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Guterres grateful for US support as largest UN contributor; will work with Member States on reform

INTERNATIONAL, 16 March 2017 – Secretary-General António Guterres is committed to reforming the United Nations and stands ready to discuss with the United States and any other Member State how best to create a more cost-effective Organization that can tackle the enormous challenges facing the international community, his spokesman said today.

statement from Spokesman Stéphane Dujarric said the UN has seen the blueprint of the 2018 budget released by the White House and notes that the budgetary process in the US is complex and lengthy and it needs to be completed.

Media reports suggest that the proposed budget would seek major cuts in US diplomacy and foreign aid, among other areas.

“The Secretary-General is grateful for the support the United States has given to the United Nations over the years as the Organization’s largest financial contributor,” said that statement.

The statement goes on to say that the Mr. Guterres is totally committed to reforming the United Nations and ensuring that it is fit for purpose and delivers results in the most efficient and cost-effective manner.

However, abrupt funding cuts can force the adoption of ad hoc measures that will undermine the impact of longer-term reform efforts, it adds.

“The Secretary-General stands ready to discuss with the United States and any other Member State how best we can create a more cost-effective Organization to pursue our shared goals and values,” underscored the statement.

It goes on to note that the UN chief fully subscribes to the necessity to effectively combat terrorism, but believes that it requires more than military spending.

“There is also a need to address the underlying drivers of terrorism through continuing investments in conflict prevention, conflict resolution, countering violent extremism, peacekeeping, peacebuilding, sustainable and inclusive development, the enhancement and respect of human rights, and timely responses to humanitarian crises,” it states.

“The international community is facing enormous global challenges that can only be addressed by a strong and effective multilateral system, of which the United Nations remains the fundamental pillar,” the statement concludes.

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Half of Central African Republic’s people need aid; UN Security Council to meet on peace operations

INTERNATIONAL, 16 March 2017 – The Security Council is today discussing the peace efforts in the Central African Republic (CAR), where half of the population urgently needs aid despite a huge funding gap, according to the United Nations humanitarian arm.

The UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA) has said that the upsurge in violence in the country since last September has led to every one in five Central Africans to be either displaced or a refugee in a neighbouring country. In addition, roughly 2.2 million people are in dire need of aid.

“Let us not leave Central African Republic to become a forgotten or neglected crisis by the international community”, said the Acting Humanitarian Coordinator for CAR, Michel Yao, alongside the Minister of Humanitarian, Social Affairs and National Reconciliation, Virginie Baikoua, at a briefing session for donors yesterday in Yaoundé, Cameroon.

The UN and its humanitarian partners had appealed for $399.5 million to aid CAR as part of the 2017 Humanitarian Response Plan. To date, only five per cent of that amount – roughly $19 million – has been raised.

Mr. Yao warned that without adequate funding, the country risks plunging into an acute humanitarian crisis.

The situation is particularly concerning because aid workers deliver much of the basic social services. For example, more than half of the health infrastructure is managed by the humanitarian community.

“The decrease of the humanitarian activities is deplorable, in the health and education sectors among others,” OCHA said.

Later today, the UN Security Council will hear from Under-Secretary-General for Peacekeeping Operations Hervé Ladsous and CAR President Faustin Archange Touadera on the situation in the country.

The Council will also hear from Omar Hilale, the Permanent Representative of Morocco to the UN, who will brief in his capacity as the Chair of the CAR Configuration of the Peacebuilding Commission.

The Peacebuilding Commission works between the Security Council, the General Assembly, whose membership includes all 193 Member States, and the Economic and Social Council (ECOSOC) which works with the 14 specialized UN agencies, to address root causes of conflict in a country and try to stabilize it before conflict breaks out or help it restabilize after fighting.

Clashes between the mainly Muslim Séléka rebel coalition and anti-Balaka militia, which are mostly Christian, plunged the country of 4.5 million people into civil conflict in 2013.

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UN appeals for nearly $170 million to aid pastoralists in northern Kenya

INTERNATIONAL, 16 March 2017 – The United Nations and its humanitarian partners today appealed for $166 million to aid Kenyan pastoralists and farmers whose livestock and crops are suffering amid what the Government declared a “national drought disaster.”

