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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
Subjects: 1) Mali
2) Sri Lanka
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
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
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.
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