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Press briefing notes on new report on UN treaty bodies, Nigeria, Togo and Mexico

Spokesperson for the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights: Rupert Colville
Location: Geneva
Date: 22 June 2012

1) New report on UN Human Rights treaty bodies

The High Commissioner for Human Rights is today releasing a 100-page report urging states and other parties to take a series of actions to strengthen the UN human rights treaty body system which has been coming under increasing strain in recent years. The report, which has been almost three years in the making, notes that the increase in the number of international human rights treaties, and of the number of states that have ratified each treaty, has not been matched by an increase in resources to allow the Committees monitoring implementation of the treaties to keep pace. The High Commissioner points out in her report that virtually every aspect of the treaty body system has doubled in size since 2000: the number of Committees has risen from six to ten; the number of experts serving on them has risen from 97 to 172, and the number of state ratifications has risen from 900 to 1,600, meaning a huge increase in reports, time and expenses needed to examine the record of each ratifying state. At the same time the backlog of State reports has also swollen to unprecedented levels. The High Commissioner’s report, which is the product of exhaustive consultations with States, civil society organizations and the Treaty Bodies themselves, describes a unique and highly valued system in crisis, and says the current situation is unsustainable. It makes a series of proposals, and offers a number of different options to alleviate the problems and save the system. The report can be read or downloaded from www.ohchr.org

2) Nigeria
We are extremely concerned by the wave of violence and killings unleashed by the latest deadly bomb attacks on churches by the Boko Haram group in Nigeria. Since several churches were attacked by Boko Haram in Kaduna last Sunday (17 June), it is estimated that over a hundred people have been killed, some 30 of them in the initial attacks and subsequent retaliation by Christian youths who set up check points. The rest were reportedly killed in clashes between the security forces and Muslims protesting at the deadly retaliatory acts by the Christians, and most recently in clashes between the security forces and alleged insurgents in Damaturu.
We condemn the repeated attacks by Boko Haram on places of worship and on religious freedom, as well as its blatant attempts to stir sectarian tensions and violence between two communities that have lived together peacefully for so long. We encourage local and national authorities to take effective measures to assist victims. Members of Boko Haram and other groups and entities, if judged to have committed widespread or systematic attacks against a civilian population – including on grounds such as religion or ethnicity – are likely to be found guilty of crimes against humanity. Deliberate acts leading to population “cleansing” on grounds of religion or ethnicity would also amount to a crime against humanity.
We also urge the authorities to take measures to curb inflammatory or hate-speech and to work with all stakeholders including civil society and religious leaders to help deal with this deadly threat. It is encouraging that some religious leaders have been working together to avoid such flare-ups of retaliatory violence. The Anglican Archbishop of Jos, for example, recently made an important statement after some other attacks on churches urging people to stay calm and saying that reprisals were "futile" and only served to aggravate the situation. We urge him and other Muslim and Christian leaders to redouble their efforts to contain these extremely dangerous manifestations of religious intolerance and inter-communal violence.

3) Togo

Inflammatory hate speech has also been a problem in Togo, where thinly-veiled threats to foreigners have been made on radio programmes in the wake of protests that descended into violence at the end of last week. During three days of violence from 12-14 June, more than a hundred protestors, police and bystanders are reported to have been injured, some of them seriously. The OHCHR office in Togo has urged both the authorities and the protestors to refrain from all acts that might endanger people or property, stressing that protests should be conducted in a peaceful manner, and that the authorities should only resort to force if it is both necessary and proportional, and in full conformity with international standards.

4) Mexico

We understand that Mexico's new Law for the Protection of Human Rights Defenders and Journalists is due to be signed later today by President Calderon. Once this very necessary law has been signed, we will issue a press release in Mexico welcoming it and looking forward to its effective implementation.