UN chief calls on Venezuela’s politicians to ‘avoid escalation’, end suffering of the people

” What we hope is that dialogue can be possible, and that we avoid an escalation that could lead to the kind of conflict that would be a total disaster for Venezuela – UN chief Guterres

Reports of violence and casualties linked to unrest in Venezuela should be investigated transparently and independently, UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres said on Thursday, before calling for calm.

In a statement issued by his Spokesperson, the UN chief urged all parties to “lower tensions” in the South American country, which is riven by economic and political crisis, after deadly clashes in the capital Caracas between security forces and thousands of demonstrators opposed to the Government of President Nicolás Maduro.

“The Secretary-General is concerned over reports of casualties in the context of demonstrations and unrest in Venezuela and calls for a transparent and independent investigation of these incidents,” said Stéphane Dujarric.

At this “critical” time, Mr. Guterres “urges all actors to lower tensions and pursue every effort to prevent violence and avoid any escalation”, the Spokesperson added.

The development follows Wednesday’s declaration by opposition leader Juan Guaidó that he had become the country’s interim president until fresh elections could be held. Mr. Maduro was officially sworn back into office for his disputed second term, following elections mired in controversy, just two weeks ago.

Issued from the World Economic Forum (WEF) in Davos, Switzerland, where Mr. Guterres gave a keynote address, his statement highlighted “the urgent need for all relevant actors to commit to inclusive and credible political dialogue to address the protracted crisis in the country, with full respect for the rule of law and human rights”.

Speaking during a Facebook Live event in Davos, the UN chief would not comment on those governments which have decided to officially recognize Mr. Guaido’s claim to the presidency, saying only that all sovereign governments are in charge of their own decision-making, but expressed concern over “the suffering of the Venezuelan people.”

“So many have left the country, with the economic difficulties that everybody faces, and with the political polarization”, he said, adding: “What we hope is that dialogue can be possible, and that we avoid an escalation that could lead to the kind of conflict that would be a total disaster for Venezuela, for the Venezuelan people and for the region.”

The UN chief said during the interview, that “if dialogue is not possible, then what are we doing? In all circumstances in the world – even the most difficult circumstances – we need to push for dialogue.”

According to the World Food Programme (WFP), three million Venezuelans have left their country in recent years owing to a lack of food, medicine and the loss of their livelihoods.

In addition to the humanitarian crisis, grave human rights abuses have been reported by the UN, including killings, the use of excessive force against demonstrators, arbitrary detentions, ill-treatment and torture.

In a report issued in June last year, the UN human rights office (OHCHR) documented “credible, shocking accounts of extrajudicial killings” during crime-fighting operations carried out between 2015 and 2017.

2018 European Union/N. Mazars
The EU and the Red Cross assist thousands of Venezuelans migrating throughout Latin America. At night, women with children are sheltered in tents, next to the Red Cross health centres. Colombian authorities give them priority to process documents and let them across the border.

Security Council should ‘nurture’ Colombian consensus against return to violence, top UN official urges

Two years after the signing of the historic peace agreement in Colombia and following a recent escalation of violence, the newly-appointed representative of the United Nations in the country, told the UN Security Council on Wednesday that its people have established a “broad consensus” against further conflict, before highlighting key steps to stabilize the nation.

The briefing from Carlos Ruiz Massieu took place less than a week after a car bombing outside the National Police Academy in the capital Bogotá, which left 21 dead and injured dozens. The attack was claimed by the National Liberation Army (the ELN), one of the remaining active armed opposition groups in Colombia.

In total, more than 220,000 people were killed during the long-running conflict beginning in 1964, between Government security forces, and various armed opposition groups, chiefly the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia guerilla movement, or FARC, and drug traffickers.

“In the swift rejection of the attack from across the political spectrum in Colombia, and in the marches held around the country this past Sunday, Colombians demonstrated their ever-broader consensus around the rejection of violence,” said Mr. Ruiz Massieu, who was appointed on 7 January to head the UN’s mission in the country mandated with verifying the implementation of the November 2016 peace agreement. “This consensus must continue to be nurtured,” he told the Security Council.

Carlos Ruiz Massieu, Special Representative for Colombia and Head of the United Nations Verification Mission in Colombia visiting the Territorial Space for Reincorporation and Training located in Llano Grande, Dabeiba – Antioquia, Colombia (January 2019), by United Nations Verification Mission in Colombia/Liliana Garavito

Important milestones for reconciliation

Special Representative Ruiz Massieu went on to highlight some of the recent major achievements of the peace process, including the fact that the Government’s High-level Forum on Gender – responsible for implementation of the gender provisions of the peace agreement – met for the first time on 16 January.

