Press briefing note on Burundi, Thailand, Guinea and Ethiopia

Spokesperson for the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights: Rupert Colville
Location: Geneva
Date: 10 July 2015
Subject: (1) Burundi, (2) Thailand, (3) Guinea and (4) Ethiopia

(1) Burundi

We are increasingly concerned at the extremely tense situation in Burundi, from where more than 145,000 people have already fled to neighbouring countries. Yesterday, High Commissioner Zeid Ra’ad Al Hussein alerted the Security Council to the potential for a serious crisis in the country, which could severely impact on the regional stability and development. His statement to the Council is on our website.

Parliamentary and local elections, which took place on 29 June in an atmosphere far from conducive to a free, fair and inclusive vote, were boycotted by opposition parties, with outbreaks of violence, including small-arms and grenade attacks.

Over the past two months, our Field Office in Burundi has documented over 300 cases of arbitrary arrest and detention of demonstrators, human rights defenders, political opponents and journalists. We have also noted numerous cases of torture and other forms of ill-treatment in detention.

A severe crackdown on independent media has led to the closure of most private media and radio stations. Large numbers of journalists and human rights defenders have fled Burundi for fear of reprisals. Peaceful protests have been met with unwarranted use of force, including lethal force, in violation of Burundi's obligation under national and international law to guarantee the right to freedom of assembly.

Recently we have also seen key members of the President's own political party and government fleeing the country.

Our Field Office has also documented dozens of killings, most of them shootings of demonstrators and human rights defenders by members of the Imbonerakure militia and security forces.

Once again, we urge the authorities to disarm this militia without delay.

These targeted campaigns of intimidation and terror have pushed many people out of the country. Refugees interviewed by our staff in the DRC, Rwanda and Tanzania continue to refer to the Imbonerakure militia as the main threat, but some have also stated that militants from other groups are also employing violence – a new and disturbing development. Media interviews carried out in the past couple of days, with leaders of the attempted coup in May, who talk openly of organizing military units and of resorting to the use of force, are alarming.

We call on all sides to make serious and urgent efforts to find a peaceful solution to this crisis before it leads to uncontrollable violence.

(2) Thailand

We are gravely concerned by the deportation to China yesterday of 109 people understood to be ethnic Uighurs -- including some 20 women -- by the Thai authorities.

The 109 individuals, who were part of a larger group of more than 350, had been detained in very poor conditions at various immigration detention facilities across Thailand since March 2014, when they were apprehended after leaving China on their way to Turkey. Despite Turkey’s reported willingness to admit them to its territory, only 172 of the 350 were eventually allowed to go to Turkey in late June. Some 60 others remain in detention in Thailand.

The UN Special Rapporteur on torture and other cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment has repeatedly expressed concern to the Thai authorities that the deportation of this group to China would amount to refoulement and put them at risk of being tortured or subjected to other cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment.

The principle of non-refoulement is contained in Article 3 of the Convention against Torture and other Cruel, Inhumane or Degrading Treatment or Punishment to which Thailand is a party.

We strongly urge the Thai authorities to ensure the protection of the 60 individuals who remain in detention and ensure that no further deportation of individuals, including potential refugees and asylum seekers, are made to countries where there are substantial grounds to believe that they would face an imminent risk of grave human rights violations, including torture.

We also urge Thailand to monitor the return of this group and to do all in its power to ensure that they are treated in line with international human rights standards.

We call on the Chinese authorities to ensure that those extradited are treated in full conformity with the country’s human rights obligations. We understand the Thai authorities have received diplomatic assurances from China that the people will be protected from harm, and urge both countries to ensure that this pledge is scrupulously observed.

(3) Guinea

We welcome the indictment issued on 7 July against the former President of the Republic of Guinea, Moussa Dadis Camara in the context of the on-going investigations into the 2009 killings at a stadium in the capital Conakry.

On 28 September 2009, tens of thousands of opposition protestors were attacked with live ammunition and tear gas by Guinean security forces. At least 156 people were killed, some 109 women were raped, allegedly mostly by members of the security and defence forces, and more than 1,000 people were injured in the stadium and surrounding areas. Dozens of other people went missing and are still unaccounted for.

A UN-led international commission of inquiry recommended that the Government should take appropriate measures to respond to this situation. Subsequently, in 2010, the Government set up an investigation led by a team of three magistrates, which led last Tuesday to the indictment of former President Camara, who is currently living in neighbouring Burkina Faso. Some 400 victims and other witnesses are reported to have given testimony to the investigators.

This is an important step in the fight against impunity, and follows the indictment of at least 15 other individuals, including high ranking military officers, over the past few years. We hope the judicial process will be scrupulously fair and transparent and that all those implicated in these crimes, and against whom there is sufficient evidence, will be prosecuted, paving the way to justice and redress for the victims and their families.

A year ago, the High Commissioner urged the Government to take concrete steps to advance the investigation and prosecution of those responsible for the serious crimes that took place in 2009.

We also encourage the Guinean authorities to continue their efforts to fight impunity in other cases, for example in connection with the 2012 killings in the village of Zoghota in the Forest Region, and further political violence that occurred in 2013 and 2015 in Conakry.

Our Office in Guinea, established in 2010, will continue to offer its support to promote justice and accountability.

(4) Ethiopia

We welcome the release and dropping of charges against of two bloggers and three journalists in Ethiopia, who were being tried on terrorism charges and had been in detention for more than a year. We also welcome the release of Reeyot Alemu, an award-winning journalist who was arrested in 2011 and sentenced in 2012 to 14 years in prison, reduced to five years on appeal.

At least seven other journalists and four bloggers from the blogging collective Zone 9 remain in detention. We urge the Ethiopian authorities to take similar steps to release them and other activists who have been detained for exercising their rights to free expression and opinion, and carrying out legitimate work.

We also encourage the Ethiopian Government to review its anti-terrorism legislation and laws regarding civil society organisations and the media, to bring them into line with international human rights law and principles.

As we have previously stressed to the Ethiopian authorities, the fight against terrorism cannot serve as an excuse to intimidate and silence journalists, bloggers, human rights activists and members of civil society organisations.

ENDS

For more information and media requests, please contact Rupert Colville (+41 22 917 9767 / rcolville@ohchr.org) or Cécile Pouilly (+41 22 917 9310 / +41 79 618 34 30/ cpouilly@ohchr.org).