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Press briefing notes on justice for rights abuses in Nigeria, Central African Republic and Bahrain

Spokesperson for the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights: Rupert Colville
Location: Geneva
Date: 5 June 2015

(1) Zeid calls for justice for rights abuses in Nigeria

UN High Commissioner for Human Rights Zeid Ra’ad Al Hussein said interviews with individuals who had fled or were rescued from towns previously held by Boko Haram painted a picture of “absolute terror and grave human rights violations” by the insurgents in northeast Nigeria, and also yielded reports of violations of international human rights and international humanitarian law by Nigerian armed forces. More details in a press release to be issued shortly.

(2) Update on CAR: enforced disappearances and/or extrajudicial killings

The following is an update on one of several incidents involving foreign troops from a number of different States operating in the Central African Republic (CAR) in 2014, which as we flagged last weekend, have still not been resolved and we believe require further investigation with the aim of providing accountability for any crimes found to have been committed.

We are deeply concerned that more than 15 months after the enforced disappearance of at least 11 people, including 5 women and one child, by troops from the Republic of Congo, their whereabouts remain unknown and a full and transparent investigation has not been conducted by responsible authorities inside or outside the country.

According to numerous testimonies from local witnesses interviewed by UN human rights staff in Boali, a small town about 80 kilometres north of Bangui, 11 people were arrested after an exchange of fire between the anti-Balaka armed group and the Congolese contingent of the African Union-led peacekeeping force in the CAR (known as MISCA*). This was not a UN peacekeeping force.

The 11 individuals, including the local anti-Balaka leader, General Maurice Kounouno and his family, were detained at General Kounouno’s house at around 18:00 on 24 March 2014. They were then transferred to the Congolese MISCA base and detained there.

A witness who was at the MISCA base at the time reported hearing crying, screaming and gunshots at the premises occupied by the Commander of the Congolese contingent. Another witness also reported hearing several gunshots. A third witness said that several hours later, around 21:00, the Commander knocked on his door and requested two shovels which he said were needed to reinforce the contingent’s defensive positions. This witness also described a subsequent deployment of vehicles towards the Usine Boali 3 area not far from the base. The Commander also reportedly asked the Energy Company to switch off all the lights around the area. For weeks afterwards, Congolese MISCA soldiers declared the land around Usine Boali 3 off limits, warning that there might be landmines in the area. Local workers were told not to clean the area.

Two other local witnesses said they noticed traces of vehicles and displaced soil in the Usine Boali 3 area around that time. Other local sources also said they believed that the 11 detained individuals had been killed and buried in that area on the evening of 24 March 2014. Upon visiting the area, human rights staff noticed visible undulation in the land, supporting the contention that the land was disturbed at one point.

Victims’ families lodged official complaints to the gendarmerie in May 2014 but there is yet to be an effective investigation. The Commander of the Congolese contingent had reportedly claimed that the 11 individuals had escaped during their transfer to Bangui. MISCA repeated this claim to the UN’s International Commission of Inquiry on the Central African Republic, which also investigated the incident in its report**. However, local authorities interviewed by UN human rights staff denied they had ever received a request from the Congolese MISCA force to accompany the detainees to Bangui (the normal procedure).

These reports strongly suggest that the MISCA’s Congolese contingent has committed acts of enforced disappearance, torture and extrajudicial killings.

We urge the relevant authorities, including the Government of the CAR, the African Union and the Republic of Congo, to ensure without further delay that an impartial, effective and transparent investigation is conducted to clarify the fate of the people involved, in particular by investigating the Usine Boali 3 area, where a number of separate witness accounts, as well as other circumstantial evidence, suggest the bodies of the missing people may have been buried.

The investigation should be conducted with a view to ensuring that the perpetrators of any crime are brought to justice and victims have access to adequate reparation.

The human rights division of MINUSCA conducted a fact-finding mission to Boali in September last year and a second one at the end of March this year to conduct further interviews and examine whether there had been any follow-up by the authorities.

In October, the UN Commission of Inquiry on the CAR was told by MISCA that the troops involved had been relieved of their duties in order to facilitate an internal investigation. However, OHCHR and MINUSCA have been unable to acquire any information on progress in this MISCA/AU investigation, despite repeated requests. Regardless of the fact that MISCA’s mandate ended in September 2014, the investigation must not be abandoned. We urge the appropriate authorities to ensure that the alleged burial site at Usine Boali 3 is secured and properly examined.

