are mandated to monitor and assess the rights situation in certain thematic or country situations.

They work voluntarily, are not UN staff and do not receive a salary.

Dealing with ‘unknowns’ flying in high-conflict Haiti

Haiti’s capital, Port-au-Prince, is gripped by insecurity due to gang violence and now UNHAS, which is managed by the UN’s World Food Programme (WFP) is the only option for humanitarian workers to travel safely in and out of the city and for critical equipment and relief aid to be transported and distributed within the country.

Robine JNBaptise, who works for UNHAS, and Christine Blais, who is employed by Construction Helicopters, the aviation company operating the aircraft, spoke to UN News about their experiences of working in a high-conflict zone.

Robine JNBaptise: We have two aircraft here in Haiti – a helicopter that holds about 19 people or can carry two tonnes or cargo and a fixed-wing jet 45 that carries nine people. I am an aviation and booking assistant, so am responsible for getting people on and off the aircraft. I also assist with administration and securing operating permits.

Christine Blais: I have served as a flight mechanic and crew chief flying missions around Haiti. On any given day, we would fly between two to six hours. Our aircraft are now based in Cap Haitien, but we have flown out of Turks and Caicos as well as the Dominican Republic.

Robine JNBaptise: It’s a stressful job, but luckily for me, I perform very well under pressure. On some days, we help up to 100 people, mainly [non-governmental organisation] NGO workers, but also UN staff. We are moving people to a safer part of the country, but also bringing essential staff back to Port-au-Prince. We have relocated some 200 people to destinations outside Haiti, so at the end of the day, it’s a rewarding job.

Christine Blais: When we land in Port-au-Prince, we keep the time on the ground to a minimum in order to mitigate the risks. We can land, load and take off within two to five minutes, which is very fast. We have a very good ground crew who keep us safe. In a high-conflict zone, we have to remain flexible at all times whilst responding to the needs of the UN.

A helicopter flies over an urban location in Haiti.
© WFP/Theresa Piorr

A helicopter flies over an urban location in Haiti.

Robine JNBaptise: One of the big challenges we face is overflying Port-au-Prince, where gangs are fighting each other or with the police. There is always the danger that one of our aircraft gets hit by a stray bullet, although I don’t think that our aircraft are being intentionally targeted.

Christine Blais: Colleagues of mine were at the international airport when there was a security breach. It was definitely a dangerous and scary moment for them as shots were being fired as they were working on an aircraft. A commercial plane, which was on the ground at the time, was hit.

Robine JNBaptise: The international airport closed for some weeks, so we established a landing zone elsewhere. One big concern is that gangs could move into this area and take over the landing zone which would stop our operations.

This can be a scary job, but we are now used to the dangers and stress, although we make sure not to take risks. I have to keep in mind that anything can happen to me or the aircraft.

Christine Blais: In high-conflict zones, there are always unknowns, and we have to be aware of the threats at all times. I rely a lot on our team and understand that if something were to happen, you just have to deal with it as it comes.

A passenger arrives on an UNHAS helicopter.
© WFP/Theresa Piorr

A passenger arrives on an UNHAS helicopter.

Robine JNBaptise: The service we are providing is really lifesaving, so if our landing zones were shut down, it would be disastrous. At UNHAS, we always need to remind people that we are a humanitarian service and that we take no sides. Our role is to transport humanitarian workers and relief aid in order to help people in crisis.

I have never thought of leaving the country. If I leave, then who is there to stay? As a Haitian and a humanitarian worker, I want to be here and help to get the country back to where it once was.

At some point, the situation is going to improve because when we reach rock bottom, there’s nowhere else to go except up. This is my home, and I want to be part of a brighter future for Haiti.

World News in Brief: Children in eastern DR Congo, Iran death sentence, support for Haiti

Concluding a five-day visit to the region, UNICEF Deputy Director Ted Chaiban noted that fighting has reached new heights and created the worst humanitarian crisis there since 2003.