“With these funds, humanitarian actors will provide life-saving food, health, water and sanitation services to 2.6 million vulnerable Kenyans over the next ten months,” said Siddharth Chatterjee, UN Resident Coordinator in Kenya.

Half of the country is affected by the drought brought on by a third consecutive year of unreliable rains.

Below average rains are “causing thirst and hunger, decimating livestock, destroying livelihoods, spreading disease, and causing large movements of people,” according to the Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA).

The latest flash appeal is a complement to Kenya's ongoing nine-month response plan which faces a funding gap of $108 million, OCHA said.

Earlier this month, OCHA's head, Stephen O'Brien visited Kenya to highlight the risk of famine facing people there, as well as in Somalia, South Sudan and Yemen.

Reporting his observations to the Security Council upon his return, the UN Emergency Relief Coordinator said the international community is “facing the largest humanitarian crisis since the creation of the UN.”

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Somalia: UN-backed cholera vaccination campaign targets 450,000 people

INTERNATIONAL, 16 March 2017 – The Government of Somalia has launched an oral cholera vaccination (OCV) campaign today with the support of the United Nations health agency, targeting over 450,000 people in seven high-risk areas around the country.

The first-ever OCV campaign to be conducted in the country comes at a critical time after Somalia announced the ongoing drought as a national disaster and faces the possibility of another famine, according to a news release issued yesterday by the World Health Organization (WHO).

“This is one of the largest oral cholera vaccination campaigns conducted in Africa,” said Ghulam Popal, WHO Representative in Somalia. “This vaccination campaign will contribute to the reduction in the number of new cholera cases, interrupt transmission and limit the spread of cholera,” he said.

Somalia is currently experiencing a large-scale outbreak of cholera with roughly 11,000 cases and 268 deaths reported in 11 regions since the beginning of 2017. This is more than half the number of cases reported for 2016.

Somalia has long experienced a humanitarian emergency due to conflict, insecurity, displacement of people and limited access to health system. This situation is further compounded by drought, malnutrition and lack of access to clean water and sanitation facilities. If the current drought and food insecurity continue, the number of cholera cases is likely to increase. Preventative measures such as oral cholera vaccine can mitigate these numbers, and save lives.

The campaign is being held in select communities in Mogadishu, Kismayo and Beledweyne through a combination of fixed and mobile sites for maximum accessibility by the communities. The vaccines, which will be administered to at-risk persons aged one year or older, are being delivered in 2 rounds. The first round of the campaign has commenced today and will continue until 19 March, and the second round of the campaign will be held from 18 to 22 April.

The response efforts by the Ministry of Health, WHO, UN Children's Fund (UNICEF) and health partners have included active case search, effective case management, intensive household chlorination campaign, and community awareness.

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Peace in Syria an imperative ‘that cannot wait,’ UN chief Guterres says as war enters seventh year

INTERNATIONAL, 15 March 2017 – As the brutal war in Syria enters its seventh year, peace “is a moral and political imperative both for the Syrian people and for the world,” United Nations Secretary-General António Guterres said today, urging the conflict parties to fully back a fragile ceasefire and ensure aid access, as well as to support UN-facilitated talks set to pick up again late this month.

“For six years now, the Syria people have been victims of one of the worst conflicts of our time,” said Mr. Guterres in a statement on the crisis in Syria, which began in March 2011 after a crackdown on massive popular protests throughout the country turned into an armed struggle that has dispalced millions.

The UN chief issued two urgent appeals to all the parties, firstly, to make the most of the 30 December 2016 ceasefire established by the guarantors of the Astana meetings – Russia, Turkey and Iran – enhance it further, and ensure that relief aid can reach all those in need in Syria without any obstacles and impediments.

Secondly, the UN chief appealed to all those with influence on the conflict parties to overcome their differences and work together to put an end to the conflict, namely by contributing to the success of the intra-Syrian negotiations in Geneva on the basis of the Geneva Communiqué and relevant UN Security Council resolutions, including resolution 2254 (2015), which endorsed a road map for a peace process in Syria, including specific language on governance, constitution and elections.

The UN Special Envoy for Syria, Staffan de Mistura announced last week that he expects to convene intra-Syrian negotiations on 23 March.

For his part, Mr. Guterres underscored: “Peace in Syria is a moral and political imperative both for the Syrian people and for the world – an imperative that cannot wait.”