He also noted “an important milestone” with the inauguration in May 2018 of the ‘Truth Commission’, a body created to examine past human rights violations, including sexual violence, and to foster reconciliation over the next three years.

Mr. Ruiz Massieu stressed that the Special Jurisdiction for Peace – the transitional body in charge of deciding responsiblity for crimes committed during the armed conflict and which started working a year ago – is currently examining five cases of “violent actions impacting no less than 32,000 victims”.

“As this Council has itself insisted, it remains vitally important that the independence and autonomy of the Special Jurisdiction are respected and that it receives the support required to operate effectively,” stated the Special Representative.

Reintegration and security: two major challenges ahead

Among the near-term challenges ahead, Mr. Ruiz Massieu cited the gaps remaining for the economic reintegration of former combatants, including members of the FARC. He said the various meetings he held in the field have “confirmed both the strong desire of former combatants to work and to find their place in society, as well as the uncertainty many still feel regarding their security, including their legal security, and economic future”.

The 26 December 2018 quarterly report prepared by the UN verification mission for the UN Secretary-General, notes that efforts must be accelerated “to advance on the acquisition of land and to work on the development of markets for goods and services produced.”

In another step forward for full political integration and reform, on 27 October the FARC party, now a democratic force, will take part for the first time in regional and local elections. Representative Ruiz Massieu noted that efforts are being made to guarantee their and every other party’s security and protection.

In Colombia, the security situation remains fragile, as highlighted in the Secretary-General’s report. According to the UN human rights office (OHCHR), since the signing of the 2016 peace agreement, 163 killings of social leaders and human rights defenders have been verified and a total of 454 deaths reported. In the first week of January alone, seven leaders were killed and a total of 31 attacks reported. FARC members are also regularly the targets of attacks, a major challenge to national reconciliation.

“The security of communities, leaders and FARC members are ultimately tied to the ability of the State to establish an integrated security and civilian presence in conflict-affected areas,” said Mr. Ruiz Massieu, as he welcomed the efforts made by the Colombian Government to address this issue.

“I would like to stress that one of the messages I have heard consistently from Colombians during my first weeks on the ground, is how strongly they both welcome and expect the support and accompaniment of the international community as they seek to overcome the many challenges to consolidating peace,” he concluded. “The continued engagement and support of the Security Council will remain a vital pillar of Colombia’s peace process.”

 

Crucial medical supplies airlifted to north-east Syria to meet ‘desperate need’

Crucial medical supplies airlifted to north-east Syria to meet ‘desperate need’

In response to the growing health needs of people in north-east Syria, the World Health Organization (WHO) has airlifted urgent medical supplies to the region, for the second time this month.

“Hundreds of thousands of Syrians in the northeast are in desperate need of health care services”, Elizabeth Hoff, WHO Representative in Syria said on Wednesday.

Targeting the Al-Hasakeh governorate, the UN health agency provided more than 28 tonnes of life-saving medical supplies, equipment and vaccines, amounting to around 106,000 individual medical treatments. These include antibiotics, intravenous fluids, anti-asthma and chronic disease medicines.

Among other items, WHO also sent incubators, ventilators, electricity generators, haemodialysis machines for kidney treatment, defibrillators and anaesthesia equipment.

To bolster childhood vaccination efforts, the airlift contained 140,000 vaccines against polio, tuberculosis, tetanus, hepatitis, and MMR vaccines for treating measles, mumps, and rubella.

“In addition to strengthening hospitals and health care centres, we are focusing on supporting the vaccination of children in north-east Syria, where vaccination coverage rates remain critically low”, Ms. Hoff explained.

The medical aid will be distributed to hospitals and primary health care centers in the three north-eastern governorates of Al-Hasakeh, Ar-Raqqa and Deir-ez-Zor.

“The health system in all three governorates has been badly disrupted, and the situation is compounded by the high numbers of internally displaced people living in dire conditions in camps and settlements”, she underscored.

The first shipment, on 8 January, contained 20 tonnes of essential medical provisions.

Pockets of ISIL, or Da’esh terrorist fighters remain in north-east Syria, where the US has led a coalition of countries against the group, backed by Syrian Kurdish fighters, who control much of the territory there, in opposition to the Government, and opposed by Turkish authorities in Ankara. In recent days, suicide bombers have targeted US and Kurdish forces, in the wake of the US announcement that it has begun to withdraw troops from the north-east.

