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Press briefing notes on Flogging in Iran, unfair restrictions on NGO access to the UN and executions in Gaza

Spokesperson for the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights: Rupert Colville
Location: Geneva
Date:  31 May 2016

(1) Flogging in Iran

We condemn the outrageous flogging of up to 35 young men and women in Iran last week, after they were caught holding a graduation party together in Qazvin, north of Tehran. According to State media, the students were arrested on Thursday, interrogated and sentenced by the Prosecutor’s Office to 99 lashes each and then were flogged – all within the space of 24 hours.

Flogging is prohibited under international human rights law, in particular the Convention against Torture. The UN Committee against Torture, the Human Rights Committee and UN Special Rapporteurs have repeatedly voiced serious concerns about States’ use of flogging, highlighting in particular its use against women, and have called for its abolition. For the authorities to have meted out this cruel, inhuman and degrading punishment – which could amount to torture – is completely disproportionate and abhorrent.

In another case, 17 mine workers were reportedly flogged in Western Azerbaijan province in Iran this month for protesting the dismissal of 350 workers from the Agh Dara gold mine. Last month, a woman was publicly flogged for having sexual relations outside marriage. While we do not have a reliable estimate on the use of flogging in the country, reports suggest that it is used regularly for a wide range of perceived offences.

We urge the Iranian authorities to cease the use of this cruel, inhuman and degrading punishment.

(2) Unfair restrictions on NGO access to the UN

We would like to add our voice to the many concerns raised – including by the Secretary-General – at last week’s decision by a majority of the 19 Member States on the ECOSOC NGO Committee to deny the Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ) consultative status. We believe the decision not to allow this well-established NGO to take part in UN meetings, including those of the Human Rights Council here in Geneva, is unwise, unfair and arbitrary, and flies in the face of other initiatives by UN Member States to offer better protection to journalists world-wide.

CPJ is a key and respected voice on the issues of protecting journalists and press freedom, and the statistics it provides on killings, attacks and imprisonment of journalists around the world are widely viewed as among the most reliable in existence.

In effect, the votes of just ten states have meant CPJ’s voice and important research continues to be excluded from all relevant UN debates and processes. Of the 19 States that make up the NGO Committee, six voted in favour of giving CPJ the consultative status it clearly deserves, and three abstained. The vote came after CPJ's application, first made in 2012, had already been deferred seven times by the Committee. As the High Commissioner notes in a report that has just come out and will be formally presented to the Human Rights Council on 20 June*, the deferral of a large number of NGO applications for consultative status, sometimes for years on end, and apparently for arbitrary reasons, has deprived international debate of important civil society contributions.

We also have strong concerns about the recent refusal of permission by Member States for 11 civil society organisations representing LGBTI and other marginalized communities to attend the forthcoming High-Level Meeting on Ending AIDS taking place at UN Headquarters in New York.

The Secretary-General made an important speech on this subject yesterday in the Republic of Korea, in which he denounced the shrinking of democratic space, and urged freedom for civil society organizations and non-governmental organizations and human rights defenders: “Unfortunately,” he said, “that freedom is under threat, including at the last place this should happen: at the United Nations.”**

The High Commissioner fully shares that concern, as we see more and more evidence of more and more States clamping down on the freedoms of expression association and assembly, with the media and human rights defenders in the frontline. While this may be in the interests of authorities wishing to crush criticism and retain power, it is clearly not in the interests of their populations. This unfortunate episode involving CPJ is emblematic of this unfortunate and very negative trend.

*See:  http://ap.ohchr.org/documents/dpage_e.aspx?si=A/HRC/32/20

** See: http://www.un.org/sg/statements/index.asp?nid=9755

(3) Executions in Gaza

We condemn the execution of three men by authorities in Gaza today despite serious and widespread concerns that international fair trial standards were not respected, and in spite of appeals by many local and international actors to halt the executions.

These executions were carried out without the approval of Palestinian President Mamoud Abbas as required under Palestinian law, effectively denying these men their right to seek pardon or commutation of their sentence. This right to seek pardon or commutation is also enshrined in the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, to which Palestine acceded in 2014.

We remain deeply concerned about further planned executions in the near future. We reiterate that death sentences carried out pursuant to unfair trials are in violation of international law. We urge the authorities in Gaza to halt any future executions and to uphold their obligations under national and international law to respect the rights to life and to a fair trial. We call on the Palestinian President to urgently establish a moratorium on the death penalty in line with the global trend, with a view to its abolition.

ENDS

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

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