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Press briefing notes on Turkey, Hungary, Brazil and Afghanistan

Spokesperson for the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights: Rupert Colville

Location: Geneva
Date: 18 June 2013

1) Turkey

The UN High Commissioner for Human Rights Navi Pillay is issuing a press release shortly in which she welcomes last week's decision by the Turkish Government to put on hold further action on the Gezi Park development in Istanbul until there is a court decision, and then to submit the issue to a local referendum. She is also urging Turkey’s government and civil society to build on this decision and to act in a manner that will defuse tensions.

The atmosphere is still clearly highly combustible and it is important that the authorities recognize that the initial extremely heavy-handed response to the protests, which resulted in many injuries, is still a major part of the problem. Because of that response, the scope of the protests broadened to include other aspects of governance, including those relating to fundamental human rights, such as freedom of assembly and freedom of opinion and expression.

The initial demonstrations about the proposed redevelopment of Gezi Park developed into wider anti-government protests, during which thousands of people were injured or overcome by tear gas. At least four individuals have died so far, including a police officer, although the circumstances of some of these deaths remain to be clarified.

In times of growing public outcry and large-scale protests, the Government must take all necessary measures to ensure that police forces do not resort to excessive use of force and other human rights violations while discharging their duties. The aim should be to minimize damage and injury, and to respect and preserve human life.

The High Commissioner is particularly concerned about allegations of excessive use of force by police against peaceful groups of protesters, as this may have resulted in serious damage to health. Reports that tear gas canisters and pepper spray were fired at people from close range, or into closed spaces, and the alleged misuse of rubber bullets, need to be promptly, effectively, credibly and transparently investigated.

The High Commissioner notes that ensuring accountability of law enforcement bodies for their actions is essential in times of social unrest. Any excessive use of force should be punished, if trust in the authorities’ willingness to abide by the rule of law is to be fully restored.

The High Commissioner said the Government must ensure that the policing of demonstrations complies at all times with international human rights obligations and international standards on policing, including the UN Code of Conduct for Law Enforcement Officials and the UN Basic Principles on the Use of Force and Firearms by Law Enforcement Officials.

She is urging the authorities both to facilitate and protect peaceful gatherings and protests, and stresses that they need to ensure that acts of sporadic violence or other punishable acts committed by some individuals – which she unequivocally condemns – are not used to deprive others of their right to freedom of peaceful assembly.

She is concerned about reports that significant numbers of people were arbitrarily detained, for acts other than recognized crimes, including some lawyers and people using social media such as Twitter.

She also expresses particular concern about allegations of ill-treatment of some of those held, and says these allegations must be investigated as a matter of urgency and any perpetrators should be brought to justice. The Government must also provide adequate reparation to victims of excessive use of force and other serious human rights violations by security forces.

2) Hungary

The High Commissioner is today urging the Hungarian Government to revoke a series of constitutional changes that have been widely criticised by international and regional human rights bodies as representing a backward step in human rights protection and undermining constitutional justice.

Her call comes after an advisory panel of the Council of Europe issued a critical report on Hungary’s constitutional amendment, saying it “perpetuates problems of the independence of the judiciary, seriously undermines the possibilities of constitutional review in Hungary and endangers the constitutional system of checks and balances.”

The panel of constitutional experts, known as the Venice Commission, said the Fourth Amendment has provisions that contradict Hungary’s basic law and European standards.

The High Commissioner shares the concerns of the Venice Commission on the independence of judges, which is essential for the protection of human rights.

She also notes that the Venice Commission has highlighted a “consistent pattern” of rulings by the Constitutional Court being overridden by changing the constitution, and says that the removal of all Constitutional Court case law up to 2012 is extremely worrying.

As the Venice Commission says, this attack on constitutional justice negatively affects the separation of powers as an essential tenet of democracy, the protection of human rights and the rule of law.

