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Press briefing notes on South Sudan, Malaysia and Myanmar

Spokesperson for the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights: Rupert Colville
Location:  Geneva
Date: 10 January 2014
Subjects:  1) South Sudan, 2) Malaysia and 3) Myanmar

1)   South Sudan

The situation in South Sudan remains extremely volatile, with sporadic clashes between armed elements still taking place, forcing civilians to seek safety in UN facilities, religious establishments and other perceived havens. The UNMISS Human Rights Division is investigating allegations of serious human rights violations and abuses that have occurred in Juba and other affected towns. Around 60,000 displaced people have sought protection and safety in UN compounds across the country. There has been no fighting in Juba itself for close to three weeks now, but sporadic shooting and reportedly other violations continue there and there is much fear and anxiety.

Outside the capital, serious security constraints have at times limited UNMISS’s access to key locations, including Bor, which has already changed hands three times since fighting began almost three weeks ago, and there have been difficulties operating in Malakal, which has been the scene of repeated fighting between pro-government and anti-government forces. Fighting continues in Bentiu, in Unity State, which has also changed hands several times and has been the scene of human rights violations.

The Special Representative of the Secretary-General Hilde Johnson has said she is shocked and deeply saddened at the scale and viciousness of such atrocities and the apparent total disregard for human life – a sentiment which we share.

The High Commissioner appeals for restraint from all parties and reminds them of their responsibility to protect civilians and respect innocent lives. We welcome recent high-level commitments to investigate these serious human rights violations and establish who is responsible, as urged by the African Union. These investigations need to be undertaken as soon as possible in accordance with internationally accepted standards and principles of objectivity, transparency and due process.

2)   Malaysia

We are concerned about the recent decision of Malaysia’s Ministry of Home Affairs to declare COMANGO -- a coalition comprising of 54 Malaysian civil society organizations – illegal. 

On 8 January 2014, the Ministry of Home Affairs declared in a press statement that COMANGO, which consists mainly of non-Islamic organizations, promotes rights which are not in line with Islam and is therefore illegal. The statement also notes that only 15 of the 54 organisations are registered under the Societies Act 1966.

The COMANGO coalition submitted joint reports to both the 2009 and 2013 Universal Periodic Reviews of Malaysia. Since its submission to the second cycle of the UPR, which took place on 24 October 2013, the coalition has reportedly been subjected to a series of harassment and threats, allegedly by both state and non-state actors. The coalition has been accused of attacking Islam and of spreading beliefs that do not conform to Islamic teachings. 

We are concerned at what appears to be an act of reprisal against COMANGO for its engagement with international human rights mechanism, notably the UPR. The Secretary-General, the Human Rights Council and the High Commissioner Navi Pillay have persistently called for the protection of individuals and members of groups that cooperate with the United Nations, its representatives and mechanisms in the field of human rights from acts of intimidation or reprisal.   

We call upon Government of Malaysia to amend the Societies Act 1966, maximise the space for human rights activists and organisations to operate freely, and ensure that they can conduct their legitimate activities without intimidation or harassment.

3)  Myanmar

We warmly welcome the Myanmar Government's Presidential Order of 2 January 2014 declaring that all death sentences previously imposed by the courts will be commuted to life imprisonment.  Myanmar has not in fact carried out the death penalty since 1989, and we hope this new initiative will lead to the full abolition of the death penalty in the country. This is a very significant step as Myanmar assumes the chair of ASEAN, and sets a positive example for other ASEAN member states and other States in the region and beyond.


ENDS

For further information and media requests, please contact Rupert Colville (+41 22 917 9767 or + 41 79 506 10 88 / rcolville@ohchr.org ) or Cécile Pouilly (+41 22 917 9310 or +41 79 618 34 30 / cpouilly@ohchr.org)

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