He highlighted growing concerns for safeguarding children’s rights and protection of civilians as the situation worsens.

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Grave violations mount

“Children are being killed, maimed, abducted, and recruited by armed groups with verified grave violations the highest-ever; their rights to education and a safe childhood have been shattered,” he said.

UNICEF warned that the all-time high of 7.2 million internally displaced persons in eastern DRC could further spiral as armed groups take control of ever more territory, and as fighting spreads.

These developments are occurring at the same time as the UN peacekeeping mission, begins to depart from the country.

“We are seeing growing numbers of children killed and wounded with the recent shift to the use of heavier and sophisticated arms,” Mr. Chaiban said.

While in the region he met with Congolese authorities and visited sites hosting thousands of displaced families.

“The only way to reduce this suffering is to double down on efforts by regional actors and the international community to negotiate a political solution to the conflict, including the Luanda process, Nairobi dialogue and other diplomatic efforts,” he said.

Rights experts urge Iran to revoke death sentence against activist

UN-appointed human rights experts on Monday urged Iran to revoke the death sentence against an anti-corruption activist.

Mahmoud Mehrabi was convicted on charges of “corruption on earth”, a term they said “refers to a broad range of offences, including blasphemy and ‘crimes’ relating to Islamic morals.”

He was rearrested on 16 March 2023 in connection with his online activism on justice and corruption.

He later faced additional charges, including propaganda against the state, incitement of police and military forces to disobedience, incitement to war, crimes against national security, and insulting the founder and Supreme Leader of the Islamic Republic of Iran. 

“It is alarming that Iran’s punishments for freedom of expression include the death penalty or long-term prison sentences,” the experts said, noting that local rapper Tomaj Salehi also received the death penalty two weeks ago.

They noted that at least five people were sentenced to death in connection with nationwide protests in 2022 against the death of Mahsa Amini in police custody. At least 15 others are at imminent risk.

“We urge Iranian authorities to amend the Constitution and the penal code to prohibit executions and commute all death sentences,” they said. 

The statement was issued by Javaid Rehman, Special Rapporteur on the situation of human rights in the Islamic Republic of Iran; Alice Jill Edwards, Special Rapporteur on Torture and other Cruel, Inhuman or Degrading Treatment or Punishment, and Morris Tidball-Binz, Special Rapporteur on extrajudicial, summary or arbitrary executions.

The experts receive their mandates from the UN Human Rights Council.  They are not UN staff and do not receive payment for their work. 

A woman displaced by gang violence is now living in a former theatre in downtown Port-au-Prince.
© UNOCHA/Giles Clarke

A woman displaced by gang violence is now living in a former theatre in downtown Port-au-Prince.

Humanitarians continue support to Haitians affected by gang violence

Aid organizations continue to provide emergency assistance to thousands of people across Haiti’s capital, Port-au-Prince, amid ongoing gang activity, UN humanitarian affairs office, OCHA, reported on Monday. 

OCHA warned that some residents are extremely vulnerable, with armed groups continuing to perpetrate coordinated attacks. 


On Friday, the commune of Gressier, south of Port-au-Prince, was attacked and several houses set on fire, forcing an unknown number of people to flee. 


Humanitarian partners are conducting assessments both in Gressier and nearby areas where people fled.


Currently, some 362,000 people are displaced in Haiti, half of them children, with 160,000 in the Port-au-Prince metropolitan area. 


During the period from 8 March through 9 April, some 95,000 people fled the capital, 60 percent of them to the southern departments, according to UN migration agency IOM.


Humanitarians remain steadfast in their commitment to assist the Haitian people.  Since March, the World Food Programme has helped more than 800,000 people nationwide through its school feeding, emergency and resilience programmes. 


WFP has also distributed more than 825,000 meals to over 95,000 displaced people in the Port-au-Prince metropolitan zone.


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