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OHCHR Briefing Notes

OHCHR Briefing Notes

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

Subject: 1) South Sudan
2) Pakistan
3) Venezuela

1) South Sudan

UN High Commissioner for Human Rights Navi Pillay has just issued a press release commenting on a detailed new UN report describing gross violations of human rights in South Sudan “on a massive scale,” including possible war crimes and crimes against humanity, which she says underscores the extreme urgency of bringing the conflict to an end.

She had already warned of the gravity of the situation after visiting South Sudan two weeks ago, but says the UNMISS report provides further proof of how extraordinarily dangerous the situation in South Sudan has become over the past five months. The report provides detailed accounts of ethnic-based mass killings and revenge attacks, including direct and deliberate murder of civilians, and a litany of other serious violations such as summary executions, rape and other forms of sexual violence, including sexual slavery.

The report, based on interviews with more than 900 victims, witnesses and others, illustrates just how quickly a political struggle within the ruling party was allowed – or even encouraged – to metamorphose into an ethnic-based conflict of the most lethal sort. She notes that, as former President of the International Criminal Tribunal for Rwanda, she recognizes many of the precursors of genocide: hate media including calls to rape women of a particular ethnic group; attacks on civilians in hospitals, churches and mosques; even attacks on people sheltering in UN compounds – all on the basis of the victims’ ethnicity.”

The High Commissioner notes that her own visit, and more recent ones by UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-Moon, other senior UN officials and top politicians, have helped draw attention to the urgency of the situation and put pressure on the leaders of both sides to enter serious peace negotiations as well as to stop their followers committing more serious violations. They need to take immediate concrete actions to stop the killing, before the fires they have ignited bring the entire country down in flames.

In the light of what this report reveals, there can no longer be any excuse for either President Salva Kiir or his chief opponent Dr Riek Machar continuing to avoid identifying and arresting their force commanders and other individuals implicated in the commission of serious violations, including war crimes and crimes against humanity. It is simply not credible that the Government is unaware who, among their commanders, was responsible for organizing the slaughter of more than 300 Nuer men herded into a government building in the Gudele neighbourhood of Juba on 16 December.

Likewise, it is not credible that Dr. Machar does not know which of his commanders instigated and led the mass killing of several hundred civilians in the mosque, hospital, market and other locations in Bentiu on 15 April. Unfortunately these are only two of the many examples of the killing of civilians and other grave violations described in this report.

The High Commissioner has urged, and continues to urge, both President Kiir and Dr. Machar to publicly, loudly and unequivocally denounce such acts by their fighters and other followers, and to make it clear that anyone committing such crimes will be arrested and prosecuted. As leaders, they have a clear obligation to prevent any further violations being committed by fighters under their command.

The report notes how even members of the Fire Brigade and Wildlife Services have taken part in fighting and violations, which indicates just how pervasive the sense of total impunity is, and how urgently it needs to be addressed. The South Sudanese need a credible and transparent accountability process to restore their confidence in the State and government.

The High Commissioner welcomes the increased attention given to South Sudan in recent weeks, including by the Security Council, which she briefed two days after leaving Juba. She calls on the international community – especially regional powers and processes to focus even more attention on the dire human rights situation in South Sudan as part of their efforts to stop the country from collapsing into catastrophe.

Both leaders will apparently meet in Addis Ababa for peace talks today. The High Commissioner calls on them to make a concerted and genuine effort to bring these talks to a speedy and successful conclusion. In the meantime, they should call an immediate halt to the fighting.

The High Commissioner’s 30 April statement at the end of her visit to South Sudan can be found at:
http://www.ohchr.org/EN/NewsEvents/Pages/DisplayNews.aspx?NewsID=14550&LangID=E
and is also now available in French, Chinese and Arabic.

2) Pakistan

The murder of prominent human rights lawyer Rashid Khan Rehman in Pakistan this week has brought into stark focus the climate of intimidation and threats that permeates the work of human rights defenders and journalists in the country.

Rehman, who had worked with the Human Rights Commission of Pakistan for more than 20 years, had received numerous death threats for working on the defence case for a university instructor charged under the country’s blasphemy laws. The Human Rights Commission of Pakistan last month urged the Government to investigate the threats that had reportedly been made to Rehman and to take effective measures to ensure his safety. Sadly, Rehman was gunned down in his office in Multan, Punjab Province on Wednesday.

During the High Commissioner’s visit to Pakistan in June 2012, she was already expressing concern about the many journalists, human rights advocates and public officials who had been subjected to death threats for their opposition to the blasphemy law and urged the Government to take all appropriate protective measures to ensure that their security and work is not compromised.

We condemn the killing of Rehman and urge the Government to ensure a prompt investigation and to bring the perpetrators to justice. Pakistani authorities have the responsibility to ensure that human rights defenders, lawyers and journalists are able to carry out their work without fear of intimidation, harassment and violence.

Pakistan prides itself on its vibrant, free media, but there has also been a worrying number of attacks and threats in recent months against TV presenters, other journalists as well as human rights defenders, particularly those expressing views critical of the military or security establishments.

During its most recent Human Rights Council Universal Periodic Review in October 2012, Pakistan’s Government accepted recommendations to make further efforts to prohibit attacks against journalists and human rights defenders and to effectively investigate such acts and prosecute the perpetrators.

We urge the Government to redouble its efforts to prevent and investigate such attacks, whether committed by State or non-State actors, and to send a strong message that perpetrators will be held accountable.

3) Venezuela

We are concerned at renewed violence in Venezuela in the context of demonstrations against the government. On Wednesday night and early Thursday, Venezuelan troops rounded up more than 200 youth movement protesters who had been camping peacefully outside the UNDP offices in Caracas and other parts of the city. According to official figures, a total of 243 people were arrested. The government has claimed that the camps were being used as bases for staging violent protests, and that they had found molotov cocktails, arms and drugs there.

The majority of those detained, who include 18 minors and one pregnant woman, have reportedly been taken to Tiuna military premises. Lawyers and families have complained about lack of information about the whereabouts of those detained as well as lack of access to them.

Hundreds of other demonstrators took to the streets to protest against the arrests of the youths and the dismantling of the camps. Barricades were set up and roads blocked. A policeman was shot dead and three others reportedly injured during clashes. Protesters were also reportedly injured. Further arrests were reported throughout Caracas yesterday evening.

We are also concerned at reports of violence and attacks -- usually started by armed individuals -- in and around Venezuelan universities, which have been taking place since the beginning of the week. The Library of the Fermin Toro University in Barquisimeto was set on fire, and police used rubber bullets and tear gas to disperse demonstrations inside and outside the premises of the Catholic University in Puerto Ordaz.

We unequivocally condemn all violence by all sides in Venezuela. We are particularly concerned at the reported excessive use of force by the authorities in response to protests. We therefore reiterate the High Commissioner's call to the Government to ensure that people are not penalised for exercising their rights to peaceful assembly and to freedom of expression and for sustained and inclusive, peaceful dialogue based on Venezuela's human rights obligations. The Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights remains available to support efforts to this end.

ENDS

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