Press briefing note on Yemen, Cambodia, Cuba, Nicaragua and Montenegro
Spokesperson for the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights: Ravina Shamdasani Location: Geneva Date: 11 May 2018 Subject: (1) Yemen, (2) Cambodia, (3) Cuba, (4) Nicaragua and (5) Montenegro
The month of April was the deadliest month for civilians in Yemen so far this year, with a sharp increase in casualties. At least 236 civilians were killed and 238 injured in Yemen in April – a total of 474 civilian casualties, well over double the 180 civilian casualties documented in March this year.
In the first week of May, the heavy toll continued, with 63 civilian casualties documented by the UN Human Rights Office in Yemen, including six deaths and 57 people injured.
We are deeply concerned about the sharp increase in civilian casualties and call, again, on all parties to the conflict to respect international humanitarian law. Recent attacks against sites located in densely populated areas, including Monday’s airstrikes against the Presidential Office in Sana’a raise serious doubts about respect for the principles of precaution, distinction and proportionality in international humanitarian law. Based on the information collected by the UN Human Rights Office, the first raid directly hit the Presidential Office, which is located in a densely populated area.
Eyewitnesses told us that the same building was hit again about seven minutes after the first strike, causing additional casualties among the first responders to the first strike. In another recent incident, 24 civilians were killed and 13 others injured by a Coalition airstrike against a gas station in Hajjah Governorate.
We have also documented casualties resulting from apparent indiscriminate shelling by the Houthis, including recent incidents on 1 and 2 May, during which five civilians were injured and one killed.
Between 26 March 2015 and 10 May 2018, our office has documented a total of 16,432 civilian casualties – 6,385 dead and 10,047 injured. The vast majority of these – 10,185 civilian casualties were as a result of airstrikes carried out by the Saudi-led Coalition.
We are disappointed at the decision by Cambodia’s Court of Appeal yesterday to uphold the “insurrection” convictions of 11 opposition party members and supporters, despite concerns about fair trial rights and the perception of Government interference at the time of the trial.
The men, members and supporters of the Cambodia National Rescue Party (CNRP), were originally sentenced on 21 July 2015 to between 7 and 20 years in prison in relation to violence during a demonstration at Phnom Penh’s Freedom Park on 15 July 2014.
The UN Human Rights office in Cambodia monitored both the original trial and the appeal. While the appeal hearings were procedurally correct, they did not address the fair trial defects that marred the initial convictions. During the initial trial, the accused were unable to cross-examine the complainants and were not given adequate time and opportunity to present their defence. This raised doubts with regard to the guarantees of a fair trial and equality of arms. At the appeal hearing, the original complainants – members of an auxiliary security force engaged by the Government – admitted that they had merely signed on to complaints drafted by others.
The demonstration on 15 July 2014 ended in deplorable violence, with dozens injured. However, no evidence was produced during the trial or appeal to link any of the 11 accused men with the violence, or the charges of “insurrection” defined in law as “collective violence liable to endanger the institutions of the Kingdom of Cambodia or violate the integrity of the national territory”. None of the injured complainants or video recordings of the incident that were presented as evidence identified any of the accused men as having undertaken, incited or guided any violent acts.
The “CNRP 11” – who have already spent nearly three years in detention – appear to have been convicted for their political opinion, and for exercising their rights to freedom of expression.
We have previously raised concerns about the Government of Cambodia using the judiciary to silence opposition parties, civil society organisations and dissenters. Similar concerns have long been raised by international mechanisms.
There are deeply worrying reports that officials in Cuba have prevented a number of human rights defenders and civil society representatives from boarding flights to travel to meetings abroad on the pretext of requiring more detailed identity checks. These measures have resulted in passengers missing their flights and therefore the meetings, which in some cases were organised by a UN entity.
So far this year, the UN Human Rights Office has received direct information relating to 14 cases of Cubans being told by officials that the computer system required extra screening. We are also aware of reports that dozens of other people may have been stopped in this way from travelling, allegedly with no explanation by the Cuban authorities as to why they were held up nor on whose orders.
