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Briefing notes on Italy/Lampedusa, Vietnam and Racism and Sport

Spokesperson for the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights : Rupert Colville
Location: Geneva
Date: 4 October 2013
Subjects: 1) Italy / Lampedusa 2) Vietnam 3) Racism and Sport

1) Italy / Lampedusa

The High Commissioner for Human Rights is deeply shocked and saddened by the latest horrendous boat tragedy off Lampedusa which claimed the lives of hundreds of mainly Eritrean refugees and migrants. We offer our condolences to the families of those drowned in this tragic incident.

We welcome efforts by the Italian authorities to address the issue in line with international human rights norms and respect for the dignity of every human being – and in particular the day of mourning declared by the Government and the minute of silence that will be held in all Italian schools today. This is significant. It marks a very big and welcome change of attitude on the part of the Italian authorities. We would like to, in particular, praise the leading role played by the Minister of Integration, Cécile Kyenge, and President of the Lower House of Parliament, Laura Boldrini, in helping steer this change in official attitude despite strong and sometimes vitriolic opposition in other quarters.

We would like to ask the Italian authorities and the international community, especially the European Union, to strengthen their efforts to prevent a repeat of this situation. States should also ensure that they are honouring their commitments under international refugee law.

We are concerned about the increasing rates of smuggling and trafficking of migrants and refugees in the Mediterranean and elsewhere, for example in the Gulf of Aden. This indicates the desperation of the people living in areas of Eritrea and also other countries, including Somalia, stricken by insecurity and conflict as well as the lack of enjoyment of basic economic, social and cultural rights. It is critical that the international community engages further in improving the human rights situation on the ground, to address the root causes so that there is sufficient improvement that people will not feel the need to put their lives at risk by undertaking such dangerous journeys.

The authorities at the national and sub-national levels should renew their efforts to put an end to smuggling and trafficking in persons in Eritrea and Somalia, with the collaboration of the international community and the United Nations.

2) Viet Nam

We are seriously concerned by the conviction and sentencing of Mr. Le QuocQuan, a prominent human rights lawyer, by the People's Court of Hanoi for the charge of tax evasion, under Article 161 of the Criminal Code. Mr. Le QuocQuan was sentenced to 30 months in prison and fined 1.2 million dong, the equivalent of almost $US60,000.

His conviction echoes that of Mr Nguyen Van Hai (aka Dieu Cay), a prominent blogger and founder of "Club of Free Journalists of Viet Nam", who was also initially charged and convicted in 2008 under tax evasion. This raises concerns that such charges may be used to silence human rights activists and those who are critical of the government's policies and practices.

We are alarmed by the fact that the conviction against Mr. Le QuocQuan was handed down after only one day of trial, and there have been allegations of restrictions of access to the court by his family and supporters. This casts doubts whether his right to fair trial and due process were fully respected.

We urge the Government of Viet Nam to review such convictions and trial proceedings which continue to seriously threaten and curb the right to freedom of expression, opinion and association in the country.

3) Racism and Sport

On Monday, 7 October, the UN Human Rights Office is holding a special event on racism in sport with the participation of UEFA (Union of European Football Associations) president Michel Platini. The event is taking place as part of the 11th session of the Intergovernmental Working Group on the Effective Implementation of the Durban Declaration and Programme of Action, and will focus specifically on football and racism.

This event is an important one in continuing our engagement with regional sports bodies to encourage them to do more to combat racism in sport. The presidents of all regional football confederations were invited. Jeffrey Webb, the president of CONCACAF (The Confederation of North, Central American and Caribbean Association Football) will be sending a video presentation. (He is also the FIFA Vice President and chairperson of the FIFA Task Force Against Racism.) The UN Secretary-General’s Special Advisor on Sport for Development and Peace Wilfried Lemke will participate as well.

The event will be held at the Palais des Nations Room 21 from 15h00 to 18h00 and is open to the public.


For further information and media requests, please contact Rupert Colville (+41 22 917 9767 or + 41 79 506 1088 / rcolville@ohchr.org), Ravina Shamdasani (+41 22 917 9169 / rshamdasani@ohchr.org) or Cécile Pouilly (+41 22 917 9310 or +41 79 618 3430 / cpouilly@ohchr.org)

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