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Central African children in crosshairs, UN calls for their protection

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Three former child soldiers at Elevage camp in Bambari, Central African Republic. UNICEF/Ashley Gilbertson

Children in the Central African Republic (CAR) have suffered a spike in grave violations since the end of 2020, according to a new UN report on the situation in the country, issued on Monday. 

The report on children and armed conflict in CAR highlighted that between 1 July 2019 and 30 June 2021, 1,280 children suffered one or more grave violations, with girls accounting for more than 40 per cent of all victims.  

While most were committed by armed groups, five per cent were attributed to the national armed forces, FACA. 

The security situation in the Central African Republic has rapidly worsened in recent months and children are paying a high price for these renewed hostilities”, said Virginia Gamba, UN Special Representative for Children and Armed Conflict.  

“I call on the signatories of the Political Agreement to uphold their commitments including those pertaining to children and urgently put in place concrete measures to protect children from harm and prevent further violations”. 

Recruitment, rape and denial 

With some 845 children affected, their recruitment and use were the most prominent of violations. 

Following was rape and other forms of sexual violence, where at least 249 girls fell victim, although the actual scope is likely much worse as the crime is vastly underreported, usually for fear of reprisal, stigma, lack of accountability and support for victims and survivors.  

The denial of humanitarian access was the third most verified violation, with 226 incidents.  

“The situation is becoming increasingly difficult for humanitarian actors, who are struggling and facing growing dangers to reach the most vulnerable ones, including children, in dire need of life-saving assistance”, said Ms. Gamba.  

As of 30 June 2021, 2.8 million people have needed humanitarian assistance and over 717,000 had been internally displaced in the country, based on figures from the UN humanitarian aid office, OCHA

A heavy toll 

Violence in the country continues to take a heavy toll on children. 

The report reveals that 155 boys and girls were verified killed or maimed, most by crossfire between parties to the conflict; and 116 were abducted, more than half of them girls.  

Attacks on schools and hospitals are also concerning, as is the impact of conflict and COVID on education and health systems as well as the growing use of military control of schools.  

“These incidents deprived children of attending classes or forced them to enrol in different schools”, explained the Special Representative.  

“I urge all parties to vacate all schools and hospitals that continue to be used, to respect the civilian character of these facilities and to put in place swift and effective measures to prevent this practice in line with the commitment made to the Safe School Declaration that the country has endorsed”, she added. 

Progress amidst challenges 

Some progress has been made, including strengthened national legal framework through the promulgation of the 2020 Child Protection Code – with provisions that criminalize the six grave violations of killing and maiming of children; recruiting or using them in armed groups; denial of humanitarian access for children; their abduction; attacks on schools or hospitals; and rape or other grave sexual violence. 

Also, UN advocacy with armed groups on the ground has led to the release of 653 children and an additional 130 who have been separated since last June.  

Despite this, impunity remains high.  

The Special Representative urged the authorities to bring perpetrators to justice and to make full use of the recently promulgated Child Protection Code. 

Protect children during COVID recovery 

The COVID-19 pandemic has also weakened protection mechanisms in CAR while school closures have heightened children’s vulnerability, particularly surrounding recruitment and sexual violence. 

“As countries around the world continue to focus on their response to the pandemic and rollout vaccination programmes, we need to stand ready to respond to the urgent needs of children, particularly in the regions where the situation is the most critical”, said Ms. Gamba, calling on the Government and parties to the conflict to develop a national strategy to prevent grave violations against children. 

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“It looks like most of them were shot in the head…”

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Image source: NYT

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”.

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Marjorie Taylor Greene: “We’re going to audit what’s happening in Ukraine”

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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.”

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Overnight blasts near Ukraine nuclear plant are ‘playing with fire!’

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The Zaporizhzhya nuclear power plant in Ukraine. Ⓒ IAEA

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!”.

Renewed shelling

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.

Nuclear-free zone

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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