Fighting in the eastern Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC) has forced at least 11,000 people to flee to neighbouring Uganda since Sunday night, representing the largest refugee influx in a single day for more than a year, the UN refugee agency, UNHCR, said on Tuesday.
Women and children comprise the majority of those who have crossed the border to escape clashes between militia groups and the Congolese armed forces in Rutshuru Territory, in the DRC’s North Kivu province.
Rushing to escape
Shabia Mantoo, UNHCR spokesperson in Geneva, said some 8,000 asylum seekers crossed at Bunagana town, while another 3,000 came through the Kibaya border point in Kisoro district. Both locations are roughly 500 km southwest of the Ugandan capital, Kampala.
“The new arrivals told UNHCR staff that fighting was going on in the villages of Binja, Kinyarugwe and Chanzu,” she said.
“Many people came with cooking utensils, sleeping mats, clothing and livestock, gathered hurriedly as they fled. Some appear to be returning to remote areas in the border vicinity.”
UNHCR and Uganda are responding to the situation, in coordination with district and local officials. Several partners are also assisting, including the World Food Programme (WFP).
Ms. Mantoo reported that her agency has so far relocated around 500 people to the nearby Nyakabande transit centre, which can house up to 1,500 people.
Resources needed urgently
The asylum-seekers are screened for COVID-19. They are also registered and given water, food, communal shelters, blankets and other items. A system is also in place to identify and fast track people in need of emergency assistance.
Although Uganda’s borders are currently closed to asylum-seekers due to pandemic-related restrictions, Ms. Mantoo said the Government has again implemented a humanitarian exception to allow safe passage for people seeking safety, which UNHCR has commended.
“However, we are concerned that local capacity and services may be soon overwhelmed and request urgent resources to address the needs of the new arrivals,” she added.
UNHCR is seeking some $335 million this year for its operations in Uganda, which hosts more refugees than any other country in Africa. Globally, only three countries take in more refugees.
So far, only around 45 per cent of the funding has been received.
“It looks like most of them were shot in the head…”
“The New York Times” confirmed the location of the farmhouse by comparing the aerial video of the episode with satellite imagery of Makiivka, Luhansk. A series of videos that surfaced on social media last week has ignited a debate over whether Ukrainian forces committed war crimes as they tried to capture a group of Russian soldiers who were then killed.
The videos show the grisly before-and-after scenes of the encounter earlier this month, in which at least 11 Russians, most of whom are seen lying on the ground (photo), appear to have been shot dead at close range.
The videos, detailed below and whose authenticity has been verified by “The New York Times”, offer a rare look into one gruesome moment among many in the war.
The videos were first circulated by Ukrainian news and social media channels that used them to laud the military prowess of their armed forces and publicize their heroic retaking of territory lost to Russia early in the war.
In Russia, however, the videos prompted a fierce response among Russian commentators, who urged the government to seek an international investigation.
“We are aware of the videos, and we are looking into them,” Marta Hurtado, a spokeswoman for the U.N. Human Rights Office, told Reuters. “Allegations of summary executions of people hors de combat should be promptly, fully and effectively investigated, and any perpetrators held to account.”
Under international law, the French term “hors de combat” refers to people who are “outside of combat” because of their surrender, being unarmed, unconscious or otherwise unable to defend themselves.
“It looks like most of them were shot in the head,” Dr. Rohini Haar, a forensic expert and faculty member at the University of California at Berkeley’s School of Public Health, said in an interview. “There are pools of blood. That indicates that they were just left there dead. There appears to have been no effort to pick them up or help them.”
Dr. Haar noted that when they surrendered, the Russian soldiers had been lying down, apparently unarmed, with their arms outstretched or behind their heads. “They’re considered hors de combat, or noncombatants — effectively prisoners of war,” Dr. Haar said.
The Rome Statute, the international treaty that established the International Criminal Court, could prosecute this under several of its articles if Ukraine were a party to the treaty, Dr. Haar said, including Article 8b (vi), which says, “Killing or wounding a combatant, who, having laid down his arms or having no longer means of defense, has surrendered at discretion” is a violation of the laws of international armed conflict.