‘Toll taken on civilians is inexcusable’ – UN Emergency Relief Coordinator

Meanwhile, as the conflict enters its seventh grim year, the Syrian people have watched huge parts of their country reduced to rubble, according to the UN humanitarian coordinator.

“The toll taken on civilians is inexcusable. Hundreds of thousands of people have been killed. Almost five million people – the majority of them women and children – have fled the grotesque violence and deprivation and are now living as refugees,” said UN Under-Secretary-General for Humanitarian Affairs Stephen O‘Brien in his message on the crisis.

He added that too many who set out on perilous journeys to escape the war perished on the way.

“As I speak,” continued Mr. O’Brien, “more than six million people are displaced within Syria. They are among the 13.5 million people in Syria who are in dire need of humanitarian aid.”

Families and entire communities are struggling to meet their most basic food needs. While food shortages worsen, a seemingly endless supply of bombs and artillery shells continue to extinguish lives. Moreover, a generation of children in Syria have known nothing but brutal conflict and fear during their short lives.

While he underscored that the conflict would never end without a genuine political commitment to peace, Mr. O’Brien asserted that “even if a political agreement were to succeed tomorrow, millions of Syrians will still require critical humanitarian assistance for months and likely years to come.”

He stressed that brave humanitarians would continue to stand with the people of Syria to deliver aid to millions of civilians most in need – regardless of which side they are perceived to be on.

Mr. O’Brien, who is also the UN Emergency Relief Coordinator, said that he joined Syrians in hoping that 2017 would be the year the carnage finally ended, and that the parties to the conflict – and those that support their actions – regained their sense of humanity.

He concluded his message saying: “We owe this and so much more to the millions of battered and beleaguered women, men and children who have suffered through this most uncivil war.”

Syria’s healthcare system has also fallen victim to the conflict

Civilian access to health services has also seriously deteriorated, with more than half of public hospitals and primary health centres having either closed or remaining only partially functioning, according to the World Health Organization (WHO).

"Substantial health needs in Syria continue to be unmet and resources to support the health workforce and health system are stretched to the limit," said Dr. Peter Salama, WHO Executive Director of Health Emergencies Programme.

While almost two–thirds of healthcare workers have fled, many of the medical facilities that remain open lack clean water, electricity and sufficient medical and surgical supplies.

"On this sad anniversary of the start of war in Syria and before more lives are lost, WHO calls for systematic and unhindered access to all areas to deliver life-saving medicines, vaccines and medical supplies," stressed Dr. Salama.

Despite obstacles, including security threats, WHO has continued to support health services with medicines and supplies; by training the remaining health care staff; and assisting with medical teams and mobile clinics through cross line and cross-border programmes.

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UN reports slow women’s political parity; launches latest ‘Women in Politics’ map

INTERNATIONAL, 15 March 2017 – Women’s voices are still missing from the executive branches of governments and parliaments worldwide, slowing achievement of the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), the United Nations agency tasked with supporting gender equality today said at the launch of a visual representation of women’s political empowerment.

The number of women Heads of State or Heads of Government fell from 19 to 17 since 2015, and progress in the number of women in parliament continues to be slow, according to the Women in Politics Map launched today by the Inter-Parliamentary Union (IPU) and UN Women.

“What is democracy? Is it people for the people, or men for the people,” Phumzile Mlambo-Ngcuka, Executive Director of UN Women, told journalists in New York. She spoke alongside Martin Chungong, Secretary-General of the IPU.

The Union, established in 1889, is the focal point for world-wide parliamentary dialogue and works for peace and co-operation among peoples and for the firm establishment of representative democracy. The IPU supports the efforts of and works in close cooperation with the UN on relevant objectives.

IPU data shows that the global average of women in national parliaments increased just slightly from 22.6 per cent in 2015 to 23.3 per cent in 2016. The number of female Speakers of the House, however, is up to the highest so far, with 53 out of 273 posts.

“Political campaigns are expensive,” said Ms. Mlambo-Ngcuka identifying some of the challenges facing women who run for office. “Political parties are male dominated. When there isn’t a specific measure in place, women fall off the ground. Men tend to choose those who are made in their own image.”

