BRIEFING NOTES - (1) oPT; (2) Uganda; (3) Brazil
Spokesperson for the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights: Rupert Colville
Date: 7 May 2021
Subject: (1) oPT
Eight Palestinian refugee families residing in the Sheikh Jarrah neighbourhood of East Jerusalem are facing a risk of forced eviction due to a legal challenge by the Nahalat Shimon settler organization. For four of these families, the risk is imminent.
The evictions, if ordered and implemented, would violate Israel’s obligations under international law. The eviction proceedings in these cases and in other similar cases in East Jerusalem, are based on the application of two Israeli laws, the Absentee Property Law and the Legal and Administrative Matters Law of 1970. According to an OCHA survey in 2020, at least 218 Palestinian households in East Jerusalem, including the families in Sheikh Jarrah, have eviction cases filed against them. The majority of these have been initiated by ‘settler organizations’, placing 970 people, including 424 children, at risk of displacement.
Given the disturbing scenes in Sheikh Jarrah over the past few days, we wish to emphasize that East Jerusalem remains part of the occupied Palestinian territory, in which International Humanitarian Law applies. The occupying Power must respect and cannot confiscate private property in occupied territory, and must respect, unless absolutely prevented, the laws in force in the country. This means that Israel cannot impose its own set of laws in occupied territory, including East Jerusalem, to evict Palestinians from their homes. In addition, the Absentee Property Law and the Legal and Administrative Matters Law are applied in an inherently discriminatory manner, based solely on the nationality or origin of the owner.
In practice, the implementation of these laws facilitates the transfer by Israel of its population into occupied East Jerusalem. The transfer of parts of an occupying Power’s civilian population into the territory that it occupies is prohibited under international humanitarian law and may amount to a war crime.
According to several Security Council resolutions all legislative and administrative measures and actions taken by Israel, the occupying Power, which have altered or purport to alter the character and status of East Jerusalem, including expropriation of land and properties, are null and void and must be rescinded.
Forced evictions may also violate the rights to adequate housing and to privacy and other human rights of those who are evicted. Forced evictions are a key factor in creating a coercive environment that may lead to forcible transfer, which is prohibited by the Fourth Geneva Convention and is a grave breach of the Convention.
We call on Israel to immediately halt all forced evictions, including those in Sheikh Jarrah, and to cease any activity that would further contribute to a coercive environment and lead to a risk of forcible transfer. We also call on Israel to review the application of the Absentee Property Law and the Legal and Administrative Matters Law to ensure they are in accordance with the obligations of Israel under international humanitarian law and international human rights law.
We further call on Israel to respect freedom of expression and assembly, including of those who are protesting against the evictions, and to exercise maximum restraint in the use of force while ensuring safety and security in East Jerusalem.
The decision this week by the Ugandan Parliament to pass a wide-ranging sexual offences bill that enshrines the criminalisation of consensual same-sex relations, sex work and those living with HIV is deeply troubling.
While we note efforts to tackle sexual violence overall, including by enhancing punishments for sex offenders and strengthening protection for victims during trials, the Sexual Offences Act raises serious human rights concerns.
Although the punishment for engaging in consensual same sex relations has been reduced to 10 years in jail instead of life imprisonment, the fact remains that such relations are still criminalised. Stigma, discrimination and violence against people based on their sexual orientation and gender identity are already widespread in the country, and often committed with impunity given that victims are frequently too afraid to report any attack against them.
We are alarmed that certain offences in the Act include mandatory and forced HIV testing of defendants and treat HIV status as an aggravating factor when a person is accused of specific sexual offences.
Such provisions violate Uganda’s human rights obligations and risk undermining public health, leaving people afraid to come forward for essential testing and treatment, and so affecting critical HIV prevention and treatment efforts. They also risk further fuelling the spread of HIV in Uganda and sub-Saharan Africa.
We are also deeply concerned that the Act prescribes the death penalty for certain offences, including what is termed “aggravated rape”. The application of the death penalty to crimes, including sexual offences that do not involve intentional killing, is a violation of the right to life and of Uganda’s treaty obligations.
The definitions of rape and consent in the Act are also deeply troubling. An important clause that recognised a person can withdraw consent before or during sex was deleted after Members of Parliament failed to reach agreement. The Act also criminalises people for procuring sex, which can drive sex workers underground and significantly increase risks they face.
We urge Uganda to amend provisions that do not conform to international human rights norms and standards, to decriminalize consensual same-sex relations in all legislation and to combat violence, discrimination and stigma against people living with HIV/AIDS, sex workers and against lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender people.
We further call for a legal framework that can support victim-centred approaches in the investigations and prosecution of sexual violence, including rape, in compliance with international law and standards.
We are deeply disturbed by the killing of at least 25 people in a police operation in the Jacarezinho neighbourhood of Rio de Janeiro yesterday (6 May).
The incident started in the early hours of Thursday when, reportedly, police officers on the ground and in a helicopter overhead opened fire into the neighbourhood – in an operation allegedly aimed at members of a criminal organization. At least 25 people, including one police officer, were reported killed during the operation. The precise number of people injured, including bystanders and people inside their houses, is still unknown.
This appears to have been the deadliest such operation in more than a decade in Rio de Janeiro, and furthers a long-standing trend of unnecessary and disproportionate use of force by police in Brazil’s poor, marginalized and predominantly Afro-Brazilian neighbourhoods, known as favelas.
It is particularly disturbing that the operation took place despite a Federal Supreme Court ruling in 2020, restricting police operations in Rio’s favelas during the COVID-19 pandemic.
We remind the Brazilian authorities that the use of force should be applied only when strictly necessary, and that they should always respect the principles of legality, precaution, necessity and proportionality. Lethal force should be used as a last resort and only in cases where there is an imminent threat to life or of serious injury.
We have received worrying reports that after the events, the police did not take steps to preserve evidence at the crime scene, which could hinder investigations into this lethal operation.
We call upon the Office of the Prosecutor to conduct an independent, thorough and impartial investigation into this incident in accordance with international standards – particularly in line with the Minnesota Protocol on the Investigation of Potentially Unlawful Death. This lays down that authorities must ensure the safety and security of witnesses and protect them from intimidation and retaliation.
We also urge a broad and inclusive discussion in Brazil about the current model of policing in favelas – which are trapped in a vicious cycle of lethal violence, with a dramatically adverse impact on their already struggling and marginalized populations.