Since March 2011, Syria has been in the throes of a conflict that has forced more than half of the population to leave their homes. According to the UN humanitarian wing, OCHA, an estimated five million Syrians have fled the country while more than six million others are internally displaced. The crisis has left more than 13 million people in need of assistance.

Contributions from the Government of Norway, Government of Japan, UK Aid and the United States Agency for International Development (USAID) supported the airlifts.

UNICEF/Delil Souleiman
Boys in Al-Tabqa, the second largest city in Syria’s Ar-Raqqa governorate, fill jerrycans with water.

Nigeria: Armed conflict continues to uproot thousands, driving up humanitarian need

Nigeria: Armed conflict continues to uproot thousands, driving up humanitarian need

Since November, more than 80,000 Nigerians have been forcibly displaced due to ongoing violence in the north-east, adding to two million people already displaced by violence, or forced across the country’s borders as refugees, the UN humanitarian coordination office (OCHA) said on Tuesday.

In 2018, relief organisations had estimated that 7.7 million required urgent life-saving assistance but a recent upsurge in clashes between non-state armed groups and the Nigerian military is forcing UN agencies and their partners to reassess the needs on the ground. A 90-day plan is in the works to ratchet up the response – especially across the worst-affected state of Borno – to meet the immediate needs of an estimated 312,000 men, women and children.

The UN and its humanitarian partners also expressed concerned about the potential implications of increased violence and insecurity surrounding the upcoming presidential elections, scheduled to take place on 16 February, which could lead to potential new displacements and hamper humanitarian operations in some locations.

Since 2009, the north-east of the country has been in the grip of a civil conflict triggered by armed opposition groups. The conflict has now spilled over borders across the whole Lake Chad region, resulting in widespread displacement, violations of international humanitarian and human rights law, and protection risks for increasing numbers of civilians – all adding up to one of the world’s worst humanitarian crises.

In addition to the 1.8 million displaced within Nigeria as a result of the conflict, the violence has led many families to flee over the border into neighbouring Chad, Cameroon and Niger. To date, about 200,000 people are estimated to be Nigerian refugees or asylum seekers, living in those countries.

The UN refugee agency, UNHCR, sounded the alarm on Tuesday over a recent new influx of Nigerian asylum seekers and refugees in Chad. Since 26 December, when the town of Baga on the Nigerian side of the Lake Chad, was attacked by a non-state armed group, around 6,000 have been forced on the run. Many of them paddled for three hours across the water to arrive in the lakeside Chadian village of Ngouboua, some 20 kilometres from the Nigerian border.

UNHCR and the Chadian authorities are carrying out registration and pre-screening of new arrivals to evaluate their needs. An overwhelming majority of the new arrivals are women and children and, according to initial information, about 55 per cent of them are minors.

The UN is urging all parties to the conflict to protect civilians as well as civilian construction and infrastructure, and to uphold international human rights and humanitarian law.

OCHA/Leni Kinzli
New arrivals in Gubio Camp in Maiduguri, Nigeria, following the December 2018 attack in Baga. As the camp doesn’t have enough shelters, people are sleeping on mats under trees.

Ten UN peacekeepers killed in a terrorist attack in northern Mali

Ten ‘blue helmets’ from the United Nations Stabilization Mission In Mali (MINUSMA) were killed on Sunday following a complex terrorist attack against the mission’s camp in Aguelhok, in the Kidal region, northern Mali.

MINUSMA/Harandane Dicko
The Guinean contingent of MINUSMA which is based in Kidal in the extreme north of Mali, ensures the security of the camp, conducts mine action activities and also ensures the safety of the civilian population.

 

The UN Secretary-General, António Guterres, strongly condemned the deadly attack which killed ten peacekeepers from Chad and injured at least 25 others.

“MINUSMA forces responded robustly and a number of assailants were killed,” a statement issued by his Spokesperson read.

The Secretary-General conveyed his “heartfelt condolences to the Government of Chad, and the families and loved ones of the deceased”, and wished a swift recovery to the injured, paying tribute to the dedication and courage of the men and women serving in MINUSMA “at great personal risk and sacrifice”.

A proliferation of armed groups fighting government forces and their allies in the centre and northern areas of Mali following a failed coup six years ago, have made MINUSMA the most dangerous mission to serve in as a UN ‘blue helmet’.

Mr. Guterres called on the Malian authorities, as well as the signatory armed groups to the peace agreement, to “spare no effort” in identifying the perpetrators of this attack so that they can be brought to justice as swiftly as possible.