…It is absolutely clear that the killers from the Ukrainian army vilely shot Russian soldiers who were captured by them. The goal is simple and clear – to raise the level of hatred between the Russians and Ukrainians, cause more bloodshed. This inhuman act resembles very much a well-known British slogan: “Divide and rule”.
Marjorie Taylor Greene: “We’re going to audit what’s happening in Ukraine”
House Republicans critical of U.S. assistance to Ukraine during its war with Russia introduced a privileged resolution to audit the funds allocated by Congress. The resolution is being led by Rep. Marjorie Taylor Greene (photo) (R-Ga.) and backed by a group of GOP lawmakers.
The resolution, which calls for preserving administration documents and communications related to Ukraine funding distribution, speaks to other criticisms among some Republican lawmakers who support aid to Ukraine but say more oversight is needed.
The Biden administration has provided more than $20 billion in military assistance to Kyiv, as well as about $10 billion in humanitarian assistance and about $13 billion in economic assistance. President Biden has called for Congress to earmark $37.7 billion in additional funding for Ukraine.
Greene introduced the bill as a privileged resolution, meaning it will be referred to the relevant committee, where members will have 14 business days to either reject it, or approve it for a vote on the House floor.
Greene said she is prepared to reintroduce the resolution in the next Congress when Republicans hold the majority.
“I’ll introduce this resolution again, but I’ll also be calling for a full audit. We voted ‘no’ to send money over there, but we’re also going to audit what’s happening in Ukraine.”
Overnight blasts near Ukraine nuclear plant are ‘playing with fire!’
Powerful explosions shook the area of Ukraine’s Zaporizhzhya Nuclear Power Plant (ZNPP), “abruptly ending a period of relative calm” at the facility, the head of the UN nuclear watchdog agency said on Sunday.In a statement issued by the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA), Director General Rafael Mariano Grossi said that that blasts yesterday evening and again this morning further underlined “the urgent need for measures to help prevent a nuclear accident there”.
“As I have said many times before, you’re playing with fire!”.
In what appeared to be renewed shelling near and at the site of Europe’s largest nuclear power plant, IAEA experts on the ground reported that more than a dozen blasts were heard within a short period of time in the morning local time.
The IAEA team were also able to see some of the explosions from their windows.
“The news from our team yesterday and this morning is extremely disturbing”, said Mr. Grossi.
Citing information provided by plant management, the IAEA team said there had been damage to some buildings, systems, and equipment at the site, but noncritical for nuclear safety and security.
“Explosions occurred at the site of this major nuclear power plant, which is completely unacceptable”, he added. “Whoever is behind this, it must stop immediately”.
According to news reports, Russian and Ukrainian nuclear energy authorities each blamed the other side’s forces for the strikes – triggering fears of a serious nuclear accident. So far, there have been no reports of any radiation leaks at the Russian-occupied plant.
The IAEA experts said that there were no reported casualties, and they are in close contact with site management.
Meanwhile as they continue to assess and relay updates on the situation, the IAEA chief renewed his urgent appeal that both sides of the conflict agree to implement a nuclear safety and security zone around the ZNPP as soon as possible.
In recent months, he has been engaging in intense consultations with Ukraine and Russia on establishing a zone – but, so far, no agreement has been reached.
“I’m not giving up until this zone has become a reality”, said Mr. Grossi. “As the ongoing apparent shelling demonstrates, it is needed more than ever”.
Gambling with lives
Even though there was no direct impact on key nuclear safety and security systems at the plant, the senior UN official said, “the shelling came dangerously close to them”.
“We are talking metres, not kilometres. Whoever is shelling at the Zaporizhzhya Nuclear Power Plant, is taking huge risks and gambling with many people’s lives”.
The IAEA team of experts plan to conduct an assessment of the shelling impact on the site tomorrow.
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