She noted that some women also experience pushback from men, including physical violence, taunting and bullying; while the media sometimes focuses too much on women’s physical attributes rather than their experiences and political platforms.

“In 2016, we saw confirmation of a trend we had been seeing, when it comes to representation of women in parliament, there is progress but the progress is excruciatingly slow. At this rate, it will take 50 years to reach 50-50 parity,” Mr. Chungong told the press. “This is a warning signal; we have to do something about this.”

Regional snapshot of women’s political power

Regionally, women’s representation in the Americas made the most significant gains, according to a press release from UN Women.

Women’s participation in parliaments rose to 25 per cent from 22.4 per cent in 2015, even as the region saw a drop in Heads of State with the Presidents of Brazil and Argentina leaving office.

Female ministers in Africa saw a decline in numbers, after years of steady growth. About 19.7 per cent of the region’s ministerial posts are held by women.

In Asia, women hold 11 per cent of ministerial posts, led by Indonesia whose Government is comprised of 25.7 per cent women.

Among the Arab States, 9.7 per cent of senior executive posts are held by women, led by Tunisia and the United Arab Emirates, at 23.1 per cent and 26.7 per cent, respectively.

In Europe, the total percentage stood at 22.5 per cent. A surprise came from the Nordic countries which have traditionally led the global stage in politics, but whose number of female ministers fell by more than six per cent to 43.5 per cent.

Regional snapshot of women’s political power

Today’s report was launched on the sidelines of the 61st Commission on the Status of Women, known as the largest inter-governmental forum on women's rights and gender equality. The theme this year is on women's economic empowerment in the changing world of work.

A common theme throughout the Commission has been the gender pay gap. Women on average are paid 77 cents for every one dollar earned by a man.

To highlight the 23 per cent disparity, the Commission is expected today to pause at 4:10pm, when there is 23 per cent of the work-day left. Symbolically, coffee and tea will be served, as a sign of relaxation and to mark the end of the work day in coffee cups with the following slogan on their sleeves: “EQUAL PAY NOW #CSW61.”

Yesterday, the UN launched the Equal Pay Platform of Champions with support from actress Patricia Arquette and athlete Abby Wambach, among others.

UN Women has also launched the #StopTheRobbery campaign, which blacks out 23 per cent of characters from twitter messages in support of income equality.

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Yemen ‘one of worst hunger crises in the world,’ UN-supported study finds

INTERNATIONAL, 15 March 2017 – An estimated 17 million people in Yemen are hungry, according to analysis released today by the United Nations and humanitarian partners, up more than 20 per cent in the past nine months.

“Twenty of the country's 22 governorates are in 'emergency' or 'crisis' food insecurity phases and almost two-thirds of the population are now facing hunger and urgently require life and livelihood-saving assistance,” the UN Food and Agricultural Organization (FAO) said in a press release.

These numbers represent an increase of 21 per cent since June 2016, according to information from the latest Integrated Food Security Phase Classification (IPC) analysis, a partnership of FAO, UN World Food Programme (WFP) and a number of governmental and non-governmental organizations.

Given the number of people who are food insecure, “Yemen is currently one of the worst hunger crises in the world,” FAO said.

The crisis is fuelled by the two-year long conflict, with almost 80 per cent of households in Yemen report having a worse economic situation than before the fighting.

“The conflict has a devastating impact on agricultural livelihoods. Crop and livestock production fell significantly compared to pre-crisis levels,” said Salah Hajj Hassan, FAO Representative in Yemen.

UN officials are calling not only for immediate food aid but also for agricultural assistance to save livelihoods – and for access to the people in need.

“Unrestricted access to all areas, including for commercial trade, will also be critical to ensure the food insecurity in the country does not further deteriorate,” said Stephen Anderson, WFP Representative and Country Director in Yemen.

The food insecurity is causing malnutrition rates to spike. Of the 2.2 million children suffering from acute malnutrition, more than 460,000 are severely and acutely malnourished, a categorization known as “SAM” in the humanitarian community.

“To put things in perspective, a SAM child is ten times more at risk of death if not treated on time than a healthy child his or her age,” said Meritxell Relaño, UNICEF Representative in the country. “The ongoing conflict and food insecurity will have long-term implications on the health and overall development of children in Yemen.”

