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UNHCHR: Libya, Iraq, Poland, Yemen

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

Date: 20 December 2019

Subject: (1) Libya
(2) Iraq
(3) Poland
(4) Yemen

1) Libya

We are concerned about the deteriorating human rights situation in Libya, including the impact of the ongoing conflict on civilians, attacks against human rights defenders and journalists, treatment of migrants and refugees, conditions of detention and impunity.

In 2019, our Office along with the UN Support Mission in Libya (UNSMIL) has so far documented at least 284 civilian deaths and 363 injuries as a result of the armed conflict in Libya – an increase of more than a quarter over the number of casualties recorded during the same period last year.

Airstrikes were the leading cause of civilian casualties, accounting for 182 deaths and 212 injuries, followed by ground fighting, improvised explosive devices, abductions and killings. During the same period, the World Health Organization has documented 61 conflict-related attacks against health care facilities and personnel, which is a 69 percent increase compared to the same period in 2018.

We have grave concerns about the impact the conflict is having on densely populated areas such as Abu Salim and Al Hadba, where an additional 100,000 civilians are at risk of being displaced, on top of the 343,000 who already have been.

Journalists, media workers and human rights defenders continue to be subjected to violence, threats and harassment. In the most recent such case, Reda Fhelboom, a well-known human rights defender and journalist, was detained on 14 December by an armed group at Mitiga airport in Tripoli, following his arrival from Tunis. We are concerned that his subsequent disappearance may be linked to his human rights or journalistic work. His disappearance is a violation of Libya’s obligations to ensure his human rights. We have also observed an increase in cases of hate speech and incitement to violence fueling a climate of mistrust, fear and violence among different groups in Libya.

As you know, the treatment of migrants and refugees in Libya has been a matter of huge concern over the past few years, and they continue to be routinely subjected to violations and abuses, including extrajudicial and arbitrary killings, arbitrary detention, enforced disappearances, torture, sexual and gender-based violence, abduction for ransom, extortion, and forced labour, by State officials, traffickers and smugglers.

Between January and November, more than 8,600 migrants were intercepted at sea by the Libyan Coast Guard and returned to Libya, which of course cannot be considered by any stretch of the imagination as a safe port for disembarkation. Many of those intercepted were returned to official and unofficial detention centres where they are routinely subjected to serious human rights violations and abuses. We are also concerned that parties to the conflict in Libya continue to store weapons and ammunition in close proximity to civilian locations, particularly detention centres where migrants and refugees are being detained. We remind the parties of their obligation to take all feasible precautions against the effects of attacks.

To date in 2019, an estimated 8,813 individuals have been held in 28 official prisons under the authority of the Ministry of Justice, of whom an estimated 60 percent were in pre-trial detention. We have continued to receive credible reports of arbitrary detention, torture, enforced disappearances, sexual and gender-based violence, and overcrowding in detention facilities under the control of the Ministry of the Interior. Conditions in unofficial places of detention, often run by armed groups, are even more difficult to monitor and are likely to be even worse.

Finally, we are concerned about the continuing climate of impunity in Libya, including the 15 December acquittal by the Tripoli Appeals Court of all the defendants, including former intelligence chief Abdullah Senussi, in the trial relating to the 1996 massacre of 1,200 people in the Abu Salim prison in Tripoli. The Abu Salim massacre was one of the grievances that gave rise to the 2011 uprising in Libya. We reiterate the call made in September for the creation of an investigative mechanism into serious crimes committed in Libya.


2) Iraq

We are concerned by the continued pattern of deadly attacks in Iraq against human rights defenders, civil society activists and protesters. During the past 10 days alone, we have received credible reports of at least six separate incidents in Baghdad, Missan, Karbala and Diwaniya, resulting in three deaths and six people injured.

