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Press briefing notes on Georgia and Anti-Islam film

Spokesperson for the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights: Rupert Colville
Location: Geneva
Date: 21 September 2012
Subject: (1) Georgia / prisoner abuses
(2) Anti-Islam film / Charlie Hebdo cartoons

We condemn the acts of torture and ill-treatment perpetrated against inmates at a prison and a juvenile detention facility in Georgia exposed in at least four videos made public this week. We call on the Government to ensure that all allegations of such human rights violations – and not only the ones exposed in these videos – are promptly, impartially and effectively investigated and that perpetrators are brought to justice. Victims of the abuses must have access to the necessary medical and psychological support, as well as redress.

The videos are shocking and were shown on television in Georgia. They showed prisoners being physically and sexually assaulted, humiliated and verbally abused by prison officers. There is an absolute prohibition against torture, as well as cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment in international human rights law and an obligation on the Government to ensure that perpetrators do not enjoy impunity. Georgia has ratified the Convention Against Torture and Other Cruel, Inhuman or Degrading Treatment (CAT) and the Optional Protocol to CAT which enables regular unannounced inspections by national and international bodies of places of detention. Concerns about the ill-treatment of prisoners in Georgia have been raised in various UN human rights fora over the years as well as in reports by Mr. Giorgi Tugushi, the Ombudsman (also known as the Public Defender) of Georgia.

We welcome the positive steps taken by the Government so far, including the condemnation of the abuses by the President of Georgia, and the pledges made that these human rights violations will be investigated. Two ministers have now resigned, or offered to resign. We urge the Government to ensure that their pledges are swiftly translated into effective and transparent action with significant steps undertaken to ensure that prisons and detention centres are managed in line with international human rights law and standards. The UN Human Rights Office stands ready to assist the Government and people of Georgia in this effort.

On the subject of the Charlie Hebdo cartoons published earlier this week, I would like to draw your attention to the statement made last Friday about the earlier film (see: Pillay concerned by spreading violence in wake of “malicious and provocative” film: http://www.ohchr.org/EN/NewsEvents/Pages/DisplayNews.aspx?NewsID=12522&LangID=E )

What she said about the film for the most part also applies to the cartoons.

Both the film and the cartoons are malicious and deliberately provocative. The film in particular provides a disgracefully distorted image of Muslims. The High Commissioner said she fully understands why people wish to protest strongly against the film, and the same goes for the cartoons, and it is their right to do so, but peacefully. She also utterly condemned the killings in Benghazi. Some 30 people in all are now believed to have died in events linked to the film. And there have been other violent and destructive reactions. The High Commissioner urged religious and political leaders to make a major effort to restore calm. We welcome the fact that a number of senior Muslim figures have been making similar statements about the need to rise above the provocations.

The film and cartoons are the latest in a string of deliberately provocative acts or products targeting particular religions and their followers – several of which have led to similar violent reactions and killings. The High Commissioner said that sometimes the best way to deal with such provocations was to ignore them. “Deliberate and obnoxious acts of this type should be deprived of the oxygen of publicity,” she said. Given what happened last week, and the fact that people are being killed, Charlie Hebdo is doubly irresponsible to publish these cartoons.

As both the Secretary-General and the High Commissioner have stated, the fault line is not between Muslim and non-Muslim societies, but between a small number of extremists on different sides, with a vested interest in stirring hostility and conflict.

In March 2011, the Human Rights Council passed a unanimous resolution (Res 16/18) that provides a comprehensive road map for a coordinated national and international effort to ensure that certain rights and freedoms are not misused to undermine other rights and freedoms. In addition, over the years, a number of human rights mechanisms have contributed to efforts to clarify where the lines should be drawn between free speech and hate speech.

Essentially the debate revolves around Article 19 of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (freedom of expression) and Article 20 (which is about incitement to hatred). Since October 2008, the High Commissioner for Human Rights has been spearheading a global effort to promote a legal framework based on international human rights standards to discuss freedom of expression and the need to enforce the prohibition of incitement to national, racial or religious hatred.


For more information or media requests, please contact Rupert Colville (+41 22 917 9767 / rcolville@ohchr.org) or Ravina Shamdasani (+ 41 22 917 9310 / rshamdasani@ohchr.org)

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