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OHCHR Briefing Notes

OHCHR Briefing Notes


1) Syria


We are deeply alarmed at reports of a major military build-up and the increased threat to the population in the town of Yabroud, an opposition-held area in the Qalamoun mountains of Syria. According to reports we have received from within Syria, there have been numerous aerial attacks and shelling, along with a military build-up around the town suggesting a major assault by land may be imminent. Electricity was totally cut off this past Wednesday. Field hospitals are suffering serious shortages in medicine and medical supplies as scores of people, including civilians, reportedly continue to require urgent treatment. We understand that there remains a large number of civilians in Yabroud, with some estimates suggesting 40,000 to 50,000 people, and thousands have been fleeing over the last few days.

We remind the Government of Syria of its obligations under international human rights and international humanitarian law to protect all persons who are not taking an active part in the hostilities, including civilians, members of armed forces who have laid down their arms and those placed hors de combat by sickness, wounds, detention or any other cause. Effective warning is required by international humanitarian law to give civilians an opportunity to leave areas that will come under attack.

We are deeply concerned that the attack on Yabroud may follow the pattern of previous attacks on cities and towns across Syria where government aerial bombardments were indiscriminate and disproportionate in violation of obligations under international law and ensuing land incursions resulted in heavy civilian casualties. If the State does not take all necessary precautions to ensure the safety of civilians, it risks committing grave violations of international humanitarian law.

The High Commissioner this week renewed her call to the Security Council to refer the situation in Syria to the International Criminal Court. She warned that civilians have paid and are continuing to pay the price for the lack of consensus on Syria and the resulting inaction. Violations are continuing in full sight of the international community.

We are closely watching the situation unfold in Yabroud and urge all sides to respect their obligations under international law.

We also echo the Secretary-General’s condemnation of the reported massacre in the village of Ma’an in Hama on 9 February. Perpetrators of this massacre, and all other crimes in Syria, must be held accountable.

2) Venezuela

We are deeply concerned about the escalation of violence, and in particular, the death of at least three people during demonstrations in Caracas on Wednesday (12 February).

Thousands of people in big cities throughout Venezuela reportedly participated in protests against the detention of student demonstrators earlier in the week, as well as against rising crime rates and increasing economic hardship in the country. Yesterday, the Public Prosecutor reported that three people lost their lives, 66 were wounded and 69 detained, as a result of various clashes during and after demonstrations.

We have also received worrying reports of intimidation of journalists, some of whom have had their equipment seized, as well as reports that some local and international journalists were attacked while covering the protests. In addition, some protestors have reportedly been detained and may be prosecuted on terrorism charges. It has also been reported that some protesters, including minors, are being denied contact with family or lawyers.

The Regional Representative of the High Commissioner for Human Rights in South America has called on the Government of Venezuela to ensure that the rights to freedom of peaceful assembly and freedom of opinion and expression are guaranteed, and that a prompt, full and impartial investigation into the killings and any act of excessive use of force is undertaken. He also called for all detainees to be promptly brought before justice in order to decide on the lawfulness of their detention or to order their release.

Perpetrators should be prosecuted and those found responsible for acts of violence, and in particular deaths, should be sanctioned with appropriate penalties. We are especially concerned at reports of attacks on demonstrators by armed groups acting with impunity. We are also concerned that this situation could trigger further outbreaks of violence and that of cycle of violence may take place.

We call on all parties in Venezuela to engage in peaceful dialogue to find a way through this crisis.

3) Turkey

We are concerned that legislative amendments adopted by the Turkish parliament last week regulating use of the Internet may lead to breaches of human rights, in particular the right to freedom of expression and opinion, and the right to privacy. The amendments contained in Law no. 6518, adopted on 6 February, may allow Turkey’s telecommunications authority (Telecommunications Communication Presidency) to block websites without first seeking a court order.

Law 6518 will also require Internet service providers to store data on web users' activities for two years and make it available to the authorities upon request without a judicial order. In addition, Internet service providers face severe penalties if they fail to remove content deemed to be illegal.

Even before the amendments, Law 5651, enacted in May 2007, placed broad restrictions on Internet use. Since the law came into force, approximately 37,000 websites have reportedly been denied operation by court orders and administrative blocking orders.

The law as it stands appears to be incompatible with Turkey’s international human rights obligations, in particular those related to freedom of expression and the right to privacy. As the General Assembly has recently affirmed (November 2013), the same rights that people have offline must also be protected online.

Following its Universal Periodic Review before the Human Rights Council in 2010, Turkey accepted a recommendation to "align all articles of the Penal Code and other laws with international standards, particularly with regard to freedom of expression." We call on the authorities to review laws No.5651 and 6518 to bring them in line with international human rights standards, in particular the rights to freedom of expression and opinion, and the right to privacy.

We also call on the authorities to ensure police forces do not resort to excessive use of force and other human rights violations while discharging their duties during demonstrations. Acts of sporadic violence or other punishable acts committed by some individuals in the context of peaceful protests should not be used by the authorities to deprive others of their right to freedom of peaceful assembly.

ENDS

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