Despite a 30 December ceasefire in Syria brokered by Russia and Turkey, government forces have continued a strategic offensive against opposition-held regions of Damascus. Since 23 December the area of Wadi Barada, which contains the primary source of water for up to 5.5 million people living in Damascus and surrounding areas, has been targeted by airstrikes and shelling, displacing more than 7,000 civilians. The UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs reported that water supply has been cut off due to the deliberate targeting of infrastructure, but did not attribute responsibility. Millions in Damascus have consequently been suffering water shortages and the head of the UN humanitarian task force for Syria, Jan Egeland, warned that sabotaging water supplies constitutes a war crime.
On 9 January the UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA) reported that more than 65,000 people have fled from Arakan/Rakhine state since the Burma/Myanmar government started counterinsurgency operations against Rohingya villages during October 2016. According to OCHA, 22,000 new asylum seekers were registered in Bangladesh during the first week of 2017 alone. Many have recounted stories of rape, torture, extrajudicial killings, and burning of homes in Arakan/Rakhine state by the security forces. Access to northern Arakan/Rakhine state remains restricted for independent media as well as humanitarian and human rights workers.
Ongoing Army and Police operations in Arakan/Rakhine state may constitute a deliberate policy of ethnic cleansing directed at the Rohingya minority. The UN Special Rapporteur on the situation of human rights in Myanmar, Ms. Yanghee Lee, is currently on an official visit to Burma/Myanmar, but the government has reportedly obstructed her access to some regions.
On 10 January Sweden, the current President of the UN Security Council, convened a meeting on “Maintenance of International Peace and Security: Conflict Prevention and Sustaining Peace.” The meeting provided the first opportunity for the new UN Secretary-General, António Guterres, to formally address the Council. The Secretary-General discussed reforms he is implementing within the UN system to strengthen the organization’s capacity to address the root causes of conflict. During the more than 8-hour debate, which featured statements from a number of ministerial level participants, many countries highlighted the need to improve conflict response alongside conflict prevention, noting the urgent need to address ongoing violence and atrocities in Syria, Yemen, South Sudan and the Democratic Republic of the Congo.