Recalling that attacks targeting UN peacekeepers may constitute war crimes under international law, he reaffirmed that “such acts will not diminish the resolve of the United Nations to continue supporting the people and Government of Mali in their efforts to build peace and stability in the country.”

The head of the mission, Mahamat Saleh Annadif, strongly condemned the attack as well. “This complex and cowardly attack shows how determined terrorists are to sow chaos,” he said. “This requires a robust, immediate and coordinated response from all the forces to destroy the threat of terrorism in the Sahel.”

“Working closely with its partners, MINUSMA will remain proactive and will not let this barbaric act go unpunished,” he stated.

‘The best-selling brand today is fear’: UN chief highlights urgent need to address global ‘deficit of trust’

‘The best-selling brand today is fear’: UN chief highlights urgent need to address global ‘deficit of trust’

” Hate speech and hate crimes are direct threats to human rights, sustainable development and peace and security – UN Chief Guterres”

Warning against the dangers of widespread fear and mistrust in our planet, the United Nations Secretary-General, António Guterres, told journalists on Friday he wants to reaffirm the UN as a “platform for action to repair broken trust in a broken world.”

“The best-selling brand in our world today is indeed fear,” stated Mr. Guterres. “It gets ratings. It wins votes. It generates clicks,” he added, during the press conference, held at UN headquarters in New York.

“I believe the biggest challenge that governments and institutions face today is to show that we care – and to mobilize solutions that respond to people’s fears and anxieties with answers, with concrete answers,” he explained.

The Secretary-General was speaking two days after presenting his areas of action for the UN for 2019 to the 193 Member States, who, he said, widely responded to his remarks by highlighting the importance of multilateralism.

“As we look to the challenges we face – from climate change to migration to terrorism to the downsides of globalisation – there is no doubt in my mind that global challenges require global solutions,” he noted. “No country can do it alone. We need multilateralism more than ever.”

The UN chief noted that “dismissing or vilifying the doubters of multilateralism will lead nowhere,” and insisted on the importance of understanding why “many people around the world are not convinced of the power and purpose of international cooperation.”

Citing the fact that, in the process of globalisation and technological progress, many people, sectors, and entire regions were left behind, he explained the UN needs to focus on addressing the root causes of this widespread mistrust, anxiety, anger and fear, over three key areas of work: accelerating sustainable development, strengthening the added value of the United Nations through reform, and engaging societies to put an end to the rise of hate speech, xenophobia and intolerance.

“We hear troubling, hateful echoes of eras long past. Poisonous views are penetrating political debates and polluting the mainstream,” warned Mr. Guterres, as he stressed the need to remember the lessons of the 1930s and the Second World War.

“Hate speech and hate crimes are direct threats to human rights, sustainable development and peace and security,” he said.

Stressing that “words are not enough,” the UN Secretary-General announced he has tasked his Special Adviser for the Prevention of Genocide, Adama Dieng, to bring together a team to develop a UN-wide strategy and urgent global plan of action against hate speech and hate crimes.

Mr. Guterres stated that his “absolute priority for 2019” is to make sure the United Nations is a “platform for action to repair broken trust in a broken world and deliver for people”.

Following his opening remarks, the Secretary-General answered questions from members of press on various issues handled by the UN, including the situation in Venezuela, in Syria, and in the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea, the plight of migrants and refugees worldwide, recent uncertainty around the elections in the Democratic Republic of the Congo, as well as UN funding challenges.

 

UN rights office calls on Zimbabwe Government to end ‘crackdown’ in response to fuel protests

UN rights office calls on Zimbabwe Government to end ‘crackdown’ in response to fuel protests

In Zimbabwe, violence and the reported use of live ammunition by State security officials against protesters that has led to “a number of deaths” should be investigated thoroughly and transparently by the Government, the UN human rights office, OHCHR, said on Friday.

“We are deeply troubled by the socio-economic crisis that is unfolding in Zimbabwe and the repression of large-scale protests in the country, following the Government’s decision to increase fuel prices,” said spokesperson Ravina Shamdasani.

“We call on the Government to find ways of engaging with the population about their legitimate grievances and to stop the crackdown against protesters.”

Speaking to journalists in Geneva at the regular biweekly press briefing, Ms. Shamdasani called on the authorities to ensure that the country’s security forces handle protests and exercise their power – especially the use of firearms and live ammunition – strictly in accordance with the country’s international human rights obligations and the relevant principles.

