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OHCHR PRESS BRIEFING - Sudan (Darfur), Vietnam, Liberia

OHCHR PRESS BRIEFING NOTE - Sudan (Darfur), Vietnam, Liberia

3 August 2012

Acting Spokesperson for the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights: Ravina Shamdasani
Location: Geneva
Subjects: (1) Sudan (Darfur)
(2) Viet Nam
(3) Liberia

(1) Sudan (Darfur)

Security forces in Darfur are believed to have killed at least eight people – at least five of whom were young students aged 17 and below – and injured more than 50 on Tuesday when they opened fire at demonstrators in Nyala, the capital of South Darfur. Eye witnesses have also reported the use of heavy tear gas, in addition to the live bullets. We urge the Government to promptly launch an independent and credible investigation into the violence and the apparent excessive use of force by security forces.

There are key international guidelines that must be respected in handling protests so that the legitimate right of people to freedom of expression and assembly are fully respected. The Code of Conduct for Law Enforcement Officials requires that the use of force should be exceptional and in accordance with a principle of proportionality. We call on the Government to unequivocally condemn excessive use of force to suppress protests, and to hold accountable those who were responsible for the fatalities and injuries.

The High Commissioner had earlier called on Sudanese authorities to ensure that demonstrations are allowed to proceed peacefully, and for restraint from all sides. We also call again on the Government to immediately and unconditionally release those who have been detained for merely exercising their rights to freedom of assembly and expression.

Human rights staff of the African Union/United Nations Hybrid Mission in Darfur (UNAMID) are continuing to monitor the situation.

(2) Viet Nam

We are concerned by what appears to be increasingly limited space for freedom of expression in Viet Nam. Information that we have received indicates ongoing persecution of bloggers and people who use the Internet and other means to freely express their opinions. In particular, we are concerned that the upcoming trial of Mr. Nguyen Van Hai (also known as Dieu Cay), Mr. Pan Thanh Hai and Ms. Ta Phong Tan for “conducting propaganda” against the State is directly linked to their legitimate exercise of freedom of expression, including their online publications about social and human rights issues. The three individuals face charges under Article 88 of the Criminal Code and could face penalties ranging from 7 to 16 years’ imprisonment. The trial, which was scheduled for 7 August and was just postponed indefinitely, will reportedly be closed and witnesses will not be called, raising concerns that the process will not comply with fair trial guarantees. Mr. Nguyen Van Hai and Mr. Pan Thanh Hai have been in detention since 2010 while Ms. Ta Phong Tan has been detained since September 2011.

A number of arrests and harsh convictions in recent years suggest a disturbing trend of curbing freedom of expression, opinion and association of bloggers, journalists and human rights activists who question Government policies in a peaceful manner. On 16 July, for example, three land activists who had led a peaceful campaign against corruption and wrongdoing by local authorities against farmers were sentenced to jail terms of four to five years.

We urge the Government of Viet Nam to fulfill its commitments with respect to ensuring fair trial guarantees and to consider promptly releasing the accused for the exercise of their right to freedom of expression, opinion and association.

(3) Liberia
We are concerned about draft legislation currently before the House of Representatives in Liberia which proposes an amendment to the Penal Code broadly criminalising homosexual behaviour. The legislation, which has already been passed by the Senate, makes it a felony of the second degree, which means it carries penalties of imprisonment (up to five years, but with provisions in the law for extended terms) and/or fines, for a person who, for example, “seduces, encourages, promotes another person of the same gender to engage into sexual activities.” Sodomy, voluntary and involuntary, are already criminal offences in Liberian law. An amendment to the Domestic Relations Law to explicitly prohibit same-sex marriage is also being proposed.
We are also concerned about the atmosphere of intimidation and violence against gay and lesbian activists, as well as reports of attacks against them. Such harassment illustrates the difficult, discriminatory environment in which gay rights activists are operating. The proposals going through the legislature could make an already bad situation for lesbian and gay people in Liberia even worse
Legislation criminalising homosexuality can have a seriously negative impact, not only on gay and lesbian people, but also on the most vulnerable populations, such as people living with HIV, sex workers, refugees and internally displaced populations, who might be in need of special attention but will not come forward due to the high risk of stigmatisation, discrimination and possible violence.
We remind Liberia that it is legally obligated to implement the international human rights treaties that it has ratified, including the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights. The UN Human Rights Committee, which oversees implementation of this Covenant, has warned States that laws criminalising homosexual acts between consenting adults violate individuals’ rights to privacy and to freedom from discrimination.

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