• On 8 December and again, seven days later, on 15 December, improvised explosive devices attached to vehicles detonated in Diwaniya and Karbala, injuring three civil society activists, who had participated in demonstrations and appear to have been directly targeted.
• On 8 December, in Amara city in Missan governorate, a human rights activist survived an attempt to kill him while on his way to visit a friend, but was seriously injured in the attack.
• Also on 8 December, in Karbala city, a civil society activist was shot dead while riding his motorbike. Two other people on the motorbike were unharmed.
• On 10 December, another human rights activist was shot and killed in Baghdad when leaving a protest site.
• On 14 December, three civil society activists were gunned down from a pickup truck in Baghdad. One of them was killed, and the other two wounded. All three had been volunteers providing bread to protesters during the demonstrations.

We are following-up other allegations of targeted killings.

Currently, we have insufficient information to determine who the perpetrators of these latest attacks are, but witnesses and local people we have spoken to say they believe groups whom they describe as ‘militias’ are responsible. We are not aware of any progress made by the Iraqi authorities in tracking those responsible for these attacks.

The killings of civil society activists are occurring against a backdrop of disappearances of high-profile protesters in Baghdad. Many of those arrested by Iraqi security forces are being held in what may amount to incommunicado detention. Others are believed to have been abducted by groups referred to as ‘militias’, and they are at serious risk of ill-treatment. Both security forces and these so-called ‘militias’ are clearly targeting well-known demonstrators and activists. We are closely monitoring all cases that come to our attention.

A report issued last week by the Human Rights Office of the UN Assistance Mission in Iraq (UNAMI) called for prompt and independent investigations into all demonstration-related deaths since 1 October. The report also called for immediate steps to prevent deliberate killings of human rights defenders and immediate action to release abductees from any form of unlawful detention.


3) Poland

We are concerned by draft legislation, submitted to the Polish parliament on 12 December, which risks further jeopardizing the independence of the judiciary in Poland and would place constraints on judges in exercising their freedom of association and freedom of expression. It could even result in judges being dismissed if they question the Government’s judicial reform.

The draft act which amends the existing law on the structure of common courts, the law on the Supreme Court and a number of other acts, may also prevent judges from fulfilling their legal obligation, under EU treaties, to apply EU law. In general, it risks further undermining the already heavily challenged independence of the judiciary in Poland.

We understand some amendments, proposed by the ruling party, were apparently provided to the draft law overnight. However, I am unable to say whether these mitigate some of the concerns over the draft law, as the new version with amendments was not available online as of early this morning. The second reading of the draft at the Parliament was scheduled to take place this morning

We urge the Polish Government and the members of the Parliament (Sejm) to consider carefully the potential impact of the draft legislation on the rule of law.

As a State Party to the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights Poland is required to ensure the independence of the judiciary, and as an incoming member of the UN Human Rights Council, Poland is also expected to set a high standard of compliance with international human rights law.

Any measures which are contrary to the separation of powers and the independence of the judiciary should immediately be lifted.


4) Yemen

The High Commissioner Michelle Bachelet on Tuesday appointed Dr. Ardi Imseis of Canada as a new member of the Group of Eminent Experts on Yemen, to replace one of the three previous members, Charles Garraway (United Kingdom), who has had to step down for health reasons. The two other previous members, Chairperson Kamel Jendoubi (Tunisia) and Melissa Parke (Australia), were reappointed on the same day.

The mandate of the Group of Eminent International and Regional Experts was renewed for a further one year by the Human Rights Council on 26 September.

In their latest report, published on 3 September 2019, the Group of Eminent Experts detailed numerous possible war crimes committed by various parties to the conflict over the past five years, including through airstrikes, indiscriminate shelling, snipers and landmines, as well as arbitrary killings and detention, torture, sexual and gender-based violence, and the impeding of access to humanitarian aid.

The Group of Eminent Experts will present their third report to the Human Rights Council in September 2020.

To find out more about the Group of Eminent Experts, including their mandate, biographies and previous work, go to: https://www.ohchr.org/EN/HRBodies/HRC/YemenGEE/Pages/Index.aspx

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