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OHCHR Press Briefing Note - Mali, Sri Lanka, Zimbabwe, Iran

OHCHR Press Briefing Note - Mali, Sri Lanka, Zimbabwe, Iran

Sunday, 20 January 2013, 9:30 am
Press Release: OHCHR

OHCHR Press Briefing Note - 1) Mali 2) Sri Lanka 3) Zimbabwe 4) Iran

18 January 2013

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

Location: Geneva

Subjects: 1) Mali
2) Sri Lanka
3) Zimbabwe
4) Iran

1) Mali

The crisis in Mali has led to various human rights violations, including 
extrajudicial killings, rape and torture. These have been documented in a 
report requested by the Human Rights Council which was published by our 
Office on January 14, along with the growing ethnic tensions in the country 
which raise very serious concerns.

Our report* presents the findings of a human rights mission deployed to 
Mali, Burkina Faso, Mauritania and Niger from 11 to 20 November 2012. The 
8-person team included two staff from the offices of the Secretary General’s 
Special Representative on Sexual Violence in Conflict and his Special 
Representative on Children in Armed Conflict.

The report shows that the current human rights situation is linked to 
long-standing and unresolved issues, and that human rights violations have 
been committed both in the North, and in the area under government control.

In Northern Mali, serious human rights violations have been taking place 
since January 2012, including summary executions and extra-judicial 

A year ago, on 24 January 2012, armed combatants identified as members of 
the MNLA (Mouvement national de liberation de l’Azawad) allegedly used 
students as human shields to force military forces to surrender and later on 
allegedly executed 94 of the 153 captured and disarmed soldiers.

Several Tuareg soldiers were also reportedly victims of reprisals by members 
of the Malian army in the North. Incidents of this nature include the 
killing of nine soldiers in Timbuktu on 4 February 2012.

Civilian deaths were also reported, including of people who tried to resist 
the looting of humanitarian warehouses by armed groups in April 2012, and a 
young unmarried couple who were stoned to death in Aguelhok.on 29 July 2012 
by members of Ansar Dine and the MUJAO group (Mouvement pour l’unicité et le 
jihad en Afrique de l’Ouest).

Ten amputation cases by extremists groups in the North were also documented, 
including the case of a 30-year-old man whose right hand was cut off with a 
kitchen knife for allegedly stealing cattle following a summary trial set up 
by MUJAO militia.

Human rights experts also found that civilians in the North suffered from 
degrading treatments by extremist groups, based on an extreme interpretation 
of Sharia. Women, in particular, have suffered from harassment, abuses and 
sexual violence, for example after being accused of being improperly veiled 
or dressed, or for riding on a motorbike. On April 3, a 22-year- old woman 
was raped by six armed men allegedly belonging to the Ansar Dine extremist 
group for not wearing her veil in her own home.

Rapes of women and girls, at times in front of family members and often 
apparently carried out on an ethnic basis, have been repeatedly used in the 
North to intimidate people and break any form of resistance, in a culture 
where rape is considered as taboo and victims often suffer from social 
exclusion. Young girls, sometimes as young as 12 or 13, are reported to have 
been forcibly married to members of Ansar Dine, MUJAO and AQMI (Al-Qaida au 
Maghreb islamique) and gang-raped for days, the report says.

Our report also highlights cases of arbitrary detention in Gao, Timbuktu and 
Kidal, as well as cases of sexual violence against female detainees. The 
recruitment of child soldiers, sometimes as young as 10, by extremist groups 
was also documented during the mission.

The human rights team also highlighted human rights violations in 
territories under the control of the Malian government, including the 
extra-judicial killings of several soldiers of the Malian army and at least 
21 cases of forced disappearances following a failed reverse coup on 30 
April 2012. Members of the police and the military suspected of supporting 
the coup were also arrested and allegedly abused, tortured and subjected to 
inhumane treatment in Kati camp. Malian soldiers also allegedly executed 16 
pilgrims on 9 September 2012.

The OHCHR mission highlighted the increasing presence of self-defence 
militia and expressed its alarm at the growing ethnic tensions in Mali, 
which could also lead to possible acts of revenge against the Tuareg and 
Arab communities perceived as being linked to the armed groups.

We call on all parties to abide by international human rights and 
humanitarian law standards and we welcome the announcement by the Office of 
the prosecutor of the International Criminal Court on January 15 that it 
will open an investigation into the Mali situation, following the referral 
of the situation to the ICC by the Mali authorities in July. This is an 
important step for victims of human rights violations, and also sends an 
important message to perpetrators of human rights violations that they will 
be held accountable for the crimes committed.

