Press briefing notes on Myanmar freedom of expression, Iraq Basra protests and Yemen attack

Spokesperson for the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights:  Ravina Shamdasani 
Location: Geneva 
Date: 11 September 2018

Myanmar freedom of expression

A host of ill-defined laws has been used in Myanmar to exert control over independent journalism across the country, including in Kachin, Shan and Rakhine states, a UN human rights report on freedom of expression in the country has found. The report states that it has become “impossible for journalists to do their job without fear or favour.”

While the conviction last week of two Reuters journalists, Kyaw Soe Oo and Thet Oo Maung, was a particularly outrageous and high-profile example of judicial harassment against the media in Myanmar, the report details a number of other examples of detentions and prosecutions of journalists and their sources indicative of wider trends  of suppression of freedom of expression. Laws on telecommunications, official secrets, unlawful associations, electronic transactions and even import-export and aircraft acts have been used against journalists in a number of cases over the years, the report states. Read the full press release.

Iraq Basra protests

We are concerned at the situation in the southern Iraqi Governorate of Basra, where for the past several weeks, people have been taking to the streets to protest against the lack of basic services, electricity and water shortages, pollution, and unemployment.

Protests escalated last week after drinking water supplies were found to be contaminated. According to the Ministry of Health, between 1 and 8 September, at least 11 people were killed in relation to the protests. This brings the number of people who have died since demonstrations began on 8 July to at least 20. In addition, more than 300 people have been injured in Basra since July, including 52 members of the security forces.

We urge the relevant authorities to investigate all protest-related deaths and injuries and hold those responsible accountable. 

Among the reported incidents, at least five protesters were reported to have been killed and 41 others injured on 4 September when unidentified attackers in a white van threw grenades at demonstrators in Basra City. On 7 September, protesters set fire to the Basra Governorate building for the third time, totally destroying it, as well as numerous other buildings.

There were further protests yesterday to commemorate those killed. No casualties were reported.

We call on the Iraqi State to heed the grievances voiced during the protests for their economic and social rights to be fully respected and for the rule of law to be upheld.

Since July, hundreds of protesters are reported to have been arrested, many of whom were subsequently released and at least 20 protesters are reportedly currently in custody. We urge the authorities to release immediately any person arbitrarily detained, in particular those who were protesting peacefully.  We reiterate the right of individuals to peaceful assembly and association, and also to freedom of expression.

Yemen truck attack

On 29 August, a truck under contract to the World Food Programme was reportedly hit by shelling while delivering life-saving food assistance in the district of Al Tuhayta, in Yemen’s southern Hodeidah Governorate. Two weeks later, we have yet to see any investigations or attempts at accountability for what could amount to a war crime.

There are strong allegations that pro-Houthi forces were involved in the attack. This incident highlights the continued violation of international humanitarian law in Yemen’s conflict, with civilians paying the ultimate price.

We once again call on all parties to the conflict in Yemen to respect their obligations under international humanitarian law, including their obligation to respect the principles of distinction, proportionality and precaution. We remind the parties that a deliberate attack on humanitarian relief personnel is a war crime. We also urge all parties to allow unrestricted humanitarian assistance to all those in need in Yemen.

The ongoing conflict and violations of international humanitarian law underscores the importance of the work of the Group of Eminent Experts on Yemen and the need for a continued international investigation.

ENDS

For more information or media requests, please contact Ravina Shamdasani (+41 22 917 9169 / rshamdasani@ohchr.org ) or Liz Throssell (+41 22 917 9466 / ethrossell@ohchr.org).

Learn more about the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights.

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 70th anniversary 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