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Press briefing notes on Yemen, Serbia, Honduras and Albinism website launch

Spokesperson for the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights: Ravina Shamdasani
Location: Geneva
Date: 5 May 2015

(1) Yemen

The conflict in Yemen has now taken at least 646 civilian lives, including 50 women and 131 children. In addition, more than 1,364 civilians have been injured. These are the figures from 26 March up to 3 May. There has also been severe destruction of civilian infrastructure, including houses, in many districts.

In recent days, we have documented the destruction of a number of civilian houses, reportedly belonging to individuals affiliated with the Houthis, by airstrikes. In one incident, on 1 May, at least 17 civilians were killed, including four children and nine women, and 27 civilians were injured as a result of an airstrike that allegedly targeted the home of a Houthi leader in the Sa’wan area of Sana’a City. Residents reported that they had believed their homes were safe as there were no military locations nearby.

In Aden, at least 22 civilians were killed in two separate incidents in the past week. And we are particularly concerned about airstrikes which hit a military field hospital in Damnat Khadeer District, 40 kilometres north of Taiz. UN Human Rights field monitors were denied access to the site, so it has been difficult to verify the death toll and establish who the victims were.

We reiterate that all suspected violations of international human rights law and humanitarian law during the conflict should be investigated, and that the intentional targeting of civilians not taking direct part in the hostilities should be immediately stopped.

We would also like to draw particular attention to the plight of people with disabilities in Yemen. There are an estimated 3,000,000 people with disabilities living in Yemen who are facing serious protection concerns and increasing difficulties in meeting their basic needs. Those who use wheelchairs have limited or no access to public or private transport facilities due to fuel shortages and high fuel prices across the country. As a result, some people with disabilities and their families have been unable to flee to safe areas. People with disabilities who have fled the violence and have been displaced to bigger cities face risks of isolation and other serious challenges. The recent events have led to the closure of 300 organizations that previously provided specialist services for people with disabilities. Some people with disabilities require ongoing medical treatment which has been discontinued.
Additionally, children who need specialized education are not able to access those educational institutions or rehabilitation centres.

(2) Serbia

We are concerned by the continued and increasing pressure by Serbian authorities, including members of the ruling Serbian Progressive Party, on Ombudsperson Sasa Jankovic. Such pressures first emerged following his investigation of alleged wrongdoing by the country’s Military Security Agency (VBA), in January this year, and have intensified since the publication of his latest Annual Report on Serbia, on 14 April 2015.

In January, the Ombudsperson voiced concerns relating to the Military Security Agency, including suspicions that the VBA had been illegally spying on opposition parties, union leaders and judges. He also shared information on the obstacles he faced in undertaking an investigation, due to the unwillingness of the VBA to cooperate and deliver necessary documents and responses to questions posed by the Ombudsperson. Soon afterwards, Government officials publicly questioned the professionalism and credibility of the Ombudsperson and his office, including during a Parliamentary hearing on the matter on 28 January.

Following these incidents, the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights raised concerns with Serbian authorities. He stressed that the Paris Principles relating to the status of National Human Rights Institutions (NHRIs) clearly stipulate that the national institution “shall hear any person and obtain any information and any documents necessary for assessing situations falling within its competence”. The mandate of national human rights institutions should authorize unannounced and unfettered access to inspect and examine any public premises, documents, equipment and assets without prior written notice. Serbia’s Law on the Protector of Citizens (Ombudsman) stipulates the responsibility of the authorities to cooperate with the Ombudsperson, and to enable access to any premises and to make information available which is of importance for the Ombudsperson’s proceedings, regardless of the degree of confidentiality of such information.

Serbian authorities have assured the High Commissioner of their respect and support for the Ombudsperson’s office and their commitment to properly investigate and prosecute any pressures and threats against the Ombudsperson.

However, a renewed campaign of personal attacks against Jankovic appears to have unfolded over the past three weeks, particularly by a number of media outlets close to the ruling Serbian Progressive Party. These attacks have been further fuelled by negative statements from high-level State officials. Most worryingly, it has been suggested that Jankovic was in some way involved in the death of a person who committed suicide in 1993, and media reports have referred to the Ombudsperson as a “killer”, “gun smuggler” and “suspect”.

We trust that the Government of Serbia will continue to exercise due diligence in connection with any possible pressure, threat, or forms of retaliation against Ombudsperson Jankovic and the institution, and will distance itself from the accusation made against him. Since his appointment in 2007, Jankovic has been a well-respected and credible head of the National Human Rights Institution, which has been awarded “A” Status internationally, and with whom the UN Human Rights Office has engaged very positively.

(3) Honduras

The UN Human Rights Office yesterday signed an agreement with the Government of Honduras to open an office in the country.

The country office, established at the request of the Government of Honduras, will be charged with monitoring and reporting publicly on the human rights situation, helping build the capacity of State institutions and civil society for the promotion and the protection of human rights, as well as conducting public advocacy on human rights issues.

The agreement was signed in Geneva yesterday by Deputy High Commissioner for Human Rights Flavia Pansieri and the Honduran Minister for General Government Coordination, Jorge Ramon Hernández Alcerro. Pansieri and Hernández discussed the importance of working together to improve the human rights situation for all in Honduras. The Minister highlighted that the agreement to open the office is a testament of the Honduran Government's commitment to human rights.

The Office is expected to become operational in the second half of 2015.

Later this week, Honduras will undergo the second Universal Periodic Review of its human rights record before the UN Human Rights Council. We hope the Government will make strong commitments to improving the human rights situation in the country and we look forward to supporting it in ensuring the protection of the human rights of all in Honduras.

(4) New albinism micro-site on OHCHR website

We are today launching a fully accessible new micro-site on the OHCHR website dedicated to the issue of albinism. The site, entitled “People with albinism: Not ghosts but human beings” has a wide range of resources on the condition of albinism, which is still profoundly misunderstood, socially and medically. It details some of the key human rights issues that people with albinism face on a daily basis, and tells the stories of 12 champions – people with and without albinism who are working to make a difference, to debunk the myths and ensure that people with albinism can live a life free of stigma – or worse, violence.

The micro-site has been tested for its accessibility, particularly for people with albinism who sometimes have difficulties reading on websites that have vividly-coloured backgrounds and text. The colours of the site were chosen for their neutrality.

The micro-site, which is part of the UN Human Rights Office’s persistent efforts to advocate for people with albinism, can be accessed on http://albinism.ohchr.org.


For more information and media requests, please contact Ravina Shamdasani (+41 22 917 9169 / rshamdasani@ohchr.org).