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BRIEFING NOTES: (1) Sudan; (2) Afghanistan; (3) Jordan

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

Location: Geneva

Date: 15 August 2023

Subject: (1) Sudan

(2) Afghanistan

(3) Jordan

1) Sudan

The UN High Commissioner for Human Rights Volker Türk said today the “disastrous, senseless” war in Sudan – borne out of a wanton drive for power – has resulted in thousands of deaths, the destruction of family homes, schools, hospitals and other essential services, massive displacement, as well as sexual violence, in acts which may amount to war crimes.

The UN Human Rights Office has reasonable grounds to believe that the Sudan Armed Forces (SAF) and the Rapid Support Forces (RSF) have committed serious violations of international law during the ongoing conflict, now entering its fifth month, including violations of international humanitarian law and human rights law, and perpetrators must be held accountable, he said.

Türk expressed grave concerns that the chaotic situation, mired in impunity, is ripe for exploitation by other opportunistic armed actors and militia groups – and the violence may escalate further as a result.

Read the full press release, here

2) Afghanistan

Today marks two years since the Taliban takeover of Afghanistan.

The High Commissioner reminds the de facto authorities that Afghanistan, as a State, has obligations under international law to respect, uphold and promote the rights of all people without discrimination. We remain deeply troubled by the human rights situation, in particular the severe restrictions imposed on women and girls, whose rights to access education and work, their freedom of movement and participation in daily and public life have been eroded by a series of discriminatory edicts issued since the takeover.

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UN Human Rights staff continue to work in Afghanistan monitoring, documenting and advocating on a range of human rights issues, including the rights of women and girls, fundamental freedoms, the protection of civilians in armed conflict and the rights of detainees. We are engaging with the de facto authorities on these issues and remind them of their obligations under international human rights law. We also meet with de facto security agencies on individual cases of human rights violations and visit prisons to meet detainees.

The High Commissioner calls on the international community not to forget the people of Afghanistan, who in addition to facing severe limitations on their human rights, are living through a dire humanitarian and economic situation. There are no Afghans who remain untouched in some way by the violence and conflict of the past four decades. Victims and their families continue to seek justice, accountability and much needed, and at times, life-saving support.

It is not too late to change the trajectory of the country, and for the Taliban to change its policies based on the understanding that the respect and protection of human rights are essential for the prosperity, cohesion and stability of the nation. The people of Afghanistan have the right to a peaceful and harmonious future and the Taliban, as the de facto authorities, have the obligation to ensure that this right is realized.

3) Jordan

There is no doubt that cybercrime needs to be addressed and regulated head-on. However, we have serious concerns about a new cybercrime law that is shortly due to take effect in Jordan.

The new law unduly restricts and criminalises online activities by individuals and organisations. It imposes penalties for publishing content that may offend law enforcement officials. This will potentially silence criticism and undermine public accountability. It also penalizes circumvention of IP addresses and allows the removal or the blocking of content by the authorities without appropriate judicial oversight.

Among the broad and vaguely defined cyber offences in the legislation are “promoting, instigating aiding or inciting immorality”, “character assassination”; “ inciting sedition or undermining national unity”; and “contempt for religions”. These formulations target the content of online expression, are open to wide interpretation and fail to comply with international human rights law requirements of legality, legitimate aim, necessity and proportionality for restrictions on the right to freedom of expression.

The law sets out prison terms ranging from one week to three years, and fines from some 423 US dollars to 105,000 US dollars (300 Jordanian dinar to JD 75,000), depending on the offence.

Our concerns about the law are all the greater given increased intimidation, harassment and arrest of activists amid ever shrinking civic space in Jordan. The previous Cybercrime Law of 2015, which this legislation replaces, has been used to arrest numerous human rights activists and journalists on “defamation” charges.

One recent case is that of satirical journalist Ahmed Hassan Al-Zoubi who on 9 August was given a one-year prison sentence under the current law for publishing a Facebook post last December that criticised the authorities’ handling of a truck drivers’ strike.

We recognise the need for States to take steps to combat cybercrime but protecting security online and ensuring online freedoms must be treated as complementary goals.

A strategy against cybercrimes must be based on international human rights law and be clear and focused on core cybercrimes, and avoid establishing offences based on the content of online expression.

The swift passage of the legislation – presented to Parliament on 15 July, passed on 2 August and approved by the King on 12 August - raises concerns about transparency and participation.

We urge the Jordanian authorities to reconsider this legislation with a view to ensuring compliance with international human rights law, including the International Covenant on Civil and Political Right is in force for Jordan.

We urge the authorities to draw on available expertise, including from IT specialists, legal experts and relevant civil society organisations, as well as the UN Human Rights Office, to develop legislation that addresses legitimate cyber threats while safeguarding fundamental human rights.

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