These include legality, necessity, proportionality, precaution and accountability, she explained, before noting that there had also been also allegations of “generalized intimidation and harassment” by security forces, who had allegedly carried out door-to-door searches.

Last month, a national commission appointed by the Government of President Emmerson Mnanagagwa found that the military’s use of live bullets during deadly post-election violence in August was disproportionate and unjustified, Ms. Shamdasani noted.

“The bottom line is that the use of live ammunition by security forces was used, excessive force was used,” she stressed in relation to the latest protests. “We don’t have verification on the exact number of people who were killed or injured, but there are doctors’ associations that are putting numbers out there, likely more than 60 people were treated in hospital for gunshots wounds. This is not the way to react to the expression of economic grievances by the population.”

Countrywide, more than 600 people have been arrested in the demonstrations to date, according to Zimbabwe’s Minister of National Security.

Among those detained are opposition leaders and prominent civil activists, Ms. Shamdasani said, before appealing for the prompt release of all those held for exercising their rights to freedom of peaceful assembly and expression.

Reports that access to the Internet had been cut were also of concern, the UN official added. “We understand that access to WhatsApp and Facebook was also blocked at some point, internet access was shut down and it apparently resumed,” she said. “There are reports that it has been shut down again. The Government has been saying that this is to deal with misinformation that is spreading on social media.”

Asked about the nature of the demonstrations, Ms. Shamdasani explained that some reports suggested protesters had burned tires and barricaded roads, while others had set buildings on fire and carried out looting, although it was difficult to identify those responsible.

“There was some use of violence by the protesters as well, fires were set,” she said. “Shops and businesses were looted; as always, it’s difficult to determine who did this. Was it opportunist taking advantage of the chaos to do that? Was it the demonstrators themselves? It’s very difficult to understand that. It’s very difficult to manage a situation like that.”

UN Photo/Violaine Martin
Ravina Shamdasani, Spokesperson for the Office of the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR) briefs the press at the Palais des Nations in Geneva, Switzerland. 7 September 2018.

Car bomb attack on National Police Academy in Colombia, ‘strongly condemned’ by UN

Car bomb attack on National Police Academy in Colombia, ‘strongly condemned’ by UN

A car bomb attack at the National Police Academy in the Colombian capital Bogotá, which reportedly left at least nine dead and dozens injured, has been ‘strongly condemned’ by the United Nations.

The UN Office in Colombia, described it as “an unacceptable criminal act which goes against the efforts the country is making to steer away from violence and work with its people to build a more prosperous and peaceful future.”

The UN in Colombia “expressed solidarity with the families of the victims and the National Police and wished a speedy recovery to all those who were injured in this criminal act”, UN Spokesperson, Stéphane Dujarric told reporters at UN Headquarters on Thursday. “We join this condemnation of this attack”, he added.

The Colombian Government signed an historic peace deal with the FARC rebel group in November 2016, ending five decades of armed conflict. The UN Verification Mission in the South American country, based on the agreement, has been overseeing the laying down of arms, after the bilateral ceasefire, and verifying the reintegration of former fighters into civilian life.

According to news reports, the bombing occurred shortly after a ceremony inside the General Santander Academy, in the south of the city.  So far, the identity of the assailants or motivation for the attack is unknown.

The President of the UN General Assembly, María Fernanda Espinosa, a former Foreign Minister of Colombia’s southern neighbour, Ecuador, also issued a statement condemning the “atrocious attack”. On Twitter, she expressed her solidarity with the people of Colombia, “who continue to demonstrate their tireless commitment to achieving peace.”

Her Spokesperson, Monica Grayley, said that Ms. Espinosa “expresses solidarity with the victims and their families, the people, and the Government of Colombia.”

World Bank/Dominic Chavez
Aerial view of the city of Bogotá, Colombia. (file)

Sudan: UN rights chief alarmed over ‘excessive force’, alleged use of live fire against protestors

Sudan: UN rights chief alarmed over ‘excessive force’, alleged use of live fire against protestors

” A repressive response can only worsen grievances – UN human rights chief, Michelle Bachelet

The reported use of “excessive force” against demonstrators across Sudan over food and fuel shortages that has led to the deaths of at least 24 people is “deeply worrying”, the UN’s top human rights official, Michelle Bachelet, said on Thursday.

In a call for the authorities to refrain from further violence, amid reports that security forces fired live rounds and tear gas into hospital premises, where protesters were sheltering, the High Commissioner said that the official toll “may be nearly twice as high”, citing “credible” reports.

