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OHCHR PRESS BRIEFING NOTES - (1) Yemen (2) South Sudan (3) Cuba

Spokesperson for the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights: Rupert Colville
Location: Geneva
Subjects: (1) Yemen (2) South Sudan (3) Cuba (in response to a question)

(1) Yemen

A press release will be issued shortly on the troubling situation in Yemen where deepening insecurity and violence are wreaking a terrible toll on civilians. The past few weeks have seen a succession of bomb attacks that have claimed dozens of lives.

These are wanton acts of indiscriminate violence and utterly deplorable, yet, perhaps because of the violence engulfing so many other countries, relatively little attention is being paid to the situation. We are urging more attention to be paid to the plight of the Yemenis. We also call on all parties in Yemen to renounce the use of violence to avoid further loss of innocent lives and take concrete steps towards the immediate and effective implementation of the peace and partnership agreement.

(2) South Sudan

Earlier this morning, the UN Mission in South Sudan (UNMISS) issued a detailed report compiled by its Human Rights Division on the mass killings last April in the towns of Bentiu and Bor. According to the report, at least 353 civilians were killed, and another 250 were wounded, in the two attacks. The victims were, the report says, deliberately targeted on the basis of their ethnicity, nationality or perceived support for one or other of the parties to the conflict.

On 15 April, at least 287 civilians were killed at a mosque in the Kalibalek area of Bentiu by opposition forces after they regained control of the Unity State capital. Many of the victims were Sudanese traders and their families who were targeted on the basis of their Darfuri origin. On the same day, at least 19 civilians were killed at the Bentiu Civil Hospital.

Two days later, on the morning of 17 April, a large group of men arrived at the UNMISS compound outside Bor, in Jonglei State, to demand the expulsion of youths of Nuer ethnicity from the Mission’s protection-of-civilians site. The mob then forced its way into the protection site and went on a rampage of killing, looting and abductions of internally displaced people (IDPs) sheltering there. At least 47 IDPs died in the attack, and the report states there are reasonable grounds to believe that the attack was planned in advance.

Since then, fighting has persisted, particularly in Unity and the northern part of Jonglei -- the two states where the incidents described in the report took place – albeit not on the same scale of the April attacks in Bor and Bentiu – with accompanying gross violations of human rights and international humanitarian law, by both sides, including extrajudicial killings, enforced disappearances and sexual violence. The fighting continues to take a terrible toll on civilians, particularly women and children, who have borne the brunt of the violence. Over 1.9 million people remain displaced, with other States in the region hosting nearly 500,000 South Sudanese.

Accountability is a big issue. There has been no accountability for the mass atrocities, human rights violations and abuses that have caused the death of tens of thousands of people in South Sudan. For example, nearly nine months after the attacks in Bentiu and Bor took place, no perpetrator has been held accountable by either the Government of South Sudan or the Sudan People’s Liberation Movement/Army In Opposition for the two large-scale killings described in the report.

We are also concerned at the lack of progress in the peace process, and there is a real risk the fighting will continue. There is an urgent need to conclude a peace deal, respect the Cessation of Hostilities Agreement, and ensure no amnesties are granted for serious violations. Without peace, famine still remains a possibility in 2015.

The UNMISS report can be viewed at:

(3) Cuba (in response to a question about the release of political prisoners)

We understand from media reports yesterday and overnight that at least nine political prisoners have been released by the Cuban authorities, reportedly as part of the recent US-Cuba agreement. We understand that at least some of them may have been released conditionally, which means that they have to report to the authorities regularly. We do not know what other conditions may have been imposed for their release. As far as we are aware, the Cuban authorities have not made any statements with regard to these releases, so the details are not yet clear.

We welcome these releases and hope that they will pave the way for an environment where freedom of expression and association may flourish. One issue OHCHR has been particularly concerned about over recent years – and which has come very much back into focus in the past few weeks -- is the short-term detention of political opponents, human rights activists and members of civil society organisations.

Over the past four years, OHCHR has received numerous reports of such detentions, without warrants, especially in advance of certain meetings and events, apparently in order to prevent specific people from participating. These detentions can last a few hours, a few days and sometimes longer, and then people are usually released without charges. A number of UN Special Procedures have engaged with the Cuban authorities on the issue of these. Sources in Cuba have put the number of these detentions to well over 8,000 in 2014 alone, although we have not been able to verify the number independently.

The latest such detentions occurred on 30 December 2014 when, according to media reports, dozens of people were arrested before they could participate in a performance at the Plaza de la Revolución in Havana by Tania Bruguera, a well-known Cuban artist. The protest had not been authorised by the authorities. Ms. Brugeura and others were subsequently released, but she was detained on two further occasions over the following days and finally released last Friday. We urge the authorities to stop this practice which clearly impinges on invididuals’ human rights, and appears to be little more than a form of intimidation or harassment.


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