We also call for the initiation of a reconciliation process to address 
current human rights challenges as well as long-standing unresolved issues, 
and urge the Malian army and its supporters to take extreme care not to 
carry out further reprisals as and when they retake territory in the North.

OHCHR stands ready to provide assistance to the Malian Government by 
supporting the establishment of a transitional justice mechanism to 
facilitate national reconciliation.
2) Sri Lanka

The UN High Commissioner for Human Rights Navi Pillay is deeply concerned 
that the impeachment and removal of Sri Lanka’s Chief Justice has further 
eroded the rule of law in the country and could also set back efforts for 
accountability and reconciliation.

The removal of the Chief Justice through a flawed process -- which has been 
deemed unconstitutional by the highest courts of the land -- is, in the High 
Commissioner’s view, gross interference in the independence of the judiciary 
and a calamitous setback for the rule of law in Sri Lanka.

Chief Justice Shirani Bandaranayake was served notice of her dismissal and 
removed from her chambers and official residence on Tuesday (15 January), in 
spite of a Supreme Court ruling that the parliamentary procedure to remove 
her violated the Constitution.

Sri Lanka has a long history of abuse of executive power, and this latest 
step appears to strip away one of the last and most fundamental of the 
independent checks and balances, and should ring alarm bells for all Sri 

The jurist sworn in by the President as the new Chief Justice on 15 January, 
the former Attorney-General and Legal Advisor to the Cabinet, Mr. Mohan 
Peiris, has been at the forefront of a number of government delegations to 
Geneva in recent years to vigorously defend the Sri Lankan government’s 
position before the Human Rights Council and other human rights mechanisms. 
This raises obvious concerns about his independence and impartiality, 
especially when handling allegations of serious human rights violations by 
the authorities.

We are also concerned that the impeachment process has caused bitter 
divisions within Sri Lanka, and that it sends an ominous signal about the 
Government’s commitment to accountability and reconciliation. It flies in 
the face of the strong calls by the Lessons Learned and Reconciliation 
Commission, and by leaders of Sri Lanka’s civil society and legal 
profession, to rebuild the rule of law which has been badly eroded by 
decades of conflict and human rights violations.

Just this morning we have received alarming reports from the Independent Bar 
of Sri Lanka of a series of death threats, acts of intimidation and even a 
couple of reported murder attempts against lawyers who have been supporting 
Chief Justice Bandaranayake, and the rulings of the Supreme Court and Court 
of Appeal on her case.

The High Commissioner will be issuing a report on Sri Lanka at the 
February-March session of the Human Rights Council, focusing on the 
engagement of UN mechanisms in support of the accountability and 
reconciliation processes.

3) Zimbabwe

We condemn recent attacks against human rights defenders in Zimbabwe, 
including arbitrary arrests, intimidation and harassment.

In the latest case, on January 14, the police charged Okay Machisa, the 
director of Zimbabwe Human Rights Association (ZimRights) and chairperson of 
the Crisis in Zimbabwe Coalition, for allegedly publishing false statements 
prejudicial to the State, fraud and forgery after allegedly conducting 
illegal voter registration. Machisa handed himself to the police on January 
14, accompanied by his lawyer, and remains in detention.

In a previous incident, ZimRights Education Programmes Manager, Leo 
Chamahwinya, and ZimRights Local Chapter Chairperson, Dorcas Shereni, were 
arrested by the police on 13 December 2012. They were both denied bail by 
the High Court and remain in detention.

We are concerned about the crackdown on non-governmental organisations and 
dissenting voices seen as critical of President Robert Mugabe's rule and 
apparently politically motivated prosecutions, ahead of the elections which 
are expected to take place later this year.

4) Iran

We welcome the temporary release of Nasrin Sotoudeh, the well-known lawyer 
and human rights activist who is serving a six-year sentence in Tehran’s 
Evin Prison. Ms Sotoudeh was granted a three day temporary leave and it has 
now been confirmed that she joined her family yesterday.

The travel restrictions imposed on her family – the issue that caused her to 
go on hunger strike in the autumn -- were lifted in December, so her 
temporary release marks a second improvement in her case. We hope that the 
temporary leave will be extended, and that Ms Sotoudeh will soon be 
indefinitely released.


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