These cases suggest that these additional checks are being used deliberately as a form of intimidation, pressure and harassment against certain individuals. Civil society organizations have also told us that they were informed verbally by the authorities that their representatives would not be allowed to leave the island before June.
We have previously expressed our concern at the harassment and intimidation of human rights defenders in Cuba, including the arbitrary arrest and short-term detention of individuals, particularly before, during and just after demonstrations.
We call on the Cuban authorities to respect everyone’s right to freedom of expression and to freedom of movement, and to ensure that human rights defenders and civil society representatives are not unjustifiably prevented from travelling, including those planning to attend UN meetings, in particular the Universal Periodic Review of Cuba on 16 May in Geneva.
Article 13 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights states that, “everyone has the right to leave any country, including his own, and to return to his country.” Article 19 of the Universal Declaration states that “everyone has the right to freedom of opinion and expression; this right includes freedom to hold opinions without interference and to seek, receive and impart information and ideas through any media and regardless of frontiers.”
The UN Secretary-General presents an annual report to the Human Rights Council on intimidation and reprisals, and in October 2016 the Assistant Secretary-General for Human Rights, Andrew Gilmour, was designated to lead the monitoring and response to reprisals for cooperation or intimidation, including that which aims to discourage or prevent future co-operation with the UN system. Cuba was among the countries named in the last two reports.
The UN Human Rights Office will continue to monitor such cases to ascertain whether they merit inclusion in the next report.
We are concerned at the volatile situation in Nicaragua, where, according to information from credible sources, to date at least 47 people - the majority of them students, as well as two police offices and a journalist - have been killed in connection with protests that began in mid-April.
The demonstrations began as a reaction to social security reforms but have now widened to include calls for investigations into, and accountability for, these deaths, and to demand justice and democracy.
On 7 May, we officially asked the Nicaraguan authorities to grant us access to the country so that we can, in line with the UN Human Rights Office’s mandate, gather first-hand information about what happened during the protests and to resume contact with the authorities and others in the country.
We note that the Nicaraguan National Assembly has created a truth commission to investigate the deaths and allegations of torture and enforced disappearances during the protests. For its investigations to be credible, the Commission must be independent, and able to conduct its work in a transparent and impartial manner.
With demonstrations continuing, including a march that passed off in Managua on Wednesday, we once again call for an investigation into all acts of violence and credible and inclusive national dialogue.
We are deeply concerned at the continuing climate of violence and intimidation against journalists in Montenegro, where investigative reporter Olivera Lakic was shot and injured outside the apartment building where she lives in Podgorica on 8 May. She had previously been attacked in 2012 in relation to her work.
The attack on Lakic follows a car bomb in April in the town of Bijelo Polje in front of the home of journalist Saed Sadikovic, who also conducts investigations into corruption and organised crime. He was not hurt and it has not been established whether he was the intended target.
We are concerned at reports indicating that journalists, in particular those considered to be critical of the authorities, have been subjected to threats, physical violence, defamation lawsuits and smear campaigns. According to reports from NGO sources since 2013 there have been some 20 to 25 attacks against journalists and media outlets per year, and very few cases have been investigated.
We urge Montenegro to comply with its international human rights obligations to fully protect the right to freedom of opinion and expression, including protecting journalists and media against any form of violence and censorship. In this regard, we call on the authorities in Montenegro to ensure the protection of journalists and other media workers, condemn all attacks against journalists, and ensure that all cases are promptly and effectively investigated and perpetrators brought to justice.
This year, 2018, is the 70th anniversary of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, adopted by the UN on 10 December 1948. The Universal Declaration – translated into a world record 500 languages – is rooted in the principle that “all human beings are born free and equal in dignity and rights.” It remains relevant to everyone, every day. In honour of the 70thanniversary of this extraordinarily influential document, and to prevent its vital principles from being eroded, we are urging people everywhere to Stand Up for Human Rights: www.standup4humanrights.org.
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