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BRIEFING NOTES: (1) Bosnia And Herzegovina / Serbia; (2) Ethiopia

Spokesperson for the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights: Liz Throssell

Location: Geneva

Date: 14 January 2022

Subject: (1) Ethiopia

(2) Bosnia and Herzegovina /Serbia hate speech

1) Ethiopia

We are alarmed by the multiple, deeply disturbing reports we continue to receive of civilian casualties and destruction of civilian objects resulting from airstrikes in Ethiopia’s Tigray region. At least 108 civilians have reportedly been killed and 75 others injured since the year began, as a result of air strikes allegedly carried out by the Ethiopian air force.

On Wednesday this week, an airstrike claimed the life of a 72-year-old man. The previous day, on 11 January, the state-owned Technical Vocational Education and Training institute was hit, reportedly killing three men and leaving 21 people injured – most of them women.

And on Monday, 10 January, 17 civilians were reportedly killed and 21 injured – most of them women – after an airstrike, reportedly carried out by a drone, hit a flour mill where they had gathered to grind their grains into flour.

The deadliest airstrike so far, which hit the Dedebit IDP camp on 7 January, left at least 56 people dead and 30 others wounded. We have since established that three of those who were critically injured later died in hospital while receiving medical treatment, pushing the death toll from that single strike to at least 59.

Numerous other airstrikes were reported last week, hitting a private minibus traveling from Adiet to Axum city, Shire airport, Mai-Aini refugee camp and other areas.

We call on the Ethiopian authorities and their allies to ensure the protection of civilians and civilian objects, in line with their obligations under international law. Any attack, including airstrikes should fully respect the principles of distinction, proportionality and precautions in attack. In particular, parties to the conflict must take all feasible measure to verify that targets are indeed military objectives and suspend an attack if it becomes apparent that the target is not a military objective or that the attack would be disproportionate. Failure to respect the principles of distinction and proportionality could amount to war crimes.

We are also concerned by the continuing arbitrary arrests and detention amid the state of emergency. While we welcome the recent release of several high-profile individuals, including key opposition figures who had been in detention for many months, we remain concerned that many more people – at least hundreds – remain indefinitely detained in appalling conditions and without being brought before a court of law or other tribunal to review the reasons for their detention, among other violations of procedural guarantees.

2) Bosnia and Herzegovina / Serbia

We are deeply concerned by recent incidents in Bosnia and Herzegovina and in Serbia that saw individuals glorify atrocity crimes and convicted war criminals, target certain communities with hate speech, and, in some cases, directly incite violence.

The incidents took place in several locations in the Republika Srpska entity of Bosnia and Herzegovina, including Bijeljina, Prijedor, Foča, Gacko, Višegrad, as well as in the Brčko District, and in Priboj and Novi Pazar in Serbia.

These acts, which happened amid religious holidays last weekend, included large groups of people chanting the name of convicted war criminal Ratko Mladić during torchlight processions or singing nationalistic songs calling for the takeover of various locations in the former Yugoslavia. In one incident, individuals fired shots into the air as they drove past a mosque.

The fear, and the risk, is that such acts – fuelled by the continued inflammatory, nationalistic rhetoric and hate speech of some politicians – will continue increasing in 2022, as this is a year when elections are due to take place in Serbia in April, and then in October in Bosnia and Herzegovina, where the political environment is already extremely tense.

These incidents -- some in locations that saw large-scale atrocity crimes during the war in Bosnia and Herzegovina, such as Prijedor and Foca -- are an affront to survivors, including those who returned to their homes after the conflict. The failure to prevent and sanction such acts, which fuel a climate of extreme anxiety, fear and insecurity in some communities, is a major obstacle to trust-building and reconciliation.

As we have repeatedly highlighted, the rise in hate speech, the denial of genocide and other atrocity crimes and the glorification of war criminals in the Western Balkans highlight the failure to comprehensively address the past.

We stress once again the need for the authorities in Serbia and in Bosnia and Herzegovina to abide by their international human rights obligations to ensure the rights to truth, justice and reparation. They should also adopt measures to prevent recurrence and to promote further reconciliation efforts. We call on them to condemn and refrain from any advocacy of national, racial or religious hatred.

In addition, States that are parties to the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights – including Serbia and Bosnia and Herzegovina – are obliged to ensure that incitement to discrimination, hostility and violence is prohibited in law and in practice. All perpetrators and instigators of such acts must be held accountable.

Political and religious leaders have a crucial role to play in speaking out firmly and promptly against intolerance, discriminatory stereotyping and instances of hate speech. We are encouraged to see that, following some of the recent incidents, officials -- including senior politicians, as well as religious leaders -- moved quickly to condemn the acts, and police have begun investigations.

Serious incidents like these should be investigated promptly, effectively and impartially, to prevent them being repeated and perpetuated, and also to foster the public trust in authorities and institutions, and among communities, that is essential to build social cohesion and peaceful societies.

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