The High Commissioner welcomes the strong criticism of the Venice Commission on the wide use of “cardinal laws” that are often introduced by individual members of parliament, so avoiding the scrutiny foreseen for government proposals. These laws are adopted by a two-thirds majority, which the current government enjoys.

Our own comprehensive legal analysis on legislative developments in Hungary since 2010 has identified this as a major problem because it ensures future, less broad, majorities in Parliament will not be able to change the social, fiscal, family and other policies of the current majority.

High Commissioner concurs with the Venice Commission’s conclusion that this is a serious threat to democracy.

More details are included in the press release issued separately.

3) Brazil

We urge the Brazilian authorities to exercise restraint in dealing with spreading social protests in the country, and also call on demonstrators not to resort to acts of violence in pursuit of their demands. Overnight protests took place in several major Brazilian cities. Most were said to be peaceful but there were reported clashes between demonstrators and police in Rio de Janeiro and Belo Horizonte.

We welcome the statement by Brazilian President Dilma Rousseff that peaceful demonstrations are legitimate, and also the agreement on Monday that Sao Paulo police would not use rubber bullets.

These protests, mainly over the rising cost of public transport and the expense of staging the 2014 World Cup and the Rio Olympics in 2016, began on 10 June and are the biggest seen in Brazil in more than 20 years.

With further protests planned, we are however concerned that the reported excessive use of police force in recent days should not be repeated.

We received reports of a number of injuries, arrests and detentions, including of journalists covering the events. Some civil society organizations have also denounced the arbitrary nature of some of these detentions.

We call on the Government of Brazil to take all necessary measures to guarantee the right to peaceful assembly and to prevent the disproportionate use of force during protests. We further call on authorities to conduct prompt, thorough, independent and impartial investigations into reported excessive force.

We urge all parties involved to engage in an open dialogue to find solutions to the conflict and alternatives to address legitimate social demands, as well as to prevent further violence.

4) Afghanistan

We are deeply concerned about several of the new commissioners appointed to the Afghanistan Independent Human Rights Commission (AIHRC) by President Karzai on 16 June. Four other commissioners, including Chairperson Sima Samar, have been asked by the President to serve a further term.

The UN High Commissioner for Human Rights, Navi Pillay, has asked her office to carefully review the appointment process to assess whether it complies with the Paris Principles (the international standard governing national human rights institutions of this kind), and the AIHRC's own statute. These require, among other elements, that the process is transparent, that it includes broad consultation throughout, and that members are selected to serve in their own individual capacity rather than on behalf of any organization.

For more than a decade, the AIHRC has played a leading, courageous and active role in the promotion and protection of human rights of all Afghans in an exceptionally difficult environment, while managing successfully to preserve its independence. The UN High Commissioner for Human Rights believes it is essential that the high calibre of its members be maintained and the AIHRC's independence and integrity be upheld.

The appointment of new commissioners in line with the Paris Principles was a key human rights benchmark in the Tokyo Mutual Accountability Framework agreed between the Government of Afghanistan and its international partners in July 2012.

The compliance of the AIHRC with the Paris Principles will also be evaluated by the international accreditation body for national institutions in November this year, at which point the AIHRC risks having its current 'A' status accreditation downgraded if the appointment of new commissioners is viewed as not being in line with the Principles.

ENDS

To see the full press release on Turkey, you can go to: http://www.ohchr.org/EN/NewsEvents/Pages/DisplayNews.aspx?NewsID=13465&LangID=E

To see the full press release on Hungary, you can go to:
http://www.ohchr.org/EN/NewsEvents/Pages/DisplayNews.aspx?NewsID=13464&LangID=E

For further information and media requests, please contact Rupert Colville (+41 22 917 9767 or + 41 79 506 1088 / rcolville@ohchr.org); Cécile Pouilly (+41 22 917 9310 or +41 79 618 3430 / cpouilly@ohchr.org) or Liz Throssell (+ 41 22 917 9434 / ethrossell@ohchr.org)

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