The High Commissioner has stressed that the role of international forces in halting the worst of the fighting and sectarian slaughter in CAR has been invaluable, and their presence has unquestionably saved a large number of lives. Yet, in some cases – and this is one – the longed-for protectors may have themselves seriously breached international human rights law.

The High Commissioner is sending a team from Geneva to the CAR to look into possible further measures to address human rights violations. He has also been engaging directly with States which provided troops that are the subject of serious allegations, requesting more information about the steps they have taken to investigate those allegations, and urging prosecution of anyone found to have committed crimes.

* The African Union’s peacekeeping force in the CAR was known as MISCA (Mission internationale de soutien à la Centrafrique sous conduite africaine), and was deployed in in December 2013, in parallel with the French Operation Sangaris. The forces were deployed in an attempt to stabilise the country, which was in the midst of a murderous civil war and on the verge of total collapse. The deployment of these two forces are credited with halting the worst of the violence between the two warring groups known as anti-Balaka and ex-Seleka, that had already cost thousands of lives and threatened to destroy the entire fabric of the nation. On 15 September 2014, upon completion of MISCA’s mandate, authority was officially transferred from MISCA to a new UN force known as MINUSCA (UN Multidimensional Integrated Stabilization Mission in the Central African Republic).

**See, paragraphs 552 to 556 of the final report (S/2014/928) of the International Commission of Inquiry on the Central African Republic, dated 22 December 2014. http://www.securitycouncilreport.org/atf/cf/%7B65BFCF9B-6D27-4E9C-8CD3-CF6E4FF96FF9%7D/s_2014_928.pdf

(3) Bahrain

We are concerned about the harsh treatment of detainees at the Jaw Prison in Bahrain following a riot there in early March which was put down by security forces using rubber bullets, tear gas and shotguns, resulting in many injuries but no deaths. After the riot was quelled, the detainees were allegedly forced to spend 10 days out in the open courtyard of the prison before eventually being placed in two large plastic tents (reportedly around 300 detainees per tent). Around 100 other detainees -- those accused of instigating the unrest -- were subsequently transferred to another section of the Jaw prison, and there are allegations that they were subjected to ill-treatment and torture.

We urge the authorities to conduct impartial, speedy and effective investigations and to ensure that any victims of torture or ill-treatment have access to appropriate remedies. We remind the authorities in Bahrain there is an absolute prohibition of torture under international law. There are no exceptions whatsoever to that prohibition in any circumstances.

We are also particularly concerned about two individuals currently in detention in Bahrain, namely Sheikh Ali al-Salman, the Secretary General of al-Wefaq political party and Nabeel Rajab, one of Bahrain’s most prominent and respected human rights defenders.

Sheikh Ali al-Salman was arrested on 28 December 2014. His pre-trial detention has been repeatedly extended since then, and he is expected to be sentenced later this month. Al-Salman and his lawyers say they have consistently been prevented by the court from presenting oral arguments. It is further reported that Al-Salman and his legal representatives have not been provided with any meaningful opportunity to examine the evidence. Back in January, as you may remember, the UN, including the UN Human Rights Office, called for his immediate release. We repeat that call today.

Nabeel Rajab was arrested on 2 April on charges related to insulting a statutory body (in other words, for reporting publicly on what was going on inside Jaw prison) and spreading rumours during wartime. If convicted, Rajab may face up to ten years in prison. He has already been sentenced to six months of detention, a verdict that was confirmed by the Court of Appeal on 14 May.

A lasting resolution to the instability that has plagued Bahrain is not going to be reached solely through reliance on security means or through repressive measures aimed at silencing critical voices. It needs to be through a genuine dialogue between the Government and the opposition without preconditions.

In order to create a conducive environment, all sides should exercise maximum restraint and avoid further provocations. The path to such a solution is clearly laid down in the recommendations of the Human Rights Council's Universal Periodic Review here in Geneva, the Bahrain Independent Commission of Inquiry and Bahrain’s National Human Rights Commission.


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

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