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At Security Council, UN officials urge governments to implement rules on prosecuting traffickers

SINT MAARTEN/INTERNATIONAL, 15 March 2017 – Human trafficking thrives in countries where the rule of law is weak or non-existent, top United Nations officials today told the Security Council, calling on Governments to make better use of the tools created under the UN flag to stop the victimization of men, women and children.

“At a time of divisions in so many areas, this should be an issue that can unite us,” Secretary-General António Guterres told the 15-member Council, stressing that “slavery is not a thing of the past.”

“Let us come together around the key issues of prosecution, protection and prevention, and thereby build a future without human trafficking,” he added.

The Secretary-General outlined a number of UN tools that exist which can be used to punish human trafficking, and to prevent it in the first place. Among them is the UN Convention against Transnational Organized Crime and its Protocol, which includes the first internationally agreed definition of the crime of trafficking in persons and provides a framework to effectively prevent and combat it.

He noted also the International Labour Organization (ILO) Conventions and the complementary Global Plan of Action on Human Trafficking. Approved in 2010, the Plan aims to better coordinate national responses to this scourge, and includes a UN Voluntary Trust Fund for Victims of Trafficking in Persons, Especially Women and Children.

In his speech, Mr. Guterres called on Member States to strengthen intelligence-sharing and other law enforcement, while also addressing the underlying vulnerabilities of victims, such as educating girls, respecting the rights of minorities, and creating safe paths for migration.

He also called for engagement with the private sector, and cautioned that any support needs to incorporate the voices and views of the people effected.

According to UNODC’s 2016 Global Report on Trafficking in Persons, issued in late-December, victims of trafficking are found in 106 of 193 countries. Many of these are in conflict areas, where the crimes are not prosecuted.

“For organized crime networks, human trafficking is a low-risk, high-reward criminal business, a perception reinforced by the inexcusably low conviction rates still reported around the world,” told the Council Yury Fedotov, Executive Director of UNODC via videoconference from Vienna.

In addition to an estimated 21 million people around the world who are victims of forced labour and extreme exploitation, Mr. Fedotov discussed the threats facing refugees and displaced persons.

“As conflict displaces countless people, as the rule of law breaks down, as cooperation between countries falter, criminals see a clear business opportunity,” he noted.

The best way to counter trafficking and protect the most vulnerable is to fully implement and make sure of the frameworks already in place, Mr. Fedotov underscored.

He noted that the Global Plan of Action will be reviewed this October, and will focus on trafficking in conflict situations.

“I hope you will take advantage of this opportunity,” Mr. Fedotov told the Council.

Among the numerous speakers addressing the UN body today is Ashraf El Nour, Director, International Organization for Migration (IOM).

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South Sudan: UN expert urges action to end rights abuses in a country where 'impunity is the norm'

INTERNATIONAL, 14 March 2017 – Amid a “massive” increase in gross human rights violations, as well as an escalation in fighting in South Sudan, the head of a United Nations rights probe said today that to prevent further escalation and abuses in a country where “impunity is the norm,” the international community must be bold enough to push for establishment of a court and bring prosecutions.

“There can be no more delay, no more excuses,” said Yasmin Sooka, Chair of the Commission on Human Rights in South Sudan, as she presented her report to the UN Human Rights Council, the Geneva-based body that mandated the three-member panel's work almost exactly one year ago.

“The alternative,” she continued, “is policy of appeasement – making us complicit in the bloodshed that is happening.”

Among a host of experts that will this week update the Council on their work, Ms. Sooka, presenting the report alongside fellow Commissioners, Godfrey Musilla and Ken Scott, said the situation in South Sudan continued to deteriorate over the past nine months as unlawful arrests and detentions, torture, rape and killing “have become the norm,” including in places that had once been relatively peaceful.

Pattern of ethnic cleansing, 'population engineering' in some villages

“Whole villages burnt to ashes, attacks on hospitals and churches, bodies dumped in rivers, allegations of young girls held as sexual slaves, women young and old gang raped and boys and men forcibly recruited,” she said, adding that South Sudan is the world's third largest refugee crisis, with nearly two million internally displaced and more than one and a half million refugees having fled to neighbouring countries.

The report, she said, makes it clear that South Sudanese civilians have been deliberately and systematically targeted on the basis of their ethnicity by Government and government-aligned forces, for killing, abduction, unlawful detention, deprivation of liberty, rape and sexual violence, the burning of their villages, and looting.

