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OHCHR Press Briefing Note - Mali, Sri Lanka, Zimbabwe, Iran

OHCHR Press Briefing Note - 1) Mali 2) Sri Lanka 3) Zimbabwe 4) Iran

18 January 2013

Spokesperson for the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights:  Rupert Colville

Location:        Geneva

Subjects:        1) Mali
                2) Sri Lanka
                3) Zimbabwe
                4) Iran

1)        Mali

The crisis in Mali has led to various human rights violations, including extrajudicial killings, rape and torture. These have been documented in a report requested by the Human Rights Council which was published by our Office on January 14, along with the growing ethnic tensions in the country which raise very serious concerns.

Our report* presents the findings of a human rights mission deployed to Mali, Burkina Faso, Mauritania and Niger from 11 to 20 November 2012.  The 8-person team included two staff from the offices of the Secretary General’s Special Representative on Sexual Violence in Conflict and his Special Representative on Children in Armed Conflict.

The report shows that the current human rights situation is linked to long-standing and unresolved issues, and that human rights violations have been committed both in the North, and in the area under government control.

In Northern Mali, serious human rights violations have been taking place since January 2012, including summary executions and extra-judicial killings.

A year ago, on 24 January 2012, armed combatants identified as members of the MNLA (Mouvement national de liberation de l’Azawad) allegedly used students as human shields to force military forces to surrender and later on allegedly executed 94 of the 153 captured and disarmed soldiers.

Several Tuareg soldiers were also reportedly victims of reprisals by members of the Malian army in the North. Incidents of this nature include the killing of nine soldiers in Timbuktu on 4 February 2012.

Civilian deaths were also reported, including of people who tried to resist the looting of humanitarian warehouses by armed groups in April 2012, and a young unmarried couple who were stoned to death in Aguelhok.on 29 July 2012 by members of Ansar Dine and the MUJAO group (Mouvement pour l’unicité et le jihad en Afrique de l’Ouest).

Ten amputation cases by extremists groups in the North were also documented, including the case of a 30-year-old man whose right hand was cut off with a kitchen knife for allegedly stealing cattle following a summary trial set up by MUJAO militia.

Human rights experts also found that civilians in the North suffered from degrading treatments by extremist groups, based on an extreme interpretation of Sharia. Women, in particular, have suffered from harassment, abuses and sexual violence, for example after being accused of being improperly veiled or dressed, or for riding on a motorbike. On April 3, a 22-year- old woman was raped by six armed men allegedly belonging to the Ansar Dine extremist group for not wearing her veil in her own home.

Rapes of women and girls, at times in front of family members and often apparently carried out on an ethnic basis, have been repeatedly used in the North to intimidate people and break any form of resistance, in a culture where rape is considered as taboo and victims often suffer from social exclusion. Young girls, sometimes as young as 12 or 13, are reported to have been forcibly married to members of Ansar Dine, MUJAO and AQMI (Al-Qaida au Maghreb islamique) and gang-raped for days, the report says.

Our report also highlights cases of arbitrary detention in Gao, Timbuktu and Kidal, as well as cases of sexual violence against female detainees. The recruitment of child soldiers, sometimes as young as 10, by extremist groups was also documented during the mission.

The human rights team also highlighted human rights violations in territories under the control of the Malian government, including the extra-judicial killings of several soldiers of the Malian army and at least 21 cases of forced disappearances following a failed reverse coup on 30 April 2012. Members of the police and the military suspected of supporting the coup were also arrested and allegedly abused, tortured and subjected to inhumane treatment in Kati camp. Malian soldiers also allegedly executed 16 pilgrims on 9 September 2012.

The OHCHR mission highlighted the increasing presence of self-defence militia and expressed its alarm at the growing ethnic tensions in Mali, which could also lead to possible acts of revenge against the Tuareg and Arab communities perceived as being linked to the armed groups.

We call on all parties to abide by international human rights and humanitarian law standards and we welcome the announcement by the Office of the prosecutor of the International Criminal Court on January 15 that it will open an investigation into the Mali situation, following the referral of the situation to the ICC by the Mali authorities in July. This is an important step for victims of human rights violations, and also sends an important message to perpetrators of human rights violations that they will be held accountable for the crimes committed.