“A repressive response can only worsen grievances,” Ms. Bachelet said in a statement, before urging the Government of President Omar Al Bashir to investigate the allegations “in a prompt, thorough and transparent” way.

“I am very concerned about reports of excessive use of force, including live ammunition, by Sudanese State Security Forces during large-scale demonstrations in various parts of the country since 19 December,” Ms. Bachelet insisted.

At least 816 people have also been arrested in connection with the demonstrations in more than a dozen cities across Sudan, Ms. Bachelet’s statement noted, adding that those targeted included journalists, opposition leaders and civil society representatives.

All those arbitrarily detained for the exercise of their rights to freedom of peaceful assembly and expression” should be “promptly released” and their rights “fully protected”, the High Commissioner said.

“The Government needs to ensure that security forces handle protests in line with the country’s international human rights obligations by facilitating and protecting the right to peaceful assembly”, Ms. Bachelet maintained, before urging the authorities “to work to resolve this tense situation through dialogue and call on all sides to refrain from the use of violence”.

Sudan’s obligations under human rights law

Sudan, which until 2017 was subject to longstanding international sanctions affecting the country, cooperates with several UN human rights mechanisms, most recently the Human Rights Committee, which last reviewed the country in December 2018, as a State party to the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, since 1986.

Under the Covenant, Sudan “is obliged to take all necessary measures intended to prevent arbitrary deprivations of life by their law enforcement officials”, according to the statement, issued by the High Commissioner’s office, OHCHR.

Law enforcement officials should also “comply with relevant international standards” relating to the use of firearms, the statement added, noting also that Ms. Bachelet stressed the readiness of her office to deploy a team to Sudan, to provide advice to the authorities and “help ensure they act in accordance with the country’s international human rights obligations”.

WFP/Abeer Etefa
Aerial view of the capital of Sudan, Khartoum. 2018.

Iraq: UN demining agency rejects desecration accusations, involving historic Mosul churches

Iraq: UN demining agency rejects desecration accusations, involving historic Mosul churches

The United Nations Mine Action Service (UNMAS) in Iraq issued a statement on Thursday rejecting allegations made earlier this week by a non-profit organization  there, alleging that personnel had carried out explosive hazard clearance inside two historic churches in Mosul “in a barbaric and arbitrary manner.”

The allegations, published earlier this week on the website of the Hammurabi Human Rights Organization (HHRO), the Iraqi non-governmental organization in question, accused UNMAS of “crimes no less grievous and insolent than the crimes of Daesh,” and claimed that the clearance was conducted without church authorization, “in a barbaric and arbitrary manner with utter disregard for the holy and religious sanctity” of the two churches, located in the Hosh al-Khan area of the Al Maedan district, in Mosul.

Although UNMAS – and its partner for the clearance project, G4S – were not directly named, UNMAS Iraq said in a statement that it was taking the allegations seriously, open to further investigation of the allegations, and continuing to work closely with the Iraqi Government.

The agency has invited HHRO and officials of the Syriac Catholic Archbishopric in the Nineveh Plains, “as well as other relevant Iraqi authorities, to meet in person to carefully consider the facts relative to their statements and hope they will offer to correct the record when known.”

UNMAS said it was “keen on safeguarding all archeological, religious and historical sites”, from the assessment phase of de-mining and other clearance operations, working “closely with the Iraqi State and religious authorities to ensure this national treasure is secure and safe, to prevent any additional damage to that inflicted by the terrorists and the conflict”.

To date, UNMAS Iraq and G4S teams have cleared and safely removed 53 suicide belts from the church sites, 74 munitions of various types, seven improvised bombs, and assorted ammunition and materials such as home-made explosives. According to the agency, the site and the accumulated debris remain heavily contaminated with explosives and will require further clearance.

The UN’s demining agency further explained that, since it started operating in Mosul in November 2017, over 1,500 clearance tasks have been carried out, resulting in the removal of approximately 48,000 explosive hazards of all types, heretofore without any complaints.

In 2014, the jihadist terrorist group ISIL, known in Arabic as Da’esh, occupied Iraq’s second city of Mosul, an historic centre of Christianity in the Middle East for centuries, demanding that they convert to Islam, pay tribute, or face execution. More than 100 churches and other religious sites were destroyed or demolished.

Many other Christian enclaves across northern Iraq, and those of other religious minorities, were overrun and destroyed by Da’esh fighters during more than three years of occupation.

UNICEF/Sparks
Destruction in the Iraqi war-battered city of Mosul, evident after the city was liberated from ISIL forces in 2017.