“On the ground, this translates into bound corpses left on roadsides, hunger where once there was plenty, and thousands of children ripped from their mothers – some forced to carry guns and kill – yet another lost generation,” stated Ms. Sooka, stressing that citizens are treated like enemy combatants because of their perceived political allegiance to the other side, calculated by ethnicity. Opposition forces too have been responsible for human rights abuses although to a lesser extent, she added.

Relief agencies, including the UN, have little choice to accept the restrictions imposed by South Sudan as they cannot walk away and let millions of people starve

She went on to say that the scale of sexual violence in South Sudan “is so horrifying that the consequences of doing nothing are unthinkable.” Indeed, perpetrators will be emboldened if the international community ignores the issue.

The experts also reported on a pattern of ethnic cleansing and “population engineering.” When the Commission visited the northern town of Malakal, it saw how the redrawing of state boundary lines had helped depopulate the town of its Shilluk and Nuer inhabitants. Civil servants had been forcibly relocated out of the town on the basis of their ethnicity.

Reiterating the Commission's call for an international impartial and independent investigation to be established by the UN – to examine the most serious crimes, including conflict-related sexual violence, committed since December 2013, she said the findings should establish the extent of ongoing violations and support the work of the promised Commission on Truth, Reconciliation and Healing and the Hybrid Court for South Sudan, which should be operational by the end of the year.

Small coterie of political leaders has 'plundered the country

“There can be no more delay, no more excuses,” stated Ms. Sooka, underscoring that the deterioration in the human rights situation in South Sudan is directly attributable to impunity. The challenge for accountability is that alleged perpetrators still occupy senior political and military positions.

“A small coterie of South Sudan's political leaders show total disregard not just for international human rights norms but for the welfare of their own people. They have squandered the oil wealth and plundered the country's resources. Today the Government of South Sudan has effectively devolved most of its service delivery to the international community,” she said, adding that international humanitarians, including the UN, have little choice to accept the restrictions imposed by the State as they cannot walk away and let millions of people starve.

“The dilemma between being outspoken on human rights and securing access has never been more stark,” she said adding that: “In a country where impunity is the norm, the mere knowledge that credible information is being gathered can act as a deterrent. But only if we are bold enough to push for the immediate establishment of the Hybrid Court and prosecutions.”

South Sudan gained independence in 2011 but fell into violence in late 2013 when a political rivalry between President Salva Kiir and his then-deputy Riek Machar erupted into full-fledged conflict.

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UN rights wing urges calm, protection of civilians amid hostilities in eastern Libya

INTERNATIONAL, 14 March 2017 – Raising alarm over reports of serious human rights and humanitarian law violations and abuses stemming from recent fighting in eastern Libya's oil crescent area, the United Nations human rights arm has called on all parties to ensure that civilians are protected and that the situation is de-escalated.

“Credible reports suggest that unlawful killings, including summary executions, hostage-taking, arbitrary detentions, torture, as well as widespread raids of civilian homes have been occurring, particularly in the towns of Ajdabiya, Benghazi, Brega and Beishir,” Ravina Shamdasani, a spokesperson for the Office of the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHRtold the media today at a regular news briefing at the UN Office at Geneva (UNOG).

“We urge all parties to the conflict to fully respect international human rights and humanitarian law and to take all possible precautions to ensure civilians are not harmed and to treat all detainees humanely,” she added, urging all those with influence to work to de-escalate the situation.

Quoting reports, the spokesperson said that two Libyan National Army (LNA) fighters were summarily executed at a medical centre in the Ras Lanuf on 3 March.

In response, the LNA conducted widespread raids of homes of presumed Benghazi Defence Brigade (BDB) supporters or fighters and detained some 100 men and boys, including some as young as 13 and some in their 70s.

The 13-year-old was held in order to “force” the family to hand over his older brother, who was suspected of being a fighter aligned with the BDB. LNA fighters also allegedly beat and insulted men and women, and stole money and other property from the houses.

“Those detained are being held incommunicado, and many families have said they have no information on the whereabouts of male relatives who have been detained,” said Ms. Shamdasani, adding that there have also been reports that those detained have been subjected to torture and threats.

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