We also call for the initiation of a reconciliation process to address current human rights challenges as well as long-standing unresolved issues, and urge the Malian army and its supporters to take extreme care not to carry out further reprisals as and when they retake territory in the North.

OHCHR stands ready to provide assistance to the Malian Government by supporting the establishment of a transitional justice mechanism to facilitate national reconciliation.

* The report is currently only available in French and can be found at http://www.ohchr.org/Documents/HRBodies/HRCouncil/RegularSession/Session22/A-HRC-22-33_fr.pdf

2)        Sri Lanka

The UN High Commissioner for Human Rights Navi Pillay is deeply concerned that the impeachment and removal of Sri Lanka’s Chief Justice has further eroded the rule of law in the country and could also set back efforts for accountability and reconciliation.

The removal of the Chief Justice through a flawed process -- which has been deemed unconstitutional by the highest courts of the land -- is, in the High Commissioner’s view, gross interference in the independence of the judiciary and a calamitous setback for the rule of law in Sri Lanka.

Chief Justice Shirani Bandaranayake was served notice of her dismissal and removed from her chambers and official residence on Tuesday (15 January), in spite of a Supreme Court ruling that the parliamentary procedure to remove her violated the Constitution.  

Sri Lanka has a long history of abuse of executive power, and this latest step appears to strip away one of the last and most fundamental of the independent checks and balances, and should ring alarm bells for all Sri Lankans.

The jurist sworn in by the President as the new Chief Justice on 15 January, the former Attorney-General and Legal Advisor to the Cabinet, Mr. Mohan Peiris, has been at the forefront of a number of government delegations to Geneva in recent years to vigorously defend the Sri Lankan government’s position before the Human Rights Council and other human rights mechanisms. This raises obvious concerns about his independence and impartiality, especially when handling allegations of serious human rights violations by the authorities.

We are also concerned that the impeachment process has caused bitter divisions within Sri Lanka, and that it sends an ominous signal about the Government’s commitment to accountability and reconciliation. It flies in the face of the strong calls by the Lessons Learned and Reconciliation Commission, and by leaders of Sri Lanka’s civil society and legal profession, to rebuild the rule of law which has been badly eroded by decades of conflict and human rights violations.

Just this morning we have received alarming reports from the Independent Bar of Sri Lanka of a series of death threats, acts of intimidation and even a couple of reported murder attempts against lawyers who have been supporting Chief Justice Bandaranayake, and the rulings of the Supreme Court and Court of Appeal on her case.

The High Commissioner will be issuing a report on Sri Lanka at the February-March session of the Human Rights Council, focusing on the engagement of UN mechanisms in support of the accountability and reconciliation processes.

3)        Zimbabwe

We condemn recent attacks against human rights defenders in Zimbabwe, including arbitrary arrests, intimidation and harassment.

In the latest case, on January 14, the police charged Okay Machisa, the director of Zimbabwe Human Rights Association (ZimRights) and chairperson of the Crisis in Zimbabwe Coalition, for allegedly publishing false statements prejudicial to the State, fraud and forgery after allegedly conducting illegal voter registration. Machisa handed himself to the police on January 14, accompanied by his lawyer, and remains in detention.

In a previous incident, ZimRights Education Programmes Manager, Leo Chamahwinya, and ZimRights Local Chapter Chairperson, Dorcas Shereni, were arrested by the police on 13 December 2012. They were both denied bail by the High Court and remain in detention.

We are concerned about the crackdown on non-governmental organisations and dissenting voices seen as critical of President Robert Mugabe's rule and apparently politically motivated prosecutions, ahead of the elections which are expected to take place later this year.

4)        Iran

We welcome the temporary release of Nasrin Sotoudeh, the well-known lawyer and human rights activist who is serving a six-year sentence in Tehran’s Evin Prison. Ms Sotoudeh was granted a three day temporary leave and it has now been confirmed that she joined her family yesterday.

The travel restrictions imposed on her family – the issue that caused her to go on hunger strike in the autumn -- were lifted in December, so her temporary release marks a second improvement in her case. We hope that the temporary leave will be extended, and that Ms Sotoudeh will soon be indefinitely released.

ENDS

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